The inside was even more surprising, less predictable, than the exterior.
It was very bright, very open, and very large. This must have originally
been several rooms, but the walls had been removed from most of the first
floor to create one wide space. The back, south-facing wall had been
entirely replaced with glass, and, beyond the shade of the cedars, the
lawn stretched bare to the wide river. A massive curving staircase
dominated the west side of the room. The walls, the high-beamed ceiling,
the wooden floors, and the thick carpets were all varying shades of white.
Waiting to greet us, standing just to the left of the door, on a raised
portion of the floor by a spectacular grand piano, were Edward's parents.
I'd seen Dr. Cullen before, of course, yet I couldn't help but be struck
again by his youth, his outrageous perfection. At his side was Esme, I
assumed, the only one of the family I'd never seen before. She had the
same pale, beautiful features as the rest of them. Something about her
heart-shaped face, her billows of soft, caramel-colored hair, reminded me
of the ingénues of the silent-movie era. She was small, slender, yet less
angular, more rounded than the others. They were both dressed casually,
in light colors that matched the inside of the house. They smiled in
welcome, but made no move to approach us. Trying not to frighten me, I
"Carlisle, Esme," Edward's voice broke the short silence, "this is Bella."
"You're very welcome, Bella." Carlisle's step was measured, careful as he
approached me. He raised his hand tentatively, and I stepped forward to
shake hands with him.
"It's nice to see you again, Dr. Cullen."
"Please, call me Carlisle."
"Carlisle." I grinned at him, my sudden confidence surprising me. I could
feel Edward's relief at my side.
Esme smiled and stepped forward as well, reaching for my hand. Her cold,
stone grasp was just as I expected.
"It's very nice to know you," she said sincerely.
"Thank you. I'm glad to meet you, too." And I was. It was like meeting a
fairy tale — Snow White, in the flesh.
"Where are Alice and Jasper?" Edward asked, but no one answered, as they
had just appeared at the top of the wide staircase.
"Hey, Edward!" Alice called enthusiastically. She ran down the stairs, a
streak of black hair and white skin, coming to a sudden and graceful stop
in front of me. Carlisle and Esme shot warning glances at her, but I
liked it. It was natural — for her, anyway.
"Hi, Bella!" Alice said, and she bounced forward to kiss my cheek. If
Carlisle and Esme had looked cautious before, they now looked staggered.
There was shock in my eyes, too, but I was also very pleased that she
seemed to approve of me so entirely. I was startled to feel Edward
stiffen at my side. I glanced at his face, but his expression was
"You do smell nice, I never noticed before," she commented, to my extreme
No one else seemed to know quite what to say, and then Jasper was there —
tall and leonine. A feeling of ease spread through me, and I was suddenly
comfortable despite where I was. Edward stared at Jasper, raising one
eyebrow, and I remembered what Jasper could do.
"Hello, Bella," Jasper said. He kept his distance, not offering to shake
my hand. But it was impossible to feel awkward near him.
"Hello, Jasper." I smiled at him shyly, and then at the others. "It's
nice to meet you all — you have a very beautiful home," I added
"Thank you," Esme said. "We're so glad that you came." She spoke with
feeling, and I realized that she thought I was brave.
I also realized that Rosalie and Emmett were nowhere to be seen, and I
remembered Edward's too-innocent denial when I'd asked him if the others
didn't like me.
Carlisle's expression distracted me from this train of thought; he was
gazing meaningfully at Edward with an intense expression. Out of the
corner of my eye, I saw Edward nod once.
I looked away, trying to be polite. My eyes wandered again to the
beautiful instrument on the platform by the door. I suddenly remembered
my childhood fantasy that, should I ever win a lottery, I would buy a
grand piano for my mother. She wasn't really good — she only played for
herself on our secondhand upright — but I loved to watch her play. She
was happy, absorbed — she seemed like a new, mysterious being to me then,
someone outside the "mom" persona I took for granted. She'd put me
through lessons, of course, but like most kids, I whined until she let me
Esme noticed my preoccupation.
"Do you play?" she asked, inclining her head toward the piano.
I shook my head. "Not at all. But it's so beautiful. Is it yours?"
"No," she laughed. "Edward didn't tell you he was musical?"
"No." I glared at his suddenly innocent expression with narrowed eyes. "I
should have known, I guess."
Esme raised her delicate eyebrows in confusion.
"Edward can do everything, right?" I explained.
Jasper snickered and Esme gave Edward a reproving look.
"I hope you haven't been showing off— it's rude," she scolded.
"Just a bit," he laughed freely. Her face softened at the sound, and they
shared a brief look that I didn't understand, though Esme's face seemed
"He's been too modest, actually," I corrected.
"Well, play for her," Esme encouraged.
"You just said showing off was rude," he objected.
"There are exceptions to every rule," she replied.
"I'd like to hear you play," I volunteered.
"It's settled then." Esme pushed him toward the piano. He pulled me
along, sitting me on the bench beside him.
He gave me a long, exasperated look before he turned to the keys.
And then his fingers flowed swiftly across the ivory, and the room was
filled with a composition so complex, so luxuriant, it was impossible to
believe only one set of hands played. I felt my chin drop, my mouth open
in astonishment, and heard low chuckles behind me at my reaction.
Edward looked at me casually, the music still surging around us without a
break, and winked. "Do you like it?"
"You wrote this?" I gasped, understanding.
He nodded. "It's Esme's favorite."
I closed my eyes, shaking my head.
"I'm feeling extremely insignificant."
The music slowed, transforming into something softer, and to my surprise
I detected the melody of his lullaby weaving through the profusion of
"You inspired this one," he said softly. The music grew unbearably sweet.
I couldn't speak.
"They like you, you know," he said conversationally. "Esme especially."
I glanced behind me, but the huge room was empty now.
"Where did they go?"
"Very subtly giving us some privacy, I suppose."
I sighed. "They like me. But Rosalie and Emmett…" I trailed off, not sure
how to express my doubts.
He frowned. "Don't worry about Rosalie," he said, his eyes wide and
persuasive. "She'll come around."
I pursed my lips skeptically. "Emmett?"
"Well, he thinks I'm a lunatic, it's true, but he doesn't have a problem
with you. He's trying to reason with Rosalie."
"What is it that upsets her?" I wasn't sure if I wanted to know the
He sighed deeply. "Rosalie struggles the most with… with what we are.
It's hard for her to have someone on the outside know the truth. And
she's a little jealous."
"Rosalie is jealous of me?" I asked incredulously. I tried to imagine a
universe in which someone as breathtaking as Rosalie would have any
possible reason to feel jealous of someone like me.
"You're human." He shrugged. "She wishes that she were, too."
"Oh," I muttered, still stunned. "Even Jasper, though…"
"That's really my fault," he said. "I told you he was the most recent to
try our way of life. I warned him to keep his distance."
I thought about the reason for that, and shuddered.
"Esme and Carlisle… ?" I continued quickly, to keep him from noticing.
"Are happy to see me happy. Actually, Esme wouldn't care if you had a
third eye and webbed feet. All this time she's been worried about me,
afraid that there was something missing from my essential makeup, that I
was too young when Carlisle changed me… She's ecstatic. Every time I
touch you, she just about chokes with satisfaction."
"Alice seems very… enthusiastic."
"Alice has her own way of looking at things," he said through tight lips.
"And you're not going to explain that, are you?"
A moment of wordless communication passed between us. He realized that I
knew he was keeping something from me. I realized that he wasn't going to
give anything away. Not now.
"So what was Carlisle telling you before?"
His eyebrows pulled together. "You noticed that, did you?"
I shrugged. "Of course."
He looked at me thoughtfully for a few seconds before answering. "He
wanted to tell me some news — he didn't know if it was something I would
share with you."
"I have to, because I'm going to be a little… overbearingly protective
over the next few days — or weeks — and I wouldn't want you to think I'm
naturally a tyrant."
"Nothing's wrong, exactly. Alice just sees some visitors coming soon.
They know we're here, and they're curious."
"Yes… well, they aren't like us, of course — in their hunting habits, I
mean. They probably won't come into town at all, but I'm certainly not
going to let you out of my sight till they're gone."
"Finally, a rational response!" he murmured. "I was beginning to think
you had no sense of self-preservation at all."
I let that one pass, looking away, my eyes wandering again around the
He followed my gaze. "Not what you expected, is it?" he asked, his voice
"No," I admitted.
"No coffins, no piled skulls in the corners; I don't even think we have
cobwebs… what a disappointment this must be for you," he continued slyly.
I ignored his teasing. "It's so light… so open."
He was more serious when he answered. "It's the one place we never have
The song he was still playing, my song, drifted to an end, the final
chords shifting to a more melancholy key. The last note hovered
poignantly in the silence.
"Thank you," I murmured. I realized there were tears in my eyes. I dabbed
at them, embarrassed.
He touched the corner of my eye, trapping one I missed. He lifted his
finger, examining the drop of moisture broodingly. Then, so quickly I
couldn't be positive that he really did, he put his finger to his mouth
to taste it.
I looked at him questioningly, and he gazed back for a long moment before
he finally smiled.
"Do you want to see the rest of the house?"
"No coffins?" I verified, the sarcasm in my voice not entirely masking
the slight but genuine anxiety I felt.
He laughed, taking my hand, leading me away from the piano.
"No coffins," he promised.
We walked up the massive staircase, my hand trailing along the
satin-smooth rail. The long hall at the top of the stairs was paneled
with a honey-colored wood, the same as the floorboards.
"Rosalie and Emmett's room… Carlisle's office… Alice's room…" He gestured
as he led me past the doors.
He would have continued, but I stopped dead at the end of the hall,
staring incredulously at the ornament hanging on the wall above my head.
Edward chuckled at my bewildered expression.
"You can laugh," he said. "It is sort of ironic."
I didn't laugh. My hand raised automatically, one finger extended as if
to touch the large wooden cross, its dark patina contrasting with the
lighter tone of the wall. I didn't touch it, though I was curious if the
aged wood would feel as silky as it looked.
"It must be very old," I guessed.
He shrugged. "Early sixteen-thirties, more or less."
I looked away from the cross to stare at him.
"Why do you keep this here?" I wondered.
"Nostalgia. It belonged to Carlisle's father."
"He collected antiques?" I suggested doubtfully.
"No. He carved this himself. It hung on the wall above the pulpit in the
vicarage where he preached."
I wasn't sure if my face betrayed my shock, but I returned to gazing at
the simple, ancient cross, just in case. I quickly did the mental math;
the cross was over three hundred and seventy years old. The silence
stretched on as I struggled to wrap my mind around the concept of so many
"Are you all right?" He sounded worried.
"How old is Carlisle?" I asked quietly, ignoring his question, still
"He just celebrated his three hundred and sixty-second birthday," Edward
said. I looked back at him, a million questions in my eyes.
He watched me carefully as he spoke.
"Carlisle was born in London, in the sixteen-forties, he believes. Time
wasn't marked as accurately then, for the common people anyway. It was
just before Cromwell's rule, though."
I kept my face composed, aware of his scrutiny as I listened. It was
easier if I didn't try to believe.
"He was the only son of an Anglican pastor. His mother died giving birth
to him. His father was an intolerant man. As the Protestants came into
power, he was enthusiastic in his persecution of Roman Catholics and
other religions. He also believed very strongly in the reality of evil.
He led hunts for witches, werewolves… and vampires." I grew very still at
the word. I'm sure he noticed, but he went on without pausing.
"They burned a lot of innocent people — of course the real creatures that
he sought were not so easy to catch.
"When the pastor grew old, he placed his obedient son in charge of the
raids. At first Carlisle was a disappointment; he was not quick to
accuse, to see demons where they did not exist. But he was persistent,
and more clever than his father. He actually discovered a coven of true
vampires that lived hidden in the sewers of the city, only coming out by
night to hunt. In those days, when monsters were not just myths and
legends, that was the way many lived.
"The people gathered their pitchforks and torches, of course" — his brief
laugh was darker now — "and waited where Carlisle had seen the monsters
exit into the street. Eventually one emerged."
His voice was very quiet; I strained to catch the words.
"He must have been ancient, and weak with hunger. Carlisle heard him call
out in Latin to the others when he caught the scent of the mob. He ran
through the streets, and Carlisle — he was twenty-three and very fast —
was in the lead of the pursuit. The creature could have easily outrun
them, but Carlisle thinks he was too hungry, so he turned and attacked.
He fell on Carlisle first, but the others were close behind, and he
turned to defend himself. He killed two men, and made off with a third,
leaving Carlisle bleeding in the street."
He paused. I could sense he was editing something, keeping something from
"Carlisle knew what his father would do. The bodies would be burned —
anything infected by the monster must be destroyed. Carlisle acted
instinctively to save his own life. He crawled away from the alley while
the mob followed the fiend and his victim. He hid in a cellar, buried
himself in rotting potatoes for three days. It's a miracle he was able to
keep silent, to stay undiscovered.
"It was over then, and he realized what he had become."
I'm not sure what my face was revealing, but he suddenly broke off.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"I'm fine," I assured him. And, though I bit my lip in hesitation, he
must have seen the curiosity burning in my eyes.
He smiled. "I expect you have a few more questions for me."
His smile widened over his brilliant teeth. He started back down the
hall, pulling me along by the hand. "Come on, then," he encouraged. "I'll
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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