Sunday, January 6, 2013 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 33

Chapter 33
EDWARD
My fingers flew over the keys of my piano as my eyes followed Carlisle, who was pacing back and forth in the yard on his cell phone. He was speaking in low tones to Marcus, but I could still hear his mind. The discussion was about the size of our family, possible options, not to mention the current situation with Archie and Caroline. Marcus had faith in Carlisle's decisions; he simply wanted to offer some insight. Jasper was with him in order to remove himself from the house and the wide range of emotions that were swirling around in it.
Archie had been squirreled away by the girls, Kevin, and Adrian. They were currently speaking about anything that didn't have to do with love, mating, or small, blonde human girls. In fact, toenails were being painted as a movie played in the background upstairs in Kevin and Adrian's room.
Rose and Emmett were still gone, though they were expected back soon. I knew that they were working on some sort of contingency plan should we have to move quickly – something Alice had suggested – but the details were not something anyone was thinking about. And at the moment, I just didn't care.
I'd needed a break from all the thoughts swirling around, so I'd opted to lose myself in music. It didn't completely drown them out, but it helped my own mind zero in on a single thing, a single activity.
I heard the back cellar doors open, and Esme walked across the backyard to join Jasper as they listened to Carlisle's conversation. It was then that the bookcase door to Archie's bedroom shifted, and I looked up to see a nervous Caroline standing there. She'd been with Esme the most after the explosion that morning. Esme had told her some of our family history, including her own and the full story of Bella and me.
It was now mid-afternoon. The poor girl looked lost, wrecked, and sad. For a brief moment, I wondered if I'd driven Bella that crazy when we first met and she just hadn't said anything. Snorting to myself, I knew the answer was probably yes.
I stopped playing, pulling my hands away from the keys. "I can stop if you need to rest."
She shook her head, waving a hand at me. "I'm too...wired to sleep. But thank you." She glanced around the room, shaking her head at how the library still brought her comfort. "You play really well. Don't stop. It's relaxing."
I nodded. "Thank you. It is for me, too," I admitted to her. "Anything particular?"
She giggled a little. "Let me guess... You can play anything."
Shrugging, I smirked at her. "It's a blessing and a curse, the eidetic memory," I said with a chuckle and a tap to my temple. "With music and good memories, it's a blessing. With mistakes and bad times, it's a curse, because you can recall it with perfect clarity."
Her nose wrinkled at that, but she asked, "Did you really write Bella a song?"
With a grin and a nod, I started Bella's original lullaby. Though I'd written plenty of songs in her honor since then, this would always be my girl's favorite. In fact, I heard her mind think that very thing from upstairs.
Caroline's heartbeat started to calm as I played, and she walked along the bookshelves slowly. Her finger traced along the old spines in a manner I'd come to observe in book lovers. Bella did the exact same thing. The girl's mind, however, never slowed, never stopped, and every time she thought to ask me something, her heart would pick back up its frantic beat. Frowning, I realized she hadn't been this nervous with Esme.
Don't want to bother him...
I stopped playing. "Do I come across that way? As unapproachable?" I asked her.
She spun to face me, her eyes wide. "What?! No, no!" she gushed, but her face bloomed crimson. "It's just... I see how everyone looks to you, 'cause you're the oldest, and I know it must drive you nuts to hear everything... I didn't want to bug you, even though Bella and Esme said it would be all right, but now I don't know..."
Chuckling, I sighed deeply. "Breathe, Caroline. And please, have a seat." I gestured to the chair beside the piano that Jasper usually sat to play his guitar. I spun to sit on the end of the piano bench, resting my elbows on my knees once she was curled up in the chair. "First of all, I'm not the oldest. If we aren't counting Carlisle, then Jasper would be the oldest. I am, however, the first of the family. And yes, they have a tendency to come to me, simply because they always have. I've witnessed their changes – aside from Alice, Jasper, and Adrian – and helped them through the rough start."
"So you're like the big brother," she surmised, tilting her head a bit. I could see the girl that Archie adored and needed. She was bright and calm but fierce in her own way. And she made me want to help her, like Emmett and Jasper had helped Bella when we first returned.
"I guess you could look at it that way. Alice still calls me that," I said with a light chuckle. "And yes, I absolutely hear everything." I tapped my temple, rolling my eyes, which made her giggle. "Even things I don't want to hear," I told her, raising an eyebrow.
She nodded but then gasped. "Oh! Ew, I can't imagine, but then...you're a guy, so...maybe..."
Laughing, I shook my head. "Um, no. It's not like that. I don't particularly care to see anyone but my wife."
"That's sweet," she crooned.
"I try to give them privacy, but most times, it's nearly impossible. In fact, privacy isn't something we have a lot of around here. And Bella can shield me, but I'm so used to monitoring our surroundings that it makes me a little uncomfortable to be completely blocked off for long periods of time." I sat up straight. "Bella's the only one that can block me out if she wants to."
"Does she?"
"No, not really," I responded with a shrug. "She likes communicating that way. And she knows that her mind is the only one I really want to see."
Caroline smiled but stayed quiet, gazing down at her hands on her lap. She thought I was kind and that my love for Bella came across in everything I did or said, but she also knew that Archie spoke most highly of me, and that's why my opinion was valued to her.
"But she and Esme are right. You can ask me questions," I urged her. "You aren't bothering me. And I know that this whole thing hasn't been easy for you. It hasn't been that long since Bella was human."
Questions rattled around in her mind, but she sorted them out, finally gazing up at me. "Bella said to ask you... I mean... What was Archie really feeling when I lived here?"
I nodded, setting my elbows back down on my thighs. "You must understand that when we go too long without feeding, our minds are...jumbled. When we're fully fed – especially my family, where we drink from animals – our humanity, our human-like qualities are much easier to maintain. But when we're starving, we become less human and more..." I sighed, looking up to the ceiling. "Sorry, Bella... We become more monster, less civilized. She hates that term because she doesn't feel like, nor does she view us as monsters. But at that stage of thirst, there's no better description because we'd kill anything or anyone that crossed our path. It's instinctual.
"See..." I said, getting up to pace. "We can die. The word immortal is sort of misleading. But it's not easy, and someone else usually has to do it. In other words, we can't commit suicide. Poison, hanging, conventional weapons, even starvation won't work." I knelt in front of her. "I have a theory on Archie. I think he got so used to being hungry – because he was trying to kill himself – that he just learned to live with the pain, the burn. That makes him the strongest person I know. I think that by the time you and your parents came along, he was able to ignore most of what he wanted or needed. See, Archie, as a human, was taught that he couldn't eat unless he provided it himself by catching his own meal and that he didn't deserve good things. And he was also dealing with an enormous amount of fear and guilt. That multiplies when you change."
I smiled, looking down at my hands. "I also believe that life threw a wrench in the works when you got here because I think he felt something for you then, whether he could name it or not. He may have not even acknowledged it due to his... incoherent state. And he had absolutely no one to teach him. However, once again, instinct tends to lead us in certain situations. You felt protected and safe in this room because he was nearby."
"Why?"
I sighed, eying her for a moment. "You've heard the word mate tossed around here today. I know you have, so I don't have explain what that means. However, there is nothing...and I mean, nothing that will stop a mated vampire from protecting what's his."
"His?"
"It sounds possessive, I know. And it is, but he's just as much yours as you are his. And even though you were very young at the time, there was a distinct possibility that on a baser level, Archie felt that. So when your mother threatened you, his need to protect you overrode everything. His hunger would've shot out of control the very second she accidentally cut herself. It was circumstances that were unfortunate, and they snowballed." I grimaced at that thought, but I waited until she met my gaze. "It wasn't aimed toward you. It definitely wasn't personal. It could've been anyone in that kitchen, and the blood would've drawn him in. It wasn't deliberate or an act of malice. It was simply Archie trying to survive. Most of us have to bear the guilt of similar mistakes for as long as we're alive. And that can be a very, very long time."
"But it was my mom, Edward," she whispered, gazing at me with red-rimmed, blue eyes that were filling with tears.
Reaching over to the table, I snatched a few tissues out of the box, pressing them into her hand. "I know, and I'm so sorry for that," I told her as she dabbed at her face. "There's nothing I can do or say that will take that sting away. The loss of a parent..." I shook my head and then tugged the piano bench closer so that I could sit in front of her.
"Do you remember your mom?" she asked.
I smiled sadly and nodded, glancing down at my hands. "Yes. Somewhat, anyway. She was very beautiful and kind. She was the one that made sure I learned to play the piano," I told her, tapping the instrument behind me. She knew my story from the book and from Esme, so I didn't really have to go into detail with what I said next. "Carlisle said that she held on as long as she could but then begged for him to save me. To save me any way he could. He's convinced at the end that she knew what he was...or at least that he was something...more."
"Do you ever wish that... I don't know," she sighed wearily. "Do you ever wish it had turned out differently?"
"I used to," I said honestly with a nod. "I've lived a very long life, seen a lot of things, and I did a lot of it alone. It was all empty until Bella came along. That's a fact. As much as I miss my parents, there's nothing I wouldn't do over to have her again. And again." I smiled when Caroline looked up at me, but I could hear my Bella's mind telling me that she loved me. "And my Bella...she's a big believer in fate. The big type of fate, like everything happens for a reason. She thinks Carlisle changed me so that I could wait for her, so that we'd be each others half. Always. Forever." I leaned on the last word, and Caroline gaped at me.
I handed her another tissue. "Look, Caroline, I'm not going to defend what Archie did. I can't defend anything any of us have done. However, his circumstances were so very different. Whereas I had guidance through Carlisle, Archie had no one. Imagine taking a toddler, dropping him off on a deserted island to fend for himself, to seek shelter, find food, and comfort himself. A toddler. Okay?" I asked her, and she nodded. "Now imagine that he doesn't eat fruit or fish, but he's a carnivore only. It's his island, his home, and his hunting grounds. He learns to hunt by scent, tracking, and the sound of heartbeats. Now...drop a... I don't know... Shipwreck a boat on that island, what do you think would happen?"
Caroline's eyes drifted past me out the window, but she finally met my gaze. "Food is food."
"Yes, ma'am. Exactly," I sighed.
We didn't speak for a moment, though there was no silence because I could hear everyone in the house. Archie was about to crawl over Bella and our siblings to get down here, Carlisle and Esme were off the phone with Marcus and had listened to our conversation, and Rose and Emmett were back but had left Caroline and me alone. However, Rose's mind was thinking back to a similar conversation I'd had with her many, many years ago, prior to Emmett, about the acceptance of what we were.
You're an amazing brother, Edward, she thought to me with a chuckle.
"I promise not to tell anyone you think so, Rose," I muttered just low enough Caroline couldn't hear me, and Rose's laugh made me smile.
Caroline's phone started to ring from her jeans pocket, and she sighed deeply, pulling it out. "My dad," she said, her brow furrowing. "Guess I'd better... He's getting on the plane in the morning."
I nodded, getting up to move my piano bench back.
"Um, Edward?"
"Hmm?" I hummed, looking over at her. Her finger was at the ready to answer her phone.
"Thanks. A lot," she whispered, smiling a little.
"No problem," I told her. "And thank you."
"For what?" she asked.
"For distracting me from all their thoughts. You wouldn't believe what Emmett thinks about," I whispered dramatically, grinning when she laughed.
"Want me to tell you?" Emmett boomed from the other room.
"No!" we all yelled, including Caroline.
With a snort, she answered her call. "Hey, Dad," she greeted as she walked into Archie's room.
I gazed down at the piano, my fingers lightly touching the white keys, slipping up to touch the black ones. I tried to ignore Caroline's chat with her father. He was essentially reiterating her safety, his flight information, and then how long it would take him to drive from the Portland airport to Caribou. She listened and hummed in all the right places, but her mind was distracted.
Warm arms wrapped around my shoulders from behind, and a soft kiss was pressed to my cheek as the scent of freesias and strawberries wafted around me. I sighed in contentment at the feel of Bella's touch.
That was a really sweet thing you just did, Edward, she told me silently, and I turned my head a little to face her. Archie was worried at first, but he wanted so badly to trust you, and he wanted me to thank you. He said you didn't have to defend him.
"Yes, I did," I sighed, pulling her around until she stood between my legs. I swirled her ponytail around my hand, gazing up into her sweet, warm eyes. "If anyone in this house deserves a second chance...it's him. The rest of us...we knew better, we struggled, and we complained. He didn't. And he never knew anything different until six months ago."
Bella nodded, cupping my face. That's very true, baby, she thought to me as her lips met mine.
It didn't last as long as I wanted, nor was it as deep as I wished it to be, but it was comforting nonetheless. We looked up when Carlisle walked in, followed by the rest of the family, including Archie. Carlisle gripped my shoulder on the way by, his mind filled with pride at how I'd handled Caroline, but we all came to a standstill when Caroline's voice echoed up from Archie's basement.
"Dad, can I ask you a question?" she asked him, sounding nervous yet determined.
My eyebrows shot up at what she was about to do, but she was just trying to clear up all the questions in her head. I pulled Bella to my lap, her back to my chest as I rested my chin on her shoulder.
"Yeah, Carrie," Tim answered.
"Did you love Mom?" she asked bluntly. "I mean, were you like in love with her? Like forever and ever? Were you happy?"
Tim was silent on the other end of the line. And I would've given anything to have heard his mind at the moment because I was willing to bet that Tim and Lisa's marriage had been over long before they'd moved to Caribou. But I didn't know for sure.
"Why are you asking me this, Caroline?" he countered.
"I just want to know," she said with a huff. "Mr. and Mrs. Cullen... You'll understand when you meet them, and even though they're parents, they're still so... I don't know...happy. They laugh and kiss and play. And I don't remember you and Mom doing any of that."
Bella and I weren't the only ones in the room that shot a look over to Carlisle and Esme. They were smiling, but it was warm and soft and a little surprised. Carlisle picked up her hand and kissed the back of it.
Tim sighed deeply, a groan mixed in with it. "We were happy once, Carrie."
"Until me," she surmised.
"No, baby girl," he gushed, but stopped himself. "You'll understand when you get older that relationships morph and change and..."
"But they shouldn't," she argued. "Love is something that should be steadfast."
He sighed deeply again, clearly frustrated. "I loved your mom, baby. I always have. She was the most beautiful thing I'd ever set eyes on when I met her in college. It was the two of us against the world. We got married, I finished school and went to work, you came along, and suddenly, we were so damned busy that we hardly had time to say good night before falling into bed every night exhausted. I desperately wanted to find what we had, but not everything worked out that way. Your mother started to feel...trapped."
"Oh," Caroline said softly.
"Nothing I did for her helped," he admitted. "But never doubt for a moment that you weren't the best thing she ever gave me. Understand?"
"Yeah."
"She started taking out her misery on both of us, and when she first disappeared, I thought for sure that she'd up and left us. I've never told anyone that because I didn't want to believe she'd given up, and I didn't want you to remember her that way. You know?" He didn't wait for her to answer, because it sounded like he was purging himself of all of it. "Maybe she left, maybe something happened to her, but I can't regret getting you out of it, Carrie. You must understand that.
"I know I haven't been easy to live with, and I know that you're a lot like your mother. You're brave and smart and beautiful. I was just so afraid that you'd leave me, too, and you did, but I can hear that you needed this...this... Whatever this is that you did."
Caroline huffed a laugh. "If anything, I met the most amazing family, Dad. And they'll be here when I come back in the fall for school."
"Good. I can't wait to meet them. Mrs. Cullen sounds like a nice woman. Is she taking care of you?"
"Yeah, really good care of me. Though, it takes some getting used to being around this many siblings," she said with a giggle.
Emmett grinned, giving Jasper a fist bump. "She loves us. But seriously, what's not to love?"
I snorted, muffling it into Bella's shoulder. But none of us could help the sense of panic that came with knowing that according to Alice's visions, Caroline wouldn't see the university in Portland. And that frustrated Alice to no end. She still couldn't see why.
Caroline mentally noted that this was the most they'd talked in a very, very long time, and it seemed her father was thinking the same thing.
"I've missed this, but... You sound so grown up, Carrie. When did that happen?" he sighed. "Is there a boy I should be worried about?"
Bella chuckled. "He sounds like Charlie."
We all nodded in agreement.
Caroline laughed but groaned at the same time. "Do you really want to know if there's a boy, Dad?" she asked wryly.
"Yes...no...maybe," he stammered. "Aw hell, Carrie. I'm not stupid, and I'm not blind. You're a beautiful girl. I know that some day, a guy is going to come along, and it'll all be over. He'll steal your heart. I just want you safe and happy. Okay?"
"When did you become so understanding?" she teased him, but her mind had landed on Archie, and she could barely concentrate.
"Don't push it, Caroline Lynn. You're still in huge trouble for this stunt," he huffed, "but I also had a long talk with your Aunt Trish this morning. She basically called me a jackass for hoarding you away for all these years. She told me that your behavior shouldn't come as a surprise. She also mentioned the name...Archie."
My eyes drifted to Archie, who had been silently listening and staring out the large windows over the backyard. He glanced up with wide, fearful eyes. I had to fight my smile because to him, meeting the girl's father was an enormous event. And he was still so unsure about everything between Caroline and himself that he was just about to go mad. He was trying so hard to wait patiently for her as time ticked closer and closer to her leaving, so it was all he could do not to throw himself at her feet and beg for forgiveness for the rest of eternity.
"I'm going to kill Tiffany," she murmured almost in a growl, but her father's laughter echoed out over the line. "He's...special, Daddy," she said softly, and we all spun to gaze at Archie, whose hands were shoved in his front pockets as his forehead softly thumped to the window in front of him. "It's still new, and he's extremely shy, but I've... This isn't like Grant."
Tim scoffed. "I never liked that boy. Too full of himself. He didn't treat you right."
A vase shattered under Archie's hands, and I set Bella on the piano bench before walking to him.
"It's not what you're thinking, Archie," I whispered quickly. "He didn't hurt her. He didn't...touch her. Does that make sense?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. I didn't want to say the words aloud, but I would if I had to. Caroline was untouched as far as that went. "He was simply a boy that she went places with – movies, dances, outings with friends. And those were limited because of how strict her father was."
"Well, he's the opposite of Grant, Dad. Trust me," Caroline said firmly, confirming what I was trying to get across to Archie. "Grant doesn't even come close."
I grinned, smacking Archie's back when his eyes widened again. "Relax, Archie. She can't deny what she feels for you. She's been trying all day and has failed miserably. Just...give her time."
"But you will clean up your mess," Esme told him, smirking at him.
"Y-Yes, ma'am," he sighed, bolting from the room to grab the broom and dustpan.
"So I'm assuming I'm meeting this...Archie when I get there?" Tim asked.
"Yeah, but...be nice," Caroline commanded.
"Humph. We'll see, kiddo." He sighed and then spoke to someone on his end of the line. "I gotta go, Carrie. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon. I'll call when I land."
"'Kay, Dad," she said, and they ended the call. She debated over and over whether or not to come back upstairs, but she sat down on Archie's bed and wrapped her arms around her bent knees.
Archie frowned, looking up at me as he cleaned up the shattered ceramic. She's not coming up, is she?
I shook my head but squeezed his shoulder before walking back to the piano bench.
"We should play something," Emmett suggested as a way to take everyone's mind off everything.
Jasper nodded, looking to me. "You in?"
I kissed the side of Bella's head when she agreed with her brothers. "Yeah, I'm in."
~oOo~
BELLA
I often wondered what made Edward and the boys pick what songs they played. I knew that sometimes, it was to test their talents over something that was difficult to play – at least, Emmett liked to challenge himself. But then there were days like this, where they seemed to feed on the emotions and thoughts that were crowding around us.
Caroline stayed downstairs in Archie's room as the boys kept their songs fairly mellow. Edward shot me a wink when he played "Angels" by Robbie Williams – something he hadn't played since we lived in London.
I curled up on the loveseat with Alice, hoping to offer her some support as she continuously searched through her visions. I even offered to shield her from everyone to help her concentrate, but she declined, saying that she needed to be able to see everyone.
Jasper traded out his electric guitar for an acoustic. Edward selected the blue acoustic guitar I'd picked out in New York at the same time Kevin grabbed a bass guitar and plugged it into an amp. They spoke in quick, hushed instructions before Jasper started the song "Home" by Phillip Phillips.
Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm gonna make this place your home
The folk music sound that came out of my boys was stunning. Their guitars blended sounds together at the same time that Emmett played a marching beat. But it was the full, perfect meshing of their four voices in flawless harmony that made me shake my head, only to realize that they were, in fact, sending out a message. I could've hugged my brothers to death and kissed Edward senseless.
Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm going to make this place your home
Alice and I chuckled at them, along with the rest of the family, as they sang the chorus just one more time acapella, because it was the silly looks of pride that graced all four of their faces.
When the song was over, Jasper fiddled with strings of his guitar, but it was Kevin's sad face that Edward noticed. Kevin's eyes were focused on Archie, whose gaze was blank and unseeing out the window of the library. There wasn't a single one of us that didn't want to...help. Just help.
Edward nodded to no one in particular but hung the guitar back up before sitting back down to the piano. He locked gazes with me, patting the seat beside him. I got up and took my spot next to him.
You okay, handsome? I asked, pushing a curl from his forehead and pulling him down so that I could press a kiss there.
His brow furrowed, but he smiled slightly as he gave me a nod and brushed his lips across mine. "I was going to play this for you once, but I think..." He shot a sad glance toward Archie. "I think it'll work better today."
I smiled at him. You know, you could sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and I'd be cool with it.
He grinned, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. "Biased girl," he teased with a wink, causing a few snickers around the room.
You love it.
He laughed. "I do."
His beautiful face sobered as his fingers found the keys. Watching Edward lose himself to music was always one of my favorite things because his face lost the stress, the worry, the pinch that came with hearing every-damn-thing around him. But his voice was smooth, a little sad, but soft and soothing as he played "And So It Goes" by Billy Joel.
In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along
The song had a lullaby feel to it, but really it was a plea or a prayer from one damaged heart to another. And once again, I fell that much more in love with my Edward.
I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense
And every time I've held a rose
It seems I only felt the thorns
And so it goes and so it goes
And so will you soon, I suppose
I could see how this would have fit us at one point, but he was right; this was much more appropriate for Archie. And from the scent of salty tears that wafted up out of the basement bedroom, Caroline was hearing the words loud and clear.
But if my silence made you leave
Then that would be my worst mistake
So I will share this room with you
And you can have this heart to break
Edward glanced over at me with that last line, and I nuzzled his jaw, smiling just a little. Even though he was singing for everyone else, he couldn't resist showing his love for me.
And this is why my eyes are closed
It's just as well for all I've seen
And so it goes and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows
So I would choose to be with you
That's if the choice were mine to make
But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break
And so it goes and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows
Esme started to get up once the song was over, but Edward shook his head no. She started to argue, but the soft, tentative sound of Caroline's voice echoed up.
"Archie?"
I buried my smile into Edward's upper arm as poor Archie's head spun so quickly, it was a blur. I hoped that calling him was a good thing, and Edward pressed a kiss to the crown of my head.
"Yes," he whispered, offering me his hand.
Everyone moved then, Carlisle giving Archie's shoulder a squeeze. "We'll give you some privacy."
I could tell by the panicked look on Archie's face that he couldn't decide whether privacy was a good idea or if he wanted us close just in case.
"Sweetie, see if you can get her to eat something. She missed lunch today," Esme instructed him, and he nodded dumbly.
"Hey, Ed, let's light up the fire pit outside. We'll bring the guitars, Esme can grill for Caroline, and we'll get away from the house for a bit," Jasper suggested, pointing through the library windows.
"Yeah, okay," Edward agreed, tugging my hand, but I hesitated. "It'll be all right, sweet girl," he soothed, brushing a stray hair from my face. His eyes were warm, comforting honey, but I could tell by the tenseness of his sharp jaw that he was feeling the same worry I was.
Frowning, I glanced between the bookcase door and Archie. Caroline could shatter him so easily, and my heart hurt for him, if that was the case. I wanted them both to be happy, but having watched Archie come so far, I knew for a fact he wouldn't survive a broken heart. He wouldn't survive the loss of her, especially if she never made it back for college.
Alice grabbed my other hand, her face vacant of any expression whatsoever, but we all made our way outside. The guys and Carlisle moved the deck chairs and the fire pit out to the middle of the backyard. Emmett toted the grill out along with it, starting the coals for Esme to cook for Caroline.
Alice and I planted ourselves in the chairs that faced the library window as wood was stacked into the fire pit and flames took a hungry hold on them. I laughed a little when Edward grabbed my foot, tugging me down the chaise so that he could situate himself behind me.
"We shouldn't listen," Adrian said with a chuckle and a slow shake of his head as Kevin sat next to him.
"He wants us to," Edward stated softly, his breath pushing out against my cheek. "He knows this conversation could make or break them. He doesn't want to screw it up."
My sisters, Esme, and I cooed sadly at that, but my eyes were unable to stay away from the library window. I could see Archie offer Caroline a seat, but instead of sitting next to her or in front of her, he knelt at her feet, almost in supplication. And they hadn't even spoken a word to each other.
There was another small part of me that felt for Caroline. It was the private part of my personality that worried that she'd hate that we were eavesdropping, but Archie warned her first thing.
"There's um... There isn't a lot of privacy around here," he told her softly, smiling just a bit. "We'd either have to send them all completely away...or leave the property. I'm sorry. It's their way of protecting me...and you."
We chuckled at his phrasing, but it was a harsh truth that we'd all grown used to. Jasper laughed lightly, plucking softly at his guitar.
Caroline nodded. "I get it. You guys can hear everything. And they're all great. I just... I had questions, and I wanted to talk to you."
"You can ask me anything, but I can't change the past, Caroline. I wish I could, but I can't," he told her, his sweet, sad face pleading with her silently.
She nodded again, finally locking gazes with him. "Do you remember me? Edward says... He said that your mind was a little blurry, and I just wondered..."
He smiled. "A little." He picked up her hand carefully and turned it over, his nose grazing across her wrist. "You smell the same. Like roses and sunflowers. That's the strongest memory I have. I remember berating myself that you were so young, but my thirst was...strong. And it wasn't even you that I...craved."
"It was my parents," she surmised, and he nodded guiltily.
"What I really wanted was to leave humans alone," he countered with an urgent tone to his voice. "I never, ever wanted this. I tried to just...stop existing."
Caroline frowned at that, looking down at their hands. He hadn't let go of her. "What about now?" she asked him shyly.
He tapped the center of her palm with one finger. "Now, you hold my existence right here."
Her face blushed pink with that, but she sat forward a bit. "How? How is that possible when I only met you days ago? Okay...well, not counting when I was first living in this house."
"I don't know." He snickered softly, shrugging one shoulder. "It just is. It's happened to all of them." He jerked a thumb toward the backyard, but her eyes never left his face. "It's permanent and unwavering."
Edward sighed in my ear, but it sounded like he was just thinking aloud. "She feels it, too; she's just afraid to say it."
"Were you really protecting me?" she asked him, tilting her head a little.
"Yes," he said firmly. "If I didn't want you to fall at a movie theater, then it wouldn't surprise me that I didn't want anyone to hurt you – even if it was...your mother."
"My dad says she changed, that she was unhappy, that she took it out on us," she murmured, frowning down at their hands, but she traced her fingers along his. "Your skin is soft...but cool."
"Maybe she did change, but you need to understand, Caroline... I'd protect you...again," he said, almost forcefully. "That hasn't, nor will it ever, change. It's something you need to know."
Caroline seemed to chew on that for a moment and then took a deep breath. "I don't remember much of my mother, but what I do remember wasn't nice. I've wondered my whole life what it would be like if she'd stuck around, and I can't picture her in my life...in any capacity. Do you think I blocked her out on purpose?"
Archie's brow furrowed, but he shook his head. "I... I honestly don't know. You'd have to ask Carlisle."
"I did!" she gushed. "And he said that it was. Possible, that is. He said that due to my age then and my mother's possible...abuse. Fuck, I hate that word, but if that's what she did..." She trailed off for a few seconds but then picked right back up. "He said that it is possible that I just...forgot her. That her treatment of me was too much for my mind to handle. He also said that if her personality changed enough, it was my way of protecting myself from someone that should've loved me."
She took a deep breath, looking up to Archie's eyes. "I have a friend back in California; her name's Christy. She's in the foster care system because her own father tried to set the house on fire...while she was still in it. She was four years old at the time. She still has the scars." She swallowed nervously, but I noticed that their hands were still connected. "Her mom is in prison...because that same night of the fire? She killed the son of bitch."
"Oh, damn," Emmett growled, looking around at us. "She gets it, doesn't she? Like really, truly just...gets it."
Edward nodded fervently but held up a hand. He glanced quickly over to Alice, whose eyes were glazed over. She shook her head once, but we all turned our attention back to the couple in the library.
"What... What are you saying, Caroline?" Archie asked tentatively.
"I'm saying... I'm sorry I yelled at you. It was just so much, you know?" she asked, and he nodded for her to go on. "But I've talked with Esme and Edward and Carlisle... And I've done a lot of thinking. I even talked to my dad, but...you know that, don't you?" she asked, wearing a small smile.
"We heard you, yes," Archie answered with a nervous chuckle. "I told you... Not a lot of privacy."
I chuckled at how his sweet smile caused her to lose track of what she was saying for just a split second. Bringing Edward's hand up to my lips, I pressed a small kiss to the back of it. I knew that feeling, that brief moment of awe at the beautiful man, whose whole face lit up when he smiled. Edward sighed a little at my thoughts, pressing kisses to my head and pulling me closer with his free hand.
Caroline stood up, and Archie looked shattered at the prospect of her walking away, but I could tell she had pent-up energy that she needed to siphon off by pacing. She bit the inside of her cheek, gazing around the room, her hands shoved into the back pockets of the jeans she was wearing. Archie stood up, too, like the gentleman that he was, looking at her cautiously.
"You were here..." she stated, pointing toward the bookcase doorway that led to his room.
"Yes."
"And you were starving."
"Yes."
"Because you were afraid to leave..."
"Yes, I wanted to, but..."
She held up a hand, and shook her head. "Believe me, Archie, I've watched my dad wrestle with his own fears. I know how...debilitating they can be. And if what everyone says is true, then your fears were a million times worse."
Archie shut up but nodded, which was probably for the best.
"So..." She frowned and gazed around the library again. "So... You were here, you were starving, and you heard my mom threaten to hurt me, send me to bed without dinner, and it probably pissed you off, right?" she verified, but didn't wait for his answer. "Then, Karma, being the cold-hearted bitch that she is, caused my mother to cut herself. And you... You lost control. You lost control like the day that Edward met Bella...only instead of fighting it because she was his...mate, you went into protective mode and eliminated the enemy."
"Holy shit!" Kevin breathed with a slight laugh. "She really does get it."
Archie shoved his hands into his front pockets. "Yeah, that's about right, I guess. I'm so sorry."
"You protected me."
"Yes, but in all honesty, I didn't know what I was doing."
"Like Christy's mom protected her," she continued, ignoring his explanation.
He nodded again.
"And you weren't mad at me at the movies?"
"Oh God, no!" he gushed, stepping closer to her. "What I did...in public...I could've really screwed up! I was mad at me, Caroline. I swear."
Caroline didn't even flinch at his quick movement, but then again, she'd been around most of us all day, and we'd slowly started to act ourselves around her. She nodded at him, taking another deep breath.
"How did you do it? How did you stay here without going crazy?" she whispered, her face now filling with awe and a bit of sadness.
Archie shrugged. "I don't know. Time is different for us. It goes by quicker. Carlisle says that due to my thirst, I was probably in a trance-like state for a lot of the time. He says that I would most likely come out of it when humans were around."
"Does my blood bother you?"
"No." Archie shook his head adamantly. "No, it doesn't. Because to hurt you would kill me."
Caroline gasped, her eyes widening as she looked up at him.
"Does that scare you?" Archie asked, wincing a little. "It's too much, right? I want to be honest, but I don't want to frighten you."
"The only thing that scares me..." she whispered, looking pained as she sat back down, and Archie planted himself at her feet again, but she didn't finish that thought.
I turned to look at Edward, who simply said, "The only thing that scares her is leaving tomorrow, but she's not ready to admit that."
"Did Alice see me coming?" Caroline asked suddenly, and Archie looked surprised by the change in topic.
"Yeah, she saw you."
"Did she know that we... I mean, did she tell you that we'd feel..."
Esme cooed a little at that, and I smiled, laying my head back to Edward's shoulder.
"Feel like what?" Archie asked, and I could tell he was afraid of her answer.
"Like I can't breathe unless you're in the same room, or at least, nearby. Like I know you, but I really don't, and then that just makes me want to know more. Like I know I should be scared of all of this, but I'm really not, and that concerns me, too. And I feel... that if I leave tomorrow, I'll never see you again, and that scares me most of all."
"Yeah, that's about right," Kevin and I said at the same time, causing chuckles around the fire pit.
"That scares me, too," Archie admitted, his brow furrowing.
Caroline reached up to rub the worry away from between his eyebrows, I had to look away from such a intimate moment because she leaned in a little.
"Damn," Jasper breathed, shaking his head to clear it. "Archie's scared to death, and she's pushing a helluva lot of emotions right now."
I giggled into Edward's neck at the tidal wave that Jasper was projecting. There was fear, curiosity, love, and now...lust. Lots of it. It was swirling around us like a tornado.
"Wow," Rose said with a chuckle. "And I thought Edward was bad when he first saw Bella..."
Edward growled low, his eyes darkening. "Really, Rose? You really want to have this conversation?" he asked her, smirking at her deep, full laughter. "You and Emmett destroyed a small forest...and cars, and walls, and buildings..."
Emmett grinned proudly. "Hells, yes, we did!"
I laughed into Edward's skin, thinking, Shut up now, baby. We've done plenty of our own damage...forests, cars, walls, and buildings. And it was fan-freaking-tastic.
Edward chuckled, burying into my neck. "Indeed, Mrs. Cullen," he whispered with a grin against my earlobe.
I could tell that the emotions were affecting all of us, but I could also hear Archie stop Caroline, which made me turn toward the library window again. They were forehead to forehead, their breathing heavy.
"Caroline, I..." He stopped, his head dropping a little as he took a deep breath. "You should eat something. I know Esme's cooking for you. Would you like to join everyone outside?"
I smiled, seeing the gentleman in Archie that I knew and loved as Caroline nodded.
"No, he's scared," Edward chuckled.
I tsked, waving him off. Leave him alone. We found our way. They will, too. At least they're talking. At least she understands that he was protecting her.
"Archie?" she whispered, gazing up at him, but they were still very close.
"Hmm?" he hummed, completely distracted by the girl in front of him.
"Will you be here in the fall when I come back?" she asked him softly.
Archie looked pained at the question, but he was already nodding. "I'm not going anywhere."
We all looked to Alice, who was shaking her head in frustration. "Nothing has changed!" she growled. "I don't get it. I still see her as one of us before the summer!"
Edward sighed but turned his attention back to Archie. "We're not accounting for something, Alice," he mused aloud. "There's a decision you're just not seeing."
"Maybe," she huffed, folding her arms across her chest as Jasper held her close.
He bent to her ear, saying, "You know, darlin', if there was an accident, and Caroline was hurt or whatever, she would either die or have to be changed...and that wouldn't be something you could see now because it's a spur-of-the-moment thing."
Alice froze for a moment, her eyebrows raising up as she looked to Edward. It was something to consider. And I shot Jasper a wink and a smile because I knew he was thinking of my birthday party that went terribly awry.
If Caroline was embarrassed by having all of us hearing their conversation, I wouldn't know it, because she made her way out to the fire pit with her head held high. Her hand was firmly gripping Archie's, but before Emmett could open his big, fat mouth to tease them, I shoved him out of his chair.
"Don't!" I snapped, smirking when he collapsed onto the ground in laughter. "You, either," I told Kevin, who was opening his mouth to speak.
Edward's head fell back with his laugh, as did Carlisle's.
Esme snorted at us all but guided Caroline to the table, setting a plate in front of her that was full of grilled chicken and vegetables. "Ignore them."
"No, it's fine," Caroline said with a chuckle. Though, her eyes widened. "Bella!"
I heard Emmett before I saw the small stick aimed my way. I not only slammed my shield down around Edward and myself, but I caught the stick in the middle of it so that it looked like it was hovering in midair.
"Whoa," Caroline breathed, looking to Edward. "You weren't kidding. That is awesome!"
Edward grinned with pride and love, reaching out to poke a finger at the stick. "Yeah, it really is."
I narrowed my eyes at my biggest brother, who was picking his proud self up off the ground. "Have you lost your mind, Emmett?" I growled, rolling my eyes as his grin taunted me. "You," I said, pointing a finger at him. "You'd better run."
The whole family cracked up as Emmett bolted at the same time I launched myself off Edward's lap. Emmett's teasing laugh echoed out of the forest, from the tree tops, and from the back of the house as I gave chase. I caught up to him just as we rounded the side of the house, sending my shield out to trap his legs. He was still laughing when I pinned him to the ground.
I couldn't help but grin at him because it felt good to behave normally, without having to constantly restrain every movement.
Chuckling, I said, "You just cost Rose and Jasper fifty bucks."
With a snort, he reached up and tossed me off him. "Cheater," he accused, but he shot me a wink.
We walked back to the fire pit just as Edward tucked his money into his pocket. "Nice job, love," he said, pulling me back down onto the chaise with him.
"Thank you!" I sighed contentedly.
Caroline looked amused, but she suddenly gasped, looking to Archie.
"What?" he asked her, with a frightened expression.
"I just realized that my dad will be here in like twenty-four hours," she said sadly. "What am I gonna do?"
Esme sat beside her, tucking a stray blonde lock behind her ear. "What do you mean, sweetheart?"
"I mean... I know I have to go, but..." She looked down at her plate, poking at her food with a fork.
Edward shifted a little, saying, "There are ways to stay in contact, Caroline. We're not abandoning you."
"Absolutely not!" Esme soothed, urging her silently to eat. "We'll figure something out. I promise. Besides, I don't think Archie will last until the fall without seeing you."
Archie looked wide-eyed with embarrassment, and Caroline blushed at that statement.
"How is that?" she asked no one in particular. "How come I feel comfortable here when I barely fit in at home?"
Linking my fingers with Edward's, I said, "Because when you find that one person, you belong where they are. You were meant to come here."
I knew how she felt. I knew that it was sudden and confusing, but altogether amazing. It was like finding where you were supposed to be. I knew I was meant to leave Phoenix and move in with Charlie. I didn't know why at the time, but it was something that felt right. Had I not done it, had I stayed with my mother, I would've never met the most beautiful person, most amazing soul. And that thought made Edward hug me closer.
We were quiet for a moment, but my family nodded in agreement.
"Perhaps, Caroline," Carlisle said with a smile, "we can convince your dad to let you visit over the summer."
Alice and I locked gazes with that decision, but she simply shook her head no. Again, the visions stayed the same.
She laughed, though her brow furrowed. "Good luck with that. I have a feeling I'll be grounded until the end of time."
Esme grinned. "I'm told I can be very persuasive, Caroline." She patted her hand. "Don't you worry."
"'Kay," she said with a smile and a quick glance to Archie.
"Until then," Emmett boomed, clapping his hands together. "Eat up, Carrie! We'll make the best of the time we've got left! Yeah?" he asked her, giving her a sweet wink, and I could see that he was in big brother mode...big time.
She laughed. "Okay. What are we doing?"
He laughed, rubbing his hands together at the same time Edward groaned. "I don't know, but I'll come up with something awesome!"
Carlisle snorted, shaking his head. "I'm sure you will, Em. Let's just hope the house is still standing when it's all over."

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