Carlisle had electricity installed after all, fewer than six weeks after changing Esme. It involved a hefty bribe to the county, one which, according to Edward, made the proprietor wonder if perhaps they weren't Capone's men, but they managed to get a line brought out. Edward teased him about it, but in truth, they all enjoyed it. Carlisle was pleased by the electric lamps, but his true delight was that the novelty fascinated Esme. His heart soared every time she happily flicked them on and off when she entered or exited a room.
Esme changed everything.
She wasn't as crazed as Edward had been during his newborn time; at times with Edward, it had been all Carlisle could manage to keep up with the boy's speed and curiosity. He'd lived in terror that first year that Edward would break loose from his control, and take a human life by mistake. But Carlisle had managed to keep Edward in check, even if he wasn't sure how. Well, no, he knew exactly how, if he allowed himself to think of it.
Esme wasn't defiant, like Edward, nor unpredictable. If anything, she was subdued.
On the day she had been turned, Carlisle had the same long conversation he'd had with Edward, although this time he'd been able to have it at his own pace, as Esme couldn't pluck his thoughts directly from his racing mind.
"You were a vampire when I met you the first time?" was the first question she asked.
Carlisle nodded. "You had an easy time recognizing me because I look exactly the same. I haven't aged a day since we first met."
Unlike her. Ten years ago, Esme Platt had been a girl—a beautiful girl, an unusually perceptive and charismatic girl, but a girl nevertheless. Now, however, there was a womanly curve to her hips, a mature structure to her face, an attractive swell in her bosom…
It was a very good thing that Esme couldn't read his mind.
The same could not be said of Edward, however, and it was within a minute or two of their conversation that Carlisle heard the piano cover clack open followed by the slow, mournful opening bars of a Beethoven sonata.
Esme's ears perked up. "He plays the piano," she said, fascinated, then, after thinking a moment, "Could we go listen to him?"
The question made Carlisle wince. There were many things about Edward which still confounded Carlisle, but he knew how to read the signal of "keep away."
"We should hunt," he whispered instead. "It will curb your thirst, and then we can talk more freely."
They excused themselves into the woods, but as soon as she finished, she insisted on coming back in to listen. They sat apart on the sofa, and she closed her eyes, which allowed him to watch her.
That first night, they listened for almost seven hours.
Slowly, their lives took on a different rhythm. Carlisle taking Esme to hunt, coming home to evenings of piano, conversations in the dead of night.
He telegrammed the hospital to explain that a family emergency necessitated his return to Chicago, and settled in.
At first, Esme hunted daintily, and it was always Carlisle who wound up taking down their kill—an elk, a male in his prime who weighed a thousand pounds if he weighed an ounce. But they went out every day, and she slowly got better. It took Carlisle a very confusing two weeks to figure out that at least part of her subdued hunting style came from worry about staining her dresses, and much to his surprise, that she didn't mind donning his trousers and shirts to go hunt. In his clothing, she felt freer to run and jump and sink her own fingers and teeth into prey.
He found it oddly attractive the way the too-large clothes hung on her.
As she became more confident in their home, she did begin to make changes. It wasn't that things were unattractive. He had a sense of aesthetic, being a fan of the arts. But it was true that aside from his art and his books, he tended toward the utilitarian. Edward hadn't minded, or perhaps it was more that he'd been so occupied with being a newborn vampire that he hadn't noticed, but either way, the two of them had lived comfortably in their surrounds. They hadn't needed much.
Esme took to the home as though it were her personal mission from God. One month it was a pillow on the couch, the next, draperies in the living room. With spring came the electricity, and then there were lamps to buy. And dresses…so many of them. If Esme expressed an interest in one, Carlisle bought four like it, and soon her room was full to bursting with flowers and women's clothing and had a garden-pattern quilt spread across the bed. When Edward complained that their home was becoming overrun, Carlisle reminded him that early on, he had been the one doted upon, and it was only fair for Esme to have a turn.
Meanwhile, Carlisle bought what felt like the entire Sears catalog.
The night Esme had awoken, Edward stopped allowing Carlisle to touch him. Even gestures made in passing—a hand on the shoulder, a pat on the arm—were met with growls. When he wasn't playing the piano, Edward stayed locked in his room, reading and listening to his Victrola. He was cordial to Esme, but nothing more.
It should have been easy, sliding back into this void where no one made physical contact with him, after all, his two and a half years with Edward were but a tiny fraction of his existence. But it wasn't, and it seemed like his entire skin burned for the kisses and caresses he'd gotten used to.
And at night, after Edward finished his concerts and returned to his bedroom, Carlisle sat with his back against the door in silence, listening to Edward breathe.
It was about ten weeks after her turning that Carlisle caught Esme staring at the chessboard.
The board had long since gotten its own table, a castoff that Carlisle had discovered at a rummage sale shortly after they'd arrived in Ashland. He'd been terrified, at the time, to leave Edward alone long enough to go into town, but Edward had a point that their home's furnishings were something less than meager, and so Carlisle had left in search of a sofa (which would later be employed mostly for their carnal desires), a bed for Edward (more of the same), and a table for them to sit the chessboard. He and Edward didn't play nearly as often anymore, and when they did, the games turned into little more than a drawn-out foreplay. Over time, the game had come to be associated in Carlisle's mind with throwing Edward against the wall, and licking his way down the smooth chest.
"Checkmate" had taken on a different meaning entirely.
Carlisle was thankful he couldn't blush as he gestured to the board.
"Do you play?" he asked.
Esme looked startled, as though he'd somehow managed to sneak up on her. He chuckled.
"Lost in thought?"
"Lost entirely, I suppose," she said quietly. Then she nodded. "I do know how to play. My younger brother taught me—it's not a game for women, they say. Or at least, my father said."
She gave him a shy smile. "But then, you already know that I was always terrible at refraining from things that women weren't supposed to do."
Carlisle grinned. "I do seem to remember a certain crabapple tree." He gestured to the two chairs. "Let's see what you remember."
She was an excellent opponent, as it turned out. To Carlisle, chess was mathematical; a series of moves which would end in the capture of an opponent. One could memorize a series to trap one's opponent in one way, and then another series to get one out of a disadvantageous position, and then still another to reclaim the board.
But that wasn't how Esme played chess at all. She almost seemed to know the psychology of the game—she outwitted him in places simply by her sense of how a man concerned with keeping her happy would move.
"Don't let me win," she told him, when she'd captured his second knight. "Nothing annoys me more. Even if I don't figure you out this game, I will soon enough."
He raised his eyebrows as if to ask if she was sure.
A devilish gleam appeared in her eyes, and she nodded as she smiled.
He rallied and checkmated her ten turns later.
She checkmated him after a fortnight.
It was like playing chess with Childe; full of laughter. And even though Carlisle had come to associate the game with the subsequent tearing off of clothes, he found that he enjoyed this once-again chaste twist every bit as much. They laughed and teased and goaded each other over the chessboard, and Carlisle found himself anxiously awaiting their games.
And after chess, they sat and listened to Edward.
He heard her now, descending the stairs slowly, her every movement graceful. Her hair shone in the light, setting off her face.
Edward shot Carlisle a look of disgust.
Carlisle tried to think of anything else.
Most nights, Edward played the piano for hours; long mournful pieces that made Esme sigh and made Carlisle cringe. Esme was fascinated by their lack of need to sleep, as Edward had been, and she was content to listen to Edward play on into the wee hours of the morning. Carlisle had very rarely made it a point to sit and listen to Edward practice, but now, he valued it. He settled himself down onto the end of the couch.
Esme's usual position was on the other side of the couch; sometimes they would sit and listen, or sometimes they would engage in their own pursuits as Edward played, for Carlisle, usually reading one of his many medical journals, for Esme, often drawing.
But tonight, she strode across the room as though she owned it, casually sat so close to Carlisle that their thighs touched, and gently took his hand.
The effects were simultaneous and instantaneous. A chill shot down his spine. His member stiffened in his pants.
And the keyboard cover slammed as Edward flew out the front door.
Carlisle was halfway to Houghton before Edward's scent trail suddenly disappeared, and he stopped with such force that he nearly lost his balance, and began to cast around frantically.
It had taken Carlisle and Esme both a precious few seconds to manage to move. It had been Esme who immediately said that Carlisle needed to go after Edward, and when he protested that it wasn't safe, that she shouldn't be left alone, she promised that she would be fine. It was the dead of night, she pointed out, and they lived miles and miles from the nearest humans. And she was confident he would catch Edward long before dawn.
He hadn't believed her. But then the scent trail abruptly ended, near an abandoned outpost somewhere in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and he whirled to find a young vampire, sitting with his back against the building, his knees pulled to his chest as though he needed to huddle to keep warm.
Carlisle approached as though he were coaxing a dangerous wild animal.
They'd celebrated Edward's twentieth birthday the week before. He wondered briefly what Edward might have looked like had he been granted the extra years. He'd be broader, Carlisle imagined, and perhaps his face would have squared. His chest would have more hair.
"That I was robbed of those years is your fault," Edward snarled.
"The influenza would have taken your life. Those years weren't coming to you."
Carlisle regretted his words the moment they left his mouth.
"Then you should have let me die!"
He might as well have run Carlisle through with a sword. The pain was sufficiently strong that it nearly knocked him to his knees.
"Good," Edward answered. "You should feel pain. God knows I do." He leapt to his feet and began to pace back and forth, his hair whipped into his face by the wind. Summer storms were frequent in the lake region, and one was brewing now—had it already hit Ashland? Was Esme sitting inside, watching the rain?
"Edward—" Carlisle took a few steps.
"Don't you dare." Just as quickly, they were the same distance apart again. "Don't you dare pretend that she doesn't mean anything to you. You're clueless and stupid, I'll give you that"—Carlisle cringed—"but even you see what's going on."
He wasn't wrong. For as much time as it had taken for Carlisle to admit to himself his enjoyment of Edward transcended that of the bond between a sire and the one he turned, confronted with the same pattern, he'd seen it for what it was more quickly this time. It was easier to admit to himself that there was an attraction there. Easier to acknowledge that he was being careful, not because he didn't know what was happening, but because he didn't want to destroy whatever it was to become.
"I'm surprised you let yourself leave her, honestly."
"I left her to find you," he murmured. "I left her because I have to have you."
He only realized the crushing truth of these words as he said them. But it was right. All these past months, as he admired Esme's womanly figure, as they sat separately and chastely on the couch, as they laughed over chess—they'd been tinged by this excruciating pain that was first Edward's indifference, then his disdain, and now his disgust.
I miss you, he thought, and at once his mind swirled back to that first passionate encounter, to bodies slammed against walls, to the tender exchanges that took place under the covers of his bed. In his mind, they curled up on the rug, the heat of the fire licking bare backs. Those times when he'd almost wished for sweat, for their skin to be slick so that their hands would slide easily over bare chests…
"That won't work this time."
Edward's expression hadn't softened a bit. His arms were crossed protectively over his chest, hugging his sides as though it were possible for him to be chilled. He stared hard at the ground beneath them.
"I wasn't expecting it to," Carlisle answered softly.
He crossed the few feet between them and laid a firm hand on Edward's shoulder. "I do miss you, Edward. It's not a come-hither. It's that I love you."
Edward whirled, turning his back and keeping his arms clenched in place. But he didn't run, and so Carlisle placed his hand back on the slim shoulder, rubbing his thumb up and down Edward's neck.
"You used me," came the whisper a minute later.
Again the words were like ice, slicing through Carlisle so sharply that this time, he did stagger a step as he felt his breath catch in his throat.
"I didn't do right by you," he answered. "I know that much. And I'm sorry, Edward. I'm sorry for so many things."
He stepped in behind Edward and found that Edward didn't run. Wrapping his arms around Edward's front, Carlisle pulled him close, burying his nose in Edward's collarbone, just below a set of crescent-shaped scars. He inhaled.
Still his perfect Edward.
"But you're choosing her," he said, his voice strained and an octave higher than usual.
He knew Edward had already seen it, but he brought it to mind anyway; the brief encounter in Columbus, the way the young Esme Platt had smiled, the way she had pestered him, the way she had wanted to be his friend.
"I chose her a long time ago," he whispered.
With a growl, Edward pulled away. Carlisle grabbed for him at once, tightening his grip. He was thankful again that Edward was no longer a newborn; Carlisle would remain the stronger of the two of them, it seemed. He crushed Edward to him and whispered in his ear.
"I need you both," he answered. "You both make me whole. You both see into my soul. I was alone for so long, and I thought"—he gulped—"I thought I didn't deserve the happiness you give me. I still don't think I do."
Edward grunted, but didn't struggle.
"But I have you, and I love you, and it's not fair to you, I know that. This. Everything I've done."
He took a deep breath and loosened his grip. The cold air rushed between them as they separated, and Carlisle took a few steps backward, holding his hands before him, palms up in surrender.
"Go," he said quietly. "Run all the way to Canada, or wherever it was you were going. You were meant to have a better life than the one I can give you."
Edward took a few steps, like a frightened animal that had just been released from its cage. His eyes were wide and his gait was careful, and he only made it a yard or two before he turned and looked at Carlisle.
"What will you do?"
Carlisle shrugged. "I'll survive. I always have."
Vampires moved with such speed that they sometimes seemed to be in two places at once, and so it was that Carlisle had barely finished speaking when he found lips on his own, sighing and pressing and hands tangling in his hair. He hiked Edward's body against him so that Edward's legs wrapped around his waist, and held him under his bottom as they pressed against each other. If it was a minute or twenty, Carlisle wasn't sure, but finally the frenetic pace slowed, and Edward's hands slid from his hair, and Carlisle gently released Edward's feet to the ground, as though he could be hurt by falling.
He pressed his forehead against Edward's. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "God, Edward, I'm so sorry. I'll miss you."
"And I you." Edward closed his eyes as though looking at Carlisle was painful. His jaw flexed, but then he said simply, "Go back home to Esme. She loves you, too."
He froze there, his hand touching his lips, thinking about what that word meant.
It was only when Edward's scent finally faded in the distance that Carlisle started to cry.
Esme didn't ask what had happened. She simply gave him a nod of understanding, and when he collapsed onto the couch and proceeded to stare at the piano for thirty hours straight, she only sat next to him and put her hands on his shoulders.
He could have stayed there forever. Vampires didn't need to move.
It was when he finally stood, a day and a half later, that she offered, "I'm sorry you couldn't catch him."
He blinked. Before he plucked that beautiful boy out of his bed at Cook County Hospital, if someone had asked him if he wanted a companion who could read his mind, Carlisle would've said no. It was intrusive, and he valued his privacy. But now, he realized how accustomed to it he'd gotten, how easy it was to be close with Edward simply because he could so easily share himself.
With Esme, he needed to explain things.
"I caught him," he corrected her. "Or—he stopped running, to be more accurate. I caught him and we talked and…"
An odd ache formed in his throat, and he bit his lip to keep himself from crying. Funny how that worked for vampires just as well as it did for humans.
"And I told him to keep running. If he wanted to. And he did."
The words caught again, and Carlisle sank back down onto the couch, putting his head in his palms.
Esme stared at him.
"You told him to run?"
He nodded, dropping his head into his hands and staring blankly at the piano. Would he need to get rid of it? He could play decently, and Esme enjoyed it, but the instrument reminded him of Edward. He wouldn't look at it without remembering sitting next to Edward at the keyboard, or the times he'd shoved Edward against its cabinet...
No. That was over.
"I asked him to run," he muttered. "He's right. I've been terrible to him. I had no right to do what I did to either of you."
He squeezed his eyes closed, and so he only smelled and felt when Esme slid onto the couch next to him, her slender arms finding their way around his neck to clasp at his front. She didn't say anything, but after a few minutes, she leaned in and laid her head gently on his shoulder. Like Edward, Esme smelled faintly of spice, but hers was a sweeter one; mint or thyme perhaps, with some indiscernible bit that was simply her.
"I don't blame you, Carlisle," she said after a long time. "People have been in far less impossible situations and handled them far more poorly."
He blinked. For a moment, Edward's body materialized in his mind, leaning against the piano, with his coquettish grin and slender hips...and then abruptly he saw again the screaming, the hatred, the dark look on Edward's face as he flew out the front door.
"I don't think you could understand," he answered.
Esme was still quite a bit stronger than he, and so when she gripped his chin and turned his face to hers, it hurt.
"Carlisle, I'm not stupid," she said carefully. "Do you think a woman can live to my age without learning to recognize a spurned lover when she sees one?"
His stomach sank. For a good minute, it seemed as though his jaw wouldn't work, and that words had left him entirely.
"How long have you—?" he managed at last.
"Since the first time I saw him with you," she said. "The way he looks at you, the way you look at him..." She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "I wasn't certain I could compete for your affection. And then, when it looked as though even having done nothing that maybe somehow I'd won..."
Her body was deliciously warm as she leaned into him. Different from Edward, so much softer. She curled against him like a cat, pressing her head against his shoulder.
It was the closest they'd been physically. He hadn't let himself get near her, particularly after he learned the details of Esme's life between now and that fateful fall out of her father's tree. The husband she hadn't wanted to marry. His impossible expectations of her both in and out of the bedroom. The physical punishments that came if she couldn't live up to them.
He couldn't add to that terror. And with Edward around, it was better to stay hands -off anyway.
But now with him gone, and with Esme being the one who chose to put her arms around him, and to lay her head on his shoulder, and to speak softly to him…
It felt right.
"But Edward felt right, too," he mumbled at once, almost unaware of his words until he heard them and saw Esme cringe ever so slightly.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that."
"No…" She scooted a little closer to him on the couch, so that their entire sides touched. "You don't give him up just because you let him run."
"Urged him to run." He turned away again, only to find the crushing grip on his jaw returned as Esme forced him to make eye contact once more.
"That hurts, you know," he managed.
She let go at once. "Does it? I'm still not used to this." She put her hands flat on the sides of his face, so that her palms touched his cheeks. "Is that better?"
He sat stock still, absorbing the feeling of having Esme's hands on his face. "Yes," he said, "it's better."
"Then tell me," Esme continued, "did you ask him to run because it was the right thing for you?"
He shook his head as his stomach wrenched violently again. No, he wanted everything. Edward, Esme, medicine, life—he wanted it all, and he pursued it all with reckless disregard. And now he had to atone for his mistakes.
"It was better for him," he muttered.
"I'm sorry?" There was a tiny smirk on Esme's face.
"It was better for him," Carlisle repeated more loudly. "I hurt him. I promised him that I would keep him from harm and I'm the one that hurt him. I deserve to lose him. I told him to run because it was better for him."
The words were like a sledgehammer. I deserve to lose him. Because he did, didn't he? For all the promises he'd made Elizabeth Masen, he was the one who'd broken her child. He hung his head again.
His head snapped up. Esme's tone was that of a mother, reprimanding her child for his misstep. Exasperated, yet loving.
She put her hands back on his face, her fingertips pressing gently into his temple. "Carlisle Cullen," she whispered, "You are a good man. A deeply flawed man. Maybe a confused man. But you are a good man. And I love you, and Edward loves you, and this will work out. Somehow."
Carlisle blinked, but said nothing.
Esme let go of his face with one hand, clasping his hand in hers and pulling them both to her bosom. She bent her head over them both as though in prayer, and then brushed her lips against Carlisle's knuckle.
The gesture sent a shiver down his spine, and he instinctively leaned in closer, so that their faces were close. Esme pressed her forehead against his. He leaned in, touched his lips to hers…
And then the front door swung open.
Edward looked skinnier somehow. He was drenched from head to toe, the water making his blue shirt look black against his pale skin. Water ran down the bridge of his nose and pooled there, dripping onto the floor in a tiny puddle.
Carlisle leapt back from Esme at once. "What—" Why is he so wet?
"Swimming was more direct," came the answer, along with a hard stare. Even though Edward had fed recently—Carlisle still insisted on it, even though Edward was more than two years into his new life—his golden eyes had a certain darkness to them.
If he was still so angry, why had he returned?
The couch cushion shifted as Esme rose. "I'm going to go out of earshot," she said quietly.
They both protested at once.
"It's dangerous out there."
"What if you run toward town? The humans—"
Esme shook her head and laughed. "Fine, then. But you two have your conversation. Privately. You say what you need to say where I can't hear you." When neither of them moved, she went to the door and held it open. "Go."
Carlisle nodded, and he'd no sooner had the thought than he and Edward were racing through the woods. They didn't say anything, just hit, feet on ground, their strides almost matching. Edward would remain faster than him for the rest of their existence, but Carlisle would always enjoy the feeling of running alongside him, watching his legs pumping and the way his body moved in the darkness.
He wondered how many more times they'd get to run.
"Was that the first one?" Edward muttered as they ran.
"The first one of what?"
Carlisle found himself on the end of a withering look.
"The kiss, Carlisle. Was that the first kiss?"
Oh. Carlisle's hand went involuntarily to his face, his fingers tapping his lips lightly. He felt again Esme's light lips against his own—so different from what he'd known before. But maybe it would change, their lips had barely brushed…
"Enough. I get it." Edward sped ahead of him again, and Carlisle had to run as hard as he could to catch up.
"I'm sorry," he called, when he closed in.
Edward began to slow, but it didn't take Carlisle long to realize this was because they were reaching the shores of the lake. When he reached the shore, he stopped, and it took Carlisle a few paces to catch up.
They didn't say anything, just stood and stared out. The waves came in little burps, sloshing at their feet. In the distance loomed the hulking ore dock, appearing as a massive black interruption in the quilt of starlight that was the sky and the reflection in the lakewater. Vampires could see in the dark, which had been one of the discoveries about his new existence which most surprised and delighted him. But they needed some light to see, and even under the starlight, there was a distance where he could no longer make out the anything that sat on the water, or discern the horizon where the inky lake pressed up against an equally inky sky.
Ten minutes passed.
"Why did you come home?" Carlisle whispered at last.
Edward shrugged, and Carlisle heard him swallow. He didn't press, however, and a moment later was rewarded with a mumbled, "I missed you."
I missed you. Those words had held so much meaning—sexual passion, and friendship, and love…all of the loves espoused by Plutarch and Aristotle and Homer and all the writers they'd read with their chests pressed against each other's, under the covers in Carlisle's bed. All of the kinds of love—philos and eros and agape—rich, and complicated, and wrought with passion and pain and things Carlisle imagined his relationship with Esme would never need to be.
Edward nodded. "It's more straightforward, with her," he offered, still not meeting Carlisle's eyes.
Carlisle didn't say anything more, and Edward stayed silent.
"I'm sorry I ran out," Edward said at last. "It was…foolish. I should know better."
Edward turned away, scuffing his foot into the tiny bit of gravelly sand that was characteristic of all the shoreline here. With his body turned away and his shoulders hunched, Carlisle barely heard him when he muttered, "You're my best friend. Even if I lose you to"—he gulped, and didn't finish his sentence.
"You're my best friend, Carlisle," he repeated.
Finding himself engulfed in a sudden desire to throw his arms around Edward, Carlisle kept still, instead shoving his hands into his pockets.
"You're mine, too," was all he said.
Edward didn't answer, and when he did, he addressed his comments to the lake.
"It is more difficult to control love than anger," he quoted.
"For whatever love has a fancy to, it will buy even at the cost of life and reputation," Carlisle finished for him. He inched closer to Edward, and when he slid his hands around the thin waist, Edward didn't run.
"More Plutarch?" Carlisle whispered, a bemused smile appearing on his face.
"He made the best argument."
Somewhere in the distance, a pulsing light indicated a lighthouse, maybe somewhere on one of the islands. They watched it make a few circles—on, off, on again.
"I've still never seen the ocean," Edward muttered after a while.
"I'll show you the ocean," Carlisle whispered. "From both sides if we can. And I'll take you to see the others as well…there are seven of them, you know."
Edward leaned against him, his back pressing against Carlisle's chest.
"That will take a lifetime," he said.
Carlisle's arms tightened so that the boy's body was pulled tight, and he placed his lips at Edward's ear.
"We have so much more than a lifetime."
They were the same height, matched stride for stride, shoulder for shoulder, torso for torso. And so Carlisle rested his chin on Edward's collarbone, and they watched the gentle ebb and flow of the water until the sky grew light with dawn.
It wasn't long after Edward left before Carlisle found himself exiting the low slung building that was Forks Community Hospital, and making his way out to a small, silver Volvo.
How far had Edward gotten, he wondered? Would he take Carlisle's advice and go to Alaska? Alice would have told the family what was happening; Esme would be expecting him, and ready to comfort him as she had so many times before.
He had been right to choose Esme and her soft caramel locks and her bosom and her curves. She unlocked something that made him less selfish, more sure, less worried. It was good, and perfect, and he knew he couldn't trade that for anything.
Less complicated. That was what this was. As "father," married to "mother," with five "children" attending school. Less challenging. Less eye-opening. Less likely to get them in trouble.
But sometimes, it was still…less.
Edward had grown. Not physically, of course, but through the trials that followed—the gut-wrenching years when pretending and jealousy had finally gotten the better of him and he stormed out in search of some strange, vampiric salvation.
Finding only pain, however, he returned for Carlisle's forgiveness.
Carlisle and Esme both had given it freely and in abundance. And it was this, Esme's forgiveness, which Edward found easier than Carlisle's to accept, that finally allowed him to see her as Carlisle's partner.
He had grown.
Edward threw things when Carlisle turned Rosalie Hale, and when he realized what Carlisle's hopes were for her.
But then he stood by her like a brother as she worked through her own demons, and rejoiced when she found her partner two years later.
When the clairvoyant and her taciturn mate appeared, he accepted them as they were, even though it meant giving up his place as the only gifted one.
He had grown.
No longer was Edward the carefree eighteen-year-old that Carlisle had tackled in the Wisconsin woods. He was wiser. Darker. Lonelier. He shared the scars that came to all of them in time, as the human world they knew fell away and eternity stretched menacingly before them.
And he bore the scars that Carlisle himself had inflicted, literal, of course, but the figurative ones as well.
It wasn't a long drive home from the hospital, and Carlisle briefly debated walking—the air would be good for him. He liked this area, with the national forest and the mountains and the tiny, peaceful town. Over the years, they'd lived all over North America: New York State, Calgary, New Hampshire, Tennessee.
But it was locations like Forks that Carlisle preferred. The Washington coast. Maine. Newfoundland. Esme indulged him, finding house after house—she was a carpenter, he learned, who stitched walls instead of samplers. She never suggested they live further inland. And even though she knew exactly why he moved them from one edge of the country to the other, she said nothing, relishing for herself the beautiful sunsets and the waves.
Carlisle chose homes which kept Edward near the ocean. So that he could see it whenever he pleased.
The briefcase bounced on the passenger seat as Carlisle slid behind the wheel. The seat was positioned perfectly for him; the right leg length, the mirrors at the right height. But what caught him, of course, was the scent. Spice, earth; his scent, but transformed and mingled with that sweet cardamom-nutmeg that had once tormented him, then captivated him, then entranced him, and then ruined him. Like the scent, Edward's question swirled around him:
"Has any one person ever smelled better to you than the rest of them? Much better?"
Carlisle closed his eyes and inhaled, letting Edward's essence soak in from the nooks and crannies of the car. Then he stepped on the clutch, put the key in the ignition, and turned. The engine roared to life.
But before he put the car into gear, he dropped his head to the steering wheel, with his hands grasping on both sides next to his ears.
"Do better, Edward," he muttered, not lifting his head. "Please, please do better than I did."
Then Carlisle slid one hand to the gearshift, and pulled out of the parking lot to drive home.
Acknowledgements and endnote:
Ebooks and PDF versions are available on my website, gisellelx DOT com. A more detailed author's note can be found there as well.
Many, many, many thanks to Team Carlward: capricorn75, deelovely, HeBelongsToMe, lts929, mycrookedsmile, and sleepyvalentina for the amazing, thought-provoking prompt and for their limitless patience while I worked out the details. Crazy, inestimable thanks to my critique partner, twitina, for holding my hand and reading this entire novella in all its nascent, messy craziness. And of course, my unending gratitude to all of you who read. The desire to read, and the gift of the time to do so is a gift a reader gives a writer. Even if the writer never sees the reader reading, if the reader never writes a review for a fanfic or rec for a book on Amazon, even if the reader never even so much as mentions to anyone else about this thing that she enjoyed reading…the enjoyment is gift enough. After over two decades of writing only for myself, the gift of having even one person, let alone many, desire to read is one by which I am humbled and for which I will forever be deeply grateful.