Wednesday, January 2, 2013 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 32

Chapter 32
BELLA
Gazing out over the backyard, I watched the sun come up to another cloudy day. It wasn't raining, but the sky was already threatening it. I leaned back against Edward as we shared a chaise lounger, my fingers turning his wedding ring slowly over and over. I was tired of debating, so I ignored the hushed arguments around me.
Caroline had fallen back asleep, but even from where I was outside, I could hear her tossing and turning. She was restless, something that most likely stemmed from her overwhelmed mind.
All the deception and secret keeping was weighing down the entire house. If it were up to me, I'd tell everyone everything. Archie should know that Caroline's future was sketchy, at best. Caroline needed to know that she wasn't crazy, that everything she'd put together in her mind was the truth. And dammit if Archie didn't need to tell her that he'd been living in this house not only ten years ago, but a hundred.
Alice gasped my name, and I turned to face her while Kevin, Rose, and Emmett debated with Carlisle over how we could tell Caroline and then let her leave with her father in a little over thirty-two hours. Alice was practically in the same position I was, only in Jasper's lap. She nodded slowly, but Edward gave her thoughts a voice softly in my ear.
"She says it works, Bella. But you'll have to tread carefully," he whispered, pressing his lips to my temple.
"Then you have to start...with him," I told Alice, pointing in Archie's direction.
The conversation that had been waging around us stopped as Alice and I stayed in a locked gaze. I waited patiently for her to sort through every scenario, every possibility as I made my decisions. It was the way we worked. Rarely did we use it for something so serious, but we were good at it, nonetheless.
I made random decisions, giving every possible option, but when I reached the one that suited Alice, she nodded once.
"Only you can tell him," Edward whispered.
"Figures," I sighed, sitting forward.
Edward's fingers trailed down my spine. He'd heard every thought, so his encouragement was greatly appreciated.
"I'm tired of hearing you people talk," I growled, giving a smirking Carlisle a scathing look. "Who has a problem with Caroline knowing the truth?" I asked, glancing around at the entire family. When no one said anything, I went on. "Okay, so then, what's the debate?"
"We can't just tell her what we are and send her back to California," Rose explained. "She could tell someone."
"I didn't. I knew, and I continued to live at home with Charlie, go to school, and keep my mouth shut." My statement was firm and met with no argument. "Kevin didn't tell anyone, either." I looked to Alice one more time. "Are you sure?" I asked her.
"We don't have a choice anymore," she answered, shrugging a shoulder. "He has to know."
"Okay," I agreed, getting up from my chair and walking to plop down in front of Archie. "Buddy, this shouldn't even be a debate, but we're facing a problem. See... Telling Caroline the truth isn't our biggest concern. Alice has...seen things. They're complicated and extremely delicate things. Remember when I told you my story? How all these things were stacked against me?" I asked him.
"Yeah, you said it meant you were supposed to be with Edward," he replied, his eyes glancing between me and then Edward.
"Exactly," I praised him, picking up his hand. "Caroline... She's got the same problem, sweetie. She's meant to be one of us. Alice has seen it."
"But what if..." Archie started to panic, but I held onto his hand firmly. "What if she doesn't want it?"
I looked up to Alice. "Does she look miserable to you?"
"No," Edward and Alice both answered, both fighting their smiles, which meant Caroline was probably very happy.
"When?" Archie asked, his voice barely there.
I sighed deeply. "Well, there's where the problem lies, Arch. We have several roads forking off in front of us, according to Alice. And we have to be very, very careful. On the one hand, she leaves tomorrow and becomes one of us by the summer, but that requires that she knows the truth...about everything. And that means putting our faith in her. On the other hand, you don't come clean with her, and she leaves...but..."
"She doesn't come back at all," Archie gasped, finally putting two and two together. "Why?" he cried, looking to Alice with begging eyes. "Why, Alice?! She doesn't make it to college? Nothing?!"
His panic, his sadness, his disbelief had my eyes burning at the need to shed tears for him, but Alice got up and sat beside me, cupping his face.
"My talent doesn't work that way, sweetie. I don't know the whys," she said, trying her best to sound soothing.
"So why didn't you tell me?!" he accused in a growl, but it wasn't with any force behind it. "And why tell me now?"
"Telling you before now resulted in your disappearance. You didn't handle it very well," Edward piped up from behind me.
"Telling you now, however..." I grasped his chin gently so that he had to focus. "You want her to know the truth, buddy. Now that you've met her, talked to her, fallen for her...you want her to know everything. Deep down, you know it's true."
Archie gazed up at me through sad, dark eyes, but he eventually nodded. His eyes dropped to his hands in his lap, but Edward answered his unvoiced question.
"No, Archie...you can't do that. Her father must pick her up. We've considered taking her for you," Edward told him, and I could hear the sadness in my husband's voice. "Taking her would cause an enormous problem with him. He already hates this house, so if his daughter disappeared before he could get here, he'd raise a very loud alarm."
"So if she leaves with her dad... How does she become one of us?" he asked, but he turned to Alice for the answer.
"There are holes in my visions, Archie. I see her leave, but then I see her one of us and happy with you. There's nothing in between. I really, really wish I could tell you what happens, but I can't. Believe me, I've tried," she explained to him in a begging tone. "But not telling her the truth causes her to lose faith in everyone. She becomes extremely angry, and she has a fight with her father and runs out the door. She gets behind the wheel of her car, way too upset..."
"Oh," Archie murmured sadly. "Does she hate me for what I did?" he asked so softly that I could barely hear him.
Alice sighed deeply. "It's not an easy conversation. And her anger isn't exactly misplaced, but I can't see that she holds it against you."
"How do I do this? I don't even know how to start," he muttered to his hands more than anything else.
Alice snorted a little. "That's okay because she comes to Bella first. She's still a little upset with you."
Archie nodded, his mouth lifting up in the corner. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Okay. So what do I do?"
~oOo~
The house was eerily quiet as I worked in the kitchen. I was making Caroline's breakfast – and only Caroline's. There was part of me that was grateful for the time alone as bacon cooked behind me. Using my normal speed, I popped toast into the toaster and cracked eggs into the pan. A small smile curled my lips, thinking I could've really used my speed when taking care of Charlie all those years ago.
I could hear her stirring, though we weren't alone in the house. Carlisle and Esme were in their room, and Kevin and Adrian were in theirs. Alice and Jasper had gone for a hunt. Both of them needed it. Between Alice's constant search of the future and Jasper's maintaining of every emotion in the house, they had to hunt; Carlisle and Edward had made them go. Emmett and Rose were off running an errand for Carlisle. Edward, however, was patiently watching over Archie in the garage.
The emotions in the house were running high. Caroline's heartbeat was fast, nervous. Kevin and I were pretty sure she'd take the truth about what we were just fine. We saw the same strength in her that we'd had as humans. What she needed to understand before Archie had a chance to speak was that this life, no matter how happy we were, was difficult. The reality of the change, the severing of familial ties, and the thirst were the hardest parts of this life. And she needed to know these things in order to understand Archie's story.
Edward and Carlisle had said to let her lead with her questions up to a point, but then Kevin said to do it the way my sisters and I had explained it to him. It was probably going to take both. There was a lot of ground to cover in a short time.
I was cutting the last of the fruit when I heard Caroline's tentative steps approach the kitchen. There was a touch of adrenaline in her fast-pumping blood, but there was a sour scent of salty tears hovering around her at the same time.
The book Forever landed heavily onto the kitchen counter, and I looked up to Caroline with a raised eyebrow.
"How much of that is true?" she asked.
"Plenty," I told her cryptically, but I finished putting her breakfast together, switching the book for her plate. "Sit, eat, and we'll talk. Coffee or juice?"
"I think I'll need the coffee," she murmured.
I chuckled as I poured her a cup. "Probably."
Setting the mug, the cream, and the sugar down in front of her, I met her worried, yet determined gaze. She almost looked snarky, but I couldn't blame her, really. It was a mask, a way to brace herself for what was to come.
"You wrote that," she guessed, stirring her coffee slowly.
"I did."
"Funny... You don't look like the old woman on the back." She snorted, turning the book over to reveal the face of Marie Anthony that the public knew.
"No, but you can thank Jasper for that. That is my picture just...manipulated," I told her.
Caroline narrowed her eyes at the picture and then at my face. "Damn...the eyes."
I smirked and nodded, reaching for the book. I thumbed through it as she took a bite of her toast.
"You're not eating?" she asked.
Smiling again, I said, "No... No, I've...eaten already."
She paled at that, and I set the book down rather roughly.
"Exactly," I told her. "If we're going to have this conversation, if you want to know the truth, then you need to know the reality of it. I can tell you've put two and two together, but I need you to say the word. Tell me what exactly you've discovered."
She set her fork down, pointed to the book. "This," she said, poking the book once. "This is you and Edward, isn't it?"
"It is," I said, sniffing one time.
"The book is set in Oregon, but you said you were in Washington State when you met him, so I can't imagine you would change it all that much. His family – brothers, sisters, parents – they're all described exactly like Alice, Jasper, Rose, Emmett, Carlisle, and Esme. And Edward is spot on, as are you."
"All true. Keep going," I told her. "You've yet to brave the word."
She picked up her coffee mug, holding it in both hands and taking a small sip. "Vampire."
I smiled. "You're a smart girl, and you're extremely brave. But I need to ask if you're scared, Caroline. Because this is such an important thing, what we're about to discuss, I need to know if you can handle it. Our secrecy is paramount. Do you understand?"
"Just like the book." Her words were quiet, but at least she got it. She studied my face, taking a deep breath and letting it out. "I'm not scared of you – of anyone in this house. In fact, this is the first place I feel like I've fit in my whole life."
Nodding, I said, "Yeah. I get that. And there's a reason for that, but that'll come later."
"You're not sixteen."
Laughing, I shook my head. "Nope. Twenty."
A small smile curled the corners of her lips. "And how long have you been twenty?"
My laugh increased, because I really did like her. Her candor, her bravery, and her ease were a lot like Kevin's and mine. I shook my head at that, saying, "I'm approaching eight years."
Her brow furrowed as she glanced at the book and then back up at me. Her forkful of eggs stopped halfway to her mouth. "You were seventeen in the book."
"I was," I sighed sadly, thumbing through Forever again. "A lot of things happened between then and now." I locked gazes with her, holding up the book. "The only things I changed were names and places. There are a few events that were...altered, but for the most part, this book is exactly what I experienced."
Caroline pushed her plate back and got up to pour herself another cup of coffee. Once she was seated again, she looked up at me. "Something in your face tells me that you're sad about that."
"Remember at the end of the book? Prom?" I asked her. When she nodded, I continued, "Hundred year old vampires can be very, very stubborn." I grinned, knowing that Edward was most likely listening. "That's a point you'd do well to remember. But I knew then that Edward was everything to me, and I knew that this..." I gestured up and down my body. "This is what I wanted. Edward, however, was convinced he was...'the bad guy.' He wasn't ready to accept that."
"So he's really a hundred years old?"
"A hundred and fifteen," I said with a chuckle. "Frozen at seventeen."
"So..." She dragged out the word, flipping through the book. "Carlisle in England, Edward in Chicago... Esme, Rose, Emmett and the bear? All of it's true?"
"Yup."
"So you don't drink from...people?"
"No. We drink from animals."
"And garlic, holy water, crosses? None of that works?" she asked.
"Nope."
"And you don't sleep," she stated, paling a little at that thought. I could imagine that Archie popped into her mind.
"No, not at all."
"You really sparkle?" She snorted.
"Yeah. Come here," I said, gesturing to the back kitchen door. I opened the small curtain. It wasn't a bright day. In fact, it was a little dreary, but there was enough sunlight pushing through the gray clouds for me to show her. "See?" I asked, holding my hand in the faint beam.
"Wow, that's really...pretty," she whispered, reaching a single finger out to touch the back of my hand.
"You should see the full effect on a bright day," I said with a snicker. "But you can also understand why we don't go out in it."
She nodded and stayed quiet as she made her way back to her seat. Picking up her cup, she sipped slowly. "So speed, venom, and...thirst?"
"All true, along with perfect memories and excellent hearing. But it's the venom and thirst that are what makes us so very dangerous," I sighed, taking the stood across from her and holding up the book. "Edward's reaction our first meeting? That was very real, and he came very, very close to doing something terrible. My blood sang for him then. It called to him. And it made him ravenous. All of that is true, too, in the book."
"What's it like?" she whispered.
"You have to understand that most of us – Carlisle and Edward, especially – have worked extremely hard at controlling what they are. We don't want to give into the basic instincts that come with what we have changed into. Everyone in this house – aside from Kevin and me – have had really rough starts to this life. Their stories are their own to tell, and some aren't easy to hear," I explained, thinking of Jasper, Rose, and Adrian, not to mention Archie.
I went on with a deep sigh. "The pain of the change is excruciating. The thirst when you wake up is just as painful. It's a burning sensation in the back of our throats. Everything about us is made to hunt humans – our looks, our smell, our voices. It draws them in, yet it makes them fearful, which only adds to the hunt. Everything about humans pulls us in – heartbeats, adrenaline, and fear.
"My family and I fight that instinct, choosing animals instead. Some members of my family have made mistakes – big, huge mistakes – and they regret them so much. It's a guilt they carry with them always." I sighed, shaking my head. "It's a constant struggle for us...for them."
"All of you?"
"Some more than others," I stated with a nod. "Edward likened it to heroin addiction," I said, tapping the book, and she nodded. "I didn't understand that until I changed. And I honestly haven't ever had that draw, that pull to a human, so I can't tell you what it's truly like. He could, and you can ask him if you'd like. But I've also never been truly thirsty. Does that make sense?" I asked her. "Carlisle's story is the best example of that, where he fought so hard against what he'd become that he didn't drink. He didn't drink anything until he was way beyond coherent thinking. Luckily, it was an animal that came along when he snapped and not a human being. And his story is similar to others in this house, only theirs didn't end so fortunate."
I gave her a pointed look, and she kept my gaze for a moment before glancing down at her coffee cup.
She nodded. "Archie."
"I've been asked not to tell his story. He'd like to do that himself. I've been given permission to reveal anything about Edward, Carlisle, Esme, and myself you'd like to know, but Archie asked nicely if I would leave his history alone until he can talk to you."
"Will he talk to me?" she snapped.
"Yes," I answered her immediately but looked up when the back door opened.
Edward and Archie stepped into the kitchen. Edward walked straight to me, dropping a heavy kiss to the side of my head, whispering words of love and praise. Archie, however, stayed quiet, taking a seat across from Caroline at the counter. Her gaze flickered over Archie but rested on Edward and me.
Edward grinned, nodding to her. "Yes, that part is true, as well. I can hear your thoughts."
Caroline's eyebrows shot up as she stared at him with an open mouth. "Seriously? Like...for real?"
Edward chuckled. "For real. And no, I can't think of anything you've thought of that was...inappropriate."
Giggling, I kissed his jaw. "His talent isn't the only one in the book that's real. Alice can see the future, Jasper can feel and manipulate emotions, and Emmett kept his newborn strength."
"But you can't hear Bella's thoughts," she guessed.
"I can now," he told her honestly, wrapping a strong arm around my waist. "Bella has her own talent, something that was present when she was human. She's what we call a shield." He paused for a moment, most likely allowing her to process that, but then went on as if answering her questions. "It works like the title sounds. She can protect herself and others from unwanted attack. She can allow me inside her mind, and she can push people and things away." Edward chuckled again. "Perhaps she'll show you later."
"'Kay," Caroline whispered, but her eyes landed on Archie, whose attention was on the book in his hands.
"Archie has a gift similar to mine, only more dramatic," I told her carefully, placing a hand on Archie's shoulder. "See... Archie here can completely disappear. He has a cloaking capability."
Her eyes narrowed on Archie, but he held her gaze bravely. "You did disappear that night!"
"I did. I'm sorry if I scared you," he said sincerely.
"You didn't scare me, Archie. I just... I didn't get it. Now I do."
"In Archie's defense," Edward said softly, making sure Caroline was listening to him, "he couldn't risk you getting hurt. His instinct to protect you overrode his sense of secrecy. Does that make sense?"
She nodded, her eyes much warmer when they met Archie's. "I'm sorry I got mad. I just..."
Archie held up a hand. "Don't apologize to me. Ever. Or at least not yet," he said, huffing a humorless laugh. "You should hear everything first. I haven't lied to you as much as you think I have, but you don't know everything."
My heart broke at the sound of his guilt, his anguish over what he was about to do. Giving his shoulder a soft squeeze, I met Caroline's gaze.
"Remember what I said about stubborn hundred-year-old vampires?" I asked her, and she nodded, her gaze flickering to a chuckling Edward. "Now's the time to keep that in mind. Okay?"
"I wasn't stubborn! Just...set in my ways," Edward teased with a big grin, if only to lighten the mood.
"Mmhm," I hummed up at him, rolling my eyes.
Caroline smirked, watching us both.
"I'd like to think so," Edward said smugly, kissing my temple. "We are made for each other, despite the years between us. And I honestly don't know what I'd do without her."
"Hundred," she whispered, her eyes narrowing on Archie. "I thought you just joined the family."
"I did," he said through gritted teeth. "And I am from Maine...right here in Caribou, actually. That is the truth."
Edward's face became solemn, almost sad, but he stepped around me to place a hand on Archie's other shoulder. "Caroline Dixon, meet Archie. Archie Varner."
Caroline glanced between Archie and Edward, the smile sliding off her face slowly. I watched as the recognition of Archie's last name solidified in her mind. I didn't even need Edward's talent to watch her put it all together. We were standing in the Varner house – the house that had the reputation for being haunted. And I saw when it hit her. Hard.
"No," she breathed, shaking her head in denial, but we didn't say anything. Just when I thought she'd bolt from the room, she glared at Archie. "Tell me! Everything!"
~oOo~
EDWARD
Archie physically recoiled from Caroline's command, not because he was afraid but because she'd said it with such force that he couldn't help but want to tell her. He looked up at me, begging me and Bella to stay close.
"We can stay," I told him softly. "I have no problem helping describe things you don't quite remember."
I pulled out a stool, taking a seat and pulling Bella between my legs. We were needed, and despite how Alice had gone hunting, she was close enough that I could hear her. She was insisting that Bella and I stay.
"Archie, please," Caroline whispered, picking up Forever. "Tell me! Tell me why I feel the exact same things Bella did. Why the feel of this house is exactly the same as when I lived here – like comfort and safety. And why no matter how hard I try, I can't find it in myself to stay mad at you."
Archie nodded. "I promise to tell you all of that, but you have to hear how I came to be, Caroline."
"Okay."
The words poured out of Archie unhindered. It was the most he'd said in one sitting. Ever. And again, I watched as a solid change wracked his immortal frame. He'd never lie to her again, and he'd never hold back...not to her. He'd needed to tell her everything. He started in 1901 with this house, his mother's death, and his father's insanity. He told her of his fears of the woods, his terror of being watched, and how his father had treated him, which he was able to now call abuse, thanks to Carlisle. When he got to the appearance of Victoria, his voice faltered over her description.
"Red hair?" she gasped, looking to Bella. "She's the same? In here?" she asked, holding up Bella's book.
Bella and I nodded, but I said, "Not all immortals are as...civilized as we are, Caroline. There are plenty of us out there that stick to the diet of legends, that toy with humans. We never wanted to be that way. Carlisle has shown us a better life, a better way to live."
She nodded in acceptance, but she turned her gaze to Archie. "I can't believe your father chained you to a fucking tree," she sneered, her mind filled with the same disgust we'd all felt when first hearing Archie's dreadful history. "What an asshole!"
Archie smiled softly, reveling in her defense of him, but he felt it to be too soon. She hadn't heard everything. "He wasn't of...sound mind, Caroline."
"Whatever. He still shouldn't have done it," she huffed, her face still filled with ire.
Bella's mind was in agreement, but she wasn't stupid, either. The worst was yet to come in Archie's story.
Archie continued, telling her about how Victoria had arrived like a ghost, like a deadly angel in the middle of the woods. He told her about trying to shoot her, how she'd teased him, played with his mind, and finally drank from him. He admitted to Caroline that he didn't remember much of that night because the venom and the pain had been too much. Victoria had stepped away just long enough to for the change to begin, and there was no going back.
Caroline frowned, trying to understand, but she didn't.
"Victoria liked her companions. Usually, they were less intelligent, easily manipulated. We think she stepped away to defend her meal. We don't know for sure," I explained to her as best I could. "I knew her mind. It wouldn't surprise me if she traded one companion for a new one," I said, raising an eyebrow and pointing to Archie. "She was very...um, cruel that way."
"Please, go on," she told him. "I'm sorry I keep interrupting."
"No, it's okay. I'd rather you be clear on things," he sighed, his brow furrowing.
He took another deep breath and let it out before continuing on. He couldn't quite tell her how long he suffered through the change, only that it was so very painful. He stammered through how he felt when he woke up to find that he was inside his own home and his father was there as his first meal. There was a part of Caroline's mind that thought William Varner got what he deserved, and I shot her a quick nod of a agreement.
Archie's hands balled up into fists as he sat quiet for a moment. His mind was a blurry whirlwind of memories. Each step of his life he told her brought him closer to the hardest part, but he felt a touch of relief at being able to be honest with her, of being free of the facade.
"She told me nothing," he whispered, his eyes on the counter, not Caroline. "I didn't know...anything! I didn't know what I was, what I was supposed to do, or why I felt so...different. She kept all of that from me as some sort of twisted game." He huffed heavily through his nose. "We didn't get along. At all. She wanted me to hunt, but I couldn't leave the house," he said, grimacing at the largest clue he'd just revealed about himself. "Edward says that my fears from when I was human carried over to my new life, and I couldn't bring it upon myself to leave.
"Victoria was a little upset about that, but she went with it for a little while because my gift showed itself. I disappeared on her, trying to hide, so she brought...um, sustenance to me."
He looked up at her to see if talk of blood and drinking was bothering her, but Caroline simply nodded. However, she wasn't stupid by any means. She'd caught what he'd said about never leaving the house, but she locked it away for later examination. However, the words "haunted house" did flash through her mind.
"I hated what I was," he whispered, his gaze meeting hers and begging her silently to understand that point first and foremost. "I hated that my body required the death of a human being to keep it going. But Victoria went too far. She brought someone in that looked too familiar. She looked like my mother, and I just...snapped!" His voice had a touch of awe in it, but he went on. "I fought her. I wanted to kill her for what she'd done, for what she'd made me into, but she...she escaped. And she left me. She was evil and mean and left me completely alone."
"What did you do?" Caroline whispered.
Archie was quiet for so long that I thought he was done, but he sniffed, digging deep down inside of himself for all the bravery he could muster.
His chin jutted out in a defiant gesture. "I tried – multiple times – to kill myself, much like Carlisle, but I couldn't. I didn't know how. The only reference I had was the book Dracula, and that's all lies and myths. I tried so hard to not be what I was, but I couldn't...and I failed over and over."
When he glanced up at her again, a sound of anguish escaped him at the sight of Caroline's tears. He was off his stool and around to her side so quickly, but if he unnerved her, I wouldn't know.
"Don't cry," he whispered, reaching up with gentle yet shaky hands to wipe her tears away. "You're too beautiful to cry, and I don't deserve your tears, Caroline."
"How can you say that?" she sniffled, looking at him with an expression that was filled with warmth.
"Because my story isn't over," he told her, pulling his hands away from her, though regretfully. He missed the touch of her instantly. "I've done things..."
"But you can't help that! You can't help what you are. You didn't choose it," she argued, sounding so much like Bella that it hurt my chest.
I buried my nose into my girl's hair, inhaling deeply, because Archie had reached his boiling point.
"I've never left this house, Caroline," he stated firmly, waiting for her to put it together. "Never. Not since I moved in at a year old up until the Cullens moved in six months ago have I ever left this house." His voice was almost a growl, but he maintained it. With a sound close to a sob, he said, "My fears kept me here, starved me, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't fight my thirst."
Carlisle and Esme stepped quietly into the kitchen. Esme's heart was breaking for both of them, but Carlisle felt Archie needed the extra support. I nodded to him in agreement, because this was about to explode. He pulled Archie back just a little, whispering encouragement into his ear.
Caroline gasped. Invisible. A hundred years. Blood. Haunted house. Never left. My mother...
I shifted Bella from between my legs and stepped around the counter so that I blocked her view of Archie. "Caroline, take a deep breath," I instructed because I could hear her heartbeat pounding in her chest. "What do you remember about the night your mother disappeared? I know it was ten years ago, and I know that you were young, but you have to remember something. Your father got a phone call from your mother on the way home from picking you up from school, right?" I verified, but she gaped at me. "It's really important that you remember, Caroline."
"How do you know that?" she whispered, her voice raspy, scared.
I tapped my temple. "I've seen two sides of that night, but I need to hear it from you. You push away certain memories, whether you realize it or not."
Instead of answering me, she slipped off the stool and rounded on Archie. "You were here! The whole time!" she yelled, balling up her fists. "This house wasn't haunted...it was occupied!"
Archie grimaced, nodding, and slid down the kitchen wall, gripping his hair. "Yes. I'm sorry!"
"What happened to my mother, Archie?" she sobbed, taking her still-fisted hands and pounding on him.
"Bella," Carlisle said softly, but my girl was already in motion because her shield was pulling her to Caroline.
As gently as she could, she wrapped the hysterical girl up and pulled her back.
"Don't protect him!" Caroline snapped.
"I'm protecting you," Bella told her softly, brushing the girl's hair from her face and wiping her tears. "You can't hurt him, only yourself. And believe me, he's hurting enough."
"Not enough for me," she sneered, glaring at Archie's suffering against the wall. "You killed her, didn't you?!"
Archie steeled himself but met her gaze. "Yes."
"Son, get her outside. She needs air," Carlisle instructed, gesturing to the back door.
"Sir," I muttered, guiding both Caroline and Bella outside.
As soon as the door closed behind us, Caroline bolted from Bella's embrace, running out into the yard. She stopped about midway and bent over double as she sobbed. For a moment, I thought her breakfast would come up, but she kept it down. When it seemed she'd caught her breath, she stood up straight and faced us, only to sit down harshly onto the grass. Her mind was a cacophony of accusations, anger, and sorrow. She had a million more questions, though, proving her strength once again.
"Ask," I urged her as Bella and I sat down in front of her. "Ask them."
"Why?" she simply asked.
"There are several reasons, but I'd like to start with the obvious," I started gently. "Archie's thirst wasn't in his control. You've heard Carlisle's story, and you know he went weeks without feeding, so by the time that panther came along, he couldn't stop himself." I waited until she'd swiped at her tears before continuing. "Archie? He went years between feedings. And not just one or two... Ten years."
Caroline watched me carefully but nodded for me to continue.
"He wasn't lying to you. He was terrified to leave this house. You need to understand that when we change, some of our human traits carry over, so his fears, his traumatic life all came with Archie. Add in that he was thinking on a baser level, and you have the makings of a dangerous combination. His story isn't finished," I told her firmly.
"You need to know what we found when we arrived to this house," Bella added, reaching up to wipe more tears away.
I nodded, telling Caroline everything from the moment we stepped foot in the house – the detached mind I'd heard, the theft of objects, the video we recorded, to finally discovering the starved man in the basement. I explained what Archie had looked like, that he'd refused to speak, that he'd been absolutely terrified of women. Bella helped me by describing Archie's basement, how he'd lived in filth, tried his damnedest to hunt out the open cellar doors, and how he'd fought us every step of the way. Bella even explained the research that we'd done on the house, which revealed a hundred year pattern. And finally, we admitted to getting family involved, which was how her father had received a call from Anna.
Caroline was silent, her arms wrapped around her bent knees. Her eyes were locked onto the cellar doors, trying to imagine any or all of it. Her thoughts changed to her father, and she knew she owed him an apology for not believing him.
"You can't tell him," I stated softly, shrugging a shoulder.
"He wouldn't believe me," she snorted humorlessly.
I chuckled a bit. "Maybe."
"He was right about something being wrong in the house," she sighed, grimacing that it was Archie. And despite how angry she was at him, there was a part of her that couldn't help but be sad for him.
"I'll tell you about that last night and why your father left this house, but you must try to remember your mother first," I bargained gently. "You said she was angry about being here, but what did you hear on the way home from school, Caroline?"
She breathed heavily, her facial expression turning dark. "You know, I've tried to keep only the good memories of her for my dad's sake. He seemed so lost without her, but I've often wondered if it was guilt he was feeling. She wasn't just angry. She was miserable...and mean."
Caroline broke her gaze away from the cellar door to look between Bella and me. "My school called my mother the day she disappeared. I'd accidentally mentioned how she hated me and my dad, and my teacher called to discuss it with her."
I groaned, knowing where this was leading.
"So she called my dad when we were on our way home, and he always used the speakerphone when he was in the car, so I heard everything," she sighed, grimacing. "She wasn't just upset...she was pissed. She accused my dad of feeding me lies and working against her, and she threatened me with not only a 'beating,' but time-out for the rest of the night without dinner. She threatened him with divorce."
"Oh damn," Bella gasped, looking up at me, and I nodded. "That's what set him off. Archie was protecting her!"
Clawing at my hair, I groaned as all the pieces to Lisa Dixon's last night alive finally fell into place. I took a deep breath and looked to Caroline. "There is a reason that you felt safe in the library, Caroline. Archie was right beneath you. There is a reason that he left you and your father untouched. But you have to understand that he wasn't himself. He was starving, so with the threats your mom made combined with her slip of the knife and his instinct to protect you... She would've never heard him coming...or seen him, for that matter. And there would've been no way he could've stopped himself. He'd barely fed in ten years before that."
Caroline's eyes widened with that piece of information. "So why didn't he just...finish us off?"
"He really didn't want to," Bella told her. "His guilt was holding him back, along with his need to protect you, even from himself. But your dad's blood, however, started to taunt him."
"The night your dad pulled you from this house, Archie had just about reached his limit. He felt he'd taken from you too much already, but he was so very hungry. He was in the room, you were asleep, but your father woke up," I added.
Bella nodded, saying, "Archie didn't look like he did now, so he would've appeared as a ghost to your dad – pale, skeletal, with sunken black eyes. He was starved. But Archie begged him to take you from the house, told him that he couldn't hold back much longer."
"Archie saved you from not only what he viewed as a threat from your mother, but from himself, as well," I concluded. "I'll never understand how he did it. He's the strongest immortal I've ever met," I murmured, looking to Bella.
Caroline looked down at her hands on her lap, and I smelled the salt from her tears before they fell. She looked to Bella. "My heart hurts. I'm feeling too much at one time."
"I know," my Bella sighed, scooting closer and wrapping an arm around her. "It can be overwhelming." Caroline nodded and sniffled, but Bella went on. "You care for Archie already."
"Yes," Caroline admitted. "So much."
"But you're upset about your mom," she continued in a soothing tone. "It's understandable, really."
"It all makes sense, though!" Caroline sobbed, and it was a sound of relief. "My dad wasn't lying; he just didn't know what he'd seen!"
Bella smiled a little. "That's true," she murmured, pulling Caroline back so that she could look her in the eye. "Can I tell you something?" she asked, and Caroling nodded for her to go on. "Sometimes, things have a way of working out. Okay? Terrible things happen, events that make us stronger, and we become better individuals for it. We have to suffer in order to appreciate the good, the sweet surprises that life gives us as an apology for putting us through hell." Bella wiped Caroline's tears away. "I'm not just talking about you, but everyone I know has been through their own version of hell and come out the other side a better person for it."
Bella's eyes locked with mine, and my heart ached to kiss her, but instead, I mouthed, "I love you."
My girl smiled sweetly, but her eyes glanced past me toward the house. I'd heard Archie before he'd stepped outside. What was interesting was to watch Caroline sense his presence, as well, without even looking.
"He will give you whatever space you need, Caroline," I told her, tilting my head at her. "But he can't help but check on you. He will always fear for your safety, will always protect you, and despite how he'd held back what he truly is, he needed you to know the truth about him."
"Why?" she asked, but her mind elaborated more than her verbal response did.
I smiled, huffing a light laugh through my nose, but I stood up. "You've read Bella's book, right?"
"Yeah."
"Then you'll understand when I tell you that... You are his life now."
Caroline gasped as I walked away from her, and her mind was reeling at what that meant. I was halfway across the yard when Esme met me.
"He needs you, son," she whispered, giving Archie a warm, sad glance.
"I figured. And she needs you," I told her, leaning into the kiss she pressed to my cheek.
Before I could reach the back deck steps, Bella's mind wrapped around mine gently. Her love, her pride, and her worry were all clearly there.
Edward?
I turned to face her, smiling her way.
You tell him that she just needs a little space and time...and that I'm so very, very proud of him.
I shot my girl a wink, finally coming face to face with Archie. "I know you're worried about her, Archie, but she's in the best of hands. I swear it."
Archie swallowed thickly, his mind thinking she hated him. He sighed wearily, looking to me. "What do I do, Edward?"
I smiled sadly, guiding him inside. "You told her everything, so you have no choice but to wait. What happens next is totally up to her."
"I'll wait however long she wants."
I squeezed his shoulder. "Believe me, I know."

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