13. Missed

The light from Tanya’s immense fireplace danced across the walls of the living room, and I watched intently as the flames raced their way up and down the already charred logs. Warmth. It was unnecessary in the strictest sense, as the cold wasn’t uncomfortable for any of us, but it felt good nonetheless to simply sink into the wide leather chair and bask in the radiating heat.

I was alone in the massive house for the first time since our arrival. Like our family, Tanya and her sisters had managed over the centuries to amass a great deal of wealth, and the house they lived in now had once been a ski lodge built to accommodate almost thirty. Even I had to admit the space was refreshing. As beautiful as the Ithaca house had turned out after Esme’s careful work, there was no denying that it was still very small, especially after our home in Forks. Ground had not yet been broken on Rosalie and Emmett’s new home, and six of us living in such a tight space had been making for some very tense moments. Even Alice had been testier than usual—she and Rosalie had gotten into some sort of tiff about whose car got parked where and had wound up not speaking for several days.

Here there was room enough for all of us to spread out, even nearly doubled in number as we were. But it was nevertheless nice to have everyone out of the house for a little while. Irina had not been present when we’d arrived, and Tanya informed us she didn’t expect her back for some time. It had something to do with Laurent, the member of James’s coven we’d sent north to them, but I didn’t discover exactly what she was up to. It would not have surprised me if he had given up the lifestyle, however. It wasn’t easy to convert—Jasper was proof of that.

The remainder of both families had managed to be out of the house at once this afternoon. As it was an overcast day, Kate had taken Emmett and Jasper up to one of the most difficult ski slopes in the area. A hunting trip had consumed Carmen and Eleazar. Tanya and Rosalie had disappeared into town to get the parts necessary for Rosalie to tweak the engine on Tanya’s Land Rover, and they had taken Alice and Esme and with them. The latter two had gone under the pretense of shopping for handicrafts, but I suspected it was primarily an opportunity for them all to get out of my earshot.

I couldn’t blame them. I had not been easy to be around of late.

Tony’s funeral had been held a week after his passing, on a rare brilliantly sunny day in Ithaca. I had been forced to spend the day in my study instead, clearing out the scores of medical journals I’d accumulated over the last months in my frantic attempt to fight Tony’s disease. I sent a small arrangement of sunflowers and tiger lilies to the funeral home–an appropriate display to express a doctor’s sympathy, but one which was beyond inadequate to convey my true sorrow. Esme sat in the study with me all day, simply watching as I performed my own private ritual of grief. When I finished sorting the journals, she silently helped me load the boxes into her pickup, and we took them to the recycling center together at dusk.

Almost three weeks later I was still just barely going through the motions. I smiled at my patients and offered my counseling and guidance; I dutifully assisted Esme with the final touches on our bedroom; I washed small loads of laundry every other day, more often than needed.

I fooled no one.

So when the chief of surgery had suggested I take some time off, and Esme had added that it would be nice to come up to see Tanya, I had agreed to the trip. My family seemed perfectly contented to give me a wide berth, and so I’d spent a great deal of time exactly where I was now: curled up in the overstuffed chair and staring into the fire. Occasionally I would read from a century-old copy of War and Peace I’d plucked from Tanya’s library, but most often I simply sat before the fire, stoking it and nurturing its flames as needed and then watching idly as it consumed log after log.

Edward was in Brazil. Alice had seen his call while he was still in the air over the Atlantic Ocean. I had wanted to simply sit by the phone for a day or two until I heard from him, but Alice had suggested that perhaps it was wise that she take a turn trying to convince Edward to veer from his course. I had reluctantly agreed, but my mind had been at home the entire time I was in surgery. I came home that night to find that she’d been completely unsuccessful.

I stared at the hearth in front of me, which was covered with a thick bearskin rug from one of the Denali clan’s many fruitful hunts. I could nearly imagine my son there, lying on his stomach in front of the fire, paging through an old favorite from Tanya’s library, perhaps Homer. We would have a near-silent conversation: I would think, and he would answer me in his low whisper, occasionally ribbing me about the happiness I exuded with him nearby.

Closing my eyes, I forced myself to relax into the chair. Enough, I told myself. Edward was safe, and that was what mattered.

“Carlisle.”

Even if I hadn’t been able to recognize her voice, I would always recognize my name when spoken by Tanya. Although nearly all traces of her native tongue were centuries erased from her speech, the after-effect of ages in Russia meant that Tanya was the only person to accent my name on the second syllable instead of the first. Twisting in the chair to face her, I answered.

“That was fast.”

She shook her head, frowning. “We’ve been gone for nearly five hours.” Dropping gracefully to the wide ottoman in front of the chair, Tanya crossed her legs in front of her out of habit. Her eyes raked over me as she took in my entire appearance: my jeans and bare feet, my worn sweater, my slouched posture, the Tolstoy abandoned on the side table. She heaved a sigh.

“What?”

“I’ve never seen you like this,” she said quietly. “Even in those years we all lived together, when I saw you every day—nothing like this.”

“You’ve just never seen me on vacation.”

She laughed a hard laugh. “You’re confusing vacation with depression, if I’m not mistaken.” Giving me a sad smile, Tanya put one hand over my bare foot and began to massage it gently.

“Tanya—” I protested.

“Oh, calm down,” she said. “I’m just rubbing your feet. A gesture of comfort from a friend. Really, I go after Edward once, and for the rest of eternity you worry I’m trying to find a way into all of your—”

“It was more than once,” I answered, cutting her off before she could go any further. She simply laughed, pressing her fingers into the soles of my feet a little more insistently, and I let her. This was Tanya’s way of being with me, I knew. She and her sisters tended to approach men as though we all required seduction, even if they had no intention of bedding the man in question. Her everyday mannerisms were flirtatious. Strictly speaking, my muscles never reached the kind of overworked states that caused humans’ to require massages, but Tanya’s ministrations were pleasant nonetheless. After two centuries of solitude, being touched had been one of the things that had taken me longest to get used to. Something like a foot massage still tended to catch me very off guard.

She continued the massage for several minutes. The room was quiet except for the crackling of the fire and Tanya’s gentle hum. “I have to admit,” she added a moment later, not looking up, “I’m a little surprised you didn’t haul our new Romeo up here. Although I’m sure I’m not very high on the list of people he wants to see right now.”

I let out a little laugh, recalling the way Edward’s brow had furrowed when I had suggested five months ago that he might want to come to Denali.

“He’s an adult,” I sighed, closing my eyes. “I have to treat him like one.”

At this Tanya threw her head back and laughed. “My foot you’re treating him like an adult!”

My eyes snapped open and I stared at her. “I’m sorry?”

“You have been standing by and watching for half a year while Edward throws what amounts to a temper tantrum. That’s what you do with a two-year-old, Carlisle.”

I sat up, jerking my feet from under her hands and placing them on the floor. She shifted her own posture, straightening herself on the ottoman so that she could meet my eyes. A smile spread across her face as she regarded me.

“You’re angry.” She sounded as though this were the most fascinating thing in the world.

Angry? I stopped to assess myself. Frustrated, yes. Sad? Absolutely. But angry? It was not an emotion I felt often. Although I had few memories of my human life, as far as I could remember I had not been very easily angered then, and now my tendency toward peacefulness had been amplified a hundredfold.

“I am not angry,” I answered cautiously.

“Yes, you are.” She looked absolutely delighted. “Carlisle, I criticized your handling of this situation, and you look like you’re about ready to strangle me.” She patted my knee. “It’s all right. Normal people get upset when they’re criticized. You’re allowed.”

“Well, how exactly did you expect me to respond?” I asked, and discovered Tanya was right. There was an edge to my voice I wasn’t used to hearing. “‘Hauling him back up here’ would be treating him as a child. Of that I am absolutely certain.”

She laughed again. “It’s not easy to lead, is it?”

Her question gave me pause. I did not customarily think it a burden to be the head of our family. In fact, it was a post which, on the whole, brought me great joy. And unlike Tanya, I had not been thrust into the position—I had chosen Edward, then Esme, and then Rosalie, and then Rosalie had chosen Emmett. It was my venom that ran in all their veins, and I felt it my responsibility to continue to care for and provide for them as best I knew how. But it certainly wasn’t easy. My mind traveled back over the last several months. Edward, nearly catatonic on the couch when I came home from the hospital that fateful morning. Esme’s shocked expression as I prepared to attack her; her look of wounded anger when I’d brought up that morning again just a month ago. Rosalie’s dark eyes the night she came back from Europe; her pointed jabs as she lobbed accusations at me. Jasper’s concern for my loneliness. Alice’s quiet consolation in the car. Emmett’s hug. And still here I sat, preferring the quiet to the company of my immediate and extended family.

“No,” I answered Tanya finally. “It’s not easy.”

She gave me another sad smile. For a moment there was silence between us as I studied my friend. Tanya had landed herself as head of the Denali sisters when their mother had been destroyed by the Volturi centuries before. A woman of natural internal strength, a quality that had been only intensified when she became a vampire, she had been the one to whom the other two had turned in their grief.

I had never before gotten even an inkling that she felt the position was burdensome. But of course it would be. To become the leader of your family precisely because you had lost the woman who had created and loved all of you—it was more than a small load to bear.

“What would you have done?” I asked, my voice quieter than I had intended.

Tanya appeared to be studying my knee. “It’s hard to say,” she answered after a moment of thought. “I don’t have children.”

“Edward isn’t a child.” Wasn’t that what we had just been arguing?

“No, of course not. But he’s your child. And all of this? This is new to him. He needed your guidance. He needs your guidance. You and your mate have been together almost a century. He’s been with–” she paused and raised her eyebrows.

“Bella,” I supplied.

“He’s been with Bella for less than a year. You know Edward. He sees everything in black and white. He’s not going to think about the ripple effect of a decision—it’s either right or wrong. Having a mate is more complicated than that, and you know it.”

“Bella is his girlfriend,” I answered meekly.

At this, Tanya threw her head back and really laughed. “Oh, Carlisle. Sometimes I forget just how young you are. For a man with so much intuition and compassion, you can be so unbelievably thick when it comes to relationships.

“Tanya, I’ve been married for almost eighty-five years.”

She laughed again. “Three words. Edward and Rosalie? It’s a miracle neither of them ripped your head off for that stunt.”

I winced. Those had been the tensest two years of my entire life. Esme had actually removed all the doors in the house at one point because between the two of them they were getting slammed and broken several times a day. She still tended to design her remodels with very open floor plans, which I couldn’t help but think was a preemptive strike against a repeat of the early nineteen-thirties. And of course both of them had been furious with me, to boot. It was why I had immediately gone back on my word not to turn another human when Rosalie had shown up carrying Emmett’s broken body. I had prayed he would be a deliverance, and he was. For all of us.

“I wish I had known you before you met Esme. That had to be a sight to behold–you actually falling in love.” Tanya smiled, squeezing my knee. “Of course Bella is Edward’s mate. If anyone knows the difference between a lover and a partner, it’s me. Trust me, I am not at all thrilled to concede that Edward has found a mate, but he clearly has. And with a mate comes responsibility, even if she isn’t a vampire. He needs you to show him the way, not bend to his will. You would never leave Esme, no matter what.”

“I could never leave Esme.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” a voice piped up from behind me. I twisted in the chair to see Esme approaching us, a small smile playing on her lips. She came over to the chair and stood behind me, running her fingers through my hair. “I’m glad to know I’m not in any danger of you ending up in Brazil.”

“Hey,” I greeted her, and she smiled.

“Hey, yourself.” Bending over, she put her arms around my neck and kissed my jawbone. “Did you enjoy your afternoon alone?”

That was debatable, of course. I recalled the image that I had produced of Edward lying on the bearskin rug, and a knot formed in my throat.

“It was fine,” I managed, and Esme kissed my jaw again, burying her nose in my hair.

“Alice had an idea,” she whispered.

“What?”

“She thinks we should go hunting for a few days. Just the two of us. So that we can regroup.” She pulled her arms from my neck and came to the front of the chair, perching herself on the other side of the ottoman from Tanya. “And you need to hunt, sweetheart. Your eyes are so dark I almost don’t recognize you.”

I raised my eyebrows. It figured. Alice was always the one to suggest things like this. Tanya removed her hand from my knee and it was quickly replaced by Esme’s. She gave me a gentle smile, and I was reminded of the moment months ago when we’d danced in the wreckage of the kitchen remodel. There would be no Beatles out on the glaciers, but perhaps we could still find some time to do some dancing.

A single, joyous round of applause broke out from some distant corner of the house and Alice appeared in the living room seconds later.

“You’re going to go! I told you he’d agree. He’s brooding, but he’s not actually Edward. He knows to take you up on something that will make him happy.”

I frowned. “Thank you, Alice, for that relatively unflattering assessment.”

She giggled and flitted over to the chair to kiss my cheek. “You know what I mean, Carlisle. And you two need this. We won’t bother you. In fact–” her hand flashed out so quickly even I almost missed it “—you won’t need this.” She held up the silver cell phone she had just plucked from my pocket.

“I—” I stood. “What if…I need it?”

She rolled her eyes and promptly answered the question I hadn’t actually asked. “How many times has Edward called in the last five months? Exactly. Twice. It’s time for you to focus on Esme for a little while. Just a couple of days. And you two can do nothing but talk about Edward the whole time if that’s what you want.”

“I wouldn’t,” a second voice piped up from the doorway. The mingled scents of grease and burned motor oil caught my nose as my other daughter entered the room. Rosalie frowned as I turned to face her.

“What good will it do you to talk about Edward? Neither of you is going to do anything about him. You’ll spend three days talking; you’ll come back just as devastated as you both already are, and he’ll still be in Rio.”

I sighed. Rosalie and Emmett had joined us in Denali after their most recent trip in the Canadian Rockies. On our first day together I had overheard her complaining to Emmett about how melancholic I had seemed and how she was surprised I hadn’t yet “gotten over the death of that boy.” I had decided to ignore it and chalk the complaining up to Rosalie’s sometimes convoluted way of expressing concern. I should have expected an outburst was coming.

“And what would you have me do differently, Rose?” I asked her calmly.

She shook her head. “You’re miserable, Carlisle. And because you are, we all are.” Her eyes flickered briefly over to the chair, whose shape had not quite yet recovered from my having sat in it all afternoon. I watched as she took in the abandoned book lying on the side table. Then she met my eyes again and went on.

“This whole family is mourning like Edward died. He didn’t die. He’s in South America! Just go get him!”

“Rosalie,” I began, but she cut me off.

“I know he’s in all this heartsick pain, but for heaven’s sake. You heard Tanya. He needs to grow up.”

“Rose—”

“And you! First you hide from the whole family, then you just fall apart. What good does that do the rest of us? For crying out loud, Carlisle. This is your family. I’m sick and tired of coming home to Emmett moping and Esme crying and you just sitting there.” She was squared to me now, her arms crossed over her chest. In her coveralls and work boots with her hair pulled up and grease streaked down her pale forearms, she didn’t look like the part of the devastating beauty that the rest of the world saw her as. Her eyes flashed with anger as she fixed her gaze on me, and for a moment I recognized again the Rosalie whose rage had once claimed the lives of seven men.

I closed my eyes and I saw again the vision I’d had no less than an hour ago—Edward, lying on the floor here in the living room, laughing, smiling, groaning good-naturedly about my happiness. But if I were honest with myself, I knew that vision was only a Edward who would have lain happily and peacefully on his stomach before the fire was gone, and even if I did retrieve my son from South America, what would I get? The same miserable being who had hidden himself in the corners of the house in Ithaca, his eyes black and circled, his body folded into a ball seemingly for protection, but from what? From me?

My arms recalled Edward’s weight that morning that I had cradled him to my chest. I had tried. I had tried everything to keep Edward with me, to support him, not to lose him one more time. And I had failed. Repeatedly. Now he was on another continent, alone and frightened.

I was worried. No, I was terrified. My son was wasting away emotionally just as surely as Kurt Mason’s son had wasted away physically. And like that, I realized I was done. I had laid down my sword weeks ago, and it had taken until now to realize that I’d done so.

“It’s your family,” Rosalie spat. “Stop talking about Edward. Stop mourning him. Stop obsessing over him. Do something. Go to South America and—”

“I have,” I heard myself say quietly. My hand began to tremble at my side.

Rosalie paused, surprised by my interruption. “What?”

“I have done something. I’ve done many things. So has Esme, and so has Alice, and so has Jasper, and even Emmett. We’ve pleaded with him. We’ve cared for him. We’ve talked to him on the phone. We’ve heaped love and support on him. We’ve asked him to come home. We’ve begged him to come home.”

“But—”

This time it was my turn to cut her off. “And you have done nothing. You have gloated. You have disappeared all over the world. You have complained incessantly while you have been at home. That’s all you’ve done. So, no. This is not my family. This is our family. We make this family. The seven of us. And you are part of it, whether you like it or not.”

The room was absolutely still. Esme, Alice, and Tanya had all stopped breathing. Rosalie’s gaze was dark as ever, and I caught the hint of a sneer forming on her lips. I could hear approaching laughter outside—it was Kate and Jasper and Emmett, coming back. The clicking of the skis accompanied the sound of their footfall, and I heard their conversation—Emmett had apparently taken a spectacular dive off a forty-foot jump that he hadn’t landed quite accurately, and he was refusing to be ribbed about it.

Rosalie and I were still squared off when the front door swung open.

“Hey you al—” Emmett began, but cut himself off immediately when he saw the fire in his wife’s eyes. He went to her side immediately and tried to put an arm around her, but she threw it off and continued to glare at me.

“Carlisle,” she began, “what I meant—”

“I don’t care what you meant.” My voice was dark but even; its tone surprised even me. “What are you waiting for, Rose? My permission? Fine. You have my permission. If you want so badly for someone to do something, why don’t you do it? If you think you can succeed where I’ve—” I swallowed “—where I’ve failed, then by all means do it. Please. It’s not as though I don’t want him back.”

Five heads whipped toward Jasper as the words left my mouth, but he raised both hands, palms upturned, and shook his head slowly.

“Jasper has nothing to do with this.” I told all of them, not taking my eyes from my daughter. “Rosalie, do something, or don’t. It doesn’t matter to me. But stop complaining. I have had more than enough of that.”

Rosalie’s mouth opened as though she was going to say something else, but she closed it again and resumed glaring at me. Her lips had dropped into a thin line, and her eyes were narrowed. As I stood staring at her, a hand ran its way down my forearm and I suddenly found my fingers intertwined with my wife’s. Her lips were at my ear in an instant. “Darling,” she whispered, “that trip you just agreed to?”

I nodded, still staring back at Rosalie. She scowled at both of us. Esme shot her an apologetic expression and gave me a little shove toward the door.

“Perhaps we ought to leave a little early,” she said.

“I think we may have just committed a federal crime.”

“A federal crime?” Although I hadn’t looked down to see her face, I could feel her brow furrowing against my bare chest. “Carlisle, I realize that with Edward and everything else that it hasn’t exactly been frequent lately, but they didn’t change any laws since the last time we—”

“Not that! Heavens, not that.” Laughing, I took her face in my hands and pulled it to my own, our lips melding slowly. When she sighed a moment later and pulled back to lay her cheek against my own, I continued.

“I was referring to the moose. I believe we chased it back into the national park.”

“Oh. That.” My wife giggled. “Yes, I suppose we did.” Lazily, Esme rolled off my chest and back onto the ice at my side. “If I’m not mistaken, our family’s murder record is against us when it comes to federal law. I would wager the moose is the least of our worries.”

We both laughed.

A layer of powder snow a few inches thick had recently fallen on the glacier on which we lay, and the wind whipped it across both our bodies. The sensation was pleasant, like feathers dusting across my chest, shoulders, and face. Esme and I lay in silence for quite some time, my arm over her shoulder and her palm flat on my sternum.

“Sweetheart?” My wife’s voice interrupted my meditation on the snow.

“Mmm?”

“Are you happy?”

“Of course I am.” I stroked Esme’s hair and looked down at her. “Nothing makes me happier than being with you.” Propping myself up on my elbow, I brought my lips to hers again. “In all senses of the word.”

She smiled shyly and gazed up at me. Her eyes were a perfect saffron, the product of several days of catching first small game, then finally a bull moose that we’d cornered together. I was sure mine looked similar, which had to be a vast improvement over the shining onyx I had seen in the mirror just before we’d left.

“I don’t mean right this minute, Carlisle. Overall. Right now, are you happy?”

Of course not, my mind screamed. Under normal circumstances, this trip would be wholly different. I would go hunting with Esme, and then maybe again later in the week with my sons. I would put on my unnecessary ski jacket and snow pants and we would hit the slopes as a family, making sure that Edward and Rosalie never wound up together on the lift. In the evenings I’d sit by the fire, as I was doing now, but I wouldn’t do so alone. I might play chess, or read alongside Edward or Esme or Jasper.

Instead, my family was all but avoiding me, and I had publicly castigated my daughter three days before. Esme had assured me again and again that, while I hadn’t been at my most diplomatic, I had said nothing untoward to Rosalie. Yet, I still felt uneasy and ashamed about our quarrel.

I drew a breath and exhaled it slowly, watching Esme’s pale hand rise and fall on my chest. “No,” I answered.

“I didn’t think so.” Esme sighed, pillowing her head on my shoulder.

“Are you?”

She shook her head almost imperceptibly. We were silent awhile; the only sounds our unnecessary breathing and the wind whistling across the mountainside. I rubbed her shoulders.

“Why is this so difficult?” I muttered.

“I don’t know,” came the whispered reply.

“He’s been gone before. For three years! It’s been five months. How can it possibly be this hard?”

My wife’s voice was quiet. “Carlisle, if I had known how difficult this would be, I never would have suggested that Edward go off for awhile.”

I drew my breath slowly, and exhaled it against her forehead before pressing my lips to the spot my breath had just caressed. “I’m so sorry about that,” I told her. “And I’m more sorry that I didn’t tell you. Jasper was right. I let it eat away at me for months.”

Esme shook her head. “It was wrong of me to even think about it in the first place. It’s like that Bible verse, with the sheep?”

“If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray,” I quoted.

“Yes,” Esme answered. “That’s it.” She curled up even further onto my body. “He’s our one. I was thinking too much about our ninety and nine.”

A short laugh bubbled from my chest, and I kissed her again. It was true, her decision had shocked me. But Esme’s gift to our family was her boundless love—the love that had encompassed first me, then Edward, then each of our children in turn. The love that was now stretching to Bella, even tenuous member of our family as she was. She couldn’t help but to consider them all. I had long since admitted to myself that Edward occupied a very special place in my heart. However, I suspected that each one of us occupied the exact same place in Esme’s: all of it.

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” I whispered. “That shepherd? He wasn’t the mother of the ninety-nine.”

She smiled, recognizing my comment for the forgiveness it was. “Thank you, Carlisle.”

Esme settled back at my side and I stroked her shoulder while I thought. Of course, Edward had gone astray from our flock before. Then I had relied on him to return, and he eventually had. He’d come home defeated, and worse for wear, but he had come home. And that time we had merely waited.

“We didn’t go after him in 1927.”

“No,” Esme agreed. She was silent for a long time, her breath lolling against my neck as she lay quiet. “He was happy,” she said finally. “That’s what’s changed. We watched him for six months be the happiest he’s ever been. And then…”

My wife didn’t finish her sentence, but I knew what she meant. I recalled Edward’s expression that afternoon in my study when he’d come to me to tell me he wanted us to leave. All of the light I had grown used to seeing in his eyes was gone, replaced by regret, pain, stubborn resolve, and most of all, fear.

It was the fear which unsettled me so thoroughly. To have Edward angry—I’d seen that before. To have him be sad and moody—I’d dealt with that for almost ninety years. But the fear—Edward’s fear tore at me, because I had been there once myself. What was finding your mate if not making yourself totally vulnerable and afraid? I had once worried obsessively over the woman who now lay at my side—first that another had hurt her physically, then that I might do so emotionally. I had raged for years at the injustice that humans and the universe had done to her to lead her to that cliff that fateful afternoon, even as I thanked God for providing her to me.

I had gotten through that personal hell because Esme had been at my side, waiting for me every day with open arms. I had grown into an eternal love precisely because I couldn’t run away from it. And yet ninety years later when I had been tapped to teach that same lesson to Edward, I had failed.

Yes, his situation was beyond unusual. Yes, there was an unequivocal threat to Bella through her association with us—both James and Jasper had proven that beyond any doubt, and Alice’s vision of Bella among us was still just as unsettling as it had been a year ago. Was Bella better off without Edward? I hoped this was the case; that some good was coming out of this six months. But not seeing her now, I couldn’t be sure. What I could be sure of was that Edward was barely clinging to life without her. “Of course Bella is Edward’s mate,” I heard Tanya’s voice ring in my head. And if that was true, then there was no way he was going to recover from this in her absence.

“We have to go back,” I heard myself say.

Esme’s head jerked up from my shoulder, startled. “What?”

“Rosalie’s right. We have to do something. If not go back to Bella, then at least get Edward. This has gone on long enough. It’s going to destroy him. I can’t—” I gulped. “He was first. I can’t lose him. Not again.”

The smile that spread across my wife’s face could have made up for every cloud whose cover we lay beneath. She leapt to her feet, yanked me to her in a hug that constricted my lungs, and pressed her lips to mine in a searing kiss.

“Let’s go back to the house,” she said when we separated. “We can start talking this over with everyone. Make some decisions.”

I nodded and within seconds we had both shrugged our way back into our scattered clothing and I found myself being tugged at full speed down the mountain.

It was dark by the time we’d traveled the distance between the park and Tanya’s home to the north. I saw the house in the distance when we were still several miles away. The fire had long since smoldered out—no smoke was winding its way from the chimney. I smiled. Without me sitting there and stoking it every hour, of course it had burned itself out. That was probably a good thing.

Esme and I approached arm-in-arm. The house seemed dark; I could see only a single lamp shining in the main living space. That wasn’t unusual, however—although our family had habituated to turning on lights when we entered a room so that we would do so as naturally as the humans we interacted with, they weren’t strictly necessary.

It took a long time to hear the sounds of the house as we approached, and this confused me for several minutes as we continued our journey homeward. For a fleeting second I considered whether I had simply forgotten my own hearing range. It wasn’t until we were within several hundred yards of the house that I realized the quiet was due to there being no sounds to hear—the house was as silent as it was dark.

“Something’s wrong,” I muttered, and Esme’s concerned expression told me she had already come to the same conclusion. We covered the ground to the front door in seconds. Now I could hear clearly the only sound from the house—a choking breathing coming from the living room.

All my anxiety dissipated the second I opened the door, and I saw Esme’s shoulders relax. Both of us swung our eyes immediately to Jasper, who stood against a wall and was staring intently back at us, his arms crossed over his chest. Kate sat in my usual chair, staring concernedly over to the couch. On the couch, Emmett and Tanya flanked a trembling Rosalie. Her morose face was thrown into relief by the eerie shadows cast by the table lamp whose light I had seen from outside. I realized immediately that it was Rosalie’s tremulous breathing I’d heard from the front of the house.

Rosalie was crying?

“Rose? What’s wrong?” I asked gently and began to approach, but Emmett threw up a hand to stop my forward motion and shook his head.

“She just wanted him to come home, Carlisle,” he said quietly. “Hell, none of us could have predicted—” He stopped and shook his head. “We just found out an hour ago.”

“Less,” said Jasper, his teeth clenched.

“Found out what, exactly?” I asked. Despite Jasper’s efforts, I realized that Esme’s hand was clenched around my upper arm, her fingers digging into my bicep. It was then I fully took notice that Jasper was standing alone.

“Where’s Alice?”

Jasper reached over to the end table and plucked something off it too quickly for me to see what it was. He lobbed it at me, and I caught it instinctively before I opened my hand to see my phone. “She turned it to silent right when you left, and then she left in such a rush that she forgot to tell us to turn it back on.” He swallowed. “No one saw it ring, Carlisle. I’m so sorry.”

My eyes were still on Jasper, Emmett, Rosalie and Tanya as my hand flipped open the phone.

1 Missed Call

Puzzled, I again met Jasper’s eyes.

Jasper gestured to the chair not occupied by Kate, and for a second I saw a glimpse of the resolute soldier in the authoritative gaze he swept over me and my wife.

“Sit down, both of you,” he ordered, his voice calm but firm. “Something has happened, and we all need to talk.”

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