*Angst warning: This chapter describes Carlisle's discovery of Elizabeth. I tried to stay away from the physical aspect of death and focus on the emotional, but there is a vague description of what he saw. If desired, readers can skip this chapter and not get lost in the story line. PM me if you have content concerns!*
-August 1, 1993-
He got out of the car, his eyes resolutely fixed on the ground in front of him. Six steps to the sidewalk, twelve to the porch, two more until he could ring the bell. Another day, another success. He hadn't once glanced over at the stately house to the left.
"Hi, Carlisle! Come on in. The girls just finished up dinner and are working on dessert."
He followed Karlene Jensen into the kitchen, where Rosalie and Mia stood at the breakfast bar making sundaes.
"Daa-ad," Rosalie complained, "we're in the middle of creating our Masterful Mountains of Moose Tracks! Can I stay a little longer?"
"Rose, we've talked about being polite and not inviting yourself, remember?" he chastised sternly.
"Fine," she huffed. Her expression was angelic, however, when she turned to Mrs. Jensen. "Sorry for being rude, Momma J," she sang.
Mrs. Jensen struggled to keep a straight face. "Thank you for apologizing, Rose. Though if your dad agrees, you can stay until you've had your ice cream."
Cherubic blue eyes turned to Carlisle. "Please, Daddy? Please can I stay?" Her eyelashes fluttered and her lower lip quivered.
"Fine," he sighed playfully, mimicking her earlier exasperation. "I'll give you ten minutes, and then we need to go."
Rosalie flashed a brilliant smile at the adults and turned back to her sundae.
Mrs. Jensen led the way to the living room. Her husband, Mark, lounged on the couch with a beer in his hand.
"Hey, Carlisle, how are things?" he asked, clicking off the television.
"Work is busy as always, and, as I'm sure you've already heard from my talkative daughter, she's not looking forward to school starting. You?"
The three adults chatted for a bit until the girls were finished making and eating their dessert. Carlisle said goodbye to Mark, and Karlene walked the two Cullens to the front door. As they all stepped on the porch to part ways, Karlene glanced over at Ed and Elizabeth's house.
"You know, I meant to ask you earlier if you had talked to Beth recently. I'm a little worried about her."
"Oh?" Carlisle said, trying to keep fear out of his voice. "I…haven't seen her in over a month. What's going on?"
"That's right, I forgot about the family tiff Rose had mentioned. Sorry to hear things haven't gotten any better." She was sincere in her sympathy, but the edge of curiosity was a bit too strong in her voice. Her head tilted to the side in expectation.
He figured it would be better to give her the basics than to deal with being ambushed at a later date. "Ed and I had a disagreement, and relations are little strained between us right now," he conceded. "So…Elizabeth?"
Karlene look down her driveway. "Two days ago, we were both getting the mail at the same time, and I struck up a conversation. I hadn't seen her out and about much, so I asked how she was doing. Her answers were all well and good—a bit vague—but it was her appearance that got me. She looked terrible! I mean, she's still such a beautiful woman, but I think she's lost a lot of weight in the past few weeks. She was practically swimming in her clothes! And her eyes were so bloodshot; maybe she's not getting enough sleep with Ed being out of town for the week? Yesterday, I knocked on her door to see if she wanted to chat again, but there was no answer. I think you should check on her."
The first few tendrils of fear began to creep over his body, but he pushed them aside. No reason to get upset before he had any firsthand information.
"You know, Karlene, that's a great idea. Do you mind if Rosalie stays a little longer while I pay a visit?"
"She's always welcome here, as I've told you many times before, silly." She beckoned to Rosalie, who had already entered the car and was changing CDs on her Discman. "Come on back in, hon! Your dad's going to be a few more minutes."
His daughter complied happily, and soon Carlisle was walking slowly over to his brother's house. The sight of it evoked so many memories—some perfect, some painful. He wondered if he would make any more there someday. A slim hope always would exist for Carlisle, but Ed was known to hold grudges a long time. It didn't help that when the doctor had tried to reach out to Elizabeth a few weeks ago, she had all but shut him down.
"Um, hi, Lizzie."
There was an element of joy in her voice—he was sure of it. If her face were visible over the phone line, he knew she would be smiling.
"So…how have you been? I feel like I haven't talked to you in years."
"Oh. Well…I'm okay. We're all okay. But Carlisle, I'm not supposed to—"
"Wait, Liz!" He knew what she intended to say and refused to let her continue. "I'm guessing Ed doesn't want you to talk to me, but please…just listen for a minute."
"But…I…" The sound of her heavy sigh could be heard over the line. "Okay, a minute."
For a precious second of the few she was granting him, Carlisle's mind went blank. What he wanted to tell her would take so much longer than a minute, or even several, and now he had to try picking out the most important thing from an extensive list of equally important things.
"What I want…I need to say...is, um…damn! Liz, I'm just so, so sorry!" he finally exclaimed. "The last thing in the world I want to do is make things more difficult for you, and I hate that I may have done that. Are you and Ed…he's not taking his anger at me out on you, is he?"
"He's…I told you. We're fine."
But Carlisle knew her too well to miss the uncertainty in her voice. "What's going on?" he asked quickly. "Do you need any help?"
"No, I don't need anything. Especially not from you! You've done enough." Her light tone had been replaced by one of irritation.
The blow to his jaw had hurt less than her words did now. "Lizzie, I—"
"No, Carlisle. Listen to me. I'm sorry if I ever gave you the impression that we could be more than friends, but—"
"You didn't!" he interjected. "It wasn't—"
"BUT, I don't think it's possible now to be even that. It would be too…difficult. For everyone."
If there had been a knife in his heart before, she just twisted it. It was more than her distressing statements; it was how she spoke them in such a matter-of-fact, dispassionate manner.
"But why?" he whispered, grasping for a figurative lifeline. "I just want things between us back the way they were. I…miss you and Edward…and Ed. It might not happen right away, but eventually he'll realize that our families shouldn't be divided like this." He took a deep breath. "As for you and me, what I wanted most was to be a good friend. I didn't even realize that I was starting to, ah, look at you in a different way. And while my feelings for you may have begun to border on the inappropriate, I certainly wouldn't have acted on them. You're married to my brother, and I couldn't cross that line. I mean, youknow I would never, don't you?"
There was silence, and Carlisle's pain owned him.
"Lizzie?" he tried. The way he uttered her name conveyed all his hopes, fears, and heartache within the two syllables. "Please…"
"I'm sorry, but I have to go now—"
"I…take care of yourself, Carlisle," she murmured sadly.
Even though a dial tone followed her farewell, he didn't lower the phone from his ear. For several minutes, he sat, frozen, and listened to the grating drone that served as a reminder to their devastating conversation.
It was after that phone call that Carlisle first thought of moving away from Chicago.
He hadn't said anything to Rosalie yet, but he began putting out feelers for open positions in other cities. It wasn't an easy task to switch hospitals mid-residency, but thankfully, he had a very understanding program director who was also a widower. While Carlisle had left out the ugly details surrounding his brother and sister-in-law, his PD knew of the difficult time the young doctor was having since Lillian's death.
And now, the only person who lessened that misery had ended their friendship.
So when Karlene suggested he check on Elizabeth, he knew it was a bad idea. Ed would be furious, and she didn't want to see him, anyway. He also disliked the idea of putting her in the awkward position of having to turn him away again. Still, despite it all, Carlisle knew he wouldn't have any peace of mind until he confirmed her wellbeing.
The house was dark and silent when he stepped up to ring the bell. He only waited a few seconds before jabbing at the button twice more and then pounding on the heavy wooden door.
Calm down, his mind told him. Perhaps they aren't home. That's possible.
The garage had a window, and luckily, the blinds were open enough that he could see inside. Elizabeth's Audi was parked in her usual spot.
Although the previous tendrils of fear were growing and curling around him, he forced himself to stay composed. There was no reason to think the worst, he told himself, and if…if…he found a problem, he would be able to handle it best with a clear head.
His next destination was the patio French doors that led into the kitchen. Billowy curtains concealed the room's interior, so Carlisle moved over to try a window. He had better luck here: the blinds weren't closed all the way.
The moment he peered into the kitchen, he knew something was wrong. Several dishes lay in a haphazard pile in the sink, and Elizabeth never let dishes sit out. She either put them directly in the dishwasher or hand-washed them immediately. She was rather obsessive that way.
The further his gaze traveled around the room, the higher his anxiety rose. Pieces of crushed breakfast cereal littered the kitchen table and the floor underneath it. Cloudy streaks covered the tile in front of the refrigerator as if something had been spilled and poorly wiped up—milk maybe? A crumpled dishrag sat on the counter by the stove.
It never occurred to him to be concerned for his own safety. He probably should have returned to the Jensens' house to call the police or at least alerted someone else that he was about to enter a potentially dangerous environment. But none of those considerations crossed his mind. He could only think of getting in the house as soon as possible and trying to find out what had happened.
Picking up a deck chair, he smashed a leg through one of the French doors. It took a couple hits to clear enough room for his hand to fit safely, and then Carlisle was unlocking the door and pulling it open.
A sour milk smell assaulted his nose the moment he stepped inside the kitchen. He guessed it was from the spill by the refrigerator. He noticed that the trashcan lid didn't sit flush with the lip, and when lifted, it revealed a full bag of trash with an empty gallon-sized milk jug lying on top. Carlisle knew that Elizabeth would have compacted the trash in the can and crushed the jug before throwing it away.
It didn't make much sense to him, but it seemed that young Edward had been busy in the kitchen without supervision.
"Liz! Are you here?" he shouted as loudly as he could manage. "Elizabeth! Edward!"
When he rushed out of the kitchen and into the living room, he took note of the flickering television screen. It had been tuned to a nature channel…Edward. He loved learning about animals.
Carlisle jogged around the lower level as he searched. Fear was beginning to escalate to panic, and when he didn't find anything else significant on the first floor, he bounded up the stairs.
Once he reached the top, however, he froze. Some instinct, some extra sense told him that he already knew where and what he would find. He had known the moment he looked into that kitchen window, but his heart refused to listen. His mind refused to accept. Still, his soul knew the truth.
Something very real and very terrible had happened.
He forced his legs to move toward the master bedroom. One unsteady footstep after another, he made his way down the hall. Edward's door stood ajar, and Carlisle listlessly pushed it open as he passed. The bed was unmade and empty. He knew it would be.
The threshold loomed ahead, and finally, he stood in front of the closed door. His heartbeat crashed through every part of himself—he could even feel his feet pulsing within his shoes.
And yet…it seemed as though his mind had detached from his body. He knew his hand was on the door handle, he felt the metal's coolness on his palm, but he had no control over the arm to which it was attached.
Carlisle watched from afar as his wrist twisted and he pushed forward. Similar to the kitchen, the smell hit him first. He could identify most components of the overpowering stench, but it didn't cause him to choke as he imagined it should. The eerie silence of the room thundered in his ears, but he wasn't aware of it. His unfocused stare moved slowly over the floor, pausing on the broken glass by the bed. Then up to the top of the nightstand, where an empty liquor bottle lay on its side. Just a short skip over to edge of the bed, where the vomit that made a trail down its side.
And then to her.
She was so, so pale.
From its safe and disconnected haven, Carlisle's mind flipped through pages of the medical texts he had read in school. Then he studied the evidence before him, cross-referenced the newly recalled knowledge, and formed his clinical estimation. It had happened at least 24 hours ago, but less than 48. It certainly hadn't been more 72 hours. Morbidly, he reasoned that if he had to walk in on the scene, this time frame was the least…unsettling.
In fact, due to shock's numbing filter, he even could catalog what he beheld.
The bed's light blue comforter was drawn over her body, up to her chest. Her chin rested on her shoulder, head lay on a fluffy pillow, and, mercifully, eyes were closed. With dark hair fanned out to the side, he almost could imagine that she slept peacefully, dreaming pleasant dreams.
His throat tightened as a cry of anguish grew in his chest, but he smashed it down. He couldn't yet give in to it. There was too much to sort out, he knew. After all, the process still was painfully fresh in his memory. It hadn't even been a year since the last time.
He should back out of the room to clear his head and then call the police. He should go before his control slipped, before he lost the ability to function. He should, but…
Carlisle had to take one last look at Elizabeth. Soon, Hell would break loose, and this was his only chance to say a private goodbye—to tell her how much she meant to him, how greatly she had helped him. How deeply he had loved her.
He advanced slowly, reverently, to the bed. He knew better than to touch her, but at least he could be closer.
As he neared her still form, he fought to ignore every physical indication of what had happened and instead tried to focus on the happier memories of the past few months.
It was because of this tunnel vision that he didn't see the discrepancy until he was standing over it.
That was when his shield failed him.
When the emotions surged through.
When he shattered.
He wanted to cry out, but his chest was constricted too tightly. Nevertheless, his hands flew to his gaping mouth to stifle sounds that never came.
He wanted to close his eyes to the sight, but his body would not obey. The mental image wouldn't have been erased, anyway. It was seared onto his soul.
A small figure lay half-hidden by the same bedspread that covered his mother. His body was curled into a tight ball facing her, and his eyes were shut. One tiny hand clutched her wrist under the blanket, and the other was by his head, a thumb slipping out of his slightly open mouth. He wore a stained white shirt, and his face was dirty except for a lightened trail running horizontally across his face. It started at the inside corner of his left eye and led to a damp spot beneath his right cheek—he had been crying.
But it was something as ostensibly unremarkable as the intertwining of hair that encapsulated the tragedy's poignancy. In the room's waning light, their auburn locks appeared gray, and with the child's head covering the ends of his mother's long waves, it seemed as if they shared the same body of hair—as if they were connected to each other.
Carlisle's limbs felt as if they had been frozen for days, weeks even, but his mind faithfully counted the seconds and knew only a few had passed during his devastation. Then it spurred his muscles into action, and he tore around to the other side of the bed. It only took the length of a heartbeat to ascertain that Edward had not suffered the same fate as Elizabeth. And yet, in that flicker of time, Carlisle had never prayed so hard for anything in his life.
Gently but swiftly, he extracted the sleeping boy from his mother's side and cradled him tightly in his arms. He turned to hurry out of the room with his precious cargo but stopped. He faced Elizabeth one more time.
"Sweet dreams, Love," whispered Carlisle. "I'll miss you so much. Give Lillian a kiss for me."
Perhaps the boy was half-awake, maybe he was dreaming, but still, the young Edward mumbled his own last words.
"Bye, Mama. Love you, too."
I hope I was able to go easy enough on the graphic side of death while still coming off as believable. I imagined a "best case" scenario (if there is such a thing) for Elizabeth's body, and I'll answer any questions or fill in details that Carlisle's brain filtered out. Any feedback on the "angst level" of this chapter would be helpful for those on the fence about reading it. I know my perspective is too biased to be really useful to others! Thanks!
Another reminder that this story was nominated for "Top Ten" at Twifanfictionrecs! I feel honored just to be included with the incredible writers on the list, and I highly recommend reading the stories there! Voting ends May 31, 2014, and you can vote 1x/24hr period. :)