Welcome to Tale of Years: 2003! I'm so, so excited to be beginning this story, and so thankful for all of you who have been patient while still encouraging me to go for it. I'm sorry it's taken so long, and please understand that I still can't commit to any regular posting schedule. Not only do I have my novel in progress—I've also launched a freelance editing business, so there will only be certain times I can devote long hours to writing fanfiction. But man, am I excited to finally be starting this journey with you guys! I actually don't anticipate much excitement or significant plot arcs, but there are just so many little things that I want to foreshadow and write towards here. The main story will cover the Cullens getting settled in Forks in the fall of 2003, while the Epilogue will be set in 2005 on the same day that Bella starts at Forks High School. So the final words will lead right into Midnight Sun. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: The Twilight Saga and its universe belong to Stephenie Meyer. No profit is made here and no offense intended.
Mt. McKinley, Alaska
The snow around me was indifferent to my presence. My skin was just as cold, collecting the tiny crystals by the thousands as I lay motionless, watching the stars come out one by one. The quiet sounds of nature hummed a restful overture, muffled by distance and the icy blankets draped over every surface of the mountain. High above its peak, a dazzling show of twisting reds and greens adorned the sky. Another breathtaking nightfall in the Alaskan wilderness.
I watched the moon sketch its usual graceful progress across the dark sky, unimpressed. Even the pair of shooting stars that broke the monotony around 2:00 in the morning were old news; Alice had cheerfully ruined the surprise earlier this evening. A third was due in a few minutes, but I let my eyes drift closed, unable to care. I had seen it all before. But I would no doubt find myself out here again tomorrow night, eager for solitude. Anything to get away from the crowd of minds at home.
We hadn't planned to move in with the Denalis, per se; it was only supposed to be an extended visit while we waited for Rosalie and Emmett to come back from the honeymoon tour of Europe they had taken upon our departure from Maine. Their spur-of-the-moment wedding had completely stalled our plans, but we still wanted to move on all together when the time came. And we hadn't yet decided on our next destination, so it seemed as good a time as any to pay our cousins a long-overdue visit.
By the time the happy newlyweds had come home, it was so close to Christmas that there was no stopping Alice and Tanya. The lodge and the main house were transformed into a glittering, gaudy wonderland that burned out the generator every other night. Soon afterward, tax season began to loom. Even with the majority of our identity management load now shifted onto Jenks and his questionable associates, it was no time to start over. The move was delayed again.
Now it was early June, and we hadn't budged. I supposed it was my own fault; when Carlisle had grown restless back in January I had suggested that he start working a few shifts a week at the clinic in Cantwell. Irina, who was the public face of the Denalis at the moment, decided to attend a series of weekend economics lectures with Alice. It had somehow turned into their signing up for a regular class down at AUF. Rosalie had naturally felt slighted and convinced Tanya to take a class with her, and then Emmett had tagged along, and here we were tangled up for an entire semester.
It hadn't been so bad at first. Rosalie and Emmett had taken the guest suite in the main house, so the lodge was relatively quiet, conventionally speaking. The mornings were especially peaceful once the college classes had gotten underway. Carlisle seemed to be enjoying his work at the clinic, and of course Esme and Eleazar had begun work to expand the lodge. I resigned myself to living with eleven minds for the time being; it wasn't as bad as I had feared. Wanting our continued company, Tanya had been working hard at not mentally undressing me on a nightly basis, which I greatly appreciated, and everyone had enough to do that we weren't all stepping on each other's toes. Not much, anyway.
But the peace was starting to wear thin. The first argument had been between Emmett and Irina back in April. They had, without knowing it, been stalking the same bear for hours when they nearly collided. Emmett laughed and offered to fight her for it, which didn't go over so well. The incident was smoothed over, but it was a like a switch had been flipped; tempers began running shorter and, more seriously, the supply of big game was shrinking. The Denalis had always gone far afield to hunt, preferring not to disturb the balance of wildlife around their home, and we respected that. But there were only so many hunting ranges within driving or running distance, if you didn't want to make a weekend of it.
I felt the light shift and opened my eyes, watching dully as each star winked out and the eastern horizon began to glow. Maybe another hour. Tanya hadn't been so careful with her thoughts this past week, but at least she generally behaved herself when it was daylight. I took my time brushing the accumulated snow off my clothes and out of my hair, trying to decide if I felt like hunting before returning home. But it would take me a good three hours, and I decided it wasn't worth the concerned look and thoughts Esme would no doubt be giving me. Besides, I had promised I would help her put up the gutters on the new addition this morning.
I was pleasantly surprised not to hear Tanya's mind when I got back to the lodge.
"Where's Tanya?" I asked Esme as we started our work on the gutters.
"She took a trip down to Anchorage for the weekend. I think she's having a rendezvous with that young man she's been emailing with."
I pushed a nail into place with my fingertip, eyeing the rest of the gutter and calculating how many more I might need. "Thank God."
Esme's warm chuckle brought a weary smile to my face. "She hasn't been too difficult, has she? You had said she was being considerate."
"That was two months ago," I said drily, jamming another nail into place. "She's considered quite a lot since then."
Esme huffed out a maternal sigh. "I'll speak to her again."
"Don't bother, please." I waited, sure that she would protest and fuss over me, but she fell silent instead, picturing Carlisle at work. I eyed her with suspicion, moving on to the next gutter. Esme was less obvious with Tanya than she had been with Rosalie back in the day, but the thoughts were there: she wanted me settled, and she felt I could do far worse than Tanya.
I had to admit, Tanya really was being more considerate this time, even now. She seemed lonelier than in previous years, and it gave her fantasies a softer edge. They were often as benign as holding hands and chatting leisurely with me as we walked through the streets of some city or other, or hunting together, or just curling up together to watch the stars. The more scandalous daydreams were sprinkled in often enough that I wasn't too impressed with the change, but I truly appreciated her effort. I wished the best for her, just as Esme wished the best for me.
She didn't need to bother. I was well aware that I was "wasting" my chance to be with one of the only three golden-eyed female vampires known to exist. But I simply wasn't interested, and she knew it. Tanya knew it. It was flattering, I supposed, to have a famous succubus baiting me for nigh on a century now, but that had nothing to do with the kind of love story I would have preferred. I knew the odds of that story ever unfolding were slim to none, and I had decided long ago that it wold be best for everyone if it never did. But at least I could honor it—and the invisible girl who didn't exist—by never settling for less. I had my family, and despite the days when my role as seventh wheel was painfully tangible, that was more than enough.
One week later
"Are you going to move sometime in this century?!" Emmett grumbled.
"Sshh." Jasper frowned down at the chessboards, rearranging his plan of attack yet again. He's got something his sleeve. He wouldn't be so impatient if that rook didn't have some secret mission... maybe an ambush on that corner board... He crawled around the game on his hands and knees, examining things from another perspective.
Alice and I glanced at each other from our respective ends of the couch, silently exchanging our guesses as to who would win in the end. She'd been seeing Emmett's smug victory for the past hour, but it was fuzzy and getting fuzzier. It doesn't matter, she thought sulkily. I'm going to go gray before they're done. Jazz PROMISED me we could go—
I lost interest in her shopping plans for the weekend, focusing on the game. This was the latest incarnation of my brothers' experimental versions of chess, modified for the vampire mind. Nine interlocking boards made up one big square field of battle. Only the four corner boards started off with complete sets of pieces, though the roster grew more complex as the game went on and the armies spread out. It made for some intriguing strategies. Not that I was allowed to play.
Here we go, Alice thought suddenly, letting out a delicate sigh.
I peered over the top of my book again. "What?"
"Alright, that's it," Emmett growled, reaching for the board too fast for Jasper to stop him. He ripped the middle board right out of the game, sending a few pieces flying. I blocked one with my book at the last second, batting it right back into Emmett's face.
"What the hell's the matter with you?!" Jasper spluttered, scrambling on his hands and knees for the lost pieces.
"I wanna try it without the middle board. It's no good; too many possibilities."
"You could have let us finish the game first!"
"We can finish it! Just put the pieces on whatever spaces are nearest to where they were."
Jasper considered this for a moment. "No, they have to go back to their starting position." The argument quickly deteriorated into a squabble about how to salvage the game and how the various pieces' movement across and around the empty space should be governed.
"What's going on in here?" Esme said, carefully picking one of Emmett's knights out of a potted plant that stood next to the staircase.
"Nothing's broken," Emmett announced, looking innocent and spreading his arms wide and knocking over the other plant in the process. He grumbled an oath and crawled over to clean it up, sweeping half the pieces off the remaining boards with his leg. Jasper growled deep in his throat and chucked one of his own bishops at the back of Emmett's head. Alice hummed to herself, looking pleased as punch.
"I wanted to talk to you all about something," Esme began, shooting Emmett a fierce glance as he gathered himself to pounce on Jasper. He sighed heavily and bounced up onto his feet instead, going to stand behind Rosalie's rocking chair. "I thought this would be a good time since the Denalis are all out at the moment. I've been speaking with Tanya..."
I rolled my eyes, finally closing my book. "Esme," I began, but she held up her hand.
Not about that. She gave me the usual sad, sympathetic smile before looking around the room at the others. "I don't think this is working out."
"You mean us living here?" Rosalie asked.
"Unfortunately, yes. But I'd also like to hear what we all have to say about it, and we can include Carlisle when he gets home tonight."
Emmett shrugged. "Gotta admit, the hunting's not too great these days."
"I like it here," Alice piped up.
"So do I," Jasper agreed after a long pause. "Especially how far we are from the humans." He looked up at Esme. "But there's a lot of tension in the air. It's not necessarily between our two families, and not much is being said, but it's getting worse."
"That's what Tanya and I were discussing," she said. "It's a little... crowded, especially now that the semester is over. Edward, it has to be difficult for you. For your gift."
Everyone looked back toward me. "It's crowded," I admitted. "But Carlisle is enjoying his work at the clinic, isn't he?"
Esme gave me the sad smile again, retreating to perch on the lowest step. "He did at first. It was a new challenge, and he's enjoyed working in a more casual atmosphere. But it's gotten monotonous pretty quickly, and the days are slow."
"I haven't heard him thinking like that," I said with a frown.
Rosalie snorted from behind me. "And you know everything, naturally."
"What's your problem?" I shot back in irritation, turning around to face her.
I bared my teeth. "Rosalie, I swear, sometimes—"
"Watch it," Emmett warned.
"See what I mean?" Jasper said to the room in general, slumping back against the couch to let Alice play with his hair.
"Nobody's blaming anybody," Esme insisted, hugging her knees. "I just think it's time to move on."
"And Tanya agrees?" Jasper asked.
"She thinks we need a change, one way or the other. Maybe building our own place further out, but within running distance, or we move on. She feels bad about it, but she's noticed tempers getting short too. And Emmett, you're right about the hunting. You know how the Denalis feel about disturbing the balance of wildlife. So unless everyone is willing to switch to caribou from here on out..."
"We're moving," Emmett said flatly.
Late that evening, Carlisle joined the discussion along with the Denalis. Now that the awkward issue of our needing to move was out in the open, the tension had eased. Alice was the only one truly unhappy about the move; she had especially been enjoying Tanya's company, and she and Eleazar and Irina had enjoyed plenty of lively debates about their investments. Ten years ago, she might not have enjoyed living so far from civilization, but internet access was speeding up every day, and the worldwide mall with it.
"Where will you go?" Carmen asked.
"I didn't have anything particular in mind this time," Carlisle said, looking around the room. "Does anyone have a preference?"
"Somewhere with grizzlies," Emmett said.
"Emmett," Alice grumbled, "you take weekend trips all the time. You can easily get grizzlies if we live anywhere in the US."
"I wouldn't mind being closer to Jenks, though," Jasper said, nodding over toward Emmett.
Irina sighed, running her hand through her hair. "You always put yourselves through so much trouble. Why don't you just settle down somewhere?"
Esme ignored the usual debate that went along with that question. "Carlisle, do you want to teach this time or just work?"
Carlisle shrugged. "Either is fine."
"He wants to work," I reported, enjoying Carlisle's look of exasperation. "So we don't need a big university hospital."
There was a long pause as we all considered various destinations. Kate was thinking of suggesting the Swiss Alps, while Emmett was fantasizing about a five-year safari, threading through Africa, India, and most of the Pacific Islands.
"Emmett," I scoffed, shaking my head fondly.
"You're kidding me," Alice grumbled out of nowhere, shooting Rosalie a glare. "It's one of the rainiest places in the northern hemisphere."
We all turned to Rosalie, who folded her arms defensively. "Well, why not?"
I barked out a laugh, finally seeing her plan. "Rosalie wants to go back to the Olympic Peninsula."
Eleazar's brow twisted in confusion. "Wasn't that the place with the werewolves?"
"We've always talked about going back there," Rosalie pointed out.
"As a joke," I snorted. "Come on, Rosalie, I know you've been thinking about taking us all back to Europe with you ever since you two got back."
"You loved it there too," she insisted. I shrugged in acquiescence.
"We all did," Carlisle said. "But I'm afraid it's out of the question."
"Who says the wolves are even still around?"
"Rosalie," he said, "even if the wolves are gone, they were part of a Native American tribe. They'll have a long memory, even if the truth about our identity hasn't been passed down. It's not worth the risk."
"I wouldn't mind seeing those wolves again," Emmett muttered, cracking his knuckles. Still owe them a good fight...
"All the more reason not to move there," I said, stretching out my leg to kick his chair. "Can we talk seriously about this?"
After few snickers around the room, the conversation went on to other possibilities. Rosalie remained rigid in her chair with her arms folded, but even as she mentally raged about no one listening to her, she began to consider some alternatives too. Kate and Jasper got into a side debate about the danger of being near larger cities with the high terror alert level, especially considering the elections next year.
I didn't particularly care where we went. It was a shame, though; Rosalie's suggestion, however unrealistic, brought back pleasant memories of our stay in Washington State back in the late '30s. I could smell the sharp tang of the evergreens as if it were yesterday, the scent deepened with the moisture of the rainforest. And the blood of the mountain lions that had fed on elk that had fed on those trees... legendary. My throat ached at the memory. And there had been so many of those mountain lions...
"...think of that, Edward?"
I came out of my ruminations, realizing that Carlisle had been speaking to me over the din of the various conversations going on. I let the phantom taste of mountain lion blood fade away. "Sorry?"
"Esme and I were toying with the idea of returning to our old stomping grounds in Montana. We'd probably have to tear down the old house, but the property is still nice and secluded. What do you think about that?"
"Sounds good to me. Emmett will love being so close to Glacier National Park."
Carlisle watched me carefully. You're sure...? His mind filled with the uncomfortable memory of the day I had left him and Esme back in '27, at that same house in Montana, and my return there four years later... orange eyes and all.
"I said it's fine, Carlisle." I turned around in my chair toward where Alice and Jasper sat scrunched in the nearest corner of Carmen's favorite couch. The matching blues of their shirts made the two of them look like one big blue marshmallow; matching was one of Alice's latest kicks. "What do you think, Alice?"
She was completely spaced out, flouncing through forests and shopping malls and school hallways in the world of her visions. I snapped my fingers in front of her face. "Alice. What do you think of Montana?"
Her eyes slowly blurred back into focus. "What? Oh... Montana is nice."
I rolled my eyes. "What do you think about living there? In the old house. I mean, a new house on the old property."
"Hmm." She began to drift away again. "No, I don't think we should go to Montana." A little fold of worry appeared between her eyes, though nothing particular was showing up in her visions.
Jasper abruptly broke off his conversation with Kate, looking down at Alice and tightening his hold around her shoulders a little. "Alice? What's wrong?"
Everyone else's talk faded into silence at his question. Alice continued her silent journey, colors and pictures twisting so fast that I couldn't keep up. Jasper began to rub the back of her neck gently; it was his signal to her that he was worried, that she should come out of it when she was ready. After a few moments, she lifted her eyebrows and came back down to earth with record speed. "Well, that's interesting."
"What?" Tanya asked, looking to me for the answer instead. I flipped my hands up in surrender, just as much in the dark as she was. Eleazar pulled forward away the wall to come closer, intrigued by whatever Alice's gift was doing at the moment.
"We're moving," Alice announced with certainty, "to the Olympic Peninsula."
Matching grins broke out on Emmett and Rosalie's faces. "Excellent," Emmett rumbled, wrapping a huge arm around his wife's waist and pulling her close.
"No, we're not," Carlisle protested, looking confused. "We just decided not to. Your visions wouldn't—"
"I know," Alice interrupted, chewing on her thumbnail and looking confused herself. I finally saw it, clear as day: Carlisle's car, with the rest of the caravan close behind, driving right past a sign that announced our destination. The cars were loaded. The vision swirled and skipped ahead to a picture of Alice and Jasper standing on some lookout with Mt. Olympus in the distance, then a picture of Emmett hefting a wooden beam up to Esme as she worked on a house, with the mountain still hovering out in the sky beyond. There was no mistaking it.
"Who decided to go there?" I asked, looking around the room. Nobody answered.
"It's not always as cut and dried as that, is it, Alice?" Eleazar asked with a knowing smile.
"No," she agreed, still looking as confused as the rest of us. "But I still don't see how it'll work. I guess we'll decide that it's okay?"
"The wolves must be gone," Rosalie said with certainty. "How else would we make that decision?"
"Alice, are you sure that's what you see?" Jasper asked her. "You've never even been there."
"She's sure," I confirmed, still watching her mind curiously. "Though I still don't understand..."
"What's the problem?" Rosalie asked. "It's obviously safe, and I know we've all wanted to go back there someday, joking or not. Right, Edward?"
Another silence as everyone looked to Carlisle. "Well," he said after another long moment. "I suppose there wouldn't be any harm in going down to there to scope it out... for werewolf scent, I mean."
"I'll go," Jasper volunteered.
"I'd be flying," Carlisle told him. "I'd like to rule this out quickly, if it's not feasible, so that we can start looking into other options."
Jasper grimaced, so I raised my hand. "I'll go. I'll be able to sweep a bigger area more quickly." Carlisle nodded. The discussion moved on quickly as we all began to discuss the possibilities. Despite Esme's worry about the wolves being a problem, and Carlisle's concern about a couple of other issues, everyone was feeling fairly hopeful about it.
Carlisle and I drove out to the airport early the next morning, wanting to reach the center of the peninsula by midday. If there were werewolves to be found, it was unlikely they'd be prowling around in broad daylight.
I still don't understand how Alice arrived at those visions, Carlisle thought to me after we had gotten through the worst of the altitude change.
"I don't either," I admitted. "As far as I could tell, they just started coming to her."
"She must have been thinking about moving there after Rosalie brought it up, and somehow one thing led to another... or was about to, I suppose." Carlisle smiled conspiratorially. "Or she and Rosalie could have cooked the whole thing up. You know how she likes to keep us guessing about her gift."
"One step ahead," I sighed, fiddling with the handle that was supposed to recline my seat. I finally got it to squeak backwards a full two inches. "Remember when airplanes used to be comfortable?"
Carlisle relaxed back into his own seat, closing his eyes. "At least nobody smokes anymore. You could have flown us down yourself, you know..."
I snorted, reaching for the magazines in front of me. "Not if you wanted to get there this week." I flipped through the pages, curious to see what absurdities were for sale this year. Maybe Carlisle and Esme would like a jigsaw puzzle made from the aerial view of Isle Esme. I was sure Emmett would appreciate a talking dartboard or a personalized bocce set made from imported Italian marble. Seriously, who bought these things? What they really needed to invent was a deodorizer that could absorb the combined scent of two hundred sleep-deprived humans crammed into the cabin of an airplane.
This is nice, isn't it? Just the two of us. Like the old days.
"Not quite like the old days," I said, flourishing the little silver cell phone that would live in my jacket pocket for the remainder of the trip. But he was being serious, so I put it away. "Yes, it's nice. And it's a relief to get away from everyone else's minds. Relatively speaking," I added with a sardonic grin, gesturing toward the other passengers. I dropped my voice. "It was just you and me when we ran into the werewolves last time, too. I didn't think we'd be doing this again so soon."
"We'll be careful." I have to admit, I'm glad Alice had those visions. If it's possible, I think this is one destination we can all agree on. There was just something about that place... it felt like home, in a way most of our homes haven't.
"I felt that way, too," I said. "And it wasn't just that it had so many features that made our lives easier. It was... I don't know, more peaceful somehow, being up in the far corner of the American frontier like that. I hope it does work out."
"So do I."
We spent the remainder of the flight in silence, with Carlisle lost in his own thoughts or reading. I wasn't so lucky. I had an especially entertaining hour listening to the lady in front of me trying to decide how to phrase her confession to her parents that she was pregnant. Meanwhile, there was an elderly married couple two rows up who were giving each other the silent treatment, while still having nearly identical conversations with each other inside their own heads. There was a steady stream of numbers floating over the rest of the noise the entire time, courtesy of an accountant who was frantically trying to catch up on some work on his laptop. Clashing songs from at least thirty different sets of headphones scratched mercilessly on my brain, irritating me anew every time a new song began.
I finally found refuge in the mind of a young woman who sat near the back of the plane, dreamily trying out possible chord progressions for a song she was writing. It took a while, but I eventually managed to get the other minds muffled enough to listen along, hypnotized by her mathematical approach to her music. Before I knew it, we were starting the descent into SEA-TAC.
I looked over Carlisle's shoulder out the window, feeling my lips pull to one side in a nostalgic smile as I saw the endless blanket of deep green spreading out beneath us. The peak of Mt. Olympus kept a majestic vigil over the steaming rainforest out in the distance, and beyond that, the sea.
I didn't know why or how Alice's visions had led us here, but seeing the familiar landscape made me feel somehow certain it was going to work out. I felt a faint stirring of hope—hope for what, I wasn't sure. Perhaps that there really was something special about this place... that it wouldn't be just another stop on an eternal series of stops as we continued to wander forever. Somehow, somewhere deep inside me, I had the unmistakeable feeling that I was coming home.
They're on their way! :)
Please do take a moment to come review and say hello, and let me know what you think so far. I also want to hear which things you all would like to see in this story as we draw toward the events in the Saga.
Also, I want to invite everyone to check out my Twilight blog and new Twitter account, if you haven't done so. My blog is on Tumblr, where my screenname is (at symbol)jessicanjpa. I actually talk a lot on there about Tale of Years—various little headcanons and thoughts, but I also love chatting with readers and welcome questions about this story or any of the others. Sometimes I post little teaser scenes for upcoming chapters and have polls so you guys can help me decide something. When I'm posting something that's a bit spoiler-y in terms of plot, I'll try to remember to use the "spoiler" tag, so that you can blacklist it if you don't want to see those.
The Twitter is TwilightTaleOfYears(underscore)jessicanjpa. Basically, you'll hear from any Twilight character, anywhere in the canon timeline. It's mostly humor, but some sweet/sad stuff too.
I may not be posting again until the New Year, so I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Thank you for reading!