Those Unheard Are Sweeter
The words beat against her like a persistent tide. They withered, then they came back strong. They taunted her ears like the delicate notes of a song that urgently needed to be finished.
Still as a doll lying in the grass, Esme watched the sun drop behind the horizon. The night swelled, fragrant and dense, all around her. Twilight stretched across the sky in layers of violet silk that reminded her strongly of the sheets on her bed upstairs. Her limbs shivered with the wish to be covered again. Some part of her missed the days when she would dream about him, alone in her bedroom, behind the curtains of her canopy. Now she stretched out in the grass, staring at the sky, trying to contain the sparkling hot passion that kept building inside of her – a chore she quickly realized she was pursuing in vain.
Esme remembered a time when the night had been so familiar to her. But it seemed the night had changed as her life became more complicated. When she shared the night with Carlisle, every hour of darkness was deeper, filled with exotic beauty. She had spoiled herself by spending so many nights with him in his study. Now when she wanted to enjoy the night on her own, it was nearly impossible.
She was nervous, on edge, confused. The direction of her emotions was quite clear, but her destination was not. She knew what she wanted, but getting there would not be easy.
She thought about going back into the house to see him right now. Would things carry on as they had for the past few weeks, or would that unspoken tension rise up between them? Something scarily significant had shifted for each of them, and they both seemed equally aware of it, which made everything even more deliciously awkward.
Esme realized her worst fears in the moment she'd left him behind, feeding the birds on the porch earlier that evening. Her obvious feelings for him were challenging their friendship.
The more she thought about it, the more Carlisle's reaction made sense to her. He did not want to risk spoiling it any further by acknowledging her feelings with words. In confidence, his gaze had penetrated her heart deeply enough that no words needed to be spoken. His awareness hurt her as much as it relieved her. At the very least, he had some idea that she was infatuated with him. At the very most... he reciprocated a small part of that feeling for her.
She thrashed on the grass and whimpered at the stars. The thought of Carlisle experiencing these kinds of feelings for her was beautifully absurd. Yet... it was not entirely unthinkable. No man she had ever met harbored as much unkempt passion as Carlisle did. She did not even need to read those hidden journals he kept, or see his secret oil paintings, or watch him carve detailed sculptures out of wood to know how passionate he was. Surely a man like him had more on his mind. Surely a man so shy on the outside, yet so bold on the inside, had rapids of desire flowing within his heart.
She could only imagine what centuries of repression had done to make him this way. Waiting so long to unleash his passion would surely ripen it far beyond what was appropriate...
Years of isolated agony must make the force of that eruption ten times greater.
The blades of grass shuddered in the wind, caressing the bare skin on her arms and legs like thin, cool flames. But the fire in her belly was wild with want.
All thoughts of reaching out to Carlisle tonight were out of the question. Visiting him in her current state would likely result in a violent assault on his moral composure.
Already her fingers were itching to pick apart the buttons of his collar. It was dangerous to even think about it, but her mind was so easily distracted by a simple suggestion. Ironic though it may have been, Esme often thought of Carlisle's collar as the gate to his hidden inner self. Each button, she thought, was like the key to the next layer, all leading to the man he was inside.
With all three buttons of his collar sealed tightly, he was a doctor.
He was elegant and refined, with a gentle authority that made everyone around him listen and trust. He was cautious in voicing his decisions, but his confidence was inarguable. He had no doubts in the world of medicine. He was strong and certain and smart. Regal as a king, but humble as a stable boy.
With one button undone, he was a deep thinker, a philosopher.
He was a noble young pilgrim, searching through his personal library. His voice was hoarse as he whispered to himself eccentrically about what he was looking for, pacing about the candlelit shelves of his study, his necktie askew and the cuffs of his sleeves turned out to give his hands more room to search. He buried himself in a forest of books, and he would read enough to make any other man's head spin. It was just a chip in his sanity that caused him to ask unanswerable questions and probe religious metaphors, but it was his own unique way of exercising his mind, expanding his horizons, attempting to bend the unbreakable.
With two buttons undone, he was a writer.
He did not have to be at his desk to write. He was not the scholar anymore. He did not feed off the ideas of other men, but instead dictated his own. Here he would likely be curled up by a window somewhere, his journal open in his lap. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, his hair was disheveled, and his shirt was untucked. He pressed the end of his fountain pen into his lower lip and closed his eyes as he pondered his next words, seeking poetic perfection in the recesses of his subconscious.
With three buttons undone, he became an artist – a vigorous, untamed youth with unmentionably intense dreams.
He was virile in body, and potent in instinct. His sleeves were not only rolled up to his elbows, they were torn in places, worn so much that the thin cotton looked as if it could melt from his body heat. In this state, he looked stronger than ever, yet in his face there was at least one fragile feature that revealed his inner child. When his hands began to move, to sculpt, to create, the rest of the world disappeared around him. His eyes were a hazy mix of calm and crazed, his breaths were luxuriously ragged, his thoughts were tortured and unhinged.
What lay beyond the third button? No matter how many times Esme had asked herself this question, she never dared to do more than guess.
Pure and rough. Honest and wild. Distressed and lost, beautiful and lustful.
It took a lot to provoke Carlisle in the world she knew; but in this dark, concealed, secretive world, one touch threw him into a frenzy. He was not shy about sinning. He did not settle for anything less than utter satisfaction. He lashed out when he felt something was unfair. In this world he was not afraid to purr like a lion, protecting his pride. In this world he allowed himself to savor every spare drop of blood in the hunt, and pursue more when he still thirsted. In this world he tore all the clothes off his body and dove bare-skinned into the warm waters of nature.
Esme desperately, with every fiber of her being, wanted to be a part of this world.
Because once all the buttons were undone, Carlisle was, like every other man on God's great earth, a son of Adam. Whether he was merely bare-chested or stripped to his very soul, she could not fathom a reason to believe he was immune to the basest human needs.
Human or vampire, it did not matter to her. If she needed him, then it must be just as possible that he needed her.
Esme heaved a long, shaky sigh and turned on her side in the grass.
Making speculations always made her feel emptier inside. Sometimes it was torturously painful, like feeling someone scratch at an already smarting burn.
Esme was never before so nervous to welcome the morning.
All night she had wondered about her future; how soon it would begin, whether or not she had the courage to change it. But a woman could only wonder for so long.
Just as she watched the sun set, she watched it start to rise when it finally came full circle round the world.
The clouds split open as the heat melted the mist. Just before the golden rays appeared, tiny bursts of pink light blossomed behind the leftover clouds, like roses blooming for spring. The scene was indeed beautiful, but even that did not ease her anxiety. What she had to do today was so much more terrifying than anything she'd ever remembered doing before. She knew that her only chance at happiness was to finally allow herself to trust again.
She had to trust herself. She had to trust God. She had to trust... Carlisle.
Walking back to the house that morning, Esme felt almost frightened.
She opened the door, caught his scent, and felt the nerves strain all through her body. He was still in his study.
Edward's schoolbag was gone from the foyer, the only sign that he had gone for the day. He'd left his jacket hanging on the stair post; at the last minute he must have realized it would be too warm out for any human to need a jacket that day. For a brief moment Esme pouted over not having the chance to say goodbye to him before he left for school.
Bright limbs of sunlight dripped through the foyer windows from the very crack of dawn, as if they were trying to cheer her up. It seemed too early to be seeing sunshine already, but somehow it pierced its way into the world.
Perhaps it was a sign of renewed hope.
She grasped the good thought before it could fly away from her and walked bravely towards the doctor's study. She paused to listen through the thick door, at first hearing nothing more than the quick caress of an ink pen on paper.
That sound was so familiar to her now, it was like home.
He was almost always writing.
The scrape of his pen carried on for a few more seconds before it stopped. The clink of glass. The shuffle of papers inside a drawer. The soft puff of breath as he blew out a candle. Then, a low, thoughtful hum – the sound was sweet and deep, like warm chocolate.
Tapping his fingers on the desk.
Pushing his chair back.
Pacing in front of the windows.
He was in his tortured artist state for sure.
She wondered for a thrilling moment if all three buttons of his collar were undone.
It couldn't hurt to find out.
So she opened the door and invited herself inside.
Naturally he had to pick today of all days to be dressed like a perfect fairytale hero. His legs were clad in pale, sand-colored trousers that firmly flattered the strong angles of his hips. On his chest, a stark white tunic that fit him far too loosely for her fragile sanity.
Her assumptions concerning buttons had been wrong.
The shirt he wore today did not even have buttons.
In fact, it looked like it may have been sewn a few centuries ago. The floury white collar was a tad askew, leaving his right shoulder almost completely bare. She wanted so badly to reach over and adjust it. It flustered her every time she looked at it, not because the fabric was obviously not supposed to fall that way, but because she was tragically distracted by the generous area of marble skin that it left uncovered.
Carlisle was beyond beautiful with his bare feet, and his collar turned out, and his hair slightly ruffled and uncombed. He paced methodically before the bright windows of his study, looking like romance personified – like a prince who had lost his crown, an angel on a frantic search for his halo.
The least he had done was forget to wear his stethoscope around his neck. It would not have been fitting for him today. He did not look like a doctor at all in the clothes he was wearing. He was less confined, less buttoned-up. In fact, Esme had never seen her doctor looking quite so at ease with himself, so loose. In the place of his stethoscope that morning was the slim golden cross that lay around his wonderfully naked neck. But it most certainly did not make him look like a doctor. He looked like some kind of evangelical vagabond. There was a spiritual regality about his every move that made her soul shiver with delight.
That cross positively glowed when Carlisle wore it. It truly hurt her to look at it.
It hurt even more when he looked at her.
She had never seen his eyes so loaded with secret thoughts before. Shining shapes and silken shadows swam through the endless pits of gold and black. His lashes blinked protectively, but that did not keep her from seeing the storm behind his gaze.
He paused beside the window and watched her settle into her second home with ease. She took the chair across from his desk, thinking frantically of how she could even begin to phrase what she wanted to tell him...
When she did not give reason for her sudden entry, Carlisle carried on in understood silence, starting up his pacing again like nothing had even interrupted him in the first place.
Something was going on here. On any other day he would have, at the very least, greeted her with something other than a prolonged stare. She did not have to ask whether it had something to do with her feelings. Now it was very clear to her why he was being so silent. He must have been even more confused than she was this morning.
His body language told her as much. For a man who usually possessed a keen sense of direction, Carlisle seemed lost in the familiar space of his own study. His footsteps were uneven, not steady. They varied between light and heavy. His hands kept busy by straightening the curtains every so often. At first it looked casual, but then it began to look more sensual every time he did it. His fingers brushed the heavy red velvet with purposeful care, using his strength to elicit sighs from an inanimate object.
As he repeatedly touched the curtains, Esme saw a ghosting of pink on his chiseled cheeks, an impossible blush of color that she swore could not have been in her imagination.
She knew that her watching him in perfect silence must have made him anxious, but she could do nothing else just yet.
As the minutes pressed on, their eyes would pass along each other, knowing and pleading. They were both perfectly silent, but their gazes were all but singing with conflicting desires.
He said two words to her that morning. At precisely fifty-two seconds and half past seven, they came tumbling out of his exquisite lips and into her ear.
She'd asked him where the key to the attic was.
He immediately put an end to his mindless pacing, pulled open the bottom drawer to his desk, and did not let his fingers brush hers as he handed her the crippled old skeleton key. His eyes grasped something deep inside of her as she received his final symbol.
The mottled brass felt cold and light in the center of her palm. It burned her skin, just as his eyes burned her heart.
She mumbled a thank you, and those were the last and only words they had said to each other.
She spent a few hours in the attic, soaking up the loneliness for however long she could take it. The first hour was wasted laying flat on her back on the musty floorboards while she watched the sunlight make sad streaks through the dust-caked oval window. Occasionally a spider would creep across the slanted ceiling, and she might envy it for knowing which direction it was headed. No matter how long she spent cramped up in the attic, she would never reach any kind of sudden enlightenment. She would never know which direction she should take. It had been a poorly designed test, and she only found herself sulking down the creaky staircase with her dress covered in dust and cobwebs in her hair when it was over.
So she decided to bathe.
It was arousing enough being in the same house with Carlisle while she disrobed herself, but it was even worse when she let herself lay in the bathtub for an hour, listening so closely to him that she could hear the tiny muscles in his throat constrict every time he swallowed.
All the while, she held tightly to the tiny brass key he had given her. It rested in her hand, under the water, safe where no one else could find it.
With her tightly closed fist, she let her knuckles travel the length of her body as she lay vulnerable in the tub. Was she terrible because she could not keep herself from envisioning his touch in place of her own? Was she sinful because she would never stop imagining his loving whispers in her ear? Was she damned by her daydreams, and fooled by her fabrications?
Once she started to imagine the things that might happen if he were to suddenly throw open the door to her bathroom, she knew it was time to drain the water.
Like always, she watched the water grow more and more shallow around her, just like her doubts.
At the peak of her desperation, Esme wished that Carlisle would simply abduct her. She wished he would break down the doors to her bedroom, and scoop her bare, wet body into his arms, and toss her onto the bed, and tear that flimsy white shirt off his chest, and shred those sinfully snug trousers off his legs, and...
The water gurgled contemptuously as the tub was suddenly empty beneath her, and she shivered in chagrin. She heaved herself over the ceramic rim and snatched a towel against her body before she could continue her halted fantasy.
She dried herself off, dressed into a simple white dress, and sat in a chair by her bedroom window, waiting with her chin in the palm of her hand. If she was going to wait all day long, she might as well be comfortable.
There was nothing worthy to watch aside from the swaying of whimsical amber grass and peach-colored clouds churning like cream and cotton on the horizon. It was all clear blue skies and hope out there, nothing like what she was feeling inside. It could go on forever, really. Every day could be like this... just the same monotonous episode of hour after helpless hour. Waiting for nothing.
Oh, this kind of waiting was torture. In a sense, she was waiting for herself– she was waiting to be ready – and this was far worse than waiting for someone or something else.
It seemed silly to her how people longed for control – they pined desperately for it – yet once they were given control, they wished to be free of it. Because having control only made everything their responsibility.
Esme understood this now.
So many times she thought she had the courage. She grasped at it, hurried down the stairs, ready to spill her secret, and the fear would block her way. It was a monster lurking the halls – a spiny green crocodile that thrust open its jaws for her when she came to the final step.
So she ran back up those stairs, every time feeling more exhausted until she had all but given up.
She hid behind the canopy of her bed like a defiant child, rocking back and forth with her chin between her knees, hugging her ankles.
He was so close. She could hear him, even now – his lovely ambiance in the study below – the scattering, rustling, pacing, sighing sounds he made. They were a gentle percussion to a lovely song she knew so well. The sleek brush of his calligraphy scratching on paper made her head toss and turn on her pillow; his every breath made her tremble.
An unforeseen number of minutes could have rested between this agony and her having him. If only she had that courage.
Because he was here. He was breathing. And so was she.
They were breathing together – nothing but wood grain and rafters and carpet and tiles separating them. He could hear her breathe, and she could hear him breathe. This was the way it always was, but now she felt the tension between the two clashing patterns. She was tentative to allow her lungs to fall into sync with his because this would call attention to the sounds. He would stop breathing altogether and begin a new rhythm – either faster or slower to throw her off course. As if breathing at her exact pace were somehow...invasive.
She leaned over the bay window and watched the sundial's sluggish shadow creep around its marble disk as the hours dragged by. All of this breathing was making her lightheaded. These thoughts of what could be kept taunting her. Her eyes slickened as they passed over the bed, which had been stripped and readied countless times for nothing. No moment would ever come when she would share it with him.
Reality was not that kind.
She choked on a bitter laugh and ran her hands through her hair.
He had to have wondered what on earth she was doing up here, every time another heap of satin slithered off the mattress. She tossed the covers onto the carpet and made a small ocean around her, too shallow to swim through. But when they were on that bed, she could swim through them. She had drowned in them too many times.
She wanted Carlisle to rescue her from drowning.
No. She wanted him to drown with her.
Every so often, Esme's mind would wander sadly over to the drawer of her bedside table where the book of South American maps, and the white sculpted swan, and the beautiful music box, and the angel-winged seashell from England called to her from inside. She would wonder for a while what love meant; whether the man who had cared enough to give her such gifts had loved her. Not as his family, but as a woman.
Was that not reason enough for him to give her these things? Was he truly giving her his heart, piece by piece, as he gave her those tiny gifts? Had she been too blind all along to see it?
Reaching into her pocket, she found the little brass skeleton key he had given her that morning. It was just a humble key to the attic – there was nothing special about it, nothing secret. But it was his final symbol. He had told her this for a reason. She just didn't know why.
Carefully, Esme turned around and approached her bedside table with the intention of visiting her precious collection of Carlisle's gifts. She had to add his final symbol to the drawer with the rest of them. She had to see them, had to feel them, had to let the tips of her fingers ghost over them to be sure they were still real.
That was when she saw it.
A single red rose lay on her nightstand. The sight of it inspired a beat in her dormant heart, and the sunlight seemed to dance around it, making it glow like soft scarlet fire.
She wondered for a moment how she had not noticed the scent of that rose, which now seemed far too striking to miss. Its familiar fragrance filled the entire room, enchanting to the senses. All she could do was stare at it, without a guess as to how it got there.
There was only one person who would put a rose on her nightstand. One pair of feet bold enough to pass through her bedroom door. One pair of hands tender enough to place the flower so gently beside her bed.
Though it seemed impossible to imagine Carlisle leaving a rose in her room, she had only to breathe in the evidence of his scent and know it for certain. She picked up the stem and buried her nose in the sweet red petals, accepting the gesture as a polite acknowledgment of her feelings.
So this was the reason behind his awkward behavior that morning.
A sad smile crossed her lips. She had known all along he would not be ready to accept her heart until she had fulfilled her promise to follow him in his faith. Perhaps this was his quiet, gentlemanly way of saying "someday." Esme could understand this. Only time would tell if she could earn the undying love of Carlisle Cullen.
In the meantime, he had given her yet another precious gift. One more she must add to her collection.
Holding the key in one hand, and the rose in the other, Esme opened her nightstand drawer.
The drawer was filled to the brim with scraps of stark white paper. Some were folded, some were crumpled, and some were halfway tucked into envelopes.
None of them had been there when she last closed that drawer.
Her chest tightened.
With tremulous fingers, she reached in and turned one piece of paper over.
It was smothered with words, from margin to margin, written in startling peacock blue ink.
The rose slipped from her fingers. The little brass key clattered to the floor.
She knew these papers were from him.
But her eyes could only skim through the words, disjointed and confused. She desperately tried to piece them together with all the sense left within her.
They just could not have been real! These words... This carefully crafted calligraphy, liquid letters of the alphabet placed just so.
Bright stars of passion burst inside her chest as she caught sight of a word here and a word there, and they made no sense when she read them, but they somehow spoke the story of a man's tormented soul.
Her mind was overflowing with shining blue blots of ink, and striking words that were speaking to her... directly to her. On each piece of paper, the top line was poignantly addressed, Dear Esme, Darling Esme, Sweet Esme, My Esme...
She tried to read just one. She tried so hard. But her eyes were coated with venom, and her hands were trembling too violently to hold the papers still.
His words were still leaping off those scattered pages. His words... these hidden affections of his heart.
Do you feel the forceful caress of my eyes upon you...?
Do you ever wonder what might happen if we let the flames of our fires touch…?
I wish to share these cold nights with you...
...to feel your impressionistic fingers dancing feverishly over my flesh...
Let me be the keeper of your rose...
Let me drown in you...
What was he saying? Oh, what was he trying to say to her with these recklessly written words?
Their message could not be what she assumed.
It could not.
He meant something else.
He was not speaking of that.
These notes had been placed in the bedside drawer of the wrong woman.
Carlisle was not offering this to her...
Blindly, Esme gathered the notes into her hands, filling herself with the scent of the ink and the weight of his unreal words. Somehow she rose to her feet; somehow she found her balance. Somehow her heart was pounding, though it was impossible.
Outside the sun was high and mighty, in the very apex of the sky. The late afternoon heat came spilling through the open doors of her balcony with an intrusive breeze of spring pollen and the chirping chortles of birds.
Pretty scents of anticipation that were never real until now filled her from foot to heart, and she had to do something – anything – to tame the reckless orgy of emotions that maddened her every second.
Certifiably lost from her own senses, Esme broke the chains of reason and flew down those stairs.
This time, when the crocodile opened its jaws for her, she trampled it without fear. This time, shards of colored light came down through the stained glass window in the foyer, blessing her with courage, and they chased her into the hall.
With her arms full of the crumpled letters, and her chest heaving for breath, Esme found herself standing in the familiar threshold to Carlisle's study.
He was not looking at her. He was just sitting there, behind his desk, with his hand around the Bible, and that distracted little half-smile on his lips. The sleeve of his shirt had fallen even lower on his shoulder. He sat further back than he usually did, more relaxed, not trying so hard to be presentable. One of his elbows rested against the edge of his desk, and his hand was curled up against his forehead. Some of the sunlight that streamed through the curtains behind him cast a gauzy glow around his uncombed hair, highlighting a few delicate strands that strayed rebelliously from the waves at the back of his neck. Every scent she had grown to associate with this room, with Carlisle, came blasting against her like a taunting aromatic army – polished mahogany, and cinnamon-scented candles, and old books, and burning incense. Christmas and springtime and holiness and passion.
The fragrant assault almost made her turn right back around and make a mad dash for the stairs. But he still wasn't looking at her.
Somehow, he did not even realize she was there.
She said his name without even hearing it. But she knew she had said it because his eyes turned up at once to look at her.
"What is it?"
She would have laughed at his question if she had the strength. It was too absurd for words. She wanted to scream at him.
Oh, Carlisle. You know too well what it is. The room is practically pulsing with it. You and I are all but consumed by it.
It could mean the end of "you and I"... and the beginning of "us."
Wordlessly, she let her armful of letters flutter to the ground.
Carlisle watched the snowstorm of paper around her feet. He saw that her hands were smeared with blue ink. He saw that she was speechless. He saw that her eyes were still brimming with the very contents of his heart.
"Esme," he said her name, his voice so hoarse with passion that it frightened her. Then he stood up, looking so much the image of a man, so full of light and heat and love, he was like the sun.
Because she could not think of any words whose power would match those he had written in his letters, Esme settled for something much more succinct and precise and powerful. Having all the confirmation she now needed, she whispered it, softly enough that it could have been a mere afterthought released to the gentle ears of the air.
"I love you."
Not a second after she had finished the declaration, she was off and running, speeding and sprinting in desperation out of the house and into the sunlit forest. The door dematerialized when she pushed it open; the grass was shredded to tiny green splinters as she sped across it. Every tree she whipped past turned to tissue in her peripheral.
She had to say it. And now she had to get away.
Away from him. Away to nowhere.
She hadn't the faintest idea why she was running. It was all instinct – all primal energy. She was a restless newborn again, and she was high on the feeling.
Her vampire speed never before felt like such a God-send. It was like she was running with the earth as it turned, gaining on the sunset as she fast-forwarded toward the West. She was racing the world.
And it was like the world itself was trembling beneath her feet, thrumming with every footstep, sharing in her utter terror. The critters of the forest scattered in fear as she sped past, and she had no thirst in her throat for their life, putting miles behind her in minutes. She could barely believe the words she had let slip from her mouth had been real, tangible sounds. And now her entire body was positively sizzling with the thrill of releasing such a deeply kept confession.
The gravity of what she had just done suddenly slammed into her from all around. She was pulling up the reigns but nothing was stopping, and her momentum just kept climbing, and everything was either a mountain or a ravine. She was on the edge.
It both frightened and comforted her, knowing that she never needed to return. She could make a life for herself out here in the wilderness, she could run forever until she came back to this same spot, having gone full circle about the earth, and his life would continue on, smooth as silk without her in it.
She could abandon him with her love and he could keep that... a little reminder of who she was, what she had felt for him. She never needed to see him again. This was a perfect parting farewell.
The path grew softer beneath her feet, first powdery, then marshy. She was running through water.
On the other side, she could still see grand old Chartercrest in the distance, its windows shimmering radiantly in the blinding sunlight. The back doors to the house were wide open.
But she had left through the front door.
She was being chased.
Not bothering to lift her skirt, Esme burst her way through the warm waters of Lake Cordial, her legs pulsing easily against the resistance of the gentle waves.
Perhaps he hadn't heard her.
Perhaps he didn't believe her.
She heard it then.
He said her name.
And she stopped.
She listened, wondering if she had only imagined it – some last somber melody born from her intangible memories.
But no. It was real.
He was calling her. His voice. His heavenly voice, calling for her. Full and burning with genuine need. It was inconceivable.
He said her name only once, but it echoed in her mind a million times over like an endless song, stabbing her heart with each tender syllable.
The air surrounding her was an entity in that moment – she could feel it, gentle but determined, pushing her to glance behind. With a breathless sigh of surrender, she turned around to face him.
And he stood there, in a threshold of sweeping willow branches, both arms raised heraldically on either side of his body against the trees, like wings where the luminous white fabric clung to his strong, graceful arms. He was awash in a single beam of sunlight that seeped through the thick foliage above, glistening all over like an ivory angel, that ever-present halo about his blond head as he stared at her with unfathomable passion.
His expression was utterly helpless, yet his eyes were so very enlightened, as the gaze of one finally resurrected from ignorance should look. For once she did not envy the pure gilded brightness of his gaze, she only marveled at it.
The soft words of his impossible request spilled forth clearer than bells, as the breeze ruffled his clothing and caressed his sun-kissed locks.
An endless siege of crippling chills ran through her body, weakening her to the very core. She could do nothing but stare at him in wide-eyed astonishment, refusing to believe her ears. She hadn't the strength to either reject or consent to his request. But she hadn't needed to.
He stepped forward, one arm still balanced against the tree, and the look on his face was shyly approaching elation as she stood, momentarily speechless, before him.
Oh, that was such a lovely word. Affirming, accepting, agreeing.
Such a small word it was, but it could solve her every problem in just one humble syllable.
And it was so easy to say, even as her entire body went into it – the very essence of her existence made it so much heavier, yet it seemed to float on wings.
She loved it.
She loved him.
And he must have loved her.
He covered the yards between them in a splashing instant, and took her blindly into the blessed sanctuary of his arms, into a fierce, life-dependent embrace that defied the very concept of love itself. The need was coursing through him. She could feel it violently pulsing all across his chest. She was startled when she first felt it.
She thought it was his heart beating.
He lifted her up toward the sky as if she weighed nothing at all, then he brought her down against him so that she could feel every inch of him crushing every inch of her. He did not let her feet touch the water, as if he feared it would swallow her like quicksand. She was only too relieved to be free from any ties to the earth.
His arms became a tight, tiny world of her own, and she whispered the word over and over against his ear as he pinned her to his chest.
"Yes, yes, yes, yes..."
Buried in the curve of her neck, she could feel his heavy, labored breathing where his chin pressed into her shoulder, a fragile sob chiming softly in his throat. His arms wound even further around her, trapping her possessively until her legs were forced to wrap around his waist. His hands held her so tightly that they felt connected to her, a magnetic phenomenon that had no logical source. It simply existed in its own painful beauty, force undefined.
Somehow, Carlisle managed to right his head to hover above hers, arms still locked around her like a warm marble vice. His forehead was pressed against hers, his every breath a swell of sweet air that she could taste as it gushed between her parted lips. Esme's stream of yes's melted away as her wistful eyes fell upon his tender lips. She nearly lost all comprehension as those lips began to move.
"I've never been this...close to anyone before," he wept ardently, his soft voice breaking on the words. And even in a whisper, she felt the thrilling vibrations of his voice in her throat, and the tips of her fingers, and somehow, in the pit of her stomach. His words were swathed in an ache so tangible, she felt it sinking fast in the center of her being. There was such heart-crushing sadness in his vulnerable confession; she was tempted for a moment to whisper back, 'Neither have I.'
But then she realized...
He meant physically.
Her breath stopped short as she felt the tips of her toes touch the water by his knees. Suddenly her entire body was tingling. Because she knew what he would do to her now...
She could sense it in the way his breathing had changed. An exquisite, unsteady pattern – thrilled, soft, erratic. His hands found their home on either side of her face, and gently but surely, he forced her to look up at him.
It was just a flicker she saw of his face, gazing down, so deeply into her. There were tiny gold stars in the burnished windows of his eyes, a delicate glaze of century-ripened tears that could only threaten to spill onto her cheeks. His lashes were like amber threads of silk, sliding into a decisive slumber as he slowly tilted his head, poised at a willing angle to give her what she had always given him permission to give.
And finally, the swelling, trembling tension transformed into submissive bliss as he joined their lips, kissing her. Kissing her for the first time.
Her world did not crash, and she did not die. But her deepest fears were silenced in the moment that his lips innocently discovered hers.
There were no chimes from heaven, no earth-shattering revelations. It was so much more profound, so far removed from anything that would call upon such pomp and circumstance. It was instead deathly quiet, absurdly warm, and absolutely still – a startling shock of inner peace and crippling completeness.
All the fairytales said that everything around her would cease to exist when this moment came. But that did not happen at all. Everything around her only came more alive than it ever had before. Every sound, every fleck of dust, every color, every nuance in the earth around them and within them had such purpose.
And finally, Esme felt her own purpose, here in Carlisle's arms. She was not a mistake, she was not a monster, she was not empty inside.
In one kiss, he had restored her faith. In one kiss, he had awakened her soul.
The heat that had once been a barricade between them was now their blanket; it swept around them, forcing them to share their bodies and their breath and their souls.
And when he slowly pulled away from her to look into her eyes, she was suffocated by the love she saw gleaming in their depths. With just one glance, she knew, Carlisle could banish every one of her worries.
"I love you, Esme."
It was barely the sound of his voice, or the way he looked as he said it that humbled her so intensely. It was more the closeness of his body to hers, the exquisite chafing of proximity between them that staggered her to the core.
Because Carlisle had never been this close to her before. And he threatened her loneliness like nothing had threatened it before.
"The poem you slipped into my sketchbook on Christmas morning…" she whispered frantically, her eyes shining, her hands traveling all over his face and neck, "…you were the one who wrote it, weren't you?"
He was nodding before she had the chance to finish her sentence. "Yes, I was the one," he said, his voice weak but proud, bolder than sunlight. "Yes. Yes, I wrote it."
Every time he said the word "yes," she melted a little more inside.
Her fingers, still smeared with the ink from his letters, left faint, watery streaks of blue on his throat as she stroked his skin.
"And the letters? All of those letters?"
"One hundred," he confessed with a shudder. "I wrote one hundred of them. I saved only half. The others were burned."
A stunned sigh fled her lips as she touched his face obsessively, barely able to process his words while he held her fiercely in his arms.
"You have no idea how many nights I wanted to slip just one letter beneath your door... how much I tortured myself over it," he murmured into her ear, cheek pressed firmly to hers. "I've loved you since... Oh, I cannot even bear to think it..."
His voice cracked breathlessly, a beautiful bruise on his accent as his lips rained kisses across her forehead, some falling into her hair. Every time his lips touched her, her heart swelled painfully. Before it might have been punctured by the ribs that caged it, but now it had the strength to snap them straight across.
She tried to tell him the danger she was in, but her voice failed her as he again consumed her mouth with his. He crushed her against him, and opened his lips, and her tongue was baptized in his venom.
He could not steady her sobs for he was sobbing just as much. Their combined passions flowed feverishly between them as they kissed, and they could barely contain their decency.
She managed to whimper his name as his lips fled to the hollow of her throat. Her hands clutched his shoulders as his curious touch found the carved crescents on the side of her neck. Saying his name still felt like a sin, and as his tongue gently worked to consecrate every inch of her scarred flesh, she could scarcely think.
"I've needed you." She shuddered, clinging to him in weightless desperation as he held her high above the water. "I've needed you for so long..."
"Oh, my darling." His whisper was like a warm salve against her aching throat. "I shall never forgive myself."
His words did not make sense to her, but they sounded so catastrophically wonderful, uttered so close, so soft, so sincere.
A fresh storm of sobs rendered her limp in his arms. Her eyes dared to open, and finding his gaze too near, she could make out every fine golden blister in each iris. Every beautiful complexity in his eyes was magnified before her, open for her, like marigolds for the sun.
"Do you know how long I've wanted to tell you? Do you know how my heart aches whenever we are apart? How my soul thirsts for union with yours?" His murmured words were wrought with poetic passion, nearly unrecognizable from the gentle timbre she knew.
She barely realized that she was shaking her head until Carlisle lifted his hands to hold her cheeks still, staring straight into her eyes.
"You never knew," he marveled, stroking his strong fingers across her cheeks, his voice choking back sobs. "You never even guessed?" He sounded so heartbroken.
"How could I have?" she whispered, in a private war against the desire to break down and cry in his arms. "Your compassion has never changed, Carlisle. Since the beginning you were so impossibly kind to me, so caring for no reason. You've always been this way with me. You've always treated me with love. I'd never recognized it to be anything less...never..."
She trailed away on the very last word, leaving "never" to hover homelessly in the air between them. Carlisle's eyes were shining like fire.
"Stay with me. Forever, Esme." He pressed his face flush against hers as he pleaded, lips anointing every part of her within his reach. "Say you will be mine, always."
"Yes, always yours." She could scarcely remember the meaning of her own words. Repeating his declaration in half-ordered whispers, she willed the last waves of energy out of her body and melted into him, suspended from gravity and appending herself to a force much stronger. "I am yours, Carlisle."
He whimpered against her, a sheer breath of disbelief and delight as his lips trailed over her cheek. Every hope in her heart danced with a new warmth as he closed his eyes and cupped her chin with his tender fingers.
The gentleness in his kiss was downright violent; infinitely more erotic than one of greedy desperation would be. He had the power to strike her heart with the lightest touch before smothering her with a temper of reckless passion.
Even as he flooded her with love in its purest, rawest form, she feared that she would never find her fill. She was afraid, and in awe, and in complete disbelief. Numb, but with senses on fire.
Carlisle's passion, having been gagged for centuries, spilled into her freely with a force untamed. It was almost too much to bear. But beneath the strength of that passion, she could feel his control deep within, tenderly restraining his every desire, both base and desperate. He would not have her until they were bound in the eyes of God.
She knew this. She trusted this.
Locked together in a desperate embrace, they somehow sank to their knees in the water below. The gentle waves of Lake Cordial could do so little to tame their fervor. With a resounding splash they landed in a comfortable knot, sobbing and crying and laughing. Every emotion Esme had ever felt came crashing together in a thrilling combination that made her feel so human.
Their bodies rubbed against one another, warm and wet and restless. Esme thought they may as well have been attached. To part with Carlisle at any point, no matter how insignificant the loss of contact, was enough to cause her real and true pain.
In that moment she was certain if she let him go, she would die.
He was hers now, and she would sooner be damned than give him up.
"Give me your hand," she heard him plead in the midst of their tangled limbs and frantic kisses.
When she first put forth her right hand, she was confused when he gently brushed it aside and firmly grasped her left hand instead.
Then she watched him reach into his pocket.
A faint golden glimmer winked at her from the palm of his hand, then a tiny flare of brilliant white light beamed into her eyes.
His sleeves slipped back down to his elbows, damp and wilting, leaving his forearms bare. Droplets of water slipped down his broad sculptor's arms, accentuating the deliberate direction of his reach. Then, his lean white fingers, strong and sure, wrapped so tightly around her hand, she felt her wrist begin to pulse from the pressure.
With infinite care, he parted her last two fingers and fitted a diamond ring securely over her knuckle. Both his thumbs pushed the ring slowly into place, until it could go no further.
She could feel his eyes on her, watching her as she stared at the priceless treasure he had just placed on her finger. She could not even manage a gasp.
A rose. Her final symbol.
It was no accident that the diamonds were arranged just so.
The fact that he had it in his pocket the entire time, that he had obviously been prepared for this moment, was all the more thrilling to her.
How long had he been planning this proposal without her knowledge? She could hardly begin to wonder.
As he stared at her breathlessly, a tiny drop of water rolled down the side of his cheek, like a perfectly placed tear.
Her lips collided with the irresistible curve of his jaw, and nipped their way greedily up the side of his face and down again until she found his mouth. Shy laughter and tearful sighs melted between them as they shared kiss after carefree kiss in the middle of the lake.
Esme still could not fathom how wonderful, how good it felt to embrace Carlisle with all her strength. At last she did not have to hold anything back. At last she could allow the fierceness of her love for him to shine through. Her hands felt him as they never felt him before. She was aware of every movement of every muscle in every part of his body. Every blink of his eyes, every breath that filled his lungs.
To feel him now was not only to feel his physical body, but everything spiritual and emotional buried inside of him. If she could feel all of this just from embracing him, she could not even dare to imagine how it would feel when...
Like a swordsman drawing his blade straight through her, the sensation was more than she could withstand. Esme shuddered violently in the arms of her humble hero, furiously shedding all thoughts of what would happen now that they were… engaged.
Her new ring felt heavier and hotter with each passing second; like a tiny golden equator, it seemed to glow more brightly whenever he touched her finger.
He expected her to wear this thread of fire forever?
Suddenly his hands were buried in her hair, tugging her closer, stealing her breath. His mouth latched onto her neck, deliberate and consuming. She felt a shock tremble through her every time his tongue tasted the scar on her throat. In the midst of his elaborate kisses, he whispered obscenely tender words of adoration.
"I never knew love could be like this," he whispered, his voice burning in quiet flames. "I'd all but given up hope of finding it."
His lips were scorching by the time they reached her chin, and he paused, pulling away the barest of inches to stare at her face.
His deep golden eyes, which had once seemed like a vast barren desert of longing, now glowed with the unshakable certainty and hope of the sun.
"Don't say that," Esme hushed him, one finger precariously pressing his delicate lower lip. "Don't ever say that... You have me now. You have my love, Carlisle. All of it. Everything I am is for you."
He sighed in blissful amazement, a low whimper – raw and urgent.
Her soul took an effervescent breath, drawing in the goodness that surrounded him, absorbing the essence of his kind heart and the sweet tang of his hidden desires. His face was never more than a few inches away from hers as he held her, his hand pressed to the small of her back, the gentle pressure growing firmer with promise the longer he lingered. Butterflies were flapping like mad in her stomach at his slightest touch. He was so close, she could taste him.
His gentle fingertips lifted a curl of her hair away as she tilted her head back in welcome. He kissed her neck with a familiarity so fierce, it filled every bone in her body with a tingling heat. His breath was hot and rushed, and every place he touched awakened with a tender jolt. Light filled the dark spaces inside her, and she felt dangerously vibrant, wonderfully powerless, yet so very wanted, as he worshipped her in his arms.
"Tell me again," he whispered like a lost child into her neck, his lips refusing to part with her skin. Somewhere just beneath the surface of the water, his fingers lovingly clasped hers, and repeatedly stroked the golden ring.
"I am yours," she responded, tossing her arms around his shoulders and tangling her hands into his windswept blond hair.
He uttered a gasping laugh of pure disbelief, the joy in his eyes blazing above her. "How can I be so blessed?" He lifted one wet, reverent knuckle to trace the fine curve of her face, his voice unfathomable. "Tell me, Esme... How?"
She answered him readily with her lips, though not with words. Kissing was the only language that truly made sense to her now. Already, they both seemed fluent.
His arms tightened around her, and she was liberated. Every terror was trampled, every curse was crushed. Like a warm spring from the ground, her love erupted into new life, and it was more abundant, more bountiful, more vast than she had ever imagined it could be.
Love could only reach so far when it came from one person. But when two souls combined, love's path was boundless, tearing the brittle bindings of the universe to dust in its never ending conquest over the impossible.
Read Carlisle's point of view of this chapter in Behind Stained Glass, chapter 36: "Justice for the Lonely Soul."