Home > New Moon (Twilight #2)(4)

New Moon (Twilight #2)(4)
Stephenie Meyer

"Well, that's everyone," I sighed. "I can clear a room, at least."

"It's not your fault," Carlisle comforted me with a chuckle. "It could happen to anyone."

"Could" I repeated. "But it usually just happens to me."

He laughed again.

His relaxed calm was only more amazing set in direct contrast with everyone else's reaction. I couldn't find any trace of anxiety in his face. He worked with quick, sure movements. The only sound besides our quiet breathing was the soft plink, plink as the tiny fragments of glass dropped one by one to the table.

"How can you do this?" I demanded. "Even Alice and Esme..." I trailed off, shaking my head in wonder. Though the rest of them had given up the traditional diet of vampires just as absolutely as Carlisle had, he was the only one who could bear the smell of my blood without suffering from the intense temptation. Clearly, this was much more difficult than he made it seem.

"Years and years of practice," he told me. "I barely notice the scent anymore."

"Do you think it would be harder if you took a vacation from the hospital for a long time. And weren't around any blood?"

"Maybe." He shrugged his shoulders, but his hands remained steady. "I've never felt the need for an extended holiday." He flashed a brilliant smile in my direction. "I enjoy my work too much."

Plink, plink, plink. I was surprised at how much glass there seemed to be in my arm. I was tempted to glance at the growing pile, just to check the size, but I knew that idea would not be helpful to my no-vomiting strategy.

"What is it that you enjoy?" I wondered. It didn't make sense to me - the years of struggle and self-denial he must have spent to get to the point where he could endure this so easily. Besides, I wanted to keep him talking; the conversation kept my mind off the queasy feeling in my stomach.

His dark eyes were calm and thoughtful as he answered. "Hmm. What I enjoy the very most is when my... enhanced abilities let me save someone who would otherwise have been lost. It's pleasant knowing that, thanks to what I can do, some people's lives are better because I exist. Even the sense of smell is a useful diagnostic tool at times." One side of his mouth pulled up in half a smile.

I mulled that over while he poked around, making sure all the glass splinters were gone. Then he rummaged in his bag for new tools, and I tried not to picture a needle and thread.

"You try very hard to make up for something that was never your fault," I suggested while a new kind of tugging started at the edges of my skin. "What I mean is, it's not like you asked for this. You didn't choose this kind of life, and yet you have to work so hard to be good."

"I don't know that I'm making up for anything," he disagreed lightly. "Like everything in life, I just had to decide what to do with what I was given."

"That makes it sound too easy."

He examined my arm again. "There," he said, snipping a thread. "All done." He wiped an oversized Q-tip, dripping with some syrup-colored liquid, thoroughly across the operation site. The smell was strange; it made my head spin. The syrup stained my skin.

"In the beginning, though," I pressed while he taped another long piece of gauze securely in place, sealing it to my skin. "Why did you even think to try a different way than the obvious one?"

His lips turned up in a private smile. "Hasn't Edward told you this story?"

"Yes. But I'm trying to understand what you were thinking..."

His face was suddenly serious again, and I wondered if his thoughts had gone to the same place that mine had. Wondering what I would be thinking when - I refused to think if - it was me.

"You know my father was a clergyman," he mused as he cleaned the table carefully, rubbing everything down with wet gauze, and then doing it again. The smell of alcohol burned in my nose. "He had a rather harsh view of the world, which I was already beginning to question before the time that I changed." Carlisle put all the dirty gauze and the glass slivers into an empty crystal bowl. I didn't understand what he was doing, even when he lit the match. Then he threw it onto the alcohol-soaked fibers, and the sudden blaze made me jump.

"Sorry," he apologized. "That ought to do it... So I didn't agree with my father's particular brand of faith. But never, in the nearly four hundred years now since I was born, have I ever seen anything to make me doubt whether God exists in some form or the other. Not even the reflection in the mirror."

I pretended to examine the dressing on my arm to hide my surprise at the direction our conversation had taken. Religion was the last thing I expected, all things considered. My own life was fairly devoid of belief. Charlie considered himself a Lutheran, because that's what his parents had been, but Sundays he worshipped by the river with a fishing pole in his hand. Renee tried out a church now and then, but, much like her brief affairs with tennis, pottery, yoga, and French classes, she moved on by the time I was aware of her newest fad.

"I'm sure all this sounds a little bizarre, coming from a vampire." He grinned, knowing how their casual use of that word never failed to shock me. "But I'm hoping that there is still a point to this life, even for us. It's a long shot, I'll admit," he continued in an offhand voice. "By all accounts, we're damned regardless. But I hope, maybe foolishly, that we'll get some measure of credit for trying."

"I don't think that's foolish," I mumbled. I couldn't imagine anyone, deity included, who wouldn't be impressed by Carlisle. Besides, the only kind of heaven I could appreciate would have to include Edward. "And I don't think anyone else would, either."

"Actually, you're the very first one to agree with me."

"The rest of them don't feel the same?" I asked, surprised, thinking of only one person in particular.

Carlisle guessed the direction of my thoughts again. "Edward's with me up to a point. God and heaven exist... and so does hell. But he doesn't believe there is an afterlife for our kind." Carlisle's voice was very soft; he stared out the big window over the sink, into the darkness. "You see, he thinks we've lost our souls."

I immediately thought of Edward's words this afternoon: unless you want to die - or whatever it is that we do. The lightbulb flicked on over my head.

"That's the real problem, isn't it?" I guessed. "That's why he's being so difficult about me."

Carlisle spoke slowly. "I look at my... son. His strength, his goodness, the brightness that shines out of him - and it only fuels that hope, that faith, more than ever. How could there not be more for one such as Edward?"

I nodded in fervent agreement.

"But if I believed as he does..." He looked down at me with unfathomable eyes. "If you believed as he did. Could you take away his soul?"

The way he phrased the question thwarted my answer.

If he'd asked me whether I would risk my soul for Edward, the reply would be obvious. But would I risk Edward's soul? I pursed my lips unhappily. That wasn't a fair exchange.

"You see the problem."

I shook my head, aware of the stubborn set of my chin.

Carlisle sighed.

"It's my choice," I insisted.

"It's his, too." He held up his hand when he could see that I was about to argue. "Whether he is responsible for doing that to you."

"He's not the only one able to do it." I eyed Carlisle speculatively.

He laughed, abruptly lightening the mood. "Oh, no! You're going to have to work this out with him."But then he sighed. "That's the one part I can never be sure of. I think, in most other ways, that I've done the best I could with what I had to work with. But was it right to doom the others to this life? I can't decide."

I didn't answer. I imagined what my life would be like if Carlisle had resisted the temptation to change his lonely existence... and shuddered.

"It was Edward's mother who made up my mind." Carlisle's voice was almost a whisper. He stared unseeingly out the black windows.

"His mother?" Whenever I'd asked Edward about his parents, he would merely say that they had died long ago, and his memories were vague. I realized Carlisle's memory of them, despite the brevity of their contact, would be perfectly clear.

"Yes. Her name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth Masen. His father, Edward Senior, never regained consciousness in the hospital. He died in the first wave of the influenza. But Elizabeth was alert until almost the very end. Edward looks a great deal like her - she had that same strange bronze shade to her hair, and her eyes were exactly the same color green."

"His eyes were green?" I murmured, trying to picture it.

"Yes..." Carlisle's ocher eyes were a hundred years away now. "Elizabeth worried obsessively over her son. She hurt her own chances of survival trying to nurse him from her sickbed. I expected that he would go first, he was so much worse off than she was. When the end came for her, it was very quick. It was just after sunset, and I'd arrived to relieve the doctors who'd been working all day. That was a hard time to pretend - there was so much work to be done, and I had no need of rest. How I hated to go back to my house, to hide in the dark and pretend to sleep while so many were dying.

"I went to check Elizabeth and her son first. I'd grown attached - always a dangerous thing to do considering the fragile nature of humans. I could see at once that she'd taken a bad turn. The fever was raging out of control, and her body was too weak to fight anymore.

"She didn't look weak, though, when she glared up at me from her cot.

"Save him!' she commanded me in the hoarse voice that was all her throat could manage.

"I'll do everything in my power,' I promised her, taking her hand. The fever was so high, she probably couldn't even tell how unnaturally cold mine felt. Everything felt cold to her skin.

"You must," she insisted, clutching at my hand with enough strength that I wondered if she wouldn't pull through the crisis after all. Her eyes were hard, like stones, like emeralds. 'You must do everything in your power. What others cannot do, that is what you must do for my Edward."

"It frightened me. She looked it me with those piercing eyes, and, for one instant, I felt certain that she knew my secret. Then the fever overwhelmed her, and she never regained consciousness. She died within an hour of making her demand.

"I'd spent decades considering the idea of creating a companion for myself. Just one other creature who could really know me, rather than what I pretended to be. But I could never justify it to myself - doing what had been done to me.

"There Edward lay, dying. It was clear that he had only hours left. Beside him, his mother, her face somehow not yet peaceful, not even in death."

Carlisle saw it all again, his memory unblurred by the intervening century. I could see it clearly, too, as he spoke - the despair of the hospital, the overwhelming atmosphere of death. Edward burning with fever, his life slipping away with each tick of the clock... I shuddered again, and forced the picture from my mind.

"Elizabeth's words echoed in my head. How could she guess what I could do? Could anyone really want that for her son?

"I looked at Edward. Sick as he was, he was still beautiful. There was something pure and good about his face. The kind of face I would have wanted my son to have.

"After all those years of indecision, I simply acted on a whim. I wheeled his mother to the morgue first, and then I came back for him. No one noticed that he was still breathing. There weren't enough hands, enough eyes, to keep track of half of what the patients needed. The morgue was empty - of the living, at least. I stole him out the back door, and carried him across the rooftops back to my home.

"I wasn't sure what had to be done. I settled for recreating the wounds I'd received myself, so many centuries earlier in London. I felt bad about that later. It was more painful and lingering than necessary.

"I wasn't sorry, though. I've never been sorry that I saved Edward." He shook his head, coming back to the present. He smiled at me. "I suppose I should take you home now."

"I'll do that," Edward said. He came through the shadowy dining room, walking slowly for him. His face was smooth, unreadable, but there was something wrong with his eyes - something he was trying very hard to hide. I felt a spasm of unease in my stomach.

"Carlisle can take me," I said. I looked down at my shirt; the light blue cotton was soaked and spotted with my blood. My right shoulder was covered in thick pink frosting.

"I'm fine." Edward's voice was unemotional. "You'll need to change anyway. You'd give Charlie a heart attack the way you look. I'll have Alice get you something." He strode out the kitchen door again.

I looked at Carlisle anxiously. "He's very upset."

"Yes," Carlisle agreed. "Tonight is exactly the kind of thing that he fears the most. You being put in danger, because of what we are."

"It's not his fault."

"It's not yours, either."

I looked away from his wise, beautiful eyes. I couldn't agree with that.

Carlisle offered me his hand and helped me up from the table. I followed him out into the main room. Esme had come back; she was mopping the floor where I'd fallen - with straight bleach from the smell of it.

"Esme, let me do that." I could feel that my face was bright red again.

"I'm already done." She smiled up at me. "How do you feel?"

"I'm fine," I assured her. "Carlisle sews faster than any other doctor I've had."

They both chuckled.

Alice and Edward came in the back doors. Alice hurried to my side, but Edward hung back, his face indecipherable.

"C'mon," Alice said. "I'll get you something less macabre to wear."

She found me a shirt of Esme's that was close to the same color mine had been. Charlie wouldn't notice, I was sure. The long white bandage on my arm didn't look nearly as serious when I was no longer spattered in gore. Charlie was never surprised to see me bandaged.

"Alice," I whispered as she headed back to the door.

"Yes?" She kept her voice low, too, and looked at me curiously, her head cocked to the side.

"How bad is it?" I couldn't be sure if my whispering was a wasted effort. Even though we were upstairs, with the door closed, perhaps he could hear me.

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