To Touch Tomorrow
by Mackenzie L.
The following one-shot was suggested to me by Voguevamp shortly after the release of Breaking Dawn: Part II. It was inspired by the climactic scene from the movie in which Alice offers Aro a vision of what might have happened if the Volturi decided to fight the Cullens. My challenge was to write a "what if" scenario, assuming Alice's vision had actually occurred in reality, with the primary focus being on Esme's reaction to Carlisle's death.
*The Twilight Saga and all its characters are the property of Stephenie Meyer.
She had thought life was so complicated back then. In 1921. In 1922. In 1923.
Those beautiful, confusing, perfect years.
She never thought about reliving them, not until recently. Looking back on it now, those years had been flawless. Filled with an indefinable innocence, a heart wrenching sweetness that she'd somehow lost along her journey in becoming a mother to many children. Some part of her wanted to return to a simpler time. A time when Carlisle and Edward were her only family. The less members of a family one had, the less bodies there were to worry about.
But God help her, she didn't want her family to be any smaller. Esme thrived off the feeling of having too many people to love. After coming so far, she couldn't turn back. The only direction she had to go was forward.
Carlisle was the same way.
"You can never have too many children," he'd told her once, on the day Alice and Jasper first introduced themselves to the family. "Your heart just...expands every time a new person is added." His face brightened as he explained the phenomenon to her, his hands cupping an invisible dome over his chest to illustrate the effect. She remembered the way he had looked at her, the tentative joy shining in his eyes, as if she would refuse more members of the family. She remembered the way he whispered, "Don't you agree?"
Alice and Jasper spent that night under Doctor Cullen's roof.
And Esme found it very difficult not to attack her husband with kisses after hearing him go on all night about his endlessly expanding heart.
The expanding heart effect had taken its toll on the entire family in recent days.
Renesmee was growing. She was the most incredible thing they had in their lives, and she was always the topic of their conversation. For months, Esme felt that she and Carlisle never talked about anything else. They were consumed by her, entertained by her, and very busy cherishing her every second of every day. Between Carlisle's hectic work schedule at the hospital and having a granddaughter of their very own, there was hardly any time left for them to be alone together.
They used to reserve that time religiously, no matter how chaotic their lives became. But for the first time since they'd married each other, Carlisle and Esme had conflicting schedules. In the past they had always naturally adhered to the structure of Carlisle's hours, working their way around his awkward shifts and brutal fourteen-hour work days to make time for each other. Allotting that frame of time had always been a struggle, but now it was an impossibility. There were times when they might go days without seeing each other at all. Things like shopping at the market, making daily visits to the drugstore for Band-Aids and Benadryl, and taking her granddaughter on outings became necessary for Esme. Many adjustments had to be made for this new member of their family, but Esme didn't mind it one bit. The only downside was that it parted her from her husband.
But she hardly thought about that.
It was easy enough to pass up on her daily dose of romance when she was so distracted with other things. The busier she was, the faster the days went by, and the less time she spent worrying about Carlisle. He went to several conferences in different states, but he never discussed them with her after he got back like he used to. He assumed she didn't care. In a way, he was right to assume that. After all, what in the world of medicine could possibly be more interesting than their very own hybrid vampire-human granddaughter?
Esme would pack up Renesmee's knapsack with toys and books, send her off to library classes, then pick her up after the four hours had gone by. During those four hours, the house was empty, so she usually cleaned or went out shopping to pass the time. Renesmee spent the rest of the evening with her parents. Esme spent the rest of the evening with Rose and Alice.
Carlisle was still working.
She didn't know what kept him so busy at the hospital. It was flu season. Maybe there were lots of cases this year. He rarely called the house, but she tried not to take it personally. He was too busy to make calls for trivial talk. If he did call, he always wanted to speak to Nessie. Then he would talk to Edward. Then after a brief conversation, Edward would hang up the phone instead of handing it back to Esme.
Every day was very different, yet still very much the same. Carlisle came and left the house at strange hours, inconsistent with the rest of the family. At 4:45 a.m., he answered a house call. At 7:00 a.m., he came home to shower and change his clothes. He smiled at her briefly before leaving again for the hospital, and that might be the only contact they would have for an entire day. By 6:00 in the evening, Esme would either be cooking dinner for Nessie, or getting her packed up in the car to go to a restaurant with the rest of the family.
Even with all their recent exposure to the outside world, they still lived such hidden lives. They went out of town whenever they could. Shopping and dining, when they were done for Nessie's humor, were done in various parts of the state. They got to see a lot, and do a lot, and experience a lot. Nessie enabled them to be more human than they ever had the chance to be before.
For the first few months, Carlisle missed a lot of it. Esme felt as if her family was rushing through life. This was not the way she was used to living. She felt guilty for it, for reasons she didn't quite understand. She supposed Carlisle's absence had a lot to do with her guilt.
Things only started to change one Monday afternoon when she managed to intercept one of his rare phone calls from the hospital. It was not his cell number, but she had guessed it was him when she heard the hospital name recited on the caller ID.
"Hello?" she breathed into the receiver, privately panicked that he would ask for Nessie.
"It's me, sweetheart."
As if she didn't know her own husband's voice.
"Yes?" she said expectantly.
Immediately, Esme regretted her tone. She could only imagine how cold she must have sounded over the phone when, this time, he had clearly called to speak to his wife. Not his granddaughter, not his son.
His breath wavered on the other line for a moment or two longer, and Esme debated saying something to redeem herself in the meantime. But, sadly, she couldn't think of anything.
Thankfully, Carlisle spoke first.
"Are you taking her out to dinner tonight?"
He didn't have to say her name. They both knew he was talking about Renesmee. It seemed like she was all they talked about these days.
Esme opened the refrigerator and inspected the sparse shelves with a sigh. "Probably."
"I want to try to come with you this time."
He sounded so hopeful it kind of made her want to cry.
She didn't know why she was so short on words today.
"Doctor Gering gave me gift cards for that new Italian place. Do you think she'd like that?"
"I'm sure she'd love to go someplace new."
"Good." She heard him swallow. "Around what time does she usually get hungry?"
Esme held back a chuckle. "That tends to differ from day to day."
"Do you think 10:30 would be alright?"
Esme sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I don't think most family restaurants stay open that late on Monday night, Carlisle."
"I can't make it back any earlier than that," he murmured pitifully.
Esme tried to ignore the pang in her throat. "Well, I don't know what to tell you, then." She kept her voice quiet, but she couldn't help wondering if he could hear her tiny strains of frustration through the phone.
She stared blankly out the window, watery venom prickling her eyes. "Maybe."
He stayed silent, as if waiting for her to say more.
"Is that all you wanted to ask?"
He ignored her question and began trying to redeem himself for the next day's agenda. "I can pick her up from the library tomorrow. Four o'clock, right?"
His voice was weary, and Esme suddenly felt terrible that he had been working so hard while she'd been out shopping at the mall and taking Nessie to the park and browsing for new cookbooks at Barnes and Noble all week. But she didn't tell him that.
"You'll leave the hospital in the middle of the day to pick up Nessie from library class?" she asked dubiously.
"I'll do it on my lunch break."
"You don't have to, Carlisle."
"I want to."
"But Bella and I will already be out and about. It's more...convenient if we do it."
He was quiet, and she worried for a second that he might admonish her for stepping on his foot when he was only trying to help.
But he did not admonish her.
He breathed in slowly, then he whispered sadly into the receiver. "I wanted to kiss you today."
Esme's eyes opened wide, innocently unaware that his thoughts had been elsewhere through this entire conversation. It was only then that she realized she had forgotten to close the refrigerator door. The chilled air spilled around the lower half of her body, but her husband's words made her feel flushed.
Still speechless, she rushed back to the refrigerator and pressed the door shut, feeling slightly ill from the smells of strawberry yogurt and leftover honey-baked ham. She leaned heavily against the refrigerator, eyes tightly closed, trying to keep her breathing quiet so he couldn't hear.
Why did his sweet words make her feel so weak?
She bit her lip hard at the sound of her name, then straightened up with a deep breath, trying to regain her composure.
Then, softer. "Esme?"
"Dinner tonight, 9 P.M. Don't you dare be late."
And he wasn't.
He reserved a table by the window so they could see the stars out that night. He held a giggling Renesmee in his lap while he spooned wedding soup into her mouth, and he stared at his wife from across the table as if it were his first time seeing her in ages.
"So what did you think of the new restaurant?" Esme asked her granddaughter as they walked back to the car.
"It was pretty," the child responded diplomatically, still wiping away the sticky remnants of raspberry gelato from her lips.
"It was, wasn't it?" Carlisle agreed, giving her hand a tug. Esme eyed the two of them curiously.
Nessie nodded. "I liked the red placemats. And the music. And the drippy candles at our table."
Esme's knees weakened as a jubilant smile crossed her husband's face. He picked up his granddaughter, buckled her into the car seat, and kissed the top of her head. "I liked the candles too."
"I'm afraid she might take after you with her affinity for candles," Esme murmured as Carlisle slipped into the driver's seat beside her.
"I was going to say she takes after you with her appreciation for interior decor," he rebutted softly, reaching over to tickle her elbow before putting the keys in the ignition.
Using the engine roar to mask her words, Esme leaned across the seat to whisper into his ear, "Then we should be glad she didn't mention the paintings of half-naked Romans on the walls."
Carlisle smiled the entire drive home.
They made an effort to spend more time together after that night. One evening out had made them realize just how sorely they'd missed each other's company. Being busy could only make one neglect the love of their life for so long.
Carlisle made sure he kissed his wife before he left each morning, and Esme no longer felt like she was dying inside.
Night rolled past and morning came again, and this time they touched tomorrow with conviction, not hesitation.
It was the first day in four months that he didn't work at all. That morning they decided to watch the sunrise from their favorite spot on the cliffs. They waited patiently side by side, sharing the same spot on the forest floor, carpeted with soft red and green ferns. It was very quiet except for the low, constant hum of the wind. And it was very dark, except for the purple flush of dawn creeping over the milky gray sky.
Out of nowhere, Carlisle asked, "Do you ever get that funny feeling that something is going to change?"
Esme turned to face him with a wry smile. "Something has changed. We're spending time together." She teasingly flipped a lock of his hair over his ear. "We've had a full hour so far! That's quite a change."
He smiled weakly at her teasing. "No, I meant something coming... in the near future."
Her hand dropped to rest on his elbow. "Is it something good?"
"I don't know," he murmured, gazing up at the sky. "Just something different."
She squeezed his arm affectionately. "Different is good."
"Sometimes." Carlisle gave a half shrug before leaning back to lie in the brown autumn grass. He tucked his arm behind him, and his hair fell in soft curls around his head, like threads of pale wintry sunshine.
He closed his eyes for a few minutes, and Esme knew he was listening to the birds. Their distant calls were almost mournful in the early hours of morning, as if they were begging the sun to rise.
"Why are you sad?" Esme found herself asking him.
Carlisle opened his eyes and crinkled his brow. "I'm not sad."
Unconvinced, Esme stared hard at her husband, studying his face and searching his eyes for the reason behind his mood. "You've been working too much," she concluded.
He chewed his lip and looked down. "I have a lot of new patients in the hospital. A lot of consults."
After a little while he looked back up at her, like a child who had just given the wrong answer to a question and was waiting for his punishment.
But Esme wasn't in the mood to punish. "Maybe we should..."
His eyes flickered hopefully, widening slightly as he awaited the second half of her suggestion.
"...go swimming," she finished with a seductive little smile.
A helpless half-grin appeared on her husband's face, his voice low. "In the bathtub? Or in the South Atlantic?"
Esme did nothing more than raise her eyebrows to indicate her answer. Already she could hear the powerful song of the ocean calling her in the back of her mind. She was already dreaming of white sands and long, endless beaches, and clusters of willowy green palm trees growing at fifty degree angles. With winter just around the corner, a visit to their island sounded especially appealing.
"Will you at least think about it?" she pleaded, trying to win him over by lovingly massaging his tense shoulders.
"I have so many patients right now, Esme," he sighed, shaking his head, but there was still a wistful glow in his deep eyes. With some convincing she was sure he would give in.
"I know, but... just think about it?"
"I can't think about it," he argued in his faint English accent, his tone exasperated but gentle. He rubbed his forehead vigorously and frowned, forcing his accent away. "I'll get distracted."
Brushing off his excuses, Esme leaned closer and attempted to entice him with an ideal scenario. "Imagine how much the baby would like it there," she said, sinking her fingers deep into his hair. "We could take the whole family this time. We'll stay there for an entire week. No pressure, no patients, no conferences, no on-call nights..."
For a while her words seemed to work magic on his mood. He closed his eyes, smiled to himself, and drifted into a peaceful limbo. But there was still a reluctance in his voice when he tried to speak. "Esme, it's not—"
So she silenced that reluctance with a firm kiss to his lips.
"Or we could just go," she whispered huskily, "by ourselves." She slid her fingers under each side of his collar and opened it to reveal the smooth skin of his neck. As she spoke, she tucked her hand inside his shirt and passed her warm palm across his broad shoulders. "Don't you want to feel the sun again? The real, bright afternoon sun...like a burning hot blanket over your bare skin?"
"Stop," he protested softly. Again she ignored him, and kissed him soundly. He groaned happily into her mouth until she finally backed away, breathless, smiling down at him with a look of supreme satisfaction. He stared adoringly up at her, raking his strong fingers through her long hair.
There was nothing off about the way he was looking at her. Not in the beginning. But then Esme noticed the way Carlisle's gaze began to change and deepen. There was something in the way he was looking at her that caused her distress. She couldn't completely explain it, but she began to sense a shift in the air between them. A tension, a sorrow. He was looking at her as if it were the last time he would see her.
"What's the matter?" she queried, tracing her finger across his pouting lower lip.
"We missed the sunrise," he whispered in regret.
Esme peeked over her shoulder and shrugged before leaning down to kiss him again. "There's always tomorrow."
Before they were married he used to say things like, "There is nothing more amazing than helping a dying patient come back to life."
But after they were married, he couldn't say that anymore – because it was no longer true. He proved that point every time he made love to her.
It was the first thing he wanted to prove the night they learned of the Volturi's threat.
She was almost lost between her body and his body and the soft velveteen music of their breath, harmonizing together. But Carlisle would not let her lose herself. He never let go of her. There was a moment when they touched, and that touch never ended. It went on, unbreakable and unchanging through the darkest, deepest hours of night.
There were times when Esme felt she was just barely holding on, but Carlisle always caught her. Sometimes with his hands, sometimes with his lips, sometimes with just his voice. Profoundly senseless prose was uttered between them, against the pillows, beneath the sheets.
Sometimes the movements would abandon them, and they would fall into stillness. One would be lost and the other would still be strong, and the stronger of the two would have to reassure the other with kisses and lulling words. The more it happened, the more clear it became that this was an impossible feat to overcome alone. They would always resurface together.
Often it was the smallest, most insignificant touch that brought them back.
Even as they passed through the glistening gates of their passionate refuge, those tiny touches were just as humbling, just as powerful. The kinds of touches she used to find dissatisfying – the graze of a finger against her chin, the nudge of four knuckles against her jaw, the smooth brush of cheek against cheek. Each one was more treasured than the one it followed until her heart and mind and body and soul were filled with nothing but his adoration, his eternal promise, his immortal body – him.
This time they prepared themselves properly before they rushed headfirst into another war. This time they were confident that things would turn out the way they hoped. It had happened before, it could happen again. They had won the last time, and they would repeat their victory this time around.
This time, it didn't even cross Esme's mind to think that things would end badly. She had lived through this exact situation once before. They had all made it through alive, and it had only been their family then. Now they had the support of eighteen other vampires. Vampires with great powers and abilities, and most importantly, an undying devotion to her husband. This time, they were not facing an entire army of newborns. This time, they were on equal grounds with their enemy. This time, they had reason and witnesses on their side.
Esme recalled the words her husband had spoken to her before they went to battle against Victoria's newborn army.
"Remember that I will always be with you, no matter how this ends."
He had kept true to his promise then, and she was confident he would keep true to his word now.
He didn't need to repeat the words out loud. Saying them out loud only gave power to their fear.
One morning before the Volturi's arrival, they all gathered in Carlisle's study on the third floor of their house. He wanted to speak to them all one last time as a leader, to inspire them to show this last measure of devotion for his family. He stepped into the window, silhouetted in a bath of orange and gold dust, and in that moment Esme was overwhelmed with a reverent admiration for the man she had married. Here he was, humbly asking his friends to stand as witnesses for his helpless granddaughter. He hadn't asked them to fight, but they had offered to. All of them had offered to lay down their lives for him, because they trusted him and respected him enough to give up everything to stand by his side in the face of danger.
He'd shared with them all his own profound words, offering the last brief inspiration they would need before they went to stand as witnesses before the Volturi. Esme always forgot how powerful Carlisle's speeches could be, how he was able to touch the coldest hearts with his carefully chosen words; how deeply he could move those who listened to his quiet and gentle voice.
He shook hands with everyone individually, thanking each friend personally for everything they had taught him or showed him in his life. In turn they thanked him and pledged to stand for him, to defend him to the very end.
One by one they slowly dispersed from the room, until there was one witness left who had yet to shake the hand of the man who stood by the window.
Angelic beams of sunlight stretched around his body, painting a halo of gold around him from head to toe. Even without the sunny window as a backdrop, he had always looked this way to her, like a vision from heaven. He was beyond anything the earth had to offer a woman, and as she stared at him now, Esme was once again reduced to a hopeless sixteen-year-old farm girl with a broken leg.
She held back her sobs as she reached out for her beloved mate, and he gathered her fiercely into his arms.
He repeated the familiar phrase over and over, three words she'd heard nearly every day since they'd been married. She surrendered herself to his warmth, his strength, his conviction, and she listened to his loving words, his voice pouring like warm honey into her ears, low and smooth and wonderful.
Soon after, soft wet snow fell on the grass, a sound like smothered weeping. When she looked out the window, the grounds looked even more vast covered in a sea of white.
She held her husband's hand, and they walked into it together.
That night they gathered together around a bonfire in the middle of the cold forest. Esme listened to the other vampires talk up the grandeur of historic battles they had lived through, recounting their own heroic war stories as if they had occurred only yesterday. It still amazed her to hear such iconic names and events thrown about so casually in conversation. It reminded her how young she was in comparison to many of the vampires present. Even Carlisle's three-century span of life seemed insignificant when others were speaking of the Roman Empire.
Esme remembered when Carlisle first told her his true age, how shocked she had been, and how deeply she had admired him. Her fascination with his unfathomable wisdom had not dimmed over time. To this day he could still share stories of his daily wanderings in 17th Century Europe, and she would hang onto his every word like a lovesick schoolgirl fantasizing to the sound of her professor's voice.
Even now the thought made her smile. No matter how impressive these other men's battle stories were, she knew she would never find them as entertaining as her husband's vivid descriptions of the life he led before he found companionship.
She missed the nights when they would lie in bed together after making love, and he would whisper about his exotic escapades through Asia, or the time he swam the English Channel, or the silly things he did to pass time while meandering through Italy. To Esme, nothing Carlisle did was mundane. Everything he told her was interesting enough to hold her attention for hours on end. He could have spent weeks doing nothing but talk about his life before he met her, and she would have been perfectly content to listen to every word of it.
It was hard to believe there had once been a time when talking about his past was something Carlisle dreaded doing. He used to avoid it, until he realized how good it felt to share his past with someone else. Night after night Esme would encourage him to tell her a little bit more, and eventually he started to bring up new stories on his own.
Carlisle now embraced the things that set him apart from the current century. He no longer ducked his head and apologized for slipping a word of Old English into a sentence. As much as he tried to adhere to the present day, there would always be a part of him that resisted. Carlisle did not so much cling to the past as much as the past clung to Carlisle. It followed him everywhere he went like a haunting cologne; at times it was so powerful that people could tell just by looking at him that he was not born of this era. Although he was often bashful when someone brought up the subject of his age, Esme sensed that her husband was secretly proud to have lived significantly longer than the rest of their coven. It gave him a humble power, a wealth of untouchable knowledge that the rest of his family valued and treasured. In a way, it secured him as their leader and made him feel worthy of being followed.
Carlisle had not always been so comfortable with his age. Recent years had subdued him. Esme had watched carefully over time as Carlisle became less sensitive and more settled. He was confident in his role as a husband, as a father, and now as a grandfather. But he still drew all his strength from his compassion; it was the one thing about him that could never change no matter how many years had passed. And it was the one thing about him that made her fall in love with him, over and over again, every day since they'd first met.
Because Carlisle was not a part of the crowd around the bonfire that night, Esme sought him out easily, following his scent into the surrounding darkness. She found him standing by himself behind a cluster of trees, his arms crossed pensively over his chest as he stared up toward the sky.
Esme looked up curiously to share his view. Thin, naked tree branches stretched over their heads, framing the night sky like a star-studded web of black lace. Nothing in particular stood out to her, although she could always count on Carlisle to find beauty in the simplest scenes in nature.
"What are you doing all the way out here?" she asked quietly as she came to stand beside him, hugging herself against the chilly air.
"I was talking with Edward a little while ago," Carlisle answered softly, nodding in the direction of the bonfire. "He just left."
It was then when she noticed her son's footsteps in the snow. Reaching out with one hand, she rubbed Carlisle's arm soothingly. "Don't you want to come back and join the others?"
He turned his head and gave her a gentle smile. "In a little bit. Right now I just want to spend some time alone."
"Okay," she murmured without question, only wanting to give him what he needed. She squeezed his arm reassuringly before turning to head back.
Her heart soared when he suddenly gripped her shoulder. "No, wait... Will you stay with me?" His voice was soft but urgent.
"Of course." Esme nodded, happily taking his hand in hers. She smiled when she noticed he was wearing gloves. Carlisle was the only vampire she knew who would wear thick leather gloves on a cold night, even though he didn't need them. There were no humans for miles around to question his oddities, and his skin was perfectly resistant to frostbite. She knew he only did it to feel more human.
Esme lovingly rubbed his index finger through the smooth black leather, a teasing glint in her eye. "Doctor Cullen and his winter gloves."
A bashful smirk crossed his face as he curled his finger around hers and squeezed it appreciatively. "I like to keep my hands warm."
"Your hands are always warm," she sighed as she leaned into his chest. Her face burrowed beneath his open coat, muffling her voice.
He embraced her readily, his long arms wrapping around her back. "Mmm, I love you."
She made a happy little noise in response and kissed one of the buttons on his coat. They stood together for a while, content to be alone and away from any prying eyes. They breathed in the rugged scent of smoke from the fire and the crisp chill of snow on a clear night.
Even in her deep state of contentment, Esme couldn't help but notice the way Carlisle's fingers were not moving across her back. A lifetime of writing, sculpting, and nine-hour surgeries had trained his hands to always be moving. Whenever his hands remained still while he held her, she knew something was wrong.
"Walk with me," he suddenly said, his voice irresistibly inviting.
She followed him deeper into the forest, her head still tucked against his side. Her stomach tightened when she realized he was walking further away from the campsite, trying to get out of earshot from the others.
It was deliciously dark around them, save for the soft kiss of starlight which made his pale face luminous. His strong neck practically glowed against the black wool of his overcoat, his hard skin like quartz. He led her in no particular direction, yet he seemed so aware of where he was headed, as if he had a certain destination in mind.
As their path turned darker, Esme only felt safer. Carlisle's presence was the only source of light she needed. He kept his arm around her as he guided her between gnarled trees and banks of snow. Eventually the spaces between the trees grew wider and their view of the sky was clearer. Carlisle slowed his pace so that they could take in the silent grandeur of the wintery mountaintop vista beside them while they walked.
Tomorrow, the sky would be white instead of black. The stars would be erased and the brightness of daylight would wash out the dark, quiet peace of the night. It would be a bittersweet loss, she thought, knowing what the morning would bring them.
"I can't remember a time when I actually dreaded the sunrise," Esme admitted with a shiver, wishing the night could last forever.
Carlisle looked down at her with pity and understanding. "We feel protected by the night," he whispered in agreement, nodding softly as he glanced around, admiring the eerie stillness of the frosted trees.
"Are you scared about what might happen tomorrow?" she asked, her voice sounding even smaller in the snow-covered forest.
He looked both thoughtful and worried as he stared at her. "No."
Esme pursed her lips in doubt. "Truly? Or are you only saying that to comfort me?"
Looking down at his gloved hands, Carlisle whispered, "I'm saying it to comfort myself."
When he looked tentatively back up at her, his eyes were like piercing yellow diamonds, shimmering with honest concern.
She kissed him hard.
He moaned softly as her lips pressed against his and her hands brushed roughly through his blond curls. He cupped her chin with his hand, and his leather-clad fingers felt so good and so warm against her skin.
"Does this comfort you?" she asked while gently nipping at the corners of his swollen lips.
He nodded slowly, trailing his fingers behind her neck to pull her close for another kiss. Esme's sigh echoed intimately in the night as she felt her back being pressed against a cold tree. "Carlisle..."
He pinned her safely between his body and the tree, and kissed her thoroughly for a long minute before his lips finally released hers.
"We'll make it through this, won't we?" she asked him, her hands gripping his coat. He held her steady when her knees began to falter.
"Just like the last time," he said surely, his gaze thriving with a mysterious heat.
There was something almost romantic about the way he said it.
"To God, I am but a child. His child. I know that I can turn to Him whenever I am lost, and He will guide me."
Those were the last words her husband had said to her, just before morning arrived.
Esme felt his words fill her, and they somehow made her feel stronger. She felt almost invincible surrounded by her family and their loved ones, with the low growling of the wolves coming out of the forest. She felt powerful with them behind her, knowing there was strength in numbers. They crushed the snow beneath their feet and owned the vastness of the open field that they claimed. It was their territory. Nothing could penetrate their territory.
They were not planning to fight, but she could see that she was not the only one who had assumed a natural stance of defense. Their joint preparation was palpable in the icy air. An unspoken tension consumed them like a thick cloud, hovering around their breathing bodies as they waited for their foreboding guests.
Esme hadn't anticipated that she would feel terror at this moment, but apparently the past had taught her nothing. All at once she was a helpless child again, standing in the wake of mass destruction.
One by one they appeared at the other end of the field, blooming out of the whiteness as long, flowing shadows of black. It was the likeness of each vampire, each cloaked in darkness, hooded so their faces were hidden from sight. Without their identity, they became even more intimidating. It was the sheer quantity of them, the massive number inconceivable and endless as more and more appeared from the mist. Where she had moments ago felt empowered by the sprawling stretch of land ahead of her, she now felt dwarfed by it. Her family's claim on this land was being challenged, and they were quickly losing.
She tried to talk herself out of the fear, tried to perceive the situation in simple and unthreatening pieces. Carlisle had once lived with the Volturi, they had tolerated him in spite of his differences. Not all of his experiences with these people were negative. Their only intentions were to protect their kind from being discovered.
This confrontation did not have to end in ruins.
From the moment Carlisle's hand parted with hers, reality abandoned her.
There was a lengthy exchange of words, heated arguments that seemed awkward because they spoke at such a long distance apart. It seemed they were all afraid of each other. No one wanted to get too close. No one wanted to initiate anything.
Carlisle was the only one brave enough to step forward first, to act as a vulnerable link between the Volturi and his family.
"She is not an immortal!" he declared, his voice chillingly strong. "These witnesses can attest to that."
Esme felt pride well up within her as her husband defended their granddaughter. "You can look. See the flush of human blood in her cheeks."
"Artifice!" Caius' shout was like a bullet wound in her heart.
Moments later Aro had invited Edward forward, and Esme wanted so terribly to go with him. She could see that Carlisle had the same wish as she did. She saw the longing flinch in his arm as his son passed him by. Edward looked so young and uncertain as he walked toward the intimidating army of black figures across the field.
Soon, Renesmee and Bella were heading toward the Volturi, followed by Jacob and Emmett. Esme forced herself to stay in her place, finding it more and more difficult to do so as she watched her children slip away from her.
The rest of the group strained to hear as complex conversations and explanations took place. It must have turned out for the better, because before she knew it, Edward and Bella were running back to the group, each gripping their daughter's hands. Aro somehow looked furious, delighted, and mad, all at once.
Esme found herself barely present as the events unfolded before her. She did not react to Irina's death with sorrow so much as pity. All that mattered was that Renesmee was safe. Could it be that the Volturi would really let the little girl live?
Esme's relief came in spurts, peppered with the occasional shock of terror. No matter how many sensible rebuttals her husband offered, there was still a palpable tension in the air. Everyone could feel it. She could see from the looks on their faces. They now had what they'd come for, but this was not over.
Aro's speech sickened her. Only the known is safe and tolerable... Can we live in such uncertainty, never knowing what this child will become?
His words filled Esme with anger beyond reason. Staying still was now nearly impossible. Only the sight of her husband in front of her kept her from moving from her place.
"Do we spare ourselves a fight today, only to die tomorrow?"
Aro's final words sent out a threatening spark that charged the other vampires around her. Esme could feel Bella's shield growing stronger, stretching out further. She could feel the people around her poised to attack.
But then two new vampires came forth from the forest.
When Alice arrived with Jasper, all Esme wanted to do was run to her children, grab them both in her arms and pull them back. Jasper had never looked so ghostly before, and Alice had never looked so small, so fragile.
They were both deceptively powerful, but they were also gifted, especially Alice. Not once did Esme believe her daughter was safe in Aro's presence – a man who had the power to recruit numbers with a snap of his fingers. Alice was loyal, but she was not the strongest of the family. Right then, Jasper was her only protection, and he seemed to be in a trance.
It happened too quickly for her to react appropriately. Alice turned, a wildly frantic gleam in her eyes, and mouthed the word, "Now!" to her family.
Nobody questioned her order.
Bella put Renesmee on Jacob's back, and they went racing off for safety into the forest.
That was the last time she saw them.
Alice attacked Aro viciously, but then the Volturi trapped Alice. Briefly inspired by her daughter's will to fight, Esme felt a fire under her feet. She was never more ready to join her family in combat.
She would never forget the haunting sound of her husband's voice as he cried for their daughter. Let her go!
His words ignited a fire beneath all of their feet, but he was the first to run.
She would never forget the way he charged, faster than she had ever seen him move before. She could still hear the thrum of his footsteps, pounding away like a terrified heartbeat.
She watched in horror as Carlisle crashed into Aro in midair, and both their bodies came tearing down into the snow.
It hadn't even crossed her mind that he had been harmed. She thought it was just the shock of the blow that had kept him from rising out of the snow. In that moment she was blinded by that split second feeling of absolute, ironic certainty that Carlisle was invincible simply because he was her husband, and nothing could ever possibly happen to him.
Aro rose first, a disturbing smile on his bright, animated face. And Esme was seized by terror and disbelief at what she saw.
With one hand, his fingers gripping blond hair, the master of the Volturi held Carlisle's head.
Esme immediately lost all sensation in her body except for the feeling of her heart shattering in her chest. But the rush of terror was instantly followed by a wave of firm denial.
This had to be some sick, twisted illusion. One of the Volturi must have possessed a gift, a gift that made people see things. Someone was manipulating her mind, trying to weaken her. The head that Aro held was just an object – it was not a part of her husband. Yes, someone was surely tricking her.
Her denial lasted quite a while. It was only that faint glimmer of hope that kept her willpower high enough to keep fighting. She had reasons to live for now. She had duties to fulfill, regardless of whether Carlisle was there alongside her or not.
He had stayed long enough to light a fire in those who followed him, and now that fire blazed with rage. They all charged at the black cloaks, feeding off of each other's fury, hungry to avenge their fallen leader.
It was nothing like fighting an army of newborns. The world did not move in slow motion as it had back then. Now it was moving too fast for Esme to keep up. She had the distinct feeling that death was coming for her, chasing her heels, but it never came.
She had so many encounters with death, but the fate always fell on someone else. Leah's sacrifice gave Esme the final wake up call.
This was real. It was happening.
Carlisle was dead.
The fighting ended for Esme after that. She clawed her way out of the ground and ran for cover, away from the violent chaos that promised doom to everyone on the field.
Her ears could not hear anything but muffled cries and screams, and the stomach-splitting shatter of vampire's necks. She felt as if she were about to pass out from the shock of what she had just seen. All she could do was curl up behind the trees, hugging herself and shaking like a lost little girl. She stared blankly at the snow falling around her, trying to link her mind back to reality.
They never talked about what would happen if one of them died. The only time they had dared to touch the subject was when they went to fight the newborns over a year ago. It had always seemed so impossible before. They were vampires, they were immortal for God's sake. How did it happen to the one man she cared for the most?
Edward was the one who found her when it was all over. She couldn't hear his voice, but she could see his face. He looked so desperate, so much like a child begging his mother to come back to him. She still couldn't hear him, but she could read his lips, and she hated what he was saying.
He yanked at his own hair, crying and sobbing in frustration, pounding his fists into the snow beside her limp body. Edward had thrown tantrums before, but she had never seen him like this. It frightened her, but she could not even react. His eyes were dilated and his hands were trembling. He looked so scared. He looked as lost as she felt.
By the time he finally calmed himself down, it was dark outside and the snow had stopped falling. He pulled on her arms and dragged her through the snow, trying to get her to stand on her own. When she refused to lift herself up, he did the work for her and tossed her body over his shoulder.
He carried her the rest of the way home.
Agony had consumed the Cullen coven since the day of the Volturi's downfall. Like all revolutions, victory was bittersweet and did not come without a hefty price.
Jasper was dead. Carlisle was dead.
To quell the rest of the town, they held a memorial service at the local cemetery. To everyone else, Carlisle and Jasper owed their sudden deaths to a fatal rock climbing accident. Because their bodies were so mangled, they couldn't be viewed at the service.
No one asked why the Cullens risked rock climbing in the middle of winter.
Two days after the memorial service, Alice had disappeared.
She left no notes, no text messages, no hints as to where she was going. One morning someone called her name, and she never answered.
Esme thought her family couldn't get any worse. She was wrong.
Emmett's anger was causing him to drift apart from Rosalie. Bella's grief had turned her into a ghost. Edward was silent and sickly looking, and his vulnerable young daughter barely spoke unless someone asked her a question. Esme hated to see her children so distraught. She hated the constant fear and confusion that clouded her granddaughter's eyes. Renesmee, God bless her, was too young to be living through such a tragedy.
It was stressful enough for Esme to be constantly worrying over Alice's whereabouts. She pulled up her emails so many times during the day that she lost track. She checked the mailbox for any signs that Alice was still somewhere out there in the world. After about two weeks of hearing nothing, Esme began to wonder if her daughter was still alive.
It just wasn't like her to break off all contact without even a goodbye.
Those two weeks without Alice were pure torture. The whole family was in disarray. They couldn't get through a single day without one of them breaking down. Usually it was Edward. He would sometimes leave the house for hours at a time, and Bella wouldn't let Renesmee leave her arms until he came back.
Time was so slow. Unbearably slow.
Esme forced herself to answer the stream of endless phone calls from Forks Hospital for those painful few weeks following her husband's "passing." She sobbed quietly while she endured the sincere condolences from people he had worked with and patients he had treated. She endured the same torturous phone calls from people linked to Forks High School, inquiring after Jasper and Alice and the rest of the children. All of the legal documents and files being mailed to her were just as exhausting. After every single call, Esme had to lock herself in the bathroom and cry.
She tried to go on with her life. She really, honestly tried. After the initial shock of grief, Esme thought she had gained enough sense of mind to get back on track. If not for herself, then for the sake of her family, she had to do something. She owed it to them. She was their mother. With Carlisle gone, she was their coven leader.
She had always been told that time healed all wounds. Carlisle would have wanted her to move on. To be happy again. To bring peace back to their family.
And if that was what Carlisle would have wanted, she had to see it through.
She did everything she could think of to help the healing process along. She had Rosalie dispose of all the candles in the house. She vowed never to set foot in his study or their bedroom again. She blocked all calls from the hospital and never went out in public where she could be interrogated by the curious people in town.
When the calls stopped flooding in, people started leaving flowers on her doorstep, a sad reminder of how quickly word spread in Forks these days. There were many days when Esme simply couldn't take it. She knew the day was coming when her family would have to move again, and it was coming fast.
She spent so many nights on her knees in the corner of her studio, surrounded by all of her unfinished works of art, beseeching her dead husband in a fit of hysterical sobs.
Our family is falling apart. I can't keep them together... Not without you. I'm not a leader, Carlisle. Not like you were. I can't inspire people the way you did. I can't make the bad things disappear like you did. I can't take one look at a problem and say, there must be a way to fix this. I have given up. I have nowhere to go. I am so lost without you. Come back to me... Please, come back to me...
Every night it was the same. Every night, Esme wished for a miracle.
Then one night she couldn't even cry anymore. Sobbing was too exhausting. Her heart felt dry and empty inside her chest. She sat on the floor of her studio and stared around at the paintings she would never touch again, at the blueprints for future houses she would never build, at the pathetic wooden figurines Carlisle had tried to help her carve.
He'd always teased her about working independently on her art. They rarely made art together, instead focusing on their separate projects when they were able to preserve the time for themselves. It was for that very reason why Carlisle hardly ever came inside her studio. Like his study, it was the one room of the house that belonged just to her and no one else.
She wished she had invited him to come in more often.
There were so many things Esme would have changed had she known...
She would have forced him to make a painting with her every week. She would have let him help her carve those figurines without stubbornly refusing his assistance. She would have let him offer his input while she sketched the layouts of their potential new houses on scraps of graph paper.
But it was too late for any of that.
Carlisle was gone. No matter how many times she repeated it to herself in her mind, it was never any easier to accept... or to believe.
He had seemed so invincible when he was leading their family, standing beside her, holding her hand. But now when she thought back on her memories of him, she thought he must have truly been very fragile, liable to vanish at any given moment if the wind blew too hard.
He could have been a mere figment all along.
Maybe Alice and Jasper had been, too.
The days got worse instead of better. Esme stopped bothering to check her messages, and so the calls and emails halted altogether. She had become a brick wall, hardly even answering when her sons or daughters tried to talk to her. Edward had confronted her twice since she'd shut herself out. The first time he chided her he was harsh with his words, but gentle with his voice. But the second time he held a private intervention with her, he was not so gentle.
He screamed at her. He shook her shoulders. He used obscenities. But he never hurt her.
She could see that he was only hurting himself, and it broke her heart. But she still couldn't bring herself to speak to him.
She was unresponsive to everyone. Even little Renesmee, who just wanted to hold her grandmother's hand.
There were days when it was too painful for her to even open her eyes.
Esme had lived for over one hundred years, but this was easily the longest winter she had ever known.
Spring flashed by like it always did, only this time it made her soul clench with dread for the next season to come.
Summer came and went, and the sun threw down its burning spears, bathing the blazing emerald forest in joyless daylight. There was once a time when Esme loved the summer. Now she despised it. The memories of summertime were too painful. Because it was during the summer season when she first met him. After a sticky hot, late July, Midwestern thunderstorm.
It had rained hard all through the night, but Carlisle had braved the storm to find his young patient and fix her broken leg. She'd fancied him a hero from a fairy story, showing up on her doorstep with his blond hair and beautiful face, wearing a mysterious dark coat and gloves in spite of how warm the night was.
She remembered how, after that night, all she'd wanted was to hear his voice again, to see his face again, to touch his hand; to at least know that he was out there somewhere, living in the same world she was. Fate had brought them back together in the cruelest way, offering them a chance to find love with each other. But now fate had torn them apart for good.
Oh, how she missed him! She did not just miss having him as a lover, but simply having him nearby. She missed sharing a home with him. She missed raising children with him. She missed watching him grab his white coat from the closet every morning before he went to work. She missed that little thrilling second of eye contact he would make with her just before he closed the door. She missed everything.
She just wanted him back! Oh, God, what she wouldn't give to have him again. To hear his footsteps coming up the stairs after a long day. To hear his pager beeping non-stop into the night, to catch a glimpse of his shadow in the hall, to suddenly feel a pair of strong, loving arms wrap around her waist.
She could never have that again. None of it.
She would have given anything to bring him to life again, even if it meant he would no longer love her romantically. She would rather live a torturous eternity as Esme Platt, if she only got to see Carlisle Cullen every few years. Even if she only got to glance at him from afar, once every decade. Even if he decided he did not love her at all. Even if he would politely ignore her every time she called his name.
All she could do was wish as the world carried on around her, endless, dark, and bleak. She stood and watched it in a daze, with a numb heart and unflinching eyes. It was as if someone had snatched the sun from her sky. He was gone, and he was never coming back.
She just couldn't bear the thought of living in this world if Carlisle was not in it. She ached for the times when they shared their world together. She sorely missed the way he would whisper her name when he came home late at night. The way he used to read his Bible on Sunday afternoons, repeating verses he had read a thousand times before. The times he would take his journal into bed with him and hide what he was writing from her prying eyes.
She remembered sweet snowy days when they would find themselves trapped in the house with nothing to do. Long, uncharted stretches of time when they would spend their days wandering together through thick trees and hot sun on Isle Esme. Deep, drowsy nights where they would nestle together on their balcony and watch meteor showers without ever needing a telescope.
Her memories were infinitely more painful than a human's because she could recite every single word he had ever said to her. She could count back the days, one by one, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by excruciating second – every move he'd made, every blink of his eyes, every breath he'd taken. She recalled every line on his face, as faint as they were, with aching clarity. The way his cheeks stretched and his dimples flickered when he smiled at her, a vision of epic mirth. If she listened carefully enough to the silence, she could still hear the rare, ravishing song of his unrestrained laughter, shuddering in her heart.
What was the point to life when her soul mate was gone forever?
How could God let Carlisle die?
All Carlisle had wanted to do was help people. All he wanted to do was make the world better, one good deed at a time. Most of the time, it seemed he was working alone to accomplish this. He was always one man, working against the rest of the world. That was why he broke her heart. That was why she had fallen so madly in love with him.
She should have burned his journals the day after it happened. But she let them stay there, stacked up in the back shelf of his study, taunting her until she couldn't take it anymore. Just knowing they were in the house was too much. She could still smell the old leather binding and the musty pages, the faint incense of expired ink. One rainy day in late autumn, she dragged herself into his study and dared to peek at one of his journals.
She knew it would cause her to break down for the rest of the day, but some sick part of her wanted to die a little more inside. All it took was one line on one random page:
I count my breaths as I make love to you. It soothes me, and makes me feel strong.
It was clearly a monologue directed at her, a kind of secret love note – such was Carlisle's most endearing habit. She stopped after that one line and threw the book against the wall, distraught. She buried her face in her hands, collapsed to the ground, curled up in the corner, and cried for the rest of the day.
The very next night, she burned every last one of his journals in the fireplace.
By winter, she'd had enough. One full year had revolved around her, and she'd hardly felt a thing. She was just a shell of a woman now. She didn't deserve to stay when she wasn't even trying to be a mother.
She didn't bother telling them that she was leaving. Edward would eventually read her thoughts and tell the rest of them. They knew there was no convincing her once she'd set her mind on it anyway.
She just had to leave this house. This town. This cold.
She took one carpet bag with the minimal belongings and she left on foot. She fed on what was lurking in the forest that day, but nothing satisfied her. She could hardly taste blood anymore.
She took the train, just like the old days. No matter how far ahead she looked, she could see nothing, but all along she knew where she was headed.
Ashland, Wisconsin – a forgotten pencil point on the map of Midwestern America. Every time she mentioned the small city, people always scrunched their brows in feigned recollection. Sometimes she wondered if it even existed to the rest of the world.
When she debarked the train, the station was completely empty.
12:00 p.m. on the button, and not a soul was in sight.
Alongside the time, a digital thermometer displayed the exterior temperature. In sterile, glowing blue digits, the number 10 slid slowly by on the marquee above the station sign.
No wonder nobody was around. The inside of the station was hardly any warmer than it was outside. They must not have had the budget for central heating, even in the middle of this frigid February.
Esme wandered through the town aimlessly, as if she knew where she was going. Everything looked so different now. Storefronts were boarded up, streets were closed off for repaving projects that most likely never saw completion. Ashland had never been bustling by any means, but foot traffic was utterly non-existent now. Ten degree weather had the tendency to turn any town into a ghost town.
She would have used the sun as a guide, but the sky, as usual, was clouded over. Patches of gray slipped silently overhead, rippling like choppy waves on an upside-down lake. The wind was harsh, whipping at her hair and her skirt as she walked the deserted streets.
Once in a while something would spark a very vague familiarity in her mind. She recognized a tall brick building with a dilapidated green roof as the public library, right after passing by the old dress shop where she'd gotten her wedding gown.
Esme stopped in front of the torn up old window display to stare at the crooked and neglected mannequins leaning on the walls inside. Like everything else in this town they looked tired from years of standing, ready to topple over and fall at any moment. Still, nothing remained from the time she once roamed these streets as a newborn vampire. Everything was completely different. The library was condemned, the bank was gutted, the famous family-owned restaurant on the corner of the block had been turned into a pharmacy with sunken floor tiles and flickering fluorescent lights. And her beloved old dress shop appeared to have most recently been a nail salon that went out of business sometime in the mid 80's.
Esme felt so out of place here. It seemed each block she walked took her further and further into the past. Every building she passed was another tick on the timeline, another frozen bit of this town's history that she sorely missed. The sights grew sadder and sadder until she finally reached the outskirts. Urban melted into suburban, which faded quickly into rural.
She kept walking until nothing but trees surrounded her. Some of those trees even looked familiar...
Esme trudged listlessly through deepening snow, dragging her suitcase carelessly behind her. Sometime along the way, she dropped the baggage that was weighing her down and left it in the middle of the snowy woods, not caring if she ever found it again.
Her pace quickened, her heart clenching in panic as she turned from one direction to another, always finding the same scene of broken branches and snow no matter where she looked.
She lost track of time the longer she stayed out in the cold all alone. It must have been hours since she'd left the station, and she hadn't even found the street she was looking for. She could have been in Canada for all she knew.
She started to wish she had kept her luggage with her so she could at least glance at a clock. Suddenly she realized that everything she needed was still in her bag, miles behind her. Her cell phone, dry clothes, all her money... It would take at least half an hour to backtrack from where she was if she ran at full speed. But if she ran away now, she would never have the courage or the energy to come back.
But would she really want to come back here?
Gasping with frantic sobs, Esme collapsed against a tree. Her forehead rubbed against the rough bark and her hair got caught on the branches. Her body had never felt more like solid ice. The temperature must have dropped at least three degrees with each hour that passed, and the sky was growing subtly darker.
Nothing felt worse than being lost.
After a minute of shaky recuperation, Esme lifted her head and glanced around. There was a change in the air as the wind blew against her face. She'd picked up a different scent – one of faint burning pine and cedar. She hadn't noticed it until now.
More familiar sights greeted her searching eyes. A frozen creek that wrapped around a large boulder, the remnants of a fallen evergreen tree that marked the place where Edward used to practice archery...
She was so close. So close she could feel it, smell it, sense it in the vicinity.
She was running so fast she all but slammed into the gate.
That was it. The gate. It even still had the mottled copper plaque on the bottom that read Chartercrest Estate.
Esme was torn between sighing in relief and crying in despair.
The last time she had visited the estate was in the spring of 1972, just about fifty years after they had moved. Carlisle had been with her then. It had been his idea to go back and visit their first home as a nostalgic way to celebrate their anniversary.
Though the house had shown clear signs of its old age back in '72, it had still held up impressively well against half a century of neglect. The bricks were still sturdy, the shutters were still barely holding to their hinges, and the windows, though dusty, were still translucent.
Now, after almost one hundred years, the house was all but unrecognizable.
In fact, if Esme hadn't seen the address number etched into the front gate, she wouldn't have believed it was the same house.
Tears welled behind her eyes as she stepped around the rusty iron gate.
Being in the dead of winter made the sight even more depressing. The shingled roof was coated in patches of grimy snow, and there was a gaping hole on one side of the house where the weight of the snow had been too much for the aging structure to withstand. Around the East wing of the house she could just barely see it – her beloved Lake Cordial, completely frozen over. It was still guarded by an army of willow trees, all of which were twice as large as she remembered them being in the past. The trees were all frosted with ice and snow, their branches hanging low and limp like strands of an old woman's white hair.
It was one of the saddest sights she had seen: the first house she had lived in as Carlisle's wife, barely standing, with its paint chipped and its stone columns cracked. Half of the shutters were gone, and the rest were unhinged. Dead brown weeds poked through the cobblestone walkway that led to the porch. Broken alcohol bottles and other bits of litter were strewn in the front yard, poking out of the snow. It was an awful, heartbreaking sight.
This house was not so different from her. That was what Carlisle's absence did – it ruined things. It made beautiful things turn ugly.
She couldn't bear to stay any longer, so she left before she could break down into sobs.
Esme spent an entire week alone in the woods. She returned to the house six days in a row, never brave enough to go inside. All she could bring herself to do was stare at the chipped paint and crumbling shutters on the facade. But she needed closure. She craved closure.
So, on the seventh day, Esme finally made herself walk through the doors.
The lock had still held up well even after all those years. The house seemed to have sealed itself shut from the outside world, trying to protect the precious memories it hid inside. But Esme was the only one with rightful access to those memories now. Using her vampire strength, she plucked the doorknob off effortlessly with one hand and let it clatter onto the porch. The front door swung open.
Her heart wrenched as the familiar entryway slowly came into view.
All the remaining furniture was gone, either stolen by passing thieves or eaten to dust by termites. All that remained was the old foyer mirror, which was all caked in webs and ice crystals. Esme remembered the first time she had seen herself as a vampire in that mirror. Now no reflection it offered would ever look beautiful anymore.
A thick blanket of cobwebs hung from the corners of the ceiling, like a gray cloud hovering over her as she entered the room. Her shoes left marks in the dust on the floor and the sound of her footsteps carried down the hallway in a hollow echo.
As the wind whistled outside, the house creaked and groaned, voicing its fatigue. There were long cracks in the ceiling where melting snow leaked through, filling the oppressive silence with a persistent drip, drop. Peeled strips of wallpaper dangled from the walls, floating outward like wispy arms of ghosts in the drafty room. The once grand staircase looked like it would collapse at any second. Even the intricately carved wooden banister was rotted and covered in dust. Esme knew that she couldn't bear to venture upstairs, not only for fear that the floors would cave in beneath her footsteps, but because there was no way she would be able to look into the room where he had first made love to her...
She turned vehemently away from those stairs. Esme was hesitant to walk any further into the old house, but her heart tugged her along like the hand of a determined parent teaching a child to take her first steps. She was so numb by now that nothing could affect her beyond the grief she already felt. What harm was there in taking one last look around?
Esme stepped cautiously over the splintered floorboards, making her way to a gaping hole in the wall where another room was visible just behind it. She maneuvered her body through the opening and emerged into the next room in a cloud of rust colored dust. When the dust cleared, she covered her mouth with her hand and choked on a sob.
The wind hummed inquisitively through the cracked windows – an eerie, droning note – a cold, empty sound that suited the cold and empty room. It left a frigid caress upon her skin, brushing her hair away from her face and forcing her to look at her surroundings.
Her throat was so tight she couldn't even swallow. The sheer physical pain she felt at seeing this room again after so many years was traumatic. It felt like someone was stabbing her heart with a sharp knife every time she tried to breathe.
The once wine red carpets were now a dark, dull brown – like dried blood. The long, stately windows that lined the wall were stippled with grime and dust, blocking out what little light tried to sneak through the glass. The heavy curtains that framed the windows were tattered and stained. She turned to take in the familiar sight of the mighty stone fireplace on the eastern wall, its grates stretched open in an eternal yawn. It coughed out flakes of soot and cinders every time the wind swept down its flue.
Shaking with sorrow, Esme inched her way to the other side of the room until she was standing before the semi-circle of tall, arched windows – in the very spot where Carlisle's desk used to be. There, she clutched her throat and fell to her knees, surrendering to her devastation.
Something inside of her believed that if she just stayed there long enough, cried hard enough, he would come back to her. He would appear in the doorway, tall and golden, whispering to her not to cry anymore. Carlisle had always come to her rescue when she was in need of a hero. He had always found her when she was lost. If she prayed hard enough, would God have mercy on her and send Carlisle back down from heaven as an angel?
Even now, when she looked up through her blurry eyes, she swore she could see him by the fireplace, his favorite spot. If she listened carefully enough she could hear him murmuring about how cold it was, pleading her to come closer so that he could warm her up.
No, the word slipped softly through her thoughts. Of course, she was only dreaming. The false light drained from the room, and the beautiful vision faded away.
What is it like in heaven, my love? She sobbed, her eyes gazing up hopelessly at the cracked rafters above her. Is it everything you imagined? Did God call you by name and praise you for a life well spent? Are you watching me now with pity in your heart, or are you flying blissfully with the rest of the angels, far away from earth?
She strained to find his face in the weak rays of sun that pierced the open ceiling, searching for some sign that he was there somewhere, watching over her. You are in a better place now, my darling. I know that there is a heaven now, because you belong there. You always have. You deserve to live in a place without pain, without suffering, without fears. How could God not want you in His kingdom? You must be like a prince to Him.
Esme spent the entire night on the floor, consumed by grief, breaking slowly into pieces as she begged for the pain to be taken away. She could stay here for another century and age along with this crumbling old mansion. She, too, could allow her soul to decompose over time. But her body would remain, sturdy and perfect, enduring whatever time and nature threw at her.
She wanted to vanish from this earth, just as her beloved husband had. There was nothing left for her now. Not even the meager sensations of love she felt when she was with her family helped. It wasn't enough to keep her here, and she hated herself for it. What the legends said about vampires and their mates had been true after all. One could not survive without the other.
At the break of a new dawn, she rose stiffly from her spot on the floor, exhausted by her bittersweet cries. Her body was so cold that she could feel frost forming on her cheeks and hands, and a layer of ice coating her insides.
It was time for her to leave.
She did not know where she was going to go, just that she needed to escape.
She had no plans to go back into the woods and find her abandoned suitcase, or to call her sons and daughters and let them know where she was. She didn't care where she ended up, as long as it was away from here.
A part of her wanted to burn the house down to the ground before she left it, but a quiet voice in her mind told her not to. So she left it as she'd found it, barely standing, dark and alone in the middle of nowhere – forgotten, left behind. She stepped idly over broken glass and splinters, leaving behind a rosy past for a bleak future.
When she reached the front door, something made her pause. She looked down, startled by the crunch of fresh paper under her foot.
Esme lifted her shoe and found a misplaced white envelope. It wouldn't have been so suspicious if it hadn't looked so new. This piece of paper was not crumpled or crinkled or yellowed by age, yet she had somehow failed to notice it on her way in. How long had it been there?
She turned it over in her hand to find the other side marked by spidery black handwriting.
A sick cringe of excitement flashed down her spine when she saw the return address.
Shaking with dark anticipation, Esme ripped open the envelope and read its chillingly sparse contents.
Dear Mrs. Cullen,
Your sweet daughter Alice has found her peace. Now let us help you find yours.