Outtake: The Christmas Call

The Christmas Call – An Outtake from Ithaca is Gorges, Chapter 8

“No, that one I want hung on the left side, Alice,” Esme said, her arms crossed firmly over her chest.

Alice just laughed and hung the silver orb exactly where she’d intended to. The two of them had this discussion every Christmas, and Alice always won. I knew exactly where this was headed—Alice was already planning on protecting the tree from Emmett and Jasper’s traditional Christmas Eve brawl.

“Let her be,” I whispered to Esme. “You know that you’ll be happy in the end. We can move everything around tomorrow.”

“It’s already tomorrow,” my wife responded petulantly, but she sat down on the couch in defeat and stared at the fireplace. When we’d gone out to get the tree earlier, I had also brought in a quarter cord of word, and the fire had been going now for several hours. Although the cold bothered none of us, we all enjoyed the warmth and light of the fireplace, and lighting a fire was a Christmas tradition of ours anyway.

Rosalie and Emmett sat in one corner of the room, talking quietly while the rest of us pretended that we could not hear them. I knew Rosalie was talking about the piano, however, and was trying my best to let her share her feelings privately with her husband and not with me.

It was customary on Christmas Eve that Edward would accompany the tree-trimming on the piano, and so earlier this evening Rosalie had offered us a single rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, an arrangement I recognized as being by a modern American pianist. But she had desisted playing after the one piece. She told us she didn’t feel like playing, but I surmised that the truth was it felt strange for her to be in Edward’s place.

I couldn’t blame her. Hearing the piano had been like purposefully stabbing a knife into my gut. Although the piece was undeniably beautiful, it was the beauty itself that hurt. Edward had been absent now for sixty-nine days, twelve hours, and about five minutes. We hadn’t heard from him once in that time, and while I was certain that this portended well for his safety, It didn’t stop me from my worry.

From across the room, where he sat cross-legged watching Alice flit around the Christmas tree, Jasper shot me a meaningful glance.

I’m okay, I mouthed to him, but he shook his head.

“Hey, Esme,” he said quietly. “It looks like that chair is a little too big for Carlisle on his own. Why don’t you join him? I’m sure you can boss Alice just as easily from there.”

The chair was a Quaker antique that Esme had travelled all the way to Lancaster, Ohio to procure. It barely fit my frame, much less two of us. But Esme got Jasper’s message loud and clear, and came to me immediately, sitting delicately on my lap and laying her head against my neck. I closed my eyes. It was a small improvement.

We’d sat together only a moment when my pocket vibrated vigorously, and I had the phone in my hands in an instant. My whole family was here. It had to be the hospital, which meant there was an emergency. Tony was at home, celebrating Christmas, even though we would need to see him back after the holidays. A fervent prayer slipped from my mind that it wasn’t about him as I flipped the phone over, expecting to see the familiar number for the CMC main switchboard.

Call from:

Edward

It was a very good thing that my heart had stopped beating three centuries ago.

Before I had even thought about it, the phone was open and at my ear. “Edward?” I breathed.

“Hi, Carlisle. Merry Christmas.”

I closed my eyes again and stifled the cry rising in my throat with an audible choke. His voice was melodic and clear—hearing him made my still heart leap.

“Merry Christmas son,” I said when I’d recovered my ability to speak. “It’s so good to hear your voice. Where are you?”

His answer was immediate. “Houston.”

“Victoria is in Houston?” My abrupt change in pitch started Esme, and she looked at me with wide eyes. I shook my head, putting a finger to my lips.

“I’m not sure,” Edward answered. The shake in his voice was almost inaudible but I caught it anyway. “I just got here,” he continued. “I’ve been all over Texas—well, first I was in San Francisco, before that Seattle—”

“Why don’t you start at the beginning, son,” I said gently. “Here. Let me put you on speakerphone.” The rest of the family had already crowded around the chair, straining to listen to what they could hear of Edward’s side of the conversation. I held the phone between us so that we could all listen to Edward’s story. His voice was rapid and high as he told us about going to Forks and checking on Bella’s attendance records, and then chasing a strange blond vampire in Seattle. We were all caught up short, however, when he described the newborn vampire he’d attacked in San Francisco. When Edward described being thrown backward into a streetlamp after the newborn had revealed Victoria’s whereabouts, Esme grabbed my arm so hard it hurt.

“Shhh, he’s okay,” I whispered reassuringly, but my mind was agreeing with her. A newborn. He could have been killed.

Edward continued talking quickly, chronicling his trips around the major Texas metropolises, and the ways in which he was becoming increasingly sure that Victoria was not in any of them. “I’m not sure where I’m headed next,” he added when he’d described Houston, and the woman and her daughter who had unwittingly alerted him that it was Christmas Eve.

Home. Home was where he should be headed next. But I knew if I suggested that I would unleash the full force of Edward’s mulish conviction. I swallowed my words instead, and handed the phone to Esme as she rose from my lap.

“What about Forks?” she asked him delicately. I envied my wife; she could get away with suggestions like that without causing Edward to fly into a rage.

Edward’s voice was so quiet that I didn’t hear his response from where Esme stood, but it clearly displeased her, as she began shaking her head almost immediately.

“Edward, we should all be there,” she said beseechingly. “We should be protecting Bella together. Come home. Let us go back.”

The response was mumbled indistinctly, but I caught the word “birthday” and sighed. Of course. Knowing Edward it would be years before he would trust our judgment about being near Bella again. Possibly decades. Four months had apparently not made even a dent in his stubborn resolve.

“We’d make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Esme said lovingly, and then cocked her head as she listened to Edward’s quiet reply. Looking up at me sadly, she shook her head as she answered him: “You’ll never let her go. You should be with us. And we should be with her.”

“I can’t, Esme, I’m sorry.” I heard Edward distinctly this time, and I put an arm around my wife as she continued to plead with our son.

“Will you at least come to visit?” Now it was Esme’s voice that was shaking, and hearing this, I fought the urge to rip the phone from her and demand that Edward be on his way back to New York within the next twenty seconds.

His reply was again too quiet for me to hear, but the look on Esme’s face became even sadder. I stroked her cheek gently with the back of my hand, and she covered the phone as she turned to me.

“He won’t budge,” she whispered. “Will you talk to him? Make sure he’s actually okay.”

“Of course,” I answered. I had been anxious to speak to him one-on-one since the instant I’d seen his name on the tiny LCD screen.

Lifting the phone back to her ear, Esme said quietly, “Edward, we love you. Please be careful.”

“I will,” he responded as Esme handed the phone to me. Putting it to my ear, I decided to take the remainder of the call in my study. I mouthed this to Esme, and she nodded as I left the living room.

“Edward. How are you, really?”

There was a long pause on the other end, and I heard him exhale.

“I’m sc—” he began, and my gut wrenched even as he quickly corrected himself. “I’m worried.”

Scared. It was not a word Edward ever let pass his lips, even by accident. He never liked to admit vulnerability. That he had almost done so was more telling than he probably realized. If Edward was willing to voice the word scared, it meant he was terrified. And I was immediately terrified for him.

It was all I could do to keep my own panic at bay as I answered him. “You’re allowed to be scared, Edward,” I said, trying to make my voice as soothing as possible. “Tell me more.”

His response was petulant. “I haven’t found her. And I just—” He cut himself off.

Just what, I thought. He just wanted to go back to Bella? He just was ready to give up?

“If Charles Evenson had really posed a threat to Esme, would you have still let him live?”

The question caught me completely off-guard. The journal. Of course. I had almost entirely forgotten that I’d given it to him. Watching Edward him this spring and summer, I had been painfully and joyfully reminded of my own journey with Esme. There were so many moments of that experience that I had never discussed with Edward out of respect for my wife. But as he had begun to withdraw first from Bella and then from us, I found I was cursing myself for never sharing with my son how terrifyingly glorious it was to fall in love. In a split second of inspiration, I had slipped my journal from 1921 into Edward’s bag as I had packed some of my clothing for him. I had not been certain of my course then, just as he was not certain of his now. If he read the journal, then perhaps the me that had existed eighty-four years ago, the confused me that could hardly manage to separate bloodlust from desire from eternal love, could serve as his guide as he no doubt contemplated the same things I had struggled so powerfully with then.

But his question had been on Charles Evenson, of course. He would naturally fixate on that one moment. To be fair, I hadn’t had a period of continued human bloodlust like that outside of being a newborn. And Edward saw me as the most resolute of pacifists, which was not untrue—but at that time I had been willing to let that go in the face of feeling as though I needed to provide safety for the woman I had not yet admitted that I loved. I had been wrong of course—Esme had shown me I had nothing to fear—but it was very like Edward to get hung up on my anger and miss its resolution. I laughed.

“I see you’ve been doing some reading.”

“Yes.”

I chose my next words carefully. “That part must have been distressing to you. I’m sorry for that.”

“You’re not perfect,” he replied.

I laughed again. Eighty-seven years of sharing my entire life with this young man, and this was the first time that those words had come out of his mouth outside of an argument. Perhaps this time he finally believed them.

“I’ve been trying to convince you of that for a long time.” And how to discuss Charles Evenson with Edward? I had wanted so sorely to snap the man’s neck when I’d discovered what he’d done to Esme. It would have been so easy. I understood where Edward was coming from with his desire to hunt Victoria. He didn’t need to be around to prevent Bella from doing something she’d regret later as I’d needed to stay close to Esme, and so it made only perfect sense to go out to make the world as safe for her as possible.

“And I do think about Charles a lot,” I added. “Especially since you’ve been gone.”

His reply was immediate and demanding. “And?”

I sighed. “If the situation had been the same, then yes. I suppose I would probably have done exactly what you’re doing. But it wasn’t. Charles was human and he thought Esme was dead.” Plus Bella would stand no chance of defeating Victoria, whereas if Charles had actually come after Esme, he would have met a rather sticky end. I chuckled to myself.

“Not to mention that she was a newborn,” I added. “I’m quite confident he would’ve ended up on the short end of that stick.”

But even if Esme would have been more than equipped to take care of Charles herself, I had at least known that Charles was firmly planted in Columbus. The problem with Victoria, however, seemed to be that Edward wasn’t making any progress toward finding her. If Victoria was in Texas, it certainly didn’t seem that she had it in for Bella Swan. I had half-expected Edward to go out to Forks, find Victoria circling back towards town, and realize he needed our help. I was relieved for Bella’s sake that Victoria didn’t seem intent on her, but on the other hand, it was foolish for Edward to trek all over the country in hopes of running into a nomad who posed no real threat.

Edward wouldn’t take kindly to the suggestion that Victoria might not be as nefarious a being as he wanted to give her credit for, however, so I worded my question carefully.

“But even now, Edward, are you sure that Victoria actually poses a threat to Bella?”

There was a short pause as he considered my words.

“No,” he answered resignedly after a moment, and I felt a brief joy rush through me. If he was willing to admit this, then maybe we could persuade him to rejoin us. We could protect Bella together.

“Then perhaps it would be best to come home? If you wanted, we could even move someplace nearby, but where Bella wouldn’t know about us. Outside Vancouver?”

Another pause. Then the quiet mumble: “I promised.”

Who on earth had he promised? Certainly none of us, and he had made no such vow to Bella either, as far as I knew.

“Promised who?” I asked.

“Me,” he answered forcefully, but his voice was shaking again. “I have to find her. I have to keep looking. It’s all I have to hold onto right now.”

He might as well have just slapped me across the face. I had to take a deep breath before I could manage to remind myself that this was Edward I was talking to. He was the master at living alone. He could convince himself that he was without company even when he had someone’s arms around him. With four months completely on his own, he would undoubtedly have managed to convince himself yet again that no one else cared for him. I shook my head sadly.

“You have us, Edward,” I reminded him gently. “You will always have us. Please don’t forget that.”

I heard him sigh. “Thank you, Carlisle,” he said quietly.

“Always,” I answered, and paused. Did I dare offer him my assistance? I wanted badly not to insult him, but on the other hand, I wanted him to know that I was still behind him.

“Are you sure you don’t need help?” I ran the math in my head. Houston was about sixteen hundred miles. My new Mercedes could hit two hundred without a sweat, if I could push it that fast on the freeway. Even if I could only average a hundred, I would be there by early evening. “I could be there later today, easily.”

There was a long silence, and I could tell Edward was considering the idea. A brief joy rushed through me at the thought of spending time with him. It would be good for both of us.

“I’m okay, Carlisle,” he said finally, and my heart fell. I opened my mouth to remind him that I would be with him in an instant if he needed me, but he headed me off. “If I need your help, I’ll ask for it. I promise.”

I sighed. Edward wasn’t stupid; he would call if he needed help. I could trust that. “Then Merry Christmas, Edward,” I said quietly. “We love you. Please call again soon.” For instance, later today would be nice.

“Merry Christmas,” my son repeated. “I love you too.”

The phone clicked as he closed it, but I kept mine at my ear, as though somehow more of his voice would be transmitted even without him on the other line. Esme found me in that position when she appeared in the doorway of the study a moment later.

“Well?” she asked quietly.

I gritted my teeth. It was taking everything I had not to run down the stairs, grab my keys and floor the Mercedes until I arrived in Houston.

“He’s all right,” I managed.

Esme was across the room so quickly even I almost didn’t see her as she plastered herself to my chest.

“And you’re not all right,” she whispered, nuzzling my neck. Her hand slipped around mine, prying the phone from my fingers and dropping it on the desk with a soft thunk.

“I’m okay,” I answered automatically.

My wife shook her head. “Carlisle, you’re about to fall apart,” she whispered. “Don’t you dare put on a brave face for me.”

I gazed into Esme’s eyes. They were wide and sad, and for a moment I wished I had known her more fully before she’d leapt from that cliff. Remembering the stubbornly brave girl who had been brought to me in the hospital in Columbus, I surmised that she had stopped herself from shedding many tears as a human. The freedom to cry tears would have been one more thing I would have liked to give her in our new life together.

As I thought on this, my body began to shake before I even realized what was happening. Esme pressed herself to me as she started to cry as well. She said nothing, and neither did I; we simply stood in each other’s arms in the darkness and let our grief overtake us both.

Forward to Chapter 9
Back to Chapter 8

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