9. In Giving

The cold wind battered my torso as I rushed into the blackness of the forest. The temperature was somewhere well below freezing, and I had been careful to wear a heavy coat to work the previous evening. Now free from human eyes, I ran shirtless and barefoot across the frozen ground, the wind whipping snow into my face and hair. The rush of light breeze from behind me told me that Esme was close on my heels—she didn’t know where we were headed. I had chosen the spot three nights earlier, in anticipation of the impending dark night. It was over two centuries now that I had immersed myself in this ritual, but only a mere eighty-four years that I had shared it. I still wasn’t quite used to having Esme along with me.

It had been in 1799 that I had stood outside a church in the young state of Massachusetts as the Lutherans within it celebrated the fourth Sunday of Advent. I had lived only ten short years in the New World at that point, and I had begun to find that, despite how at odds I had been with Aro, Marcus, and Caius, I nevertheless missed their companionship. And so I had been caught up short by the sound of the hopeful congregation as they worshipped and celebrated and had done something that had been foreign to me for a nearly a hundred forty years—I had begun to pray.

I passed the whole night there, kneeling in the mud outside the church. The congregation left, and still I stayed in prayer until dawn began to break and I was forced to race through the forest back to my modest home. I prayed for myself, for the people I had known and lost, for the friendship I was already beginning to crave. I prayed for the strength to continue in my chosen profession. I prayed that my prayer would be heard; that the God I’d once worshipped might still love a damned creature as myself.

It had been a long night, almost imperceptibly longer and darker than the one before or the one that followed, and as I had run home I had laughed when I recognized the irony. I had found fit to worship the God in whose name my father had persecuted so many on a holiday that belonged to those he hated: the Pagan Yule. But what more fitting time for a creature of the night to worship than on the longest night of the year?

So it became that I had celebrated Solstice all over the northern United States, in each of the places I had lived, for two hundred six years. The winter of 1918 had found me in worship just feet from the house as I kept a watchful eye over a newborn Edward; in 1921 it had been he who’d kept watch over Esme while I’d gone further away. I called it collecting myself; Edward called it being ridiculous; Esme called it nothing, she simply came along. She did not believe that the God who loved the humans could have mercy on us, too, but she did believe in me.

I slowed my run as I reached the tiny trail I had discovered three days before. It was at the edge of the gorge twenty miles from our home, half a mile from the main trail, leading to a ledge too dangerous for humans to wander onto. Bright yellow signs at the trail’s edge warned of the danger of falling to death over the falls. I sprang from the trail to the ledge obscured by the half-frozen waterfall, then turned to catch Esme as she did the same.

She smiled as she landed in my arms. “That was unnecessary,” she whispered, pressing her head to my chest. She released me a moment later and went to dangle her feet over the ledge, her legs shining white in the pale moonlight.

Folding my legs beneath me, I pressed my bare back against the freezing rock behind me and laid my forearms on my knees. It brought a smile to my face that I, who had once been berated into taking the appropriate posture for prayer, now assumed positions more commonly used by the moors of the East. Beside me I could hear Esme breathing as she sat, and below us the steady trickle of water, the small bit of the thunderous falls that had resisted freezing. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, the scent of ice, of Esme, the cotton of my slacks, the bracken along the rock wall behind me reaching my senses at once as I began to speak.

I could feel Esme’s gaze on me as I recited several psalms of penitence and, between them, offered petitions of my own. Sometimes I prayed aloud, sometimes I prayed silently. I wasn’t conscious of when I was speaking and I didn’t care anyway. I prayed that Edward would return home safely, his soul healed from its hurting; that Rosalie would find some comfort in the Christmas season; that I could provide healing for Tony. I asked for forgiveness for the ways in which I had not supported my family as I ought to have, for the times I had been distant, for the ways in which we all had hurt one another over the past months. I thanked God for the good moments of the year, for Bella, for Edward’s happiness, even for the ways the sadness had brought our family together. I thanked God, as I always did, for providing me with companionship after so long.

It was nearly two hours later that I allowed my voice finally to fall silent. I shifted posture, pulling my knees to my chest and resting my chin atop them. A moment later Esme’s hands slid over my shoulders, clasping together over my chest as she wedged herself behind me. She laid her chin on my bare shoulder, saying nothing as we both stared out over the gorge. The waning moon played over the ice and water below us, its light dancing in erratic patterns as we looked on.

Esme’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Are you going to pray your prayer?” she whispered.

“It isn’t mine,” I muttered. “I learned it so recently.” It was a Catholic prayer of all things, which had made me feel uneasy at first. Old prejudices still not quite erased, I supposed. I had first heard it from a soldier come home from the Great War, who had prayed it on his deathbed in Chicago. It said so many of the things I wished for my own life that I couldn’t help but adopt it, and I had made it part of my Solstice prayers shortly thereafter.

Esme moved to my side, laying her head on my shoulder. “I know it isn’t really yours,” she said quietly. “But I still think of it that way. I’d like to hear it.”

Smiling, I put an arm over her slender shoulders. “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace,” I began quietly. “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

“Amen,” I muttered.

Esme sighed contentedly, her breath tickling my neck. “That one is so beautiful. And it will always mean you, every time that I hear it.” She pressed her lips to my cheek.

I shrugged, staring down at the water below us. The shallower parts of the falls had already frozen, but the deeper parts thundered on, churning the river into a black froth at the bottom of the gorge. To meditate on that prayer was always challenging, but tonight the words seemed to call me to an impossible task. Where there is despair, I repeated to myself silently as I stared into the swirling water. How was I supposed to sow hope when it was I who was in pain? We were four days from Christmas, and still without word from Edward. It had taken me years to recover from Edward’s last disappearance and those years had been filled with anxiety—I had even foolishly tried to mate him off to keep him around.

The thought of Rosalie made my stomach turn with guilt. She and I had developed an uneasy truce after her angry homecoming and we were now speaking, albeit tersely, but she had yet to smile at me in the ten days she’d been home. We gave each other wide berths like a pair of unfriendly housecats. Yet I suspected that we each had our guards up for the same reason: neither of us wanted to admit how much Edward’s absence hurt. So we avoided each other instead.

A rustling noise from beside me signaled that Esme was shifting position. She sat in front of me between my legs, pulling my arms around her like a shawl as the wind whipped through our hair and spattered water from the falls across our bodies. We were quiet for a long time, she every bit as lost in thought as we sat together in the moonlit dark. There were so many things I wanted to say and to worry about, prayers I had yet to offer. But it was Esme who finally broke the silence.

“Are we ever going to see him again?”

I gulped. Had that not been the very center of my prayers this evening? That Edward would successfully hunt Victoria, and once he found her, he would rejoin us and we could begin anew? But as I looked down at Esme, the moonlight glinting off her hair, I knew that it was a hope to which I was clinging irrationally. The son I had once known was never going to be the same after loving Bella, just as I had been permanently changed by the woman who sat now in my arms. For Edward to return to us would mean reconnecting with the pain of leaving Bella—of that much I was certain. As much as I wanted him back at my side, I wasn’t sure I could bear seeing him curled up again next to the radiator. If he wasn’t actively protecting Bella, was he even he capable of an existence beyond the feral being that had huddled at the foot of our staircase? A knot formed in my throat as I let myself acknowledge the truth: unless something else changed, Edward would likely never find the strength to return.

Running my hands through Esme’s hair, I kissed her neck and pulled her closer to me. “I think we will,” I whispered anyway. “When he’s taken care of Victoria.”

Esme sighed softly and closed her eyes. I rested my chin on her head and enjoyed the feeling of her weight against me. And so in the darkness we sat, listening to the rushing water, both fervently trying to believe my lie.

“So everything seems to be healing just fine, and your function is almost normal. I’d like to see you back in three weeks so that we can check on things again. In the meantime, please keep an eye out for rejection symptoms. Fever, pain, fatigue—”

“—basically if it feels like I have the flu I should get my ass in here,” my patient finished for me, smiling.

“Daniel,” his wife chastised him. She shot me a sympathetic look. “Only my husband would be this crass to the man who saved his life.”

I smiled. “Kidney transplant these days is almost routine,” I answered. Something about which I never ceased to be amazed. “It’s not much in the way of a heroic act anymore.”

“Well, doc, you made it so I can piss, so that makes you my hero.”

Daniel’s wife smacked his arm and I laughed.

“It’s been a pleasure treating you, Mr. Spence,” I said. “Take care, please. The scheduler will make your follow-up appointment.”

We shook hands and I exited the exam room, sighing as I looked down the hallway. There were still two other rooms with yellow plastic flags sticking out from the doorjamb—my patients, waiting. This was one thing I truly didn’t enjoy about modern medicine, and one reason I preferred working in surgery rather than as a general practitioner. The speed with which we were expected to dispense patient care was mind-numbing. When I was seeing outpatients, I was often lucky if my appointments were spread a half-hour apart. We sent PAs in to get histories, and then we swooped in with a diagnosis and a pen to sign prescriptions. It was all I could do sometimes to get a full once-over of my patient and make sure I wasn’t missing some other ailment that the patient hadn’t mentioned or noticed. I didn’t know how human doctors did it. Well, actually, that wasn’t true. Human doctors simply made errors. Medicine itself had come a long way from the days I’d made house calls in the middle of the night and conducted examinations by lantern light, but I couldn’t help but feel something had been lost in the process.

I used the computer in the hallway to alert the checkout receptionist that Mr. Spence needed to schedule a follow-up appointment, and then looked at my patient list. My heart lifted when I did so.

13:40–Mason, Anthony the screen read.

Tony had been released from the hospital slightly before Christmas. The count of his cancer cells had been just over the ten percent we would have liked to see, and well above the five percent at which we could declare a remission. But we had sent him home anyway, and he had spent two weeks with his family and friends. We had all pretended it was because his condition was good enough, but everyone knew the unspoken subtext—none of us wanted to deprive him of what might be his last Christmas.

My jaw clenched involuntarily, but then I shook my head, disgusted with myself. I was Tony’s doctor, for Heaven’s sake. Nothing more. If we had to fall back to a protocol that was only pain management, that was what I had to do.

But the idea made me ill.

Taking a deep breath, I headed for the first yellow-flagged exam room and rapped on the door.

“Yo,” came the familiar voice from the other side. I opened the door.

The boy dangling his legs off the exam table actually looked for the first time like a cancer patient. Even without looking at his vitals, I could tell he’d lost another five, maybe seven pounds. He had been on the wiry side to begin with, but now he looked downright thin. His ever-bright eyes were more sunken into his increasingly pallid face. The biggest change, though, was his hair. The dark locks that had made him so boyishly handsome when he’d started treatment were now shorn into a close military cut, undoubtedly to hide the places where his hair was thinning from the chemotherapy.

I forced a smile onto my face. “Hello, Tony.” Acknowledging the dark-haired man who sat in the chair next to the examining table, I added, “Kurt, it’s good to see you again.”

I’d met Tony’s parents on several occasions. Kurt was an architect who usually split his weeks between his firm and apartment in Manhattan and his family in Ithaca, but he’d spent more time at home since Tony’s diagnosis. He and his wife, Anne, had been at the hospital almost constantly. Both were loving, pleasant people who were bravely trying to hide their worry. It was strange how that was something I’d never considered that I might someday have in common with my patients’ families.

“Hey, Dr. C.,” Tony answered, a smile breaking out on his face. “I see the Cancun thing didn’t work out for you.”

I laughed. “That’s right, I’d forgotten about that order.” Before we’d released Tony for Christmas, he’d jokingly told me that I needed a tan and ordered me to go someplace warm for the holidays on his behalf.

Taking a second to glance at the notes made by the PA who had seen Tony first, I saw that his appetite had decreased but that he otherwise was reporting feeling normal for someone undergoing a treatment protocol such as his. All of his vitals looked good, although I had been right about the weight—he was down another six pounds.

“So, how was Christmas?” I asked, putting my fingers at his neck so that I could palpate his lymph nodes. “Look up, please.”

He tilted his chin upward as he answered. “It was pretty good. I got a bunch of cool stuff. You know, to keep me busy when I’m here. A sixty gig iPod, and a DVD player and a Nintendo DS and stuff. My aunt bought me books, though. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.” He rolled his eyes.

“I’ve heard both of those are good,” I offered, gaining instant respect for his aunt. Although if she were really trying to get Tony educated beyond the realm of video games, it would have been better to hand him an anthology of Shakespeare. I thought for a moment. Did I have a modern one at home I could part with?

“Your hands are still cold, Dr. C. Cancun would probably fix that, too.”

I laughed. If only it would. “Sorry. I do my best.” I removed my hands from his neck. Nothing felt swollen, which was good. The leukemia wouldn’t in itself cause that, but often chemo patients got some other opportunistic infection and I was glad to see that was not yet the case. I placed the chest piece of my stethoscope on Tony’s back so that I could listen to his lungs. “Please just breathe normally,” I told him, and continued our conversation. “So aside from gifts, how have the last few weeks been?”

Kurt shot his son a sharp look, which I didn’t miss. Tony rolled his eyes.

“You should tell him about Christmas dinner,” Kurt urged, laying a hand on Tony’s pale arm. His arm sported several small bruises, I noticed. Another not so good indicator. I made a mental note to add that observation to Tony’s chart.

Tony looked away. “I just hurled, Dad. That happens all the time.”

“And fainted,” his father added, looking at me. “We were pretty happy because it seemed like Tony was starting to get his appetite back—at least for turkey and mashed potatoes at any rate.” He shot his son a gentle smile. “But then he looked a little green and threw up before he had a chance to get to the bathroom, which is unusual.”

This generated another eye roll from Tony.

“Well, it is, son. I know Dr. Cullen is your friend, but he still needs to know about this kind of stuff.”

I nodded, removing the stethoscope from Tony’s back and sitting down. “Can you tell me more about it, Tony?” I pulled the wheeled stool closer to the exam table and rested my forearms on my knees.

He looked away and appeared to be intent on studying the sphygmomanometer on the wall. “I just got sick is all.”

“Was it preceded by anything unusual? Do you feel like you overate? Anything at Christmas dinner that isn’t your usual diet?”

For this I got a withering look. “I’m fifteen. There’s not a lot that’s not in my usual diet, Dr. C.”

I grinned. “Fair enough. And the fainting?”

“It was only for a second.”

“He was out only until he hit the floor,” Kurt supplied. “Thankfully his uncle was at the table next to him and caught him. It took him maybe oh, three minutes to get back to making sarcastic remarks at us?”

I chuckled. “Well, sarcasm recovery time is generally a reliable health indicator.” The fainting and the vomiting were both common side effects of the chemotherapy, although Tony would have been what, two weeks out of his last round by the time he’d eaten Christmas dinner? I visualized his record in my mind. Yes, we’d taken out his PICC line on December thirteenth, so it was almost exactly two weeks.

Swiveling back to the computer mounted on the wall, I pulled up the window to requisition a lab appointment for Tony. “I think it’s probable that the fainting and the vomiting were both just side effects from the chemo,” I told them as entered the request, “but I’m going to put in an order for a blood draw anyway. You’ll need to go over to the lab when you leave here and they’ll get a few vials.” I checked the boxes for a full cell count, as well as analyses to get a count of cancer cells.

“You ahlvays seem to vant my blood, Doctor Cahllen,” Tony joked, affecting a Russian accent.

I laughed. Leave it to Tony to offhandedly accuse me of being a vampire. If only he knew how few of them actually lived in that region—Stefan and Vladimir liked to keep their hunting grounds as free from competition as possible.

“Yes, well—it’s unfortunately an important diagnostic tool,” I answered. “But you can keep most of it, how about that? We won’t drain it all. At least not today.”

He shrugged. “Sounds good.”

Kurt was studying me carefully. “So, what’s next?” he asked cautiously.

I hit “submit” on the lab request and turned back to them, resting my forearms on my knees as I spoke. “Well, Tony, we’ll take a look at the blood,” I told him. “Then based on that we’ll make some decisions. It’s probably going to mean another round of induction therapy. Your leukemic myeloblast count wasn’t quite low enough in December to let us start the next phase, but we’ll take a look at it now.”

Tony stiffened. “Which means I move back in here.” He rolled his eyes again, but behind the sarcastic expression I caught the hint of pain.

“Believe me, Tony, I wish there was another way.”

“Is there another way?” Kurt shifted his posture so that he was leaning toward me. “What about bone marrow?”

I nodded. That would be an option, and it was one that Tony’s other doctors and I had already discussed. The problem was that we needed to get the cancer cell count low enough for the new marrow to be effective.

“We’re not quite there yet,” I answered. “But if this next round of chemo goes well—and assuming we even need a next round—then Tony might be in the position to go ahead and prepare for that.”

“Can we be tested?” Kurt’s expression was understandably anxious.

That was a relatively simple thing that we could do for them, I supposed. It would make Kurt and Anne feel more empowered, which was a good thing. “I think we can arrange for that.”

“And Ashley?”

“Ashley?” I frowned.

Tony blanched. “She’s too little, Dad. I don’t want her to deal with this crap.”

Aha. That was right. Tony had mentioned that he had a younger sister.

“Siblings are usually closer matches, aren’t they?” Kurt continued, ignoring Tony’s dissent.

Taking a deep breath, I nodded. “They are. But—” There were a number of issues. Getting a tissue donation from a minor was tricky, especially when it was for a sibling. A judge would have to determine based on the opinions of a child psychiatrist that Tony’s sister was able to understand the risks involved in the donation process and was willingly entering into it with no coercion from her parents or her brother. Also, if Tony was against the idea, it would make the process that much more difficult.

“Why don’t we get you and Anne tested first,” I offered. “We can cross the bridge about Ashley when we come to it. Besides, I need to see the results of this latest blood work before we do anything. We might not even need to think about that step.” I gave Tony my most reassuring smile, but he was still scowling.

“When will the test results be in?” Kurt tried to pat Tony’s arm, but his son pulled away. A pain shot through me as I saw this—jerking away was a typical move of Edward’s when I tried to demonstrate my affection physically. It was always a sign that he was hurting more than he was willing to let on.

“We should have them by the end of the day,” I told him quietly. “Is it okay if I call you in the evening?” I would run the labs myself, if I needed to. I had a better eye than the lab techs anyway.

Kurt nodded and offered his hand. “Thank you, Dr. Cullen.”

“Carlisle,” I answered, shaking it.

“Thanks, Carlisle.”

“Always. It was a pleasure seeing you today, Tony. I hope I won’t have to see you again right away, though.”

Tony glared at me. “Yeah, no offense, Dr. C. But I hope I don’t see you again soon either.”

I smiled. “None taken.” Standing, I put a hand on the doorknob. “Let me get your lab order off the printer, and then you can check out and head over there. Take the elevator down to floor 2 and then turn right. There are signs. It was good to see you both.”

Exiting the room, I went to the printer in the hallway and pulled off the blood work requisition to check it. The print jumped erratically on the page, and I stared at it a moment before I realized that it was my hand that was trembling.

Laying the paper down, I put my hands on the counter and hung my head. I couldn’t let Tony and his father see me get broken up over this. Get a grip, Carlisle. He’s just a patient. You’ve been practicing medicine for two centuries. You’ve lost thousands of patients.

My breath caught in my throat as I realized what I’d just thought. Was I already chalking Tony up to a loss? This bright, funny boy, who eerily seemed to see right through me; one of the few sources of my laughter in the last several months?

I couldn’t lose that. I couldn’t lose him. I wouldn’t lose him.

Taking a deep breath and steadying my hands, I turned to take the lab request back into the exam room.

“How do six people who don’t sweat manage to generate this much laundry?” I grumbled to no one in particular as I pulled a heap of socks, towels, t-shirts and boxer shorts out of the dryer. Laying the warm clothes atop the machines, I dumped a sodden load from the washer into the dryer. I hummed quietly as I began folding the dryer load, sorting the garments into six stacks. As I turned back toward the dryer, a voice spoke up from behind me.

“There is no need for you to do anyone’s laundry except maybe your own. We’re all adults here. If you didn’t like it, we wouldn’t go letting you do it.”

I smiled, turning to find a smirking Jasper. When Esme had first come to live with me and Edward, she had almost immediately taken over most of the tasks involved in keeping house. It had bothered me a great deal, for I didn’t want her to feel as though I had turned her so that she could become our maid. True to her usual forwardness, however, it hadn’t taken Esme long to point out that, as a newborn, she was stronger than I, and thus I obviously was not forcing her to do something she didn’t want to do. So I had learned to relax and let myself be taken care of. The one chore for which Esme had never had much enthusiasm, however, was the laundry, and so I had gladly shouldered that task. Jasper was right; I did enjoy it. These mundane details of life made me feel more human, and folding my family’s underwear was a very small price to pay for that.

“How is Alice?” I asked as I started in on the pile of towels. I had heard the two of them making their daily check-in on the phone just before I’d come into change loads.

“She’s fine. It sounds like she’s finding out a lot. She said she sat all night last night in the asylum hoping she’d remember something, but she didn’t. Tomorrow she’s going to go spy on her niece, I guess.”

“She has a niece?”

“Yes, her sister’s daughter. She’s in her seventies. Lives in a retirement community in Biloxi.” He sighed, and then added, “She’s strong.”

“Alice?”

He nodded, picking up one of the folded towels and turning it over in his hands as he spoke. “I know it’s always bothered her not to remember. I’m proud of her for going to find out.”

I was proud of her, too. I had been so absorbed in my work that it had taken me until after Rosalie and Emmett had come home to learn that Alice had been steadily researching the information that Bella had uncovered about her history back in March. The day after Christmas Alice had announced that she had done as much as she could do from New York and so she’d be making a trip down to Mississippi to continue her research into her family there. She’d left just after New Year’s and had been gone for a little over a week now. She called Jasper at least once, sometimes several times a day as she found out new information. I found that I was becoming anxious to hear her updates as well.

“And Esme?” Jasper asked, leaning against the washing machine. “Where is she this afternoon?”

“At the workshop.” My Christmas gift to Esme and Rosalie had been to lease a warehouse space not far from the house and fill it with all the necessary tools for carpentry and mechanic work. There was only so much room in a seventeenth century home for power tools, and there was no place to work on cars. Esme had been delighted, and although Rosalie had rolled her eyes and only commented that we still needed to ship the cars out from Washington, I had an inkling that she was pleased with the gift as well.

“So that means it’s just us men folk here,” he said, a rare hint of teasing behind his voice. “Doin’ the washin’, as it’s meant to be. You get the bluing, I’ll get the tub…”

I laughed. “The bluing? What do you think this is, eighteen eighty?” I plucked a white bottle off the shelf above the machines and handed it to him. “We got fancy things for doin’ the washin’ now.”

“Clorox Plus for High Efficiency machines,” he read aloud. “Yes. More effective, I’m sure.”

Placing the bottle back on the shelf, Jasper picked up a pair of boxer shorts which read “Bite Me” across the fly and wrinkled his nose. “I sure do hope these are Emmett’s.”

I laughed. “Well, they certainly aren’t Edward’s, that’s for sure.”

Jasper shot me a look of pity, and it took me a moment to realize why. When I did, however, a chill shot through me. I hadn’t meant it that way; just that obviously if they weren’t Jasper’s, and they weren’t mine, then Emmett and Edward were the only two left. It had not been my intention to bring up Edward, but my gut twisted nevertheless.

Edward had called just two nights after I had prayed for his safety. He was in Texas, of all places. I had replayed the conversation in my head almost hourly for the ensuing week, wondering if there was anything I could have said differently to cause him to change course. His pain had been wholly transparent—he had even begun to tell me that he was scared. Admitting vulnerability was something I knew was next to impossible for Edward to do, and that he had done so made me ache. The very hint of that word had been enough to make me nearly jump in my car that second and track him down. But he was determined to stay out hunting alone, so I had once again let him slip away.

Jasper frowned as he perceived my increasing tension. “How are you doing, Carlisle?” he asked gently.

I cocked an eyebrow. “Don’t you already know?”

He nodded. “But I’d be interested to know what you think.” He dragged a jumbled pile of t-shirts toward himself, and began to fold them slowly.

“I—” I stopped. Could I even isolate my emotions any longer? The undercurrent to everything was that almost four months later, I was still reeling from Edward’s departure. I had no idea where he was now, and I worried he would mistake my concern for mistrust if I called him. I was worried about Tony, who we’d readmitted for a third round of induction therapy three days earlier. For him not to have progressed in his treatment was frightening, to say the least. I was trying to be courageous for Esme, who had gone through another two weeks of berating herself about Edward after he’d called on Christmas. And I was still in the same strained holding pattern with my older daughter. Rosalie and Emmett were still at home, using Edward’s room, although at the moment they were using the house as a stopover between trips throughout the Northeast. They’d been skiing in Vermont, clubbing in Manhattan, and had taken an extended hunting trip to Nova Scotia, where Emmett had talked Rosalie into letting him go dog sledding. Most of the time they were gone, but the tension still hung in the house as though it were part of the décor.

Jasper nodded. “Good.”

“Good?”

“I’m feeling individual things from you,” he said. “Means you’re taking stock instead of just standing there being all a mess.”

I raised my eyebrows as I began to sort through the pile of socks. They were also mostly Emmett’s, plain white athletic socks which Alice ordered him by the gross since he managed to destroy at least a pair or two a week. It made quick work of the sorting, and soon there was a pile of white cotton/poly balls before me on the dryer. Jasper watched me quietly but intently.

“It’s good you find this soothing,” he offered after a moment. “I don’t know if I realized before how much you like housework.”

Moving at full speed, he collected the folded clothes atop the dryer into the plastic basket I’d left on the floor, and I found myself with an armload of laundry in an instant.

“Thank you,” I said, and he nodded, exiting the living room at my side. As part of her restoration, Esme had cleverly hidden most of the modern conveniences in the house, and the laundry room appeared to be a straightforward closet door in the living room which actually led into a space that Esme had carved out by moving the west wall of my study. Jasper accompanied me as I dropped the laundry off in each of its owners’ rooms. My uneasy worry did not dissipate however. Jasper was only using his gift to read.

When he’d helped me stack the towels in the antique wardrobe that Esme was using as a linen closet, Jasper turned to me. “When do you leave for work?”

“An hour and a half.” I was looking forward to getting in and checking on Tony. A night of work would be relaxing. “Why do you ask?”

“Would you like a game of chess before then?”

The offer startled me. Chess was a popular pastime in our household and was the source of many a bet. I enjoyed playing, but I’d been so absorbed in research of late that I hadn’t played since Edward had left. This of course immediately filled me with sadness, causing Jasper to close his eyes.

I ran a hand through my hair and tried to brighten my mood. “That sounds great.”

“I knew that it would.” Jasper studied me carefully as we made our way back toward the living room, no doubt trying to make sense of the mood that I was trying valiantly to mask. Reaching the cabinet where we kept our multiple chess sets, I bent down to retrieve one. When I stood again, Jasper’s hand was on my shoulder.

“Let it go,” he said quietly. “I know it feels strange after two hundred and seventy years, but you’re not alone anymore and you haven’t been for a long time. There’s no sense in you feeling lonely—it’s not gonna help.”

Loneliness. I hadn’t even put my finger on it, had I? But Jasper was right. I had thought it was worry, and sadness and grief, but I felt alone. I swallowed. Surrounded by family, and here I was still desperately seeking companionship. I was behaving like Edward, withdrawing from the support our family offered in my own misguided attempt at self-sufficiency. I hung my head, both ashamed and appreciative that Jasper had called my behavior into question.

“Edward is as stubborn as they get,” Jasper offered, no doubt reading the shift in my mindset. “He’ll come through this okay. He’s hurting, but he’ll live. You gotta have faith.”

I cracked a small smile. “I’m the only one in this family who has faith.”

“Faith in God, yeah. I’m talking about faith in people, Carlisle. Stop praying for miracles and trust the folk you’ve got around you.”

Was that what I was doing? I wanted Edward to come home. I wanted him to realize that being apart from Bella wasn’t working out for him. I wanted him not to have to worry about Victoria. I wanted Tony to live a long, full life. Were those things too much to ask for?

“Miracles would be nice, though,” I answered distractedly, and Jasper laughed as he took the chess set from me.

“Some think that it is a miracle to walk on water,” he said loftily as the board and pieces materialized on the dining table before him in an instant of vampire speed. “But I tell you, the true miracle is to walk every day on earth.”

I raised an eyebrow. “A Whitlock original? That’s certainly not Aristotle.”

“Thich Nat Hanh.” He gestured to my chair. “Eastern philosophy this term.”

Well that was new. Jasper was quoting a Vietnamese monk. “A former confederate soldier is quoting Buddhist philosophy?”

“The color of one man’s skin’s got no bearing on his capacity for philosophical thought,” Jasper answered, taking the seat across from me and smirking.

I laughed. “Are you calling me a racist?”

“No, I’m calling you a coward—stop stalling.” He tapped a finger in the middle of the board. “Sit back and let me school you at chess, old man. A thousand dollars?”

I nodded, giving Jasper a smile. He was so reclusive at times, but then he would step forward, as he had this morning, and be very quietly profound. I was grateful. Some think it is a miracle to walk on water, indeed.

Picking up my king’s pawn, I decided to walk on earth awhile.

Chapter Notes

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