Chapter 6: Carlisle
Outside Carlisle's study, he welcomed us.
"Come in," his voice transmitted with fidelity through the door.
When I opened it and led Bella through, I marked her reaction as she surveyed the tall ceiling supported on the shoulders of three bookshelf-lined walls together with one seamless panel of windows that soared to the rafters.
Then, of course, there was my father.
Carlisle was seated in his leather chair behind a large mahogany desk. With a professorial air, he bookmarked one of his medical tomes before he looked up.
"What can I do for you?" he rose from his chair.
"I wanted to show Bella some of our history," I said. "Well, your history, actually."
"We didn't mean to disturb you," Bella included politely.
"Not at all. Where are going to start?"
"The Waggoner." Laying a hand on Bella's shoulder, I rotated her around to face the door. Her heartbeat spiked.
Charming. Carlisle grinned.
The wall before us was crowded with various paintings, portraits, and sketches. I drew Bella to the far left corner of the wall in front of an oil canvas. It portrayed an Old World municipality with pitched roofs and towers accented with slim spires. A river dominated the scene arched by a cobbled bridge.
"London in the sixteen-fifties," I indicated.
"The London of my youth," Carlisle sighed reminiscently, directly behind us now. Bella started, unaware he had approached us. My fingers girded her hand.
We both looked at Carlisle. "Will you tell the story?"
My father returned Bella's gaze, "I would," and he brandished a smile that put humans at ease. "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." His eyes went to mine, and he continued inaudibly. After all, I do not wish to intrude on your time together. I must say I very much like Bella. I have from the first.
Enjoy your afternoon. He said in silent goodbye and directed another affable smile to Bella before leaving.
At length she examined the vignette of Carlisle's London before the usurpation of the Commonwealth.
"What happened then?" she inquired, turning to me, "When he realized what had happened to him?"
My eyes scanned the gallery and rested on my favorite painting. It was an autumnal depiction of a glade in the heart of a wood with a mountain summit in the background. Harkening back to our meadow, it held special fondness for me now.
"When he knew what he had become," I said, "he rebelled against it. He tried to destroy himself. But that's not easily done."
"He jumped from great heights." I said. "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?"
"No, there are very few ways we can be killed." Before Bella could present another question, I proceeded.
"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."
"That's true, I guess. It just sounded funny in that context. Go on."
"Swimming is easy for us —"
"Everything is easy for you," she complained.
I didn't continue expecting another comment.
"I won't interrupt again, I promise."
After a laugh I went on. "Because, technically, we don't need to breathe."
"No, no, you promised." I placed a finger to Bella's plump warm mouth. "Do you want to hear the story or not?"
Under my muting finger, she objected. "You can't spring something like that on me, and then expect me not to say anything."
I shifted my fingers from her lips to her neck. Even though my nerve endings prickled as blood circulated through her throat, my hand wouldn't move.
"You don't have to breathe?" Bella asked as if a little out of breath herself.
"No, it's not necessary. Just a habit."
"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." When Bella repeated my words her tone became remote. Being able to read people's minds, I never paid close attention to body language. I didn't know what the look on Bella's face meant.
Retracting my now nerveless hand from her neck, several seconds passed while I obsessed over her reaction.
"What is it?" Her hand stroked my face comfortingly, and my sudden unease began to dissolve.
"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." I smiled without any humor. "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…"
"I'm not running anywhere."
I sighed. "We'll see."
Bella prodded, "So, go on — Carlisle was swimming to France."
The chronicle rewound in my mind, my eyes focusing on the largest most ornamentally framed painting of the collection. It held a portrait of four figures assembled on a balcony.
"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." My voice swelled with veneration. "I can't adequately describe the struggle; it took Carlisle two centuries of tortuous 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…"
For as long as I have known Carlisle, I often wondered if I could, like him, habituate to the smell of human blood. I have never been more desperate for that than these last few weeks.
Touching the canvas, I resumed my story. "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."
I tapped the image of the foursome gazing down with detachment at the chaos beneath them. Bella examined the rendering closely and chuckled in surprise when she distinguished the fair-haired gentleman on the end as my father.
"Solimena was greatly inspired by Carlisle's friends. He often painted them as gods," I laughed. "Aro, Marcus, Caius." I identified the remaining line-up by their distinctive coifs: two crow-haired and the one in the middle fly-away white. "Nighttime patrons of the arts."
Bella pointed to the painting. "What happened to them?"
"They're still there." I 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 Word. 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…" My voice dropped off as I began to recount my own transformation. Rarely did I think about it or speak of it.
Beyond the western wall of windows, my vision traveled skyward transporting me to the last memories of my human past — rows of hospital beds, faces of the dying, faces of the living who could offer no further hope. A cold comforting hand… then pain, terrorizing, insufferable pain.
Following the brief silence, I returned to Bella and smiled. "And so we've come full circle."
"Have you always stayed with Carlisle, then?"
"Almost always." I placed my hand lightly on her hip and showed her through the door. It did not escape me that this was a newly introduced move on my part. Bella glanced back at the wall of art when we departed.
As I led her down the hall, she half quoted me, "Almost?"
I sighed preparing to unveil another puzzle piece. "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?" Bella said with fascination rather than with revulsion. She hardly noticed that we were ascending another staircase.
"That doesn't repulse you?"
"I guess… it sounds reasonable."
Her response was so unanticipated and unreal that a spurt of bronchial laughter came up from deep within my chest. I startled her. It was a relief that we were past any hazards at top of the stairs and now headed down a hallway.
"From the time of my new birth," I continued, "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."
Bella trembled. Although inaccessible to her thoughts, I knew we shared the same Port Angeles memory of a deserted alley, strangers from the shadows, a defenseless girl. An all too frightening scenario that could happen in the most seemingly safest of places.
"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."
When we arrived at the last door at the end of the hall, I noted, "My room," turning the knob then bringing Bella about from behind me to the windowed wall.
Her eyes peered down to the Sol Duc River that serpentined below us. Then they meandered across the tree line to the Olympic Mountains. When Bella pivoted away from the window, she discovered the opposite wall housing part of my CD collection and the sound system Emmett had installed as payment for a lost bet. As my room was void of a bed, I was about to offer her a seat on the leather sofa when she spoke.
I laughed and nodded.
Using Emmett's remote, which quite possibly controlled a missile silo somewhere, I turned on the stereo. A jazz instrumental played while Bella browsed my collection.
How extraordinary! Not a minute ago I revealed my all too hideous past. Now we were discussing music…
"How do you have these organized?"
She asked a question, but I was preoccupied with monitoring her reactions. "Ummm, by year, and then by personal preference within that frame." She must have felt my eyes on her.
"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." I shrugged half smiling.
"I'm glad." Bella produced a full smile. I looked at her uncertainly.
"You're still waiting for the running and the screaming, aren't you?"
Bella planted a hand on her now canted out hip. "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." She then stared at me in a pageant of provocation.
Hmmmm, really? I domed my eyebrows, flaunting a sinister sneer. A rumble let loose from my gut reverberating against the walls of my throat. Stooping low primed to ambush, my lips retracted exposing teeth.
Bella drew away from me. "You wouldn't."
Before she could blink, I ensnared her in my arms. We went flying into the sofa that caromed into the wall. She was flabbergasted but unharmed.
Bella huffed and puffed as she tried to sit up within the impoundment of my arms. I just tucked her deeper into my chest ignoring her protests.
A growl still haunted my voice, "You were saying?"
"That you are a very, very terrifying monster," she conceded. A hint of fright undermined her earlier swagger.
"Um," she fidgeted, "Can I get up now?"
Disinclined to liberate her, I merely laughed.
Suddenly we weren't alone.
"Can we come in?" Alice chirped from beyond the open door.
Bella attempted once again to right herself to where I finally arranged her in a sitting position on my lap. Her face glowed like heat lamp. The elevated temperature roasted me delightfully.
Alice emerged in the doorway with Jasper deciding to hang back.
"Go ahead." I invited still laughing.
Carlisle told me about the… vision you saw earlier. I'm sorry. Alice offered soundlessly. I smiled so she'd know that I didn't hold it against her.
It was impossible to hold anything against Alice. Second to my parents, she was my primary advocate. Moreover, Alice loved Bella even before I knew I loved her and loyally championed Bella's interests on her behalf. For that I would always be indebted.
Alice tiptoed lithely to the middle of my room and settled on the gold-flecked carpet while Jasper stalked the door.
He glared at me. For a moment there, I thought you… I thought…
But Alice stepped in on his internal accusations before they went any further. "It sounded like you were having Bella for lunch, and we came to see if you would share," she quipped.
I cinched my arms around Bella's waist. "Sorry, I don't believe I have enough to spare."
"Actually," Jasper joined the conversation determining everything was alright, "Alice says there's going to be a real storm tonight, and Emmett wants to play ball are you game?"
My brothers always incited the competitor in me.
Alice's eyes twinkled. "Of course you should bring Bella."
Jasper tossed my sister a passing glance, but inwardly he muled. Alice! Then unnoticeable to Bella, they communicated without words, without the aid of mind reading. If I couldn't hear their thoughts, I too would be unaware of their unique correspondence.
I tuned out their exchange and undividedly turned my attention to Bella.
"Do you want to go?" Since many of my ugly secrets had been exposed, I figured this was something actually enjoyable that Bella might like to experience.
"Sure," she agreed. "Um, where are we going?"
"We have to wait for thunder to play ball — you'll see why."
"Will I need an umbrella?"
"Will she?" Jasper directed his question to Alice. Not surprisingly, he was now on board with the plan.
"No." Alice confirmed, flouting a smile. "The storm will hit over town. It should be dry enough in the clearing."
"Good, then." With this endorsement from my brother, his words or his powers, or both, change the mood.
I listened in on him. Jasper wanted me there. If Alice and I wanted Bella there, he would be supportive. Previous prejudices notwithstanding, Jasper genuinely liked Bella. Something Alice believed would happen. Being a veteran of war and a Southerner, Jasper was impressed by Bella's courage and gumption.
I counted my fortunes of having not one, but two exceptional brothers, an exceptional family.
Jasper always did have a soft spot for ladies with spunk. "Let's go see if Carlisle will come," Alice vocalized for Bella's benefit. She rose from the floor and with a leap, disappeared through the door. Jasper watched her and smiled.
"Like you don't know," he laughed tailing Alice out of my room, shutting the door behind him.
"What will we be playing?" Bella asked.
"You will be watching," I stipulated. "We will be playing baseball."
"Vampires like baseball?" She rolled her eyes.
I answered with reverence, "It's the American pastime."