They drove a few miles into town, a few words being passed every so often. Carlisle got a text from Edward with a question mark. He didn’t respond. They came to a parking lot of the small town’s favorite diner, though in the morning it was only getting ready for the lunchtime rush. Hidden under a cover of aspen trees, they waited for the brief sunlight to dim, and when it did, got out and went across to the park. Unlike most of the town where the trees had been cut down to stumps and large piles of dirt, large and dense bunches were hosted in the near miles long park. The trees were varied from large pines and sprawling oaks to aspen bunches and blossoming maples. Old wooden benches, ruined in color with the metal spotted in rust, lined the walkways.
Carine walked in a hastened pace, moving along the paths where any sunlight would only be on the sides and not speckled in the middle of their walk. Absently Carlisle followed, noting the unusual emptiness of the area. Usually there would be walkers and joggers, someone with their small and frightful dog, a couple lounging out among the shrubbery with books of different thicknesses. The morning in this new town of theirs never slept entirely. Someone was always doing something. A late night delivery man with a junker trying to match the speed of the highway into town, passing the Cullen house with a squeal from the undercarriage. The bakers in the homemade bakery opening the windows to air out the already hot kitchen at four am by the hospital. An half an hour later the newspaper kid would be making their rounds and be begging for just a slice of deliciousness, all while Carlisle would watch from the parking lot of the hospital.
Despite the town being small, only about five thousand or so people, it brought a lot of scholars for brief visits. The hospital was renown for niche specialist, as well as special courses for those niches. He had gone to several and found them interesting, though Rosalie noted a few things redundant.
‘Of course.’ He had smiled to himself.
Rosalie had done medical school not too long ago as a favor to him and had been persistent in finding all the minute and theoretical studies coming up in the world. She was thorough in tracking anything of substance during the favor, even in fields he hadn’t believed she would venture in to.
He stopped in his tracks.
They had stopped at a break in the fencing, once made for a trashcan, now empty of purpose. He simply raised a brow at her, which made her giggle briefly.
“I promise we aren’t going too far. Just a little spot that I had found on my journeys. It will be very fun.”
Her smile was contagious. He followed her past the fencing, into a mists of trees and around where some bathrooms were. A small maintenance hub was built into a large rock structure. Knocking on it confirmed it was just heavy plastic. Carlisle also noted the small path that came to the area, though it wrapped itself out of sight and to the left. On the rock was a built in bench. Carine took a seat on it. She laid out her skirt for a moment before looking back up to him.
“It’s a secret spot of this place. This town has so many.” She grinned.
He agreed and took a few steps to look around. The trees were heavily dense, some smelling a bit too musky from the rest. Had to be the originals, maybe the darker shade among the sea? Or maybe the older ones were the lighter trunks? His family hadn’t gone researching the town this time, rather finding the hidden gem on accident and wanting to discover it all organically. It was a thrill they haven’t had for a long time.
“Hidden, like it was planned.” He noted in thought.
She nodded. “The town is very grid-like. So if you happen to find a weird shape, there’s probably a story as well as a secret.”
He raised a curious brow at her, begging for her to let one slip. She stayed quiet, waiting for him to ask. It took barely a second for Carlisle to shake away the want of a town secret. It was his thrill too. Plus, they had other things to discuss.
“So are you, me?”
Carine smiled wide. “And I, you. What gave it away?”
“Jasper. Well, all of them, last night. But mostly Jasper.”
It was Carine’s turn to raise a brow.
He smiled at the thought. “Jasper wouldn’t have stopped short of defending me if it wasn’t for a familiar scent. He doesn’t think I’m good at fighting and protecting myself.” That made them both break for a short laugh.
“Yes. He does seem very protective. Whitlock?”
Carlisle happily agreed. “Correct. And he is. If anything he likes to be in the front of a fight, not behind me. So when he shuffled, I knew he recognized something. Made him wait.”
“But you were with me. How are you sure it wasn’t you he was stopping for?” Carine asked with a grin.
“Jasper wouldn’t have stopped his brothers if I was in a fight already. They would join in nonetheless.” Carlisle explained. “But they didn’t, and even on the porch he didn’t jump in between you and Alice. I thought he would but he shuffled. Again.”
Carine covered her mouth to laugh silently, enjoying the thought process of Carlisle Cullen.
“So you’re me?”
Carine rocked in her seat for a moment. Then shrugged. “In a way, yes. But from a different time. A time where you are a woman and not a man.”
Carlisle leaned on the archway beside her. “Anything worth mentioning on first thought?”
Carine looked away for half a second before smirking at him. “I have a cuter partner than you.”
Carlisle gawked at her with a huge smile. “Blasphemy!” He took a few steps and dramatically turned away from her, crossing his arms and huffing. “Impossible.”
Carine laughed loudly.
The morning birds sang aloud with them, hopping from one branch to another in the peaking sunlight. The air was cool and breezy. In the distance and low, Carlisle heard a beating heart of a human jogging by, alone and paced. His phone inside his pocket was still and silent, a reminder of help waiting for him.
“It’s impossible, Esme is the best there is.” Carlisle stated.
Carine kept smiling, delighted. “Prideful today aren’t we?”
Carlisle smiled with some smugness. “For once I can honestly agree to it.”
She shook her head and looked away to the trees, in the direction of the faint heartbeat. He watched carefully, noting the stillness of her body, how her pale hair flickered gently with the breeze. He made note of his phone, waiting for her or it to move. She did. She turned back to him.
“We are getting ahead of ourselves. I brought you here for privacy. We can have this rivalry later. I’m curious on what else you have thought of.”
Carlisle fought to keep the small smile on his face. “You have something with last names. You didn’t seem to really know Alice until she said her own. Seemed very particular about your own.” Then in a suave voice, “Miss Cullen.”
Carine slowly nodded her head, laughing at the switch in his voice. “I am a bit lost. That I can agree to. I don’t want to jump before solidifying their identities. How embarrassing would that be?”
He nodded silently, knowing very well his family would make the best of the awkward situation. They were malleable like that. He looked up at the blanket of trees for a moment, wondering the question he always asks to himself.
Are they safe? Or has he already messed it up? For him and for them.
“Your partner, Esme,” It sounded foreign when Carine said it, like it didn’t fit right. But she was him, and him her. “She loves you. Platt? Or maybe Everson?”
Carlisle shook his head quickly. “Platt. I’d rather not think about the other.”
“They were horrible people.” Carine said in a strained voice suddenly.
He stayed quiet.
“But from those horrible people come great opportunities.”
Carlisle shook his head, “No. Not really.”
Carine looked sharply up at him. “Carlisle you can’t think like that. Not now.”
He pushed himself off the arch and took a few steps away. “To think this was a great opportunity, a hopeful one,” He didn’t even finish, the anger and anguish choking him in his throat. “No.”
“They have a better life. All of them. As do you. Do you think you would have been happy as the next Pastor Cullen?”
He turned to her swiftly. “If that’s what I had to do then yes. I would have made the most of it, what of that was. Just like I’m trying the best with what I have now.”
“So what about Hale? Or Whitlock? Is Platt better off-“
“Don’t.” He answered loudly. Then softer, “Don’t.” He could barely breathe from the thought. The memory of Esme laying in the hospital bed came back to him. Lame, quiet, she was the epitome of everything she hadn’t been several years prior. That wasn’t the woman she was, nor the woman he loved. Even when Esme was a teenager, Carlisle had seen so much potential in her. There was almost like an invisible tether between them, and it had pained him so much to leave her afterwards. But he would never damn another to his life, no matter how tight the tether was back then. Only when there wasn’t another option.
“I would never choose this life for any of them. We live outside the world, and it can be very harsh and alienating.”
Carine opened her mouth but another voice sounded. One from up the path, and breathing hard.
“CAR-LIZZLE! What’s up?”
They both jumped. Carine stiffened in her seat.
Approaching them was a young man, mid thirties with a creeping hairline, who had a big smile on his face. Dressed in shorts and a baby blue tee shirt, the man jogged right up to them, waving enthusiastically.
“What is up my man? My main man Carlisle Cullen!” He playfully punched Carlisle in the arm, hesitating on keeping up his excited energy.
Carlisle gave the man a small smile, mostly out of regretful recognition. “Doctor Joseph Adams. What a surprise.”
The man bounced at the announcement of his own name, switching between looking to Carlisle and eying Carine. “Yep, ol’ Joe Shmoe. Doctor of whatever I need to be.” He took a minute to pause finally and collect his breath. The ‘siblings’ watched the man with a bit of annoyance, politely disguising with small smiles. The ones saved for people they didn’t particularly want to stay around. Maybe it was their sense of humor, their attitudes, other times it could have been their loud reputations and even louder opinions. For Joseph Adams, it was the insistence of including everyone and taking it personal when Doctor Cullen wouldn’t join. The dramatics made Carlisle try to evade the man, and the man knew it was the reason his acquaintance wasn’t always welcomed.
Before ether of them could speak, Joe went on.
“It seems like you hurried off yesterday. I suppose this little lady is the reason?” He slid closer to Carine and her smile slipped off, turning into an unamused frown. It shook Joe instantly, some of the confidence fading at the sight.
“Yes. Family matter. How can I help you today Joesph?” Carlisle answered with a bit of ice in his voice.
Joe slowly nodded his head, shuffling a bit back from the tone. “Well I just wanted to make sure you’re coming to the swanky gala tonight! It would be fantastic if there was one hundred percent staff attendance.”
Carlisle gently shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”
Joe bit his lip, an obvious sign of disagreement. “I never said you couldn’t bring the fam! They’re all invited.”
Carlisle’s phone rang out with Alice’s ring tone. He waved Joe off. “No, thank you.” He took several steps away from the two to answer the phone.
One the other side was shuffling, an audible intake of breath and then,
“Do it Grandpa!” Reneesmee’s voice rang loud and clear through the device. In the background was loud shuffling and faint running steps.
Behind Carine walked towards Joe who was stuttering for a reason more to invite the Cullens. It was annoying.
“Do it! Do it! Auntie Alice is loving it!” Reneesmee squealed.
“Nessie! Nessie get back here!” Edwards voice was light and fading in the background. It was frantic. She merely giggled at the sound.
“Love you lots! Come home soon!” The device went silent.
His mind went wild with scenarios that was happening back at the house. Why was it Alice’s phone being used? What was Nessie running for?
“It’s a very un-opportune time for a gala. It is of the up most importance we have this taken cared of sir.” Carine gently explained.
“Where’s the fire girl? I mean, it’s really important that he comes. A hundred percent means hundred percent. And I have important things too! This is one.” Joseph pressed.
Carlisle sighed in annoyance and turned to the doctor. Before he could speak again, Joseph was already in front and whispering
“Listen, I need to pull the favor right now. Remember when I did that double shift for you when you left last week? Another family issue,” He emphasized the words through his teeth. “I’m calling it in man. I have a thing going on at this gala and a hundred percent needs to be a hundred percent. No matter what.”
Carlisle quickly shifted his eyes to Carine. She raised a curious brow while not looking to be able to listen to their conversation. Within the same second he came back to the pushy man.
“Fine. But this better not be some charity, investment scheme for the board of directors. I won’t ever talk to you again Joseph.” Carlisle narrowed his eyes.
Slight panic came over the man at the prospect Carlisle was threatening with. But after a moment understood the acceptance. A wave of relief washed over Joe’s face and he smiled. “Yes! Thank you! You will enjoy yourself. You both!” he turned and opened a hand to Carine, inviting her back to the conversation. She smiled and stayed where she was. “Tonight will be giving you bags till next year! And I’ll actually know why for once!” With that he took off back up the trail, faster than before.
Carlisle looked off to the side to let his annoyance and confusion settle. Carine inched closer to him with a big smile. He refused to look at her.
“That’s a breach.” She jested.
“Yeah, you definitely been risky lately.”
“No. No, we are not doing this.” He said in a chuckle.
They left the park quickly after and went home in silence. At the front door he was met with the rest of his family, all with different emotions playing on their faces. Reneesmee broke from her father’s hold and hugged Carlisle’s waist. She smiled happily up at him.
He hesitated to figure out what was the appropriate response, but he didn’t need to. Sitting at the steps with Bella, Alice looked glum.
“You promised us no more Director’s parties.” She whined.
Carine bowed her head into her hands. Carlisle closed his eyes and exhaled every last bit of air he had in him. When he opened them back up a minute later he met eyes with Rosalie’s glare.
“Great job Carlisle. Like we have time for a party.”
She shot a stern look past him to Carine before huffing up the stairs.