Stephenie Meyer owns these characters. All dialogue borrowed from Twilight is purely for clarification. No infringement of copyright is intended, only my admiration.
Thanks so much to my beta, Lezlee, who edited this in mere hours.
A/N: The idea for this one-shot - these vignettes, really - germinated while I waited for Christmas Eve service to begin last Friday night. Please accept it, gentle readers, as a belated Christmas gift, in lieu of the even more belated next chapter of Fox Fire. (It's on its way; I promise!)
There is no playlist, but you can probably tell which airs from Handel's Messiah I've been listening to lately.
Bronxville New York, Christmas Eve, 1929
"Do you like it?"
He hoped it would make her happy. These days, her smile was the rarest, most beautiful occurrence, and it was the only gift he wanted on this night.
With the smallest intake of breath, she removed the necklace from its velvet casing and held it up, admiring the delicate craftsmanship. Her lips parted, forming a very small "o", and she was rapturously still for just a second before she let the polished links of metal and stone play between her fingers.
"It's beautiful, Carlisle. I love it. Thank you."
Her face glowed faintly in the firelight, reflecting the sparkling strand of light in her hands. The gems, ice white and deepest blue, set off the honey tones of her hair, and as her smile broadened, he knew he'd never appreciated her loveliness more than in that moment.
She moved to the nearby picture window to see her reflection, and he was drawn to follow her.
"Will you help me?" she asked, half-turning, raising her cascade of hair enough for him to see the clasp and fasten it.
He did, then allowed his hands to trail slowly across the fabric of her dress until they rested on her shoulders. They stood together; the two of them stared past their glass bound images into the midwinter night, sharing a moment of unspoken hope and silent grief.
She'd done her very best to put on a brave face, but the sadness that had become their constant companion was especially hard to bear tonight. It was there, in her glances, her gestures – in her half-caught sighs. He felt it strongly now as his sharp eyes followed hers, searching the frozen darkness for – for what? A sign? A visitation?
After a few moments, she tilted her head and her reflected eyes caught his own. With a small, brave smile, she reached up to place her hands over his, intertwining their fingers so she could lead him back to kneel under the boughs of the tree.
"You must open yours, now," she said, pushing a small parcel towards him.
As always, he was far better at the act of giving than he was at receiving. He knew his reticence to receive gifts amused her, but the habit had formed early and never left him. For the Christmases of his English childhood had brought no gifts for the preacher's son. That holy day was spent listening to his father preach fire and brimstone from the Book of Common Prayer.
But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner's fire...
The assurance of his salvation was supposedly the only gift the younger Cullen ever required. But even as a nine year old altar boy, helping his father minister to the needs of his parishioners, he knew that his calling lay elsewhere.
After his rebirth, he'd been alone for centuries, existing apart from humanity, and even from members of his own kind, who found his lifestyle radical and 'unnatural'. He derived comfort from ministering to the sick and the dying. If he could not do penance for cheating the will of God, at least he could use his eternal life to do good.
It was only after he'd changed the boy that he'd adopted the tradition of giving gifts on Christmas. He'd wanted to ease Edward into his new existence by letting him hang on to something of the old one. That year, the celebration fell only a little more than two months after his transformation, and he was still a wild thing. Even so, Carlisle had already noted his intelligence and his remarkable ability to concentrate.
His first gift to his progeny had been a copy of Darwin's Origin of Species - an inexpensive volume in case the boy accidentally ripped it to shreds removing the wrapping. But the care with which he extricated it from the paper pleased him, as did his solemn appreciation of what he'd been given. He still had good manners.
The book was voraciously devoured that very night, and the next morning, Carlisle was eager to hear his opinion. Edward amused him when, with a roll of his crimson eyes, he dismissed it as "not so radically different from Aristotle's theory when you think about it."
"Really? And for how long have you been expert in the Great Chain of Being?" He couldn't help goading him. So serious he was; so bright.
And Edward, unsure whether he was being made fun of, immediately took the bait. He never could back down from an argument.
Over the next year, the boy mastered himself remarkably, and that Christmas Carlisle took a chance, presenting his ward with a gift salvaged from the contents of his childhood home. He knew the piano was an indulgence, but he'd seen how music affected him – how it soothed him.
How well he remembered the pure joy in the boy's amber eyes, and the lopsided grin he gave before those still strong arms were thrown around his neck.
"Thank you, Father," he'd whispered. It was the first time he'd ever called him that.
Carlisle looked into another pair of beloved golden eyes this night. They were expectant, a little anxious. Why on earth would she be apprehensive? He already loved the gift because it was from her. She knew him like no one else.
He could tell before removing the paper that the folio inside was very old, a first edition volume judging by the smell of the aged leather. Without doubt, it would complete his collection of Dr. Jonson's work. How many antique shops had she scoured before she finally came across it? Had she sent for it from abroad?
"My dear, it's just perfect," he told her, opening it carefully, and shaking his head at her ingenuity. "Wherever did you find it?"
Her smile became more than a little smug. "I have my sources, " was all she'd admit. She most certainly had the knack for finding just the right gift at the right time.
He watched that smile fade as her gaze was drawn back to the tree. Every year, the pile of presents underneath grew larger. Sentimentally, surreptitiously, they both added to it.
Judging by the size and shape of the packages, she'd found some vinyl recordings this time. Rare jazz compilations, no doubt; Edward had grown very fond of the genre in the last years. The cacophonous caterwauling, and incessant, thumping beats had been enough to drive Carlisle mad before, but he'd give anything to hear the infuriating racket coming from the empty bedroom upstairs now.
This was the third year in a row that those gifts would be put away, unopened. Both of them knew this.
"Have you time to hunt before work?" she asked, a little too brightly, as if taking the cue from the spot where his eyes lingered. He always worked the midnight shift on Christmas Eve.
It was a rhetorical question. "For you my dear, always," he replied warmly, taking her hand.
Afterwards, she accompanied him to the garage, giving him a small wave as he pulled into the driveway. Half way to the end of the gravel, he stopped and rolled down the window.
"I could stay," he offered. "I could trade my shift."
"No," she demurred. "You're needed there."
He was needed at home. What if this was the night?
"What about you?"
"I have plenty to do," she insisted. "Go."
Reluctantly, he did as she bade him.
Rounding the bend onto the dirt road leading to town, he saw that she'd already lit the candle. She would remain nearby as it burned all night long, finding chores to occupy herself during her vigil.
Holy Family Church, Queens – Earlier That Night
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined."
The congregation was restive; Doris O'Leary could feel it. The children that weren't playing underneath the pews were either standing on them, whining at their parents "Can we go now?" or they'd fallen asleep on their laps. A few of the adults had fallen asleep as well. In the third row from the back, a woman elbowed her husband in response to his loud open-mouthed snore.
She wished Father Tom would get to the good bit, and wrap the sermon up with Silent Night so they could all go home and carry on with the business of Christmas.
She checked her watch. There was still half an hour to go, provided the old fellow didn't waffle off on one of those tangents he was famous for. There'd be no more stragglers to let in that night, so she was free to sit in her usual spot, at the end of the back pew.
But the radiator kept hissing, and it was getting stuffy in the alcove. It wouldn't do to go and kick the wretched thing, so she thought perhaps that she might open the door and let a bit of fresh air into the place. Even she felt like nodding off now.
Gratefully, she took a breath of sharp night air, marveling at the silence of the normally busy street. She thought she might leave the door open for a moment, and had turned to go back inside, when a slight movement on the step startled her.
He was still there. She'd seen him during the earlier service that evening, waffling on the step, but never going in. His profile had shown him to be a good-looking boy, tall but thin. So very thin. And pale as ice.
The coat he wore didn't fit him right. It looked like it belonged to someone of a much larger girth. He hunched it around him, burying his chin into the buttoned up collar.
"Won't you come in, lad?" she asked kindly. "It's warm inside."
His downcast eyes flickered, though he didn't look up. There was a change in the set of his mouth. What did that mean? Perhaps he recognized her accent. Perhaps he was an Irish itinerant, too. He had the right colouring, although in the dark it was hard to tell if his hair was red or brown. She'd be able to tell the moment she looked into his eyes, if he would only raise them.
"I can't, Ma'am," he replied softly. Such good manners. His accent wasn't local, but it wasn't Irish either. Musical, and too cultured for this working class neighbourhood. "I wouldn't be welcome."
"Everyone is welcome in God's house," she assured him.
"Come," she entreated once more. "There'll be a hot drink after the service." Surely that would entice him?
"No, thank you, Ma'am," he said again, and there was an edge to the soft voice now that she knew she'd never understand. "I'm not thirsty."
She shrugged. "Suit yourself. I'll leave the door open a while."
The next time she looked out, he was gone. A light snow was falling. By morning, it would erase all trace that he'd ever been there. She shrugged again, closed the door, and rejoined the congregation as the candles were lit for Silent Night. She hoped he had a family to go to somewhere. It was not a night for a boy to be alone.
The woman would never know that she'd saved her own life. It wasn't her kindness, which, as a good Christian, she'd been taught to offer to the less fortunate, and it wasn't her accent, which evoked faded memories of his long-dead maternal grandmother.
It was simply that she'd called him 'lad'. Only his father ever did that.
A simple term of endearment, a single syllable uttered by a stranger, had cut him to the core; he'd barely stopped himself from crying out in anguish. He'd felt the railing on the step give a little as he steadied himself against it.
Her offer had startled him out of his delirium, distracting him from the terrible craving just long enough to realize what he'd contemplated doing.
For he had lied to her. He had lied to her on the steps of God's house.
He was very, very thirsty.