He led me back to the room that he’d pointed out as Carlisle’s office. He paused outside the door for an instant.
“Come in,” Carlisle’s voice invited. Edward opened the door to a high-ceilinged room with tall, west-facing windows. The walls were paneled again, in a darker wood — where they were visible. Most of the wall space was taken up by towering bookshelves that reached high above my head and held more books than I’d ever seen outside a library.
Carlisle sat behind a huge mahogany desk in a leather chair. He was just placing a bookmark in the pages of the thick volume he held. The room was how I’d always imagined a college dean’s would look — only Carlisle looked too young to fit the part.
“What can I do for you?” he asked us pleasantly, rising from his seat.
“I wanted to show Bella some of our history,” Edward said. “Well, your history, actually.”
“We didn’t mean to disturb you,” I apologized.
“Not at all. Where are you going to start?”
“The Waggoner,” Edward replied, placing one hand lightly on my shoulder and spinning me around to look back toward the door we’d just come through. Every time he touched me, in even the most casual way, my heart had an audible reaction. It was more embarrassing with Carlisle there.
The wall we faced now was different from the others. Instead of bookshelves, this wall was crowded with framed pictures of all sizes, some in vibrant colors, others dull monochromes. I searched for some logic, some binding motif the collection had in common, but I found nothing in my hasty examination.
Edward pulled me toward the far left side, standing me in front of a small square oil painting in a plain wooden frame. This one did not stand out among the bigger and brighter pieces; painted in varying tones of sepia, it depicted a miniature city full of steeply slanted roofs, with thin spires atop a few scattered towers. A wide river filled the foreground, crossed by a bridge covered with structures that looked like tiny cathedrals.
“London in the sixteen-fifties,” Edward said.
“The London of my youth,” Carlisle added, from a few feet behind us. I flinched; I hadn’t heard him approach. Edward squeezed my hand.
“Will you tell the story?” Edward asked. I twisted a little to see Carlisle’s reaction.
He met my glance and smiled. “I would,” he replied. “But I’m actually running a bit late. The hospital called this morning — Dr. Snow is taking a sick day. Besides, you know the stories as well as I do,” he added, grinning at Edward now.
It was a strange combination to absorb — the everyday concerns of the town doctor stuck in the middle of a discussion of his early days in seventeenth-century London.
It was also unsettling to know that he spoke aloud only for my benefit.
After another warm smile for me, Carlisle left the room.
I stared at the little picture of Carlisle’s hometown for a long moment.
“What happened then?” I finally asked, staring up at Edward, who was watching me. “When he realized what had happened to him?”
He glanced back to the paintings, and I looked to see which image caught his interest now. It was a larger landscape in dull fall colors — an empty, shadowed meadow in a forest, with a craggy peak in the distance.
“When he knew what he had become,” Edward said quietly, “he rebelled against it. He tried to destroy himself. But that’s not easily done.”
“How?” I didn’t mean to say it aloud, but the word broke through my shock.
“He jumped from great heights,” Edward told me, his voice impassive. “He tried to drown himself in the ocean… but he was young to the new life, and very strong. It is amazing that he was able to resist… feeding… while he was still so new. The instinct is more powerful then, it takes over everything. But he was so repelled by himself that he had the strength to try to kill himself with starvation.”
“Is that possible?” My voice was faint.
“No, there are very few ways we can be killed.”
I opened my mouth to ask, but he spoke before I could.
“So he grew very hungry, and eventually weak. He strayed as far as he could from the human populace, recognizing that his willpower was weakening, too. For months he wandered by night, seeking the loneliest places, loathing himself.
“One night, a herd of deer passed his hiding place. He was so wild with thirst that he attacked without a thought. His strength returned and he realized there was an alternative to being the vile monster he feared. Had he not eaten venison in his former life? Over the next months his new philosophy was born. He could exist without being a demon. He found himself again.
“He began to make better use of his time. He’d always been intelligent, eager to learn. Now he had unlimited time before him. He studied by night, planned by day. He swam to France and —”
“He swam to France?”
“People swim the Channel all the time, Bella,” he reminded me patiently.
“That’s true, I guess. It just sounded funny in that context. Go on.”
“Swimming is easy for us —”
“Everything is easy for you ,” I griped.
He waited, his expression amused.
“I won’t interrupt again, I promise.”
He chuckled darkly, and finished his sentence. “Because, technically, we don’t need to breathe.”
“No, no, you promised.” He laughed, putting his cold finger lightly to my lips. “Do you want to hear the story or not?”
“You can’t spring something like that on me, and then expect me not to say anything,” I mumbled against his finger.
He lifted his hand, moving it to rest against my neck. The speed of my heart reacted to that, but I persisted.
“You don’t have to breathe ?” I demanded.
“No, it’s not necessary. Just a habit.” He shrugged.
“How long can you go… without breathing ?”
“Indefinitely, I suppose; I don’t know. It gets a bit uncomfortable — being without a sense of smell.”
“A bit uncomfortable,” I echoed.
I wasn’t paying attention to my own expression, but something in it made him grow somber. His hand dropped to his side and he stood very still, his eyes intent on my face. The silence lengthened. His features were immobile as stone.
“What is it?” I whispered, touching his frozen face.
His face softened under my hand, and he sighed. “I keep waiting for it to happen.”
“For what to happen?”
“I know that at some point, something I tell you or something you see is going to be too much. And then you’ll run away from me, screaming as you go.” He smiled half a smile, but his eyes were serious. “I won’t stop you. I want this to happen, because I want you to be safe. And yet, I want to be with you. The two desires are impossible to reconcile…” He trailed off, staring at my face. Waiting.
“I’m not running anywhere,” I promised.
“We’ll see,” he said, smiling again.
I frowned at him. “So, go on — Carlisle was swimming to France.”
He paused, getting back into his story. Reflexively, his eyes flickered to another picture — the most colorful of them all, the most ornately framed, and the largest; it was twice as wide as the door it hung next to. The canvas overflowed with bright figures in swirling robes, writhing around long pillars and off marbled balconies. I couldn’t tell if it represented Greek mythology, or if the characters floating in the clouds above were meant to be biblical.
“Carlisle swam to France, and continued on through Europe, to the universities there. By night he studied music, science, medicine — and found his calling, his penance, in that, in saving human lives.” His expression became awed, almost reverent. “I can’t adequately describe the struggle; it took Carlisle two centuries of torturous effort to perfect his self-control. Now he is all but immune to the scent of human blood, and he is able to do the work he loves without agony. He finds a great deal of peace there, at the hospital…” Edward stared off into space for a long moment. Suddenly he seemed to recall his purpose. He tapped his finger against the huge painting in front of us.
“He was studying in Italy when he discovered the others there. They were much more civilized and educated than the wraiths of the London sewers.”
He touched a comparatively sedate quartet of figures painted on the highest balcony, looking down calmly on the mayhem below them. I examined the grouping carefully and realized, with a startled laugh, that I recognized the golden-haired man.
“Solimena was greatly inspired by Carlisle’s friends. He often painted them as gods,” Edward chuckled. “Aro, Marcus, Caius,” he said, indicating the other three, two black-haired, one snowy-white. “Nighttime patrons of the arts.”
“What happened to them?” I wondered aloud, my fingertip hovering a centimeter from the figures on the canvas.
“They’re still there.” He shrugged. “As they have been for who knows how many millennia. Carlisle stayed with them only for a short time, just a few decades. He greatly admired their civility, their refinement, but they persisted in trying to cure his aversion to ‘his natural food source,’ as they called it. They tried to persuade him, and he tried to persuade them, to no avail. At that point, Carlisle decided to try the New World. He dreamed of finding others like himself. He was very lonely, you see.
“He didn’t find anyone for a long time. But, as monsters became the stuff of fairy tales, he found he could interact with unsuspecting humans as if he were one of them. He began practicing medicine. But the companionship he craved evaded him; he couldn’t risk familiarity.
“When the influenza epidemic hit, he was working nights in a hospital in Chicago. He’d been turning over an idea in his mind for several years, and he had almost decided to act — since he couldn’t find a companion, he would create one. He wasn’t absolutely sure how his own transformation had occurred, so he was hesitant. And he was loath to steal anyone’s life the way his had been stolen. It was in that frame of mind that he found me. There was no hope for me; I was left in a ward with the dying. He had nursed my parents, and knew I was alone. He decided to try…”
His voice, nearly a whisper now, trailed off. He stared unseeingly through the west windows. I wondered which images filled his mind now, Carlisle’s memories or his own. I waited quietly.
When he turned back to me, a gentle angel’s smile lit his expression.
“And so we’ve come full circle,” he concluded.
“Have you always stayed with Carlisle, then?” I wondered.
“Almost always.” He put his hand lightly on my waist and pulled me with him as he walked through the door. I stared back at the wall of pictures, wondering if I would ever get to hear the other stories.
Edward didn’t say any more as we walked down the hall, so I asked, “Almost?”
He sighed, seeming reluctant to answer. “Well, I had a typical bout of rebellious adolescence — about ten years after I was… born… created, whatever you want to call it. I wasn’t sold on his life of abstinence, and I resented him for curbing my appetite. So I went off on my own for a time.”
“Really?” I was intrigued, rather than frightened, as I perhaps should have been.
He could tell. I vaguely realized that we were headed up the next flight of stairs, but I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings.
“That doesn’t repulse you?”
“I guess… it sounds reasonable.”
He barked a laugh, more loudly than before. We were at the top of the stairs now, in another paneled hallway.
“From the time of my new birth,” he murmured, “I had the advantage of knowing what everyone around me was thinking, both human and non-human alike. That’s why it took me ten years to defy Carlisle — I could read his perfect sincerity, understand exactly why he lived the way he did.
“It took me only a few years to return to Carlisle and recommit to his vision. I thought I would be exempt from the… depression… that accompanies a conscience. Because I knew the thoughts of my prey, I could pass over the innocent and pursue only the evil. If I followed a murderer down a dark alley where he stalked a young girl — if I saved her, then surely I wasn’t so terrible.”
I shivered, imagining only too clearly what he described — the alley at night, the frightened girl, the dark man behind her. And Edward, Edward as he hunted, terrible and glorious as a young god, unstoppable. Would she have been grateful, that girl, or more frightened than before?
“But as time went on, I began to see the monster in my eyes. I couldn’t escape the debt of so much human life taken, no matter how justified. And I went back to Carlisle and Esme. They welcomed me back like the prodigal. It was more than I deserved.”
We’d come to a stop in front of the last door in the hall.
“My room,” he informed me, opening it and pulling me through.
His room faced south, with a wall-sized window like the great room below. The whole back side of the house must be glass. His view looked down on the winding Sol Duc River, across the untouched forest to the Olympic Mountain range. The mountains were much closer than I would have believed.
The western wall was completely covered with shelf after shelf of CDs. His room was better stocked than a music store. In the corner was a sophisticated-looking sound system, the kind I was afraid to touch because I’d be sure to break something. There was no bed, only a wide and inviting black leather sofa. The floor was covered with a thick golden carpet, and the walls were hung with heavy fabric in a slightly darker shade.
“Good acoustics?” I guessed.
He chuckled and nodded.
He picked up a remote and turned the stereo on. It was quiet, but the soft jazz number sounded like the band was in the room with us. I went to look at his mind-boggling music collection.
“How do you have these organized?” I asked, unable to find any rhyme or reason to the titles.
He wasn’t paying attention.
“Ummm, by year, and then by personal preference within that frame,” he said absently.
I turned, and he was looking at me with a peculiar expression in his eyes.
“I was prepared to feel… relieved. Having you know about everything, not needing to keep secrets from
you. But I didn’t expect to feel more than that. I like it. It makes me… happy.” He shrugged, smiling slightly.
“I’m glad,” I said, smiling back. I’d worried that he might regret telling me these things. It was good to know that wasn’t the case.
But then, as his eyes dissected my expression, his smile faded and his forehead creased.
“You’re still waiting for the running and the screaming, aren’t you?” I guessed.
A faint smile touched his lips, and he nodded.
“I hate to burst your bubble, but you’re really not as scary as you think you are. I don’t find you scary at all, actually,” I lied casually.
He stopped, raising his eyebrows in blatant disbelief. Then he flashed a wide, wicked smile.
“You really shouldn’t have said that,” he chuckled.
He growled, a low sound in the back of his throat; his lips curled back over his perfect teeth. His body shifted suddenly, half-crouched, tensed like a lion about to pounce.
I backed away from him, glaring.
I didn’t see him leap at me — it was much too fast. I only found myself suddenly airborne, and then we crashed onto the sofa, knocking it into the wall. All the while, his arms formed an iron cage of protection around me — I was barely jostled. But I still was gasping as I tried to right myself.
He wasn’t having that. He curled me into a ball against his chest, holding me more securely than iron chains. I glared at him in alarm, but he seemed well in control, his jaw relaxed as he grinned, his eyes bright only with humor.
“You were saying?” he growled playfully.
“That you are a very, very terrifying monster,” I said, my sarcasm marred a bit by my breathless voice.
“Much better,” he approved.
“Um.” I struggled. “Can I get up now?”
He just laughed.
“Can we come in?” a soft voice sounded from the hall.
I struggled to free myself, but Edward merely readjusted me so that I was somewhat more conventionally seated on his lap. I could see it was Alice, then, and Jasper behind her in the doorway. My cheeks burned, but Edward seemed at ease.
“Go ahead.” Edward was still chuckling quietly.
Alice seemed to find nothing unusual in our embrace; she walked — almost danced, her movements were so graceful — to the center of the room, where she folded herself sinuously onto the floor. Jasper, however, paused at the door, his expression a trifle shocked. He stared at Edward’s face, and I wondered if he was tasting the atmosphere with his unusual sensitivity.
“It sounded like you were having Bella for lunch, and we came to see if you would share,” Alice announced.
I stiffened for an instant, until I realized Edward was grinning — whether at her comment or my response, I couldn’t tell.
“Sorry, I don’t believe I have enough to spare,” he replied, his arms holding me recklessly close.
“Actually,” Jasper said, smiling despite himself as he walked into the room, “Alice says there’s going to be a real storm tonight, and Emmett wants to play ball. Are you game?”
The words were all common enough, but the context confused me. I gathered that Alice was a bit more reliable than the weatherman, though.
Edward’s eyes lit up, but he hesitated.
“Of course you should bring Bella,” Alice chirped. I thought I saw Jasper throw a quick glance at her.
“Do you want to go?” Edward asked me, excited, his expression vivid.
“Sure.” I couldn’t disappoint such a face. “Um, where are we going?”
“We have to wait for thunder to play ball — you’ll see why,” he promised.
“Will I need an umbrella?”
They all three laughed aloud.
“Will she?” Jasper asked Alice.
“No.” She was positive. “The storm will hit over town. It should be dry enough in the clearing.”
“Good, then.” The enthusiasm in Jasper’s voice was catching, naturally. I found myself eager, rather than scared stiff.
“Let’s go see if Carlisle will come.” Alice bounded up and to the door in a fashion that would break any ballerina’s heart.
“Like you don’t know,” Jasper teased, and they were swiftly on their way. Jasper managed to inconspicuously close the door behind them.
“What will we be playing?” I demanded.
“You will be watching,” Edward clarified. “We will be playing baseball.”
I rolled my eyes. “Vampires like baseball?”
“It’s the American pastime,” he said with mock solemnity.