Disclaimer: The Twilight world and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. No infringement is intended; I'm just visiting for a bit.
Author's Note: I originally posted this story elsewhere, but readers here have expressed an interest in it. If it seems familiar to you, you've probably already read it. If not, I hope you'll enjoy it! This is a long story with 20+ chapters... It's set between New Moon and Eclipse.
Sitting beside Edward in our economics classroom, my eyes flicked to the calendar posted on the wall. Today was the first of May. A scant six weeks of classes remained, and then I would be finished with my high school career… at least for now. I had no doubt that I would enroll again many times over, just as all the younger Cullens had. I didn't mind, really, as long as Edward was with me.
As my eyes moved to his impossibly beautiful face, I decided that I would try to convince Carlisle to let all of us attend college for at least the next ten years. Edward found our current classes tedious and mind-numbingly dull. For the majority of each school day, his face was set in a bored semi-scowl. I don't think he was aware of his expression, but I was. It did little to diminish his beauty, but I disliked seeing him unhappy. I knew he was only in school at this point because of me.
His graceful, pale hand was spread over the large envelope on his desk. Throughout the classroom, the other students had begun opening their packets and discussing the results found inside. His eyes moved to me, and he smiled.
"Aren't you going to open yours?" he asked.
I shrugged. I didn't think the contents would have much relevance to me, but I slid the printout from the envelope and began reading through it. When I glanced up at Edward again, I was surprised to see an amused grin softening his features.
"What's it say?" I asked, interested to know what would leave him so entertained.
"It says I should consider a career in medicine," he replied. "Maybe I'll go pre-med… again." He dropped his voice as he spoke the final word, chuckling in amusement.
I smiled, too. "Why not? You wouldn't have to study much, and that would give us more time together."
He reached for my hand to give it an affectionate squeeze. "So, what is your ideal career?" His eyes flicked over the paper in my hand.
"It's a toss-up between social services and education," I said, skimming the list of job titles below the general headings. "Social worker or teacher."
He nodded. "You'd be good at either of those."
"But I thought you said these things were silly," I reminded him, remembering the day each senior had been given the vocational assessment.
With a crooked smile, he replied, "I didn't say they're silly. As I recall, I said the results wouldn't be very objective. But I meant for Alice and me. There's fairly solid statistical evidence that this particular survey has decent validity for actual high school students."
"But you have studied medicine," I pointed out, speaking softly.
He nodded. "I've studied a lot of things, and I know precisely how to answer one of these questionnaires to ensure the results I want. Alice does, too."
"Great," I responded somewhat glumly. "So, since your ideal career is in medicine, you get to shadow Carlisle during career days. And since Alice's perfect job is in design, she gets to work with Esme. Who do I get? The school counselor?"
"I'm sure Carlisle could speak with the hospital's social worker," he began. He saw my face fall as I imagined three days spent at the hospital trying not to pass out every time I saw or smelled blood. "Or maybe there's another possibility…" he added rather cryptically.
"What do you have in mind?" I asked, my curiosity piqued by the glimmer in his eye.
The teacher had begun speaking, so we had to halt our discussion. But I planned to return to it later, prompted by the satisfied smile spreading over Edward's face.
I forced myself to listen to Mr. Klein.
"…end of next week, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. If you don't know someone who you can shadow, I have a list of local businesses and professionals who have agreed to participate in our career exploration program again this year. Remember, be polite when you ask. You'll need to fill in this form and get a signature to confirm that you've been accepted by your career mentor. Then he or she will complete an evaluation form after your three days are over. And don't forget, 40% of this quarter's grade is based on your vocational experience: 20% from the evaluation, and 20% from your reflective essay."
A discussion ensued centered on due dates and logistics. Most of the students seemed excited about the experience, but I suspected it was due primarily to the fact that they would get to miss three days of school—without having any academic work aside from the follow-up essay.
I wasn't quite as elated, however. I felt there was a fairly real possibility that Edward and I would end up in different settings, and I wouldn't get to see him as much as I did at school. My glum mood persisted through the end of class, and when he excused himself in the hallway, clearly intending to hurry off somewhere rather than spend the ten-minute break with me, I was even less pleased.
"Where are you going?" I asked, catching his wrist before he could walk away.
He offered me an inscrutable smile and said, "I need to check the weather forecast," then hastened away.
I shook my head in confusion and minor disappointment and shuffled off toward my next class alone.
My disappointment intensified when it was Alice, not Edward, who met me at my locker after school. She had an unreadable expression, and I had the feeling that she was trying to quash her emotions.
"Where's Edward?" I asked immediately.
"That's a fine way to greet your best friend!" she said, placing her hands upon her hips.
"Sorry, Alice," I apologized. I could tell that her pout was exaggerated, but I still felt the need to acknowledge my curtness. "It's just that I haven't seen him since economics. He always finds me in the hallway between classes."
"He's been on the phone," she informed me.
"What's up?" I asked, curious now.
"Career week!" she responded excitedly. "I got designer again," she gave me a knowing smile, "so I'm going to shadow Esme. She's renovating that Craftsman bungalow on the east side of town. She's going to have me choose the wallpaper, paint, and some of the fabric for the upholstery…"
"That's great, Alice. And Edward's going to work with Carlisle at the hospital—"
She tapped at her lips with her fingertip. "Hmm."
"What's that mean?"
"Well, Edward will be working with Carlisle—I've seen that very clearly—but it's not going to be at the hospital."
Suddenly I understood. "Oh, right. I guess spending three days there, around all that…" I dropped my voice to a whisper, "blood… wouldn't be the best idea."
She nodded and took my arm. "He'll tell you all about it soon. Come on, let's go home."
Alice refused to answer any more of my questions during the drive to the Cullens' house. She chatted about a shopping trip she was planning, and my mind wandered until she turned off the road onto the long drive leading to the secluded home. I saw that Edward had arrived shortly before we did; his car was in the garage but I could hear the engine cooling.
No one else was home yet. The huge house felt empty to me when we stepped inside. And Edward was nowhere in sight. Usually, on those rare occasions when I arrived alone, he met me the instant I entered the house. Alice stood listening for a moment, then she gave me a knowing grin.
"He's upstairs," she informed me.
"Thanks," I replied, already moving toward the staircase.
"In Carlisle's office," she clarified.
The solid wooden door was open, so I didn't bother to knock. I was certain Edward knew I was there, anyway. He sat at the desk, a file folder before him. He looked up at me and smiled gently, beckoning me toward him.
He pulled me into his lap, wrapping an arm around my waist. He kissed my cheek and inhaled happily, closing his eyes for a moment.
"Mmm, I've missed that," he murmured into my hair.
"It's only been two hours since economics," I reminded him, but I'd missed him during those hundred-plus minutes, too.
"Well, I was sort of thinking about the three days of job shadowing," he admitted. "That's much, much too long for us to be apart."
I kissed him. "It is."
Reluctantly, he pulled back. "Absolutely."
"You have a plan," I guessed; he looked rather pleased with himself.
Edward rested his hand over the file folder. "Bella, there's something you don't know about my family," he began.
"Really?" I queried playfully. "Let's see, your combined ages are something like a thousand, your impervious skin sparkles in the sunlight, your hearts don't beat, you never sleep—"
He chuckled. "Yes, there's all that. But this is something else."
He opened the folder to reveal a photograph of a slender, middle-aged woman surrounded by about a dozen children, ages ranging from toddler to perhaps ten or twelve.
"Who are they?" I asked.
He touched the image of the woman. "This is Sister Caroline."
"Sister? As in nun?"
He nodded. "Yes. She runs an orphanage in Mexico."
Understanding was beginning to creep over me. "Does your family sponsor one of the children?"
His grin showed his amusement at the suggestion. "Bella, we sponsor the entire orphanage."
I suppose I should have known that… "Oh, of course."
"But it's more than just monetary support," he continued, his tone sobering. "We go down there three or four times a year to do what we can."
"What sorts of things do you do?"
"Carlisle provides medical services and supplies to the children, and Esme and Alice send clothing, toys, and books. When Emmett goes, he does repairs and keeps the facilities in good order. Rosalie has helped Carlisle with the children a couple of times, too."
"What about Jasper?"
"He hasn't been there yet. He's still concerned about his control… But he's provided many books and academic materials. Sister Caroline runs a school at the orphanage, too."
"Have you gone?" I asked, suddenly imagining Edward with a small child upon his knee. It was an odd yet sweet image.
He nodded. "Yes. I've visited several times, more than anyone else in the family except Carlisle. He goes every time, but he usually takes just one of us with him."
"Why just one?" But even as I asked, I realized I knew the answer.
He sighed, and I could hear regret in his tone. "Sister Caroline is very grateful for the help we provide, and because she needs it so desperately, she doesn't question it too closely. But when there are more than two of us together, we tend to be more… noticeable. Her human mind is willing to overlook certain oddities if it means the children can get the assistance they need. Still, we don't want to push it."
"Yes," I agreed. "That makes sense."
"However," he continued, his expression softening as a smile tugged at his lips, "for this next trip, Carlisle is willing to make an exception. This time, there will be three of us—we hope."
He'd included himself in the pronoun. "Oh, so you'll be going. Who else? And when?" I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed at the thought of Edward being away, even though I knew it was for a very good cause.
"Alice has checked and re-checked the weather, and it's going to be cloudy most of next week as a low-pressure system sets up over the area."
I nodded. "So that's what she meant when she said you and Carlisle wouldn't be working at the hospital. You're going with him, and you can use that as your career experience, too." I really was happy for him; he was doing such a good thing. "That's great, Edward."
"Do you want to know who else is going?" he asked, a hint of humor in his eyes.
He lifted my chin and kissed my nose. "You, we hope."
"Me?" I asked, utterly caught off guard. "Really?"
"If you'd like to come. It would be an excellent combination of social services and education, so it's a perfect match for your vocational experience. Sister Caroline is a certified teacher, but a great deal of what she does involves social work, too, so shadowing her seems ideal for you."
I was grinning now. "Absolutely! And I'd love to do whatever I can to help the children." However, a sobering thought occurred to me. "But it's in Mexico…and I'm still sort of grounded. I don't think Charlie will let me go."
"Alice says he will," Edward quickly reassured me. "Carlisle is going to speak with him this evening, after you've told him about your vocational profile results. Oh, and you're going to get some extra credit for Spanish, too, which will help make up for the test you missed." He didn't have to add, 'when you were in Italy.' I knew that was what he meant.
"Is she sure?" I didn't want to get too excited. After all, Alice's visions were sometimes subjective.
"She is. No matter how she looks at it, she keeps seeing you, Carlisle, and me at the orphanage with Sister Caroline hugging us and thanking us. So this outcome seems certain."
I permitted myself to smile once more. My gaze wandered down to the photo again. "How many children are there?" I asked.
"Seventeen," he replied. "Carlisle stays in regular contact with Sister Caroline, but he'll check in with her this evening to let her know we're coming. He'll find out if anyone needs any specific medication or supplies."
"How much can we bring with us?" I felt certain that all of children could use clothing, books, toys, school materials…
"Two to three bags each. If we have to pay for extra luggage, it's not a problem."
For once I didn't protest the thought of allowing Edward to cover an expense for me. "I hardly need anything. I'm sure I can fit tons of school items in my suitcases."
Edward was smiling affectionately. "I'm sure you can, too, love. Once Carlisle has spoken with Caroline, we can plan precisely what we'll take. Esme and Alice will want to do a shopping trip this weekend—"
"Can I go with them?" I interjected excitedly.
He laughed. "Isabella Swan! You actually want to go shopping with my sister?"
"It's for a good cause," I huffed.
He kissed my cheek. "I know, and I'm happy to see that you're enthusiastic about this."
"I am. I've always wanted a chance to do something like this. I wish you'd told me about it a long time ago."
"Carlisle doesn't like to brag about his philanthropic activities," he replied.
"Edward, it's not bragging; it's sharing something important that your family does, and I think it's wonderful."
"I had a feeling you'd see it that way," he said, smiling gently.
I thought for a few moments then asked, "So how did all this come about?"
"For a long time, Carlisle had wanted desperately to participate in Doctors Without Borders or another similar organization, but of course he couldn't, for obvious reasons. A few years ago, a colleague returned from a trip to Mexico where he'd met Sister Caroline, and he mentioned her and the orphanage to Carlisle. She was getting only minimal help from the Church, and she was truly struggling. Carlisle wrote to her, mentioning their mutual acquaintance and explaining that he'd like to help, and about a month later he and I flew down to meet her and start providing more hands-on assistance."
"That's great," I said.
"It's the least we can do."
Hearing the emotion in his voice, I squeezed his hand. "So tell me about some of the children."
By the time he'd finished speaking, I was in love with every single one of them.
To be continued...