6. C. C.

I had always disliked San Francisco. Alice loved coming down here to shop, and she made the trip as often as was feasible. For me, San Francisco brought back too many memories of the noisy filth that had been downtown Chicago at the turn of the century. I loved my hometown, but there was no questioning that its aesthetic had improved greatly over the last century.

Perhaps the problem was the topography. San Francisco, with its hills, cradled the rolling fog as though it were dear; in Illinois, weather moved in and out across the flatness that was the city and Lake Michigan. In Chicago, were it not for the buildings, one could see to the horizons.

Here, I could be snuck up on.

And of course, there was the night thing. Northern California was having an unusually warm and sunny winter so far, which meant that I was barred from moving around outdoors in the daytime. It was infuriating, skulking around in the dark like some kind of beast.

The thought brought forth a hard laugh. A beast. Wasn’t that exactly why I was here? A beast was what I was, why I was unsafe for my love. And still I hadn’t managed to embrace that destiny. A month in Ithaca, a month on the run, and there was still some stupid part of me hoping that I could figure out some way to be with her. I cursed myself. I was not going back. I would reject both of my sister’s visions. “The only thing he’s not strong enough to do is stay away from her,” Alice had said. “That’s a lost cause.”

I would show them all.

How in the—no, that can’t be his car. Bet the owner will beat the shit out of that kid when he realizes that some high schooler has been touching his ride.

My head snapped up. A man was walking past me, regarding me suspiciously. I thought briefly about making an obscene gesture at him, but decided I didn’t need to draw further attention to myself. The car was noticeable enough. And no one would be beating anything out of me over it.

I’d rented an unassuming Toyota to make the trip across the Olympic Peninsula, but I’d stopped at the Porsche dealership in Tacoma on my return trip south. Camrys were great cars for humans, but at a top speed of about 110, it wasn’t going to cut it for my needs. Not to mention the rental had an automatic transmission—the worst invention in automobile history. It was right up there with seat belts on the list of things that annoyed me about modern cars.

On the other hand, the six-cylinder engine had been a rather nice development.

Running my hand appreciatively across the hood of the black 987 Boxster, I thought back to its procurement and the days that preceded it. As much as I knew it would pain me, and as much as I didn’t want to, I knew it would be next to impossible to pick up Victoria’s trail anywhere other than where I knew it to have last been. So I had begun in Forks.

Leaving the airport, it had taken me two hours to get clear of Seattle and onto the 101, where I could actually floor the little sedan and speed back across the Olympic Peninsula. I blazed past Port Angeles, my memory of that terrifying and glorious night resurfacing at once. To be known as I really was, to have the woman who now unwittingly held my heart look me in the eye and say, “It doesn’t matter.” Liberating. Exhilarating. Her openness that night as she had sat beside me here as we sped down this same road had been incredible. To think that she could feel for me even a fraction of what I felt for her was nothing short of miraculous.

And then it had all shattered, just like the plates that had tumbled off the table in our living room.

The memory of Bella’s party brought a snarl to my lips, spurring me onward. I would make this right. Bella would be safe. She would not love a monster. And no other monsters would come after her as long as she lived.

I was happy that the house was north of town. I didn’t need to see the preparations for Christmas that would undoubtedly be taking place in the town center: the smattering of restaurants each adorned with twinkle lights, the huge “Happy Holidays” banner that always went up on November 1 across the main drag. The goal of destroying Victoria gave me focus, now, drive that I did not have a month ago, but anything approaching cheer certainly still eluded me. Christmas was not something I could bear.

The drive was already beginning to become obscured by the growing underbrush which was happily reclaiming the land for itself now that cars no longer zipped in and out on a daily basis. Pulling up to the house, I shot a glance at the garage, giving brief consideration to ditching the Toyota for my Vanquish. The cars had not yet been shipped out to Ithaca, as we were waiting to find a place to house the collection. That would no doubt become priority number one when Rosalie returned, but with me out of commission and her out of the country, no one else was particular enough about the cars to request them moved from Washington.

It would be nice, to jump behind its wheel, spin through town, perhaps over to the high school…

“No, Edward,” I growled at myself, sounding every bit like someone chastising a rambunctious puppy. If I saw her, if she saw me, this would be for nothing. If I laid eyes on her I would never leave. And if she laid eyes on me, she would never heal. I had promised her. It will be as if I never existed. For her sake, I couldn’t check up on her.

At least not in person.

The thought hit me quickly, and I bounded into the house. It was exactly as we had left it, save the few spots on the wall uncovered by the paintings that Carlisle had taken with him. The rugs, the furniture, my piano were all still in place. I took only a second to appraise the entryway, however, before I raced up the stairs into Carlisle’s study.

“Come on,” I urged his computer as I sat waiting for it to boot. An agonizing half-minute later, I was finally greeted with the login prompt.

ccullen, I typed. I would need administrator privileges for what I was about to do. Carlisle’s password was happyguard, which I’d never really understood. Once he had started to tell me that the Old English for those words had some sort of double meaning, but then had digressed into a dry lecture on English historical linguistics that I’d tuned out.

Once logged in, I opened up a connection to the Forks High School main system. I wasn’t terrifically skilled in hacking, but we all knew how to get in to the attendance module. Every now and again it became necessary to add a day or two of attendance for each of us if there had been too many sunny days in any given quarter.

The prompt blinked at me. Check attendance record for student:

SWAN ISABELLA, I typed, and waited for the page to load. When it did, I breathed a sigh of relief. Her attendance was perfect for the month of November, as well as for October. She was marked present for school today. Then I scrolled up and caught a series of red marks on the calendar. For September, there was an eight-day absence, starting on the sixteenth. The day after our conversation in the woods.

I felt sick.

I ran my fingers across the red strike marks, as though some essence of Bella’s pain would be communicated to me through the screen. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, and the pain inside reared up, delighted that I might allow it to claim me once more.

Clenching my fists, I chanted slowly, “Victoria. Victoria.” I had to regain control of myself. Victoria was why I was here, not Bella. But I had to get out of here before I forgot that. Closing the window in which I ran the connection to the high school, I opened a web browser. I needed some way of keeping tabs on Victoria.

The question was answered for me by Carlisle’s homepage, on which he aggregated news feeds from several major dailies. Google News Alerts. Give them a search phrase, and they would e-mail relevant news. I just had to activate my phone for e-mail, and then I’d be set. I could get updates anywhere.

There were times when I loved the twenty-first century.

I typed in murder. No, that would be too broad. I didn’t need my phone ringing for every murder in the United States. Maul, yes, that was better. Maul OR mauling OR mauled, I typed.

Send to?

Oh, right. That was a problem. I had given Carlisle my internet passwords, exchange for the fact that he could never keep any of his from me. If he and Esme thought to look at my e-mail and saw all the news reports, they would worry. That was unnecessary. I quickly opened another window and signed up for a new e-mail account.

ProtectBella. An address that would keep me focused. Switching back, I signed up to receive alerts at the new address, and set up my phone to receive the e-mail alerts through its web browser.

Then I shut down the computer and headed for our baseball field.

I spent several weeks in Seattle.

Victoria’s trail leading away from Forks had been surprisingly strong for being so old. I followed it across Olympic National Park to the sound, where it had disappeared. I’d swum across the sound first to Whidbey Island and then on to the northern suburbs of Seattle, both to no avail. But when I’d finally returned several days later to where I’d left the rental car in Forks, my phone had registered with an update. There had been a mauling in Seattle, of all places. It had happened in the middle of low-income housing, and they were blaming it on pit bulls.

Even with its suboptimal speed, the Toyota got me back to Seattle in a little more than two hours. I found the scene easily enough. I parked the Toyota at the end of the block and walked back.

The alley was dark; only the dimmest orange glow of streetlights penetrated it on either side, and then only a few feet. Two dumpsters loomed in the dark, and the body had lain between them. I crouched down in the trash that was strewn between the dumpsters, and my shoes stuck in the sludge formed by the detritus. Rotting pizza, stale beer, cigarette butts, empty soda bottles.

And not a hint of Victoria.

Frustrated, I unthinkingly threw a punch at the dumpster, which clanged loudly as it gave way to my fist. The noise caught the attention of someone walking by on the other side of the street, and I shook my wrist as though I were in pain. The stranger quickly looked away, leaving me to my private anger.

I leaned up against the dumpster, letting the smell of the fetid trash bathe me as I thought.

If Victoria was not here, then who had been? We hadn’t seen any nomads in our area in months. And certainly if someone were coming our way, they would come all the way to us—a coven the size of ours did not generally escape notice. And how had we missed this vampire who was loose in Seattle, when Carlisle kept such careful watch on the local news? And if it was a vampire, then why had the body been left for the police to find?

Roaming the streets around the site, I listened for anything which might help me locate the beast, but I heard and saw little as I walked among the dilapidated apartment buildings. Many were boarded up; those that weren’t had doors covered in graffiti.

Imma whoop him when he gets home…

Seahawks had best not lose…

This car is a piece of junk

Then finally I caught it. Someone was remembering the strange young man they had seen last evening. Black eyes. No, must have been brown, it was just too dark to see. But usually a blond don’t have eyes that dark…

And then I got a picture. A young man, turned when he was not much older than I had been. Blond, with blackened eyes that would by now assuredly be crimson. His skin was a pale, hard white; I could recognize him for what he was even in the dim memory of the woman who’d seen him roaming these streets. She had thought he’d looked menacing, and as there weren’t very many whites in this neighborhood, she had taken notice of him just in case she needed to report him to the police.

Now that I thought on it, I probably looked pretty out-of-place here, too. Returning to the dumpsters, I tried very hard to differentiate the scents. Moldy soda, urine, flat beer, stale cigarettes—a bit of the cloy of human blood, which reminded me that it wouldn’t hurt me to hunt sometime soon. And then I finally caught it—faint, washed away by the rain and fog that were ubiquitous in Seattle, but still nonetheless present: the stinging sweetness of venom; the scent of another of my kind. There was a second vampire loose in Seattle.

It was this creature that I chased now in the streets of San Francisco. He had come south after killing two more in Seattle, both which I had been unable to sense in time. My rational mind kept screaming that this was not Victoria, that finding this vampire was useless. And yet some part of me urged me onward, to find this creature who was wreaking havoc on these cities in hopes that he might have something to tell me about the whereabouts of my intended victim. But so far he had eluded me. His patterns confused me: on the one hand, he seemed like a bloodthirsty newborn, more often than not leaving his victims unattended for the police to find. On the other hand, he was ducking my trail at every turn like a decades-old vampire. I was perplexed.

Alone and with no good leads, I found myself simply leaning against my new Porsche in the darkness, trying to formulate a new strategy.

He looks distressed. I lifted my eyes to see a woman, maybe in her mid-twenties, moving towards me. She looked concerned. As I caught her gaze though, her thoughts took a very different turn. Wow, he’s gorgeous. I wonder if I could convince him to go for a drink? If he’s even that old…

Right. It was time to leave. I leapt into the Porsche, gunning its engine and speeding off in no direction in particular. I drove for a good twenty minutes until I was well clear of the city. Then I pulled into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant and pressed my forehead to the steering wheel. Under the florescent lights my arms shone pure white, the sight filling me with disgust and shame.

I was nowhere. Over a month of tracking and my only lead was a vampire who likely had nothing to do with Victoria, and I was chasing him over eight hundred miles away from the place either of them might do harm to Bella. It was like a game of chess, where my men were getting seized so quickly I could formulate no continuous strategy, and the board became so empty that any moves I made to advance on the other player were completely ineffectual.

Go back, a part of my mind answered. Go back. If Victoria attacks Bella, you’ll be there to protect her. Go back! Eight hundred miles, you fool! Mere hours! Drive! Go!

The warmth that flushed through my body at that thought was delicious. I could go back. I would beg Bella’s forgiveness, tell her how poorly I was managing without her, and be at her side to protect her. I could absolutely do that.

But my own voice came to me, surprisingly sharp and clear for being only a memory: I’ll make you a promise in return. I promise that this will be the last time you see me. I won’t come back…I won’t come back…I won’t come back…

The frustrated growl that escaped me quickly became a whimper. I had promised her. No more interference, for her sake. It was the best possible thing I could do for her. She would learn to live without me, and I would eke by until the day that she lived no longer.

And then we would trulybe separated, for she would go to a place barred to me forever.

Dizzying pain shot through my body at the thought. I knew what I would do when that awful day came. But, soulless demon as I was, would even that provide the relief I sought? Was it possible that this pain might continue to emanate from my ashes?

I clenched my fists, feeling the steering wheel give a little beneath them. Whoops. Pulling my hands back, I stared into the night. What did I do now? My strength was fading. I could feel myself begin to slip back into that sorry creature that had balled himself up next to the radiator in Ithaca. Then another voice came to me; not my own this time, this one bell-like and beautiful. I’m here for you whatever you do.

Alice. I could call Alice for help. She could tell me about where Victoria was headed. If I told her I couldn’t bear to speak to Esme and Carlisle, she would understand.

With one hand, I grabbed my knapsack from its resting place on the floorboard of the passenger seat. I unzipped it and began to rifle through the few changes of clothing to the bottom. My fingers finally closed around something firm—but not plastic. What was this? I removed my hand slowly. My hand was clenched around a small black book with a leather cover and a tie that wrapped around it to keep it closed. Tooled carefully into the leather of the front cover were the initials C. C.

Mystified, I turned the little book over and over in my hands. It couldn’t be. Carlisle kept a journal? He had never told me, and I had never heard him think about it. But then, I did tune him out when he was in his study, so as to not be inundated with the stultifying content of the medical research he tended to read for leisure. It seemed he used that alone time for other pursuits as well. Curious,I untied the book and flipped quickly through its pages. Sure enough, every leaf was covered in my father’s miniscule and flawless script. His scent saturated the pages, and I inhaled it, feeling calmed.

Why had he given this to me, I wondered. He had offered to pack my bag, seeing as I was wearing his clothing anyway, and he must have slipped this in among the shirts and pants he’d put in for me. Was this for sentimental reasons? Did he intend for me to read it? I looked more closely at the pages. Every date I could see ended in the year 1921.

The year Esme joined us.

The year Carlisle found his mate.

I knew immediately that Carlisle had fully intended me to read this. Nervous, I turned to the little book’s first page. I knew Carlisle’s every thought; I knew him better than Esme did. Sometimes I felt I knew him better than he knew himself, objective observer as I was able to be. Yet he rarely spoke about himself, preferring to couch his observations about our family in the plural as though he were like the rest of us, forever darkened by heinous misdeeds, instead of the blameless, pure man he actually was. Now I knew the truth—he talked to himself about himself. How very like Carlisle.

I opened the book to its first page.

9 January 1921

Thus I begin a new volume, though the old will remain unfinished. My life seems to have started over for a third time, and again I find myself questioning what to expect from this next chapter. I am lying to myself if I say I am certain there is good reason that Esme Platt lies here in my bed under the fire of my venom. There was no Elizabeth Masen at my side in the morgue two days ago to request my terrible action; and even if there had been, I told myself three years ago that I only needed a companion. In the singular person. And that companion is downstairs right now, playing—what, I don’t recognize. His own composition; it is new. And so sad!

I am complete in Edward. He is all I could have hoped for in a companion, friend, and if I might dare say it, son. (He described himself as such last week—I find I cannot get over the thrill of hearing that word on his lips, though I myself still struggle to use it aloud.) The joy he brings me is pure and though I know my base actions of the past days have caused him to doubt this, the happiness I share with him is enough for me.And still, the pull of this woman was unbearable. I have only an inkling of what brought her to that cliff, but whether she will accept me as replacement for the family she has lost is yet to be seen. Even more troubling is what she might be to me: a friend? A sister? A daughter? (A mate? That word I can barely force out of this pen.)I have whispered my apologies to her for two days now, but I cannot help but feel that this will never be enough. I know that she will grieve as did Edward, for her life, for the child I know she lost, for the husband I can only assume never returned from Europe. Will she come to know us as her family in their stead?

Then there was Edward’s face when I brought her home! Fury. Disgust. Disappointment. I cannot blame him for these feelings. In changing Miss Platt (Should I call her Mrs. Evenson? Dare I call her Esme?), I acted not on my human instincts, but on that which forms the darker part of me. Once she was so uninhibited that she eschewed the propriety befitting a lady her age in favor of climbing trees. Yet somehow that lively young woman I knew became the broken body brought to me in the morgue two days ago. To allow that joyous girl a chance to resurface might have been a noble reason to do what I have done.

But I can give no such reason. For in the end it was not Dr. Cullen who brought this woman into our dark otherworld. It was Carlisle, the vampire, the beast who lurks beneath all that I do, whose desires I am so skilled at silencing I can fool even myself into complacency. It is for allowing that creature to surface that I am most ashamed, for it is not this monster in which Edward has laid his trust.

I have betrayed my beloved son.

I have damned an innocent woman.

May God have mercy on me.

—C. C.

My hands shook as I read and reread the last triplet. Betrayed…damned…my lips moved as my eyes traced these lines again and again. Carlisle was unshakeable in his belief that the God in which he believed was looking out for us just as well as for the humans. He believed we still had souls. Had all that talk been for show? Was he merely trying to placate me, or absolve himself of turning me?

Searching back up a paragraph, my eyes next fell on the words my father had used to describe himself. Beast. Creature. Monster. Never had I heard such words cross his lips, except in assuring me that I was none of these things. He was the one who steadfastly held that we still retained our humanity, that it was our duty to ourselves to cling to the things that we held in common with those who were supposed to be our food source. But everything in this entry seemed to indicate that he did not believe this true of himself. Was that even possible? Carlisle, who had never taken a human life, and at whose hands hundreds and probably thousands who otherwise would have lost their lives had been saved—Carlisle believed himself a beast in need of redemption?

I took a deep breath trying to steady the flow of emotion that had flooded my core, and I tried to calm myself by isolating my emotions as Carlisle had taught me long ago. Anger was there—anger that Carlisle had never told me how he felt about turning Esme, not even in the face of my disappointment in him. Hurt—that he hadn’t shared this with me earlier. Sadness—that he felt that way about himself when I knew his compassion to be pure.

And above all, I felt myself quickly becoming consumed by a mind-numbing fear. Because if Carlisle was a monster, then what exactly did that make me?

Chapter Notes

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