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Chapter 16 Carlisle

Chapter 16 Carlisle

  He led me back to the room that he'd pointed out as Carlisle's office. Hepaused outside the door for an instant.

  "Come in," Carlisle's voice invited.

  Edward opened the door to a high-ceilinged room with tall, west-facingwindows. The walls were paneled again, in a darker wood — where they werevisible. Most of the wall space was taken up by towering bookshelves thatreached high above my head and held more books than I'd ever seen outsidea library.

  Carlisle sat behind a huge mahogany desk in a leather chair. He was justplacing a bookmark in the pages of the thick volume he held. The room washow I'd always imagined a college dean's would look — only Carlislelooked 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, yourhistory, 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 shoulderand spinning me around to look back toward the door we'd just comethrough. Every time he touched me, in even the most casual way, my hearthad an audible reaction. It was more embarrassing with Carlisle there.

  The wall we faced now was different from the others. Instead ofbookshelves, this wall was crowded with framed pictures of all sizes,some in vibrant colors, others dull monochromes. I searched for somelogic, some binding motif the collection had in common, but I foundnothing in my hasty examination.

  Edward pulled me toward the far left side, standing me in front of asmall square oil painting in a plain wooden frame. This one did not standout among the bigger and brighter pieces; painted in varying tones ofsepia, it depicted a miniature city full of steeply slanted roofs, withthin spires atop a few scattered towers. A wide river filled theforeground, crossed by a bridge covered with structures that looked liketiny cathedrals.

  "London in the sixteen-fifties," Edward said.

  "The London of my youth," Carlisle added, from a few feet behind us. Iflinched; I hadn't heard him approach. Edward squeezed my hand.

  "Will you tell the story?" Edward asked. I twisted a little to seeCarlisle's reaction.

  He met my glance and smiled. "I would," he replied. "But I'm actuallyrunning a bit late. The hospital called this morning — Dr. Snow is takinga 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 thetown doctor stuck in the middle of a discussion of his early days inseventeenth-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 waswatching me. "When he realized what had happened to him?"He glanced back to the paintings, and I looked to see which image caughthis interest now. It was a larger landscape in dull fall colors — anempty, shadowed meadow in a forest, with a craggy peak in the distance.

  "When he knew what he had become," Edward said quietly, "he rebelledagainst 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. "Hetried 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… whilehe was still so new. The instinct is more powerful then, it takes overeverything. But he was so repelled by himself that he had the strength totry 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 hecould from the human populace, recognizing that his willpower wasweakening, too. For months he wandered by night, seeking the loneliestplaces, loathing himself.

  "One night, a herd of deer passed his hiding place. He was so wild withthirst that he attacked without a thought. His strength returned and herealized 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 newphilosophy was born. He could exist without being a demon. He foundhimself 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 bynight, 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, wedon't need to breathe.""You —""No, no, you promised." He laughed, putting his cold finger lightly to mylips. "Do you want to hear the story or not?""You can't spring something like that on me, and then expect me not tosay anything," I mumbled against his finger.

  He lifted his hand, moving it to rest against my neck. The speed of myheart 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 madehim grow somber. His hand dropped to his side and he stood very still,his eyes intent on my face. The silence lengthened. His features wereimmobile 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 tohappen.""For what to happen?""I know that at some point, something I tell you or something you see isgoing to be too much. And then you'll run away from me, screaming as yougo." 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, Iwant to be with you. The two desires are impossible to reconcile…" Hetrailed 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 flickeredto another picture — the most colorful of them all, the most ornatelyframed, and the largest; it was twice as wide as the door it hung nextto. The canvas overflowed with bright figures in swirling robes, writhingaround long pillars and off marbled balconies. I couldn't tell if itrepresented Greek mythology, or if the characters floating in the cloudsabove were meant to be biblical.

  "Carlisle swam to France, and continued on through Europe, to theuniversities there. By night he studied music, science, medicine — andfound his calling, his penance, in that, in saving human lives." Hisexpression became awed, almost reverent. "I can't adequately describe thestruggle; it took Carlisle two centuries of torturous effort to perfecthis 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 greatdeal of peace there, at the hospital…" Edward stared off into space for along moment. Suddenly he seemed to recall his purpose. He tapped hisfinger against the huge painting in front of us.

  "He was studying in Italy when he discovered the others there. They weremuch more civilized and educated than the wraiths of the London sewers."He touched a comparatively sedate quartet of figures painted on thehighest balcony, looking down calmly on the mayhem below them. I examinedthe grouping carefully and realized, with a startled laugh, that Irecognized the golden-haired man.

  "Solimena was greatly inspired by Carlisle's friends. He often paintedthem as gods," Edward chuckled. "Aro, Marcus, Caius," he said, indicatingthe other three, two black-haired, one snowy-white. "Nighttime patrons ofthe arts.""What happened to them?" I wondered aloud, my fingertip hovering acentimeter from the figures on the canvas.

  "They're still there." He shrugged. "As they have been for who knows howmany millennia. Carlisle stayed with them only for a short time, just afew decades. He greatly admired their civility, their refinement, butthey persisted in trying to cure his aversion to 'his natural foodsource,' as they called it. They tried to persuade him, and he tried topersuade them, to no avail. At that point, Carlisle decided to try theNew 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 stuffof fairy tales, he found he could interact with unsuspecting humans as ifhe were one of them. He began practicing medicine. But the companionshiphe craved evaded him; he couldn't risk familiarity.

  "When the influenza epidemic hit, he was working nights in a hospital inChicago. 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, hewould create one. He wasn't absolutely sure how his own transformationhad occurred, so he was hesitant. And he was loath to steal anyone's lifethe way his had been stolen. It was in that frame of mind that he foundme. There was no hope for me; I was left in a ward with the dying. He hadnursed my parents, and knew I was alone. He decided to try…"His voice, nearly a whisper now, trailed off. He stared unseeinglythrough 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 withhim 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 ofrebellious 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 atime.""Really?" I was intrigued, rather than frightened, as I perhaps shouldhave been.

  He could tell. I vaguely realized that we were headed up the next flightof stairs, but I wasn't paying much attention to my surroundings.

  "That doesn't repulse you?""No.""Why not?""I guess… it sounds reasonable."He barked a laugh, more loudly than before. We were at the top of thestairs now, in another paneled hallway.

  "From the time of my new birth," he murmured, "I had the advantage ofknowing what everyone around me was thinking, both human and non-humanalike. That's why it took me ten years to defy Carlisle — I could readhis 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 hisvision. I thought I would be exempt from the… depression… thataccompanies a conscience. Because I knew the thoughts of my prey, I couldpass over the innocent and pursue only the evil. If I followed a murdererdown a dark alley where he stalked a young girl — if I saved her, thensurely I wasn't so terrible."I shivered, imagining only too clearly what he described — the alley atnight, the frightened girl, the dark man behind her. And Edward, Edwardas he hunted, terrible and glorious as a young god, unstoppable. Wouldshe 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'tescape the debt of so much human life taken, no matter how justified. AndI went back to Carlisle and Esme. They welcomed me back like theprodigal. 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 onthe winding Sol Duc River, across the untouched forest to the OlympicMountain 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 asophisticated-looking sound system, the kind I was afraid to touchbecause I'd be sure to break something. There was no bed, only a wide andinviting black leather sofa. The floor was covered with a thick golden carpet, and the walls were hung with heavy fabric in a slightly darkershade.

  "Good acoustics?" I guessed.

  He chuckled and nodded.

  He picked up a remote and turned the stereo on. It was quiet, but thesoft jazz number sounded like the band was in the room with us. I went tolook at his mind-boggling music collection.

  "How do you have these organized?" I asked, unable to find any rhyme orreason to the titles.

  He wasn't paying attention.

  "Ummm, by year, and then by personal preference within that frame," hesaid absently.

  I turned, and he was looking at me with a peculiar expression in his eyes.

  "What?""I was prepared to feel… relieved. Having you know about everything, notneeding to keep secrets from you. But I didn't expect to feel more thanthat. I like it. It makes me… happy." He shrugged, smiling slightly.

  "I'm glad," I said, smiling back. I'd worried that he might regrettelling 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 hisforehead creased.

  "You're still waiting for the running and the screaming, aren't you?" Iguessed.

  A faint smile touched his lips, and he nodded.

  "I hate to burst your bubble, but you're really not as scary as you thinkyou are. I don't find you scary at all, actually," I lied casually.

  He stopped, raising his eyebrows in blatant disbelief. Then he flashed awide, 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 backover his perfect teeth. His body shifted suddenly, half-crouched, tensedlike a lion about to pounce.

  I backed away from him, glaring.

  "You wouldn't."I didn't see him leap at me — it was much too fast. I only found myselfsuddenly airborne, and then we crashed onto the sofa, knocking it intothe wall. All the while, his arms formed an iron cage of protectionaround me — I was barely jostled. But I still was gasping as I tried toright 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, buthe seemed well in control, his jaw relaxed as he grinned, his eyes brightonly with humor.

  "You were saying?" he growled playfully.

  "That you are a very, very terrifying monster," I said, my sarcasm marreda 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 wassomewhat more conventionally seated on his lap. I could see it was Alice,then, and Jasper behind her in the doorway. My cheeks burned, but Edwardseemed at ease.

  "Go ahead." Edward was still chuckling quietly.

  Alice seemed to find nothing unusual in our embrace; she walked — almostdanced, her movements were so graceful — to the center of the room, whereshe folded herself sinuously onto the floor. Jasper, however, paused atthe door, his expression a trifle shocked. He stared at Edward's face,and I wondered if he was tasting the atmosphere with his unusualsensitivity.

  "It sounded like you were having Bella for lunch, and we came to see ifyou 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 armsholding me recklessly close.

  "Actually," Jasper said, smiling despite himself as he walked into theroom, "Alice says there's going to be a real storm tonight, and Emmettwants to play ball. Are you game?"The words were all common enough, but the context confused me. I gatheredthat 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 Jasperthrow 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 dryenough in the clearing.""Good, then." The enthusiasm in Jasper's voice was catching, naturally. Ifound myself eager, rather than scared stiff.

  "Let's go see if Carlisle will come." Alice bounded up and to the door ina 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.