Chapter 7: Souls
My soup was tasty. The pasta was all right, although the cook took the idea of "al dente" more seriously than I preferred. My estimates about my appetite proved basically accurate, and when I'd finished eating and gotten a box for the remaining food, Edward paid the bill and we left the restaurant. "It's a nice place," I said.
"I'm glad you liked it," he said heavily - nervous about having to tell me why he didn't care to have me immortal? - and unlocked his car. I got in; he waited for a gap in traffic, then ducked into the driver's seat and pulled out.
"So," I said.
"Right," he sighed, taking the exit onto the highway and rapidly getting up to speed. "I'm not expecting you to understand this."
"Try me," I said peevishly.
"First," he said, "can you tell me about your religious leanings?"
This didn't make a lot of sense. "Why is that relevant?"
"I'm asking this first because otherwise I'm not sure how to present my position," he said.
"I don't think about religion much," I said. "Renée tries out new churches like some people try on shoes. She never made a habit of bringing me along."
"What do you believe about souls?" asked Edward, and I had an inkling of where this was going.
"Edward, if you're going to tell me that I have a soul because I'm a human and you don't because you're a vampire, that's a ridiculous objection. What is it that you think souls do? What functionality do you think you lost back in 1918? You can clearly think, so if you're right about who's got a soul, then souls don't do that. You can make the decision to not slaughter everybody around you even when they'd be delectable, so if you're right, souls don't handle moral reasoning. You've got memories, so your soul wasn't storing those for you until it left. And it would be remarkably original theology if you said that the soul was responsible for making humans breakable and slow and weak and mortal, but if that's what souls do, I'm not sure why anybody would want one."
"What about an afterlife?" Edward murmured.
"What about it? Suppose there's a God," I humored him. "Suppose there's a God and he likes to stash dead people in afterlives appropriate to them when they die. Why would a soul be called for? If for some reason one were essential, why couldn't you just be issued a new one if something unfortunate happened to your first one? This is God we're talking about. He isn't going to run out of ectoplasm to make souls out of. He's not going to forget who you are because you don't have your soul attached. Or maybe that's not what you mean," I said. "Maybe you mean vampires automatically go to hell, when you play with matches a little too much - but think about that, really. You didn't hold a flamethrower to Carlisle's head and demand to be changed, did you?"
"No," Edward murmured.
"Right, you were delirious with the flu, most of the way to dead. Scarcely in a position to be held responsible for anything you did. But let's say that you're destined for hell for something you didn't do anyway. If that's the sort of thing that can get you damned, I'm probably already in trouble for having divorced parents, or for having eaten non-kosher baby food, or something like that."
"You won't be delirious with the flu," Edward said darkly.
"You're right. I won't. But I thought you were talking about a property of vampires in general, not just willfully turned ones," I said. "Right? No fiddling around with your theory while we're in the middle of a conversation about it, please."
"Now when Carlisle turned - let's not use you as an example. When Carlisle turned Esme, she had just fallen off a cliff and was dying. At that time, she had a soul, right?"
Edward made an awful face. "Okay, okay," he said. "Never mind about souls."
I sighed. "Do you actually no longer believe that turning into a vampire makes an important thing called a "soul" evaporate, or do you just not want to think about Esme being someone who lacks an important thing called a "soul"?"
He was silent, and I sighed heavily and closed my eyes again to avoid looking at the whoosh of trees to either side of the highway.
Edward dropped me off at my house. "Have a good weekend, Bella," he said tightly. I'd pushed him a little too far - he'd remained silent throughout the rest of the drive back from Port Angeles even when I tried to get him to resume telling the story about the shark. He drove away with no mention of the possibility that he might come in and continue talking to me and no attempt to make more plans. I practically flounced into the house and up to my room.
I gave myself a little shake. I hadn't screwed anything up permanently. I was literally incapable of screwing things up permanently with Edward. The worst I could do would be to die of old age out of spite.
That didn't mean I should abuse this freedom. (In particular, it would be very foolish of me to die if it turned out there was no good reason I ought to.) But it did mean that it wasn't very productive of me to fret about things I'd already done.
Bringing up Esme had clearly been the sticking point, but he hadn't seemed very comfortable before that, either. It was probably a touchy subject. If I thought souls were important and that I didn't have one I probably wouldn't want to talk about them at all, I guessed. He'd only felt it relevant because it was part of why he wanted me to stay human.
I wondered if the other vampires believed the same thing as Edward, about souls. I wrote down that I should ask them this. I also wrote, while I had my notebook out, that Alice had promised we'd have the conversation about her powers "later".
Once I'd written this down, I felt strangely... blank. I'd been looking forward to a nice, empty Saturday to do my thinking with. Then my hand had been forced on the decision all that thinking was for: Alice had shown up and cornered me into agreeing to be friends with Edward. (And this was shaking out to mean that I agreed to go out to lunch in a cozy Italian restaurant in Port Angeles with Edward on his dime after listening breathlessly to his exciting stories for hours on end. No wonder Alice had found my concession satisfactory.) All I had left to do was ask more questions, not process existing knowledge. And I'd gone and done all my homework.
Well, maybe I wasn't completely out of things to mull over. I could probably kill at least an hour producing an updated approximation of how I felt about Edward.
But I didn't really want to write that sort of thing down until I'd dealt with the fact that Alice could see me writing anything I decided to write. Would she be able to read things I wrote if I typed them, with a box over my keyboard and a blanket over the monitor and my head? My spelling would suffer, but not irretrievably. She only saw things, visually, so that should do it unless her vantage point was so flexible that it could be between my face and the screen - but it called for a test. A real test, where I only had a guess, not an expectation.
I wrote that down. (If Alice saw that and had the afternoon free maybe she'd show up and we'd conduct the experiment right away.)
I tried to push the problem around in my head without writing anything. It was hard - I kept not trusting conclusions I'd gotten to and having to backtrack and reestablish them. My independence from my notebooks, which I'd thought so well-honed when I first arrived in Forks, was not solid enough to hold up to serious problems. My unaided brain was fine for little things. But thinking back, I'd needed three pages to decide to leave Phoenix at all. I frowned to myself. This was a problem.
Wean self from notebooks, I wrote under my to-hack list. I crossed off the line about looking at pretty people: I was pretty sure they didn't mind. And then I spent my afternoon thinking kind thoughts about rain.
Clouds, I thought, will help me hide when I am a vampire.
I did not see any vampires on Sunday.
I got lonely (Charlie had to work), and so I called and convinced Angela, Jessica, and even Lauren to all join me for a movie. There were no proper theaters in Forks, so we all piled into Jessica's mother's car and drove to Port Angeles. The theater we found was still showing the Phantom of the Opera movie, which Jessica badgered us all into seeing.
Lauren complained about the movie selection, citing the "incredible lameness" of musicals, but went in with us instead of buying a ticket to something else. When we walked out, she was swooning over Gerard Butler, talking over Jessica's attempt to claim all the credit for the movie's highlights. I dismissively told her that he looked like a grown up version of Eric. This was a blatant lie (the coloring was right, but nothing about their features matched), but it seemed like a convenient way to have her thinking about Eric without thinking that I was after him myself. I couldn't tell by looking at her if this had worked.
We got lunch, wandered around the city, and stopped in a few stores to admire articles of clothing, to justify the trip with more than just the one movie. Angela bought a sweater and Jessica succumbed to the temptation of a pair of heels. I considered buying a ruffly red blouse, but eventually skipped it. Lauren tried on everything she saw but didn't want to make any purchases.
We ran out of steam at about five p.m. and decided to go back to Forks instead of getting an early dinner in Port Angeles. I made fried fish - Charlie had our freezer packed from top to bottom with fish from his Saturday trip - and then baked a pan of brownies just to have something more to do. If I had been a vampire, I wouldn't have needed baked goods to occupy myself. If I'd been a vampire, I could have run all the way to Port Angeles, doing gymnastics on the way without putting a foot wrong, and bought that blouse and run back. If I'd been a vampire, I could do all the thinking I wanted to do in my head where it was safe with my vampire total recall supplanting my notebooks. If I'd been a vampire, I could have just been stuck like Edward, stuck with Edward, and wouldn't have needed to do so much thinking in the first place.
I frowned to myself as I took the brownies out of the oven and immediately cut one for myself, letting it cool faster on a plate of its own. I shouldn't not want to think; that seemed bad. I caught myself trying to amend the thought and quickly muttered to myself, "I don't want to think about whether I want Edward and don't know why" too quietly for Charlie to hear and too indistinctly for Alice to be likely to be able to read my lips. It wasn't as good as writing, but it moved the idea from my vague memory of my own thoughts into my slightly more reliable auditory storage.
I ate my brownie slowly and pondered. Dealing with Edward did show signs of being the single most momentous decision of my life. I had thought it was a big deal when I moved out of Arizona for Renée's sake, but changing residence didn't hold a candle to changing species and acquiring a mate-for-life. I was seventeen. Renée talked constantly about how she'd gotten married too young, and she'd already been twenty when I was born very soon after the wedding. (I was only barely not a honeymoon baby. She took great care to emphasize that she did not regret having me, but I'd found it surprisingly easy to come to terms with the fact that if my parents had been smarter, I wouldn't exist.) Renée had drilled into my head that marriage was something mature and smart people took seriously, something that was not good or sane to rush into, something that she swore up and down not to prod me about until I was at least thirty.
Edward had not presented me with jewelry of any kind, let alone an engagement ring, but from what Alice said, my merely being turned would drop me into something a good deal more serious than a marriage. Renée's rash action had only landed her a daughter and the need to spend time with a divorce lawyer and, likely, some emotional turmoil.
Edward was already stuck, but I didn't have to be. If I got myself stuck, and it was a bad idea, I could never undo it unless I had some quality no other mated vampire known to Edward had ever had.
I considered the possibility that he was lying about what he had and had not heard of. (I had finished my brownie by this point, and was muttering to myself freely in the relative privacy of my room. As an added layer of precaution, I buried my face in my pillow.) He had been prepared to go to some trouble to avoid it in other situations, after Alice's advice. And it didn't seem like he had any reason to believe that I'd find the prospect of an unbreakable commitment more enticing than a merely intense and magically propped-up one. No motive. Probably wasn't a lie, then.
I wondered by what mechanism vampires were stuck. Edward had been quite capable of becoming cross with me and ending our day together when I said something he didn't like. He wasn't physically prevented from leaving my side. He wasn't limited exclusively to positive emotions towards me. I wondered what he would do if I told him I never wanted to see him again and that he should go away. I didn't want to test that - that much I knew - but it would be useful information to have. What happened if vampires tried to break up?
I was going about this the wrong way, I decided. The effect was probably more to do with the selection process. Edward had been around for quite some time and it took him that long to find me. There were too many vampire couples running around for it to be a matter of finding one's One True Soulmate out of all the world - there were just too many people. There had to be a pool of possible soulmates that only narrowed to one when that one was encountered.
I didn't know if most vampires met their fated beloveds after they'd both been turned, like Alice and Jasper, or when one was human, like Carlisle and Esme. If it was the former, then whatever it was that narrowed down the potential candidates probably correlated with something that was likely to get those candidates turned into vampires, too. That held with me, at least - I had my mental privacy (a million thanks to whatever quirk had given me that) and humans with promising talents were commonly turned. If it was the latter... then I could only imagine a lot of vampires who ate humans and didn't take the time to introduce themselves first were going to wander alone forever, but that was beside the point.
If it was the latter, and not every coven had an Alice to give them instructions and assure them that vampirehood was in their target's future, then I could only imagine that most humans selected in this way were turned against their wills. Most vampires thought nothing of slaughtering people left and right; leaving their only shot at having companionship up to the wayward affections of the human companion would not be the sort of thing they'd opt to do when they could just take a bite.
But it was hard for them to stop when they hunted. Probably, turning instead of killing was also hard... Carlisle had turned Edward, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett. He was the one with the extra, special ability to resist the lure of blood.
And there were supposed to be a lot of married vampires, not just among the Cullens.
So most likely, vampire couples typically met as vampires and were symmetrically attached from day one.
Drat. No readily available precedents to anchor on. Unless the Cullen couple I hadn't learned as much about - Rosalie and Emmett - had a story relevant to the situation.
And I was back to having questions to ask, not previously acquired information to turn over in my head.
I sat with the vampires at lunch again on Monday. I wasn't sure, as I approached the cafeteria, whether they'd welcome me, but Alice flitted by and murmured that I could join them, and so once I'd collected my food I took the empty chair at their table. All of them had bottles of water; Jasper sipped from his constantly, making it look like a nervous habit, and every now and then, one of the others would take a swallow as well.
When I got there, Rosalie was dominating the conversation, monologuing about how she was not happy with the photos on her current passport and driver's license and planned to major in photography in college so as to be able to get better pictures. (I assumed she left off the phrase "this time around" only because we were in a room full of humans, and relied on stereotypes of blondes to save her from someone remembering that people, even photographers, generally didn't take their own ID snapshots.)
Emmett told her, "But it's your turn to go to medical school next, Rose."
"I've already been," she grumbled. "Why don't you go? Or Alice? There's no reason it has to be just me and Edward taking turns. Anyway, I think Carlisle can wait a little longer."
"Wait, what?" I put in eloquently. Rosalie rolled her eyes and looked away, somewhat vacantly, apparently not wishing to be part of any conversation in which I participated.
Edward answered my question. I'd avoided looking directly at him since I'd sat down, unsure how or when he wanted to pick back up being "friends". But when he spoke, my head turned automatically, and he didn't appear upset, just interested in satisfying my curiosity: "Carlisle needs updates on how medicine is advancing, every now and then," Edward said. "He returns to medical school himself sometimes, but to reduce the chances he'll be recognized by a colleague, I've also been twice and Rosalie once, to update him. She graduated summa cum laude from Columbia," he added, glancing at his sister; I guessed that he had hoped to flatter her back into the conversation by mentioning this achievement. I thought I saw a flicker of a smile on her face before she resumed staring out the window.
"Reading journals won't do?" I asked blankly. I wondered, but didn't ask, why Rosalie hadn't mentioned Jasper.
"Carlisle has to be able to seem like he's fresh out of med school," Alice put in. "He reads journals, too, but they don't necessarily say much about what they're saying to new students straight out of pre-med."
"Makes sense," I acknowledged. I considered offering to go next, but I wasn't even a vampire yet, let alone an acknowledged fixture of the Cullen family who could do such things as go to medical school on Carlisle's behalf. Being a doctor wasn't my life's ambition, but it sounded like something I'd like to get around to with forever to spend learning anything I liked. "How do you deal with being around blood? I assume you have to be around blood in med school."
"I held my breath," said Edward, "and didn't go to work thirsty."
Rosalie tossed her hair and didn't answer; I wasn't sure if that meant that Edward's reply held for her as well, or if she just didn't feel like sharing.
"So," I asked, as the topic dwindled to a halt, "where did your last names come from?"
"Cullen was Carlisle's last name as a human, and he kept it," Edward said. "I didn't always use it - at first, I used to pretend to be his brother-in-law, a younger brother to a fictional dead wife, and I used my original last name, "Masen". I pretended to be Esme's brother when she joined us and used her maiden name, which was "Platt", for some time. When Rosalie arrived, she preferred to keep her real last name, "Hale"; then to explain ourselves we started using the template you're familiar with, where Esme and Carlisle are adoptive parents to the rest of us, so I took the Cullen name. Emmett did the same when he arrived, and so did Alice, but Jasper took advantage of his and Rosalie's similar coloring and pretends to be a Hale."
"I suppose it would be awkward for you four to present as unmarried couples if there weren't at least two last names between you," I mused, waving vaguely at Alice, Jasper, Emmett, and Rosalie. "Even given that you advertise you're adopted. Still, why use real names? Surely that would make it easier to follow you if anyone got suspicious? You could just make things up."
"Rosalie is attached to her name," said Edward. "And Carlisle has used his for more than three hundred years without anyone successfully following him. Although we may need to change policies as computers start leaving more easily discoverable traces in more places."
I nodded. "Your first names are all real?"
There were four nods and one, "I think so," from Alice.
"You don't remember that either?" I asked, turning to the little vampire on my right.
"It feels like "Alice" is my name," said Alice. "And it felt like my name when I woke up. I just have no way to be sure. I don't have a guess about a last name, or a middle one."
"I should probably learn all your full original names at some point, but if I try to do it all at once I'll never remember," I said. "How's the water working out for you all?"
"I can't believe we never thought of it," laughed Emmett boomingly. "Makes us look that much more natural."
"It helps. I noticed my first day here that none of you seemed to be eating anything."
"You're unsually observant," remarked Edward. I thought for a moment that this was a compliment, and then I realized that he probably knew just how much other students did and didn't notice.
"Well, I probably wouldn't have thought much of it, but it was really conspicuous that day I sat with Alice," I said. "I guess you don't normally pull aside random humans and sit down with them, though."
"Not likely," hissed Rosalie under her breath; I barely caught it. Emmett nudged her with his elbow.
The middle of the cafeteria is not the correct place to ask an impolite vampire what her problem is, I reminded myself, and Alice neatly diverted the subject to the reception of the vampire family by Forks's residents in general. Some had made an effort to be friendly - Esme had been invited to a garden party, things like that - but they had no close neighbors, did not initiate social plans of their own, and Carlisle was sure to be merely cordial to his co-workers and those he encountered as patients. Over time, as usual, people stopped going out of their way to befriend the vampires.
"Charlie thinks the world of you all, you know," I commented. This seemed to elicit surprise - even from Edward. "You didn't notice?" I asked him, confused. "Even when you showed up at my house - he wasn't thinking anything like that? I don't think he lied..."
Edward blinked, then gently smacked himself in the forehead just softly enough to avoid making a telltale noise audible to nearby humans. "Of course," he said. "Of course."
"What?" I asked, quite bewildered.
"Bella, I'm sorry to say that I always thought of your father as a man who simply didn't think very much," said Edward. "I typically don't get words from him - just some images, some feelings, all a bit vague. I couldn't tell what he thought of the family at all even when I was standing right next to him. But with your complete inaudibility - it must be genetic, that's all. I imagine he thinks as much as anyone and I simply can't make it out clearly. I wonder what your mother sounds like! What combination would have created you and your silent mind?"
"Oh." I frowned. "You thought he was stupid?"
"No," Edward said quickly, then he winced and amended. "Not unusually so. I didn't give it much attention," he pleaded, trying to backpedal. "I'm usually not trying to listen to anyone."
"When would you have met him before, anyway?" I asked.
"We actually do buy food," Alice said. "To keep up appearances. Mostly nonperishables we can save up and dump at a food drive in Seattle around the holidays. It would look odd if we just never turned up at the grocery store; someone would notice. And we're around town to buy other things, sometimes - lightbulbs, clothes, car parts, music, that sort of thing. At least one of us has probably encountered any given person who lives here, though we rarely chat."
"Just the car parts? Is one of you a mechanic?" I asked.
"That would be Rose," said Emmett, chucking his wife under the chin affectionately. She smirked, more than smiled, but did acknowledge the gesture and turn to face the table again.
It was an incongruous image, the vain model elbow-deep in engine oil, but I didn't tease - I wasn't entirely sure she wouldn't eat me, for one thing, and for another, it only sounded silly for bad reasons.
The lunch bell rang. Edward escorted me to biology, any traces of annoyance over the souls thing having evaporated, and then diverted course to sit in his own seat while I joined Angela.
I was starting to regret having switched lab partners by the time I was a quarter of the way through the class. Angela was nice and didn't drag me down in the grades department, but she was not one for talking in class - and anyway, if I wanted her to hear me I would have to speak up enough that I'd risk being heard. And we were still covering cell anatomy. If I'd had a way to trade my mitochondria for the chance to never hear the biology teacher drone on about them ever again, I might well have done it.
How much worse must it be for Edward? He had several times more relevant education than the man proposing to teach him about cells. He hadn't even forgotten anything since the last time he heard it; I had to admit, however grudgingly, that every seventh or eighth thing that came up in the lecture was something I might have missed if it had appeared on a pop quiz. And yet he was, apparently, in high school voluntarily. Maybe he just found it easy to think about other things.
I wondered what he was thinking about. Coral reefs and sharks? Portuguese verb conjugations?
What was I going to do about the souls thing anyway? It was really a problem if Edward thought souls were important and vampires couldn't have them. For one thing, I didn't think it would be good for his self-esteem. Clearly, he could love and admire Esme and the other members of his family. But on some level, this was hypocritical. How could he care for vampires and find humans in general "boring", as Alice had put it, while simultaneously thinking us mortals to be possessed of some spectacular commodity that outweighed every vampire advantage all by itself and ought to be preserved even at the cost of life itself? It would be as though I decided that the objective content of moral worth was the color yellow, and then went on sacrificing bananas and eggs and squash so that Charlie could eat well because, even though he was not yellow, I preferred to act as though he were more important than the yellow things to which I'd assigned primacy.
If Edward really believed as he claimed, why hadn't he executed Emmett the first time he'd eaten someone, or at least tried? If it were more valuable to live as a human than as a vampire, then any vampire who was a danger to any human ought not to exist, intent or no. Dangerous dogs were executed even though no one held them morally culpable, simply because they might hurt humans, a more valued species.
Edward might believe in souls, might believe they were important, might believe vampires had none - but he did not act this way - except when he was trying to decide what advice to give me.
There were several ways to explain this.
One: Edward was not actually in love with me. He'd fooled his entire family (including Alice's visions of us being so happy), or had gotten them in on it, and was carrying on an elaborate subterfuge for unclear reasons, but didn't want to have to keep it up for all eternity, or deal with fallout after I turned and was not magnetically drawn to him. Implausible in the extreme - too complicated, and no sensible motive in sight.
Two: Edward did not realize that he didn't act like he believed what he said about souls. This was more likely - in particular, it explained why he'd find it uncomfortable to talk about Esme as a soulless creature, because it would expose the disparity between his words and behavior. It was also not incompatible with other explanations.
Three: Edward had difficulty balancing selfish and selfless motives. While he genuinely believed it would have been better for Esme if she'd died at the bottom of the cliff, he thought it was better for him that she be an immortal vampire who could remain a part of his family forever - now that his own soul was unsalvageable, anyway. Thinking about how glad he was that she was alive made him feel bad about himself, but the magical vampire love thing made him more enforceably concerned with what he thought was best for me for my own sake. This seemed plausible, although it relied on an assumption I wasn't sure I could support about how vampires worked.
Four: Edward thought I would snap and kill people if I turned, and the souls thing was a gentler way of advising me to stay human than saying "Bella, love, I think you're likely to be a murderer." But he had gone to some trouble to avoid lying to me.
I mulled this over, writing indecipherable shorthand in my notebook as a reference ("Lying, Confused, Selfish, Snap" - I hoped Alice wouldn't be able to make sense of that if she saw it). The only way to figure out which it was would be to talk to Edward more, but I suspected some combination of two and three.
Biology dragged on.
Gym was a little better than Biology. (I almost laughed out loud wondering what I'd have said if I'd been told back in December that I'd think that.) Edward was on my mind, but at least not in the room tantalizingly unadjacent.
After I'd dragged myself through an hour of yoga poses and left the gym, Edward appeared beside me right on schedule. "Hello, Bella," he said warmly.
Had he completely forgotten the conversation on Saturday? "Hello, Edward."
"Would you like to visit us again today?" he invited.
"I don't see why not," I replied. "Unless you're still upset about the souls thing and you're just a very good actor."
"There's no reason to talk about it," Edward said.
"There is," I said, "if you don't want me to be a vampire for reasons I don't understand. I ought to have all the information before I decide - headaches for Alice or no - right?"
"Bella," he said pleadingly.
"I'm sorry I brought up Esme as an example. Would it be easier if we talked about someone else? Rosalie?" I suggested.
Edward frowned. "I don't want to argue with you."
"It doesn't necessarily have to be a fight," I said. "But maybe - I don't know, do any of the others agree with you? I could talk it over with someone else."
Edward was silent, looking somewhat brooding. "No," he said finally, "but Carlisle's familiar with my views on the matter."
"Will he have a while to talk to me about it today?"
"Most likely," grumbled Edward.
"You don't sound happy about it," I said. "Why?"
"I was hoping to keep you to myself all day," he said with a faint smile. "Even though I said "us"."
"You still owe me the rest of the story about the shark, so you'll get at least some of my afternoon," I reminded him. We arrived at my truck. "Are you going to ride with me to your place?"
"You could let me drive," he said.
"The way you speed, you'd break the poor thing even without crashing. I like my truck."
"I can keep it slow, for the truck's sake," Edward laughed. "I'm not sure I can promise it won't break down, though. This thing's not likely to last out the year. It might choose today to die."
"Well, lucky me," I said, walking around the front to get to the passenger seat, "I can't be stranded with you around."
"It is an advantage," Edward acknowledged, sliding into the driver's seat and holding out his hand for the keys. I dropped them into his palm and he started the engine.
After I had gotten the shark story - and three more - out of Edward, Carlisle came home. Esme flew to the door to greet him as he came in. They looked and acted more like newlyweds than a long-married couple, and it was cute to watch from my vantage point at the dining table.
"Bella, hello," said Carlisle after Esme had flitted up the stairs to return to whatever she'd been doing. "How are you?"
"I'm well, thanks," I replied cheerfully. "Hey, if you have a bit, I wanted to ask you something."
"Oh? I don't have anything pressing to do," Carlisle said genially. "We can talk in my office if you like."
I got up and followed the doctor up the stairs. I thought I might have heard Edward say something, but it was too low for me to make out; if it wasn't my imagination, he'd surely intended the utterance for Carlisle, who didn't visibly react.
Carlisle's office was cozy, and he gave me his undivided attention once we had both taken seats. "What did you want to ask me?" he inquired.
"Did Edward tell you anything about the conversation we had on Saturday - about souls?" I asked.
"No," said Carlisle, furrowing his brow. "What happened?"
"Apparently he thinks vampires don't have any souls, and that they're important," I said. "I just don't see how that could be. All of the things humans can do that might be what souls handle, vampires can do too - you can think, you have memories better than mine, you can do moral reasoning. I said as much and Edward mentioned the idea of an afterlife. Even if I grant for the sake of argument that that's in the picture, and it's hardly a trivial assumption - why would he believe that vampires have a different afterlife situation than humans? Are there vampire ghosts floating about as cautionary tales that he didn't mention or something?
"And," I went on, knowing Carlisle would have no difficulty keeping track of my questions, "he doesn't want to talk about it any more, even to answer those questions. I upset him on Saturday when I brought up Esme as an example. If it's really better for a person to be a human and eventually die than it is for them to live potentially forever as a vampire, it would follow - mind, I don't agree with this - that it would have been better for Esme if you'd let her die instead of turning her. But Edward doesn't seem to think so. He only doesn't want me to be a vampire. He said you wouldn't turn anybody who had a life to live, at least under normal circumstances. I don't know who Alice saw turning me back when she saw clearly; it might not have been you. But if I stay human, I will eventually die, because that is just something humans do, pretty darn reliably. And if I'm not going to stay human, there's no obvious reason to wait until I'm dying of something to turn me. Edward's basically saying that he wants me dead so I can keep my soul, and doesn't have a coherent explanation of why I should be willing to die to keep it."
Carlisle took all this in fairly calmly, although I'd gotten reasonably animated towards the end. "I take it you aren't a religious sort," he said.
I shrugged. "I can tell a nest of bad logic when I see one, religion or no. Charlie's Lutheran but doesn't go to church, and Renée's flavor of the week is Episcopalian, I think. I don't think I'm anything."
"Well, there's a lot of myth and legend that holds that vampires are damned in exchange for our immortality on earth," said Carlisle. "Bad logic or not, it's hardly an uncommon view, if you start from the premise that vampires exist."
"Is that what Edward thinks, then?"
"No, actually," he replied. "Edward doesn't believe there is any afterlife at all for our kind."
"But he thinks there is one for humans. Does he think there's a deity orchestrating everything?"
"He's never put forth an opinion on that for sure, one way or the other," Carlisle said. "You probably noticed that his is a vague sort of belief."
"A deity would make less sense. There's no reason to automatically obliterate vampires - involuntary ones, willing ones, nice ones, mean ones, ones that lived for ten years and ones that lived for a thousand, all indiscriminately - instead of providing an afterlife. You haven't all killed people, have you?" I asked.
"We have not all killed people," Carlisle agreed.
"So no deity sane enough that Edward or anybody else could guess at its reasoning would take vampires, as a group, off the guest list for the afterlife," I said. "If it does, then it's acting so arbitrarily that it might just as easily boot you for owning white socks. You can't base decisions on something like that, even if it were true."
"You seem very open to the possibility of religions having some things right, for someone who "isn't anything"," Carlisle observed.
"Not that long ago, I discovered that vampires exist," I pointed out. "It's making it seem more likely that something about how I evaluate supernatural claims is off, so I'm trying to be more careful. Anyway. A force of nature doesn't need to act for reasons," I continued. "So it could do something mean and pointless like not letting vampires have an afterlife if there were one available. But the problem with that hypothesis is that because you can't reason from motives about the impersonal laws of the universe, the only way to know what they do is to watch them doing it. I don't suppose Alice can see souls as they float off to their final destinations?" I guessed.
"She cannot," Carlisle confirmed.
"Edward can't read the minds of dead people? Jasper doesn't get mood readings off corpses? None of the Volturi or anybody have empirical data on what happens to vampires, or humans, once they pass on?"
Carlisle shook his head. He was a good audience - inserting facts where I needed them and otherwise letting me think aloud.
"Is there any observation that anyone has plausibly claimed to make ever indicating that an afterlife exists and that vampires don't get in?" I inquired, and Carlisle shook his head again.
"Then that leaves us with a few possibilities consistent with vampires losing the ability to go to an afterlife," I said. "There is a deity sorting souls which dislikes vampires, and it acts so inscrutably in so disliking that there's no way to follow its reasoning and be sure to get good results by acting in ways it likes. Or, there is a law of nature governing the afterlife which prohibits vampires from getting in, which nobody has any way of observing, and which we therefore have no reason to believe exists. Am I missing something?" I asked.
"Not as far as I can tell," Carlisle said.
"And neither of those situations leaves me with a good reason not to become a vampire," I concluded. "In either case, there's just no information. A deity, if one exists, either acts for consistent reasons that our minds can approximate, or it can't be tracked in such a way that there's potentially efficacious things we can do to try and please it. A naturally-arranged afterlife, if one exists, either admits vampires or doesn't - for that matter, it either admits humans or doesn't - and there is absolutely no way to tell. And furthermore, there's no reason to believe that an afterlife of any kind exists, given that there are no observations of it and the universe in general doesn't seem like someone sane is running it. And all of that means that the only criteria on which I should base my decision about becoming a vampire on are how my life - the part spent kicking about on Earth with my eyes open and my brain running - will be as a vampire or a human. And that seems to come firmly down on the side of vampire, with the whole immortal and superpowered thing. There are a couple of disadvantages, but none worth literally dying to avoid."
I heard Alice's voice from down the hall hollering, "Thank youuuuuuuu," in relieved tones. Apparently my future had snapped back into place.
"You've given this a lot of thought," said Carlisle.
"Most of it just now," I said. "It helps to have an audience - usually I write, and that does the job, but if I just think, I wind up revising things so they're pleasant instead of trying to make sure they're true."
"I'm glad I could help." He sounded very genuine when he said it - he was really pleased to have been able to serve as a sounding board and fact-checker for my thought process.
"Yeah, thank you," I said brightly. "Now I just have to figure out how to explain this to Edward so he doesn't avoid the topic like the plague or continue to complain about me wanting to be a vampire. Although I suppose he heard this entire conversation, unless he left the house and got out of thought range or is tuning you out."
Carlisle nodded. "I somehow doubt that he did leave," he said.
"I guess I'll go see. Thanks again," I said with a warm smile.
And I left the office and descended the stairs to see what Edward thought of the entire mess.
I tiptoed down three stairs, foolishly hoping to sneak up on Edward and get a clue of his reaction before he noticed my approach, and then I realized this was stupid - I couldn't possibly walk quietly enough that he wouldn't hear from any point in the house. So I clomped down the stairs normally, and when my view of the first floor came to include Edward, I found I needn't have bothered to tiptoe even if it would have hidden me. He wasn't making any effort to conceal his body language - it screamed tension. His hands were clenched in his hair and he was bent forward with his elbows planted on the table. I couldn't see his face, but guessed it was in some contortion of displeasure.
"Edward?" I murmured.
"Hello, Bella," he said, just loud enough for me to hear. I reached the bottom of the stairs and walked towards him. When I retook my chair, he murmured, "There's no convincing you, is there?"
"If I'm missing some facts, or I made a bad inference somewhere, please, tell me," I replied. "I realize there are drawbacks to being a vampire, but... unless you're missing something huge in your informational brochure... none of it looks worth dying to avoid. And that's what it would be to stay human. You know that."
"There's no need for it to be soon, though," he said. Apparently he'd either been convinced by my exchange with Carlisle, or considered me so entrenched in my existing reasoning that he'd given up attacking it. "You could wait. Finish high school, go to college."
"What's the advantage to doing that while human?" I asked. I could see disadvantages: if I waited too long to turn, I'd be stuck looking like a cougar forever once I wound up inevitably-vampire-married to Edward, who'd been turned when he was seventeen and would stay that way. Some cause of death Alice couldn't predict well in advance could get me - an indecisive murderer or something. I would have imperfect recall of the experiences I accumulated during those years (or even, depending on what had caused Alice's amnesia and how common it was, none at all). The Volturi could discover and get annoyed with my continued status as a human in-the-know, and force the issue at a time not of my choosing.
Surprisingly, Edward didn't deflect the question or answer with floaty vagueness. "Timing," he said. "You might be able to safely return to high school after only a summer to adjust - you might not. And "not" is the sort of thing that we would find out for sure only if you actually killed someone, so pushing it wouldn't be wise. In particular, you'd need to avoid your family. Even after we were sure it was safe for you to be around humans, the change would be very noticeable. You'll look different, you'll move differently, you won't want to eat human food or go out in the sun publicly - all of these are things that people who know you would pick up on. If anyone got inquisitive enough to find something out, we'd need to turn them, too, whether they liked it or not, or hide them from the Volturi well enough to keep them from getting killed - impractical, you should know."
"That it?" I asked, when he seemed to have finished.
"That's all I think you're likely to find swaying," he said.
I frowned - that wasn't a good sign regarding Edward's own opinion of what was and wasn't worth consideration - but chose to put off pressing the issue. "Okay," I said. "How does this timeline sound? You and I make it known that we're an item, for setup purposes - tomorrow, perhaps, I'll tell Jessica and she can tell the whole school. We finish out the school year as the showiest, most sickeningly inseparable couple in the universe."
I closed my eyes, envisioning how the rest of the scenario would play out, and went on. "We let out that your family is going on vacation to Europe for the summer and I go along. Carlisle already looks suspiciously young for the age he's claiming - you couldn't have planned to stay here much longer; I expect you were going to split once you got out of high school. We could really go to Europe, or someplace else, depending on how curious Charlie seems and accordingly how likely we are to need to verifiably prove it - he's the most likely point of failure here, since he has the most interest in my personal life and the most resources to poke around with. As soon as we get wherever we go, you turn me and I start adjusting - I'll be "sick" for three days, if anybody asks.
"I can keep in touch with my family by e-mail and phone. Maybe I'll get a webcam with a really terrible picture and use it in a room with bad light so they can see me without noticing I'm suddenly even paler and have different colored eyes. And then I tell them we've eloped and I'm going to take a super-long honeymoon-cum-gap year. That should be long enough, since Alice saw me with newborn eyes near live humans without being in the process of sucking their blood. Then I enroll in a college someplace really inconvenient for either of my parents to travel to, maybe in Australia, with a forged high school transcript if necessary, and keep up with the electronic communication. We send them photos where we're really tiny figures in the background, and/or where we touch up the images so I look suitably pink and we both look the right non-seventeen age."
I opened my eyes. Edward looked some awkward combination of impressed, hopeful, and despairing. "Well?" I said.
"You're going to tell the entire school that we're an "item"?" he said.
"If I'm going to turn, it's going to happen eventually," I said. "And it lends plausibility to the rest of the story. I can't tell Jessica the entire slew of details if I want her to live."
"It's interesting that you're so eager to be a vampire yourself, but you don't want to change everyone you know, too," Edward said slyly.
"That's not it," I said. "It would be wonderful if Jessica and Angela and Charlie and Renée and everyone else could all live forever. But I'd need to inform them of what that would entail before I did it, to satisfy my conscience. I can't assume they'll agree with me. And if I informed them, and they didn't like the idea, then they'd have to be hidden from the Volturi forever, or they and I would be killed for breach of masquerade. I'd be risking my life to force anyone I told into a choice between untimely death or potentially unwanted vampire life. Do I have that about right?"
Edward nodded, looking disappointed that he hadn't actually found a chink in my logic.
"Alice could probably see that I would like the idea of becoming a vampire, before she told me the whole story," I said, excusing my own case. "And I think it would be a good use of time to see if she can check the likely reactions of a handful of favorite people, although I can already guess that Charlie and Renée would probably say no. But I also suspect that if this coven suddenly tripled in size, the Volturi would take that as some kind of power grab. I certainly don't want them to think we're challenging them, or about to. So even that, it wouldn't be safe to overdo."
(I didn't want the Volturi to think I was trying for a coup. I might want to actually commit one eventually - they seemed overfond of the death penalty and excessively dependent on secrecy. But Edward was not immune to Aro, their mindreader - and I might well be. Any such plans I might develop had to stay safely in my head, initial steps concealed by other overt reasons, until they were just about ready to spring into existence.)
"The one thing left that I don't think I know," I said, "which might be relevant, is the concern of Rosalie's you alluded to. Do you think she would be willing to share it, or let you tell me?"
"Perhaps," Edward said, looking suddenly hopeful. "I'll go speak to her." And he got up and disappeared up the stairs.