When I woke up, my mother promptly released my hand, not making eye contact. "Couldn't make it work," she murmured. I felt sorry for her, a little - I didn't care if she wanted to watch my dreams, but it obviously mattered to her that she no longer could. Sometime overnight she'd taken back the jewelry she'd tossed me during the previous day's fight; she was wearing her rings, her bracelet, and her locket with my father's wedding ring strung onto the chain. Rosalie and Emmett were nearby, with three packed bags, waiting for me.
"Morning, early-bird," said Emmett. "All set?"
"We have enough time before the flight for you to hunt, if you like," Rosalie said, "or we can stop and get you something on the way."
I didn't feel like trying to kill anything while I had an injury, and I'd gotten more used to human food over the past month and a half. "Let's just get something at the airport," I said, sitting up and gently prodding my shoulder. It was tender, but as long as I didn't crazily windmill my arms I thought it would be all better by the evening.
I looked at Jake. He was still fast asleep. I smoothed his hair again, and sent him a summary of where I was going and why so he wouldn't be confused when he woke up with no one but my mother nearby. He didn't stir, but I assumed it would be there for him to remember when he woke up and wondered where I was.
I followed Rosalie and Emmett out of the mountain range to where they'd parked a car - I didn't know if it was hers or one of the Denalis', but I hadn't seen it before. She drove, and the pair of them engaged me in gentle conversation about how each of us had spent the five years following my "disappearance" (as Rosalie kept calling it - I had a hard time thinking of myself as having disappeared).
I had Rosalie's memories up until the day she'd been to Volterra to retrieve Ilario from his sickbed. Demetri had noticed her, "invited" her to the compound for a brief visit, and conducted her to Aro, who read her, all in the time it took the hospital to deem Ilario ready to travel. The Volturi had let her go without incident or subtext-laden conversation, although Aro had pressed a jeweled hairclip on her. It was a fairly routine check - which left me with recollections of most of my aunt's life, and through her eyes, a majority of Emmett's too.
Emmett found this fascinating. He kept asking me for numbers of various memory types - how many times did I remember getting married, how many firsthand perspectives did I have on the fall of Rome, how many authentic Sanskrit accents could I do, how many books I now had memorized, how many instruments could I now play if I got my hands on them. I couldn't answer most questions like that without at least a few hours to look for the answers. "Lots," I tended to answer each such question, or sometimes "several", followed by a few examples, which he seemed to find just as satisfactory as a numerical answer.
Rosalie wanted me to settle a long-running argument between her and her husband about whether or not she had in fact seen Elvis in a department store in 1960; she'd told Emmett she had, but he was skeptical, and on inspection I was pretty sure he was right. "It did look like him," I said when Rosalie pouted at this pronouncement, "but I think Elvis was across the country at the time, so it was probably just someone else." Rosalie did not ask me to arbitrate any other disagreements, and subsequently only wanted to hear things I knew from the memories of an ill-fated race car factory employee Aro had once eaten. By the time we arrived at the airport, Rosalie had a lot of outdated corporate espionage on Lamborghini.
We got onto our airplane with little fuss, after stopping to buy me several sandwiches and bags of snackfood. I nibbled through these absentmindedly between my turns in our ongoing conversation, which had begun to revolve around art history and how "unbelievably cute" it was that I remembered a lot of it. Rosalie teased tangles out of my hair. Emmett informed me that I'd been loaned some of Kate's clothes, again, which were in the suitcase they'd packed for me.
"Do either of you actually know how to go about looking up Alice?" I asked during a lull in the conversation.
"Don't you have lots of memories of how to find stuff like this?" teased Emmett. "Elspeth, Genealoger Extraordinaire!"
"I have too many," I said. "From all over the world over thousands of years of history. I could probably pick out the ones that will most likely be applicable to 2011 Biloxi if I thought about it all day, but it would be easier if one of you had an idea of what to do."
"Well, first, I think we should see if the hospital is still there," said Rosalie briskly.
"I can find the building," I said. "Or if it's gone, the place where it was."
"Then, if it's still a hospital," said Emmett, "we talk or intimidate or sneak or trick our way into their records... but they probably don't have ninety-year-old patient lists with convenient next of kin listings."
"Then why go there at all?" I asked. "If they probably don't have records, I mean."
"If it does have records, that's the obvious place to find what we're looking for. If it doesn't, then we need to find a genealogical library, or church records, or talk to people in a nursing home who might have known the family, or something like that - how well do you know your way around Biloxi, Elspeth?" Rosalie asked.
"Modern Biloxi? Not at all. And even in 1920 James didn't explore much," I said.
"So we'll need to consult someone for directions to places like that anyway, and may as well try asking at the hospital, if it's a hospital," said Rosalie. "The nursing homes in particular they could probably tell us how to find."
"That makes sense," I said.
"You can do your honesty voice claiming Alice is your aunt, right?" asked Emmett. "She's not too alienated or too non-biological or anything?"
"Honesty voice, is that what you call it?" I asked. "Yeah, I can, but I think I look too young to have an aunt who was born a hundred and eleven years ago. And we also don't know for sure if she had any siblings or was ever married before, and if she didn't and wasn't she couldn't have a niece of any age."
"Genealogy is a fuzzy business," Rosalie said. "You can say that you're pretty sure she's your aunt, and let people assume you mean great-aunt or great-great-aunt. It's possible she was an only child, but not very likely, and given the time scale we're looking at here, no one is likely to call you on it."
Emmett looked between me and Rosalie speculatively, and said, "I think we'll say you're our niece, Elspeth, on Rose's side, and that Alice is Rose's great-aunt and your great-great-aunt."
"Me, why not you?" Rosalie asked. "You've got the dark hair."
"Alice is a teeny person who probably had a teeny family, and I'm not even slightly teeny," said Emmett. "Besides, for all anybody knows you could dye -"
"I do not," said Rosalie grumpily.
"I know you don't," laughed Emmett, placating her with a peck on the cheek, and we continued hammering out the details of how we'd present ourselves in trying to justify our interest in Alice's background.
The plane landed. Rosalie bought a car ("I've had my eye on this model for a while... there's no place to put it after we're done with it, but I know a charity with an arm in Nashville that'll take it and then I can get another one later," she said, sounding vaguely disdainful of rented cars in general), and I slept through the drive. By the time I woke up we were in a hotel. Or rather, Rosalie and I were in a hotel, and Emmett was already out and about learning his way around town.
"Couldn't you have been nocturnal?" sighed Rosalie, looking out at the brief remaining darkness that was letting her mate go out and about sans elaborate disguise.
"Our sleep schedules are pretty random, I think," I said. "Noemi is outright nocturnal. Cody gets up and goes to sleep a couple hours before me. Iseul can stay up later than I can. And Nahuel gets up at noon every day."
"How do you know?" Rosalie asked, tilting her head and looking amused.
"I met Cody in person. And my parents kept Nahuel talking about how the species works for a while, while they were trying to figure out whether they could have me or not," I replied, unsure why this would be amusing.
"Oh, hmph," said Rosalie. "I thought you would make a confused face and not know how you knew that."
"Why would I do that?" I asked.
Rosalie pursed her lips in thought, and said, "How many grandchildren does Joham have?"
"Four, unless Nahuel... has... wait..." I scrunched my eyebrows together, wondering where the extra three came from, and Rosalie laughed, giving me a careful hug that avoided my shoulder even though it had no remaining signs of injury. "Huh?"
"Ah, you look all grown up but you're still such a cute kid," laughed Rosalie.
"...Thank you," I said uncertainly. She ruffled my hair, smiling, and then ushered me down to the hotel's cafeteria for breakfast. Emmett joined us soon enough, and the vampires sipped water while I ate off three plates for the sake of appearances.
Rosalie's comment about my schedule aside, the fact that most places we could go for information were not open in the middle of the night meant that they'd come equipped for daywalking and expected to do some of it. By the time I finished eating, there were enough clouds that they didn't need coverage even outside the car, but they did stash their sweaters and gloves and hats in the trunk while I directed us to the lot that had held Alice's sanitarium.
It was not a sanitarium anymore, and the building hadn't even been converted - it had been knocked down entirely, and the area now appeared to be part of a trailer park. "Well, that's disappointing," remarked Emmett.
I participated very little in the rest of the hunt - I recited facts and shared memories when my aunt and uncle asked me, and I followed them around when they left the car to cast my precognition shadow over our activities, but mostly I fretted about Jake and tried to distract myself from unproductive worry by processing recollections of interesting events. Rosalie and Emmett didn't seem to mind my disengagement. Emmett remarked, in a voice he might have thought too low for me to hear, that while the research project wasn't as good as getting to pulverize some Volturi, it was better than milling around Denali waiting for someone to have an idea or for the guard to get around to wiping them out.
Rosalie flipped through stacks of compiled genealogical data at the library with a sourly envious expression on her face, doubtless looking at all the arrows pointing from parents to their broods of children and wishing for the millionth time to trade what Carlisle had given her for never having needed it in the first place. "This lady seems to have been so popular that all three of her sons, and two of her daughters, named one of their girls Mary Alice after her," she muttered. "That must have been a confusing family to belong to. I bet it was a family joke or something after the first couple... No wonder some of them would have gone by middle name and our Alice would have woken up forgetting her first name. Only that means we have three Mary Alice Brandons to sort through... ah, no, it's four, this one married a fellow adopted by another branch of the Brandon family and got the surname that way..."
I remembered that I was - sort of - named after my mother and my (biological) paternal grandmother. Bored anyway, I looked through what I'd been blasted with about the latter. I had a handful of memories about her: moth-eaten, paper-thin impressions that had survived her son's turning, and a few vivid hours from Carlisle.
My father remembered his mother as a pleasant background fact about the world he'd lived in until age seventeen. She cooked, she scolded him when he misbehaved, she dispensed suitably embarrassing hugs in front of even-more-vaguely-remembered friends, she fretted about his intention to join the army as soon as he was able and fight in World War I. Then they both came down with the Spanish flu and rendered that plan moot. That was how Carlisle had encountered my father in the first place...
- Mrs. Masen is hurting her chances, trying to nurse her son. I thought he would go quickly, like his father - Edward Masen, Sr., who I never saw wake - but no, she's up and at the boy's side, looking after him through her own illness, whenever I happen by that part of the vast grid of beds makeshift and otherwise. I start spending more time in that corner, trying to attend to her son so she won't feel she needs to. I become a little less careful about hiding my speed, a little more willing to stay through the times I should pretend to be sleeping when I think it will pass without notice. There are many other things for my colleagues to pay attention to than my late hours and rapid work, and the patients are generally too delirious to notice, or be believed if they do.
I come in after sunset, after a day of pretending to sleep and having nothing to do but dream, insofar as I can dream, of Esme. I can only hope the plague has spared her part of Ohio, or wherever she's living now, if she's moved. (Let her have moved. One of these years I won't be able to go on alone anymore, and I will look for her, but let her have moved, let her be impossible to find, let her escape this fate...) If I left Esme behind to lead a normal, happy, human life, only for her to fall victim to this devastation exclusive to humans (she would be only twenty-two, now! so young!), then no protestation of having left for her own good will measure up to the loss... I must not dwell on Esme. It will do her no good.
When I can emerge, I check on Elizabeth Masen and her son first. I'm attached to them, with their matching green eyes and bronze hair, her obvious self-sacrificing care for her child, his tenacious grip on life through a severe case of the illness. There have been so many patients, an endless march of them, all worth attachment, but I avoid it when I can, or the job would be too heartbreaking. I've failed in that, here. Perhaps the loneliness is catching up with me in more ways than the obvious. Elizabeth does vaguely, distantly resemble Esme, I suppose, though I'd never mistake one for the other. I think Esme would be a devoted mother like her. I hope she gets that chance. (Another thing I would be tempted to take from her.)
Elizabeth's not at her son's side, but in her own bed - I've been telling her over and over to stay there, but read it as a bad sign anyway. And I'm not wrong. She's taken a decided turn for the worse, her fever is out of control, she's too weak to fight it off anymore.
She glares at me, when I approach, and sounds stronger than she looks -
I take her hand, knowing that anything will feel cold to someone so feverish. "I'll do everything in my power," I promise.
"You must," she says, and she clings to my hand tightly enough that I wonder if I wasn't mistaken, if she doesn't have the reserves to pull through... Hard, emerald eyes bore into mine. "You must do everything in your power. What others cannot do, that is what you must do for my Edward."
I know a moment of fear - she knows, she must know something! Why else would she ask that, if she didn't know me to be inhuman, if she didn't know that I have resources others lack...? How could she know? Some supernatural trick, like what Aro calls "witchcraft"?
She releases my hand, her arm falls onto the sheet, and she lapses into unconsciousness.
I've considered making a companion for myself. Considered it for decades, actually, although most sorely tempted seven years ago... just one person in the world who I would have no need to hide from, who I could in good conscience keep as a companion instead of an occasionally-visited, ineffectually-entreated friend at a distance. But I have never been able to justify making anyone like myself.
Elizabeth dies less than an hour after making her demand.
Edward is not far behind, I know.
Could she truly want a life like mine for her son?
There's something about his face, even in fitful, fevered sleep. Some goodness shining out of it. His mother had every right to be proud, to be protective, to - perhaps - die of a disease that needn't have killed her, trying to help her son. If I had ever had a son, I would have wanted him to look something like that...
Whim, of all things, drives me. I wheel Elizabeth into the morgue, and then turn around and come back for Edward. No one stops me, no one checks him for breathing, for a pulse; there aren't enough eyes or hands to keep track of half the patients who aren't already in the morgue. No one else living is there. I steal him away out the back door, and go across rooftops to take him home -
"Elspeth," said Rosalie, jostling me out of my reminiscence. "I think we have a good idea where to go next. One of the Mary Alice Brandons was listed as dying in 1920 - the others all lasted another decade apiece except one who died when she was two. Had no kids, but had a little sister, born in 1909 when our Alice was eight, died in '86, but had one daughter in 1940, who's still alive - Alice's niece, if I'm right."
"Names?" I asked, getting up to follow her to the pay phone outside the library. It had a phone book, which she flipped through to the white pages. Emmett pulled faces at his reflection in the nearest window.
"The sister was Cynthia..." Rosalie began.
- little sin -
Little Cyn, maybe?
"née Brandon, married name Patterson, the daughter's Genevieve Lydia Patterson, never married. Genevieve would be over seventy, now," Rosalie said, frowning. "There wasn't a death date written for her, but if it was recent there wouldn't be. I hope she lives by herself."
"We'll try one of the cousins if Genevieve is dead?" I guessed.
"I suppose, but the farther away in the tree we have to go, the less likely it is to help. We'll hope Genevieve's okay," said Rosalie. She peered at the phone book. "Your honesty voice works on the phone, right?"
"Right," I said.
Rosalie pointed out the only Genevieve Lydia Patterson in the phone book. "Call her up. Tell her you think she's your aunt Mary Alice's niece and ask if you can visit with your aunt and uncle, to learn more about the family," she directed. "There are enough Mary Alices in the family that at worst she'll think you mixed our Alice up with one of her cousins. You're a cute, harmless, trustworthy little girl who's related to her and she's a childless spinster - I doubt you'll have trouble getting her to meet us. Then we spring the exciting "surprise! vampires!" bombshell as gently as possible and hope it doesn't give her a stroke."
I pulled out my phone and punched in the number, anxiety creeping up my spine, but my voice didn't shake after the ringing stopped and a woman's voice said "Hello?"
"Can I speak to Ms. Patterson, please?" I asked.
"Speaking. Who's calling?"
"My name is Elspeth," I said. "I - I'm doing a genealogy project. I think you might be related to my aunt Mary Alice Brandon. If you're Genevieve Lydia Patterson and your mother was Cynthia -"
"Oh my," exclaimed Genevieve. "I am, and she was. I didn't think Aunt Alice had family of her own before she passed, though."
"It's very complicated. Would it be possible for me, and my aunt Rosalie and uncle Emmett, to meet you?" I asked.
"My goodness. I have dinner with my book club today, but after that I don't see why not, I suppose," she fluttered. "My goodness. Did you find me in the phone book?"
"Well, then, you have my address," Genevieve said. "But I'm telling my cousin Hattie's boy I'm having visitors and giving him all your names, so you know," she added in a warning tone.
"Of course," I said. "When would it be okay for us to visit you?"
"Mmm... eight?" suggested Genevieve. "I think I can dig up all the family photo albums and things like that by then! Oh, this will be fun, I haven't looked at those old boxes for years."
"Great. Thank you, Ms. Patterson," I said brightly, and we exchanged farewells and I closed my phone.
Genevieve lived in a small white house and kept a small white dog out in her yard, which stayed as far away from Rosalie and Emmett as it could when we walked up to the front door. (We had killed the afternoon reporting on our progress and making general chit-chat with our Denali contingent. Siobhan was delighted that we'd located a niece, but didn't stay on the phone long, only saying that she wanted another call as soon as Genevieve was caught up on what was going on.)
I rang the doorbell, and Genevieve answered the door. She was the most little-old-lady-like little old lady I had ever seen in my life: five feet tall, wispy snow-white hair, a face covered in smile-wrinkles, and a spindly, scrunched frame. She seemed able enough, though, ushering us in with enthusiastic gestures and shutting the door behind us. Her eyes lingered a bit on Rosalie. "You look like you could use some sleep, Mrs..." She trailed off, waiting for a last name.
"Hale," supplied Rosalie.
"And you too, Mr. Hale," said Genevieve, assuming that they'd share a last name based on their introduction as my aunt and uncle. "And you'll be Elspeth, I suppose?"
"Yes," I said. "But... I didn't tell you the entire truth about why we're here. You see, we do think you're my aunt Alice's niece..."
"I looked at the family Bible," mused Genevieve, "and I just don't know how that can be, although I imagine you could be some sort of family. The Bible has Mary Alice in there, and if they left her in when she was sent off to die in a mental hospital, I don't think they're hiding any other siblings, are they? How else would I be your aunt's niece?"
"Alice didn't die," I said carefully, leaning hard on my magic, and Genevieve's eyes went wide. "She was released from the hospital by someone who worked there, but didn't know where she'd come from, or how to get home. She was eventually adopted by another family - um, Aunt Rosalie's parents. That's how she's my aunt."
"Me oh my," said Genevieve after a silence. "That's quite a story."
I heard the front doorknob twist, and the door pull open, and Rosalie and Emmett sprang to their feet too fast, and Genevieve gasped -
"Quite a story," agreed Alice's voice, softly.< Previous Next >