Listening to Wil sing, Edward knew he had made the right choice to attend the recital despite his sister's odd vision the day before. She had the voice of an angel, truly, and that she had thought to dedicate the performance to his Bella as well as Andrew had touched him deeply. He had come this evening with the intention of all but ignoring her; when she had struggled, had nearly started to cry, his resolve crumbled like dust in the wind.
The scent of her tears reached him as she drew toward the close of the song. Like before, he felt the need to find some way to comfort her, though there was no opportunity. He was thankful for that; it was going to be difficult enough for him to disappear from her life as it was.
He had bottled up any feeling he thought he might have for her, reminding himself sternly he had no right to feel such things. Bella was his mate. A mate was, literally, forever, and that he even thought of Willa was a betrayal of the worst kind – not to mention, of course, the disastrous fallout that giving in to such feelings could be.
He was a century-old vampire who could control his bloodlust enough to practice medicine. He could control himself in this as well.
The song came to a close, and he let the last of those thoughts float away with the final notes. The audience applauded, and Wil stepped to the microphone to introduce him. Lifting a hand, he waved politely to the crowd as the spotlight centered on him.
What the hell! It can't be!
The thought came from the crowd as though shouted, and suddenly there was a wave of panic. Focusing quickly, he tried to see through one of the panicked minds what had happened, and he was rewarded with the sight of an elderly man laying unconscious, face down under a row of seats.
"Oh my God! Someone get an ambulance!"
That began the pandemonium. Wil rushed to the side of the stage, seeking the professors' guidance, and Edward slipped out from behind the piano and off stage. He strode past stage hands crowding over to peer out to the audience; they stepped aside when they saw the look on his face, grim and determined.
Alice's vision crowded his mind - Edward standing outside a hospital room, his hand on the door as he hesitated to enter. Now, a man collapsed basically right in front of him.
And that strange, out of place thought…
Alice and Jasper rushed down the hall to him; he didn't wonder how they had gotten themselves admitted backstage. Surely everyone was distracted right now. Jasper was clearly concerned as he followed his wife, his eyes not leaving her for a moment, a hand ghosting the small of her back as they made their way to him.
"Is this why, Alice?" Edward asked her as they came to a stop, and after a brief moment, she nodded.
"I think so," she told him. "A man collapsed-"
"Yes, I know." He cut her off with a wave of his hand. "What I don't know is what that has to do with me."
"Well…" She hesitated, her eyes darting away from him. How will he take it? she wondered, earning an annoyed sigh.
"He's here with Willa's family," Jasper filled in. Many things flashed through Edward: shock, concern, grief, worry. He fought them all down quickly, finding a way to be apathetic despite the part of him that wanted to rush to her.
"And what does that have to do with me?" he managed to make himself say, his voice flat. Alice gasped, looking back at Edward. Her eyes were filled with disappointment.
"Well, she is-"
"-No one of importance after the recital," he filled in for her. "And the recital is over."
There was a firmness to his voice that even he was surprised at. Of course, he was certain that was the right answer, the right way to dealing with things. Turning away from his siblings, he started around the stage, making his way to the rehearsal room. He heard Alice and Jasper following behind him and blatantly ignored them.
When he pushed the door open, he could tell others had come and gone from the room by the fresh, mingled scents. He glanced over and saw that Wil's coat had been removed; someone had probably run to fetch it for her when they discovered who had needed the ambulance. He crossed the room, picking up his own coat and pulling it on.
"Mr. Cullen," a voice spoke behind him. He and Jasper both turned, and they saw Dr. Jackson standing in the door. "You're leaving?"
Edward nodded, beginning to button his coat. "Yes, sir. Is there anything else you need from me?"
"No," the elderly man said. "Congratulations on a strong performance, you and Willa did very well. We had planned to take everyone out for drinks after the performance, but considering how the night ended, we've decided to do so tomorrow instead. Everyone is invited to join us tomorrow at 6 – we figure the Applebees in Hanover is a central location we all know."
"Thank you, sir," Edward said.
"No, thank you for all your hard work." He stepped forward, offering a hand; they shook briefly, Edward breaking the handshake quickly. Dr. Jackson seemed to focus on something behind Edward briefly. "Oh! Is this yours?" Stepping past Edward, he picked up a headpiece from the piano and held it out.
Edward reached into his pocket and retrieved his own. "It must be Willa's," he said, setting the headpiece back into his pocket.
"Would you be so kind as to give it to her?" Dr. Jackson asked. "I assume you're headed to the hospital to check on her and her family. Please pass on my congratulations and condolences both, as well as the information for tomorrow." The professor pressed the headpieces into Edward's hand and turned away without waiting for a response, leaving him slightly flat-footed. When the professor had left, Edward glanced at Alice and Jasper, his lips slightly parted.
How had that just happened?
There was a smirk on Alice's lips. "Never bet against me," his sister reminded him. "Looks like we're going to the hospital. Rose and Em said they'd meet us at home whenever we got there."
Wil's headpiece still in his hand, Edward allowed his pixie of a sister to drag him along behind her. They made their way out of the Hop and into the couple's car in silence, not speaking until their car pulled into the hospital's parking lot. Edward sulked the entire way, cradling Willa's headpiece in his hands as thought it might burn him.
How had he been roped into visiting her at the hospital? He should have said no when Dr. Jackson asked him to take it to her instead of accepting the headpiece. He had to admit that there was no way the professor could have foisted the little piece of electronics on him if he hadn't wanted to take it. He was decided, though – he had chosen to not see Willa again, and yet, here he was.
She would want to be alone with her family anyway, wouldn't she?
"I still don't know why I would be visiting the room," Edward protested weakly.
"I don't know either," Alice admitted. "But I still see it." She closed her eyes briefly as Jasper parked the car, and they both watched the vision play out again in her mind. "Jazz – any reason you can think of to check on him?"
"No, can't say there is," he said with a shake of his head, shutting the car off. "Would you like me to come in?" Jasper glanced back over his shoulder, an appraising eye on his brother in the back seat. You don't seem to be holding together so well there, brother.
"Of course you will," Alice said before Edward could respond. "We're the cheerleading squad!"
"Excuse me?" Jasper asked, quirking an eyebrow at his wife. "I don't do pom-poms."
"But you look so darling in a skirt, sweetie," Alice told him. She leaned over and kissed him quickly on the cheek.
"Don't remind me," Jasper grumbled as he pushed open the car door. They all exited, the car's lights flashing twice as the locks engaged.
"Neither of you have to come in," Edward told them, picking up his pace to get in front of them. "I'm just going to give her the headpiece and leave."
"Sure you are," Alice said under her breath. Edward glared at her.
The hospital smelled richly of blood, sweat, and the sharp tang of anesthetic. The three of them took a moment as they entered the door; Edward breathed deeply while the others took quick, shallow breaths to acclimatize themselves to the scent. Edward raised a hand to a passing nurse, asking for directions to the family waiting room, and she gestured down a hall on their left.
Voices drifted down the hall as they slowly made their way, weaving past stretchers and chairs scattered along the walls.
"You know you're snoring, right?" The voice was one that Edward was vaguely familiar with, one of Wil's roommates that he had heard through her door while dropping off copies of her song.
"Shut up," a disgruntled Wil muttered, her voice rough. Edward guessed that she may have drifted off from the groggy sound of her voice. "I don't snore."
"Right," her roommate agreed. "We would have been here sooner, but it took forever to track down one of the professors. She got your coat and purse out of the back for you."
"How's Uncle Chuck?" another voice asked, and Edward slowed; he wanted to hear the answer to this question. Alice and Jasper slowed with him, listening with sharp ears as they approached a turn in the hall.
"They say he'll be fine," she told them. "I don't know much more; Mom's talking with one of the doctors now."
"Scary," one of her roommates said.
"Shouldn't you guys be at home?" Wil asked with a distinct tinge of concern in her voice. Why was she concerned about them at a time like this?
"Yeah. We just wanted to make sure you had your stuff first," was the response. Edward bristled; these were her best friends, and they should want to be here with her at a time like this, not lounging at home! "You'll be fine? One of us can stay if you need us."
"No, please, go. I'll worry less if you're at home," Wil told them, thoroughly confusing Edward. He tried to make sense of the statement but could not. "I plan on coming home as soon as Mom gets back, unless she wants me to stay. I'll call."
"That's my entrance," Edward said quietly, reminding himself to be cool and distant with her. He let his lips turn up in a smirk and stepped around the corner, Alice and Jasper not far behind.
"That will be difficult without this," he said, striding toward them. His siblings stopped at the corner, lingering behind. He held up her headpiece for a moment, then tossed it underhand to her. She caught it with ease, surprising him. "You left it on the piano."
Wow, one of the women with Wil thought, eyeing him up and down. And I thought he looked good from a distance. Lucky Wil.
"We'll just…go…" the other woman said, casting Wil a glance. Wil nodded, offering them an smile before turning her attention back to Edward.
"Thanks," Wil told Edward as she placed the headset in her ear. Touching a button, she whispered a quick request for messages, and he heard the electronic voice tell her there were none. With a quiet sigh, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Edward wasn't sure what to say, so he stood there awkwardly, wondering if he should just leave.
"So, great job tonight. Thank you again for doing that for me," Wil offered just as Edward was about to turn away. He shrugged in response, slipping his hands into the pockets of his coat to fight the sudden urge to reach out to her.
"It was surprisingly enjoyable," he admitted, though he wasn't sure why. He was supposed to be leaving. He opened his mouth to say goodbye, and instead found himself saying, "How is your… uncle?"
"My mom's uncle, actually. He'll be fine, they say. It was probably his heart," she explained, lowering herself into a chair. Edward followed, sitting by her side, his hands still in his pockets. At the end of the hall, Jasper cleared his throat.
Comfortable? he asked. Edward ignored him.
"Do you know him well?" He should have been surprised that he was so interested, but at moments like this, so close to her, it was hard to ignore the pull between them – no matter how much he wanted to. This was a hospital, he told himself. People were supposed to be overly considerate. He was just doing what anyone does when someone is waiting for a loved one in the emergency room.
"I've seen him every year at holidays and reunions, but he lives a ways away from us." She met his gaze, and he read in her eyes grief at the statement, as well as concern and exhaustion. She needed rest; he hoped she could get it soon. "He was always really great when I saw him though. This is harder on my mom than it is me. My grandfather died when she was young, and she sort of looks to Uncle Chuck – his brother – as the next best thing. Grandma actually moved closer to Uncle Chuck with she lost her husband, to have some family nearby I guess, and was there for a few years before deciding to move to Kennewick."
Wil paused there, and she gave him a wry smile. "Sorry, I guess the night is wearing on me after all. I'm carrying on when you probably want to get going."
"It's fine," Edward assured her. "You are from Washington?"
"Yes. Small world, isn't it?" she mused, chuckling. "Where in Washington are you from? I noticed your number was back there."
He shrugged. "We move around a lot. My Dad spent some time in Washington, and my number is on his plan. He was near Port Angeles, small little town about an hour out."
"Really?" Wil's eyebrows raised. "That's the same side of the state Uncle Chuck's from. He used to be a sheriff or something near some native reservation like an hour or so from there."
Edward fought the urge to glance down the hall at Jasper, who had given a sharp intake of breath.
Oh, hell no. Jasper's errant thought drifted down the hall to him, confirming that he'd had the same thought as Edward.
" I wonder if they ever met," Wil was continuing, barely noticed by the three vampires.
"They may have…" Edward muttered distractedly, then rose to his feet. "I am monopolizing your time. Dr. Jackson wanted to make sure I told you we were all invited to a dinner tomorrow at the Applebees in Hanover, since we were unable to gather tonight. He said to meet there at 6." He finally let himself look over to Alice and Jasper, whose heads were leaned together as they whispered fiercely back and forth.
"Guess I'll see you there," Wil said. "Thanks for getting my headset back to me."
Edward gave her an absent nod as he walked down the hall toward his siblings. They fell into step with him and they went just far enough to disappear out of Wil's sight before stopping.
They whispered faster than any human could hear.
"Do you really think it could be him?"
"Well, this explains why my vision saw you visiting a hospital room."
"Is that why you can't read her properly?"
"What are the chances?"
"What are we going to do?"
Alice and Jasper bounced questions back and forth while Edward listened, shell shocked and not quite able to process what this all meant. There were too many coincidences, not the least of which being Willa's uncanny ability to block out Edward's talent, but he wasn't prepared to believe that his father-in-law lay just down the hall…
"I need to go check," Edward announced suddenly. Alice blinked, her eyes going unfocused for a moment, and in her mind another vision came into being.
"Yes. Yes, it is him," she said firmly. "If you go tonight, he'll still be unconscious, and there will be no harm done."
"You mean aside from seeing him on stage dedicating a performance to Charlie's daughter," Jasper pointed out, glancing at his brother. He reached out and placed a steadying hand on Edward's shoulder, offering him a gentle push of calm.
"We can figure out what to do about that later tonight, with the whole family," Edward told them with a shake of his head. "I want to make sure he's all right..." He trailed off, not giving voice to his other concern: that he had been the death sentence for a second member of the Swan family. Jasper picked up on his guilt and sent a stronger sense of calm and relief that Edward didn't deserve.
"Can't you tell?" Jasper asked, looking at his wife. She glanced away, concentrating for a moment, then shook her head.
"No," she said sadly. "It's been too long. I can't see him."
Edward nodded. "Then I'll go." He pushed past them both, heading down the hall to the nurses' station they had passed on the way in. He heard Alice's phone chirp behind him and ignored it.
There was a certain expectation of nurses stations in a hospital, and this one was no different: computer screens, photos of children and family pinned up on boards, and of course the wide open counter welcoming visitors. A woman in her mid-thirties manned the desk wearing dark blue scrubs that had been recently pressed, her honey-yellow hair pulled up into a bun with errant strands falling out. She smiled warmly as he stepped up to the counter, eyeing him up and down once.
"May I help you?" she asked, her thoughts still wrapped up in the chart she'd been looking over.
"I'm looking for Charles Swan," Edward told her. "He was brought in earlier this evening. I was wondering if he had been moved to a room yet."
"Charles Swan," the nurse – a small name tag labeled her Shelly – picked up a tablet from the desk in front of her and tapped it a few times. "Stable, recovering on the second floor, family only." She peered at him over the tablet. "You family?"
Edward dipped his head, allowing some of his worry to show through. "Quite nearly, Shelly. My family and his have been close for many years, and he is like a-" He caught himself quickly, remembering how many years had passed. He swallowed thickly to cover the break, and in her mind, Shelly noticed how badly he seemed to feel about the older man's condition. "He's like a grandfather to me."
"Well…" She looked him over once more, and he did his best to look crestfallen at her hesitation. "All right, go ahead. He's in room 204. Just don't stay long, OK?"
"I won't," Edward assured her with a smile, thanking her before he turned away and went to the elevators. One waited on the first floor, and he rose quickly to the second, then followed the signs pointing him down the 201-213 hallway.
The door to room 204 was the same bland white as every door in the hospital, but it intimidated Edward. He hesitated outside of it, his hand on the knob, and centered himself. He was thankful his siblings hadn't followed; this was something he wanted to face alone. Steeling himself, he pushed the door open and slipped in, closing it quietly behind him.
The man that laid in the bed was greyer and more lined than the police chief Edward had known, his hair line a little higher and his face more drawn, but there was no mistaking him. Stepping closer, Edward let his gaze roam over the man's familiar features – the nose so much like his daughter's, the strong chin still well defined in old age. The years had been kind of Charlie, and he barely looked his 50 or so years. He snored softly, and his heart sounded strong; the shock had passed, and he was recovering perfectly.
It was a weight off Edward's shoulders, though he still felt oddly heavy. Looking at her father, Edward couldn't help wondering what Bella would have looked like old and grey, though he knew that was foolish to mourn; she was never meant to reach old age, one way or another.
He left the room quickly, his father-in-law still snoring quietly.