Five Times They Never Met
Acknowledgement: HollettLA: exquisite, witty, flawless. As always. xo
A/N: Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to read this story and for all of the love it has received. It was so much fun to write. The kindness of this fandom never ceases to amaze me. xoxo
The Fifth Time (August 1987)
"What's the name of the town again?" Edward asks, reclining in the passenger seat of Carlisle's black Saab as the Trans-Canada Highway slides by the passenger window.
"Forks, Washington," Carlisle replies, downshifting as the car darts into the left-hand lane to pass a logging truck.
"Forks," Edward mutters, chuckling lowly. "Is Alice trying to be ironic?"
Carlisle mimics the laugh, pulling back into the right-hand lane. "She said she saw something, but that she couldn't really figure it out. Just that she thought it would be a good place for our next move and that we should start considering properties."
"We've only been in Alaska for a year."
"And we'll stay for quite some time yet," Carlisle agrees. "But I want to ensure that our truce with the Quileute tribe will be honored if we do return, and if memory serves, there wouldn't be many properties in existence in the town that would meet our…needs. We'd likely have to have something built, and the climate would make that something of a prolonged process."
"Ah." Edward lets his head tip back against the headrest, and Carlisle shoots him a sideways look.
"Distressed at the thought of leaving Tanya so soon?"
Edward rolls his eyes, a human gesture he's never been able to shake entirely, and Carlisle smiles. "You know as well as I do – thanks in large part to Alice, I'm sure – that that is hardly the reason."
The blond vampire's affections had been flattering, in the beginning, but have quickly become uncomfortable. He isn't used to the forwardness, his Victorian upbringing still more in place than he might have liked, and there is just something…missing. He watches Alice and Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett, Esme and Carlisle, and he feels like if he were destined to have with Tanya what each of them had with each other, he would know it. He would feel elated, relieved…satisfied. As it is, he just feels unnerved.
The men fall into companionable silence, Edward occasionally answering questions Carlisle only thinks, until they pull into the tiny town that seems to be in the middle of a forest. "Well," Edward muses, watching rivulets of rain track down the windshield. "It certainly fits the climate requirements."
"Indeed," Carlisle agrees. "And the wildlife is quite varied."
"Emmett will be thrilled."
Carlisle chuckles, pulling the car to a halt alongside the curb at what appears to be the main street in town. Edward spies a diner, a gas station, and what appears to be a real estate office, and Carlisle lifts his chin in the direction of the latter. "Thought you might be willing to explore the property possibilities while I head out to the Quileute reservation to see an old friend."
"Friend?" Edward challenges, and Carlisle smiles.
"Well, I'd like to think so, though I doubt he'd see it quite the same way."
Edward frowns. "Carlisle, perhaps I should go with you."
But the older vampire shakes his head. "I appreciate the thought, but my showing up alone is the most unthreatening visual I can present. No one in the tribe has phased in decades, so there's no immediate danger. I'll be back shortly."
"All right," Edward agrees, still frowning, as he slips out of the car and closes the door with a dull thud behind him. He pulls up the collar of his coat and crosses the slick sidewalk in three quick steps, pushing the glass door of the real estate office open and stepping inside. The bitter smell of bad coffee hangs in the air, and the dark carpet is stained just inside the door, likely from years of damp boots crossing the threshold. There are two wooden desks, only one of which is occupied, and there's an enormous bulletin board on the far wall with photos and descriptions of houses and properties for sale pinned to it.
"Hello," says the small woman sitting behind one of the desks, and she braces one hand on the desk and one on the back of her chair as she struggles to stand. It isn't until her rounded belly becomes visible above the desk that Edward realizes why.
"Please," he says quickly, crossing the small office with a hand held up. "Don't stand. It's okay. I was just interested in getting some information about vacant lots in the area."
"Oh," the lady says with a smile, gesturing toward the empty seat in front of the vacant desk. "Well, please, have a seat." She lowers herself awkwardly back into her chair. "I'm Renee Swan. I'm the receptionist here; Hank Cope, our managing broker, is out at the moment, but I'm sure I can help you find what you're looking for."
"Great," Edward says, lowering himself smoothly into the chair she indicated. "Thank you. My, um, parents are thinking about moving to the area, but they'd like to build a new property somewhere perhaps on the outskirts of town. I offered to come in and see what type of land is available so that they have somewhere to start."
"Of course. There are quite a few parcels that have been on the market for some time, plus a few that have only been put up for sale recently. Do you know what kind of acreage your parents are looking for?"
They fall into easy conversation, Renee rising awkwardly every so often to pull sheets of paper from the printer, and each time she moves, Edward catches the faint trace of some alluring scent – something that would be mouth-watering to the point of tempting his cultivated control were it more concentrated. He culls a small pile of paper with information on lots that would likely fit his family's needs, and when they have seemingly exhausted the small office's resources, he checks his watch. As he does so, the woman sucks in an audible breath, pressing her hand to the side of her bulging stomach.
"Mrs. Swan? Are you all right?"
"Oh, please," she replies, waving a dismissive hand. "Renee. I'm fine. Just this baby seems to think she's running out of space in there."
Edward smiles indulgently, eyeing Renee's stomach. He's never really been around a pregnant woman before, and he's oddly fascinated by the idea of something with a mind of its own moving around just beneath the surface of her skin. His body has been so unearthly still for so many years, so completely devoid of life, and he feels strangely intrigued at the two human lives coexisting within the same space before him. He realizes he's been staring a beat longer than is probably considered polite, but when he lifts his gaze to Renee's face, she's smiling. She pushes forward, her wheeled chair rolling toward him, and before he can read her thoughts, she grabs his wrist and presses his hand to the swell of her belly. She doesn't seem to notice his ice-cold skin as she lets him feel the subtle pitch and roll beneath the curve of her abdomen, the sudden jab of a knee or a foot or an elbow.
"Oh," he breathes, wanting suddenly to sit here for days, feeling the fledgling life moving inside this woman, the most innocent and beautiful of things he can possibly imagine. He feels a sudden but familiar pang of melancholy at the reminder that he'll never father a child. He wonders suddenly if his gift extends to unborn babies, but when he tries to sense anything from the life inside its mother's womb, it is silent. Its mother, by contrast, is an open book: when Edward reaches out for her thoughts, they are a jumble of peace, joy, anticipation, affection. For him, he is surprised to learn, as well as for her unborn child.
"A girl, you said?" he asks, smiling softly as another limb pokes at the flat palm of his hand.
"Yes," Renee says, leaning back slightly in her chair. "My husband is already considering buying another gun." At Edward's eyebrow-raise, she laughs. "He's a police deputy. He has a service revolver, but he thinks he might need more firepower if he's going to one day be parenting a teenage daughter."
Edward laughs, and as he does, he gets another jab for his trouble. "That seems like a solid plan," he replies, then looks back up at Renee. "Is this…I'm sorry, am I…" He trails off.
"You're fine," she replies. "Honestly, the number of people who touch my stomach without an invitation…I think I'm almost desensitized to it."
"Do you have a name picked out?" he asks, straining his ears to hear the hummingbird-flutter of the second, faster heartbeat behind the mother's.
"Not yet," she sighs. "My husband and I don't exactly…see eye-to-eye on that."
"He likes the boring names. Sarah. Hannah. Rebecca." Renee makes a face. "Grandma names. I want something more…spirited. Hope. Sunny. Harmony."
Edward fights to keep his face neutral, not wanting to insult this lovely, kind woman who's unwittingly letting him experience something that he'll likely never experience again, but honestly, he sort of likes Sarah, and he's never known an adult with any of the decidedly unique names she favors. "They're all…very nice," he says diplomatically, and Renee sighs again.
"It's a lot of pressure, you know? Naming someone. I mean, she's going to have this name for her entire life – what if it's wrong for her? What if she hates it? I've always hated my name; I don't want my kid to hate hers, too." Edward nods, though he can't say he's ever given much thought to liking or disliking something as given as his name. It was his grandfather's, and his father's, and then it was his, no questions asked. Had life turned out differently, and he'd had a son, his son would likely have been an Edward, too. Then again, if he'd had a child, his child would likely have been born in the late 1920s or early 1930s; names were far less varied back then. "What do you think?" Renee asks, entirely oblivious to Edward's internal musings.
"A name. The prettiest name for a little girl you can imagine…what is it?"
It takes less than a moment for the name to come to his mind, but far longer for it to makes its way to his tongue. "Isabella," he murmurs finally, his eyes watching the balloon of Renee's stomach beneath the tie-dyed print of her wrap dress.
"Oh," Renee breathes. "Isabella. Oh, that's beautiful."
"Yes," he agrees, transported to a waterside dock for the first time in years. "Beautiful."
"Well. Let's ask her."
"Your suggestion. See if she likes it." He frowns, glancing between Renee's open, expectant face and the belly beneath his hand. "Ask her," she coaxes, and after a brief hesitation, Edward throws caution – and perhaps integrity – to the wind. He leans forward, straining once again to try to hear anything from the mysterious life within as he drops his voice.
"Hello? Are you Isabella?"
There's a sudden, swift kick that makes him draw his hand back briefly, and Renee bursts out with a delighted bubble of laughter. "She likes it!"
Edward is speechless, still feeling the force of that blow against his hand, and he smiles softly, feeling momentarily more connected to this nascent life that is all but invisible to his eye than he has to any other being, human or otherwise, in nearly seventy years. "Isabella it is," Renee says, pleasure thick in her voice, and Edward smiles, finally, reluctantly, drawing his hand away from Renee's body, once again catching a faint trace of that alluring, mouth-watering scent.
Just as he's opening his mouth to speak, he hears the quiet hum of Carlisle's engine pulling up to the curb, and he leans back, gathering the small stack of papers in his hands. "My father's back," he says, tapping the edges of the pages against the wooden desktop to line them up. "Thank you again for your help."
"Oh, no, Edward, thank you. I'm fairly certain you just named my daughter."
Edward smiles softly. "I'm honored. Best of luck."
Renee beams. "Thank you."
Edward nods once before slipping out of the tiny office and back into the rain. When he slides into Carlisle's car, his mind is still half on the unstarted life he's just encountered, the heady rush of something new that comes far too rarely in this infinite existence of his.
"How'd it go?" Carlisle asks, merging smoothly back on to the street.
"It was…enlightening," he says quietly, watching the streets slip by his window.
"Oh?" Edward can hear the unasked questions swimming in Carlisle's mind, but he doesn't have answers for any of them. Instead, he lets his head fall back against the headrest and, for some reason he doesn't yet understand – and won't for years to come – lets himself enjoy the exhilarating sensation of possibility.