As sorry as I was that Edward had to leave me, there was something I needed to get out of my system before I returned home to where my mind-reading son resided.
As a matter of course, I didn't like to see Edward upset. Nonetheless...in this case...I couldn't help but feel a bit vindicated.
Over the ages I've come to understand something about human nature. It's their fancy for retribution—you reap what you sow, that sort of thing. It's also called karma in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The truth is, people crave justice. "That's not fair" is not merely a popular saying, but a protest to the whole bloody universe, because the human yearns for balance in the realm of the living.
Parents of rebellious children, for example, will go so far as to curse their progeny with the same experience of raising an unruly child. "I hope you have a son and that he does the same thing to you!" they may exclaim, either in an impulsive fit or as a silent ongoing rage in their head. Somehow that thought comforts the parent going through the tumultuous teenage years.
Apparently vampires share human nature in that respect, because I was experiencing it. Renesmee was giving Edward a run for his money, and I was giddy with delight...although I hoped I had done a decent job of hiding my perverse pleasure. How awful it would be if Edward knew how I really felt!
Of course I didn't mind helping Edward and Bella out with Nessie, if they needed my support. However, I was quite content in this situation to sit back and watch the spectacle play out.
Please don't judge. If I had the time, I would tell you about all the distress he's dragged me through over the decades. Not that we haven't had a good run—nor would I trade any of it for another Edward. But, had he been slightly more...easy-going, I wouldn't have minded.
But that's all I'm going to say about that. Moving on...
When I arrived back at the house in the late afternoon, Esme filled me in on what all I had missed during the last day or more, keeping me properly entertained for well over an hour. My wife and I kept a low profile then, eavesdropping from my study room, because Nessie had brought her best mates home from school.
My granddaughter didn't have a lot of time to spare for human friendships, because she spent so many afternoons with her devoted Jacob. But now and again she invited a group of young ladies over to the house. They always complimented Nessie's hair, and although she never did anything to it, she said that her "sister" Alice was her stylist. Therefore, Alice and Rosalie got to play beauty shop on the occasional afternoon with willing participants, which was a welcome diversion.
"Is Jasper here?" I overheard the girl named Taylor ask.
Alice answered. "No, he's not at the moment."
"Oh," she said, evidently disappointed.
Nessie exhaled in contempt. "Stay away from Jasper. He's insane! He tried to spank me the other day."
The girls gasped and giggled. I was rather shocked that Nessie would say anything about that.
"Oh, my God!"
Haleigh, another classmate, surprised us all by moaning in a sultry voice, "Spank me, Jasper."
"Shut up!" Nessie hissed. Alice laughed delightedly, and it sounded like someone dropped a hair appliance.
"You're sick," Taylor said.
"Ow!" Haleigh cried, and I guessed someone had pinched her. "What? Jasper Hale is...mmm...suckable sexy."
"Get it, girl!"
Esme looked at me with her mouth agape. "Nessie doesn't think about things like that, does she?"
I shook my head. "I don't think so. Not yet anyway."
Interestingly, Renesmee was probably one of the few girls in her class who was in a steady relationship with a young man. And yet she still wasn't too curious about sexual relations. That was, unless she wasn't letting on. I was aware that young people knew a lot more these days than they used to. Although with a mind-reading father, Nessie usually didn't get away with pretense.
This made me recall the day a couple years ago when she asked how "babies got borned [sic]." We still lived in Forks then and Nessie sat at the table in the kitchen, eating her breakfast. The question was deferred to me, being the physician. Since she hadn't asked how babies were made, I skipped the lecture on intercourse and gave a cursory scientific description of labor and delivery—something appropriate for a young child, I thought.
Little Nessie's face contorted with horror. "You mean babies come out of the girl bits?"
I confirmed. "Uh, well, yes...but the nurses usually give the babies a bath directly afterward," I added hastily to alleviate her distaste.
Her lip wrinkled and she started to gag. Then she pushed her oatmeal away in disgust. "I'm not hungry anymore."
Then Edward came to the rescue, modestly explaining that Nessie had been cut out of Bella's body, sparing the gory details. She was only slightly relieved.
The grim irony of the conversation wasn't lost to us. In the backs of our minds was the question, Could Nessie reproduce? And what would be the outcome of Renesmee's DNA mixing with the werewolf gene? The unknown was problematic.
I digress, however.
That evening, when the school girls had left and all of the family was home for the night, we met together around the dining table for a Cullen meeting. It was just on Nessie's bedtime, and the aforementioned had come in with a soft pillow, which she dramatically posited in her chair before delicately sitting upon it. Edward rolled his eyes.
"What?" she cheeked. "Since you all are so concerned about my derriere, I thought you would want to know that it hurts—and for real, this time."
"It's called justice, Renesmee," Rosalie said with a stern nod.
We ignored the injured wildcat sulking in the corner, and I passed around photographs of the new house. Together we hatched a plan for the future eastern relocation, which would take place about a year later. I also had brought back gifts from Vermont, which I handed out with enthusiasm. Maple syrup for Jacob, jumpers for the girls, caps for the boys, art, books, CDs, and such.
I presented Nessie her package. "And last but not least...for you, my dear." Her face lit up. "Actually, this might be a present for Edward and Bella...but I was thinking of you when I bought it." I grinned. Edward, seeing the object in my mind, laughed out loud. My granddaughter looked curious as she unwrapped the paper.
"It's heavy," she remarked, untying the ribbon. "Oh, very funny, Granddaddy. Are you trying to give me nightmares?"
"Not trying to be funny...or scary. It's a very well-made item. I special-ordered it from a woodworking artisan I met in Stowe. I told him I had seven children."
"Don't forget the dog," Rosalie said, sticking out her tongue at Jacob. He made a face back at her.
"The craftsman made it very durable," I continued.
It was a wooden paddle, about 30 centimeters long on the business end, made of oak with leather around the handle for gripping. I liked it so much, in fact, I decided to put in an order at a notable tanners shop in London for a leather version (that wouldn't break on vampire skin). At that thought, Edward and Alice raised their eyebrows at me. I shrugged. They knew how much I appreciated a good implement for corporal punishment.
"Will you look at that," Emmett exclaimed. "It's even got a loop for hanging. Nessie, you can hang it on the wall in your room!"
"I'm feeling dizzy," Ness muttered, her fingers pushing on her temples.
"Come here, dear," I offered, my arms open. "Do you have a headache?" She nodded and crawled into my lap. I placed a cool hand on her forehead, guessing that the problem wasn't likely in her head at all.
"That's enough teasing, you guys," Bella said. "She's had a rough time."
"Aw!" Emmett pushed Nessie's shoulder lightly. "Don't be like that. We all get into trouble. It's not like any of us are Jesus Christ around here. Except maybe Carlisle comes close, but he can't help being perfect."
How I wished they wouldn't think of me in that way. I was far from perfect and always aware of it. And although my brood regularly got themselves mixed up in some mischief or another—in this unconventional father's humble opinion—they were perfect.
"I get into plenty of nonsense," I argued, "like the rest of you. It seems I'm always in trouble with Esme." She smiled indulgently at me. "And growing up, I think I recall upsetting my father on more than one occasion. There's nothing for any of us to be ashamed of. Even Jesus made trouble for his parents."
"Yeah, right." That was Emmett again. "Good thing Jesus isn't in this family. Can you imagine having a perfect brother? Thank God we've got Edward," he joked, nudging Jasper.
"No, it's true," I insisted. "The Gospel of Luke tells the story of when Jesus was twelve and traveled to Jerusalem with his family for the annual feast. They all started back to Nazareth and walked for an entire day before they realized that Jesus wasn't with them. His mother and father traveled back to Jerusalem and searched for three days before they found him in the Temple with the teachers."
"I would have been in so much trouble had that been me," Nessie commented. "My parents would have sent Uncle Jazz into the Temple to bust my ass."
"Nessie," Edward interjected dryly, "I don't think it's proper to use the word ass in the midst of a Sunday school lesson." His sarcasm was clearly intended for me, as he didn't put much stock in "Sunday school lessons." He courteously endured all my little moral stories, however, when I was in a mood to tell them.
"So what did he have to say for himself?" Jacob asked.
"Oh, Jesus, you mean? He said, 'Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?' "
"Sounds like a good tactic," Bella cheered. "Answer a question with another question. Way to sidetrack 'em, Jesus!"
"Sounds like back-talk to me," Esme countered.
"Had he been my son," Rosalie remarked, "I would have smacked him across his impertinent mouth. 'I am your mother! You had better tell me before you go being about your father's business.' "
I cringed at the image of Rose striking the young Savior.
"And that's why you're not the mother of God, Rosalie." Edward smirked. He expeditiously ducked as a spike-heeled shoe sailed across the table and over his head.
"I think it was the parents' fault. How do you lose the only son of God?" Jasper pointed out.
"Well, I wouldn't have lost him," Alice said, sounding superior.
"It's late, Ness," Edward noted. "You can go to bed now."
"Okay," she said sleepily.
"Don't forget this," Jasper said, handing her the paddle. He had been whapping it lightly into the palm of his hand.
"Thank...you," she mumbled, disturbed. She stood up and fetched her pillow. "Oh, Mom? And Grandmother...and Aunt Rose...? I want all the mothers to know so they don't go stressing...I need to be about my father's business tomorrow."
Bella laughed. "And what would that be?"
"Daddy is making me attend an all-day finance seminar in the city. Jacob's going with me, so don't go freaking out because I'm gone."
"Take your phone with you," Bella said.
"If you take the subway, stay on the orange line," said Rosalie.
"And keep away from the French sailors," Alice directed. We all looked at her with anticipation, as though waiting for the punch line, but she was quite serious. "They're not really interested in practicing their English," she warned.
"As a general rule, Ness, stay away from all sailors," Edward amended.
"Now, Jacob, you take good care of our precious cargo," said Esme.
"I will," he promised.
Emmett wanted in on all the bossing then, and so he affected a matronly voice. "Look both ways before crossing the street, children."
"And don't talk to strangers," Jasper added.
"Sure, sure." Nessie yawned again.
"Yeah, we get it. And just say no, right?" Jacob joked.
Emmett wasn't quite finished. "And don't use the excuse that everyone is doing it, because if all your friends decided to jump off a cliff—"
"That's enough, Em," Bella spoke up. "Not funny."
"Oh, that's right!" he crowed. "All your friends do jump off of cliffs. Even your mother jumps off cliffs!"
"And you're on thin ice, lad," I informed him.
I wasn't cross about his teasing, but I couldn't be sure where he was headed. We all wanted to forget that Bella's cliff-diving had led to Edward's suicide attempt in Volterra, but it was impossible not to link the two events. In addition, Esme had ended her human life by jumping from a cliff. I had even tried to destroy myself by leaping from steep crags when I was a newborn vampire. Needless to say, it was a sore subject. I supposed I could use a bit more of my son's sort of good humor about it, but I wasn't quite there yet.
With Emmett subdued, Bella left with an arm around Nessie to escort her upstairs. Then the others followed to their various nighttime pursuits, and it was Jacob, Edward, Esme, and I remaining at the table.
Jacob looked uncomfortable—as though he wished he had left with the others.
I think Edward then decided to put him out of his misery.
"Jake," he called, achieving his attention. He pulled a tennis ball from his pocket and held it up. Jacob's eyes widened—energy building—and he swallowed his excitement. Then Edward crossed to the wall and opened the window—all the while Jacob tracked his every movement. He showed the ball again, then threw it away from the house. In a blink, Jacob was gone, chasing that ball to God knew where. We heard the front door open and slam. Then it was quiet.
"And so the Cullens can add mind-control to their repertoire of ability," I began, to bring up the subject of Nessie's new power.
"It's good bloodlines," Esme complimented. "We're a talented family."
Edward snorted. "It is quite a pedigree. She inherited a few other less-than-admirable traits as well."
"Being three is difficult," I said, "and so is becoming an adult. She's chronologically three, and emotionally and physically a young woman. She'll grow out this phase most likely."
I couldn't help but think how paradoxical it was that Edward would never develop past his adolescence.
My son looked wistful. "It's interesting, you know. When she was small, it was like she was already grown up. I mean comparatively. I see other young children and their behavior is defined by impulses and outbursts. For instance, there was a little girl throwing a tantrum downtown today because her cup wasn't pink and 'puh-ple' enough. Renesmee's got a temper, but she wouldn't waste a fit on something so trivial. Not when she was younger anyway. The maddest I ever saw her, I think, was when she saw those starving children on television. Social injustice was what triggered her moods.
"These days...she could blow up if you look at her the wrong way. I think we are experiencing Nessie's 'terrible twos' now. Except that it's technically her third year of life... God, it's going by so fast." Edward bit his thumbnail.
"Well, you're doing a good job," I commended, feeling his unease.
There was a loud thud from the second story.
"What on earth was that?" Esme asked, hand on her chest.
"Oh," Edward hedged, "I think that was Nessie's bed. I damaged the frame the other day. I fixed it temporarily, but I need to go back and replace it." It sounded to me like he was trying to cover up his embarrassment. I knew that he had broken the bed by smacking it, instead of Nessie. I chuckled.
"Well, please do," my wife said.
"I heard you got quite the surprise this morning." I smirked.
"I wasn't surprised," he objected. "It's true I can't hear Bella's thoughts, but I saw Alice's vision as soon as Bella decided to call for her. I let them catch me. They needed to feel better about it, and evidently saying sorry wasn't good enough." He raised his chin. "Besides, it didn't hurt."
"Oh, it didn't?" Esme challenged. "I can fix that."
"Actually, I think it hurt a lot," he revised. "But you don't have to tell any of the others that. It can be our secret."
"All right, young man. Just remember, it can happen again," she warned with a pointed finger.
Edward smiled, mischievous. "Mom, I'm going to be about my father's business, as well. With your permission, of course."
She crossed her arms. "Uh-huh. Tell me about that business, Edward."
"It's the business of driving Carlisle crazy."
"Oh, brilliant," I replied. "Crazy is my favorite mode of travel."
"I'm trying to keep pace with Renesmee. Keep it fair, you know. Tit for tat. She takes me for a ride, I take you for a ride... Because you're my dad."
Blimey! He had perceived my amusement at his trouble despite my best efforts to hide it. I smiled apologetically.
"I know you don't want to miss out on a jaunt, Dad." He was teasing me by using my favored word for an outing—jaunt. He and Emmett always made fun of my speech, the impudent rascals.
"That's fine, dear," Esme cooed to Edward. "He needs you to keep him on edge. Things have gotten rather easy for him."
"Go ahead and take the keys to crazy, son. I'll ride shotgun."
He smiled crookedly at my affectionate tone. "Oh, good. Because I was thinking of buying a Porsche."
You pay for a Porsche twice, I told him telepathically, and that makes you the crazy one.
And if my willingness to take all this on made me crazy, then strap on the straitjacket under my seat belt. I was mad for this confounded family and always would be...no matter where we ended up.
I would never be lost, because this craziness...it was the ride of my life.