Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or plots created by Stephanie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
CHAPTER ONE: December 1919
“Are you sure you’ll be fine on your own?”
Carlisle’s words and thoughts were suffused with a worried tone that I found mildly offensive.
“Of course. It’s been two years now,” I reminded him.
Carlisle’s employer, Dr. Harrow, had asked him to travel by train to Chicago for an important medical symposium. As the newly hired and outwardly youngest doctor on staff, Carlisle couldn’t very well refuse the honor, especially since Dr. Harrow chose him because he knew Carlisle was familiar with Chicago, and Dr. Harrow had a terrible sense of direction. Carlisle never could resist an appeal for help.
“I could say you’ve fallen ill.”
His mind immediately began running through the sorts of illnesses serious enough to be considered an excuse for him to beg off the trip.
“No,” I said sharply.
Instantly I read the hurt on my adopted father’s face and in his thoughts as he tried to understand my anger. I consciously softened my voice as I tried to explain.
“I know that I still…struggle.”
That was an understatement. Every time I caught a whiff of human prey my mouth still began to fill with venom which had to be choked back lest I start drooling like a rabid animal. The thirst was a constant ache. I wouldn’t have trusted myself a year ago to be anywhere near humans, but time marches on, and with Carlisle’s help I’d been able to make short excursions into town. His presence helped me to restrain myself from draining every human that walked by.
Carlisle nodded understandingly, without a trace of condemnation in his thoughts. It’s what I both loved and hated about him, that constant saintliness. He’d conquered the beast within. I, on the other hand…
“I’ll likely always struggle,” I admitted grudgingly. “But it’s better now. I’m better now. Allow me to prove it. Trust me just this once.”
I wasn’t playing fair. I knew how Carlisle anguished over the risks of taking me out into society. I also knew the depth of his consideration for my feelings and how he tried hard not to seem overbearing or dictatorial. I often caught glimpses of his memories of Italy and the Volturi. They ruled their domain with an iron hand. Carlisle didn’t want to be like them.
I contemplated reminding Carlisle that keeping me imprisoned in the house was exactly the sort of thing Aro would do if he didn’t trust a vampire, but stopped short. What sort of a creature had I become? A pang of conscience struck me to the core. Carlisle’s memories of his relationship with the Volturi were conflicted enough without my interference.
He gathered his thoughts and came to a decision.
“You’re right, Edward. I do trust you. Please forgive me for ever giving the impression that I don’t.”
He was sincere, and beginning to berate himself mentally for a fault that didn’t exist.
“There’s nothing to forgive,” I said lightly.
Walking past the piano that dominated our front parlor, I leaned down and picked up the leather satchel at Carlisle’s feet, careful not to crush the handle as I lifted it.
“Go on, Chicago is waiting,” I told him as I handed it to him. “And so is Dr. Harrow, assuming he made it to the station without getting lost.”
Carlisle smiled, gracious in defeat, and took the satchel.
“Thank you, Edward.”
I helped him on with his heavy wool coat, a necessary prop when venturing outside among the humans who felt the cold and bundled up against it. He wrapped a muffler around his neck and placed his favorite brown felt hat on his head.
“It will only be for a few days. We’ll hunt when we get back. Perhaps we’ll find a mountain lion or two?”
Carlisle was thinking that finding a mountain lion would be just the thing to get me in the mood for Christmas. He worried that I was losing touch with human traditions which once meant a lot to me.
Suppressing the urge to roll my eyes at the concern in his thoughts, I merely nodded. Carlisle missed his calling as a mother hen. I was seventeen years old when I died, not seven.
With a last glance over his shoulder, he left through the front door. I stood at the parlor window and watched him trudge down the lane through the snow until his thoughts disappeared from range.
Or as silent as it got for a vampire. I could still hear a family of mice moving restlessly in their sleep in the attic above, the tiny amount of blood in their bodies not nearly as attractive as the siren call of human blood.
The wood frame house creaked a bit and icicles dripped outside from the eaves. In the distance a neighbor’s herd of cows lowed every so often.
My mental landscape, however, was silent save for my own thoughts. Walking over to the piano, our third one since coming to Ashland, I ran my hand over the keys. I was careful now not to press so hard when playing staccato. Ivory was fragile.
Setting aside the Christmas music the ever-hopeful Carlisle brought home a few days ago, I settled on Rimsky-Korsakov and filled the house with music, all night and well into the next day.
Eventually even music palled and I walked outside, not bothering with a coat. The clouds were grey and threatening. It seemed it might snow again. How very seasonal.
The sound of a horse drawn wagon came to me. It was one of our neighbors on their way to town no doubt. I retreated to the house rather than allow him to see me outside in my shirtsleeves and wonder at it.
I watched through the window as the heavy wagon went past. Farmer Ashe was in a festive mood. He’d tucked a sprig of holly in his hatband and was humming a Christmas carol as he drove down the lane.
I wondered if my street back home in Chicago would be decorated this year. We used to go all out with garlands on the porch railings, wreaths on the doors, and Christmas trees visible in every window. The twins who lived down the street draped paper chains all over the evergreen shrub in their yard the last Christmas I spent there. Then the snow fell and melted and their colorful paper chains turned to pulp.
They’d come outside and cried over it, two little boys wailing in the snow. I’d tried to comfort them. At least I think I had. I couldn’t remember what I’d said. The memories of my life before Carlisle were fading. It was like looking at tintypes of the great grandparents I’d never known. The hoop skirts and dated Civil War uniforms were a curiosity, nothing more. I knew my parents treasured those photographs, but to me they were just pictures of strangers.
The twins died before I did, the first casualties on our block. Influenza struck our street hard. I wondered who was left to leave out garlands and wreaths.
Walking into the kitchen, I sat down at the pine table to practice what Carlisle called ‘human mannerisms’. Humans sat after standing for a time.
Whoever survived the influenza back on my street had undoubtedly decorated their houses by now. Life went on, for some.
Carlisle tried to interest me in getting a Christmas tree. I’d crushed his hopes by refusing. What was there to celebrate after all? Why decorate? It’s not as if Carlisle could invite anyone from work over to our home so there was really no need to deck the halls. I couldn’t be trusted in an enclosed space with helpless prey. It was one thing to walk around town with Carlisle at my side, ready to whisk me away if I moved to strike. It was quite another to be trapped indoors with my natural food source and not eat it.
The first year after Carlisle turned me, Christmas came and went without either of us noticing it. We stayed in a hunting cabin far away from towns or farms, with nothing but wilderness all around. After that first year, Carlisle found us this cottage in Ashland, Wisconsin. It was just outside the city limits. Our neighbors were farmers who kept to themselves and left us alone.
I liked the cottage. Carlisle brought in some of the pieces he’d had in Europe. Some were simple and stark like the wood cross from his father’s parsonage. Others were almost painfully ornate, like his favorite armchair, a hideous Victorian horsehair monstrosity. I wondered what my mother would have thought of it.
Frowning, I tried to decide if she’d have hated or loved it. I couldn’t remember her taste in furniture. She’d moved into my father’s house when she married him. His mother, my grandmother, was still living at the time so the furniture in the house was hers. Grandmother Rose died when I was a small child. I couldn’t remember her face, just her name. I couldn’t remember my mother’s parents at all, and I knew they’d lived a lot longer than Grandma Rose.
Why? Why remember one thing and not the other?
I pounded my fist on the table in irritation and sucked in a breath in dismay as splinters flew.
If Carlisle came back to find a shattered kitchen table he’d never leave me alone again. I dropped to my knees to survey the damage.
The table leg would need replacing. So would the metal support that attached it to the underside of the table. The tabletop had a bit of a dent in it, but it was the leg which had borne the brunt of my ill humor.
Disgusted at myself, I sank back on my heels. I’d have to go to town to buy a replacement strut and wood for a new table leg. Carlisle had tools in the shed out back, and I knew I could fashion a leg like the other three, but I needed aged pine to shape.
I’d wait until just before closing time. Even though it was close to Christmas, I didn’t think there’d be many holiday shoppers in a hardware store.
I pinched the bridge of my nose, and then dropped my hand abruptly as I realized what I was doing. Carlisle said it wasn’t uncommon for certain human traits to be carried over into our strange new lives. I’d loved music before I died and still enjoyed it, but pinching my nose was a stupid thing to do. I used to do it when I felt a headache coming on.
Carlisle often thought it was an expression of my frustration, and used it to gauge my reactions. I had a lot of things to be frustrated about, but that didn’t mean I wanted to show it.
Glancing out the kitchen window, I saw that the light was changing. With the shorter winter days, darkness came quickly. It was time to start walking to town if I wanted to hold myself to a human pace. It seemed an appropriate penance for my earlier untoward display of vampiric strength.
Remembering to grab a coat and wrap a wool muffler around my neck, I ventured outdoors and into the snowy lane.
Outside had a life all its own. As I walked down the lane I breathed in a variety of scents, sights, and sounds. I could see melting snow dripping from the trees, hear the thoughts of a rabbit searching for food, and a hawk flying high overhead.
Their thoughts were easy to ignore. It wouldn’t be that way in town. I enjoyed my mental solitude while it lasted.
The closer I ventured into town, the more the cacophony rose around me.
‘Got no money for presents. What’ll I do?’
A day worker, big, burly, and full of tempting blood, lumbered past.
‘Bicarbonate of soda, eggs, yes definitely more eggs. Do I need flour? No, there’s at least a few more cupfuls left, and the recipe only calls for two…’
A housewife, dragging a petulant girl by the hand, swept by.
‘Why do I have to carry the shopping basket? I look like a maid-servant. Betsy’s family sends their maid to do all their shopping.’
And on and on it went, like cattle lowing continuously in my mind.
I stuck my chin to my chest and kept my head lowered. I felt nothing for these people and their small-minded concerns, nothing but a near overwhelming desire to stop their mental chatter once and for all, with my teeth.
Clenching my fists, I buried them in my pockets and walked on. It was far more difficult to walk through crowds without Carlisle’s reassuring thoughts to distract me, but I could do it.
At a crossroads I saw a bunch of Christmas carolers, milling about like a flock of sheep. Their shepherd, no, their choir leader, herded them together and commanded them to start singing. Several were off key.
I fled down a side street. It was bad enough that I had to hear their petty thoughts about each other and the choir leader, but to be subjected to their amateur performance? It was too much to bear.
The side street was a residential area, lower middle class by the looks of it since the houses were small with tiny yards in front. Most of the males weren’t home from work yet, and the thoughts of their females were comfortingly mundane.
All but one.
‘No, oh no. How? I was only gone for an hour. Why? I can’t believe this is happening.’
Distress, sharp and panicky, colored the woman’s thoughts, which were jumbled like broken glass. There were other thoughts as well, coming from an immature and sleepy mind. It was a child, wondering why his mama was so upset, why her grip was so tight.
I stopped dead in the dirty slush of the street and turned my head toward the house from whence the thoughts were emanating. It was a small, unremarkable two story home behind a picket fence and a few snow covered rosebushes, hibernating under their icy blanket. Through the open door I saw the back of a woman, the top of a child’s knitted cap just visible over her shoulder.
Fear thrilled through her.
‘What if he’s still here? Dear God, what shall I do? I have Teddy with me.’
I smirked a bit. Whoever ‘he’ was, he wasn’t in the house anymore. I could sense and smell only two humans inside, the woman and the child. There was another smell, very familiar to me due to my recent issues with the table.
I moved closer to the gate in the picket fence. The woman began backing out of her doorway and I saw the splintered wood on the ground. Her movement was sending the scent of pine wafting my way.
The door was hanging off one hinge. The other was wrenched and useless. The lock was pulled completely out of the door, which had splintered when someone jimmied it open, probably with a pry bar.
Her hysteria was rising. I felt the predator within me stir and take notice. Chasing a panicked animal was easy. They were so very predictable. She’d take the path of least resistance, dodging to the right back between her house and the one next to it, since sturdy bushes blocked the passage between her home and the one to the left. Once she saw me blocking her route to the street, dodging right was the only logical option left to her.
I could be on her the moment she was out of sight of the road, and fast enough to prevent her from screaming. Her nearest neighbor wouldn’t even hear me pounce if I played it right. The child would be easy too.
I bit my lip, hard, and swallowed back a mouthful of venom.
She turned and saw me at the gate, eyes wide and frightened, carrying her boy in her arms.
“Ma’am? Are you alright?” I heard myself asking.
Perhaps Carlisle was right about human traits carrying over. My manners were intact, even though they were competing with my more lethal impulses.
For a second I saw myself through her eyes and thoughts.
‘Oh, it’s a boy. He’s beautiful. That hair, I’ve never seen such a marvelous red. Oh dear, he’s staring at me. I must look a fright. What am I doing? The burglar could still be here.’
As her thoughts wrenched themselves away from me and back to her predicament, she tightened her grip on her child.
Irritated at the constant squeezing, he began to wail.
She was an inch away from wailing herself. Something had to be done.
“He has quite the pair of lungs on him, doesn’t he?” I observed with a rueful smile.
Carlisle always said that our looks could beguile, that it was one of the things that made us so dangerous to susceptible humans. I hoped he was right. The child’s cries were beginning to grate on my nerves.
She gave a strained sounding laugh.
“Yes, he does,” she answered, bouncing him gently as she glanced back worriedly through the open doorway.
“I see your door is broken. May I take a look?”
‘His eyes are such an unusual color, like warm honey. What could be the harm?’ she asked herself. ‘He’s only just arrived, so he can’t be the one who broke in. If the burglar is still here he’ll hear the lad’s voice and be scared away.’ It was my supposed ability to scare away miscreants with my voice that decided her.
“Please do,” she said, stepping back to allow me access to the doorway.
I opened the gate in the low picket fence and made my way up the step and onto the porch, carefully breathing through my mouth and not my nose. It only helped a little bit.
“You’ll need a new lock and another hinge,” I told her.
I ran my hand down the sharp edges of the splayed wood.
“The paint may need some touching up as well.”
The door was a rich brown color. Judging from the layers I could see where the wood was broken, it had been red and then black before its current coat of paint.
She moved closer to me to take a look, the child in her arms quieting to an occasional whimper.
So close, so warm and pulsating with life’s blood. I willed myself to stay still.
“Thieves was it? Perhaps you should check to see what was stolen,” I suggested as calmly as I could. I needed distance from her.
“Oh yes, of course.”
Dread took hold of her mind as she moved slowly into the house. I remained outside taking huge gulps of non-human scented air.
I saw through her eyes the mess the robber left in his wake. Drawers were pulled out, contents strewn everywhere. A small Christmas tree was lying on its side, knocked over in the robber’s haste.
“Oh no,” she sighed. I heard her lay the child down on the ottoman as she sank to her knees by the tree.
‘The presents are gone. I saved up so long for Albert’s watch. Now I’ve nothing to give him and Christmas is so close. What shall I do? Teddy won’t notice, he’s too young to really understand, but what of my mother and father?’ She searched frantically through broken ornaments and fallen pine needles. ‘Where’s the scarf I knitted? The sewing kit? My sister’s perfume?’
Her fingers paused and she sucked in a breath as she encountered broken glass. The scent of lavender wafted through the room as she carefully gathered broken pieces of the perfume bottle together. It was the only gift the thief hadn’t taken.
‘Why? Why did this have to happen?’
I didn’t want to witness the woman’s desolated thoughts. It wasn’t really any of my business, but a gentleman never left a lady in distress without trying to help.
“I’ll go to the hardware store and see if I can find a suitable lock,” I called out from the doorway.
The smell of lavender was not overpowering enough to mask the alluring scent of her blood.
“Yes, thank you. That would be nice,” she said, trying in vain to sound as if she wasn’t crying. I pretended not to notice.
With a brief wave of goodbye, I left her there, a small plump woman with her shawl slipping off one shoulder, holding broken glass in her hands.
The hardware store was nearly deserted, just as I’d hoped. I made my purchases quickly and left. I had to be crazy, spending time around humans, placing myself in a state of constant temptation. I set my own supplies by the picket fence and made an appropriately human amount of noise opening the gate and tramping up to the porch.
She met me at the door and I forced a smile on my lips.
“I can’t thank you enough for doing this,” she babbled.
She’d switched from hysteria and grief to gratitude. I saw from her recent memories that the thief had taken some of her jewelry and her husband’s good set of cuff links from upstairs. She felt unsafe in her own home, and desperately wanted the door fixed since her husband wasn’t due home until tomorrow.
“I couldn’t sleep soundly tonight knowing that anyone could come in from off the street. Can I get you anything? A glass of cider? Coffee? Tea?”
Her eyes were brown, like her hair which was pulled back in a low bun on the back of her neck. She reminded me of a plump little wren. She had no idea she was asking a monster to tea.
“Tea, if it’s not too much trouble.”
I knew from the firewood stacked along the side of the house and the lack of a chimney that she didn’t have an electric stove. The stovepipe protruding from the roof was a dead giveaway. Tea would require lighting the wood-burning stove and putting the kettle on to boil. It would keep her in the kitchen and out of my way.
“Oh it’s no trouble at all.”
She smiled and I saw that she had dimples on either cheek, which only appeared when her mouth creased. I watched her retreat into the kitchen. The fashions of the day were not kind, the narrow skirts serving to accentuate her short stature and wide hips.
Her sincerity surprised me. She wanted to be busy doing something for me, as she was not ready to face cleaning the upstairs mess which the thief had left for her. Her son’s crib was untouched and she’d laid him down for a nap, promising herself that she’d tidy up his room before any others.
She was debating whether she should use the good china or a simple mug. Not that I cared. I wouldn’t be drinking the tea, or anything else, I reminded myself sharply and got to work.
Blocking her thoughts as best I could, I concentrated on replacing the broken hinge and lock without snapping the metal pieces or splintering the wood even further. Darkness was falling, and the woman was preoccupied in the other room so I indulged myself and worked at vampiric speed, finishing well before the kettle started to squeal. I swung the door open wide to test the hinge. It held firm.
She’d decided on the good china. It was white with dark blue accents and tiny pink roses strewn across the porcelain.
“Here you are,” she said, passing me the steaming cup and saucer as she glanced over at my workmanship.
As I took it from her gingerly, our fingers brushed.
“Oh,” she gasped. “Your hands are so cold. Would you like to come into the kitchen to warm up?”
Misplaced remorse swept through her. I didn’t mind the cold, not anymore.
“No, I really must be on my way.”
I glanced down at the cup, momentarily at a loss as to what to do with it. I really didn't want to drink it. I knew that if I did I’d have to vomit it up later.
“It’s Earl Grey,” the woman confided. “You probably noticed that it smells a bit different.”
She was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t like it.
“It smells wonderful,” I lied.
There had to be some way to distract her so I could toss the liquid out the door.
“Almost as good as that other smell from before," I continued. "Was it lavender?”
She clasped her hands sadly, and nodded, eyes starting to tear up.
“I bought a bottle of perfume for my sister. The thief broke it.”
“What a shame. Is that your son crying?”
Appealing to her mothering instincts worked perfectly. Not only did she turn her head in the direction of her child’s room, she also took a few steps toward the stairs to listen. It only took a second for me to pitch the noxious fluid out the open doorway and onto the snow, returning the cup to its saucer as gently as possible.
“I don’t hear anything,” she said reluctantly, returning her attention to me.
“My mistake,” I apologized, smiling and lifting the empty teacup to my lips, pretending to drink it down.
She watched with a gentle smile on her face, completely taken in by my act.
“Thank you for your hospitality Mrs…”
I realized I didn’t know her name. I knew from her thoughts that her son was named Teddy and her husband was Albert, but people rarely think of themselves by name.
“Kendall,” she supplied with a blush. “Mary Kendall.”
The rush of gratitude in her thoughts was embarrassing. I’d only fixed her door; she didn’t need to regard me as though I’d slain a dragon.
“I’m Edward. Edward…Cullen.” I’d nearly said Masen.
“Here,” I held out the cup for her to take. “Thank you for the tea. I really have to be going now.”
Without waiting for a response, I stepped away from the open door and kept walking.
I heard her walk to the doorway and call out a goodbye, but didn’t turn my head. As soon as the door closed I retrieved the supplies I’d purchased for my own repair job from where I’d left them by the picket fence. I wondered idly who’d stolen the Kendalls’ Christmas gifts. It seemed a particularly churlish thing to do. They obviously weren’t well off, just a modest middle class family. It must have been a crime of opportunity, not forethought.
The streets of Ashland were getting busy with people hurrying home from work or shopping. Some were darting out to buy last minute gifts from stores that stayed open late. For a season that supposedly promoted peace on earth and good will towards men there was a remarkable amount of ill temper and anxiety. I gritted my teeth and endured the swirling mass of thoughts and scents until I could take it no more.
Darting down a less busy side street, I decided to cut through the poor part of town and rejoin the road leading back to the cottage on the outskirts of Ashland. I'd have to cut through a field or two when I reached the end of town, but it was worth it. I could still hear the thoughts of people in the dingy apartment buildings, but they were muted by distance.
It was the faint scent of lavender that caught my attention first. A basement apartment window had been left open a crack to let air in. That was the source of the smell. It was the same aroma from the broken bottle on Mrs. Kendall’s floor.
I turned to stare at the dirty grey steps leading down to the basement apartment. The thoughts of its occupant clinched it. I’d found the thief.
To Be Continued...