The "Ho Hey" Contest

Story Title: Three Days

Pen name: Elivra26

Pairing: Carlisle/Esme

Rating: T

Word Count: 16,350

Day 1

A frantic beeping sounds suddenly in the starkly white room. I wake up with a jerk, my eyes glancing instantly at the monitor. My body responds immediately and joins the nurses rushing into the ward, but my mood remains subdued.

"V-fib!" –I bark as one of the nurses wheels a crash cart in. The defibrillators are handed to me instantly, and while I rub the gel rapidly amidst them, another nurse rips open the front of the patient's gown.


The underdeveloped chest spasms upwards, but the beeps do not stop.


Another jolt of electricity is given, but to no avail.

"Clear!" Another jolt, but the graphs flatline and the intermittent beeping morphs into one long, drawn out wail. But I don't give up.

"Clear!" No change.


"Clear!" Nothing.

"Doctor, we must declare time of death."

"No. Clear!"


With a sigh, I let my arms sink. For a moment, there is no sound except the low, long beep from the monitor.

Then, I say, "Time of death, 3.55 a.m."

The nurses switch the equipment off, and tow away the cart, along with the defibrillators. They knew how much this patient had meant to me, and so they don't say a word. But before they could leave, I speak to them once more.

"Move her to the morgue now. I need to autopsy her."

Disregarding their respectful "Of course, Dr. Cullen", I stalk away.

Many people nod or smile at me as I walk down the corridors. I am reputed for my success rate, but I don't let statistics blind me into arrogance. I know my limits. I know I am just as prone to failure as any other doctor. Often, when success really matters to me, I fail. Like today.

I make my way to the rec room, where there is a passably good coffee-machine. As I wait for the jug to fill, I can't help but think of her face, her innocent eyes that had warmed my heart…

"You probably need something stronger."

The voice is familiar and often welcome, but not at that moment. Bernard is one of my good friends, but even he has never really understood me.

"Coffee will do for now," I say, offering a weak smile.

Bernard raises his eyebrow. "I don't know how you do it, Cullen. You always fraternize so well with the patients, and you'd think that would hinder you, but you never let your emotions run wild when they matter, and you come out with successes anyway. But when you do fail, it's like they're your family."

I try not to answer with an irked quip. "Gastroenterology is wasted on you, Bernard. Psychotherapy has lost a gem," I say instead, falling to wry humour.

Bernard grins. "I thought I said I don't know how you do it. Anyway, you Cullens are pretty hard to figure out."

To which I give my well-practised shrug, the one which I always use when people invariably talk of my family. But I know Bernard is not easily dissuaded, so I drain my coffee and say, "I'm off to the morgue. I'll probably see you later, then."

Before Bernard can say anything, I gave him a brisk nod and hurry out of the rec room.

"Seeya." Bernard says to no one in particular. Then –"Funny people, those Cullens."

The body is already awaiting me on the slab when I reach the morgue. Ignoring my heavy heart, I don my scrubs and get the tools of my trade together. As I am about to slap on the latex gloves, the double doors swing open and a male nurse rushes in with a gurney. I only glance at him at first; the occupant of the gurney is obviously dead, for he or she is covered by a shroud.

"Do you know which drawers are free?" The nurse asks me rather hurriedly.

"I'm not sure." –I say apologetically. Then, noticing his harried expression, I ask, "Is something the matter?"

"There was an accident on Highway 13 –bus, truck and some cars. No casualties, but the ER's packed full." The nurse gestures at his gurney and says, "She wasn't in it. Found at the bottom of the cliffs. Possibly a suicide."

I grimace. Suicides always disconcert me.

The nurse says hesitantly, "As a matter of fact, Doctor, the ER's really short-staffed at the moment. Is it alright if…"

"-if you leave her on the gurney for some time? By all means. It won't make a difference to her, certainly."

The nurse grins at me. "Thanks, Doctor. I'll be back soon to move her."

"Take your time."

The nurse rushes away immediately.

As the doors swing shut, I glance at the gurney. Really, it is in the way standing there, not two feet from the door.

I sigh and trudge over to the gurney and push it a few feet to the left, closer to the tiled wall. The occupant seems to be quite light. I hesitate by her side. I have a sudden wish to see her face, to see for myself what abject defeat would look like.

Gently, I lift the shroud from her face.

And my world turns upside down.

"Last one for the day, Dr. Cullen."

"Thank you, Nurse Leeds."

The woman, at least twice my age, bestows a simpering smile on me and trots away. I sigh. Women are absolute fools sometimes, I think. Then the door opens and a tall, well-rounded woman enters with a comparatively small-framed teenage girl. I can see immediately what the problem is. The girl is limping.

I smile as she settles herself on the chair with a sulk, and try to initiate conversation with a mildly funny icebreaker. "Danced too hard, Miss er-"

"Platt," the woman answers for the girl. "And no, my daughter simply wants to prove she's as nimble as a monkey."

"I fell off a tree," the girl explains, her sulk suddenly absent. "And you can call me Esme," she says, her rosy cheeks dimpling.

"Really, Esme, climbing trees at your age!"

"I'm sixteen, Mom, not sixty."

"Other girls your age-"

"Other girls my age are busy doing drugs and throwing away their virginity," she cuts in abruptly, her voice suddenly mature. "You should be happy I still have some amount of childishness left in me."

"Esme!" The mother sounds scandalised.

I cough delicately. "May I?"

The girl focuses her attention back to me, and, with another shy smile, extends her left leg. I push her scuffed jeans up to reveal her swollen ankle, and flex it slightly. She remains surprisingly still and quiet, despite the pain that she is obviously experiencing.

"Well, it doesn't seem to be too serious, just a sprain. Rest your leg for a week or two and then you can climb as many trees as you like."

"I'm sure she doesn't need your encouragement," the mother says disapprovingly. "You heard the doctor. No more running about from you," she addresses her daughter.

The girl's scowl returns. I glance between mother and daughter, noting the strain in their postures and the sullen gazes directed at each other. I feel a sudden pang of pity for this girl. I certainly would have been much more vocal in my displeasure if I had a mother like that.

On an impulse, I say, "But just to be sure, I think I should X-ray your leg."

Both the women look at me, surprised. I see the similarities in their features in that moment. The mother must have been a handsome woman in her youth.

"But you just said it's just a sprain," the mother says with a frown. "Is there something wrong?"

"No, no. I'd just like to be sure. Injuries like these often present themselves in full force a while after they occur."

The girl is staring at me contemplatively. "If you think it's best, then alright," she murmurs, indirectly silencing her mother.

I beam at her and, ignoring the sudden widening of her eyes, turn to her mother. "Good. If you'll wait outside, Mrs. Platt-"

"Why should I?" –the mother cuts in imperiously. "I'll stay by my daughter's side-"

"Oh, for God's sake, Mom, it's just an X-ray. I'll be fine." –her daughter snaps.


"The Lord's name was not taken in vain. I was beseeching Him to protect me from the pain of this bodily affliction."

The immediate wry comeback surprises me and I struggle to hold in my amused snort. The mother rolls her eyes in a 'whatever am I to do with you' gesture and shuffles out of the exam room.

I let out a silent sigh of relief. "This way, Esme," I smile at her, turning to another door in the opposite wall. She sidles off the chair, and hesitates as I help her onto a wheelchair. "I… I don't know your name," she says slowly, her cheeks very red.

"My name is Carlisle Cullen."

Her voice is very, very soft as she says, "Thank you, Dr. Cullen."

Esme Platt.

Esme Platt is on the gurney in front of me. Under the shroud. Dead.

Esme Platt is dead.

My shoulders sag and I clutch at the gurney. After all I have been through today, this is possibly the worst the fates have thrown at me.

I remember her shy smile, the way her clear hazel eyes had twinkled up at me. How well those eyes had suited her personality –mostly warm brown, with flashes of bright, lively green. I am surprised I still remember that.

My hand drifts to her eyelids and I notice dully that it is shaking. Slowly, I lift the pale lids. In the cold light of the morgue, her irises appear dull and murky brown. All the liveliness has been extinguished with her life.

And that is what I cannot comprehend. How could Esme –the lovely, lively girl who still climbed trees at sixteen- commit suicide? How could she be driven to such desperation?

Even as I ponder over these conundrums, a small part of my brain quickly analyses what I see. It is obvious she has fallen from a great height –all her limbs are bruised and there is an ugly wound on the side of her head. I am sure there are internal injuries as well. The list is probably extensive. She must have died on impact.

I take a deep, shuddering breath and close her eyelids again, standing straight. A strange sort of despair is overtaking my senses, something I know has a simple explanation, but I can't think what it is. I sigh silently and clutch at the shroud.

And stop. The shroud is cold.

Esme's eyelids were warm.

Shock permeates my senses for the second time in ten minutes. Gently, I touch her eyelids again, ignoring my suddenly racing heart. She is cold, yes, but not as cold as the rest of the morgue. She has been in it long enough to reach the same temperature as every other object, though. Unless she is being warmed by something else.

From inside. From her heart.

Instantly, I rip the shroud away altogether and lean forward. No time to waste searching for a pulse, I have to check the source. I place my ear on her soft chest, trying hard to steady my excited breaths so I can hear what I want to, berating myself that I hadn't thought to bring a stethoscope into the morgue.

I catch nothing for three agonising seconds. And then I do. Her heart is still beating. She is alive.

"So why were you climbing the tree?" –I ask as I push her down the short corridor.

She shrugs in her chair. "I like the view."

I chuckle. "That's as good a reason as any."

When we arrive, we find that the X-ray machine is already in use. I find myself quite happy to wait. The girl interests me.

"You said your name is Cullen," she says presently.

A familiar wariness envelops me. "Yes."

"You're the doctor," she says. "The famous rich one."

I give her a small smile. "I suppose so. But I'm still only a medical intern."

She is silent for a moment before answering, "I think what you're doing is wonderful. And I don't mean it like the media or other people do. It must take a lot to go against what you're supposed or expects to do." Again, her mature words surprise me. "It did take a lot," I admit, and realise that she is the first person to whom I am admitting this. "But it is worth the effort, in the end."

She takes this in with a serious expression.

I understand. "I take you are expects to do several things as well?"

She smiles grimly. "Yes. Not like you, not in such a grand scale, but yes. It's so…irritating. And stifling."

"Stifling's the right word," I agree. A moment of companionable silence passes, when she says in a low voice, "But I don't know if I'll ever be able to do something like that. To –to just burn your bridges and just turn your back to every stupid obligation and do what you want."

I don't like her serious tone. Somehow, I feel that this innocent, lively girl must always remain that way. Warm and lovely, and yes, lively. "You do climb trees," I say, in an attempt to cheer her. It works, partly.

"So you got that, huh?" –she asks with a wry smile. "But these little things don't matter. Someday, it'll be something big and life-defining and I… I'm scared I won't say no." Her voice trembles. I wonder exactly what she is going through in her home. I long to ask her, but I know I mustn't pry.

"How did you do it?" –she asks suddenly. "How did you make such a huge choice and stick to it?"

I glance at her. Her eyes are hopeful, and her expression is eager, which alarms me. I am no idol, no rôle model for some teenager to follow!

"I didn't burn all my bridges. Not really. I'm still on the Cullen Industries board, you know. I'm still rich." The last takes a lot to admit. I have somehow managed to keep the true state of my finances private to all outsiders, until now. I realise suddenly that I am telling more of myself to this teenaged girl than I have to some members of my family.

"Oh!" –she says, looking surprised "Why don't you give it all away?"

"Why should I?" –I ask her, grinning.

She seems unable to find a good enough answer. "But… you left that life behind!"

"I wanted to do what my heart called for –and that is practising medicine. I may have no business interests, but I do have every right to keep my inheritance, the results of my ancestors' toils, to myself, don't I?"

She is still frowning, her ideas upset. A sudden fear darts through my chest. I hope she doesn't hate me. And then another thought follows that one –why do I care?

Without answering that thought, I hasten to explain, "I have merely kept it aside, relegating the more demanding responsibilities to my cousin. I live by my own merits and my money does not factor anywhere else in my life."

"But you could give it to the poor, the needy!" –she seems vehement.

"I do donate. I have a charity of my own."

She still seems unconvinced, so I continue, "Look. In twenty years, maybe even in ten, I might be needy as well. I might be in most need of my own money and I won't have it! And then I'd regret giving it away, and begrudge the people that would have benefited from my charitable gesture. It is a very human tendency, and I'd rather avoid that uncharitable feeling." And then, not able to resist myself, I quote, "'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…'"

She starts at the words. "Did you just quote from the Bible?" –she asks suspiciously.

I shrug, grinning. "I was brought up religiously. My grandfather was a priest."


I grin. "I seem to have upset all your opinions about me. My father inherited the business from my great-uncle, my grandfather's brother, who had no children of his own. As such, we still view all the money we received as our rightful inheritance."

I pause, and continue gently, "I have been given a gift, Esme. A gift to do some good in this world, whether by my wealth or my medical skills. By giving up either one, I reduce my chances of performing services for people who need them."

Finally, to my relief, she nods slowly. "I understand."

"Thank you," I say, smiling back at her.

She takes a deep breath and says with a grin, "So, in short you're just a multibillionaire businessman who sometimes plays doctor."

I grin back. "And vice versa."

At that moment, the x-ray room's occupant is wheeled out. I wheel my patient in with no little regret –I haven't had such a stimulating conversation in months. She seems disappointed, too, and this observation cheers me more than it ought, but I pay no attention to it.

"Well?" –I demand.

"It's her kidneys. Everything else is non-threatening."

Relief courses through me, soothing my frazzled nerves. "Thank God," I sigh.

"Cullen. She still won't make it."

My head shoots up to glare at Bernard.

He shrugs. "Look at her. With healthier organs she would heal. But with that busted-up kidney and all those injuries-"

"Her heart is sounder than an average man's heart!"

"The average man doesn't have extensive bodily damage, loss of blood and postnatal deficiencies."

My own heart, which had lightened for the first time that day, feels heavier than ever. For several moments my throat is constricted and I can't speak.

My expression seems to break his self-possessed veneer, which I'm glad of. Any more smug calmness from him and I'd have punched him.

"She's bleeding out, Carlisle."

I take a deep, shuddering breath. After being so shaken by her near-loss, I cannot countenance losing her again.

"Then give her a transfusion."

"Her kidneys-"

"Then get her a transplant! I don't care, just do something, for God's sake!"

Bernard hesitates, then nods. "I'll get her some blood." He starts to leave, but I stop him. "What about the transplant?"

Although I know the answer, I wait for him to respond. I feel despair and anger creeping up on my senses and I need to find someone to direct the latter on. Bernard fits the rôle of a sounding-board perfectly.

"You know that's not a viable option. Even if she does get on the list despite her injuries, the chances of finding a donor match in time is almost zero. And I'm pretty sure she won't even get on the list in the first place."

Yes, I already know it. But I can't just let her go.

I whirl away and march into the ICU, where she lies, swathed in wires, tubes and bandages.

"Oh Esme," I murmur, gently touching the small bit of caramel-coloured hair that I can reach through the bandaging. I realise anew how beautiful this woman really is, with her amber hair and pale skin. Like some actress from the 30's. Or, I realise, like that fantastical creature, a dryad.

So beautiful. So perfect. And she is dying.

The tears that have been held in check all day trickle down my cheeks. I touch them gingerly. It has been years since I've cried.

"What more can I do?" –I mumble as I stroke her own bruised cheek. "What else is left?"

No answer, of course, is forthcoming, and I spend several moments watching her silently, a tear or two sliding down my cheeks every now and then.

Ten minutes later, Bernard arrives, clutching two I.V. bags of blood and an I.V. line. He doesn't speak or comment on my wet cheeks, for which I am grateful. I watch him hook the bags up expressionlessly.

"What type is she?" –I ask, feeling irrationally ashamed that I don't know.

"B-positive," he says warily.

Surprise, instantly followed by excitement, takes over my senses. It is not a very common type. I know, because so is mine.

And immediately I know what has been bothering me, why I have been feeling that I have not done everything that I can possibly do for her.

Because I haven't.

"Test me," I say, springing up from my chair.


"Test my kidneys. I'll give her one of them."

Bernard looks shocked. "You can't just donate an organ on a whim!"

"It's not a whim," I say as calmly as possible. "It's an informed, rational decision."

Bernard still looks disapproving.

"Would it make you feel better if I called my medical proxy?" –I demand.

Bernard sighs. "Cullen. You are a doctor. You can't start donating organs to every dying patient-"

"She's not just any patient, and you know it!" –I interrupt. "In any case, I'm not her doctor –you are. I'm a friend trying to save her life."

"Just a friend?"

The question doesn't surprise me. If only I knew the answer.

"Run the tests," I say instead.

"Fine. But call your proxy. This madness had better be backed by someone," Bernard responds.

The door of the ICU slides open and I whip around. I feel only slight disappointment. Next to Bernard with the test results, this is the one person I want to talk to at the moment.

"Edward," I greet him with a tired smile. He gives me a brief hug, and sits in the other chair.

"Tell me," he says laconically.

So I tell him. From the start, from when I'd met her ten years ago, to how I'd found her presumed dead in the morgue.

"That was… providential," Edward says. "What if you hadn't lifted the shroud to see her?"

"I know," I say softly. "It's been so close. I could have lost her so easily, but I didn't. And now I can't let her go, not when I've been given such a unique opportunity to save her."

"I agree completely," Edward says, reinforcing my trust in him. "We must take every chance we get to save her."

I smile at him, relieved. "Thank you. That will appease Bernard."

Edward snorts. "Bernard is an ass. Why you're letting him be the attending doctor, I don't know."

"He's a good man," I respond defensively, as Edward always makes me do. "And a competent doctor."

"But unimaginative. Strait-laced."

I shrug. "That's why I'm here. To make the wild and absurd suggestions."

Edward grins. "I can't imagine anyone calling you wild or your ideas absurd."

I chuckle, grateful for his efforts at raising my spirits. "How're the others?"

"Emmett called yesterday, complaining that he'd lost two more pounds. I told him if he really hated running the company so much he should quit and get back into sports."

"What did he say?"

"He said, was I crazy? –sports can become hobbies, but work can't."

I laugh. Emmett Cullen stepped into my shoes when I refused to have anything to do with the running of the family business. I have not regretted that decision since I made it. He makes a formidable Chairman of the Board.

"And Alice and Rosalie are fighting again," he continues, rolling his eyes. "Honestly, you can only do so much with clothes. Why these women bicker about it so much I can't imagine. The clothes aren't even for them!"

"Women," I say, smiling, "are incomprehensible." I glance at Esme lying on the bed and my smile slips away.

"You love her," Edward says suddenly. I don't contradict him.


Edward seems surprised that I agreed so quickly. "But you barely know her! She consulted you –once –ten years ago, as a teenager. You haven't even spoken to her since then…"

"I know," I sigh. "And I don't care."

Edward seems to be at a loss for words. Before he can find something appropriate to say, the door slides open once more. It's Bernard.

He smiles wearily. "It's a match."

Periodic flashes of white blind me as we pass under more fluorescent lights. I glance to the right and see Edward walking next to my gurney, his features set in a grim expression. He rather looks like an angel of death at the moment. Not for the first time, I find myself wondering why he still isn't in a relationship with some nice girl. His looks should have guaranteed that.

Or maybe that's the problem.

I smirk very slightly at my own foolish thoughts. Paternal feelings aside, I'd be a hypocrite if I worried about Edward without recognising that I have the same problems as well.

"Something funny?" –Edward asks suddenly.

"Just… laughing at myself," I say honestly.

"A rare gift," he grins. "Not many people would know themselves well enough to do that."

My gurney passes through another set of doors, and I know from the changed lights above me that we've reached our destination. One of the nurses tells Edward, "Mr. Cullen, you'll have to stop here."

He nods stiffly. I raise my head by an inch and turn to look at him. I know I don't have to speak anything –it's like he can read my mind.

He nods again, smiling this time. "We're all with you on this, Carlisle. You're doing the right thing."

I smile my thanks at him and allow myself to be wheeled into the OR, where Esme lies awaiting.

I catch a small glimpse of her on the adjoining table before the curtains are closed. The one uncovered, unbandaged part of her I can see is her nose. Her nose –and that reminds me of our goodbye…

"Looks like I was right," I say, holding the x-ray up to the light. "It's just a sprain after all."

Is it just me, or does she look a little downcast by this pronouncement?

"So… I don't have to come back for, um, another cast or anything?"

Nope. Definitely not just me.

I smile at her, hoping the reason for her disappointment isn't what I think it is. "You could come back in two weeks for another check-up. In case you want to continue your, er, energetic activities." I wink at her.

She giggles, "Good. Then maybe we can continue our discussion on existential beliefs."

I hesitate before I answer. She doesn't know I'm leaving in three days, my internship having come to a close. For some strange reason I don't want to tell her. I don't want her to know that we'll never see each other again.

I give myself a mental eye-roll. My sleep-deprived brain isn't making sense to me anymore. I really need to rest.

"Maybe. Or we could talk about other things, more childish things," I say. My slight dig at her does not go unnoticed.

"That's unfair!" –she laughs. "I was just trying to piss my mother off. I'm not a child." Her eyes are fixed on mine as she speaks.

I pretend to ignore her implication. "Well, you've definitely succeeded in that. Your mother seems convinced of your immaturity."

"Just the way I want it," she says softly.

Again, I struggle to not pry. This simple teenage girl's life somehow interests me a lot, like an unusual puzzle I badly want to solve. I don't like it. I thought I was above such petty curiosity.

"Well, you sure have chosen a strange way to rebel."

"Would you rather I pierced my nose?" –she asks with a sly grin.

My answer comes pat, truthful. "Honestly, no, I don't. You have a fine nose, the kind that people get surgeries for, and I'd prefer it remained unmarred."

"Thank you," she murmurs, a soft red flush creeping up her neck, her sudden shyness surprising me. "That has to be the first time someone's complimented me so… frankly."

"Anytime, Esme." I find myself uncomfortable with the obvious signs she's sending me. It's nothing I haven't seen before, but I somehow can't bear such interest on her part. So I glance at the clock, realising that I can't prolong this anymore. "I think it's about time we informed your mother, yes?"

Without waiting for her answer, I stride to the door, open it, and call out for Mrs. Platt, who looks disgruntled as she answers my summons.

"Well? Is it anything serious?" –she asks as soon as she enters the exam room.

Her daughter answers before I can. "No. It's just a sprain. I'm fine." I risk a glance at her. She looks hurt, and I feel a sudden emptiness in my chest at the realisation that I caused her the pain.

Well, I'm sure it's fleeting, my pessimist-self tells me. Just like all the other girls.

"There! See? A complete waste of time and money –and I suppose I'll have to pay for the unnecessary x-ray?" The mother demands.

I try to explain the hospital rules, especially when it comes to bills, to Mrs. Platt as politely as possible. To my intense irritation, she refuses to even listen to what I'm trying to say.

"We never asked for the x-ray! It was all your decision. I don't see why I should pay for your uncertain nature."

"Mom!" –Esme hisses, turning redder than I have seen her yet.

"I'm not wrong am I? Besides, I hear you have rich friends. Pay for it yourself!"

My irritation quickly turns to anger, and my nostrils flare as I attempt to check my temper.

"Mom, stop it! Just cut the x-ray's cost from my allowance. Jeez!" –Esme snaps.

The thought of Esme paying for a whim of mine disgusts me. I can see how tyrannical her parents –at the very least, her mother –are. What if she's been saving up for something? I can very well imagine her doing something like that.

"That's not necessary," I say in her defence, disregarding the fact that I have no reason to butt into their obviously private matter.

"I don't see how that's any business of yours," Mrs. Platt says with a glare. "Come, Esme."

Esme sidles off the seat obediently and hobbles over to the door. I cringe slightly, noting that she's not even glancing at me.

But at the threshold she stops and turns to look at me. "See you in two weeks, Dr. Cullen," she says with a forgiving smile. My returning smile isn't as wide as I'd like it to be –I know with absolute certainty that I will not see her in two weeks.

"Goodbye, Esme."

My almost solemn answer seems to surprise her, and she hesitates at the doorway, her wondering eyes trained on me. That expression stays even as the door closes; I simultaneously realise that that is the last time I will ever see her. For a reason I still can't seem to think of, that thought saddens me more than I imagined.

After the door closes behind them, I am frozen still for a moment. Then, making up my mind, I get up with full determination and take quick strides to the desk. I rummage for my chequebook in my bag, find it, and quickly fill out the cost of a single x-ray on the first cheque, payable to Esme Platt.

As I place the cheque within an envelope, I try to imagine what her reaction will be when she'll get it. If I know her, and I think I do, she's going to be very angry.

And so I rip out a new leaf from my prescription pad, and, pausing for a moment to form my words, write,

To Miss Platt, a small contribution in support of the preservation of fine, surgery-worthy noses.

Carlisle Cullen

There. Best keep it humorous.

I slip my little note into the envelope as well and glue the flap down. As I write 'To Esme Platt' on the front, I already begin to suppress my thoughts about her. I have taken a surprisingly intense interest in this strange teenaged girl, but I must stop here. It's highly unprofessional, in any case.

Of course, I don't know it at the moment, but I do succeed in my endeavour to forget Esme Platt, somewhat successfully.

I don't consciously think of her until I see her broken, dying body in a morgue, ten years from now.

Day 2


Barely ten minutes have passed since I regained consciousness after the procedure. I look up, pleased and unsurprised.

"Edward." I smile.

"How're you doing?"

"They say she's taken it amazingly well. She's improving."

He grins. "I did ask about you. And yes, I know about her. I'm… happy for you." Uncertainty tinges his voice fleetingly, but he manages to keep his tone supportive on the whole.

"Thank you. Your support means a lot." I mean it.

"I know," Edward answers smoothly. "Are you feeling up to some more peppy encouragement?"

I narrow my eyes slightly, trying to figure out what Edward actually means by his sly question. The intention, even as I guess it, bursts into the ward, bringing with her an overpowering flowery scent and a general mood of sugar, spice, and everything nice.

"Well, you don't look the worse for wear," the pink apparition accuses me.

My smile returns, it's hard not to smile when she's around. "Thank you, Alice."

"It feels like such a waste of flying hours," she sighs and collapses into the chair closest to me. From his still position by the door, Edward smirks at his sister's antics.

Alice Cullen, meanwhile, leans forward and looks at me with a hungry, excited look in her eyes. I try not to cringe –this expression of hers has terrified weaker mortals. "Well? Where is she?"

I know perfectly well who she means, but I don't want to impose my hyperactive cousin on gentle, fragile Esme. Not yet.

"Who?" –I ask with my most innocent expression.

"Carlisle!" She raps my arm sharply with her well-lacquered nails. "You know who-"

"Voldemort?" –Edward cuts in before she could finish.

"Shut up," Alice says without missing a beat, and barges ahead-"My future cousin-in-law, of course. Where is she?"

"Hold on right there," I say warningly. "What makes you think she's your future… cousin-in-law?" My small, nervous pause goes unnoticed by her, but I sense Edward glance at me sharply. He's very observant, after all.

"Oh please," she says airily, waving her colourful hands, "you've just given her your kidney, Carlisle. You practically saved her life. That grants you your first –oh, I don't know, fifty dates, maybe? You should be getting the banns read by now."

I resolutely ignore her words and struggle to change the topic. "'Banns'? Looks like you've well and truly immersed yourself in the 19th century for Rosalie's film."

"Oh, don't get me started on her," Alice snaps immediately, and I remember Edward telling me about their fight.

"Why?" –I ask, glad to have diverted her attention, and honestly curious.

"The 19th century was mainly carriages, puffy gowns and lots of letter-writing. Rosalie is under the impression that the 19th century was… steampunk." She spits the last word out.

Edward snorts and I chuckle at her furious expression. "Honestly, if she wasn't dating my brother, I'd have walked out on the project ages ago," she continues, exchanging a commiserating smirk with Edward.

"And if you weren't dating her brother," he adds, grinning smugly.

I sit up; this is news to me. "What was that?"

For once I see Alice subdued, and –shy? Alice is never shy. "Yeah, it's sort of been a month since Jazz and I got together."

"Officially," Edward puts in, clearly enjoying himself. His sister shoots him a glare.

"Jazz?" –I just manage to ask.

She blushes slightly. "Um, that's what I call him. You've met Jasper, haven't you?"

I nod slowly, remembering Jasper Hale. I try to imagine his tough, scarred image with that of my pretty, petite cousin and fail.

Alice is watching me anxiously. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, Carlisle. I really wanted to, but you were so busy over the past month with that girl…"

"I understand. It's alright," I reassure her when she still looks anxious. "All I want to know is this –are you happy with him?"

"I'm happiest when I'm with him," she answers, the shy tone back in her voice. I realise that this shyness only makes it more real, more true for my spunky little cousin.

So I gently take her hands in mine and I kiss them. "Then I'm happy for you."

She smiles at me affectionately before kissing me on the forehead and getting to her feet. "Well, I suppose I'll go bully a few nurses into telling me where this mystery woman is. I can see Ed's dying to speak with you alone, anyway."

She directs her smug smile at her brother, while I am once more reminded of her surprising bursts of shrewdness.

Edward rolls his eyes, but as he slides the door open, he murmurs loud enough for me to hear, "Meet me again before you leave?"

Alice nods, but stops at the door and turns to me. "She's the one, Carlisle. I can see it. She's the rest of your life."

I wait until the door slides shut before saying, "I know."

"We have a problem."

My inconsequential words about Alice die on my lips. "What is it? Is she relapsing? Is she rejecting the kidney?"

"No. No!" –Edward's response is immediate, as he occupies the chair which Alice had sat in minutes ago. "Relax, Carlisle. It's not medically relevant." He pauses. "Or so I assume."

"So what is it then?" –I ask him testily, irked that he frightened me so easily.

He hesitates again before plunging in. "Well, she had no ID on her when she was recovered. We all assumed it was her, since you told us it was her."

"It is her. I know it."

"Yes, there's certainly no doubt about that. The hospital's having her files forwarded from Columbus as we speak. It's just… the baby." He pauses yet again, looking more awkward than I have seen him in a while. "We couldn't find it."

I sigh. "You know what I told you, Edward. What I thought had happened-"

"Yes, and you were right. It was a boy, and he didn't survive. Underdeveloped lungs, or something like that. Didn't last two days."

I sigh, my heart going out for the woman I love. "So you did find him."

He squirms in his chair. "Yes, but here's the thing. He was apparently born to a woman named Carol Reed, out in St. Albert's. She was missing, but they still had her ID. I had Jasper check it. It was her, Carlisle. She had a fake ID."

I turn away from him and stare at a blank wall, my mind working furiously. I had imagined several scenarios with respect to Esme's battered presence, some of which, like the fate of her child, I had shared with Edward. This particular scenario is not surprising to me –I had considered her being possibly on the run, but the confirmation of this theory saddens me. The intense despondence of her act is impressed on me again, and I wonder how desperate and unhappy she must have been to go through so much pain and trouble.

"We shouldn't have asked for her medical records." Edward's solemn voice matches my thoughts perfectly. "The people she is running or hiding from could find her easily now."

I shake my head. "No. I'd rather face some unknown troubles from her past than take the chance of losing her again from something important or life-threatening in her medical history."

My argument seems to appease him, but in fact, it has hardly appeased me.

"All the same," I say slowly, "I'd like to speak to Jasper."

Edward raises his eyebrow but says nothing. He simply taps out a number on his cellphone and hands it to me. I don't have to wait long before I hear the click as the person answers.

"Yes, Edward," Jasper Hale's surprisingly smooth voice sounds in my ear.

"It's Carlisle."

"Dr. Cullen," I sense a slight ring of stiffness, a certain amount of respect in his tone. I don't wonder at it. I was after all the sole guardian of his present girlfriend until she attained majority.

"I suppose Alice spoke to you," his voice is still smooth, unbreaking. I find myself admiring his obvious self-control.

"Yes, but that's not what this is about. I'm in need of your services."

His voice is at once harder, more professional. "Of course. What can I do?"

"I need…" I pause to review my decision, and then continue, without hesitation, "a comprehensive background check on a woman named Esme Platt."

"Esme Platt," he repeats slowly, as though noting it down. "Is that E-S-M-E, no accents?"

"Yes. And Platt with two T's."

"Got it. You'll have a report in your mail within 24 hours."

"Thank you. Also, I may require…protection."

"I can debrief a team in an hour."

"No, no," I say hurriedly, even more impressed with his quick action. "A single person would do. For now."

"Right. I understand you're still in Ashland?"

"I'm still in Ashland General, in post-op."

"I heard." His voice softens again. We're back on personal territory. "Alice told me."

"I thought so," I say gently. "You also know, thanks to Edward, that she had a fake ID. I want to know why."

"Consider it done."

"Your fees will be paid from my account in the-"

"Not necessary. This is family."

I find myself surprised at this ex-military strategist's sentimentality. "But I couldn't-"

"Oh yes you could," Jasper's reply is prompt. Despite his unchanged tone, his words are incredibly emotional. "My sister is as good as a Cullen already. And I have Alice, who completes my life the way no one could. We both owe you so much, Dr. Cullen."

Even on the phone, I can sense his absolute sincerity. I finally understand what Edward had once told me. "He's an emotional chameleon," he'd said. And that was true. He had responded to my every sentence according to the tone I had set as I spoke them. Somehow, I felt, he was perfect for Alice.

My answer is spontaneous and sure. "Call me Carlisle."

The low beeping of monitors is calming. I am huddled in a comfortable armchair by her bed, gazing steadily at her while I reach forward to stroke her hair intermittently.

I find myself curiously unable to stop doing this action. I can't think why I hadn't noticed it the first time I met her, but I realise now that her hair has the loveliest shade of brown I have ever seen. It is a strange amalgam of brass, mahogany, and bronze. Even tied back under bandages, it seems to gleam and shimmer in the changing light from the window with a life of its own.

My eyes rove over her entire inert figure again. When I had last seen her, Esme had been somewhat gangly, still a growing girl. In the interceding ten years, she has filled out beautifully. Her rounded figure only hints at her recent medical state; otherwise she would simply be taken as a lusciously curved woman. I glance at her chapped lips somewhat hungrily while my abdominal organs perform a rousing jig. Yes, luscious is the word –every inch of her is the embodiment of that word, from her ever-glistening hair to her dry, yet red lips and small, delicate toes…

The door slides open and Bernard slips in. I find myself both relieved and annoyed at his presence.

"Still on dialysis?"

"I thought of weaning her off it a little slower than usual. I'm not taking any chances," I say, marvelling at my own unchanged voice. I thought I'd be stammering like a child.

Bernard simply smiles and shakes his head. "She's a lucky woman. Has she been registered fully yet?"

"Edward's taking care of that."

He detects none of my anxiety. "Right. Say, doesn't he have any shows to perform? Girls to seduce?"

I grin. "He's on sabbatical."

"Ah. That explains it. I wondered at how quickly he made it here."

"He was in Seattle, as a matter of fact. Caught a quick flight here."

"So I see." As we talk, Bernard checks the charts, adjusts the IV bags, and I watch him warily. "You depend on him a lot." He gives me a quick glance before turning back to the charts.

"He's always been more… like-minded than anyone else in my family."

"Is that all?"

"Of course not. But I don't see why I should explain it all to you," I say, my gentle tone belying my harsh words.

Bernard snorts. "Understood. I'll mind my own business. I just wanted to see how you work. All of you. Your family dynamic is… interesting."

His curiosity is not unusual. I can quickly escalate this conversation into a full-blown debate if I want to, but I don't want to waste time better spent watching over Esme. So I simply make a humorous quip –"Like I said before, Bernard. Psychotherapy. Look it up."

He grins. "I'll keep it in mind. Well. She's progressing nicely. Now that renal problems are out, we can concentrate on healing her other wounds." I nod absently, my gaze already fixed upon her face once more.

"Carlisle, have you considered whom to assign from the Psych Ward?"

I look up to frown at Bernard, who himself looks rather nervous at having suggested it.

"Why would I need someone from Psych?"

"Er, she did… jump off the cliff. She'll probably need help. Counselling."

My frown still in place, I turn to look at Esme again. Doubts and worries engulf my conscious thought processes once more.

"No. Not yet." I look up at him, my eyes pleading. "Let's keep suicide off-record for now. I need to talk to her first. I need to know why…" My voice trails away into brooding silence. I can only think about how well she and I got on together at our only meeting, how in mere minutes we seemed to have a unique connection, a spark. I can't even try to believe that she could attain this sort of bond with anyone else. Unless Esme wants nothing to do with me after she wakes, I'm going to be her personal shrink.

Bernard nods understandingly, replaces the charts at her headboard, and leaves the room, but I don't see him go. My eyes are trained on her once more, my hand on her head.

"I belong with you, and you belong with me," I murmur, then lean in and kiss her gently on the forehead, "my sweetheart."

It is two in the morning. My eyes are burning from lack of rest, but I feel anything but sleepy. I hear a small commotion outside, so I stand up to stretch my stiff legs and to see what's going on.

I stand at the glass door and watch as a middle-aged couple breaks down completely, the woman in hysterics while the man looks furious. I suppress a sigh. As mere mortals, we cannot guarantee saving each and every life that we are professionally responsible for. The family members of most patients forget this fact and often trust us to irrational lengths. When this false hope is shattered, they blame the first person they think of –the doctor.

The man now takes a menacing step toward the doctor in front of him. Almost instantly security personnel appear, seemingly from nowhere, and restrain him. The woman, meanwhile is suddenly quiet. Her face frightens me. She has gone from abject sorrow to cold restraint in seconds. Even from inside my room, I can see her dark eyes clearly. It's like she's dead inside.

That makes it certain for me. She has lost a child.

At that I turn around to look at my own salvation lying on the bed. She lost her own child, too. Are her eyes dead now? Forever dull, never that wonderfully bright brown-green that so struck me on our first meeting?

I sit by her side again, considering lifting one of her eyelids to see for myself, when they flutter.

I freeze, my hand half-raised, watching her lovely eyelashes tremble, as though entranced.

And slowly, very slowly, her eyelids blink open.

My breath is caught in my chest. Whatever I remembered of her eyes is nothing to what they actually look like. They pin me in place with a queer magnetic force, despite being obviously disoriented.

Her eyebrows twitch; she is trying to frown.

"D-Doctor Cullen."

She remembers me.

My breath comes out in a rush. "Hello," I say breathlessly, feeling rather like a teenaged girl.


"You're in Ashland General Hospital. You've… had an accident."

The frown is more pronounced, it's like she's trying to remember.

"N-n… no, I-"

"You've been seriously injured, and you've had a surgery. Don't exert yourself. Rest for now." My interruption is for both our benefits. I am sure she remembers jumping off the cliff, but I don't want to discuss it with her now, not when she is so weak and delicate.

Her breath comes out in a little sigh, I take it as an affirmation.

"Thirsty." –she rasps.

I lunge for the water jug on the little coffee table by the window, nearly upsetting the table itself with my haste. As I stumble back to her bedside, I notice her eyes narrowed slightly, the corners of her lips only just curved. My heart leaps at this small display of amusement.

Trying unsuccessfully to calm myself, I grab the control and raise the head of the bed so she can drink the water with relative ease. She drags at it with surprising energy –she must be parched. And healing faster than I thought.

At one point, her head droops too much so I clutch her chin and gently tilt her head upwards. As soon as my fingers touch her, she stops drinking and her eyes shoot up to see mine. I return her gaze with the best pokerface I can manage. Her own expression is inscrutable.

And my heart feels like it's been dipped in honey. Sweet, sweet honey.

The moment passes; she lowers her eyes and drains the rest of the water from the cup.


She shakes her head, her eyes not meeting mine. I pretend I don't notice it, and return her bed to its former horizontal position.

"You still need your rest. Sleep, Esme."

Her pale cheeks are suddenly flushed. For a moment I panic, assuming that she's presenting a fever. Then I see that she's still not meeting my eyes, and that her expression now is almost identical to one I'd seen ten years ago.

She's blushing.

I try very, very hard not to see too much into that.

But I don't try hard enough.

It's three in the afternoon. I haven't slept in 36 hours, haven't eaten in 20 hours. I should be collapsing from exhaustion, but I'm not. The human body can adapt to some very extreme conditions. The middle of a bustling hospital might not sound like an extreme or deficient environment, but with my brain in such a whirl, and my heart in such anxiety, I'm literally living 'on the edge'. I can hardly think of anything but the cause for all this.


She fell asleep almost immediately after that little drink of water. I was glad: that she had come out of her coma and was dealing with her exhaustion meant she was healing.

At the moment I am still watching her, at her now-peaceful expression, at the regular rise and fall of her chest. Such obvious signs of recovery never fail to make my heart feel lighter.

"She'll be fine," I keep murmuring, both to assuage and to congratulate myself. "She'll be fine."

Like a chant. A mantra to keep me sane.

A nurse comes in, thrusts a food tray on my lap, tells me in a menacing voice to eat, "or else", but I barely pay attention to her. My vision and my thoughts are filled with nothing but Esme.

Twenty minutes later, I still haven't touched the food. I am roused out of my reverie when my cellphone vibrates in my pocket. Absently, I check who's calling and immediately feel a pang of guilt. It's Edward.

Taking a deep breath, I stride up to the window, and slide the answer icon.


"Carlisle. What the hell is the matter with you? Why aren't you eating?"

I sigh. "I –I can't."

"Why not?"

His belligerent tone riles me up. "Do you think that I can bear to even think of food at a time like this?"

Edward's answer is prompt, angry. "Don't give me all that emotional crap. You're not a teenager! You're a grown man, a rational doctor. You've just given away one of your kidneys. Do you really think starving yourself and consequently killing yourself is going to be of any use to her?"

I don't answer. He does have a point.

"What if she wakes all disoriented and you aren't there by her side because you're dying somewhere else in that freaking hospital? Is that what you saved her for? So that you yourself die an unnecessary death?"

"Save the melodrama for your professional performances. I'm not going to die," I snap, nevertheless realising that he's right, to an extent.

There is a pause; I hear Edward breathe out sharply.

"Look, Carlisle," he says in a much lower tone, I can tell this has taken considerable effort, "I don't want to fight. But I'm sure you see some sense in what I say."

I sigh, too. "Yes. I do. I'll eat."

"You'd better lick the tray clean. I'll have Bernard check."

I tsk, irritated. "I'm not a child, you know."

"You certainly sound like one right now."

I can tell from his tone that he's no longer pissed, just amused. So I do not counter back.

"I hear she woke," he says after a moment, his voice a completely different kind of softness.

My irked mood fades away instantly. "Yes. No signs at all of brain damage."

"Did she say anything?"

"She remembers me." I'm sure Edward doesn't have to be in the same room to see my smile.

"Of course she does. D'you think any sane woman would forget your angelic features?" Now I don't have to be in the same room to see his smirk.

"Much more easily than forgetting the features of a living Adonis," I reply promptly. We are both quoting from a particularly annoying magazine article about my family from some time ago.

He chuckles, and I smile. Once again, I find myself thanking Him for blessing me with such a wonderful family, particularly such an understanding cousin. Despite our difference in age, we get along extraordinarily well.

"Well. I guess I won't keep you from your meal. If she wakes again, say 'hi' from me."

"Will do."

"Take care, Carlisle. Edward out."

I smile again at his childish closing words and slip the phone into my pocket. Sighing at the prospect of forcing nourishment down my throat, I turn around.

And freeze. Her eyes are open.

She smiles at my expression. "Good morning, Dr. Cullen." Despite some raspiness from unuse, her voice is singularly melodious.

"Good morning," I blurt and make my way to her bedside once more, my legs like jelly. "How're you feeling?"

"Like a car crash."

"Close enough." Taking a deep breath, I smile slightly at her, reining my full happy grin in for fear of terrifying her.

"But… it wasn't a car crash, was it?" Her eyes are solemn.

My smile slips away. "How much do you remember?"

"Everything." Her voice breaks.

I take another deep breath, unsure of how to proceed. "Do you… want to talk about it?"

She shakes her head. "No –not yet. Just… tell me how I got here. How bad was I?"

"Very bad. It was touch and go," I say rather reluctantly, fighting a strong desire to hide her from the sordid truth. But I know from experience it is never a good thing to lie to patients. That she was suicidal makes it even more important for her to know. She has to know how much her life means right now, and that she mustn't try to throw it away again.

She looks down at herself. She has one arm and one leg in a cast, her head is wrapped in bandage, and a tube leads out from under the sheet into the dialysis machine next to her.

"Could you explain with a little more detail?"

So I tell her. I tell her exactly how many bones she had broken. How many had cracked. How lucky she was that her skull was only scraped and she had only a mild concussion. How her kidneys failed and she had to get a transplant.

"A kidney transplant," she murmurs. "How did you find a replacement so soon?" I groan inwardly. This is the one question I don't want her asking. "I mean, surely with all my injuries I wasn't applicable to go into a transplant list, right?"

"You seem well-versed in the transplant process."

"My brother got one."



I squirm slightly. "There was a live donor."

Her eyes widen. "Someone in this hospital donated one of their kidneys for me? How… providential."

"Very providential," I agree, but with respect to something else entirely. The cold, white morgue appears in my vision once more.

"Who was it?"


She smiles warmly, making my heart skip a beat. My God, she has dimples. How have I not noticed that?

"I'd like to thank them. I'm sure he or she wouldn't be allowed to leave the hospital, not after having one of their kidneys removed so recently."

I find myself at a complete loss for words. How do I tell her that it was me? I never even wanted to tell her, so that gratitude would never factor in her feelings for me. It just isn't… right. My –honour rebels against it. The old-fashioned word, so seldom used these days, describes perfectly how I feel.

My silence worries her. "What's wrong? Don't tell me-" her voice quivers –"don't tell me they're dead? Because of the transplant?" Her horrified expression agonises me.

"No! No, Esme. He's fine. He… just prefers to remain anonymous, that's all."

"But why? It's not like I know him!"

I hesitate again, but this time, she understands.

"I… I do know him?"

Before I can lie to her with a negative response, her eyes widen. "It's not –it's not you?"

My words die in my throat. Along with the fact that I'm admiring her perceptiveness, I am mostly enchanted by her eyes –so big, bright and round, like a doe's eyes.

"Why?" Her voice is a shocked whisper.

I force myself to answer. "Because I had to."

"But –but-"

"More importantly," I add gently, boldly placing my hand on hers, "because I wanted to."

She stares at me mutely for a second, her lips quivering.

Then she bursts into tears.

I am pacing the hospital corridor impatiently, my footsteps echoing. Once more, I feel a strong urge to smash something. Or drown myself in a pool somewhere. Or both.

After Esme's sobbing fit, I was unceremoniously thrown out of her room by irate nurses. It has been several hours since the incident and I'm still not allowed within twenty feet of her. Only two thoughts are running in my head. 'How could I be stupid enough to impose on her like that?' And, even worse –'She doesn't love me.'

My mind is an agony of hope, despair, and self-loathing.

I lean against the wall, my head in my hands, despair winning control of my thoughts again.

"Dr. Cullen." I look up. A stern dragon of a nurse is standing before me. "She's asking for you."

I stare at her for a moment, uncomprehending. Then, I push past her and nearly run into Esme's room.

She is sitting up in bed, and on the lap-table in front of her are two meal trays.

She smiles shyly. "They tell me you haven't eaten. Would you like to join me?" She gestures at the trays.

I find myself too stupefied to speak. My expression seems to amuse her, and her smile turns into a grin.

"Yes, Dr. Cullen. I'm asking you to dinner. It is a date." Her smile and her words send a pleasurable jolt through my chest. Mutely, I drag a chair as close as I can to her bedside, and sit.

She clears her throat. "I think I owe you an apology, Dr. Cullen-"

"Please," I interrupt, a smile finally breaking through my stunned expression, "call me Carlisle."

"Carlisle," she repeats softly. The electric jolt passes through my entire body this time. I find myself staring at her lips whenever she speaks my name.

"Well then… Carlisle," she pauses slightly, her cheeks reddening, to my delight, "I have to explain myself."

I shake my head. "You don't have to."

"But I do! You –you were so kind, a-and sweet…"

"Kindness didn't come into the picture," I interrupt again, sharply this time. I realise that she doesn't know for sure how I feel about her, only has doubts.

So I put it out plainly in front of her, just so my intentions are clear. "I wouldn't do what I did to just anyone. I did it because it was you."

Her eyes are wide again, giving me a perfect picture of her hazel eyes. "Y-you mean…"

"I mean", I say gently, my heart racing, "I'm in love with you."

I can almost see the breath entering her in a loud gasp. A small glance at the monitors tell me that her heart-rate is rising, and I observe, to my horror, that her eyes are filling with tears once more.

"I –I'm sorry." I say hurriedly, my heart spasming at every tear sliding down her cheeks. "I shouldn't have said anything. I… I'll leave." I get to my feet before she sobs –"No!"

Her thin fingers clasp my hand with a surprisingly strong grip.

"Please! Don't leave me. Not again! If I –if I only knew…"

I sit down immediately and clasp her hand tightly in mine. I understand at least part of her outburst. "I'm sorry, Esme. I shouldn't have left like I did. I should have told you, I should have given myself a chance," I murmur sorrowfully, pressing kisses upon her hand.

She finally shakes her head and wipes her tears with the other plastered hand. "I understand now."

I turn my penitent gaze at her. "Do you really?"

"Yes," the tears have stopped and her voice is much calmer now. "You didn't trust me."

She doesn't seem to be accusing me. It's like she really does understand. I press another warm kiss on her hand.

"No. I didn't trust myself," I explain gently. "I didn't trust that I could love someone and force her to live a life like mine, constantly aware of my riches, but abstaining totally all the same. It would have been too cruel. And I could not imagine giving up my principles, either." I sigh. "I have always thought that I would remain single, a celibate my entire life."

"And now?" –she asks solemnly.

"Now I don't care a hang about my principles. All I want is you," I kiss her hand again, "and I shall forever be happy."

She frees her hand and cups my chin with it, making me sigh with mute pleasure. "No. All I want is you," I smile to see her blushing again, "and I don't care whether it's in a palace or a trailer."

I laugh, my sheer joy escaping me. "You make me so happy, Esme Platt."

Her eyes narrow a little, but she is still smiling as she says, "And that makes me happy." I still notice some of her discomfort. But before I can ask her, she speaks.


"Yes, Esme."

She takes a deep breath. "I'd like to talk about it now."

I understand immediately. My smile slips away. I grab her hand once more and squeeze it reassuringly. "If you're sure you want to."

"I am."

I nod. "Then I'm listening."

She hesitates for a moment, then plunges into her narration. "To begin with, my name isn't Esme Platt anymore." She pauses, and her voice turns hard as she continues, "It's Esme Evenson."

Her lower lip is trembling again.

"You're married."


I struggle to appear composed. "Where is he now?"

"I don't know." Her voice shakes. "I don't want to know."

Her expression causes my chest to tighten. I hear a far-away roaring sound in my ears. I've seen this expression on other women's faces before. I've seen the same fear in their eyes. I remember Bernard telling me about several old wounds that appeared in Esme's tests that I never really paid attention to.

Now, suddenly, everything is crystal clear.

"What did he do?" –I ask, the calmness of my voice surprising even me.

She doesn't answer my question. "I left him. When I found out I was pregnant. I –I couldn't bear the thought of raising a child in his house. I couldn't," she gulps and tears are escaping her eyes again, "I couldn't imagine… I couldn't be so –so cruel."

My breath comes out in an angry huff. "What did he do?" –I repeat, my voice tight with anger.

She stares me with wild uncertainty.


"He abused me." The whisper finally comes out.

Fury, absolute primal fury fills my heart. I clench my teeth and my hands into fists and my nostrils flare. If that husband of hers had been in the room right now, I would have stabbed him and tore him to pieces.

"Carlisle, please," she says tremulously, my anger apparent to her. I take a deep, shuddering breath and try to calm myself. I have never felt this angry, never felt such murderous blood lust for another human being.

As if he even is human, that filthy piece of shit.

"Carlisle. I'm sorry! Y-you have to understand why I married him." –she speaks, her words rushed. I turn my gaze back to her. Why in heavens above does she need to apologise? Surprise dulls my anger a bit, even as she continues- "Charles Evenson was our next-door neighbour's son. Rich, and handsome, and my parents –they wanted me to marry him."

"Your marriage was arranged?"

"In a way, it was. I didn't mind," she adds hurriedly, seeing me frown again. "Not at first. I think I even loved him briefly. He could be charming, you know."

My frown deepens, while my anger rises again. That bastard. That sick, manipulative bastard.

"We moved to New York, where he works as a hedge-fund manager," she continues, sensing my increased fury once more. "It didn't begin all at once. At first, it was little things. He had a very jealous and suspicious nature, he was almost paranoid that way. Then, he –he began to hit me if I irritated him in any way. Then…" –her voice trails away momentarily, but she speaks anew, as though wanting to confess it all, everything as quickly as possible. "He'd lock me up in one of the guest rooms. He'd starve me. He –he r-raped me. Several times. Uncountable times."

I stand up so suddenly my chair falls back with a crash, making Esme jump fearfully. I pace in front of the window, my desire to wreak violence stronger than it has ever been in my life.

"Carlisle?" –her voice is tremulous with anxiety.

"Go on," I say through my teeth.

She obliges me immediately, but not without some anxious looks directed at me. "After I got pregnant, I ran. What if I had a girl? What if it was a boy, and he grew up to be just like his father?" The pain in her voice stops my pacing. "I went to a cousin in Milwaukee. She was very kind. She let me stay while I taught at a school there. In the beginning of my third trimester I found out that Charles had found out where I was, and was coming to get me. I panicked, and I ran again." Her voice is now nothing but agonised. I turn to look at her, it being my turn to appear anxious. "My cousin, Emma, helped me get a fake ID. I came to Ashland because it's the closest place to Milwaukee that has no prior connections to me. I'm a stranger in this town."

She takes a deep breath as tears fill her eyes again. "My baby was born prematurely, barely a month after I came here. By the second night, he –he was…" A sob wracks through her body and she buries her face in her hands.

All my fury, all the anger melts away. At the moment there is nothing but her, and she is in agony. Three long strides brings me to her bedside. I sit on the bed right next to her and hold her in my arms gently.

She begins to cry in earnest now, sobbing loudly into my shoulder, her every cry making my heart heavier.

"He was my everything! He was the only thing that gave some meaning, some excuse for that stupid mistake of a marriage and he was –I barely got to hold him!"

I shush her and rub her back gently. Sniffing loudly, she looks up at me, her glorious eyes dim and watery. "I was going to call him 'Carlisle'. To remind me of you. T-to bring him up in your example…" She dissolves into tears again.

"Ssh, it's okay," I say softly, feeling very inadequate, and not a little privileged at having been an example for her son.

We remain in that position for a long time. Even as her tears fade and she wanders into sleep, she is still nestled gently in my arms, my mind now occupied with a single thought.

I am not ever letting her go.

Day 3

I catch myself whistling as I wash my hands in the bathroom. I grin at my reflection in the mirror. I spend several unnecessary seconds in rearranging my hair. Then, deeming it perfect and suddenly impatient to see her again, I rush back to her room.

She is awake, sitting up and watching something through the window. The nurses have unhooked her from the dialysis machine and unwrapped most of the bandages from her head, leaving only a small cotton patch on her forehead. Her luxuriant chestnut hair is splayed behind her on the pillow in its full glory, her face is bright in the sunlight, her hands are neatly folded in her lap. She is a picture of angelic perfection.

Hearing me enter, she turns around, and visibly brightens. My gut twists as I come under the powerful influence of her dimples once more.

"Carlisle!" –she greets me joyously.

"Esme," I murmur, hurry to her side and kiss her on her forehead, "my sweetheart."

She blushes as she pulls my hand to make me sit on the bed next to her. "I missed you," she admits shyly.

"And I you," I say. "I think I'll ask Bernard to hook a catheter bag to me as well. Then I don't have to leave you at all."

"Don't be silly," she giggles.

"I was being serious!" –I say mock-solemnly.

"Tell me about Dr. Bernard." –she says in an obvious attempt to change my teasing mood.

I oblige her; I don't think I can ever deny her anything.

"He's a good man. And a good doctor." She nods. "I've observed that. But not as good as you."

"And how would you know that?" –I ask, eyebrow raised.

"He told me that the transplant was your idea. That didn't surprise me. He also told me that you found me in the middle of the night?" Her gaze is inquiring, and I catch her meaning.

I sigh, remembering the tension and the sleepless nights pervading my life days before Esme re-entered my life. "We were attempting a heart transplant in a twelve-year old with juvenile diabetes. The procedure's not unheard-of, but it's still very, very risky. This girl was too weak, too delicate. The immunosuppressant drugs that we usually give after a transplant-" I nod at one of the IV bags hung next to her –"made her worse. She caught a 'flu, her body rejected the new heart despite the drugs and she died." She places her hand over mine in a gentle show of support. I squeeze it gratefully. I remember how depressed I had already been about the girl's death even before I'd found Esme.

"I was in the morgue, ready to autopsy her, when they brought in a new body. The nurse had to leave for some emergency, and curiosity led me to lift the shroud and see who it was." I stop, the remembrance still too painful. A perpetual 'what-if' echoes in my mind every time I remember the incident, and terrifies me.

"It was me," Esme says softly.

I nod stiffly. "Your pulse was too weak to be felt. I only realised you were still alive because you were warmer than the rest of the morgue."

She shudders. "What if…"

"Don't," I say pleadingly. "I think I'll have nightmares about it for the rest of my life."

Her eyes soften. She places her uninjured hand on my cheek. "You don't have to," she tells me gently. "Everything is alright and we're together now. That's all that matters."

I barely hear her words. The moment I felt the touch of her hand on my face, my insides were on fire –not the fury I had experienced the previous night, but a raging, pleasurable sort of fire.

I place my hand on her cheek, too, even as I lean in slightly. My intention is clear to her; her eyes widen once more and her lips part in a silent gasp. "You have gorgeous eyes, you know, Esme?" I murmur. Her cheeks turn a violent shade of red and she looks away, her eyelashes fluttering.

I lean in a little more, my hand sliding down to gently hold her neck. "And your eyelashes are maddeningly perfect."

I feel her squirm slightly and I loosen my hold on her neck. "Esme. Darling, look at me."

She does look up, her eyes curiously solemn.

"I'll never do anything you don't want me to," I tell her, willing her with my eyes to trust me. I lean a few inches backwards, but her hand slips to the back of my neck and she pulls me in so forcefully that our noses nearly touch.

"I do want this," she whispers huskily, sending my stomach into somersaults, "more than you can imagine."

So I waste no more time with words, and press my lips gently against hers.

The fire I felt before is nothing compared to the heat radiating from her mouth to mine. Her soft lips respond immediately; they shape themselves to match mine with such uninhibited passion that my chest feels devoid of breath. I go ahead to match her ardour and firmly part her lips, feeling an instant electric jolt course through me as her tongue gently traces the inside of my lips while her hand moves up from my neck and buries itself in my hair. I have never felt this alive, this happy.

We continue kissing until we are forced to break apart from want of breath. Even so, my face remains only inches away from hers, my nose touching hers. We barely catch our breath when I kiss her again, and when this one ends, I let my lips trail over her chin and down her neck.

"Carlisle," she half-whispers, half-moans.


"Carlisle!" –she says, a little more insistently as I bury my face completely in her neck.


Gently, she clutches my chin and lifts my head to look me in the eye. I feel her shudder beneath me, my lust for her patently obvious in my eyes.

Nevertheless, her voice is surprisingly firm. "I have one arm and one leg in a cast. It's only been a day since we both have had to live with a single kidney. I'd like to… enjoy this experience when I'm more able."

I take a deep breath to calm myself, and then smile at her. She's right. In the pursuit of sating my own lust, I mustn't hurt her. That would be unconscionable.

So I kiss her fervently on the forehead and clamber off the bed. "As you wish, my love."

She beams at me, dazzling me again with those dimples of hers.

I feel a strong urge to kiss her again, but before I can act on my impulse, the door slides open and a nurse slips in, her expression shy. I wonder how much of our makeout session was witnessed by other people in the corridor. I simultaneously find that I don't care.

"We need to change the catheter, Dr. Cullen," the nurse squeaks.

"I'll wait outside," I tell Esme and turn to leave, when she stops me. "You've barely eaten a proper meal in days. Go to the cafeteria and eat something substantial."

I shake my head. "I'll have a tray brought in here."

Her eyes narrow. "Carlisle Cullen. Go and have a meal the likes of which is rightfully, biologically due to you as a healthy male human in his prime. Don't you dare come back until you have." Her voice, which is usually mild and unprepossessing, is now sharp and commanding. I realise that she'd make a frightening teacher if one didn't obey her as one ought to.

"Yes ma'am," I say, almost involuntarily.

Her expressions softens only slightly. "Go on, then."

I turn about and march out of the room, stunned by her commanding presence. I stop a few steps away, rush back inside, press a resounding kiss on her lips and rush back outside before stern Miss Esme can give me detention.

"There he is! The miracle worker!" –the loud voice booms across the cafeteria, and I smirk and turn to face the familiar speaker.

"You make him sound like he made Helen Keller literate."

The wry second voice is not unwelcome either.

"Emmett," I grin before the giant of a man squeezes me in a tight embrace. "Edward," I nod, smiling, after I'm released from my cousin's crushing grip. I'm glad he's back.

"Since my big brother was the only Cullen who hadn't met her yet, I thought I'd bring him along." –Edward explains as I massage my upper arms.

"I'm glad you're here," I tell them both warmly. "Sit down. Won't you eat something?"

They both decline.

"So. How is she?"

My smile feels like it'll never leave my face. "She's… wonderful."

Emmett sniggers while Edward says with his signature smirk, "I meant, how is she doing?"

I have a strong feeling that I'm blushing. Nevertheless, I say, as casually as I can, "She's recuperating nicely. They just took her off dialysis."

"That's good news. So when can we go see her?" –Emmett asks eagerly.

"Emmett! She's only just woken up. We shouldn't overwhelm her. I'm sure she's still trying to get used to Carlisle's presence."

"Oh, she's pretty much used to my presence," I say nonchalantly. Neither of my cousins misses the implied meaning.

"Really?" –Edward drawls, the gleam in his eyes matching the one in his brother's. "How comfortable is she with you?"

I feel my cheeks heat up again. "We…erm, kissed," I admit. Since a very long time, Edward and Emmett have been regaling me with stories of the girls in their lives and their so-called conquests. It is refreshing for me to contribute, for once, despite the obvious irritation at their teasing.

"Well, look at that. Thirty-year old celibate moves pretty quickly!" –Emmett snorts, while Edward is laughing, surprised.

"Oh, shut up," I snap, but I'm not really angry.

The brothers burst into laughter again, and I push my plate away, studiously ignoring them as I get up to go pay.

When I return to the table, they have stopped laughing. "Seriously speaking, though," Emmett says, in his surprisingly calm tone, "we're happy you're happy, Carlisle." Edward nods his agreement. I smile warmly at them, grateful for their support.

"I'm going back to her ward now. Could you wait a few minutes before coming? I have to warn her of your arrival."

"I'm offended that our coming necessitates a warning," Edward says petulantly.

I grin. "Two minutes. She's still getting used to all this, to us. I can't spring my quirky relatives on her just like that."

"I bet you're just worried she'll realise that she's with the ugliest Cullen when she sees us and that she'll hook up with one of us." –Emmett winks.

My response is immediate. "And which one of you would that be?"

The answer is perfectly synchronised. "Me, obviously," the two brothers chorus.

I smirk, triumphant. This tactic has never failed me.

"What? Oh, please."

"Dude. You have got to be kidding me. Have you seen these biceps?"

"'Living Adonis', Emmett. You can't beat that."

"The world's sexiest woman is my fiancée. Can't beat that."

"More like the world's most-shallow blonde."

"Hey! Too far, Edward."

Still grinning, I make my way to Esme's room three floors above. When I reach the corridor, I notice from afar that the blinds are still drawn and the door is shut. Frowning, I make my way to the nearby nurses' station, but before I can ask anything, the squeaky-voiced nurse tells me, "Oh, Dr. Cullen, the patient has a visitor. I left the blinds closed for some privacy."

"A visitor?" My frown deepens.

"Yes. Her husband."

It's like time has stopped. I can feel the blood coursing out of my head and into my feet.

"No," I whisper, and turn back to her room as though in a dream.

No. No, no, no… No!

I run faster than I can ever remember running. I pull the door open with such force that it smashes loudly against the opposite frame. The scene before my eyes is one I'm fearing, but still not one I'm prepared to see.

Esme is on the floor, unconscious, her face wet with tears. Blood is trickling from her lips and a big patch of red is growing on her gown near her abdomen. A man is standing over her, a tall, golden-haired man, his face twisted with anger but his eyes gleaming with sadistic pleasure. He looks up at me as the door bangs open.

He stares at me insolently, not a trace of fear or guilt in his eyes.

"'Carlisle', I assume," he drawls. I hear a strange whistling sound in my ears as my blood rushes to my face again, bringing with it the same fury that nearly incapacitated me last night.

"Bitch wouldn't stop calling for you," he says in almost explanatory fashion.

The next moment, he shrieks in pain as I lunge at him, grabbing his throat. "You-sick-bastard!" –I breathe, levelling punches at him like a madman with each word that leaves my mouth. "You-freaking-crazy-lunatic!"

Most of my punches land, but in seconds he grabs my wrists and snarls at me through the blood pouring from his nose. "She's my wife. I won't have her shacking up with someone else." He punches my jaw so hard I hear the bone crack. My resulting scream is more anger than pain, and I attack him again with renewed vigour.

We thrash about for several rushed, furious moments, each trying to gain an ascendancy, but both failing. But then, as we crash into a medicine cart, he reaches over and grabs something small and silvery.

A scalpel.

Thoughts of self-preservation kick in only at this moment. I see the gleam of the little knife as he swings it toward me; I thrust my hands out protectively and feel a sharp, burning pain erupt in both my palms.

He raises his hand to strike again, his aim clear and unhindered this time, my bloody hands too slow to defend myself. My eyes wander to Esme lying on the floor, her beautiful hair spread out like a glistening fan.

So beautiful. So perfect.

In my peripheral vision, I see the scalpel gleam as it is brought down toward me a second time, but my eyes are fixed on her face, on the peaceful expression that seems to soothe me…

And a deafening bull-like bellow fills the room. Evenson's striking arm falters; a split-second later, he is wrenched off me by a single large arm.

It has been years since Emmett Cullen fought in the ring. But he is still dangerous, still formidable. With one swipe, the scalpel is dragged from the villain's hand. Another punch, straight into his solar plexus, throws him off his feet and he crashes into the wall behind him, collapsing onto the floor in an unconscious heap.

"Carlisle!" –Edward is instantly at my side, but I shake him off.

"Esme!" –I gasp, tears forming in my eyes. "Esme, my love, please. Get her in the ER, now!" –I scream at the nurses who are standing at the door, frozen with fear.


The nurses move immediately. A gurney appears, Esme is placed on it and they quickly wheel her away. I try to follow them but my legs feel inconsistent and the world spins around me. As I stumble onto my knees, I hear my cousins' frantic voices. "Carlisle!"

"He's lost so much blood!"

"His stitches have ripped."

"Get my brother to the ER, now!" –Emmett's screaming order is almost similar to and much more frightening than mine.

I smile at the thought. It was a good thing I made him Chairman of the Board, I tell myself.

And then darkness envelops me.


The light is blinding me, making my eyes hurt.

"Edward," I mumble, recognising the voice. I can barely move my jaw. I realise it is clamped to my upper jaw tightly with bandage.

"Thank God." The relief in his voice is clear.

"Where's Esme?" –I ask, my mind turning clearer. The pain in my jaw, my stomach and my hands is nothing compared to the pain twisting in my heart. "How is she?"

My eyes are completely open now, and I don't miss the expression on his face. "How is she?" –I repeat, my voice laced with desperation.

"They're not sure yet," he sighs finally.

A dead weight seems to plummet in my stomach. I remember the feeling of her lips pressed passionately against mine. Was that only a few hours ago?

My eyes burn with unshed tears. "No," I mumble. No. I can't lose her. Not now. Not after being so sure of a glorious future with her. Not when I was certain of our happily-ever-after.

Emmett walks into the room looking worried. He sees me awake and relief suffuses his face momentarily. "Carlisle. I'm so glad."

"How is she?" –I ask him, too.

"You should ask a doctor. Hang on."

He steps outside for a few brief moments. When he returns, he has Bernard with him.

"How is she?" –I ask again, feeling rather like a parrot.

Bernard looks at me as if he's summing me up. Then, he sighs and takes the chair Edward offers him. "Not good. He seems to have punched her in the stomach. Her stitches ripped open and there seems to be an infection. Also, the shock made her body reject the kidney. I know," he adds at my horrified expression. "We all realise how important it is that she keep the kidney. She's on an intensive course of corticosteroids, but that might aid her infection more than anything. We're still monitoring her closely."

"There was blood on her lips," I say, remembering.

"Internal bleeding. We've patched her up. Now all we've got to do is wait, and hope for the best."

I swallow, willing myself not to cry, and sit up. "I have to go see her," I say, despite the fact that I'm still pretty dizzy.

"Hold on right there!" –Emmett says sharply. All three men are glaring at me with similar expressions. "You're not unscathed, either," Bernard tells me, his voice firm. "You have a broken jaw, a cracked rib, all your stitches came out as well, and you lost a quart of blood from those nasty cuts on your hands."

"I don't care."

"Carlisle," Edward says, his voice hard and pleading at the same time. "Remember what I told you yesterday? About eating? The same argument applies here."

"She wasn't dying yesterday, Edward!" –my yell is muffled by my bound jaw.

"No," he agrees, "but you're dying today."

Emmett nods. "The sooner you get better, the sooner you can see her."

When I still look unconvinced, Bernard adds his diplomatic iota to the conversation. "Look, Cullen, she's in a pretty stable state right now. Could get better, could get worse. Either way, I'll let you know and make sure you're by her side when the change happens. Is that alright with you?"

Wired and strapped as I am to the bed and the surrounding machines, making it impossible for an escape attempt, I simply nod. There seems to be nothing else I can do, at the moment.

"Could you try wheeling me a little faster?" –I ask Edward testily.

"The IV stand will tip over." –Edward snaps.

"Relax, Carlisle," Emmett rumbles reassuringly from behind me. "A few seconds later makes no difference."

I bite back an acidic retort. After all, they're trying to help me.

As we approach Esme's unit, Bernard bursts out of the doors, an inscrutable expression on his face.

"Bernard!" –I let out a muffled gasp. "What? What is it? What happened to her?"

"Thank goodness you're here, Carlisle," he says breathlessly. My own breath is stolen from me. Dear God, can he mean…

"The drugs are working."

For a split second I cannot believe it. Then, relief spreads through me like warmth, dulling my pain. Behind me, I hear Edward and Emmett whooping. With a grin I can't hide from my face, I turn to them. "Take me to her."

And they do.

The monitors are emitting periodic low beeps. I feel a sense of déjà vu as I watch Esme from my uncomfortable sitting position in my wheelchair. A little more than twenty-four hours ago I sat watching Esme in much the same manner, waiting for her to wake up, hoping that she'd have me when she did. Now I don't have to worry about the second issue, but that doesn't make me any less anxious.

I sigh, wishing I could stroke her hair like I had last time. This time, it's impossible –my hands are bandaged so tightly and profusely that it feels like my arms end in clubs. My stomach itches where they have restitched the incision, and my jaw is throbbing with a dull ache.

But I barely ponder over my own injuries. All I can still think about is her –her smile, her lips, the sight of her lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood…

Anger flashes through me once more. The police had come and had cuffed the still-unconscious Evenson and taken him to the lock-up. Emmett assured me he was having the best lawyers take our case. We would take only the harshest punishment as justice served. Although I knew he would keep his word, I still felt that no punishment would be too cruel for a man such as Charles Evenson.

A small sound brings me back to the present. I glance at Esme and nearly jump up with excitement. She's stirring. And mumbling something.

I wheel my chair closer to hear her whispered words.

"Carl… canal… China…"

The words make no sense. I notice then that her face is flushed.

"Nurse!" –I yell as clearly and as loudly as I can.

A nurse appears immediately. "She's delirious," I tell her, trying to calm my anxiety.

"Canal…" –the whisper is louder now.

"You should go outside, Doctor," she tells me as a second nurse rushes in.

I don't argue. I realise that I, with my wheelchair and my tattered emotional state, would be a distraction to them. They need to focus on Esme. So I let them wheel me out.

It's four in the morning. Exactly three days since I found the love of my life dying in the morgue. Three days, and my emotions have been more overhauled than they were in the last three years put together.

I glance at Esme, who is sleeping peacefully now, the sheen of fever gone. It was worth it. All the drama, the trauma was worth it if it meant I could spend the rest of my life with her.

My parched throat alerts me to my more immediate needs. I wheel myself to the coffee table in the corner, where I pour myself some water to drink.


Her voice, low, broken, raspy, is still beautiful enough to make my heart race.

"Esme!" –I gasp joyously.

"Thirsty," she rasps.

I laugh at the sense of déjà vu again and I refill my cup and wheel myself to her side. I strain to reach her mouth from my chair, but her hand rises limply and helps me help her drink.


She smiles slightly, she feels the déjà vu, too. "No."

I place the cup on the bedside cabinet and clutch her hand.

"Are you alright?" –she whispers. I see her squeezing my hand but I can't feel it, because of the confounded bandages.

"I am now," I tell her truthfully.

"What happened?"

"How much do you remember?"

She pauses. "Everything."

We both sit silently, remembering those few horrible painful, bloody minutes.

"He found me through my medical records."

My gut twists guiltily. "I should have known. I shouldn't have had them sent from Columbus. I should have waited until you woke-"

"Shh." Her finger rests lightly on my lips for a moment before falling back on the bed. She's still very weak. "You did the right thing. You did your duty as a doctor."

"But I failed you."

"Carlisle Cullen, you could never fail me. Never."

"Not even when I left town without telling you?"

She smiles. "Even then. You owed me no explanation. I never blamed you."

"You are wonderful," I murmur.

"I love you," she says softly.

I freeze. I realise, and I know she has already realised it too, that she hasn't said this to me before.

"When Charles came and was… hurting me," she whispers, "the only thing I could think about was how I hadn't even told you how much I loved you."

"I knew that already." –I tell her soothingly.

"Saying the words doesn't hurt."

"True," I accede, "I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing that."

"I love you."

I smile again. "And I, you. I have never had anyone outside my family tell me this before, and it is a wonderful feeling."

"Never?" –she sounds surprised.

I shake my head.

She frowns. "But then…"

"What is it?"

She hesitates. "Columbus wasn't the last time I saw you. I saw you again, more than two years ago, in New York."

"You did? Why didn't you come talk to me?"

She is silent for a moment. "I was on a bus to Chinatown. You were standing on Canal and Bowery. With a woman. You hugged her as the bus passed."

My eyes widen. I remember the day perfectly. I haven't gone to New York very often, especially to Chinatown.

"That was Rosalie Hale. She's my cousin Emmett's fiancée, then girlfriend. You'll meet him soon, he's in the hospital right now."

"Oh." Her mouth is a perfect little circle. "I- I've been so foolish." Her voice trembles, the way it does before she starts to cry. "Charles was starting to show his cruel side and I was rethinking my marriage and there you were, as gloriously handsome as ever, happy with that gorgeous woman, and I thought –I thought I was foolish to ever think of wanting you, that you were too good to have and to be true and my life was pretty much ruined because I sold myself to a wife-beater and I thought, for days and months after that, that was all I could hope for and deserve in my life." Her voice fades away as a tear flows down her cheek.

Her rushed words only make me more glad. That she cared so much for me for so long! That we don't ever have to live in such agony, with such uncertainty… Smiling lightly, I try to reason her tears away.

"Don't cry, Esme, my love. Please don't. You were wrong. You are too good to have and be true. I'm serious," I insist when she shakes her head slowly, "I've been living a lonely life, not knowing where I belong… until you came into my life."

Her eyes are dry now, and fixed on me. There is a long stretch of understanding silence.

"I love you," she finally whispers, smiling.

I somehow grasp her hand and bring it to my lips.

"I belong with you, and you belong with me," I repeat, kissing her hand again, "my sweetheart."