Bella is assigned to research the Spanish Influenza for a school project and sees the most beautiful man she's ever seen in a photo in a history book. She becomes obsessed with him and thinks she's fallen in love with a picture. Then, the Cullens move to Forks and she recognizes Edward as the man from the photo.
This story takes an alternate approach to how Bella and Edward meet. It starts before Twilight and includes some of the events of that book. All recognizable characters, places and situations belong to Stephenie Meyer, and no harm is intended by borrowing and playing with her creations.
. . . . .
Everyone around me groaned in unison, and I raised my eyes from my tattered copy of Romeo and Juliet to see what all the fuss was about.
Mr. Randall was writing our assignment on the board, and I groaned along with them when I saw what it was. Writing a 20-page research paper and planning a presentation was not the way I'd expected to spend my weekend.
And it only got worse. When Mr. Randall came around with his infamous hat full of topics, the piece of paper I drew from it read "Spanish Influenza" in his tight, scribbly handwriting.
. . . . .
We had the rest of the quarter to complete the paper and prepare a 30-minute presentation, but I planned to dig in right away and just get it over with. I had enough to worry about this semester, and while this was a lot of work, I knew I could get through it quickly so I could concentrate on my harder subjects.
Mr. Randall's rules specified that we'd only be allowed five internet sources, and that the rest had to come from books and other sources. So I drove to the Port Angeles library on Saturday morning to get started.
I stared at the online card catalog, changing my search parameters until I'd narrowed down a list of books and articles that seemed most promising.
I trudged down the stairs to the history section and started pulling books from shelves. I dragged everything over to a quiet corner behind the stacks and settled cross-legged onto the floor to start my research.
Book one was a boring bust. Nothing but statistics and dry technical jargon about how the disease spread. I set it in a discard pile to my left. Book two wasn't half-bad, and I stuck bits of paper in several places to mark information I thought I could use. I put it in a take-home pile on my right. Book three was another fail, and I sighed, grumbling to myself about how long this was going to take me.
Book four changed my life.
I flipped through the pages, skimming the information. In the middle of the book was a thick section of shiny pages, printed with old black and white photographs taken before, during and after the Spanish Influenza outbreak. I was intrigued.
This was much more interesting than the charts and graphs the other books had, and I started to wonder if taking a personal angle and telling people's stories wouldn't make for a more compelling presentation and paper.
It was a few pages into that section—on page 218—that I saw him.
The most beautiful boy I'd ever seen. Laying in a hospital bed, dressed in a white nightshirt, the covers pulled tight around his chest and a young, blonde doctor at his side. He had slightly mussed, light brown hair and a sharp jawline. His nose was perfect, his elegant hands folded in front of him, his eyes closed. Even with the grainy photo quality, I could see how his eyelashes lay in perfect half-moons against his high cheekbones.
I sucked in my breath and couldn't tear myself from the photo.
The caption was no real help. A doctor attends the bedside of a dying man. Saint Mary's Hospital – Chicago, Ill. September 19, 1918. Photographer: J. William McCarthy
It made no sense, but I had to know who he was.
A desperate clutching welled up inside my chest, and I practically ran up the stairs to the reference desk, the book cradled in my arms.
"Ma'am?" I eased up to the counter and set down the open book, trying to look nonchalant.
The librarian came over, a short stack of soft cover books in her hands. "How can I help you?"
"I need to find out more about his picture," I pointed at the book. "Like, who this guy is and what happened to him."
The librarian looked at me like I was crazy.
"I'm doing a report for school, and I think a personal story would be a great angle. I really need an A." I groveled slightly, hoping my excuse wasn't too transparent.
But why would she suspect ulterior motives? Who in their right mind searched for some random boy who had died almost a hundred years ago?
"Well, I don't know that I can help you there. You might have to check a national archive for information that specific."
She set down the books in her hands and picked up my book. Flipping to the photograph index at the back, she shook her head. "There's no information here other than what's in the caption. I'd suggest looking it up online. You may be able to find out where the original photo is housed, if it still exists. That may be the best way to start."
We walked to the computer section together, and she pulled up an image search. After typing in a few different phrases and finding nothing about the book, she pulled up a general search for Spanish Influenza photos.
"The best I can suggest is to look through these and hope you see it. Then, if you're lucky, you might find some more information by clicking through to the website the photo is listed on." She shrugged and wished me luck.
I dug in, pouring over page after page of photos. Photos of dead, dying, hospitalized, nurses, doctors, freshly dug graves. Finally, a photo caught my eye. It wasn't the same as the one in the book, but the doctor looked the same and it appeared to be in the same facility.
The link connected me to a Spanish Influenza exhibit at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. My heart jumped into my throat. It seemed promising, and I furiously read the information.
The photo I'd found seemed to be one of about a hundred the photographer had taken at one hospital in Chicago in September of 1918, and I opened up the digital gallery. Photo after photo showed the same bed, same linens, same room. In fact, just about every picture in the album was the same basic photo: a young adult in a bed, dressed in white, eyes closed and looking already dead.
Finally, I recognized the blonde doctor, and I knew I was in the right place.
Photo 48 in the online gallery was the photo I'd first seen in the book, and my stomach flipped when I saw the young man's face. Photos 49, 50 and 52 were different shots of the same young man. I saved the photos on my thumb drive and printed a copy of each. If I couldn't find him, at least I had four photographs that proved he had existed.
. . . . .
I looked from room to room, seeing nothing but empty beds and corpses with their faces covered by white sheets.
I called out for him—somehow I knew his name—but I didn't expect an answer.
My voice echoed down the hallways, ringing in the empty corridor and calling back at me from deserted rooms.
I started running, dodging in and out of doorways, desperate to find him.
Time was running out and I knew it. I knew he was going to die before I told him that I loved him.
A slight movement caught my eye as I ran past what I thought was an empty room. I slowed and peered in the dimly-lit room.
It was him, the boy from the photo, tucked tightly into the white-sheeted bed. The gentle rise and fall of his chest proved he was still alive, and I stepped into the room with silent bare feet.
His eyelashes fluttered—once, twice—and he opened his eyes.
His voice was raspy and his breath shallow. He was fading, and I knew my time was short.
I slid to my knees beside the bed and grabbed for his hand.
"Please. Don't go. Not yet," I begged, my nails digging into his cold wrist. "I don't even know you."
My tears flowed, and I stood, shaking his frail shoulders. "Please! I didn't get to love you. I didn't even get to spend a single day with you."
His eyes slipped open again, and his hand reached for my face.
"I'll come for you. I promise. We'll have forever."
. . . . .