Warnings: A little gay sex. A lot of pro basketball. And some gratuitous housewares shopping for good measure. These aren't the Carlisle and Edward I usually write…or…are they?

As always, the characters and their world belong to Stephenie Meyer. Any mistakes I've made interpreting them are my own. Thanks to sleepyvalentina and twitina for pre-reading, and to the Chicago Bulls for having a decent 2007 season. All game records are real.

For a Season
by giselle-lx

~||x||~

For a season there must be pain-
For a little, little space
I shall lose the sight of her face,
Take back the old life again
While She is at rest in her place.
—"
The Widower"

by Rudyard Kipling

~||x||~

Ironically, I end up in Wisconsin.

There's a lecturer position at Madison in epidemiology that is open mid-year because their candidate got a tenure-track offer. I take it because it gives me reason to leave right away, and after Edward runs, I can't bear to be around the rest of them.

I spend two days traipsing around the city with my real estate agent, who is bubblier than I want her to be. We look at houses downtown and near the university, but they're too claustrophobic. I tell her maybe something by one of the lakes, and she takes me to a little house, eight hundred square feet exactly, a tiny modern thing on the north shores of Mendota that was built by some Chicago DINKs. It was supposed to be their summer home, but they traded up for a more lavish edition in the Dells.

The driveway is long, off a cul-de-sac with several acres of woods around it. My realtor is concerned. Wouldn't I prefer something closer to town?

No, the seclusion is just what I'm looking for.

What about a dock?

I don't own a boat. This is a lie—I own six boats, but none are in Wisconsin.

Then something bigger, in case my family ever expands? A suggestive wink.

I remind her I'm a widower. This, at last, shuts her up.

I buy the house as-is, pay cash, and move within a week.

~||x||~

A girl in my history of epidemics seminar reminds me of Alice. Spiky black hair and fashion-plate clothing. Sits in the front row of the classroom cracking gum, which is unprofessional, but interesting. She has a crazy tattoo of twisting vines that snakes its way out of her collar and up behind her ear. I could imagine Alice with a tattoo, I think.

The girl's name is Deirdre.

Two hours pass quickly with me outlining the syllabus and the readings, and I let them go a half-hour early—in part so that I didn't have to keep looking at her.

~||x||~

Renesmee's voice is a little lower in pitch every time I talk to her. Alice and Rose still measure and weigh her twice a day. Her growth is definitely slowing, but she still looks about four. The boy, Nahuel, says the rate will be almost normal as she gets older—that he looked like his age peers throughout much of his teenagerhood. When exactly that will be for Ness, we don't know.

She wonders if I've gotten the pictures she sent. I assure her they arrived in perfect condition and are beautiful. They're crayon drawings, still child-like, but they look like they were done by a much older child and show a rather sophisticated knowledge of light and shadow. Every week or so I get a new batch, pressed carefully between slices of cardboard and marked DO NOT BEND on the envelope. My fine art stayed in Forks and is now at the new big house in Vancouver; the study in my Wisconsin home has one wall given over to matted and framed crayonings instead.

This last batch was the first to contain a drawing of Bella, her hair colored with a rich mahogany crayon. Her eyes are brown, which is wishful thinking on Renesmee's part. But I hang it anyway, next to the devastatingly accurate rendering of Edward she sent two weeks ago.

I dread the day she draws Esme.

I listen to my granddaughter's rapid-fire rehash of the two days since we've last spoken. She hates the phone. She's used to just being able to touch people to catch them up on her life. But she'd rather I know every detail of her world right this minute than have to wait until she sees me again, so like all of us, she makes do with something less than ideal. I tell her a little about teaching college, and she bemoans not being able to go to school. One day she'll be able to go as much as she likes, I assure her, and this seems to help.

She puts Alice on when she's satisfied with our conversation. Alice asks how I am, and I tell her everything is fine. My house is keeping me busy—it needs some minor repairs and for the first time in a century I'm decorating it by myself.

My voice shakes a little on the last bit.

Alice asks if she and Jasper should visit.

No. I'll be fine. It's all just… new.

She changes the subject. Have I talked to Edward?

Has she?

He calls to talk to Renesmee every day.

But not to anyone else?

Just Renesmee. Does he talk to me?

No. I'm not entirely certain he has my phone number.

There's a long pause. Then just: We're so sorry, Carlisle. This is hard for all of us.

Yes, I say. It is.

~||x||~

Toward the end of January, I visit Ashland. It's five hours from Madison; out route 51 which was here the last time I lived in this state, and up I-39, which was not.

There isn't much left here. The old shipyards are abandoned because people don't ship through the Great Lakes anymore, and the old high school is long since torn down. I peer into the windows of the one that replaced it, trying to picture her teaching at the front of the techno-classrooms. But teaching was never her thing, not really. It was just something she had to do because in 1920, there weren't choices. Nowadays, she would've designed the high school—and it would be more attractive than the one that's here.

Hollerman's Rise is still here of course, although now it has big, brushed aluminum railings and huge yellow signs warning of the danger of falling. I stand for a long time, thinking about how it was when it was her standing at this edge, the unbearable loss she must have been feeling. I understand it better, now. I have half a mind to check to see if anything has changed since the last time I jumped—it would be nice, I think, to feel the rush of wind on my face as I tumble over the fall, hear the resounding smack of my body hitting the boulders below.

Perhaps this time, the rocks will break me instead of the other way around.

But there are people at the lookout—a young couple necking, a man taking photos of the lake. So I just stand there instead, letting the wind spray lake water onto my face until it becomes a little sticky, like the residue of tears.

I go to the graveyard and apologize to baby John. I start to cry, and I shake so hard I fear I might break the tiny headstone by accident.

So I leave.

It takes me exactly five hours to get home.

~||x||~

Deirdre has a part-time job at Bed Bath and Beyond, and I run into her while I'm shopping for placemats. The store is overwhelming with its white fluorescent lights and merchandise displayed all the way to the ceiling, and I'm standing in an alcove under a big red sign that says SOFT KITCHEN, wishing that I'd just ordered things online, when I start to feel a little sick.

It hasn't dawned on me until that very moment that I could just not buy dishes and placemats. It's not as if I eat. Esme always bought them—cream-colored table linens and white plates, and our table was always fully set as though our family might sit to feast at it at any moment. I'm at the store out of habit more than anything. My own table, a little four-seater thing I had delivered from someplace called West Elm, looks bare.

I'm fingering the placemats, wondering why it is that there needs to be off-white, taupe, and khaki, and I'm about to walk out of the store entirely when Deirdre offers help. Neither of us recognizes the other for a split-second, and it's her vine tattoo that I notice first.

It's uncomfortable, but Deirdre is a good saleswoman and knows how to break the ice. Am I redecorating? she asks.

No. I moved here suddenly and brought very little.

Then it's a blank slate. What dishes do I have? What colors in the dining room?

The dining room is all light wood. I haven't bought dishes yet.

So we go to the china section. My wife always bought white, I explain, fingering the plain dinner plates at the front of the display.

She asks if I want white, and it's her bothering to ask if I want them that makes me realize that I don't.

What color plates does she have?

Red. Those ones over there.

She points.

The red ones are bright. Perhaps too much so. But there are some pretty light green ones in the same style. They remind me of Edward's eyes.

I'll take those, I say.

She suggests eight place settings; I buy four. Plates and salad plates and mugs and bowls all in one big box. I ask Deirdre what the most popular flatware is and she adds a box of 18/10 stainless steel cutlery to my cart. We go back to SOFT KITCHEN, and she's right, this time it's easier. I pick the khaki ones right away, and napkins with a little green thread running through them. Kitchen towels to match.

She walks me back to the front of the store as though I wouldn't find it on my own. There's only one customer ahead of me in line. The walkie-talkie clipped to Deirdre's belt crackles; someone needs assistance in cookware. She gives me an apologetic smile and moves to leave, but then she turns around, frowning.

I'm very sorry about your wife, Dr. Cullen, she says.

Caught off-guard, I blink a few times. Then I tell her that she's a graduate student and should call me Carlisle.

~||x||~

While I'm sitting at my desk grading papers, a knock comes at the door. It's a Federal Express driver with an overnight envelope. I sign for it.

Inside is a ticket for tonight's Bulls game. The return address is the new house in Vancouver.

Alice is watching Edward; Edward is at his home in Chicago. This much I know.

The game is in four hours. I get in the car.

~||x||~

Almost everyone in the stands has food, so I buy nachos. They're interesting—I remember when cheese became commonplace, and this yellow runny stuff is bizarre. But chips are easy to crumble and appear to have eaten, so it's a good choice. I order a Miller Lite, too. It smells foul.

As I suspected, Alice has bought me the seat next to his. He has on a Bulls sweatshirt—I wonder when he got it. Hunched over in his seat with the hood pulled up, he doesn't look a minute over seventeen.

We haven't seen each other in over a month.

He eyes my beer as I slip it into the cup holder, but other than that doesn't acknowledge me until halftime. He gets up as though to go to the restroom and returns with a large plastic cup of his own. He picks up my beer and pours a little less than half of it into his cup, so that it looks like we've each had some. Then he sits and puts his hood back up.

With a minute left to go in the game, his head finds my shoulder. I put an arm around him and rub his back gently. A few people stare.

After the final buzzer sounds, we're two of the last in our section to leave. We haven't said anything yet, and when I speak, it's to ask if he'd like to go to the box office to get tickets for another game.

He nods.

The next home game is on Wednesday. I give the ticket agent my credit card. The tickets print out right there, and I hand his over. He shoves it into the front pocket of his jeans, and it rumples a little.

Can I take him home?

Nah, the El will be fine.

Okay. I'll see him on Wednesday, then.

At least he puts his hood down. His hair shimmers under the streetlights as he shuffles away.

~||x||~

Sotheby's calls. It's taken two months, but there's a good offer on the Solimena. I don't really care how much it is. I will trade the thing for a wooden nickel if it means getting rid of any reminder that I was once friends with the bastards who murdered my wife and daughter-in-law.

It sells for fifteen million. They apologize they didn't get more for it.

~||x||~

Deirdre's first paper is almost professional quality, the best in the class. I invite her to my office hours and ask if she's thinking of pursuing a Ph.D. in public health.

Not really, she says. She wants to work for the CDC, and she doesn't think she has the stamina to finish a dissertation.

She should consider it. Her writing is phenomenal.

There's not much money for her to go on, either.

Ph.D. students are often fully funded. She'd get into a funded program writing like this, I'm sure of it.

Stunned silence.

I ask if she'll at least consider it.

She asks about my placemats instead.

I like them, I say. I'm glad she suggested I try something different.

Different can be important when you're starting over.

Now the stunned silence is on my end.

Was it cancer? she asks.

Cancer? My insides twist. In my perfect memory, I watch again as my wife and daughter are dismembered, beheaded, and torched because they decided to leap between my granddaughter and two thousand years of pure evil. Cancer? That, at least, would've given me time to do more than just stand there and scream.

I realize I'm being stared at.

Yes, I say finally. Breast cancer.

Deirdre nods knowingly, and tells me she came to Madison because her mother died in her senior year of undergrad. That was when she cut her hair.

And got the tattoo? Maybe that's inappropriate of me to ask, but she nods.

Mom used to always call Deirdre her little weed. The vine is Japanese Kudzu. It's pretty, but invasive. You can't stop it from growing.

Stopping her from growing would be impossible, I agree. It's all the more reason she could consider going on.

She beams.

Anyway. I'll write her a recommendation letter when this class is over, if she decides to take me up on the idea.

She calls me Dr. Cullen as she thanks me. I remind her that my first name is okay.

~||x||~

By the fourth game, we still aren't talking, but Edward puts his head on my shoulder at tipoff. He keeps his hood down now, and when I can get away with it, I stroke his hair. It feels good to touch him.

At halftime he whispers that the people around us don't know what to make of us. I'm too young to be his father, and he's too old to be so affectionate. They think we're maybe a gay couple, but it doesn't look romantic to them either.

I'm someone who misses you, I whisper back. That's what they see.

Right when the second half starts, he flips his middle finger at someone a few rows behind us before putting his head back on my shoulder.

I wonder what the guy was thinking.

~||x||~

The rest of the family calls to wish me a happy birthday. Renesmee sends a crayoning of me with a cake, onto which she has painstakingly drawn three hundred sixty-four candles. They're all smooshed together so it looks like there's just a blue mass on the cake top, but I get the point. I tell her I'll hang it right over my desk.

Emmett is enjoying the fact that snowmobile season lasts longer in British Columbia. Jasper's enrolled at UBC and has begun work on yet another master's degree, this time in French military history. Rosalie is restoring a '63 Aston Martin in her spare time, but most of the time she's taking care of Renesmee with Alice. Edward's daughter is easy to care for, but still a handful. And it's clear she misses her father a lot more than she ever is willing to talk about.

Alice and Rose are not very happy with Edward.

He's in a lot of pain, I remind them, and they both lay off at once. Maybe because even from a thousand miles away I'm still the coven leader. Maybe because I'm in the same state as Edward. Maybe because Alice knows about the basketball games.

As though she can read my mind as well as Edward can, Alice asks how the Bulls are doing.

It's a good season. Mediocre compared to the Jordan/Pippen era, but they'll make the playoffs, I think.

Alice is pleased to hear this; a long season will be good for me and Edward both.

I ask her what she means by that.

My relationship with Edward is evolving. It will be okay. Promise her I won't panic.

Panic? What does she mean, evolving?

Hey, Nessie wants to talk to me.

I accept the brush-off and find myself listening to a play-by-play of tea parties and Cinderella. Aunt Alice won't let her watch PG movies. Uncle Emmett gives good piggyback rides, better than Uncle Jasper's. She whispers this too loudly. I hear Jasper laughing.

We hang up after I've told them all I love them. My birthday present, a new iPhone, arrives via FedEx precisely two minutes later.

~||x||~

I assign a literature review as a midterm project. Deirdre's is so thorough, it looks like she's studying for comprehensive exams.

~||x||~

The Bulls are up by six over the Warriors with 3:42 left in the half when my iPhone jingles. Alice's text says I should offer to drive him home. I haven't done this since the first game, although I've since figured out he doesn't own a car. When the second half is over, I don't even ask—he's seen me thinking about it the whole time. He chucks our food debris into a trash can and follows me to the parking garage.

The old house is in Irving Park. It's a bungalow on a narrow lot, on a street lined with pin oaks that were already huge when Edward was a child.

He hasn't bought any furniture, and he's not paying the electric bill, so it's dark. He pays for gas because his only extravagance is the piano, which sits in the middle of the bare living room looking out of place. The instrument needs to keep warm, even if Edward doesn't.

There's a heap of boxes from Amazon in one corner of the living room, and there are books piled everywhere—classics, contemporary, plays, anthologies, poetry, science fiction, romance novels. I gesture to them.

All of them are boring, he says.

Then he abruptly starts sobbing.

He has no couch or bed, so I put my arms around him and slowly lay us both on the wood floor. He shakes against my body, and my arms remember a time almost a hundred years ago, the first time I held him like this. It wasn't far from here, I realize, my little tenement apartment off of Michigan where I took Edward when I changed him.

I run my fingers through his hair and put my nose against it, inhaling spice and earth. Like those of all the ones I've turned, Edward's scent carries a little bit of my own. Mine is a sweeter spice, like smoked cinnamon, Esme always said; Edward smelled to both of us a little darker, like nutmeg. The similarity is a biological warning to others of our kind; a marker that I've sired almost my entire coven, that they are likely to be loyal.

To me, it's a reminder that he's mine. Edward smells perfect to me.

A minute passes.

He tells me to go ahead.

It takes me a second to realize I was considering kissing his neck.

I sweep my lips over his collarbone, and the fine hairs on his neck raise ever so slightly. His skin is grimy from the basketball arena; it tastes salty. He shivers as I kiss him.

I pull him closer. He's still shaking, but he calms as I hold him. His body touches almost every inch of mine; we've always been the same height and build; able to share clothes. The skin feels warm—not quite like a human's, but I haven't felt that much lately, either. Our legs lace; mine between his or his between mine, I'm not exactly sure. He keeps his back to me.

We lie entwined for most of the night, and I kiss his neck again from time to time, when I feel like it.

I have to teach, so I get up just after dawn to get home in time. He's clearly shocked that I'm going. I invite him to come with me, but he mumbles that he has things to do here. Looking at the physical manifestations of his lifestyle, I wonder what those things could possibly be, but I decide that it's too soon to press. He still hasn't said more than five words to me at a go. So we hug, and I leave.

I'm on the Kennedy, almost to O'Hare, when I get an erection.

~||x||~

The first week of March, daffodils bloom in my yard, bright and pale yellow and white, taking over half the lawn. I stare at them in disbelief. Esme kissed me for the first time on St. David's Day in 1921, and for eighty-five years I gave her a bouquet of the flowers to mark that anniversary. Their sudden presence here, in my new life without her, makes me feel violated.

It occurs to me that I own a lawnmower. The flowers don't have to stay.

But on my way to the garage, I wind up standing in the yard. Little yellow heads kiss my shins as their stems sway in the breeze. I stop, close my eyes and imagine how much she would enjoy the little house, with its view of the lake. How she would tease me about having such a bachelor pad before starting to hang curtains.

How we'd own white dishes.

I've gone into the house for scissors and cut a small bouquet before it dawns on me that I don't own any vases. I improvise with the plastic UW travel mug I was given by the department at the start of the term.

Ugly mug aside, yellow flowers and green dishes look nice together.

~||x||~

There are sixteen gigabytes of space on my iPhone. I load iTunes onto my laptop, put three thousand dollars in the account, and start buying music. Esme never cared much for rock and roll outside of the Beatles, or she never pretended to. Going to concerts was always Edward's and my thing. It was also how I got him away from Rose long enough to let his fuse recharge.

I start with Bing Crosby. Cleveland, Ohio, in 1946, just after the war. There had been a pretty woman dancing near the stage, her dark hair full as it whipped around her. Edward teased me about watching her for months afterward, and Esme offered to get a wig if I liked dark hair that much.

Nat King Cole, same year, in Chicago, before he became famous. As we were leaving, Edward asked me why anyone would stop that man singing just because he was Negro. I told him that sometimes, humans are a lot crueler than we are.

A lot of Elvis. We saw him as a family on our first return to Tennessee, fifteen years after I turned Emmett. The boys and I spent the concert snickering at how enraptured Esme and Rose were by all the gyrating going on. There was a marked increase in hip-swiveling in our house after that.

In the sixties, we both became fans of Motown. At the Supremes, Edward pronounced my dancing to be seizure-like and tried to pretend he didn't know me. I spent the whole concert dancing as close to him as I could manage.

He was going through a phase of hating me during the early years of the Stones. I leave them off.

American Pie. We sat in our living room, stunned, just as devastated as everyone else. Maybe more so, because with a longer perspective, we had an even more acute sense of exactly what was lost when that plane went down.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, which was as much war protest as it was concert. We wore bandanas and jeans jackets, and yelled for the president to go fuck himself. When the band played, the intensity with which Edward screamed "I ain't no fortunate son" made me wonder if it was Vietnam he was singing about at all.

The Jackson Five. Elton John. Three Dog Night. Marvin Gaye. Abba. The Bee Gees. Before long I'm in the eighties: Jackson without the other four, Simon sans Garfunkel. We flew to Johannesburg for a month for the release of Graceland, a fusion of South African choir and rock that was as moving as it was gloriously politically subversive. Edward learned to speak Afrikaans.

When the album plays as it downloads, I'm caught by the title song. It's so up-tempo that somehow for all these years, I've never noticed how sad the chorus is. I listen to it again. Maybe it was written for me.

A quick email cancels my office hours so I can stay home. I lay my head on my desk and put Paul Simon on one-song repeat. Graceland plays until my laptop battery dies.

~||x||~

Edward is waffling about whether to go to the game, the text message says.

I go anyway.

The Bulls lose to the Clippers, 103-89.

He never shows.

~||x||~

I return to Bed Bath and Beyond. Deirdre isn't there. A man helps me find a vase big enough to hold daffodil stems. He looks at me funny when I buy three.

What? Men are allowed to enjoy fresh flowers.

Flushing red, he gets me a basket for my items and excuses himself.

The woman in line in front of me has a coupon. I decide to join the mailing list.

~||x||~

The Bulls beat Denver, Portland, and Detroit. I watch all three games alone.

I drive to the house in Irving Park after the Detroit game. It's pouring down rain, and the wind is whipping at the pin oaks, hammering the water against the houses. I sit in the driveway with the engine running, remembering the last time I was here. To my embarrassment, I get hard again. There's no movement inside the house, so I decide it's probably safe to take care of things. And better—I'll be more rational if Edward does show up. I recline the driver's seat and unbutton my fly.

Out of habit, it's Esme who springs to mind first. She's always been the one I pictured, even when she was young and human and picturing her made me feel lecherous and ashamed. I spent a lot of time hating myself between 1911 and 1918, I think. That's probably why this all feels so familiar.

But as my hand pumps up and down, breasts become smooth chest. A softer stomach becomes one with well-defined abdominal muscles and much coarser hair. The images terrify me, confuse me—and turn me on.

I'm grunting and panting, my hips arching off the seat, when there's the tiniest rustle outside my window. My eyes fly open.

Edward is staring, slack-jawed, from his kitchen. It was him moving the curtain I heard.

The suddenness of seeing his face is too much. I explode into my hand.

I don't even bother to wipe the dashboard; I'm out of the car so quickly. The kitchen door is unlocked, and Edward is still standing there. My hands find the sides of his face like they were always supposed to be there, and in the end it's he who kisses me, the inside of his lips sliding over mine, wetting the soft membrane with his venom.

We kiss like desperate men. It's hungry and it's painful, hands tangling in hair, lips caught in teeth. He bites. I yelp. We crush against each other, erection to erection, as though the lip lock hasn't gotten us close enough. We don't need air, yet we're both panting when we pull away.

Get out, Edward says at once.

It's growled, low, and I'm not sure I've heard him correctly. I beg his pardon?

Get. Out!

He shoves me backward with such force that I stumble and fall, cracking the brittle linoleum. What the fuck was I thinking, he screeches. Who the hell do I think I am? His wife is dead. My wife is dead. Don't I fucking remember?

I scramble to my feet. I want to hug him again, but he's so angry, he's trembling. And he's right; I've completely lost my mind. The car is still idling in the driveway. Has it been one minute? Ten? Sixty?

I take out my wallet. The tickets for the next eight games are creased and slightly damp from my brief moment outside. As he stares and shakes, I tear them off one by one, and lay them on his counter in order by date.

Cleveland is on Saturday, I tell him.

I don't plug in my iPhone or turn on the radio during the drive home.

~||x||~

Renesmee calls and immediately starts sobbing. Unlike the rest of us, she can actually cry, and her breathing and voice are wet with that raspy noise humans make when they're trying to talk through tears.

Daddy hasn't called in three days, she wails when I finally get comprehensible words out of her.

I kind of want to punch him. Instead, I assure Ness that everything will be all right. I ask if her aunts and uncles are around. They're not. She doesn't want them to know she's upset.

Like father, like daughter.

I promise her I'll talk to him. In the meantime, will she draw me a picture? Anything she wants. It's been a while since I've gotten a new one.

I know that she knows I'm trying to take her mind off the situation. She may look four, but she's no idiot. But she also knows when to trust the adults around her.

She sniffles and lets out a hiccough. Okay. She'll get started. Something special?

Something extra, extra special.

When we hang up, I put my head in my hands. This is my fault; I'm sure of it. Damnit, Carlisle. You've always been the one that could hold it all together. What the hell is going on?

That I can't answer that question terrifies me.

I go outside and uproot the big beech tree behind the house to vent my frustration.

It lets more sunlight into the living room.

~||x||~

Edward doesn't come to the Cleveland game. I drive to the house and slide a note under the kitchen door.

CALL NESSIE.

He does.

I'm relieved.

~||x||~

I screen And the Band Played On in my seminar. My students are twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, born in the middle of the eighties. AZT has been around as long as they can remember. Gays have always been out. The problem is whether or not they'll be allowed to marry, now.

Seeing the horrors of the epidemic as it unfolded is shocking to some of them, I can see. Their high school biology textbooks had a section on retroviruses. The idea that this was once so unknown and frightening is strange.

When it's over, we have twenty minutes left of class for discussion.

At once, one student says he's surprised they didn't lock that one fag up. The flight attendant.

I blanch. The kid's name is Justin, he's getting an M.S. in physiology, and he isn't doing well in my class.

I inform him that his word choice is inappropriate for my classroom and diffuse his comment by asking him if what he suggests would have ultimately solved anything.

As it turns out, I don't need to intervene. His classmates shut him down rather handily, pointing out that the virus had already spread by the time they figured out where it was coming from. The debate evolves from a discussion of the movie to questions about sexual morality more broadly. Does someone have the right to spread a disease like that? What if they don't know? Can we mandate people get tested? What about the ER practice of testing everyone who comes in because we can't ask if someone is HIV-positive? It costs us billions of dollars. Is it fair to ban monogamous gay men from giving blood when we don't ban the most promiscuous straight people?

They go on and on, and I have to cut them off when the next class starts peering into the room to see if we're done.

A few of them thank me for a fun class on their way out the door. I nod, and remind them absently of the articles we're reading for next week. The truth is, I'm rattled.

I hear Justin's voice over and over in my head as I return to my office.

Fag.

I want to cry.

~||x||~

The Bulls are up by 10 over the Knicks when my beer disappears. When it's replaced in the cup holder, it's half-empty.

Edward's body creates so much force as he drops into his chair that my seat shakes.

I lean forward and cheer as the Bulls crash the boards.

Like the first game, there's only one minute left of play when he touches me. This time, it's to take my hand, under the armrest, where it won't be seen. Our fingers lace together.

The Bulls crush New York, wining by almost thirty points. Edward asks if I'll drive him home.

We get there and there's a car already in the driveway, a little Mazda6. He shrugs and says it doesn't attract too much of the neighbors' attention but it still has a V6 engine.

Where does he need to go?

His best friend lives all the way up in Madison, he mumbles, looking away.

The front door slamming is my first signal that he's gotten out of the car.

~||x||~

It's pouring down rain. FedEx delivers anyway, an envelope. The return address is one Ms. Renesmee Carlie Cullen. It's written in my granddaughter's hand.

It makes me laugh that she's already using Ms.

The first drawing is of Esme, which I realize I expected. My breath catches at the way Ness has managed to capture my wife, the wry smile that she would give us when she thought we were up to something, which was often. She's caught her half-turned toward the artist, her hair falling down over one shoulder in waves.

I'm grateful that I don't need to worry about ruining the drawing with my tears. I hold it and cry for the better part of an hour. I miss you, I whisper to it. I'm sorry. You don't know how sorry I am.

The drawing smiles back at me like she does too know.

The second drawing is of me and Edward. My arm is slung over his shoulder and we're laughing—me with my head tipped upward and mouth wide, he looking downward shyly and smiling. I don't even remember this moment; perhaps it's of Nessie's imagining. It's oddly beautiful. Edward's arm is bent upward and he's grasping my hand, our fingers interlaced like they were at the basketball game a few days ago.

I'm so busy staring at it, I don't hear the door open. Footsteps fall in the foyer, squishy and wet. I breathe in. The scent is sweet, spicy, earthy. Perfect.

Mine.

Edward is drenched. He's been standing outside since the FedEx guy left, which explains why I didn't hear his car. He was trying to decide if he was going to come in or drive back to Chicago. His hair is slicked against his head and nearly black with wet, and his clothes hang off him in drapes.

I don't know if he wants me to hug him.

He nods that he does.

My shirt turns dark from the rainwater as I clutch him to me. Welcome to my home, I say. Well, it's his home too, of course. Anywhere I am is his home.

I take him on a little tour. The kitchen. The table, set with the green dishes. It's past the season for daffodils, so I've been buying bouquets at the supermarket. Right now, it's purple tulips. He laughs. He's never pegged me for someone who would like flowers.

Me, either, I say, but I learn new things about myself every day.

The study is next. He spends a several minutes looking at all the drawings.

He really misses her, he says at last.

I put my arms around his waist. I miss her, too.

He's silent for a long time. When he finally does speak, he's looking out the window at the lake. The sun is setting, and the light bounces off the water in crazy patterns: red, orange, purple.

Sometimes… He chokes, and for a second, I think he's not going to go on. But he does. Sometimes, he wonders if she was worth it. Is that mean of him to say? He's her father.

I tighten my grip on him, and look over at the new drawing, the one of my wife. She smiles back knowingly from the sheet of computer paper.

Why was it them, Carlisle? Why not Rose? Or Alice? Or one of the others? Why is it the two of us who are left behind?

He's whining now, his face screwing up like it does when he's about to cry. He doesn't do that often. But I've known him longest, and I recognize the signs.

I rest my chin on his shoulder blade. It is pronounced beneath his skin—he'd lost a lot of weight from the influenza, and venom only does so much to one's frame. Edward has always been gangly.

They were the mothers, I answer, and even though I've never put it in so many words before, I know it's exactly right. They were the only two in that whole huge group who had experienced having a child of their own. There was no way they could live and let the child be destroyed. And Nessie is worth it. She's so very worth it. He talks to her every day. He knows how wonderful she is.

She is wonderful, he says. He loves every bit of her. And he misses her every minute of every day.

He leans back into me so that I'm supporting all of his weight, and his hair tickles my cheek.

Go ahead, he whispers, like he did that first night, except that this time I'm fully aware of what I'm thinking about.

His skin is slick from the rain, and the water wets my lips and tongue as I run them along his neck. He shivers, spinning so fast I don't have time to react before his lips crush to mine. They search, hungry, and he grinds against me and makes little mewling noises that get me right in my groin.

I reach to his waist and strip his shirt off—it's absolutely sopping and squelches as I pull it from his body. He makes much quicker work of mine. His chest is clammy and cold; I think maybe I should get him a towel, but he snarls at me.

We don't stop kissing even as he backwards marches me toward the bedroom. I stumble because he's moving faster, and we both laugh. Our pants go the same way as the shirts, and all I can think as I pull a naked Edward onto the bed is that this seems like it was inevitable. That maybe it could've happened in 1918, or maybe it would happen a thousand years from now, or maybe sometime in between.

Maybe it will happen now, he growls.

Now is good.

It hurts—a lot. He isn't small, and my own erection fades as I fight to get used to the sensation. But there's a lot of grunting and this low whine that I realize after a moment is me, and I figure there's some part of me that thinks it feels nice, on the whole. He shoves a hand between us so that he can stroke me, which feels even better. I'm surprised he knows to do this.

He laughs and taps his temple.

Oh yeah. He's probably seen a lot of this over the years.

Quickly I forget about wondering where he learned his technique and focus on the fact that he's demonstrating the knowledge in slow, even thrusts. My breath comes in ragged gasps that sound nothing like me.

I find I like the sound.

Edward reaches orgasm somewhat quickly, arching his back like a cat and half-grunting, half-snarling when he comes. His penis is still a mess of sticky venom as he withdraws and scoots himself so that his groin is resting on my thigh. He reaches for me and starts to slither downward, but I grab his face in my hands and pull his lips to mine. I appreciate his gesture, but I'm overwhelmed.

I don't say aloud that I love him. I don't need to. He replies with his kiss, and it's no longer the desperate kiss from his kitchen or my study. It's careful and tender, our tongues sliding gently against each other. His lips linger a moment before he buries his nose in my collarbone and presses his lips to the skin of my neck.

He loves me, too, he whispers.

This time, it is I who shiver.

~||x||~

Edward stays in Wisconsin for three days. We make love seven times. Lubricant turns out to be a great invention.

The rest of the time we sit around and talk. Our conversations range from basketball to the existence of Heaven. We spend a lot of time laughing. We cry a lot, too.

Before he leaves, we get quotes to have his books and piano moved.

~||x||~

Deirdre stalks into my office when she gets her final grade.

What?

I don't deserve this.

Her final paper is on public health initiatives to curb the spread of cholera in third-world countries, based on case studies in Mumbai, India and Citiboke, Burundi. She's proposed a number of ideas that I've never seen before.

I look at the printout she's waving in front of me.

No, that's the grade she earned.

She stares at it for a long time. Then she looks back at me. Do I really think she could get a Ph.D.?

I'm sure of it. Does she have a recommendation letter file with the graduate school career offices?

She doesn't, yet. I tell her to open one, and to bring me the forms with her sign-off for confidentiality. My contract has been renewed, so I'll be around in the fall to help her with her applications, too.

A smile breaks across her face. It's been a really good term, Dr.—

Carlisle, we both say at once.

After thanking me, she's gone.

I've taught on and off for almost a hundred years. It's the first A+ I've ever given.

~||x||~

The Bulls win four straight against Miami and advance to the Central Division finals.

Edward comes to live in Madison. His piano takes up most of the living room.

I spend my afternoons listening to live performances of Chopin.

~||x||~

I get DirecTV so that we can watch the division finals, and we put a flat-screen in the bedroom. One evening, Edward is in my mouth and close to orgasm when he suddenly starts screeching obscenities. I jerk back, afraid I've hurt him.

It turns out that the Bulls' point guard has fouled a Pistons player as he was shooting a three-pointer. The Pistons get three free throws; all sink easily. With only two minutes left in the game, the Bulls don't come back. It's their fourth loss to Detroit. The season ends.

When Edward settles down, I make him come. As we lie together after, kissing and listening to the post-game breakdown, he asks if I think Renesmee would like Wisconsin.

~||x||~

Bed Bath and Beyond is a bit of a nightmare to navigate with a kid, even one who for the most part, is inordinately well-behaved. I've never noticed that they carry toys as well as housewares, but we end up with several in the cart, next to the shockingly pink bed-in-a-bag set that Renesmee insists she's not going to grow out of, ever. Her hearing isn't quite to vampire standard, and Edward and I wager under our breath. He bets six months; I give it two.

As we make our way back to the front of the store, I spot Deirdre in the pots and pans. I wave, and she comes over.

This is Deirdre, I say, gesturing to her. She was my top student this term.

She blushes.

And Deirdre, this is my—I stop. What do I say? I haven't had to introduce Edward to anyone yet. Boyfriend is too trivial, mate is…well, Esme.

Your partner?

Edward. He extends his hand as he says it. And this little being is his daughter, Ness.

Deirdre looks from me to Edward and back again. She's smiling. Am I sure I don't need more place settings?

We'll make do for now. Maybe we'll be back later.

Nessie is practically bouncing up and down. I scoop her onto my hip and tickle her, then apologetically say we need to get her home. She can't wait for her new bed.

Deirdre waves. It was nice meeting you, Edward. And Ness, too.

When I'm the only one of the three of us looking back, she mouths, Congratulations.

I smile.

~||x||~

In the summer, I'm freer. I take the opportunity to do some research. We teach Renesmee how to swim. Edward gives piano lessons.

All three of us do a lot of reading. It turns out the books aren't boring, after all.

Renesmee nabs the password for the iTunes account, and shortly thereafter I find that I own a lot more Hannah Montana.

I fight back with Nat King Cole.

A week later, I find her standing on Edward's shoes as they dance to "Unforgettable."

~||x||~

Alice calls our relationship evolving.

Emmett calls it fucked up.

Rosalie finds it really weird, but is glad that we're so happy.

Jasper just does a lot of smirking.

The crayon drawings all hang in Renesmee's room. She's moved on to colored pencils now, and we've outfitted an entire pint-sized studio for her in one corner, beneath the gallery of her complete works. Only three aren't in there—the one of Esme, which hangs above my side of our bed, the one of Bella above Edward's, and the one of the two of us in the middle.

They're good reminders. Where we came from, but also where we are.

Edward has been a lot of things to me over the years. A brother, a best friend, a son, a confidant, a savior. But when I have to introduce him now, I use Deirdre's term.

Esme and Bella jumped in front of Ness because they were mothers. But fate saw fit to leave Edward and me behind because we can be here for each other.

The truth is that we've always been partners. And I realize now we always will be.

For his birthday, I get us season tickets to the Bulls.

~Fin~

Dedicated to malianani,
who asks all the right questions.