Chapter 5: Vampires 101

There was no point in hating, resenting, or even shouting at Edward, or Emmett, or any other Cullen family vampires who had slipped up in the past. It would not bring any victims back to life. To the extent that any of them thought much of my opinion, they could guess it. Adding strident yelling wouldn't be a significantly greater deterrent. And I didn't even know if it was reasonable to expect perfect behavior from vampires. How many were there in the world? It didn't matter very much. "Most" vampires ate humans. And all vampires were made from humans, most of whom were not actionably inclined to murder. Something about the transition - something I didn't know much about - turned humans into blood-drinking killers most of the time, and the Cullens, plus their friends from Denali, were doing their best to avoid it. They could not be turned back into a less bloodthirsty species. All that was left was damage control. I took a quick assessment of myself and determined that even if I'd had the ability, I hadn't the stomach to do the family in to protect future victims of unknown number.

There was a point in seriously assessing whatever factor made it happen, and determining whether or not I could handle it, before I turned in my mortality. I had to ask them about that. I considered starting with Edward, but it would be too awkward - Alice seemed safer to start with.

Edward obliged me with details anyway after we'd been on the road for a minute. "Left up here," he murmured. "It wasn't... as bad as you might be thinking," he said.

"I didn't have a specific body count in mind," I said levelly. "Was it just one?"

"No," he said. "No, it wasn't. But - I know you don't like that I can read minds, but I can, and that let me be selective in some ways." I made a skeptical face, although I didn't take my eyes off the road. Edward continued. "When Carlisle turned me, at first, of course I could read him. His perfect sincerity. I understood immediately why he lived the way he did. It was hard, but for almost a decade I had a perfect record. And then I decided - I'm not going to pretend to you that I snapped and in a fit of passion did what I did. I decided to experiment with a different way of life. But I was selective, like I said. I went to big cities, found some truly evil people. I told myself that if I happend to run across a murderer stalking a girl down an alley, and I saved her, then surely, I wasn't so terrible. It was only a rationalization. I'm still a murderer. But..." He paused, awaiting my reaction.

"Oh," I breathed. That was... that was better. He seemed to think it was worse that it had been a conscious choice instead of a moment of failed control. I didn't agree. This was partly because it made me safer. If he decided to eat humans again, well, I was a little more appealing than some potential victims, but I was appealing in an impulse way more than in a deliberative way. If I wasn't in a room with him, and he mulled to himself that he really preferred to go back to munching humans, it would be more likely that he'd hie himself off to another big city, find another suitably depraved victim, and eat them instead. He knew I had family - in particular, Charlie could make things inconvenient; even a dead cop who went abruptly missing or dead-with-no-blood-left could get the attention of other police. And I suspected that Alice would be at least annoyed with him if he ate me.

So I was likely to be safer from him than I'd thought. It would still be foolish to tempt impulse too rashly. For example, I still did not think it would make sense to have him carry me at high speed when the wind would waft extra-concentrated Essence of Bella right into his lungs.

"So after a little under five years of that," said Edward guiltily, "I went home to Carlisle and Esme. They welcomed me back with open arms. Like the prodigal son. It was far more than I deserved."

"That actually makes me feel considerably safer," I said honestly. I was about to ask why he didn't make a habit of going on with the Batman routine sans complimentary beverages - at night, perhaps, when he didn't have to sleep and for the thematic appropriateness - but then I realized. That would be conspicuous. To eat humans was fine, and the Volturi apparently cared not a whit for selection algorithm. To tie them up and deposit them unbloodied with lists of their crimes pinned to their shirts, at the doorstep of the local police department... would probably put a dent in the collective vampire artifice.

Edward looked bewildered. I clarified: "I feel safer in comparison to when I didn't know the details. Not in comparison to when I didn't realize you'd killed anybody at all."

"You're a very puzzling girl, Bella Swan," Edward muttered. "Take this exit. Must you drive so slowly?"

I was going precisely the speed limit. "I don't think my truck could take much more, honestly," I said. "Perhaps I should have let you drive, given that - since you do have the better reflexes between the two of us."

"I think that would be worse. I like to drive fast," said Edward, grinning slightly. "It's not quite as awful to be driven slowly as it would be to drive this pokey thing myself."

"All right, then I'm the designated driver," I said.

"Next time you should just let me run you there."

I wasn't aware of plans for a next time, but I supposed the way things were going I'd visit the vampires again eventually. "I'm not sure you ought to pick me up, even with the feeling safer bit," I said. "If you run, that'll just blow my scent in your face unless I ride piggyback - and I'm not at all confident I could hold on piggyback at high speed."

"Did Alice tell you during Vampires 101 that we don't actually have to breathe?" asked Edward.

Oh, that was interesting. "You don't breathe?"

"We do," he corrected. "We can smell, which requires breathing, and we talk, which requires air. But if we don't care to do either of those things, it won't harm us to simply stop breathing." He paused. "That's how I managed the first day you came to Biology. As soon as I got ahold of myself I didn't breathe until the class ended."

"And this wouldn't make it any harder for you to run?"

He shook his head and smiled. "Air isn't fuel to us the same way it is to humans."

"Perhaps, then, although I have to admit it doesn't sound comfortable." That part would apply to his siblings just as much, though. "But if you were doing that we couldn't be having this charming conversation about how you can do that."

That got an outright laugh, which added charming color to the sentence "pull in at the big house there". I rolled up the driveway, admiring the home. It was indeed big. I'd noticed that we'd actually left Forks proper, having bridged the Calawah River and continuing north through scarcely marked roads. A good chunk of the drive had been through very thick forest. I wondered if the vampires had had to clear a lot of trees to make driving possible. The ride was surprisingly smooth; they probably didn't care to jostle their pretty car every time they drove to school. The house itself was a faded white, with graceful architecture, and when I got out of the truck I noticed that the entire south wall was one enormous window: just glass. The effect was very striking.

"Do you like it?" asked Edward, shutting the passenger behind him after he hopped out. I nodded, smiling. "Esme has a fondness for architecture," he said affectionately.

"She built this house?" I could see it now - a vampire easily lifting beams, pushing nails into their proper places by tapping them like piano keys, cutting glass by stroking it with one of those stony fingers.

"Restored it," Edward said. "She likes to fix up old historical places. But there's a lot of her in it." He cocked his head slightly. "Here she comes now," he went on. "Bella, it looks like it's time for you to meet my parents."

Carlisle and Esme exited their house, closed the doors behind them, and then - having no reason to hide their speed - appeared before us, from thirty feet away, too quick for me to follow their paths. When they stopped, Carlisle had an arm around Esme's shoulders and she had one around his waist; they looked very picturesque indeed.

The good doctor looked like his biggest problem in life was probably having nurses and patients hit on him. He looked like he was in his twenties - his early twenties. The only way I could imagine him ever passing for thirty-five would be by living someplace for fifteen years and betting on the sheer unbelief of the people around him. He was blond, his skin the same chalk color as the others, and his eyes were black - not gold. I needed to ask what that meant - it probably wasn't random. He wore a warm, paternal smile, which he turned on Edward first before looking at me.

Esme looked a little older, and that probably helped with the subterfuge, but she was still clearly young and lovely. (Did no one ever turn octogenarians? Or did the turning process cure wrinkles?) Her hair was a dark reddish blond - sort of butterscotch - and she had topaz-colored eyes, darker than the golden color on Edward but not as black as Carlisle's. She was roundish - not heavy, but huggable-looking (which I knew wasn't accurate) and several inches shorter than her husband. Everything about her face - heart-shaped and every bit as pretty as Alice's - made her look motherly; it didn't surprise me that it was the role she occupied.

"Welcome, Bella," said Esme in a warm, loving voice to match her appearance. "We're so glad to finally meet you." I felt comfortable at once - no Jasperish sorcery, just my lie detectors going completely quiet as they listened to Esme express that she was pleased to have me at her home. I smiled back, nearly grinning, and thanked her.

Carlisle extended his hand for me to shake. "It's good of you to come," he said. "I understand we'll be demonstrating various features of the species for you?" He had a kind, soft voice, which I imagined helped greatly with his bedside manner.

"That's the plan, although I'm beginning to think they're redundant," I admitted. "I'm pretty sure you're all actually vampires who actually have superpowers and will be able to pick up any heavy object I happen to point out to you, plus everything else my list calls for. I mostly haven't canceled just because you were all led to expect the tests to happen, and so I don't feel like an idiot in the unlikely event that you later turn out to be stage magicians with poor circulation."

Carlisle laughed. "It's no trouble," he said, "and it will give us a chance to get to know you better. Alice has informed us that you're going to be part of the family."

I wasn't sure if he meant that Alice thought I'd be a vampire, or that she had recently seen me marrying Edward or something like that - and with Edward standing right there, I couldn't ask. So I just smiled back at him and said, "Where are we headed?"

"The clearing where we play baseball," Edward said. "Emmett, Alice and Jasper are already there." He paused, and then said, "Esme, would you carry her?"

I had not expected that. We'd discussed the fact that he didn't need to breathe - was there some other reason it was dangerous that he'd only just thought of? He'd been all for the idea minutes earlier. Esme didn't look like it made a lot of sense to her either, but she looked to me for confirmation, and I nodded. She took two steps toward me and then scooped me up gently in her arms, one behind my back and one under my knees. It wasn't as uncomfortable as I would have thought, although I wouldn't have chosen to sit that way while trying to read or otherwise relax.

Esme looked to Carlisle, who nodded, and the three vampires took off.

Esme was fast. And she didn't even seem to be pushing herself. The impression I had of her gait was that it resembled a jog more than a run, even as she moved through the trees so fast that they blurred around me and wind forced me to close my eyes to the indistinguishable color. But her strides were very level - I bobbed up and down a little bit, but overall found the experience less physically exhilarating than a typical roller coaster. On a mental level, it was really cool that a vampire was carrying me through the woods at high speed. I'd expected to be terrified, but Esme was calming. Perhaps that was why Edward had asked her to be the one to carry me.

After about a minute and a half of gently whizzing along, Esme came to a halt and I opened my eyes. Carlisle, Edward, and Esme, who was still holding me, all stood at the edge of a clearing about twice the size of a baseball stadium. (I had seen one of those up close while Phil had been attempting to bond with his future stepdaughter.)

Emmett, Alice, and Jasper were already present. Alice skipped up to me, grinning, and Esme put me down. "I think it would be most impressive if I were the one to pick something heavy up," Alice said brightly. "Since I'm smaller than everyone else. Want to go hunting for a good log or do you just want me to tell you which one you're going to pick?"

I didn't really want to go hunting for a good log. It was wet out, and I didn't care very much anymore about doing controlled tests. "Lead the way," I told Alice, and she traipsed back into the forest with me following. It was difficult to pick my way through the thick undergrowth, and I was glad I was in unfavorite pants.

The log was a monstrosity. The tree that had died to create it must have been many times older than me. I gave it a kick; it was sturdy, not particularly rotted, and didn't budge a bit with the force my human leg could offer. It was satisfactory. I stepped back - I thought Alice could pick up the tree, but I didn't think she could prevent damp debris from falling off of it as she did, and I didn't care to have to pick it out of my hair.

Alice sauntered up to the log, found a good spot in the middle to lift it from, and hefted it high above her head in a single motion. Leaves, bits of bark, and droplets of moisture rained down around her; she shook her head back and forth so fast that her face was a blur, shaking off most of it. Then, just to top it all off, she started doing a little Celtic-ish dance while carrying the dead tree. It was a reasonably comical sight. Tiny Alice - two inches shy of five feet, her limbs a fraction of the diameter of the log she was holding, leaping about and kicking the air as though unburdened and also the star of Riverdance. I laughed, and Alice tossed the tree into the air, swept herself into a curtsey, and caught it as it fell. Then she swiftly dug a hole in the dirt with one foot - I winced on behalf of her shoe - and planted her log, root end first, in the ground. It sank quite a bit deeper than the hole should have allowed, and stayed in place once she let go.

My mouth was hanging open by the end of her performance, and Alice smirked at me. "Cross off test one?" she asked smugly.

I managed to get my jaw closed, and nodded at her. I followed her back to the clearing. "Edward is fastest," said Alice, "and it's pretty flat here, so we probably don't need to put you up a tree so you can see."

Wordlessly and with the edge of a smile on his face, Edward walked into my field of vision, spread his arms as though to simply remark that he was present, and then spun 180° like a top and was at the far edge of the field in a moment. Once there, he paused long enough to be visible and just barely recognizeable, waved, and was back at my side before my vision had completely refocused.

"Wow," I breathed. I was beginning to think that the only reason Alice hadn't seen me calling off the "experiments" on account of uncuriosity halfway through was because they were just that fascinating to watch. I didn't want to know what would happen, I wanted to watch it happen. With a pang, I realized this made the entire exercise considerably more like what Rosalie had called it - "tricks". But Alice had seemed to be having fun, at least. It was at least possible that they thought it was amusing to show off to someone who didn't find their abilities commonplace. At any rate, none of them had complained much about Rosalie's declining to participate, so I had to conclude that they were all there of their own free will.

Edward smiled at me. It was somewhat dazzling, and I found that I needed to check my list of tests to find what was next. It was the vision and hearing ones - not as spectacular, but impressive in their own right. I explained the protocol, and Jasper volunteered silently for the first: he raced to the opposite edge of the clear spot - staying in sight - almost as fast as Edward had done. (I wasn't sure if my impression that he went slower was due to my having been told that Edward was faster, or due to Jasper deliberately going under his top speed, or due to my actually having the ability to detect a difference in vampiric levels of rapidity over short distances.) I muttered under my breath a series of digits that I'd invented and memorized earlier: "two, five, two, one, eight, eight, zero, three, nine, four, two, three, seven, one, five, six, zero, four. All done."

Jasper zipped up to me, took my list of tests and my pencil deftly from my hands, and wrote "252188039423715604" next to the third description. He returned the objects and went to stand next to Alice.

Carlisle obliged me with the vision test, reading from across the field handwriting so tiny that I could barely make it out with my eye right next to the paper.

Emmett was Edward's source of information for the mindreading test. The range of mental hearing was a few miles for familiar "voices" like Emmett's, if they were being deliberately sought, and so Edward simply went back to the Cullen house in order to attend to the various things I showed his brother. As with the other tests of senses, Edward returned to the group and reproduced everything with perfect fidelity.

"Do vampires," I wondered aloud when I'd heard Edward's verbatim recital, "have perfect recall? Is that another one of your things?"

"Yes," said Edward, "but only of memories we form as vampires. It's very hard to hold onto human experiences."

"That must be nice," I said with an envious moan, checking off #5. "Alice, when can we expect sunshine?"

Alice said serenely, "Right... about... now." As she spoke the last word, she pivoted and shoved Esme a few feet forward; Esme, though she looked startled, still kept her footing and managed to look graceful in her trajectory. It took her right in the middle of a single sunbeam that broke the clouds overhead.

Esme, posed with perfect stillness once she noticed the sun and realized what Alice had done, shone with brilliant color. No longer chalk - she was crushed diamonds, each speck of her skin throwing light from a thousand facets. She'd been beautiful. Now she was spectacular. I could barely take my eyes off her.

Esme looked at me and smiled. "It's a pity Rosalie wasn't here," she said, as the sunbeam was obscured by encroaching clouds and the gem sparkle faded. "That's one thing she does like."

I could imagine. It would be implausible to be as gorgeous as Rosalie without developing at least a little vanity. Edward's comment about letting me admire her in the sun made more sense now - I enjoyed a brief mental image of a golden-haired statue of a goddess showering everything around her with tiny rainbows.

Yep. I was leaning towards liking the idea of being a vampire again. I could probably not eat anybody. Vampires were so cool.

With all the tests complete, the vampires decided - too rapidly for me to have any input - that it was time for us all to retire to the drier, more comfortable location of their house. Esme waited for another nod from me before lifting me into her arms again and taking off after the group.

She put me down on the porch, which was a wide and well-furnished affair that wrapped around the entire first floor. I was the last through the door (Edward held it for my benefit). The entire interior of the house was done in white: the walls, the carpet, the furniture, almost all the decor. Little shadows and flecks of color, here and there, stood out brightly. I'd walked into an enormous, high-ceilinged hall - it had to have been several large rooms originally, with walls and floors knocked out. From the south wall, made entirely of glass, I could see the river flowing by not far from the building.

On my left, a raised part of floor, just one step up, held a grand piano. Beyond that, I saw the open door into the kitchen - I supposed houses in general came ready-made with kitchens and there was no strong reason to rip it out of the house, especially if they might sell it and move later. The dining room was screened off from the front hall with a low, curving wall, over which I spied a table surrounded by eight chairs. I supposed it wasn't that odd that they'd have an extra, given that seven was an odd number and would make the furniture look asymmetrical arranged around the rectangular table. The vampires all took off their shoes, which were covered with mud, and I followed suit, dropping my knapsack next to my sneakers.

I saw a wide, swooping staircase, and looked up. It led to a landing, visible from the ground floor through its railing, but the halls on either side were hidden by walls. They wound in a semicircle, leaving the main hall room for its vaulted, high-beamed ceiling. I'd seen three stories total from outside, and supposed the rooms on the third floor were stacked on top of the ones from the second. It looked like they didn't jut up against the glass wall - the far point of the staircase, which extended beyond the horseshoe of higher stories, admitted enough room for someone to walk between it and the giant window.

"Want a tour?" Edward asked in my ear. Suddenly distracted from my admiring gaze at the house, I jumped just a little, then tried to cover it by turning to look at Edward. He seemed to have been enjoying my appreciation of the architecture.

"All right," I said. After I'd agreed and Edward was gliding towards the stairs with the expectation that I'd follow, it occurred to me that invitations like that might mean, "Do you have an interest in looking at this pretty house?", but might also mean, "Are you interested in me, as a person of the opposite sex, such that you are willing to be conducted around this pretty house by me?" I was not sure which he'd meant. I still hadn't gotten all the time I needed to think about that. Why did I have to go to school? Why did school have to assign homework? Why couldn't Charlie cook to save his life? Why did I have to sleep? The day after tomorrow would be Saturday and I'd have some unclaimed time, but what if I had to make a decision before then about something I hadn't given enough thought?

I must have had a ridiculous look on my face when I thought this, because when Edward looked over his shoulder to confirm that I was following him, he looked concerned. He stopped in his tracks, waiting for me to catch up. "Bella, are you all right? I know we must be a lot to get used to..."

"No, I'm fine," I said at once, and I sped up a little to prove it. "It is a lot to handle, but I think I'm adjusting to it okay. Let's see the house." And I started marching up the stairs.

"Bella," said Edward, catching my shoulder. I stopped and turned around, and, of course, fell off the step and directly onto him. He caught me just as before, and set me down on my feet on the ground floor.

"What?" I asked.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked.

I thought about this. "I'm sure I don't want to discuss it right now," I said finally.

Edward looked disappointed. It was really a strange expression on him - he made it seem more like he was wronged than, say, foiled or unlucky as some disappointed people appeared. I supposed he wasn't used to having to wait until people wanted to talk about things before he got to find out what they were. It probably didn't feel fair, from his end, but I was grateful in the extreme for my privacy. "What do you want?" he asked.

"To see the h-" I began. My stomach growled; I looked at my watch, which identified the time as seven-thirty. "To eat my sandwich,"I corrected, "and then to see the house later." I went over to my knapsack, pulled out my wrapped-up dinner, peeled it open and took a big bite.

"You're welcome to have a seat at the dining room table," Edward invited. I, concerned with the possibility of getting crumbs on the nice white carpet, went where he directed and sat. He took a chair beside me. I didn't see any of the other vampires; they must have scattered elsewhere through the house while I'd been in the middle of blinking or otherwise paying insufficient attention.

Edward sighed - this had to be for effect, if vampire breathing was only for the purpose of speech and smell. "Alice told me a lot about you," he murmured, "but I'm still constantly surprised."

I looked up from my food. "What did she say?" I hadn't known Alice that long - I wasn't sure where she'd have gotten a good read on my personality unless... Oh, of course. If she felt like it, she could see how I'd react to all kinds of possible situations, when my tendencies were consistent enough that I wouldn't deliberate about it too much before doing something.

"She told me not to interrupt you," said Edward. "I slipped up once there, and I'm sorry. She told me that if I ever lied to you it would end badly. She told me that it wasn't safe for you to have secrets kept, because if you knew something was missing, you'd look for it until looking got you killed."

I nodded slowly; that all sounded about right - although if I knew that a secret would kill me, I thought I could leave well enough alone, I didn't believe I'd do the same with a secret of unknown hazard. "Alice is pretty smart," I said.

"She is," laughed Edward wryly. "And she told me to go slowly."

I froze, my partially-finished sandwich halfway through my mouth. "Well," I quipped, "you were the one who did the speed test."

"That's not what I mean," he said in a low voice.

I hadn't thought it was. Now I knew that he knew that Alice had told me that - my head spun. But I still didn't want to talk about it. I needed to think, I needed to think when Edward wasn't there being beautiful and solicitous and possibly thirsty. "You know," I said, "I have a huge list of questions about how vampires work. I take it you're going with Alice's advice on not keeping secrets?"

Edward nodded slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on mine. I broke eye contact, popped the last bite of my sandwich into my mouth, and crossed the room to retrieve my notebook. From it, I started reading off questions. Edward looked frustrated, but did his best to answer them.

He didn't know some of them. He didn't know what it was about vampire physiology that Jasper controlled; he didn't know why he couldn't read me; he didn't know whether or not Alice had a time limit (but noted that he'd never heard of a vision more than a few months in advance); he didn't know what power I had but suspected it would be related somehow to my unreadability; he knew the procedure but not the mechanism of turning.

The things I learned were fewer than I'd hoped. Alice could "get to know" people through visions of futures that wouldn't happen, because they displayed their personalities even in such unreliable visions; that was fairly obvious, and Edward had no less plain applications. Although exact duplicate powers were unheard of, there were some that were similar - for instance, one of the Volturi, a fellow named Aro, was a mind-reader like Edward, but limited in range to those he physically touched, and broader in scope to the point of learning "every thought you've ever had in your life", as Edward put it. (Edward could only read current surface thoughts, not draw out specific items he wanted to hear.) Strength and speed in vampires were correlated with the same abilities in human life, and varied similarly, but with a longer right tail on the distribution. Eating humans made vampires physically stronger, but mentally weaker, in the sense that if they did it they were less likely to be able to resist continuing to do it except inasmuch as it relieved thirst.

Eye color depended on diet. One that had recently fed on a human had burgundy-colored ones. Feeding on animals resulted in the gold color I'd seen more of. With breaks between meals, these colors changed over time. A hungry vampire had black eyes - that helped explain why Edward had been especially perturbed on my first day of school; he'd been without food for a while. A brand-new vampire's eyes were bright blood red; the color faded over a year or so, faster with animal blood than human.

Not all vampires were pretty. However, prettiness, like other traits, was intensified by the turning process - and vampires looking for someone to turn would preferentially turn attractive humans. This also explained the spread of ages the Cullens exhibited. (And selection effects like that helped explain why I would ultimately be a vampire: empowered as I was to resist Edward's mindreading, I was likely to turn up an interesting power as one of the undead, and I could easily imagine vampires picking over the human population looking for talents like that.) I was a little confused by Carlisle having chosen who to turn on the basis of prettiness, but couldn't think of a polite way to ask - I'd get individual backstories from each of the others later and try to put together a pattern myself.

Vampires were made of cells, not rocks, and their strength matched their rigidity pretty neatly - vampires felt as malleable to each other as humans did to other humans. They weren't brittle, just tough, like steel cables. Accordingly, they bent, as opposed to breaking or grinding themselves to powder, when they moved around. Vampire hair did grow, albeit slowly - it wasn't much different from human hair, and broke sometimes, so if it didn't grow at all, a vampire Carlisle's age would necessarily be bald.

It was uncommon for vampires to live in groups that resembled the Cullens. The theory was that eating animal blood "civilized" them - the other family-style assembly of vampires that the Cullens knew about, their Denali friends, also abstained. (Apparently the in-joke was to call vampires who didn't eat people "vegetarians".) "Normal" vampires lived in small groups called "covens" - two, three, sometimes four. They were likely to travel a lot rather than settling down and enmeshing themselves in human civilizations. However, pairing off romantically was not limited to the Cullens - a lot of vampires did it.

Edward had never heard of a vampire couple breaking up.

Edward had never heard of a vampire surviving the death of his or her mate and then finding another one later.

Edward had heard of quite a few vampires.

Oh yikes.

I went right to the question about the Volturi, trying not to be too overt about my reaction to that.

The Volturi were a coven of five: three male vampires and the wives of two. (The third used to have a wife, but she was dead. And, of course, had not been replaced since then.) The wives were not public figures - only the males, Aro, Caius, and Marcus, were the active face of the Volturi. (Aro was not the only one with an extra power; Marcus apparently "saw" relationships between people.) Edward was fuzzy on their earlier history, and suggested that I ask Carlisle if curious about that. The doctor had apparently spent some time among their guard (a considerably larger extension of the coven, including many vampires handpicked for promising talents).

Edward speculated that humans smelled tastier than other species because vampires had been humans in the past and survived most effectively on the same blood that had sustained their prior existences, but he wasn't sure.

I took copious notes. There was so much I had to think about and process already, and I was just adding more. I wondered if it would be best to forego the tour, but decided that I was already there and ought to have a look.

The first floor contained the hall I'd seen, the kitchen I'd gotten a peek at, the piano dais I'd noticed, the dining section I'd sat in, and also a bathroom, some communal offices for things like household bookkeeping and investment portfolios, and a seating area around a large flatscreen television and several computers.

The second floor included the suite Carlisle and Esme shared, with their studies and Carlisle's library as well as another bathroom. (I was briefly puzzled about why the vampire bathrooms had shampoo and soap in them. They were clearly not trying to blend in for surprise visitors, or they would have included toilet paper. Then I realized that even without the habits of sweating and shedding skin that we humans had, vampires could accumulate dirt from their environments at normal rates.) Besides the suite were Rosalie and Emmett's room, which I didn't get to see as Rosalie didn't want to be disturbed, and an adjoining pair of rooms shared by Jasper and Alice.

I noticed along the wall in the hallway floor that there were a lot of photographs, and paused to look at some of them. I saw a wedding photo - an old photo - for Carlisle and Esme. There was also a wedding photo for Alice and Jasper - so they were married, then, and not just "together" as Jessica had artlessly put it. And Rosalie and Emmett had six. In each, they stood against a different backdrop, and Rosalie wore a different dress. I wasn't sure why anyone needed to get married six times, but I suspected that dresses were a motivating factor. Besides the wedding photos, I also noticed a series of family portraits. Carlisle and Edward were alone together in the first one - interesting. Edward had been earliest. Esme appeared in the next. Rosalie was the next addition, followed by Emmett. Then, it seemed, Alice and Jasper had arrived as a pair.

On the top floor was a library - or Edward called it that; I peeped inside and saw fewer books than Carlisle had in his personal library. There were more computers there, and some broad tables accompanied by chairs. I asked whether it was really much of a library, and Edward grudgingly told me that it was more like their preferred venue for document forgery and computer cracking and the like. This didn't faze me particularly; it was inevitable that they'd need skills and the wherewithal to pull them off in order to persist unaging in a human society.

Also on the top floor was Edward's room. It jutted up against the south wall, and accordingly shared part of the enormous window. It was late enough to be dark, but I knew in the daylight the view would be spectacular indeed.

Edward's room had its own closet and bathroom, like Rosalie and Emmett's. Unlike the entire rest of the house, it wasn't decorated in white: his carpet was gold, and he'd draped the walls completely over with darker golden fabric. The only furniture was a black leather sofa, a desk, and a desk chair. He had his own computer (how many computers did they need? I'd counted fourteen, and I hadn't even looked in all of the rooms) and shelves upon shelves of CDs. Apparently, he was a music buff - I wondered if he was responsible for the piano in its place of honor on the ground floor.

"Is that the whole house?" I asked.

"There's a basement, which I can't think of a safe way to get you into," he said. "It's meant to be difficult to access if you aren't a vampire. There's also an outbuilding we converted into a garage."

I didn't have a strong enough interest in cars to want to hike - or be carried - to an outbuilding distant enough that I hadn't seen it. "I'll skip the garage," I said.

"Very well," said Edward. "What's next?"

"I think I'm about ready to go home," I said. "Charlie might worry."

Edward offered to take me home, and while I knew he could just run back to the Cullen house and therefore there weren't vehicular logistics issues, I declined. I wanted to think. I wanted to think without Edward nearby. I wanted to think alone, secure in my truck where no one could hear me, as I talked aloud to compensate for the fact that I couldn't write while driving.

Edward walked me to the door, bade me a polite goodbye accompanied by a freezing touch to my arm, and watched me as I got behind the wheel and pulled away from the vampire house.

Charlie was embedded in the couch, watching a sporting event I didn't bother to identify, when I got home. He yelled his gratitude for the sandwiches as I ascended the stairs, and I called back that it was no trouble.

It was late. I had school in the morning. Most of my homework wasn't done. And I had more "vampire stuff" to work through than I had ever had of any kind of work all at one time.

I weighed my options, but finally decided that cutting English twice in so short a time frame would be bad, and I slept.