Chapter 11- September 13, 2000

After that first hellish Monday, the rest of the school week had gone by peacefully in the Cullen house. Alice, much to her pleasure, had made fast friends with a number of girls, including Jessica Stanley, Lauren Mallory and Angela Weber. Although these girls were younger than she was, Alice didn't seem to mind. Alice had told Carlisle the day before at dinnertime that Rosalie sometimes joined in their playground fun, but more often than not, she stuck to her own group of fourth graders.

The fourth grade girls, Carlisle learned, were very selective about who they let into their group, and it wasn't like them to admit just anyone, especially not a little third grader.

Carlisle had fought hard not to chuckle when Alice told him this, thinking fondly of his own trivial schoolboy worries, which had long since passed. Carlisle remembered the pressure to fit in, and the consequences that came from ignoring childish schoolyard rules. While Alice took these matters very seriously (she was determined to gain admittance to the elitist, older clique), Carlisle knew that before long, she would find much more serious, troublesome worries to dissect.

Rose and Jasper, who were also relatively new to Forks Elementary, seemed to be doing fairly well. Rosalie had found her niche with her classmates, and while Jasper struggled to find a kindred spirit among the other boys, Carlisle had received no bad news about the temperamental, hot-headed child.

Emmett, on the other hand, was more worrisome. After that first day's debacle, Carlisle had been on tenterhooks, expecting another violent outburst the minute another student displeased him. Carlisle was surprised, however, to note that there was nothing but peace in the fifth grade classroom. Emmett, despite his first impression, had not caused any more disturbances, as confirmed by the phone call he had received from a very pleased Mr. Carville, explaining that Emmett had turned into a model pupil. He sat quietly during his lessons, occupied his space in the playground peacefully, and altogether ignored Michael Newton, who was only too pleased to do the same to Emmett. Emmett dutifully brought his homework home, and seemed almost mechanical as he completed it. While Esme prepared dinner in the evenings, Emmett sat at the kitchen table and completed sums and reading comprehension questions, never looking up or speaking unless spoken to.

Everything, to Carlisle's knowledge, indicated that Emmett was a well-behaved, quiet, studious child, yet there was a niggling fear in Carlisle's belly that suggested otherwise. Ever since their talk in the bedroom, Carlisle had been hoping that Emmett would open up. It was easily known that the boy was still bothered by the death of his parents, as he should be, but Carlisle feared that he was avoiding the issue altogether.

Surely he should be grieving? Surely he should have questions? Surely, thought Carlisle, Emmett should want answers?

But Emmett never asked, and Carlisle never told.

"It'll be too cold to swim," said Esme fondly, kissing Edward's head and jerking Carlisle out of his musings. "But we'll have a lovely picnic on the beach."

"Yeah!" said Edward, enthused as he leapt from his place at the table. Carlisle noted that while Edward had done his subtraction problems as he'd been instructed, there had been little care taken to ensure he had the right answers.

Carlisle rounded to tell Edward to fix his mistakes and take more care, but the boy had vanished up the stairs with the pitter patter of excited feet.

"Oh, leave him, Carlisle," said Esme fondly, smiling as she piled the homework papers. "He'll fix them when we get back."

Carlisle could only smile and shake his head, chuckling.

"Could you go up and check on the girls?" asked Esme worriedly, glancing at the clock. "I want to get going before the sun is gone."

Today was one of the rare sunny days on the Olympic Peninsula, and Esme had finally succumbed to Edward's pleas for a beach day. All five of the children were in good tempers, which was rare in itself, and when the clouds had cleared during the mid-afternoon, Esme had come to him, beaming.

"You don't work until 8 tomorrow," she had said, looking nearly as excited as the kids would be, "and today's just a lovely day. Why don't we take them out to La Push? Let them play by the water while the sun's out?"

Carlisle, glad at the idea of an outing that would actually bring the children outside, had readily agreed.

"Girls!" called Carlisle, as he mounted the stairs, making his way to the second floor. "Are we almost ready?"

"Yeah!" cried Rosalie, her voice emanating from the open bedroom door. She poked her head out, grinning. "Almost."

"Good," said Carlisle. "Esme wants you downstairs and ready to go, so we can get some sun."

Rose, looking determined that no rain should disturb this outing, nodded seriously and began to shove socks, flip flops, and a sunhat into her purple backpack.

"Alice?" Carlisle knocked on the closed door next to Rosalie's, which was oddly silent.

Alice always jumped at the opportunity to redress and make herself pretty.

"Coming," came the rather subdued, dejected voice from inside.

"Everything okay?" he asked, frowning as the door creaked open. Bright brown eyes peered at him through the crack before Alice opened it up fully, her chin jutting out.

"Fine," she said, shaking her head to clear it. "I'm all ready." She indicated her schoolbag, which had been emptied of its contents and stuffed to the brim with different pieces of beach apparel.

"Great," said Carlisle, offering her his hand. Like she always did, Alice came easily to him, and held his hand tightly in her own.

"Is the beach nice?" asked Alice softly, as they waited for Rosalie on the landing. "Warm?"

"It's pretty," said Carlisle mildly, smiling down at her. "The water won't be warm, but the sand is nice for castles."

Alice gave him a feeble smile that lasted for only a moment before it faded, and she sighed.

"What's up?" asked Carlisle mildly.

"Nothing." She looked up at him, her little face full of indecision.

"I'm ready!" announced Rosalie, exiting her room before Carlisle could push the matter. If Alice had been going to tell him what was bothering her, Rosalie's interruption wiped it soundly from her mind.

"Wanna build a castle with me?" asked Alice, putting on a false smile for Rosalie. Rose, impervious to the tension, shrugged.

"Sure," she said. "I'll ask Edward for a bucket."

It took two cars to get the whole brood to the beach, given their number and the size of Carlisle and Esme's cars. Carlisle piled the boys into his Mercedes while Esme took the girls in her green Sedan. Carlisle let her take the lead, following her down the narrow road into La Push, where they would undoubtedly enjoy the company of every other family taking advantage of this bright, sunny day.

"And then bang!" shouted Edward from the back seat, his face turned towards Emmett. Emmett, who was never impatient with Edward, listened with dutiful boredom.


"Then Ryan came with his stick—he called it a sword, but it was really only a branch— and whacked Jay right on the top of the head! And then Jason cried and went to Ms. Jordan, and Ryan got put on the wall for the rest of recess."

"Oh," said Emmett, disinterested.

"And then," continued Edward, "I wanted to get the stick, but the teacher took it away and told us that we weren't allowed to have them." Edward stared expectantly at Emmett, his little face alight with anticipation. Edward was forever seeking approval, especially from older, more sophisticated boys like Emmett.

"That's the most boring story ever," piped Jasper, staring incredulously at the youngest boy. "Tell him about that word Ryan said to make Mr. Carville so mad."

"That Ryan sounds like a piece of work," Carlisle said sternly from the front, no doubt interrupting what would have been a fantastically inappropriate vocabulary lesson. Emmett, having turned interestedly to Jasper, blushed and looked away at Carlisle's gentle reprimand.

"Oh he's bad," said Edward with relish. "He just does whatever he wants and is always in trouble."

"I hope you aren't in trouble too," said Carlisle seriously. "If your mother and I find out you've been misbehaving at school..."

"Not me!" said Edward brightly, flashing a gap-toothed smile at his father. "I always listen to Ms. Jordan…"

And so it went, for the rest of the ride to La Push. Edward, always chatty in the car, talked poor Emmett's ear off, who looked as if he'd like nothing better than to bury his head in the sand as soon as they arrived at the beach. Jasper rolled his eyes and sighed exasperatedly every time Edward began a new story about second grade life in Forks, as if discussion about such small boys was beneath him.

Jasper was, after all, such a big boy now.

When Carlisle pulled into the small parking lot at First Beach, Emmett nearly fell in his haste to exit the car. Edward and Jasper, still in car seats, had a more difficult time getting out, but managed nonetheless.

Emmett, Carlisle saw, had walked straight past the girls and was making his way, towel in hand, to an unoccupied part of sand, plopping himself down unceremoniously to stare at the rough, choppy waves. Esme frowned with a sigh as she watched him go, and Carlisle knew she was wishing the same thing he was.

It would do Emmett a world of good to just talk to them.

"Em?" called little Alice quietly, unlatching her hand from Esme's to join her surly brother on the sand. Esme watched with an even deeper frown as she, too, left them, and sat on the other end of Emmett's towel.

"Is Alice sad again, mom?" asked Edward, subdued as he took in the atmosphere around him.

"I don't know, sweetheart," said Esme, shaking her head. "Why don't you go and build a sandcastle? I know you've been dying to get down here…"

"Okay!" And as easily as that, Edward was distracted. Bucket and shovel in hand, he took Rosalie by the hem of her shirt and began pleading with her to join him.

Rose obliged, and Jasper soon tagged along.

"I'm going to go and see what's going on," said Esme darkly, eying the two still, quiet children on the beach towel.

"Yeah," said Carlisle softly, tagging after his wife as she began a purposed march down to the waterfront. She draped her own towel on the ground next to Alice, who glanced up with surprise.

"Hi Esme," she said softly, resting her head on her brother's shoulder.

"Hello sweetheart," said Esme fondly, scooting down to let Carlisle sit next to her.

"Hey." Emmett's sole word was quiet and gruff.

"Is everything alright?" asked Esme, reaching out to rest her hand on the two clasped ones. Neither Alice nor Emmett pulled away from her touch, though Emmett sighed and tossed his head back, letting the sun bathe his face.

No one answered.

"We can't help unless you tell us what's wrong," Esme reminded them gently. "You can tell us anything that's on your mind."

"I forgot what today was," said Alice quickly.

"And what is today?" asked Carlisle gently.

"Her birthday," said Emmett quietly, glancing over to Alice with a meaningful look. Alice drooped her head.

"Your mother's?" asked Carlisle, sympathetic. A surge of sadness shot through him, and he wondered if they should have paid more attention.

"No, that's in June," said Emmett dismissively, frowning. "It's Bella's birthday. She's seven today."

Carlisle froze as Esme clucked, pulling both children in for a hug. Racking his brains to remember the paperwork he'd read so many times, he vaguely recalled seeing September 13th written on Isabella Swan's documents.

"I wish she was here," said Alice, her voice muffled by Esme's shoulder. "She loves the water."

"We'll find her, sweetheart," said Esme gently, smiling down at her. "I'm sure she's celebrating, wherever she is."

Emmett's head snapped up with a frown, but he kept quiet. Alice beamed.

"She likes chocolate cake with vanilla icing," Alice told her. "And blue. Mom made her icing blue last year."

Esme smiled and listened as Alice relayed little details about Isabella's preferences, making Carlisle feel as if he knew her better and better with each passing minute. He was already intimately familiar with her looks, having seen a number of photographs starring her, but Alice's words gave personality to those still, frozen representations. Suddenly, the child was no longer an abstract, but rather a person, a tiny person with likes and dislikes, and with opinions.

It was hard to listen to, knowing what he knew about her missing person's case, but he imagined how hard it was for both Alice and Emmett to rehash. Carlisle couldn't even begin to fathom how much hurt they both harbored over this ordeal.

They knew she was gone. They knew she had been taken to Arizona, to live with a distant, unreliable aunt. They knew she was caught up in the system, unable to return home on the government's dime. What they didn't know, is that she was lost.

And Carlisle couldn't bear to be the one to tell them.

"Can I go and see what they're doing?" said Alice suddenly, cutting into his thoughts. She was pointing over to Jasper, Rosalie and Edward, who seemed to be bickering as they constructed their masterpiece.

"Of course," said Esme fondly, helping her up and watching her go before she turned to Emmett.

Emmett, in turn, wheeled around to face Esme, his face a mask of calm.

"What did you mean when you said you'll 'find her'?" he asked, glancing between them.

Esme's smile froze on her face.

"Well," she stammered, looking to Carlisle for support. "I mean, when she's back in Washington…"

"Is she lost?" he asked, his voice turning desperate as he glanced between them. "She's in Arizona. Why do you need to 'find' her? You know where Arizona is."

"We don't know where in Arizona," said Carlisle quickly. "They won't tell us where she is, exactly. It's part of their policy to protect children."

Emmett stared at him, disbelieving.

"We gave them our phone number," said Emmett slowly, furrowing his brow as he put the pieces together. "They said we could have Bella's."

"Yes," said Carlisle, stalling as Esme's lips pursed.

"So why haven't we got it?" he asked. "I'd like to call her, today of all days."

"We don't know her number," said Esme quickly. "Believe me, honey, if we did, you could call her anytime you wanted."

"I know that," dismissed Emmett quickly, waving his hand. "What I want to know, is why you don't know it."

"We're working on it," said Carlisle honestly, hoping to God Emmett would let it go. There was a moment of silence, Emmett looking down to the sandy towel underneath him. His finger drew circular patterns in the sand and he pursed his lips, choosing his words wisely.

"Is she gone for good?" he asked, refusing to meet their eye.

Esme licked her lips and glanced nervously to her husband, who took Emmett's hand in his own.

"No," he said vehemently. "We don't know where she is, but I swear to you, come hell or high water, we will find her." Esme's eyes snapped to him with an exasperated, sad look, and she shook her head admonishingly behind Emmett's back. Emmett watched him for a long moment before he sighed, averting his gaze.

"How do you know?" he asked quietly. "That you can find her, I mean."

Carlisle thought carefully before he spoke.

"Little girls don't just disappear," he said gently, and with those words, he explained the situation to the perceptive, confused little boy.

By the end of it, Carlisle was expecting tears and upset, but found only stony silence.

"So she's gone, and no one knows where?" he asked quietly, glancing around to make sure Alice was out of earshot.

Esme hugged him fiercely, pressing a kiss to his brow.

"As soon as we know anything, you'll know," she promised. "If we hear even a whisper of her whereabouts, you'll know. Trust us on this—we want her home just as much as you do."

"I doubt that," said Emmett, frowning as he let Esme fuss over him.

Carlisle knew he was right.

With Emmett mulling over the day's revelations, Carlisle took the opportunity to escape the inquisitive looks and questions that made him squirm. While he did feel that Emmett had the right to know what was going on, he was also acutely aware that he had not told the whole truth.

Emmett knew Isabella had gone to Arizona. He knew she'd been placed in a group home, and that she was currently off the radar.

But Carlisle could never reveal to the boy just how close they'd come to finding her. Just how hopeful they'd been when that group home in Tucson had been shut down, and all the other children had been relocated. He'd never tell Emmett the frustration that had come along with finding out that after so much work had gone into wheedling information about Isabella's exact location from the officials, all their work had been for naught.

Even ten year old Emmett, who was old enough to understand, was too young to deal with that just yet.

Esme rose suddenly from Emmett's side and glanced around meaningfully to Carlisle, watching with worried, sad eyes as Emmett stalked over to join the other children in their building, a look of quiet contemplation on his face.

The Cullen clan only rounded up their beach toys and packed up their cars when the sun had dipped below the horizon of First Beach. Esme, ever a lover of sunsets, had insisted on staying to watch the glowing, orange orb as it made its way beyond the water, casting brilliant ocher scintillations on the waves. Only when the sky had turned from pink and peach to a deep, inky indigo had Esme allowed Carlisle to shuffle the children into the cars, carrying a sleeping Edward in his arms.

When they reached their house, Carlisle had to shake Jasper awake as well, as he had fallen asleep, snoring on the door of the car. Even Emmett appeared dozy, as he jerked up so suddenly when Carlisle opened the door to get Edward that he whacked his head on the window.

"You okay?" Carlisle asked in mild concern, maneuvering himself to position Edward on his shoulder.

"Yeah," he grunted, rubbing furiously at the spot he'd hit on top of his head. "Sorry." Carlisle just chuckled and took Jasper's hand, waiting for Emmett to exit. Jasper appeared sulky and tired as he rubbed his eyes, a rather impressive pout on his face as he squinted in the dark.

"I'm tired," he announced, unnecessarily, as the group reached the front door. Esme, with both her passengers awake and alert, had gotten inside first, and was waiting for them inside. As she always did, she gave each boy a kiss before ushering the girls up the stairs, promising that Carlisle would be in to say goodnight as well.

Emmett and Jasper took their shoes off and slung their jackets on the closet hooks, slumping tiredly to the stairs.

"I'll be up as soon as I get him undressed," said Carlisle quietly, smiling at the two.

"Okay," yawned Jasper, looking as if he might not stay awake long enough for Carlisle to bid him goodnight. Emmett waved quietly at him and followed after his foster brother, both sets of feet oddly quiet on the stairs.

"Alright you," Carlisle spoke to the snoring, drooling boy in his arms. "Let's get you undressed."

Carlisle had to lay Edward down on the sofa to get his jacket and shoes off, amazed that he didn't wake when he was jostled. Still snoring away, Carlisle was forced to carry him up two flights of stairs, arriving rather breathless on the third floor landing.

Edward's pyjamas were another matter- one, Carlisle felt, was better suited to his wife's skills. Esme had acquired an uncanny ability to dress Edward while he slept, doing this in such a way that he never woke. Carlisle managed, but with a bit more jostling and near wake-ups than his wife would have had.

With Edward tucked securely in his bed, nightlight on, teddy in place and door cracked open, Carlisle left the third floor to bid goodnight to the rest of the children. Jasper, as predicted, had fallen asleep haphazardly on his bed with only a pair of underpants on, and Carlisle grinned as he slipped him under the sheets and covers, leaving a pair of pants out in case he got cold in the night. With a quick kiss and a ruffle to the blonde hair, Carlisle shut the door and left him.

Rosalie, dutiful in her bedtime routine, hugged and kissed him before slipping into bed on her own, offering him a small smile before she closed her eyes.

"Goodnight, Carlisle," she said softly. "Sleep tight."

"Goodnight, Rose," he returned quietly. "Open or closed?"

"Closed," said Rose confidently, smiling as he shut the door behind him.

Alice wrapped him up in her little arms, hugging him a little more tightly than she usually did. Carlisle suspected she was still sad.

"Goodnight, honey," he said, pulling back her sheets. "Has Esme said goodnight already?"

Alice nodded.

"Nightlight on or off tonight?" he asked.

"On," she said in a small voice, peeking up at him. "Please."

Carlisle reached over and flicked it on.

"If you need anything tonight, we're just across the hall," he reminded her gently. "If you get scared or sad, come and find us."

"I will."

"Goodnight Alice," said Carlisle fondly, feeling a burst of affection for the girl.

Alice was definitely not hard to love.

"G'night," she said softly, and just as Carlisle was closing the door, he heard her speak again.

"Love you." Two small words that made him feel lighter than he had in weeks.

"You too, sweetheart," he said gently, and he saw her grin broaden as he finished the job, clicking the door closed.

He knew he had a stupid grin on his face as he made his way to the last bedroom, wondering what he'd find on the other side. Emmett, being the oldest, often stayed up a bit later than the rest of the kids, watching television, playing video games or sometimes, reading comic books.

Carlisle would have knocked before he entered, but to his surprise the door was already part way open. He peeked inside, making sure there was no disrobing taking place before he opened it fully, clearing his throat.

Emmett was bent over his desk, a look of forlorn worry on his face as he examined what looked like…

"Is that a calendar?" asked Carlisle, curious as he entered the room. Emmett's eyes widened and his face turned white before he blushed, shoving it out of sight under some comics. He didn't answer Carlisle's questioning gaze, but merely shrugged and stood up, pushing his chair back in.

"Late for something?" Carlisle teased gently, thinking of the last time he had looked so unhappily at a calendar, when he was almost late for a university exam.

Emmett forced a laugh and shrugged, turning to get into bed.

"Goodnight," he said quickly. "Thanks for bringing us out today."

"Any time," said Carlisle gently. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, fine. Great," said Emmett, though Carlisle wasn't convinced.

"Alright," he said, dismissing the concern for now. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight," said Emmett again, avoiding Carlisle's gaze. Not wanting Emmett to feel left out, he went over to the bed and opened his arms, pleased when Emmett went to him with little resistance.

"Let me know if there's anything I can do for you," he said in an undertone, as Emmett patted his back. "We're just across the hall."

"Yeah. I will."

"You sure you're okay?" asked Carlisle again, frowning at Emmett's shifty glances.

"Sure," said Emmett, nodding. "Goodnight, Carlisle."

"Goodnight, kiddo," he repeated, leaving the wide-eyed, nervous boy alone in the dark of his bedroom.

A/N: Because you waited so patiently for the last chapter, here's another.

Let me know what you think!