Sunny. There was no better description for this radiant, vibrant thirteen-year-old child than the affectionate nickname her mother had bestowed on her since birth. I met her in November, after my family and I had been back in Forks, Washington for four years. Clara "Sunny" Wells, with her bright, shining emerald eyes and thousand-watt smile was fast becoming one of my favorite patients. I could hear her skipping through the halls long before she reached my office, endlessly chattering to her mother about one thing or another as if she didn't have a care in the world. Her reality, however, could not be further from the truth.
Sunny was dying. Her mother, Beth, had moved them from Boise a few weeks before our first meeting. It was there, at a hospital in Boise, that Sunny was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I first met the pair to schedule Sunny's first bout of chemotherapy. She would have to be admitted into the hospital for a couple of weeks to receive the treatment. It was during this stay, seeing her shining smile day in and day out that I couldn't help but become enraptured with this amazing creature. No amount of pain or bad news ever seemed to affect her brilliant, genuine smile. She bravely handled the entire affair with grace and dignity beyond her years. Even after all her fiery, auburn hair was eradicated by the drugs coursing through her system, she was still the same immoveable force that I had come to harbor so much affection for.
"Hey Dr. Cullen, five hours and counting. That's a personal best!" She giggled to herself as I entered her room on my afternoon rounds. I couldn't resist returning the smile that I received as I approached her bedside. Her room always smelled intensely of pine. It wasn't the synthetic odor of a cleanser, but a more natural fragrance, like there was some inexplicable forest growing right in her room. My glance fell to the jarred candle that constantly burned at her bedside. She had told me once that it was her favorite scent because it reminded her of Christmas. I smiled briefly at the memory.
I glanced down at her chart and my smile wavered slightly. "You know you really shouldn't fight the affects of your medication that way. If your body needs to expel something then you shouldn't be resisting that impulse."
She wrinkled her nose at this, the smile still shining brightly in her green eyes as she adamantly shook her head. "Nah, I hate throwing up. I'd so much rather just fight it off than gross everyone out." She laughed at herself again as I checked her vitals. I could feel her watching me intently as I went through my usual routine. "My mom's gonna be here soon. She said that she would bring my portable DVD player with her so I can catch up on "Smallville."
I smiled politely as I noted my findings in her chart. "It sounds like a wonderful way to pass the time," I muttered distractedly. When I looked up there was an entirely different expression fixed on her angelic face. She looked worried, and, unfortunately, she had a good reason. Her blood cell counts were still off. That meant that I had no choice but to increase the level of her chemo.
She nodded solemnly, knowing before I spoke that there would be an increase. She was about to start feeling a whole lot worse before she would start to feel any better. "It's ok, Doc. We gotta do what we gotta do." She shrugged dismissively but her eyes flickered away for just a moment. That was the only signal she gave that there was a crack in her armor.
I reached over and placed my hand briefly over hers. "We'll certainly do our very best, won't we?" Her gaze returned to mine. She smiled once again, nodding at my statement. "You bet."
As I stepped out of her room, I had a sudden, intense feeling that that departing smile would be the last one I would receive from her for quite awhile. My fears were only confirmed when I rounded the corner and bumped into Police Chief Charlie Swan. "Hey Doc." He glanced in obvious discomfort over my shoulder before running his hand through his hair. "I've been looking for you. We gotta talk."
His demeanor was off-putting, to say the least. I automatically turned to glance briefly in the direction of his gaze. My anxiety only grew.
I gestured in the direction of my office and he followed silently, fidgeting with his hat in his hands the entire way. When we finally entered my office, I closed the door behind us. "What is this about, Charlie?"
He self-consciously cleared his throat, his gaze directed at my desktop rather than at me. "Well, I don't quite know how to say this but there's been an accident out in Port Angeles." He paused, clearly struggling to find the right words. "It's Clara Wells' mom...she was killed this morning, probably on her way here." Charlie's gaze shifted to my office door and he let out a deep resigned sigh as he turned back to face me. "I gotta go tell her. I thought it might be easier if you came with me. You know, for the kid, I mean. She seems to trust you. I think it might help if you were there."
I had to take a moment for all of this to sink in. Beth was dead. Sunny was an orphan now, a dying orphan. That sweet, innocent child had nothing now, not even her health. As this news sunk in, I watched Charlie. He was clearly waiting for me to speak, though I had no idea what I was supposed to say. Finally, I was able to nod and carry myself to the door. Once again, I opened it and followed the same path I had just taken moments ago, back to Sunny's room. This time I had the police chief right beside me.
I have had to deliver devastating news before. In my three hundred plus years in existence, I have seen many tragedies. This, however, felt somehow different. It felt personal. The closer we came to the door, the harder it was for me to come up with the right words. How do you tell a terminally ill child that the last living person she had in her world was gone?
At first, Sunny beamed at me as usual. Then her gaze shifted to Charlie. Her smile wavered again, as it did when she found out that she needed more chemo. Her eyes flickered from my somber expression to Charlie's nervous fidgeting and the rest of the smile fell from her face. "What is it?"
I somehow found the strength to approach her bedside, lightly seating myself on the edge and taking her hand. I forced myself to meet her eyes before I spoke. "Clara, there is something very important that we need to tell you." I watched her closely as these few words began to sink in. Her eyes locked on mine and all the humor drained from her expression, replaced by growing fear. "Your mother, she was on her way to see you this morning and there was an accident." A great rush of air escaped her lips and she seemed to slump forward slightly, leaning closer to me as I continued. "Clara…" I faltered and glanced away for the briefest moment, trying to collect my thoughts. I was vaguely aware of Charlie as he still stood behind me. I could hear that he was still worrying his hat in his hands, fidgeting from one leg to the other lightly. He seemed content to let me handle things.
"She was hurt, wasn't she?" She asked before I could think of what to say next. I merely nodded and glanced down at our intertwined fingers.
"Yes, Clara, she was." Her eyes grew round then and I could see tears starting to build. In that moment, I wished reverently that Jasper were there. My son's unique gift for bringing calm to those he touched would have come in handy then.
I heard Charlie take three hesitant steps closer to us, tapping his hat against his leg, nervously. "She was driving out of Port Angeles on her way here, I would assume." His gaze fixed on a spot over Clara's head briefly before he looked back at her and continued. "The other car came out of nowhere. I don't even think she saw it coming."
That was the moment when it all sank in, all of the light drained from her eyes. It was as if someone flipped a switch and instantly clicked off her spirit. Her mouth worked silently for a moment before a low, mournful moan escaped her lips. Her grip suddenly tightened on my hand. "No, Dr. Cullen."
"Sunny, I am so very sorry." I placed my other hand over our already fisted fingers gently for a moment before I reached up and swiped at the cascade of tears flowing freely down her pale face.
She lay back stiffly then, almost as if her body had turned to a piece of solid, rigid wood. Her once bright eyes were now completely blank and devoid of any life. Her silence was frightening. If I didn't have so many machines in front of me that were giving me a clear picture of her vitals, I might have been concerned that she was going into shock.
I glanced back at Charlie when I heard him clear his throat in a subtle attempt to get my attention. He gestured toward the hallway. I nodded at him briefly before turning back to Sunny with a weak smile. "I'll be right outside, Clara. I'll come right back." She didn't respond in any way. She didn't even blink. I gave her hand one more reassuring squeeze before standing and following Charlie out to the hall.
"So I guess I have to call Child Services now." He was still awkward. Things like this just didn't happen in Forks and poor Charlie was at a loss.
"Why don't you let me handle that, Charlie? I'd have to explain her medical situation to them anyway." He nodded and there was a fleeting look of gratefulness in his expression. He thanked me then and, with a polite nod in my direction, made his way down the hall toward the exit. I took a deep, unnecessary breath and flipped open my cell phone. Esme, as always, answered on the second ring. She was as eager to help as I had hoped and she promised to arrive at the hospital within the next ten minutes.
I slowly reentered Sunny's room, feeling almost like I was intruding now. Would she want me to see her grief? I walked around her bed and knelt until I was face to face with her, letting my left hand rest gently against the side of her ashen cheek. "Sunny, I need you to listen to me." There was absolutely no response for a long moment then her eyes flickered in the direction of my voice. "My wife, Esme, is on her way here. She's going to stay with you until I can get away and come back for you." She seemed to understand, though there was no clear sign that she had heard me speak. I glanced down at her warily and stood, trying to smile reassuringly as I left.
No sooner, had I entered the hallway then Esme was there, Jasper and Alice on her heels. I hugged Esme to me for a moment before smiling faintly at our children. "I'm so glad to see you all." Alice must have had a vision of the tragedy after I made the decision to involve Esme. It seemed that she had filled in the blanks for Esme and Jasper on the way over. "How is she?" Esme's eyes reflected her concern and sympathy.
I shook my head lightly before I could answer. The memory of Sunny's grief stricken face flashed before me. "She's heartbroken, crushed." I glanced back in the direction of her room. "The poor child." I felt Esme squeeze my hand reassuringly. I smiled faintly down at her. "Thank you for coming. She'll need someone to care for her now more than ever."
Though we were about a hundred yards from her room now, I noted that all three members of my family seemed to pick up the scent at the same moment. "It does smell like trees." Alice closed her eyes and inhaled the scent again as if it were one of the most amazing things she had ever encountered. I led the three of them down the hall, the scent growing in intensity, as we got closer. At the door, Jasper paused in obvious discomfort. I rested my hand on his shoulder, meeting his eyes with concern. "You feel it now, don't you?" He merely nodded at my question. "It's alright. She'll be fine. I'm sure your presence will be of great comfort to her. You can probably help her more than any of us right now." He nodded again and stepped forward with determination set in his stance.
I led the way into the room, followed closely by the others. As I again approached Sunny's bed, I noted that she hadn't moved since I left her a few minutes before. She was still laying very still, face up and staring at the ceiling. I again took her hand in mine. There was a long pause before my touch registered and she turned her head in my direction. "Clara, this is my wife, Esme, my son, Jasper, and my daughter, Alice." I gestured to the others without turning away. "They're going to stay with you until I come back." There was no response at first and then her head nodded slightly. "If you need anything you just let them know. They know how to find me."
She blinked in response with another light nod of her head. I saw her eyes flicker in my family's direction. She frowned curiously. Clara sat up then. It was the first sign of life she had shown since her nightmare began. I turned to follow her gaze.
Her eyes locked on Jasper.
He approached her other side as if in a trance, never taking his gaze from hers. Jasper automatically reached out, taking her other hand in his. I could feel the great sigh that escaped her body. Her frail frame shuttered with its intensity. She lay back against her pillow again; this time it was a fluid, relaxed motion. Her fingers eased their grip on themselves under my hand. A look of peace washed over her face as her eyes closed. Moments later her breathing evened out and became slow and steady as she slept.
Though I had seen Jasper's talent demonstrated many times I still found myself in awe of his ability. Glancing behind me at Alice and Esme, I could see that I wasn't the only one stunned. It was a powerful thing that pushed through that amount of grief and despair. I was immensely grateful that he was able to calm her and help her rest. She needed her strength.
I returned to my office and just sat for the longest time, staring at the phone on my desk. There was a battle waging in my thoughts. I might be able to convince Child Services to release Sunny into my custody for the duration of her treatment but that was a long shot. I was concerned that that suggestion might be seen as a conflict of interest. If I simply didn't call them at all and someone found out, I could risk disciplinary action from the hospital. I could possibly lose my medical license. I was at a loss. I sat contemplating my options for a moment longer then picked up the phone and dialed Charlie's cell phone number. "Yeah, Doc. What's happening?"
I paused briefly before I spoke. Now that I actually had the chief on the phone, I was starting to rethink my plan. "Hello again, Charlie. I'm sorry to bother you but I was wondering if I might ask a favor?"
I could hear his shrug through the phone, a subtle, almost inaudible rustle of fabric against metal. "Sure. What'd you need?" His tone had changed at my request, becoming uncertain and concerned.
"Well, it's about that call that I promised to make to Child Services. I was thinking that it might be best if Sunny…Clara, was released into my custody, temporarily, while she received treatment for her cancer."
There was another shrug from the other end of the line and Charlie cleared his throat. "Well, yeah, that sounds like a good idea. What did you need from me?"
His response was encouraging. "I was wondering if you wouldn't mind putting in a good word. I was afraid that the idea might be met with some resistance. It might make things run a little smoother if the local authorities were backing my decision."
I heard him chuckle briefly. "Not a problem. You just tell them to give me a call and I'll do what I can for you."
I smiled with relief and thanked him before replacing the phone. When I looked up, Alice was standing in the doorway, a bright smile shining on her perfect face. "When can I tell the others the good news?" She was beaming. I saw her bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet.
I returned her grin but held up a cautioning hand as I again reached for the phone. "Let me at least finish all the necessary steps first before you run off." My smile turned to a brief, stern frown for a moment as I thought about her excitement. "You've already mentioned this to Esme and Jasper, haven't you?" I know my Alice.
She glanced down at my change in tone and I was sure that, had she been able to, she would have blushed as well. "Sunny didn't hear me and I didn't say anything to anyone else. They were curious when they knew I was getting a vision." She trailed off sheepishly.
I let my smile return with a shake of my head as I picked up the phone. Even knowing the outcome, I was surprised at how little resistance my idea received. Still, I reminded the social worker, that I spoke with, to call Charlie, giving both his cell and office numbers to the woman before hanging up.
Alice had seated herself in one of the chairs in front of my desk at the beginning of my call. She was fidgeting and bouncing with enthusiasm as she waited, impatiently for confirmation of her vision's accuracy. "Now, you may share the news." She was out of her seat so quickly that human eyes wouldn't have even caught the movement. "Alice, only the family. I want to speak with Sunny myself." She nodded briefly before she disappeared.
I again shook my head at her enthusiastic response. She was my little ball of energy and, sometimes, she reminded me so much of Sunny. I was certain that Alice and Sunny would become great friends someday.
A wave of despair hit then. I stood, gathering some of my files before exiting my office. I hoped that, someday soon, Sunny would return to that same shining spirit she had been before this afternoon. That was one of my greatest concerns regarding her. If her spirits didn't improve it could greatly hinder her recovery. I hoped that within a family atmosphere, her grief would lessen in time and some spark of her former self would return. Only time would tell.