Charlie stepped into the foyer, his hand needlessly hovering over his holstered gun by force of habit.
"You must be Charles Swan," said a smiling Carlisle as he held out his hand. "It is a delight to finally meet you. Bella has told me and Esme so much about you."
"Charlie. Please," he said, shaking Carlisle's hand.
There was an awkward silence.
"Would you like something to drink?" Esme said. "I'm afraid all we have is instant coffee and some canned soda. We don't get many visitors out here."
"Coffee's fine. Black."
Esme smiled and hurried into the kitchen.
Edward briefed Carlisle on the last twenty four hours in Forks while Charlie caught Bella up on the night's events. The deaths of Aro and Demetri. Jane's apparent wounding. Emmett's insistence on staying behind.
"I'll send Rosalie, Jasper and Alice in search of Emmett," Carlisle said. "Alice mentioned some time ago that she believes he would be waiting at the Swan house. Apparently Jane disappeared."
"So what happens now?" Charlie asked.
"Indeed," Carlisle said. "This is, quite frankly, unprecedented. Aro had been the Volturi's leader since its inception. He'd grown into a sadistic dictator, and the organization, in fact all vampires, may be better off without him. But make no mistake: Caius and Marcus will not bow down quietly. Quite the opposite I should think. They will be angry and out for vengeance. Especially Caius. He is as ruthless as Aro ever was, and far smarter. There will likely be a struggle for power, one which I do not see ending peacefully. And let us not forget that Jane is still out there somewhere. She will be far beyond angry."
"I'm not looking for a fight," Edward said. "I never was. I'll disappear again. It'll be as if I never existed."
"Yes, yes. I am sure you're quite capable of taking care of yourself, Edward. But what of Bella and Charlie?"
"They can stay with us," Esme said, carrying a silver coffee platter into the room. She set it down on the coffee table and took a seat beside Carlisle on the sofa.
"I appreciate the offer, ma'am, but I'm going to have to decline," Charlie said. "I vowed to protect and serve the town of Forks, and I see no reason to go back on that promise. End of discussion."
"I'm going with Edward, anyway," Bella said, avoiding Charlie's gaze.
Another uncomfortable silence filled the room. Charlie sipped his coffee and set it down on the platter.
"So. Vampires, huh? How'd that happen?"
Bella burst out laughing. "I wish you could see the look on your face right now, Carlisle. It's priceless."
"Yes. Well. I can certainly see where Bella gets her curiosity and frank nature from, Charlie." He smiled and smoothed his pants legs with the palms of his hands.
"We each have our own stories, Charlie. None is more or less pleasant than the others. Mine begins in London in 1640, where my mother died giving birth to me.
"My father, an Anglican pastor, was among an elite group that spent its time and energy trying to rid the world of supernatural creatures, which they saw as an affront to God.
"I took over this group after my father's passing. But my heart was never in it as deeply as my father's was. I did not, and still do not, enjoy killing creatures of any kind.
"Needless to say, I was careless. I'd discovered a coven living in the sewers, and led the charge against them. I was mortally wounded. I hid for three days, but I could not avoid the inevitable.
"I wouldn't accept it, of course." He laughed. "I tried to end my life in every conceivable way, but none of them worked. We simply did not have the means back then that are available today.
"I was afraid I would become that which I'd hunted. But I was no killer." He briefly glanced at Edward. "Soon, I stumbled across the lifestyle I continue today, wherein we harm no humans, subsisting only on animal blood. It has been my goal for 350 years now to convert all vampires to a life of vegetarianism, as we've come to refer to it."
"Whoa," Charlie said. "And do you have magical superpowers like our friend Edward here?"
Carlisle smiled. "Only the capacity to resist the enormous temptation of human blood. It is why I became a doctor."
"That is so fucked up," Bella said.
Charlie side-eyed her.
"Oh, please," she said, smiling. "You know it's true. She turned to Edward. "Your turn."
"Not now," he said uncomfortably.
"I know it's not easy, Edward," she said. She snuggled up next to him and draped her arms around him.
"Please?" she said, kissing the back of his neck, the skin behind his ear. "You have so many secrets. I've told you mine. Carlisle and even Charlie let theirs out. I think it's only fair that you tell yours."
Edward stood. "Is that what you all want? To know where I came from? How I got here?"
"It would be lovely to know more about you, Edward," Esme said. "You've learned so much about us."
Edward hesitated. "I try not to dwell on the past. It does no one any good."
"What is past is prologue," Carlisle said.
Edward smiled at the Shakespeare quote. "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past," he said.
"Thomas Jefferson. Of course," Carlisle said. "He was a good man. But what about Simone Weil? 'The destruction of the past is perhaps the greatest of all crimes.'"
Edward countered, "Sometimes the past seems too big for the present to hold."
"I don't know that one," Carlisle said. "Who is it?"
"Chuck Palahniuk," Edward said, smiling.
"Now that you boys have had your fun," Esme said, rolling her eyes at Carlisle, "let's let Edward talk."
Edward sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "You have done so much for me. I suppose I owe you at least this much. I've never told the whole story. When you live your life alone," he said, gently squeezing Bella's hand as he sat back down, "there's no one to tell it to."
He paused and thought back. "I was four years old when I saw my mother get killed. I didn't know it then, but time and experience taught me what had happened to her. A vampire took her life.
He closed his eyes. "It was 1905. June. I was playing outside. Our house backed up to Lake Michigan, long before the highways came in. I used to love watching the seagulls at the edge of the water, as if the entire lake were made for them. The activity was always heaviest at dusk, right before my father arrived home from work.
"I had my back to our yard. My mother had been hanging the laundry out to dry. 'Be careful,' she told me.
"I didn't recognize her screams for what they were. Not at first. I thought she was playing. But when I looked up, a man I'd never seen before was crouched over her as she lay in the grass. I ran as fast as I could. 'Momma!' I screamed.
"The man stood as I approached. He had the palest skin I'd ever seen, so white it was almost translucent. Shockingly white hair that dragged his shoulders. And his eyes. They glowed a cloudy dark red, as if he were a beast from someone's nightmare"
"Caius," Carlisle said.
"Yes. Now you know why I could never bring myself to take the Volturi seriously," Edward said.
He steepled his fingers in front of his face, set his jaw right and continued.
"He spoke to me. 'Your mommy's had an accident.' He wiped blood from his lips with the back of his hand and put his other hand on my shoulder. Mother lay on the ground, unmoving. Blood trickled from a wound in her neck."
Edward paused and shook his head. "I looked up at him, mesmerized, confused. I was too taken aback to be afraid. He had a grin across his face that even a four-year-old child knew wasn't appropriate for the situation.
"We both looked up at once. My father's train had stopped at the end of the block. We saw him coming up the road. The man turned back to me. 'Looks like my time here is done, for now,' he said. He smiled and reached out a hand. I thought he was going to ruffle my hair. Grownups had a habit of doing that."
He smiled at the memory, briefly. "Instead, he stuck out a single finger, its nail grotesquely long, and gouged my cheek from my ear to the corner of my mouth. 'A little something to remember me by,' he said.
Edward fingered the scar on his cheek and absent-mindedly ran his hand through his beard.
"I never spoke of what happened. No matter how many times my father pleaded with me, I couldn't do it. To ignore it might mean it had never happened. In any case, the authorities wrote it up as an animal attack.
"Eventually, my relationship with my father crumbled. He could never forgive me for my silence. He remarried, and I became the forgotten child. By the time I was a teenager, I was ready to move on.
"I'd always been tall for my age, so when America joined the fight against the Germans in World War One, I signed up. I became a Marine. I lied about my age. That was easy to do back then.
"My unit was just outside Paris." He looked at Charlie. "It was my seventeenth birthday, though I didn't tell anyone that. June 1, 1918. We'd just fought the first day of what would become known as the Battle of Belleau Wood. We'd done well, and had captured a squad of Germans. I was guarding them. It was late at night.
"What I witnessed brought back terrible memories. There was a whole pack of them. Frightening creatures with pale skin and red eyes. They tore apart that entire squad in a matter of minutes. I fired my weapon, but it did no harm.
"The gunfire did wake my unit, though. The creatures fled. My sergeant approached me afterward. 'You gonna be OK, private?'
"I didn't answer him, and I didn't speak about the incident for the rest of my time in the Marines. Eventually, they discharged me on a Section Eight. A psych discharge.
"I went back home a disgrace. I couldn't talk about it. Couldn't explain myself. Who would believe me?"
He stopped talking then, and no one else spoke for a moment.
"You poor thing," Esme said. "You were just a boy. What a horrible world you must have believed you lived in."
Edward laughed and Esme looked away, embarrassed. "I'm sorry for laughing, Esme. I suppose I did have a skewed sense of the world by the time I became an adult.
"But it got better. I'd met a girl before the war. A woman, really. Katherine. She was older than I was. I thought she was the most beautiful creature on the planet."
Bella gripped his hand tightly.
"When I came back, she introduced me to our child, John William Masen. He was nearly a year old already.
"We married on the shore of Lake Michigan. I settled into the same job as my father, manufacturing agricultural machinery at one of the factories sprouting up all over the city. All seemed right with the world. I would never be rich, but I thought I could be happy.
"But then the Spanish flu hit. Millions around the world suffered. Millions died. I brought it into our home. Katherine caught it quickly. We tried to avoid the hospitals, but the quarantine caught up with us. John William was on the verge of death. I pleaded with the doctors.
"I didn't seem to have it as bad as others did. I don't know why. But they said there was nothing they could do for my family. They would either die, or they would not. It was up to fate.
"'I'll do anything,' I told them. But I was weak. I was poor. I had nothing they wanted, even if there were something to be done.
"There wasn't, of course. Our destinies were written for us."
He stopped talking and put his head in his hands. "I wish I could tell you I was brave. That when I heard the doctors scheming, making a deal with the vampires, I did something to stop it. But I didn't have it in me. Not then. All I saw was eternal life. Endless possibilities. By then, I'd forced myself to forget what had happened to my mother, what I'd seen in the war."
He sighed. "They talked of a deal with vampires. I knew what that meant, of course. But I deluded myself into thinking the vampires would turn us, somehow. Make us a happy family again. We'd be immune from death. It would last forever. I waited with eager anticipation.
"So I pretended I hadn't overheard the conversation. When nightfall came, I slept fitfully. The attack happened at midnight. They killed Katherine first. I tried to stop them, but it was useless. They were too powerful. I was horrified at my own stupidity.
"I took John William away. We hid in a storage closet. But they wrenched the door open and tore him from my arms.
"I will never forget the man who killed my baby. It was as if he'd walked out of a nightmare and into the real world.
"'The baby is mine,'" he growled. He was a beast. Eyes the color of blood. Tribal tattoos forming a pattern across his hairless scalp. His mouth dripped blood as he tore John William from my arms."
"Yes, Carlisle. The man who haunts your memories also haunts mine."
"He is my biggest failure," Carlisle said, shaking his head. "I thought we had a chance with him. I thought I could do good."
Edward shook his head. "You will help me find him one day. He and I have unfinished business."
"He's the one who turned you."
"I have always assumed so. I passed out after John William was taken. I came to as the sun rose. It was a massacre. The vampires had fed on dozens of flu victims, my wife and child among them.
"I didn't realize I'd been bitten until I was blocks away. Blood poured from my neck. I screamed out in desperation. I prayed to die. I literally dropped to my knees and prayed for the final time in my life. The last thing I wanted was to become what I was from then on destined to be.
"I was a killer, and there was nothing I could do about it."