Sunday, December 23, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 29

Chapter 29
"Oh, boy..."
Bella's hand shook as she gripped mine. Her shield was pulling and tugging at her hard. Her memories of me in biology flashed quickly to the forefront of her mind. As I faced the doorway of the library, I saw so much of myself in Archie that it was utterly ridiculous. The poor guy's mind was reeling. He had no idea what he was feeling, no clue as to why the mere sound of the human girl's voice had brought him up out of the library like a bloodhound catching a scent, and he was lost to the sound of her heartbeat. It wasn't even her blood that drew him in. And that really didn't make sense to him.
"Jasper," I said low enough that Caroline couldn't hear me.
Jasper gathered everything he had in him to send out a calm feeling to the room. The most affected was Caroline, who physically shuddered. Her mind was quiet for a split second, but her eyes were locked onto Archie. However, I could hear her think she must have done something wrong since he looked so damned angry. Sighing, I gave my girl's hand a squeeze.
"You okay?" I asked her.
"Yeah, go to him," she stated almost silently back to me with a quick nod.
I stood up, walking straight to Archie. "Hey, Archie," I said in a conversational tone, but I gripped his shoulder hard in order to snap his attention to me. "Just in time." I raised an eyebrow at him. "Say hello to Caroline – she used to live here...a long time ago – and then you can come with me outside to talk to the cab driver."
"What?" Archie muttered distractedly but looked to me when I squeezed his shoulder again. "Oh... umm, hello."
If Archie hadn't looked so damn fierce at the moment, this whole thing would've been comical. And I shook my head at just how close I'd come to this very thing when I caught sight of Bella that first biology class. The only difference between us was that I would have ravaged Forks High in its entirety just to get to Bella's blood, but Archie was just...drawn in by the sound of her, and now the look of her. The biggest difference of all? Caroline was not Archie's singer, which having been through it myself, was a really good thing for him.
Archie's voice caught Caroline's attention instantly. Her eyes dilated, her smile was nervous and shy, and her wave was the only acknowledgment that he got in return. But that was okay because Bella and Alice shot into action as I tried to guide Archie toward the front door.
"Why don't we show you the house while Mom makes the coffee," Bella offered with a genuine smile to Caroline.
Esme and Carlisle sagged in relief that we'd kicked into gear and left to make their way into the kitchen.
"Yeah," Alice chirped, leading both girls toward the library. "So tell us where you're from," my sister added, but her thoughts were all for me. Archie's going to ask you questions. You can't tell him you knew this would happen. You can only listen to him explain what he's feeling. Tell him what she is, and he's gone.
I nodded imperceptibly, leading Archie out of the house.
"Edward..." Archie gasped, taking the outside air into his lungs like he couldn't get enough.
"Easy." My voice was a warning because the cab's window was open. "In a moment, Archie. I promise," I whispered, reaching into my pocket. I pulled out a rather large bill. "We may need you back. Should we call you directly or just contact the cab company?"
"Either way works, kid," the cabbie stated with a shrug, but he was happy with his tip. "It's not like I can't get back out here in like ten minutes."
I huffed a laugh. "Right. Gotcha. Does she have anything in here?"
"Nah, just what she took in with her."
"Thanks," I told him, patting the roof of the car. I waited until the taxi was well on its way down the driveway before I turned to Archie. "You okay?"
He pointed toward the house, a desperate look on his face. "That is not the girl I remember..."
I fought my smile and won. "It's been ten years."
"She smells exactly the same," he whispered, gaping up at me with wide, curious eyes. "I couldn't stop from coming in there, Edward! I tried. I was just going to stay out of the way, but I couldn't! Was that Jasper?"
"No, not Jasper," I said, tilting my head at him. His urge to go back inside was befuddling him. He never wanted be closer to a girl, but he found himself chomping at the bit to get back inside just to see her. He hadn't put two and two together yet, and that was okay, because maybe if he figured it out on his own, he'd handle it better. "Is her scent bothering you? I can get Bella to shield you. She promised you that she would."
"No, it's not her blood, but...maybe?" he said, shrugging a shoulder. "Did I scare her? I didn't mean to. I tried to control it, but she..." His voice trailed off, and I chuckled.
"No, she's fine. Though, she was highly intrigued with you," I told him. "Right now, she's talking to Bella and Alice about California. And she's curious about Esme's comment about so many of us being 'some of' her kids. She's about to ask about how big our family really is."
"What will they say?" Archie asked.
I studied him for a moment, both mind and facial expression, but said, "Come. You'll see. In fact, you need to see how we handle this type of situation."
"'Kay," he sighed, walking with me toward the front porch steps. But before I reached for the doorknob, he gripped my arm. "What do I say?"
I rubbed my mouth to hide my smile because I'd been right there before. And it had absolutely nothing to do with being a hundred-year-old vampire. It was purely about a man being nervous in front of a pretty girl. The hundred years had nothing to do with it. No experience in the world can prepare you for that one girl who held everything about you in the palm of their small hand. I hadn't thought it at the time, but I was rather lucky to have been able to observe humans around me for so long. At least I had some sort of clue how not to act like an idiot the first time I opened my mouth to Bella. Well, sort of. Archie, on the other hand, had several things stacked against him. He was still rather frightened of women, scared of what he was feeling, and essentially anti-social. This was going to be so very difficult.
"Say only what you're comfortable with. Don't be nervous, and don't forget to move slower, blink more, and relax. Remember...she was only eight the last time she was in this house. You..." I poked his chest. "You didn't look like you. You were famished and pale. She obviously doesn't recognize you, but right now, your guilt is written all over your face. You and I both know that you are not that same man. Understand?"
Archie swallowed nervously and nodded.
"Look at me," I said softly. "There's not one member of the family that wouldn't have reacted to Lisa Dixon the same way had we been in your shoes – as unfortunate as that is to say. Maybe Carlisle wouldn't have, but I'm honestly not sure. The fact that you didn't lose your mind after that long was nothing short of a miracle. You aren't that same man. Archie, in the last five months, you've shed that former part of yourself."
She's too pretty to talk to, he thought to himself.
"Yeah...well, like I said, only say what you're comfortable with," I sighed, truly feeling for him. I almost gave him a hint by saying I'd felt the same way about Bella the first time, but Alice's mind screeched inside my head.
Edward, don't you dare!
Looking to Archie, I asked, "Ready?"
"No. Not at all," he replied with a grimace, but he allowed me to lead him inside the house anyway.
There was loud laughter coming from the dining room area as Caroline sat with my family. Alice was telling Caroline what this place was like when we'd first stepped inside of it.
Esme looked up. "There you boys are! I was wondering what was taking so long. Is the taxi taken care of, Edward?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said, taking a seat beside Bella. Archie took the one on the other side of me, which put him directly across the table from Caroline. "He said we could call him when she's ready."
"Did you bring her things in, son?" Carlisle asked.
"She didn't have any," I stated, and Caroline shifted uncomfortably.
Through the girl's mind, I could see that she'd stowed the majority of her belongings at the bus station in a pay locker back in Columbus. The only thing she'd decided to bring with her to Caribou was the backpack currently hanging off the back of the dining room chair – the same bag where a phone started to ring.
She knew exactly who was calling her. Her father. Tugging the phone out, she ignored the call and then silenced the phone for any future calls. When she glanced up, she blushed profusely, reminding me of Bella when she was human.
"Sorry about that," she sighed, her nose wrinkling a little. "So... All of you live here?" she asked, looking to Bella and Alice.
Bella giggled but nodded, and there couldn't have been a better member of the family to answer this question.
"Um, Carlisle and Esme are foster parents for some of us, adoptive parents for others," my sweet girl started to explain. "There are nine kids."
"Nine?" Caroline asked with a laugh.
"Yup!" Bella said with a grin. "There are four that aren't here. They're staying overnight in Portland to see some local band play."
"Yeah, but nine?" Caroline giggled, and the sound practically drove Archie out of his mind. "I'm an only child, so I guess I have a hard time imagining it."
Carlisle chuckled. "Well, yes. Some of my kids are old enough to have aged out of the foster care system, but for all intents and purposes, they are our children. So they can stay as long as they'd like. Some are preparing for college next year. Some are still finishing their high school credits. What about you? You say you're going to college in Maine next year?"
Jasper looked to me when he felt her deception, but her face gave her away completely.
"Yeah." She sighed, frowning at the phone when it vibrated on the table in front of her. "Something like that," she muttered, giving the cell a dark look.
"Clingy boyfriend?" Alice asked with a smirk.
The sound that Archie let out made me kick him under the table. Luckily, the deep growl that he couldn't even stop was just low enough that Caroline didn't hear him. His eyes shot to mine. I simply shook my head once to tell him to wait for all the answers to the questions that were rattling around in his mind.
"No, just my dad." Caroline's voice sounded sad, and then she gave the room around her a long, slow glance.
My brow furrowed at what she was thinking. She was trying to remember living there, trying to push out the memories that came with it, but I could see that her life with Tim Dixon hadn't been all that easy. She'd needed him when Lisa disappeared, but as she grew older, Tim's fears, drinking, and irrational attempts of protecting her from everyone and everything had smothered her. She'd rebelled. I saw flashes of arguments about Lisa being dead versus having just left – Caroline believed the latter. There were long bouts of loneliness because Tim had gone through some very rough patches of grief, and he had to work extra hours to not only provide a home for himself and his daughter, but he'd had to start all over once they'd moved to California.
"You should answer him," Esme stated softly, and Caroline's eyes shot to hers. "I'm sure he's just checking on you. Does he know where you are?"
Caroline's first instinct was to answer with the truth, which was "not exactly." Instead, she stayed quiet, giving the house another glance.
"He doesn't," Archie said, causing most of us to look his way. The fact that he was talking to her shocked me, but then again, it didn't. His curiosity about her was overriding his shyness.
Caroline's heartbeat picked up at the sound of Archie's voice. When she looked at him, unable to lie, she simply shook her head no. She thought him to be the handsomest boy she'd ever laid eyes on, and normally, she wasn't a shy girl, but for some reason, she was tongue tied. That thought made me pick up Bella's hand under the table.
My family and Bella were bouncing questions off me left and right, but I could in no way answer them. They wanted to know what made her so sad, what reasons she'd had for running from her father, and how Archie was managing.
Jasper was picking up everything the girl was feeling – panic, sadness, fear, and a touch of lust. He felt sorry for her, and for Archie. With a nod from me, he sent her a touch of determination and a little bit of bravery, which resulted in a strange combination, allowing the girl to try to lie again.
"He knows I was visiting the school," she lied, spinning her phone on the table and not meeting anyone's eyes. "But he'd have a heart attack if he knew I was here," she added, and that was the truth.
Archie physically flinched. "Why's that?" he asked her softly.
She gazed at him, fear now stronger than anything Jasper had given her. She didn't want to leave the boy or the family that made her so curious, but she couldn't risk her father finding out where she was. The problem with that was...she had nowhere to go, yet she was just about to bolt from the house.
"I should go," she whispered, starting to stand.
"You ran away," I stated, tilting my head at her.
The look she shot me was angry and surprised, but her answer was quick. "I'm eighteen. I'm legally allowed to do what I want."
"That answer may work for everyone else, but I'm surrounded by teenagers. I know a lie when I hear it," Esme pointed out gently. She was about to pull the mother's intuition card on the girl. "Why are you really here, Caroline?"
She sat back down hard in her chair, giving all of us a long, slow glance before looking at her hands on the table. She noted our looks, our manners, and our clothes. She surmised that we had money, that there was something different about us that she couldn't quite put her finger on, but there was too much going on in her mind to give it the attention she wanted.
Archie, on the other hand, was absolutely terrified of her answer. He braced himself for what she was about to say. And he needed to, because this wasn't going to be easy. Caroline, for some reason, felt okay with blurting out the truth to us.
"I had just turned seven when we moved here," she started softly. "My mother didn't want to be here, but my dad... He loved it here. He'd gotten a really good job. He liked the small town thing." She sighed, waving a hand. She looked to Esme, saying, "They fought all the time."
My eyes flickered to Archie, who was trying his damnedest to remember that, but he couldn't. He'd been too hungry by the time the family had moved in.
"I think I was too young to care, really," she went on, shrugging a shoulder.
I grimaced a little at the thoughts of her mother. She was a little like Renee, not really an attentive parent, but she meant well. The move had most likely been against her will and too much to deal with, so she wasn't exactly in the best of moods. Caroline remembered loud arguments, undeserved punishments, and a lack of affection. And I wondered if Archie had simply reacted to Lisa's treatment of Caroline, only he didn't remember it.
"Is your mom the one that went missing in this house?" Bella asked, simply to prompt her, and I could've kissed her for it. Instead, I squeezed her hand. "I mean, we heard about it in town."
"Do they still think this dumb house is haunted?" Caroline countered sarcastically. When we all nodded, she sighed. "Yes. That was my mom." Her face contorted into an angry expression, and she let out a deep breath, suddenly going off on a rant. "My dad was so stupid! He swears something happened to her, that she's dead. But she hated it here! He told me over and over that there was something wrong with this house, and that's why we left. Every time I'd ask him why, he'd just tell me that it was time, that we needed to leave, that the house was dangerous. I knew he was lying...or crazy."
She glared down at the table, a finger running along the grain of the wood. "I thought he'd moved on from my mom's cold case, but apparently not. A few months ago, a call came in, and we both answered it. I stayed on the line upstairs, though. I heard the policewoman tell him a new family had moved in, and he told the officer that the house was bad, that they should get out. It's ridiculous. It's just a damn house! I needed to prove to myself that he was wrong – that it wasn't the house...that it was all in his head."
Archie shifted uncomfortably before hiding his balled-up fists under the table. What he truly wanted to do was bolt from the room – or really, the house completely – but there was an undeniable force keeping him firmly planted right in front of the girl he'd unknowingly saved ten years ago. His guilt was like a bad taste in his mouth, and he couldn't get rid of it.
"I needed to see this place for myself. I knew it wasn't the house," she whispered, finally looking to my parents. "You guys are perfectly fine. He dragged me across the country to get away from here. He's never allowed me any freedom. He has to know exactly where I am at all times. I'm tired of it."
Carlisle sniffed and shifted forward, resting his elbows on the table. "People do strange things when they're grieving, Caroline."
"Yeah, yeah, I know... There are five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance." She ticked all five off on her fingers, stating them like they were nothing. "I've met all five. My father hasn't. I'm not sure he got passed denial, actually," she murmured wryly.
Carlisle smiled sadly but nodded. "Maybe he didn't. Each person has to go at their own pace. You were young at the time; it was easier for you to adapt. Your father may be a different story."
"You sound like my therapist." She shot him a narrow-eyed glance, but he merely smiled.
"Well, we've certainly had our fair share of sessions around here," Bella snorted, grinning up at me.
Realization dawned on Caroline as she locked eyes with Bella. The term "foster children" rattled around in her mind, and she suddenly figured out that most of us may or may not have come from rough backgrounds.
"I'm sorry," she gasped. "I didn't mean... I'm sorry. I should really go."
She stood up completely, grabbing her backpack, and Archie panicked. He really, really didn't want her to go. His gaze shot to Carlisle and then me, begging me to keep her here. He knew she was lying.
Carlisle stood up as well. "Caroline, do you have some place to go?"
She gaped up at him, but when he looked to me, I shook my head no. I couldn't tell him she was stuck here until the next bus left for Ohio. Her plan was to just get here. Getting back would take an extra day or two – and money she wasn't quite sure she had – and at this point, she thought her dad a liar, and she wasn't sure she wanted to go back, even if it was extended family. However, she was considering hanging out at the bus station until it was time.
When she didn't answer him, Esme stepped in. "You have no plan, do you?"
Edward, we have to keep her here, Alice urged me silently. Her leaving unleashes all sorts of problems.
I could see why. The bus station was a magnet for transients. She wouldn't be safe just hanging out for more than a few hours. That was the first problem. The second issue was Archie. He was just about to come out of his own skin at the thought of her leaving. Even worse was that he didn't know why.
"Jasper," I barely said aloud, jerking my chin to Archie.
Got him, Ed, Jasper thought to me, getting up from the table. "Yo, Arch. You still stuck on that same level of Halo?" he asked him, making him stand up and walk into the living room, all the while sending him calming, comforting vibes.
Once they were seated on the couch, Archie hissed, "What the hell is wrong with me?"
"Just wait, Arch," Jasper said with a soft tone.
"Mom, she should just stay here!" Alice chirped, grinning like it was the suggestion of a slumber party rather than keeping the poor girl off the streets.
"Caroline? Do you have a place to go?" Carlisle asked her again.
"No... I mean, I was catching the next bus, but..." she stammered, fiddling with the strap on her bag again.
I held up two fingers behind her back to my father, telling him she'd be waiting two days. I then rubbed my thumb and fingers together to tell them that money was an issue.
Esme sighed, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder. "It's too dangerous for a young woman to be out there on her own. And from the look of things, you don't look like you're quite...prepared."
Caroline looked thoroughly chastised and gazed down at the floor. It was the first time a parental figure had said something that she took to heart. She wasn't used to a mother, but she found that she sort of liked it.
I nodded for Esme to keep going.
"Sweetie, I honestly can't let you go out on your own. If you'd like, you can stay here. When is your bus due?" she asked Caroline.
Carlisle nodded, sighing. "I'd really like it if your father knew where you were. If it were one of my girls, I'd be frantic," he said, placing a hand on Bella's shoulder. "I know you're at odds with him at the moment, but I'd feel much better if he knew you were here."
"No!" she gasped, shaking her head fervently.
"I know you're an adult," Esme started gently. "But being an adult also means acting responsibly."
As if right on cue, the phone in Caroline's hand started to buzz again. She looked pained at the prospect of answering it.
"If you'd like, I can talk to him," Carlisle offered softly. "But he should hear from you first."
Caroline frowned, sliding her thumb across the screen. "Hey, Dad..."
"Don't you 'hey, dad,' me, Caroline Lynn! You want to tell me why your Uncle Jack went to pick you up at the airport and you weren't there? Just where the hell are you?"
We all flinched because his voice carried over the phone. Tim Dixon was pissed, but there was an underlying fear that laced throughout his words. He was terrified of anything happening to his daughter.
"Dad, I..."
"Tell me where the hell you are, Caroline!" he bellowed over the phone.
The the silence that rang out was deafening. Even worse was the eerily calm voice that broke that silence.
"Why are you in Caribou?" Tim Dixon asked slowly, as if he were talking to a not-so-bright child, and I sneered at the phone in her hand. "Haven't I told you—"
"I've heard every word you've ever told me, Dad," Caroline snapped, finally finding her voice. "And guess what? It's all bullshit. I'm standing in our old house, and the family here? They're just fine. There's no evil here. Just a really nice family. They've been here for six months with no problems at all."
My eyebrows shot up, but Bella hid her smile into my arm, her thoughts rather amused and impressed, but she was also concerned.
She doesn't believe a thing he's ever told her, huh? She asked her question silently, and I shook my head no. There's more to it, isn't there?
I nodded, squeezing her fingers. I needed to tell them about Lisa Dixon. I honestly believed that despite Archie's deep-seated hunger, he'd been protecting Caroline. And he may have done it all without knowing it.
I thought for a moment that Carlisle was about to step in, but I was surprised when it was Esme that asked for the phone.
"If you don't believe me, then to them," Caroline huffed, rolling her eyes and handing the phone over to Esme.
"Caroline...wait!" Tim yelled over the phone, but he was soon met with calm, cool, and completely in control. Esme's demeanor made me have to hide my smile.
"Hello, Mr. Dixon?" Esme said into the phone.
"Who's this?"
"My name's Esme Cullen. My family and I are currently living at the Varner home," she told him, still using the calmest tone she could muster, despite his huffing and puffing on the other end.
"I suppose I should apologize for my daughter just showing up unannounced," he surmised, sounding uncomfortable. "She has a tendency to fly off the handle. I don't know what that girl was thinking! Ever since she turned eighteen, she's been out of control."
"Well, I find her to be a very articulate and brave young woman for facing something that's obviously a bone of contention between you," Esme countered. "I'm aware of the history of this house, Mr. Dixon. Caribou is a very small town, and people talk. I'm sorry for what happened to your family while you were living here, but I assure you that Caroline is safe and sound. I have teenage girls of my own – three to be exact – and I know you must've been going out of your mind with worry."
Tim sighed deeply. "When she didn't show up for my brother..." He groaned, and there was a shifting on the line. "I've lost my wife. I don't know what I'd do if something happened to Caroline."
Bella shifted a little next to me, her thoughts flying to Charlie. She understood the dynamic of this situation. She made another mental note to call him when we had a moment. If things worked out according to how Alice saw them, then Tim would be losing his daughter. Though, we were all hoping that we could buy them some time.
Leaning over to her ear, I whispered, "Soon, sweet girl."
She smiled up at me, thanking me silently.
"Truly, I understand," Esme agreed with him softly. "Now..." she sighed, though her voice was a little lighter. "I've offered a place for Caroline to stay until she can catch the next bus to Ohio. She's perfectly safe with us. Like I said, I have kids her age, and she's most welcome here. My husband and I are foster parents – it was why we chose this home...for its size. Our information is readily available to you, and I can send it your way."
"I see..." Tim was quiet for a moment but then sighed deeply again. "No offense, Mrs. Cullen—"
"Please, call me Esme."
"Right. No offense, Esme, but right now, I can't see trusting my daughter any farther than I can throw her," he stated wryly.
She smiled when Caroline scoffed, but spoke into the phone. "Yes, well... Kids can push your limits."
I gasped, placing my hand over my heart like I was wounded. Which caused all the girls, Caroline included, to chuckle. Carlisle simply rolled his eyes. Esme, however, mentally told me to shut up because I was one of her best behaved. I snorted, shaking my head a little.
"What would you like for me to do, Mr. Dixon?" Esme asked him over the phone. "I'm not quite sure Caroline was prepared to get back to Ohio... And I can't see letting her just hang out at the bus station for two days. I wouldn't feel right."
Caroline blushed, gazing down at the floor as she shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
"I don't want her on the bus." His statement was solid and unwavering. "I can catch the earliest flight out to you."
"That would be perfectly fine," she soothed.
"And you're sure it won't be much trouble?"
"No! No trouble at all. She's getting along great with my own children," Esme stated. "She's welcome to stay until you get here. Let me give you my phone and email. You can send me your flight information once you've secured it." Esme rattled off her cell phone number, email, and the home phone number.
"Thank you, Esme," he sighed wearily. "Now...may I speak with my daughter one more time?"
"Absolutely. Have a safe flight, Mr. Dixon."
"Excellent. Tim, we'll see you soon," Esme sang, handing the phone back to Caroline.
She took it tentatively, looking at it like it would bite her, but she put it up to her ear. "Dad?"
"Caroline Lynn are in so much trouble," he groaned, though the venom of his temper was not as potent as before his conversation with Esme. "My trust in you is completely gone. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Dad."
"Do you feel safe where you are?" he asked her.
"Yeah, definitely," she said without hesitation. "There's nothing wrong with this house!"
Tim sighed, and I could just imagine he was not believing a word she said. His fear was deeply ingrained in him, but talking to Esme had helped.
Bella smirked, shaking her head a little. My smart girl had theories that humans mated to vampires lost the fear. She'd never once been afraid of me or my family. Kevin had never even flinched around us. While most humans would've been uncomfortable in our presence, most likely not knowing why, Bella assumed that it was a part of their personal makeup to just...accept us. And it was obvious by Caroline's lack of worry, fear, and nervous heartbeat that she'd meant what she'd said.
"You are to stay where you are, young lady. Do you hear me?" he told her firmly.
"Yes, sir."
"I'm coming to you. Once I get there, we'll have a long talk about whether or not you're still going to Uncle Jack's. If...and that's a really big if, Carrie... If I decide you can go, I'll drive you there myself. Got me?" he asked her.
"Yes, Daddy," Caroline answered, her nose wrinkling at the nickname.
"And for God's sake, please be safe. Understand?"
There was the fear. He really hated this house – or maybe just what had happened inside of it. I'd be interested to see his mind once he arrived to pick her up. I looked to Alice, whose expression had gone dark, but I could see that nothing had change.
She locked gazes with me and shrugged. I don't get it, Edward. No matter what we do, no matter how we try to keep her safe, she still is one of us by the summer. I want Archie happy, but I just wish we could give the girl some time. What the hell are we doing wrong?
I shook my head at her because I honestly didn't know.
Caroline ended her conversation with her dad and pocketed her phone. She gazed up at Esme, saying, "Thank you."
"My pleasure, Caroline," my mother told her. "Now...we just need to get you a place to sleep."
Alice was practically screaming in my head that it needed to be Archie's room. It was the only room that wasn't set up as a "couples" room. Caroline hadn't seen the bedrooms upstairs yet. Archie's room also looked like a lived-in room because Archie spent most of his free time, his quiet time, in his bedroom.
"What about Archie's room, Mom?" I suggested. "He can take Kevin and Adrian's room...or the living room."
I flinched when Archie's mind went wild with more questions, unknown feelings, and an odd sense of pride that she'd be in his room. I wanted to laugh, but I couldn't. Poor Archie was all kinds of confused, and we needed to sit down with him soon before he snapped.
Caroline blinked up at me, her nerves centered around whose room it was.
"Good idea, Edward," Esme stated, turning to the young woman. "I think we can get you some clothes for the next day or two, as well. We'll know more when your father sends his flight information."
Bella eyed the girl, smirking a little at our forgetfulness. "Caroline, are you hungry? We've already eaten, but I'd be glad to make you a sandwich or something."
Carlisle winced a little, and I snorted. We were a little out of practice.
Thank God for Bella, he thought to me, and I turned around to hide my smile because I thanked God for her every day – and not just because she remembered to feed the human.
Yeah, I got this, Bella thought with a really soft giggle. a teenager, Edward.
Grinning, I ached to kiss her but thought better of it. For the time being, we needed to maintain the facade.
Caroline smiled. "Yeah, that'd be great. Thank you."
All three girls made their way into the kitchen, and I turned to Carlisle and Esme, speaking quickly and almost silently. "We need to sit down as a family. Soon."
Carlisle nodded, thinking, I figured. How's Archie holding up?
"He's completely confused."
My father nodded again and asked about Alice's vision.
"Nothing's changed," I stated, frowning at him.
"Fair enough, son," he sighed. "Perhaps once Caroline has gone to bed, we'll be able to sit down as a family to talk."
I nodded. "That's what I was thinking."
As Alice, Esme, and Caroline chatted at the kitchen counter, I made the poor girl a sandwich. Everyone had completely overlooked her diet. Luckily, we'd stocked up the kitchen a few days before. Alice had insisted. As I slathered mayo onto the bread, I realized this would be a touchy situation for the next day or two...or however long it took Tim Dixon to fly across the country. We had to maintain a human facade. It wasn't just eating three meals a day, but it was also possible "sleeping" arrangements, public displays of affection, and maybe even school work.
For the first time, I was able to truly take a look at her. She was pretty and, from what I could tell, extremely brave. She also was tenacious and headstrong. Her bright blue eyes danced around the kitchen.
"Do you remember living here?" I asked her, setting her plate down in front of her.
"A little?" she said, though it ended up sounding like a question. "It was such a weird time. My therapist seems to think I blocked some of it out. Like...I remember the school I went to and some of my friends there, but I don't remember what my room looked like here."
"Perhaps that's for the best," Esme soothed. "It was a difficult time, I imagine."
Caroline shrugged, taking a bite of her sandwich. Once she'd chewed and swallowed, she said, "I guess so. I remember my mom a little. I know she was unhappy here. She and my dad fought a lot. I was sent to my room for any little thing."
She took another bite, and we let her have the silence, but she continued. "My dad is convinced that something happened to her because of this house. I really think she just...left. That she was unhappy with her life. It seemed that way, anyway. And to be honest, I'm okay with it either way. It's been so long."
Esme and I locked gazes but said nothing. She ate in silence for another few bites, but Alice started her on the topic of school, college, and the future. Typical Alice things. Caroline apologized for lying about visiting the college, but it wasn't completely an untruth. She really had applied to colleges in Maine and had been accepted to one in Portland.
I was putting away the bread and mayo when movement caught my sight out of the corner of my eye. I didn't have to look; I could smell that it was Archie. But when I did glance up, my heart went out to him. His face looked pained, his eyes were wide with curiosity and totally focused on Caroline, and his hands were fidgeting, like he couldn't figure out what to do with them. He couldn't stay away from her, and that I understood. He was so much like Edward sometimes, it was scary. He was completely nervous and shy around her, but I was damn sure he hadn't figured out why he couldn't not be in the same room with her.
"Hey, Arch," I sang, waving him over. "Did you whip Jasper's behind on Halo?" I asked him with a grin, trying not to laugh at my other brother's scoff from the living room.
"No," he snorted, cracking a small smile as he joined us.
Caroline's heartbeat picked up, and that I understood, too. I could already tell that she was hyper-aware of his every move. It was impossible that she not find Archie attractive. He was immortal, yes, which carried its own beauty, but he was handsome. It was a youthful beauty. He was tall, lean, and his smile could just melt a girl's heart, and from the sound of things, Caroline's was a goner.
"You're givin' up your room, big guy. Did you know?" I asked him, leaning casually on the counter, hoping he'd follow my lead, which he did perfectly.
I knew that Archie was more than comfortable with me, so I was hoping that would carry over while he was in the room with Caroline. And it did. He focused on answering me instead of the heavy heartbeat, the scent of blood, and the not-so-subtle glances he was getting.
"Yes. Edward told me I needed to show her where it was," he answered. "I'm supposed to take the living room for the night, he said."
I smirked up at him, knowing my husband was trying his best to stay out of the whole relationship/mating thing, but I knew my Edward better than anyone in the entire house. He didn't want anything to mess up Archie's chances at happiness. Edward would never want Archie to live his long, long life without his mate. He also knew what it was like to meet the other half of his soul and try to walk away, so as far as my sweet husband was concerned, this was so very important. There was no room for shyness or for meddling. Archie needed to fight through everything he was afraid of and seize this moment.
"I'm sure he did," I murmured, turning to Caroline. "I think I have some pajamas that might fit you."
Esme stood up, patting Caroline's shoulder, but turned to Archie. "Son, why don't you show Caroline to your room? I'll set you up a place to sleep in the living room while Bella gets clothes for Caroline."
Alice took Caroline's now-empty plate and proceeded to wash it. I could tell she was using the time to search through her visions to sort out the outcomes.
Archie took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay," he said softly, finally looking to Caroline. "If you're ready... I can show you."
"Okay," she conceded, slipping down from the stool.
Once they were out of the kitchen, Alice looked up at me wearing the silliest of smiles, but she said nothing.
Bolting up the stairs at a human pace, I rummaged around in my closet and dresser to put together a few things for Caroline to wear. Pajamas, jeans, and a shirt or two would do. I froze as Archie's voice met my ears because it was a touch of deja vu.
"Um, so yeah... This is my room," he said softly, nervously.
I sat down on the edge of my bed, my hand over my mouth, because he sounded so damned familiar. I wanted to laugh, but I wanted to shed a tear at just how fragile he sounded. Had Edward sounded that nervous? I decided that he had, but the biggest difference between the moments were that at the time I'd first glimpsed at Edward's bedroom, I'd known exactly who and what he was. Caroline was ignorant.
Gathering up the pile of clothes I'd put together, I headed back downstairs. Passing through the living room, I stepped into the library to see Edward at the piano. His look was warm and sweet, but he said nothing. He was also staying close to Archie should he be needed.
"I don't remember this room," Caroline mused softly, giving Archie's room a long, slow gaze.
"You probably didn't know it was here," I said, descending the steps from the library into the basement bedroom. "We didn't find it until we started the renovations. When Archie joined us, we turned it into his room."
She smiled and thanked me when I handed her the clothes, but she looked to Archie. "So you're the youngest?"
"I'm the most recent to join the family," he stated the truth carefully. "Edward, Bella, and Alice are the youngest."
I could've beamed with pride at how he was handling the questions being thrown at him.
Caroline accepted that answer with a nod. "So your parents..."
"Both my parents are gone," he stated, and again, it was the truth, so he was doing very well.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she whispered, looking up at him sadly.
"Don't be. It was a long time ago," he sighed, swallowing nervously, though I got the impression that her scent was getting to him.
I heard Edward pass that information on quietly, and suddenly, Esme's voice echoed down the basement steps.
"Archie, I've got blankets and stuff for you. You might want to grab a change of clothes for tomorrow."
"Yes, ma'am," he called up, walking to his dresser and pulling out a folded pair of jeans and grabbing a shirt from the closet.
"Caroline, if you need anything, you just let one of us know. Okay?" Esme added.
"Yes, ma'am," Caroline called up, but turned to me. "She's—"
"Amazing, yeah," I finished for her, and she nodded with wide eyes. "Esme is the mother I've always needed," I stated without apology. I loved Renee and missed her terribly, but I had taken care of her my whole life, and it had been difficult to discuss serious things with her. Esme filled the role perfectly for me.
"She didn't have to talk to my dad," Caroline whispered.
"No, but she meant every word. You're welcome to stay as long as you need to," I told her with a smile.
"Thanks," she said, but looked up at Archie. "Good night. And thanks for the use of your room."
"Night," he said with a nervous smile.
By the time I followed Archie out of the library and into the living room, he looked like was about to collapse under the pressure.
"Sit, son," Carlisle instructed him gently. "You handled that magnificently."
Archie fell down onto the sofa next to Carlisle but stayed quiet. His eyes were wide, and I turned to Edward before sitting down next to him. He picked up my hand, kissing the back of it.
Carlisle stood up and started to pace, but he turned to Jasper. "How's she coping?"
"Fine," Jasper said with a shrug. "She's not scared now. She was terrified of talking to her father, but that's to be expected, considering she ran away. Aside from the college ruse, she's been perfectly honest."
"Edward?" Carlisle prompted.
Edward sat forward, giving Archie a side glance before turning his attention to Carlisle. "She's interesting. Jasper's right. She's not scared of us at all. She already noted our looks and that we're different once, but she hasn't processed it, really. What I found interesting was the thoughts of her parents."
Archie's head shot up to pay attention.
Again, my husband's eyes flickered his way, but he continued on to Carlisle. "Tim Dixon was extremely...vigilant when it came to her safety. Almost overly so. It seems to have caused a rift in their relationship quite a while back. She rebels against it. Repeatedly."
"That would make sense. He's suffered a loss already. He's most likely terrified of losing his daughter," Carlisle surmised.
"That may be true, but even more so is her theories on her mother," Edward stated, and this time, he did turn to Archie. "I need to ask you something, Archie. And I need you to really try to remember. Okay?"
Archie nodded fervently, waiting for him to go on.
"What do you remember about Lisa Dixon? I know that you've shown me what happened that day, but do you remember anything prior to that? Anything at all?" Edward asked, and his voice was urging, like the answer was of the utmost importance.
Archie's brow furrowed, and he sat forward and stared at the floor. "I remember the day they moved in," he said softly. "Their scents were overpowering, but I managed to catch a stray cat and a raccoon..."
We all nodded, though I wasn't sure he saw us. It made sense. He was stronger than he ever gave himself credit.
"I know Caroline said her parents fought. And something about that sounds familiar, but..." He sighed, looking up at Edward with a begging expression. "The day it...that happened, I remember her on the phone. She was yelling, angry, threatening with something called...time out." Archie closed his eyes, and Edward's narrowed in on him. "She wasn't nice."
"I figured. Caroline's own memories of her aren't all that kind," Edward muttered, looking up at Carlisle with a swift shake of his head and a warning to his glare. "Now...tell me about the night that you warned Tim Dixon...their last night."
My heart broke at Archie's face. He looked so pained as he spoke. "I tried so hard, Edward. I couldn't take it. I was so thirsty."
"I know." Edward sounded understanding, but he simply waited.
"I...I wanted to catch something else, and when they'd go to sleep at night, I tried, but I wasn't successful." Archie sighed, rubbing his face with both hands. "It seemed so difficult to stay away, but it was more his blood that drew me in than hers. He was always so damned nervous."
I nodded, knowing that adrenaline made the blood smell sweeter, but I wasn't so sure Archie was catching Edward's drift. I had, and I was waiting for him to put it all together.
"I looked down at her," Archie groaned, shaking his head. "I couldn't do it. And he woke up. I was... I wasn't showing myself at the moment, but when he woke up, I had to either finish what I'd started or get them the hell out of there. I chose the latter. I'd already put her through enough. I couldn't take her father, too. I was barely capable of thinking, but I knew that much."
"You've got guts, man," Jasper praised, shaking his head as he smiled crookedly, but his eyes shot to Edward's.
Edward gazed up at Carlisle, his eyebrows raising up as he nodded slowly.
Alice gasped, her mouth hanging open. Her eyes shot over to Edward and then to Carlisle, who had started to pace again.
"What's wrong with me?" he asked, looking around at all of us. "I strange."
Carlisle smiled, taking a seat on the coffee table so that he was directly in front of Archie. He glanced over at Alice when she nodded and muttered, "Yes."
"Strange how, son?" he asked, giving the nervous man in front him his full attention.
"She..." Archie pointed toward the library. "She scares me to death. And yet I feel...pulled to her. It's all I can do not to ask Edward everything she's thinking. I need to know more, but I'm..."
"Nervous," Edward provided, shooting a grinning Jasper an irritated yet amused glare.
"What do you think of her?" Carlisle asked, ignoring his other two sons in the room.
"She's...beautiful. She's very brave, but so very stupid for coming here. She shouldn't have done that," he said almost with a growl. "What if... I mean, what if you guys weren't here? What if I were my old self? She could've been killed!"
I hid my grin in Edward upper arm because his protectiveness had kicked into overdrive. I wanted to grab his sweet face and tell him why, but I couldn't. He really needed to figure it out on his own.
Edward dropped a heavy kiss to the top of my head and simply whispered, "Almost."
Carlisle nodded. "That might be true, though I don't think so. Archie, did Esme ever tell you we met prior to her accident?"
Archie shook his head no.
Sniffing once, Carlisle nodded. "We did. I was working at a hospital the day she was brought in with a broken arm. She was sixteen years old at the time." He shot a warm, loving look to his wife and then turned back to Archie. "She was so very young. That was even before I met Edward. I knew then what she was to me."
Edward let out a breath and nodded to Archie. "Yes, they obviously met again. Only under different circumstances. That time, he was...unable to walk away." He looked at me with warm, honey eyes. "Did I ever tell you that Bella's first day of school, I saw her first in the lunchroom? The thoughts surrounding her were...interesting. Some were just simple curiosity, but some...they were rather...vile. I hadn't even looked her in the eye, and I immediately wanted to protect her from the shallow classmates that were thinking one thing yet saying another."
Archie's breathing picked up. He glanced between Edward and Carlisle. I saw the very second the truth of things dawned on him. His mouth fell open, his eyes widened, and his hands clenched into fists on his lap.
My shield lurched, and I went with it, wrapping him up in it and my arms. "Easy, Archie."
"She can't be," he whispered to me, shaking his head in denial.
"She is," Edward stated calmly.
"She'll hate me," Archie wheezed, looking at him.
Jasper chuckled. "Oh, but she doesn't."
"But she will!"
I grasped Archie's face. "Look at me, sweetie. You first need to calm down. And then I want you to listen to us." When his now-darkening eyes met mine, I went on. "I think you knew then, but due to your hunger, you didn't quite figure it out. I also think that you – without knowing it – were protecting her. Do you understand?"
"From what?"
"Her mother." Carlisle's voice was firm. "As irrational as it sounds, perhaps you felt Caroline to be threatened by her mother's attitude. Combine that with your thirst, her slip of the knife, and the fact that Caroline was...intended to be wouldn't have been able to stop yourself."
"I almost killed Caroline!" he argued in a hiss.
"But you didn't," Edward countered. "Archie, you just said yourself that it wasn't her that drew you was him. You were way past rational thirst, but you still protected her."
"But I'm a—"
I grabbed Archie's face hard, his lips pooching out. "If the word monster escapes your mouth, I will personally drag you outside and kick your ass."
His eyes widened as Jasper and Edward broke out into hysterics.
"Bewwa," he muttered through his squished face, which didn't help the laughter calm down any.
My nostrils flared as my eyes narrowed at him. "Carlisle and Edward are all about their theories, but having been in Caroline's place, do you want my opinion or not?"
The laughter stopped, and they all gave me their attention, especially a frantically nodding Archie.
"Right now...all she can think about is you. She wants to know more about you, hear you speak, and she's absolutely hoping like hell that you like her. I don't have even have to ask the mind reader in the room," I stated, though Edward nodded. "You know that humans naturally fear us, but I was never – at any point – ever afraid of Edward or anyone else in this family. Kevin...he was exactly the same way when he met us, even after he knew what we were. My theory is that when your mate is human...they aren't afraid. And I can tell you the quickening of her heart has nothing whatsoever to do with fear."
Alice and Esme giggled, nodding in agreement.
"What do I do?" he squeaked, pulling my hand away from his face.
"That's entirely up to you," Carlisle stated. "My suggestion is to be yourself, but we've all been through this very thing."
"Get to know her," Esme suggested. "You've got a few days."
He sighed and nodded, but his pained expression looked to Edward. "Now that I know... I mean...her father's coming. How do I let her go?"
Edward placed a hand on Archie's shoulder, but my husband's face was so very solemn. "You'll find the strength if it's the best thing for her, but we will help you in any way we can."
Archie groaned, putting his face in his hands as I rubbed his back. "She should know the truth. It's only fair."
"Again, Archie. That's up to you," Carlisle told him soothingly. "I'd say that humans shouldn't know, but when it involves your other half...I'm not so sure the rules apply. Take the night, son. Think about it."
"I meant the truth about her mother, but I suppose that means what I am, too," he said, giving me a side glance.
"Don't say the word, Archie," Edward warned him with a laugh. "She wasn't kidding."
I grinned, pretending to crack my knuckles, but I leaned into Edward's sweet kiss to my cheek.
"I feel...overwhelmed." Archie's voice was nervous and shy.
Carlisle nodded, standing up from the table on which he'd been sitting. He placed a hand on Archie's shoulder. "It's an amazing, frightening, and absolutely perfect feeling. And trust me when I tell you... We will help you."


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