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Tears Like Rain

Warnings and Disclaimer: Warning: this story includes difficult / sensitive subject matter that may include one or more of the subjects listed in Rule #7 on the Season of Our Discontent profile page. Please refer to the profile page before reading if you are concerned about content. Twilight belongs to S. Meyer. She writes a fairy tale, I write real life.

A/N: Thanks, love, hugs, and everything as always to LJ Summers. It's been over a year now, bb, and I can't ever thank you enough for all your love, encouragement, ass kicking, red-highlighter-of-dooming you do for me! Mwah, mwah, mwah!

You love it when it hurts? You love it when I make you cry and make your heart feel heavy? Hurt you. Stab you. Make you weep, eh? Be careful what you wish for....

For Michael

— • — • — • —

Drip, drip, drip
goes the rain
Streaking down
the window pane.

Are these
heaven's tears?
Because he's
no longer here?

I think not.

I think these
are tears of laughter,
of joy and love,
and happily ever after.
                      By mostly a lurker

— • — • — • —

I was born with a club foot. These days, that's usually not such a big deal, but my first surgeons were crap and there were complications. Well, whatever. The end result was a  slightly shorter leg and a pronounced limp. There would never be Louboutins for me.

My parents insisted on more surgeries as the years passed, hoping for a better outcome, a more "normal" childhood for me. They just couldn't see there was no "normal" for me.

When I was about eleven or twelve, I could never quite remember, I was in the pediatric ortho ward once again. This time, they had my leg all strung up in traction, hoping that would encourage it to lengthen. I snort every time I think about it. Yeah, right. What a bunch of quacks!

I lay there one day, alone as usual, staring out the window as my mind wandered with no particular place to go. Slowly, I became aware of a huge commotion heading down the hallway.

Oh, please. Anywhere but here.

The shouts, the laughter, the smile, and yes, even tears, suddenly poured into my room to my intense displeasure. I didn't even move my eyes from the window to see what all the fuss was about.

When my curiosity finally won out, I turned my head to see an entire crowd of people surrounding a small, still form in the bed. Everyone seemed to be talking at once, and no one was listening to anyone else. There were get well balloons and flowers and plants. A girl, maybe a year or two older than I, was arranging a pile of cards on top of the cabinet across the room. No one seemed to notice me. It was as if I weren't there at all, they ignored me so completely.

The small figure in the bed stirred slightly, and the crowd shifted so I could just catch a glimpse of white blond curls encased in a spinal halo brace.

"Ma?" His voice was only the softest whisper, and I would have thought it would be lost in the cacophony, but it silenced the room immediately.

"Yes, Jay, I'm right here, baby. Can you feel me holding your hand?"


"Yes, sweetheart?"

"Can I have. . . drink?" He smacked his dry lips. "Thirsty."

"Sure, honey." She reached for a cup with a bendy straw in it on the side table and held it to his lips. "Here, have a sip."

He drew on the straw and there was a slight pause. "Gah! What did you give me?"

"Water, Jay."

"Water?! No wonder. . . I deserve a beer about now, dontcha think?"

A split second of silence followed before almost everyone burst into raucous laughter.

"Jasper Walker Whitlock!"

"Gotcha!" I could see his blanket shaking slightly as he chuckled carefully.

Just then, a nurse bustled into the room. "All right everybody. Out! Out with ya. That's enough excitement for one day. The boy's just had surgery and needs his rest." She followed up her words with action and shooed everyone out before closing the door in their faces.

Turning around, she planted her fists on her ample hips and gave us the stink eye. "I don't want to hear another peep outta this room. You hear me? Trust me, you don’t want me to come back in here before my next rounds. One is the same as both." She quickly checked our vitals, tubing, IVs, and various wires and equipment before heading to the door. She turned back to give us both one more glare before flipping the switch and sweeping out the door.

— • — • — • —

Over the next several days, we became fast and furious friends. We were both completely confined to our beds. He couldn't turn his head, of course, so he had no idea what I looked like. I could usually only see the end of his nose or part of his lips, but that was about it.

He answered every question I had, but asked few in return. He was just like that. The details didn't count. He was only interested in the big picture, the broad strokes.

"What happened to you? Did you have an accident?"

"Naw. I was born this way. My spine wants to be crooked. My mom wants it straight, so she had rods put in."

"What do you want?"

"I don't care, really, as long as I can swim and bike and race."

"You race?"

"Well, sure I do. Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, isn't it awkward or hard or even painful?"

"Sure! But I don't care about any of that. I'm not any different from anyone else. I can compete and win just the same as any other kid."

"But you're so small. . . ." The words were out of my mouth before I knew what I said.

"Hey, who you calling a small fry, Shrimpy?"

"How do you know what size I am? You can't even see me."

"You're right. You're so small, I can't even see you. Shrimpy."

He laughed. I wanted to throw something at him.

— • — • — • —

"C'mon you slowpoke!"

"Hey, who you callin' a poke?"

"Me, that's who."


"Small fry."



"Ooooh, Pinky!"

"Pinky?" He laughed. "Where'dya come up with that one?"

"I don't know." I pouted. "I couldn't think of anything. That just popped out."

"You got a weird brain, sister. Make sure you donate it to science when you're done with it, okay?"

"Yeah, right. I'll donate mine if you donate yours!"

"Pffft. They'd no sooner crack open my head and find it filled with saw dust. You're definitely the brains of this outfit."

"I swear, JJ, you could sell ice to Eskimos."

"Why, thank you. That's my life's ambition, I'll have you know." He winked at me and I couldn't help but laugh at his patented cheeky grin, the one he flashed to get anything he wanted from me or anyone else.

We were both finally out of the hospital and rehab, ready to rejoin the rest of the world again. He was so tiny still, smaller than I. To his utter mortification, he had to buy girl's jeans and then have them hemmed. His mom took pity on his plight and took him shopping two towns over so no one would know. I only knew because he asked me to go with them for back-to-school shopping before the start of the school year. As we were looking through the racks, a saleslady approached him from behind.

"Can I help you, dear? These pink ones are all the rage!"

I tried and failed to smother my snickers. He dropped his head for a moment, but I could see his scarlet blush.

"If pink's not your color? How about yellow or purple?"

He turned slowly around and faced her before softly replying, "No ma'am, I'm just looking for some plain blue ones." When she finally realized he was a boy and not a girl, the look on her face was priceless, and I couldn't help my guffaws. He shot me a dirty look over his shoulder.

"Sorry, sorry!" I held up my hands in surrender. "It's the hair, you know — those beautiful long blond curls of yours you refuse to cut." He was still giving me the stink eye. "Aw, c'mon, admit it! You do look a bit like a girl from behind. Deal with it."

He blew me sarcastic kisses before following the apologetic saleslady to another part of the store and flashing her his best grin.

That beaming face created a pattern in our lives. All the way through middle school and into the start of our freshman year, his cheeky grin got our lockers next to each other, some of our classes together, even homeroom and study hall. The nurse had it right all those years ago when she'd said one is the same as both.

He was my best friend. He was my only friend. The only friend I'd ever had. All the time in and out of the hospital and spent home recovering set me apart from other little girls. I'd made a friend once, in the summer before first grade. We played dolls and stuff together every day until one morning she didn't come over. I waited and waited for her until after lunch. Thinking she was at her house waiting for me or maybe that she was sick, I shuffled down the street to her house and knocked on the door.

"Can Karen come out and play?" I asked her mother when she opened the door.

"Karen? Alice is here. I think you'd better talk to her."

Karen came to the door then, followed closely by a plump girl I'd never seen before.

"What do you want?"

"I thought we were gonna play at my house today. But when you didn't come, I thought maybe I was wrong, so I came here." My voice faltered and died out on the last few words as the other girl pushed forward and glared at me.

"Alice, this is Lori. We met yesterday. She told me I could play with you or I could play with her. I chose her. You and I can't play together anymore. Bye." Karen closed the door in my face without another word.

My face flamed in embarrassment and humiliation as I stood there utterly speechless. There was nothing to do but shuffle home again. Mom wiped my tears and told me not to worry, that'd I'd make lots of friends once school started. When I asked her if she'd ask Karen's mom why Karen wouldn't play with me anymore, mom told me it was between us girls to work out.

We never did. Karen and Lori went on to poison everyone else in my class against me. No one would talk to me or sit with me in class. When I went into the cafeteria at lunch time, there wasn't a seat at any table for me. I sat in the corner alone. At recess, I learned to be very careful because away from the teacher's eyes, the other kids would laugh and taunt me, take my cane away, or humiliate me in some way until I cried.

But, with JJ at my side, things were different. He was loud and brash and bold, and I was content to bask in the glow of his light. If anyone gave me a hard time, he had my back, and I felt safe at school for the first time. Grateful, I had to pay him back somehow, so I tutored and helped him with his homework even though I knew he’d never ask for or even want anything in return. He was cute and funny and all, but he wasn't the brightest bulb in the box.

"Hello, earth to Shrimpy?"

"Huh, what?"

"You haven't heard a word I've said have you?"

"Yes, I did."

"No, you didn't."

"Did, too."

"All right, prove it."

I wracked my brains trying to remember anything he'd just said, but I'd been lost in my own memories. I drew a blank.

"Uh-huh, see? Liar."

"I am not a liar! You said. . . you were talking about. . . Bella." I made a wild guess. It wasn't that far off-base. He talked about her all the time.

"That was a guess, now wasn't it."

"No it wasn't."

"Tell the truth now."

"I am."

"No, you're not. Last chance!"

"You were talking about Bella. I know it. I heard you." I said this with great conviction.

"No I wasn't, silly. I didn't say anything. Liar." He pinched my arm before I could knock his hand away.

"Ow, stop that!" I whined and pouted before scooting out of his easy reach.

Just then, I felt a faint breeze on my back, one that had a fruity, floral scent about it. I saw Jasper look up out of the corner of my eye and followed his gaze to the chestnut-haired beauty that was walking by.

"Hey, Bella," Jasper managed to squeak out before she passed.

She turned her head, long shiny hair swinging around her head like a shampoo commercial.

"Oh, hey." She gave a sort of half-smile to him before turning away again. She hadn't even broken her stride, but JJ was radiant.

"She spoke to me! She smiled at me."

"Oh, gimme a break. She doesn't even know who you are. She's outta your league."

"Fine. You go ahead and think that all you want. You watch me. She'll be mine someday. She won't be able to resist the Whitlock charm."

"Yeah, right. 'Cause you're Super J."

"Yes ma'am, I am!"

— • — • — • —

I should have known not the bet against him. He showed me and everyone else in the place that he was not going to be denied something he wanted as badly as he wanted Bella Swan. He chatted her up, he charmed her, he wooed her until she finally said yes. And then he made her laugh and giggle and smile at him like no one before.

It made me want to puke. He was my friend, dammit, not some popular cheerleader girl's. She could never appreciate him like I did. She could never know him, know what he'd been through. How could she? She had a perfect body. Not like his. Not like mine.

But she didn't see any of that. I could tell. Even when he confided in me his fears about letting her see the twisted body he hid so well under his clothes, I could honestly reassure him she wouldn't care. And she didn't.

I got to hear all about their first dates, their first kisses, and even the first time they had sex. Those were supposed to be my firsts with him. But he was oblivious to that along with everybody else. I hid my true feelings very, very well. Apparently too well.

"Come sit with us today, Alice. I miss you at lunchtime."

"I don't know. . . ."

"Yes you do. I know you miss me, too. I'm sorry I've been so busy lately. C'mon. It'll be fun." He gave me the grin and I caved.

"All right, you win. I'll sit with you, but you know I won't fit in."

"Bullshit. That's nonsense. It's all in your head. C'mon." He grabbed my tray and led me to the far side of the cafeteria, to what had become his regular table.

"Babe, you remember Alice, don't you? Bella, this is Alice. Alice, Bella." I began to give her a shy smile when a loud male voice interrupted us.

"What's this, Jazz? What bottom of what barrel did you scrape her from?" Scattered giggles erupted around the table.

"Em, c'mon now. You know this is my friend, Alice."

"I'm sure she's nice and all, Jazz, but . . . ." A different voice, female this time, bored and snooty. My face burned at her words.

"Guys, guys, I've told you about Alice a hundred times! We've been friends for years."

Bella finally chimed in then. "Jasper, sweetie, I know Alice has been there for you. But you have all of us now. You have me. If you want to sit with her today, that's fine. But not at our table."

There was a long, awkward pause where no one said anything. I wanted to kill him, run and hide, and have the ground swallow me up where I stood all at the same time. I'd never felt my cheeks so hot before. I waited and waited for him to say something. To come to my defense. He'd always had my back in situations before and had never let anyone speak to me that way. I couldn't see his face, but I had seen his shoulders stiffen up.

"C'mon, JJ. Let's just go. It's no big deal. Let it go. We'll have some grub. It'll be like old times. The way it used to be." The way it's supposed to be.

He turned slowly to face me and straightened his shoulders before speaking. "I'm sorry, Alice. Let’s get you settled with Angela or whoever. Raincheck?" He tried to smile his smile, but it was a pale version, and his eyes were sad.

I felt all the color drain from my face. I just gaped at him in utter disbelief. This must be a bad dream. I can't believe what's happening. In front of all these people.

My stupor broke when he turned toward another part of the cafeteria with my tray.

"No, that's okay. I'm not very hungry. I'll. . . I'll see you lat- um, around." Still in shock, I turned and stumbled away.

This can't be happening. I'm dreaming. He'll come find me later and apologize. Tell me it was all a big joke. A misunderstanding. I. . . He. . . Just wouldn't do that. Not to me. . . .

But he did. He didn't come to find me later. He didn't call. There was no note in my locker or on my car. No letter in my mailbox. Just. . . nothing.

I was left alone to watch my best friend from afar.

— • — • — • —

I wanted to be jealous. I was certainly hurt, but deep down I wasn’t surprised. Everyone always chose someone else over me. And how could I hate him for choosing her when she was everything I wasn’t? Beautiful, popular, smart, perfect. I’d hoped at least to keep my tutoring spot in his life, but she took on that role as she’d taken on everything else I’d ever done for him, and more.

Carefully, I watched and waited for things to fall apart. For a chink in her perfection, for a crack that would allow me back into his life. But after that first year passed, I had to admit defeat. They really were perfect together. She doted on him and he lavished attention on her. I’d never seen him so happy – he had everything he’d ever wanted.

He’d even managed to weld me back into his life, albeit on the edges. Now that he was secure is his relationship with Bella, there was more room for others, including me. Not that I was welcomed in with open arms and we all became besties or something. No way.

But on the odd afternoon after school or weekday evening when he was free, we’d hang together like old times. Or how we pretended old times used to be. He never apologized about that day in the lunchroom, and I was too grateful – and too chickenshit – to bring it up.

Slowly but surely all his other friends – including Bella – began to if not accept my presence on the periphery of their group, then at least allow it without comment. To my face, anyway. I was not usually acknowledged, but at least I wasn’t ridiculed or humiliated, either.

For months, the plan was to go to the beach the first warm sunny Saturday of the year. All through April and May, it would be decent to beautiful during the week, but dark and stormy on the weekends. The school year ended before the fates allowed everything to come together in our favor.

I was secretly glad about this. I hated going to the beach. My pale, poorly-muscled, no-curve body on display, trying to wade through loose sand in shoes and socks with a cane was just not my idea of fun. I didn’t want anyone to see my ugly foot. My many scars.

The phone call came just after dawn one June morning.

“Shrimpy! Wake up!!! The sun is up, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky! Today’s the day!”

“Oh man! Dude! You’re really gonna make me go? You know how much I hate the beach. C’mon. I don’t even have a swimsuit. Lemme off the hook.”

“No can do, sister mine. We’re going and you’re going too. Who needs a suit? Be there in fifteen, and you’d better be ready or I’ll drag your ass down the stairs naked. I’ll do it and you know it.”

“Yeah, you would, too. Asshole.”

“And proud of it!”

I sighed. He was completely irresistible when he was like this and he knew it. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be on the porch.”

“High phone five!”

I threw on my only pair of shorts and a t-shirt before grabbing my book, an umbrella, and my shoes.

“Where are you going so early on a Saturday, Alice?” Mom magically materialized from the kitchen before I could make my escape.

“Oh, um, JJ and I are going to the beach.”

“Just the two of you?”

“No, the whole gang will be there.”

“Well, at least take some sunblock. And several bottles of water. Wait, let me make some sandwiches for everyone. . . I think there’s a bottle of fruit punch in the pantry. . . .”

“Mom, stop. No. I’m not taking all that crap. I’ve got my umbrella for shade. Others are bringing drinks and eats. I’ll be fine.”

“You don’t even have a swimsuit! I know, take mine!” She turned toward her bedroom.

That teensy hot pink floral horror?! No. Fucking. Way.

“No, Mom, um, thanks, but I won’t be going near the water. I’m just going to sit on the sand and read. I’ll be fine.”

“Well. . . if you’re sure. . . .”

A car horn sounded out front.

“That’s JJ. I’ve gotta go, Mom.” I threw open the door and moved as quickly as possible out of the house and down the steps to his car before she could say anything else.

Of course he has the top down. You’d think the guy lived in Vegas.

“Sister mine! Hop in the back ‘cause we gotta go. Still have to fill the cooler and gas the boat.”

“The boat?!”

“Yup. My folks let us have the boat today.”

“Really? What about the beach?”

“No, but what they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em. Why sit on the shore when you can fly on the water? They’re away for the weekend, and the keys just fell off the rack and into my hand. I don’t know how that happened.”

“Yeah, you’re just so innocent. Like yellow snow.”

“You know it.” He turned his head and winked at me in the backseat before putting the car in gear and pulling away from the curb. It was then that I realized he didn’t have a shirt on.

“Dude! Where’s your shirt? I don’t wanna see that shit, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.”

“It’s right here in my lap in case the girls all faint from my hotness. Isn’t that right, baby?” He reached over and gave Bella’s thigh a squeeze. She just giggled and lightly smacked his hand away, which only made him grip her leg higher. I quickly looked away and fixed my gaze out the side window.

We took care of both errands at the dock, where the other kids met us. JJ’s folks had a nice little power boat, but there were an awful lot of us, more than I thought the boat could carry. I wondered about life vests and just as I was about to speak, JJ handed me a cold beer and stepped to the wheel.

“Mikey! Cast off the last rope and push us off, will ya?” The engine roared to life and we were off.

I cowered in the corner, but didn’t say anything. It was too late and I was outvoted anyway.

— • — • — • —

The day turned out to be fun, or at least more fun than I expected. A couple of kids joined us on jet skis, Tyler came later with his dad’s fishing dingy, so the overcrowding on the boat thinned a bit. This allowed JJ to bring out the water ski gear, and I was given the red flag job.

Watching these “cool” kids make complete asses of themselves in the water trying to ski was the best entertainment I’d had in years. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed so hard for so long. I had a terrible stomach ache from it but couldn’t have cared less. The more they drank, the sillier they got, too. And for once, I wasn’t the only who didn’t take a turn on the skis.

The sun was past its peak in the sky, and the air was just beginning to get a little chilly. JJ was giving everyone an opportunity for one more pass on the skis before calling it a day. We were all sunburned, windburned, and worn out. The beer had run out long ago, and most everyone was sobering up.

“Bella, will you drive for me, baby?”

“Jazzy, are you sure? That last round, you really wiped out.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It looked worse than it was. I can’t leave it like that and you know it. C’mon.”

“I don’t know. . . .”

“Alice will do it for me if you don’t want to. Right, Shrimpy?”

Before I could stammer an answer, Bella huffed out a “fine” and stepped behind the wheel. “Life jacket or not at all.”

He took the one she handed him and snapped it on before he dropped into the water. She circled around to pick him up. Of course, he was the show-off on the slalom ski. No one else could get up on two, much less one. I watched carefully and he was up and off in spectacular fashion, wake hopping and goofing off. Just as he lifted off the wake once again, the pull rope rope snapped and he was suddenly airborne and out of control.

I dropped the flag, stood, and shouted, “JJ!” before I knew I did anything at all. Bella quickly killed the throttle and started circling back. I never took my eyes off him, so I was the only one that saw him hit the water hard at an awkward angle.

“Where is he? I can’t see him!” Bella cried.

“There, he’s there. Look for the fluorescent green. See it?”

“Yes, yes, I do.”

The other kids began screaming now as it was clear he was floating face down in the water. When we were close enough, a couple of the biggest boys slipped over the edge and swam to him. We all kept expecting him to pop up and laugh at us, pulling yet another classic JJ prank. But he didn’t.

When the guys got close enough, I saw how gentle they were with his tiny body. They carefully rotated him over so he was floating on his back, one holding up his legs, pain contorting JJ’s face.

It seemed like it took forever to get him back on the boat. They used skis and anything else we could find to fashion a body board. Bella was a mess, and I had to take over driving for her. She kept begging me to drive faster, but I wasn’t taking any chances with jostling him any more than necessary. One of the kids on a jet ski had zoomed ahead so  the EMTs met us on the dock when we pulled in.

Bella rode in the ambulance with him, and Emmett drove JJ’s car and me to the hospital. As always, the short stick landed in my lap and I was the one to call JJ’s parents and tell them what had happened. ‘Cause that was just SO fun. We agreed to wait to call them until the doctors came to tell us what was going on, so there was at least some news for them.

It wasn’t long before Dr. Gerandy came through the double doors. “Where are his parents?”

“They’re out of town, sir.” Bella was the brave one to whisper this out.

“I see.”

“Is he. . . I mean. . . we were gonna call. . . waiting for you. . . news. . . .” I stammered into the silence.

He sighed and rubbed his face with his hand. “Well, he’s alive, if that’s what you’re worried about. No head injury. But he broke the rod in his back. We have to remove it. Get his parents on the phone. I need to speak to them.”

I hit the speed dial on his cell and handed it over with shaking fingers.

— • — • — • —

It was like deja vu, seeing him in a hospital bed, once again crowned with a halo brace. I wanted to smack him and kiss him all at the same time.

This will be it for the two of them. Bella will leave him for sure, she won’t be able to handle it. I prepared myself to step in, just in case. I knew he would need me instead of her this time. I knew all about hospitals and surgeries and rehab.

I was wrong. So very, very wrong. She sat vigil by his bedside without fail. Every time I went there, she was already ahead of me. We spelled each other and all the grudges and judgments between us fell away. She finally won me over with her steadfast determination to be there for him, to care for him. I had to admit she was better at it than I was, and that he let her in, let her care for him as he’d never let me or anyone else for that matter.

More than once, I caught him being openly vulnerable with her. No jokes, no laughter to cover over his pain. Seeing him cry in her arms in apology and shame was too intimate and more than I could bear.

I let him go freely at that point. After all, wasn’t that what love was about? Wanting for them what they want for themselves or better? His happiness was my happiness. I wanted him to have everything and anything he wanted. It was clear that he wanted Bella; he loved her and she him. They fit together as he and I never did. Yet, he and I fit in ways they couldn’t, too.

It made it both harder and easier when I left for school at the end of that summer. Bella opted to wait and remained by his side as he recovered and rehabbed for many long months. It came as no surprise to anyone when he proposed that Christmas and they wed the following summer, wanting to be sure everyone was home for the big event.

When the day finally came, I stood at his side – his best maid, he’d said. Bella very sweetly sought me out during the reception to thank me and ask me for my forgiveness for her behavior toward me in high school. With that, all the fences were finally as mended as they were going to be.

They started U-Dub in the fall, while I transferred out of state. It was time for us all to move on in our lives. They came to my graduation and I went to theirs. Bella found a job teaching kindergarten and JJ landed a position in a marketing and advertising company. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I took a secretarial position in a non-profit agency while I mulled my options and thought about returning to school.

One rainy day, Bella called me to see if I was free for lunch. We hadn’t sat down for a girl’s chat in ages so I readily agreed. After we’d placed our orders, we settled in for conversation.

“What brings you into this part of town today?”

“Oh, um. . .” She hesitated, biting her lip before continuing. “I had a doctor’s appointment.”

“Nothing serious, I hope.”

“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know.”

“Wait. You don’t know?! What’s going on? What kind of doctor? Spill.”

“An infertility specialist.”


“Yes. He didn’t tell you?”

“No. How long have you, you know. Been trying?”

She sighed and looked down at her plate. “Why am I not surprised?” She muttered under her breath before looking back at me. “Since our wedding night.”

What?! Seriously?

“Well, sort of. We stopped using birth control then. It’s only the last couple of years that we really made a conscious effort.”

“But, but, it’s been years.”

“Don’t have to tell me. First college, and then teaching were just things to do until I became a mother.”

I didn’t quite know what to say. “Um, is he, um, or you. . . well. . . .” I cleared my throat.

“It seems to be a bit of a combination. His sperm are slow and my eggs are weak or. . . something. I don’t really understand it all.”

“Oh, Bella, I’m so sorry.” I touched her arm. “What did this doctor say?”

“He said the same things the others have said. That naturally, we have no hope together.” She winced as she spoke the words.

In vitro?”

“Yes, that’s the next option. No other doctor will consider it. My eggs are ‘too fragile’ or something. But this guy has some cutting edge way of harvesting and he’s willing to take us on.”

“That’s good news, yes?”

“Well, we only get one shot at it, so, I’m not sure. I’m scared Alice. Kids are so important to Jazz. You know? I don’t know what will happen to us if this doesn’t work.”

“Stop. One thing at a time. You’ve got a shot. Take it and then worry about what comes next if next comes. Okay?”

“You’re right.” She offered me a watery smile. “You always are.”

“Shut up! You lie and you know it.” I whacked her arm lightly with my napkin, and we laughed together as the waiter delivered our food.

They tried, the in vitro failed. It was as if her eggs rejected his sperm even though they were supposed to be fragile. No embryos were created. She was crushed, he was. . . distracted.

I pulled him aside. “So, what’s the deal, JJ?”

“What, Shrimpy?”

“Don’t be calling me that to avoid me. Where are you? Your head doesn’t seem to be in the game. I thought you wanted this bad.”

“I do, I do. But with the house under construction, and the new job, this is just one more thing I have to take care of. The timing stinks.”

“But that’s always true for you. You’re the mile-a-minute man. What gives?”

“Yeah, yeah, all right. I do want this. And I want this thing with Bella to work. But the baby thing has really changed her. It’s changed us. She’s never been fearful or insecure before and I don’t like it. I don’t know how to handle it. She needs a baby, and I want a family.”


“No. I mean, yeah, I mean. . . .” He rubbed his face with his hand. “I mean it’s an option that works for other people. But it’s not for us. I need a connection, a biological connection with my child. Call me shallow, but there it is.”

“Hey, you want what you want. Got no quarrel with that. What about a donor?”

“I just said. . . .”

I cut him off. “Not a sperm donor, you dope, an egg donor.”

His eyes got very round. “They do that?”

“Yeah. It’s kinda new and it’s different from the frozen sperm deal, but I looked into all the options when Bella came to me that day. I didn’t know diddly about it and thought I could support you better if I at least knew the basics. How could you not know?”

“You know me. I don’t care about the how, just tell me what needs doing and it’s done. She never mentioned it. I wonder if she knows.”

“Well, ask her. Not today, of course. . . .”

He glared at me.

“Hey! We both know you can be an insensitive asshole.”

“I know, I know. You’re right. You’re right.”

“Whoa. Can I get that signed and dated for posterity?”

He just looked at me.

“What? You said I was right. Twice.”

He rolled his eyes and smacked me on my arm.

“Ow. Not so hard. I’m tender and delicate.”

He snorted. “Yeah, about as delicate and tender as teak.”

“Yeah, yeah. Fine. Now go, take your wife home. Snuggle and love on her all weekend. Maybe take her on a second honeymoon. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. . . .”

“Yes, ma’am, Captain Shrimpy!”

He laughed and darted out of my range before I could smack him back.

— • — • — • —

I shouldn’t have been surprised when they came to me just a few months later, but I was. After looking over their options, they wanted to proceed with an egg donor. Specifically my eggs. Well, it wasn’t like I was using them or looked likely to any time soon.

They took me to their (new) doctor who explained everything about the process, the side effects, the ramifications, and anything else I wanted to know or could ever want to know. I told them I had to think about it, which was a lie. I knew I’d do it, I just needed a little time to get used to the idea.

It wasn’t a bad process for me at all, and they were pregnant on the first round. Everyone was thrilled. There had been lots of papers to sign and agreements to sort out legally, but we’d decided that they were unquestionably the parents and I would be the sort of funky aunt on the side. They would eventually tell him or her about the donation, but not before the child was able to really understand what that meant.

We all held our breath through the amniocentesis and all the rule outs for genetic stuff. That was the one right I held onto – I wouldn’t allow a child to be born with a club foot. Period. They weren’t happy with my stipulation, but they understood and accepted it. Of course, nothing showed on the test, the baby looked as healthy as a horse, and Bella’s pregnancy continued apace.

I was dead asleep one morning, dreaming of centaurs and Whole Foods, when I heard this annoying bell that wouldn’t quit. Finally, I realized it was the phone on my nightstand and when I reached for it in my sleep drunk state, I knocked it onto the floor. Fumblingly, I put the damn thing up to my ear only to hear laughter.

“What is it with you and early morning phone calls?”

“Hey, Shrimpy Sleepyhead. Wake up! The birds are chirping, dawn is here, and it’s time.”

“Time? Time for what, you asshole? Me to tear you a new one?”

“Grumpy, grumpy gopher guts. No, it’s time.”

“All right, Small Fry, this better not be just for your entertainment or I really will cut a bitch. Time. For. What.”

“The baby. The baby’s coming. We’re heading to the hospital now. Meet us there, Shrimpy, or be square!” He hung up.

He. Hung. Up. On. Me. What a fucking. . . oh my God. Baby. The baby’s coming.

I bolted out of bed and into the shower and down to the hospital before I drew a deep breath. It didn’t matter. I missed it. I missed the first breath, the cry. But when I finally saw that little boy in my friend’s arms, I knew. I knew I’d finally done something that meant something to somebody, and I looked at that tiny body with awe.

“You pushed that out of your va-jay-jay? While you were awake?” I asked Bella incredulously.

She smiled weakly. “Yeah, I did. It sucked, but I’m so happy.”

“You’re a better woman than me. I’d have made them cut me open while I was totally out. Better yet, I’d never have grown that thing in the first place. But he is awfully cute, and I’m glad you did it.”

I reached over and touched his soft, soft cheek with my fingertip.

“Aunt Shrimpy, meet Jason Brandon Whitlock, JB, this is Alice.”


“Yes. We wanted to surprise you. You deserve it. We wouldn’t have him if it weren’t for you. Here, hold him. It’s like nothing else.”

“Oh, but I. . . .”

“Here, sit in the chair and I’ll put him in your arms.”

Obedient, for once, I sat and JJ put the tiny bundle in my arms. He yawned and I was hooked. I looked up into JJ’s face and he was radiant, like I’d never seen before, not even on his wedding day. His eyes never left the little man he’d sired.

“He’s beautiful. He’s. . . he’s. . . okay?” I finally choked out, trying to surreptitiously peek under the receiving blanket to see his little feet.

“Yes, he’s perfect. All ten fingers and all ten toes. A perfectly healthy baby boy.”

He chose that moment to show me just how perfect his lungs and vocal chords were, and I laughed as JJ took him from me and gave him to Bella.

“Wow, he’s got a set of lungs on him doesn’t he?”

“Yes, just like his father, he likes to make his presence known in the loudest, most demanding way possible.” Bella beamed up at Jasper and he stroked her hair.

I wanted to leave the new family alone together, but they wouldn’t hear of it. The nurses bustled in and out checking on Bella and JB, and she eventually shooed JJ and I out, ordering us to go get something to eat.

“Now that the house is finished and JB is here, we want you to come live on the property with us.”

I spluttered, trying not to spray the table with my iced tea. “What?!”

“The guest house. It’s for you. This way you’ll be near JB and we can all be together like a family.”

“JJ, um, listen. That’s real nice, but no. No way. I’m not some baby stalker creepy Aunt Shrimp. I’m happy in my life. I’m happy that you’re happy.”

“But. . . .”

“No buts. We’ve talked about this. The baby is yours. Yours and Bella’s. Not mine. I have no interest in having children of my own. I love that you do and I was happy to help you do that. . . .”

“But. . . .”

“No, Jasper. Not this time. No way. I’m happy being the oddball auntie. Really.”

He sighed and dropped his head and shoulders in defeat. He knew no matter what, I wouldn’t budge on this point. Not now, not ever.

— • — • — • —

Before I knew it, years passed beneath my feet. JB was an angelic child. He was surrounded by love and laughter, never knowing the hurt of being shunned because of difference. His limbs and spine grew straight as arrows, so much so, that he was actually scrawny with knobby knees and elbows that always seemed adorned with a scab or a bruise. I cherished him and our time alone together, but I never, never wished to be his mother or for a child of my own.

They tried again a couple of times for another child using the embryos from our one cycle, but Bella was unable to get pregnant again and their gratitude and love for their miracle child ensured he would be loved whomever and however he grew up to be.

JJ had climbed his career ladder with the power and determination so characteristic of him. He now was the marketing and advertising exec for Bombardier, the small private jet company to the ultra rich. It was all about the next big deal, the next sale, the next meeting. He had to be available 24/7 and was never without his phone, nor far from his laptop.

Bella never returned to work. As JJ climbed the ladder professionally, he climbed it socially as well, and this pressed Bella into new roles and responsibilities which she shouldered with her usual grace. They were in their prime now and exemplified the power couple so prevalent in our area.

I was more like the poor relation with my old Volvo, simple clothes, and non-profit salary. They had toys – JJ had always been a sucker for fast and/or shiny things, and now was no exception. Cars, a boat, motorcycles, and dirt bikes were scattered around their property. I had solitude, a cat, a fireplace that roared, and all the books I could read in a lifetime. I thought we were all settled and content.

Finally. We all have what we want. What we’ve ever wished for. Thank you, whomever’s up there, or out there. I’m so glad to see JJ get what he deserves. What we all do.

I couldn’t have been more wrong while being so right in my entire life.

— • — • — • —

Labor Day weekend was coming up. The end of summer’s lazy days and the start of fall and school and harvesting the crops, for we must always reap what we sow.

It was a tradition to spend summer holidays with them on the water and at the beachfront down the way. Their whole neighborhood came together for bar-b-que and homemade ice cream. The kids got sparklers and the adults played with fireworks. It was a wonder no one had ever blown off a finger or had a bad burn. The guys were terrible about using roman candles as weapons on each other.

Beer and wine would flow all day for anyone old enough to drink it or sneak it, and there was always enough food and snacks to feed a small army, though rarely were there left-overs. A large, but carefully controlled bonfire was held after dark with plenty of marshmallows and weanies to roast. In the past, I was always full to bursting at this point and amazed that anyone could eat another bite, and this year promised to be no different.

I arrived just after noon, having enjoyed a relaxing and pressure free morning at home – a rare treat. Bella waved me down to the dock. I could see the big boat was already out on the water.

“Having fun yet?” I asked, walking up to her.

“Oh yes. How could we not?” She looked down to the restless horde of children around her.

“I swear, you’re like the Pied Piper of children.” I laughed and she joined me.

“I know. I don’t know why exactly, but I don’t mind. Not really.”

“Where’s JJ?”

“On the water. Where else?”

I laughed again in acknowledgment. “JB?”

“With his father.” She rolled her eyes. “Make yourself at home. It’s a zoo and everyone for themselves.”

“Ah, the usual.”

“Yes! Exactly. The usual.”

Now I rolled my eyes at her, and we shared another laugh together. As she gathered her pack of rugrats and I moved to walk down the dock, we were joined by a very handsome man I’d never seen before.

“Oh, Alice, this is Edward. Edward, Alice.”

He extended his hand and I nodded in greeting. “Sorry, but as you can see, my hands are a bit full.” I glanced down and he followed my gaze to see my cane in my left hand and a covered basket in my right.

“Yes, I see.” His extended hand made its way into his hair. “Nice to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Yeah? Don’t believe everything you hear.” I looked at Bella questioningly.

“Edward is Jasper’s boss at Bombardier.” She returned my gaze meaningfully.

“Oh! I see. Well, welcome to the jungle. Make yourself at home. It was a pleasure to meet you. Excuse me, I have a boat to flag down.”

“Good luck with that!” Bella laughed before moving off with Edward and the children.

He turned back. “I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”

“Yeah, sure. Later.”

I walked to the end of the dock, shielding my eyes from the bright sun with my hand. Whistling the shrill signal that JJ had taught me when I was only a few years older than JB was now, I waved my straw hat over my head. Faintly, I heard the returning whistle and smiled knowing he would come pick me reasonably soon.

— • — • — • —

The big powerboat pulled alongside the dock and idled in place. Several people got off, including JB, who slowed long enough to give me a hug, and I clambered aboard.

“Alice! Always good to see you!” JJ wrapped me in a one-armed hug and kissed my cheek.

“Having fun, big man?”

“Sun’s shining, boat’s running, and the party’s happening. How could I not be having fun?”

“A classic JJ answer.”

“You know it! And now that you’re here, the party can really get started.” Reaching under the wheel he grabbed something and shoved it across my basket. “Flag girl.” He winked and moved the boat away from the dock and back out into deeper water. “Who wants to ski?”

We spent the rest of the afternoon ferrying people back and forth to the dock after dragging them through the water on skis or a giant inner tube thing. I could tell he loved the spectacular wipeouts he created when someone rode the tube. It was wild and looked incredibly dangerous to me, but nobody seemed to mind. They’d come up spluttering and spitting water, begging to go again.

He even convinced me to give it a try, and he was very sweet, driving slowly and straight so I could enjoy the ride without fearing for my life. It was actually kinda nice and I could finally see why he loved it so.

I knew he missed it terribly, though he’d never admit it. He was banned from water sports for life after the fall that broke the rod in his back. It was the main reason I finally caved and rode the tube that day, I did it for him, so he could maybe enjoy it through me. We did things like this for each other without conscious thought. He’d always been the daredevil I didn’t have the guts to be, and I’d been the slow thoughtful one who worried about the consequences.

“Well?” He asked as I struggled to climb the ladder from the water to the boat. “How was it after all these years?”

“I’m glad I waited.” I huffed out. “It was so worth it.” I gave him my very best grin and was rewarded with my favorite smile in return.

I haven’t seen that grin in a while. Huh. Hadn’t noticed.

Just when I went to speak, a child’s voice piped up. “I wanna go Uncle Jay.”

“Sure thing, Betsy. I see you have on your life vest already. Jump in and I’ll swing around and pick you up.”

She wagged her finger at him. “And no funny stuff. I want a ride like you gave her.” She pointed at me.

“Yes’m. You got it.” He winked at me as she climbed over the side and jumped in.

“Kids these days, I swear. . . .” I grinned at him.

“You know it.” He turned and eased on the throttle, swinging the boat and the giant tire around to pick up the little girl floating in the water behind us.

As the sun lowered in the sky and the heat of the day waned, JJ made his customary one last pass for anyone who wanted a final ski or tube for the day.

“You’re looking a bit haggard there, old man. You all right?”

“Huh? Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just a little tired. Nothing that’ll slow me down.”

“Is there anything that’ll slow you down?”

“Nope, not even a halo.” He laughed and I joined in, nodding my agreement.

After the last of the last passes were finally done, he dropped us all at the dock.

I was last off and turned when I realized the boat was backing away again. “Wait, aren’t you tying up and coming in with us?”

“I’ll be right there. The water’s a little shallow here for my new boat, and I feel better if I anchor it close in but in a little deeper water. Low tide is due in a couple of hours and I don’t want her to bottom out.” He patted the boat fondly, like a lover.

“Yeah, sure. You just want a little alone time with your new love.”

“You know it! And she’s a beauty ain’t she?”

“She is, indeed. Take all the time you need, Small Fry. Heaven forbid anything come between you and your lover.” I winked and turned away.

“You know me so well, Shrimpy. I won’t be long.”

I raised my hand in acknowledgment without turning back and headed down the dock to dry land.

After making a quick pitstop in the house, I wandered down to the beach where the party was in full swing. The sun was low in the sky. Lower than I realized.

Huh, I must have spent longer in the house than I realized watching the kids play video games.

I waved and nodded to neighbors and people I’d met at previous parties as I scanned the crowd, but I didn’t see JJ anywhere.

“Hey, you seen JJ?”

“Nope, not since he dropped everyone off.”

Continuing to ask around I couldn’t find anyone who’d seen him since he’d gone to anchor the boat. Finally, I returned to the house and found Bella in the kitchen.

“Hey, you seen JJ lately?”

“Lately. No? Why?”

“He seems to be missing. I can’t find him and no one’s seen him in a while.”

“Eh, I wouldn’t worry. He’s probably passed out in someone’s house somewhere thinking it was here. You know how he is at these things.”

Really? I don’t remember that. Huh.

“Can I. . . .” I was interrupted by a piercing scream from outside. We looked at each other for a second before heading for the back door. I was just behind Bella as we reached the deck to find the origin of the rising commotion.

A teenaged girl was pointing and screaming. People were running to her and to the water. Several other screams joined hers. My eyes followed her arm and out toward where she was pointing, where everyone was looking. Bella gasped as her eyes beat mine. I stood frozen and in disbelief. My mind refused to believe what my eyes were seeing.

I heard a low moan only to realize I was the one who’d made the sound. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” A man was floating face down in the water. He wasn’t moving. His swim trunks were green. JJ was wearing green shorts today.

“No, no, no, no, no, no.”

Several men reached the floating man. They turned him over and began swimming to shore, dragging him with them. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I couldn’t hear anything but my own breathing, my heart racing in my chest.

“No, no, no, no, no.”

I was moving, but I couldn’t feel my feet. I couldn’t feel anything.

He was on the shore now. Someone started pounding his chest. Someone else made him breathe. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. I could only watch. I couldn’t not watch.

I was closer now. There were no sirens. Why are there no sirens? Someone clutched my hand. I shook them off without looking and moved closer. My breaths matching the someone that was making him breathe, my heart matching the pounding on his chest.

Faintly, I heard the distant wail of a siren. Not many. Only one. I couldn’t see anything else, only him lying on the sand as others pumped his heart and lungs. I saw his face, placid and limp. No, that’s not how he looks.
But it was him. There was no doubt. The crooked chest. The scars. Is that a tattoo? I didn’t know he had a tattoo. The dark ink peeking above the waistband of his shorts, just along his hip. He’s so still. Too still.

A police officer. A police officer appeared and took over beating his heart. Another, in a different uniform pushed air into his lungs. People began backing away, looking away, clumping in groups and pairs. Clinging to each other. I moved closer.

Quiet. It was very quiet now. I could hear the bonfire crackling, the men counting as they breathed and pumped. The inane video game music. Quiet. Too Quiet.
Get up. Get up. Game’s over. Give up. Not funny. Not funny at all. Never was funny. Get. Up.

It was just me. Just me and the men and JJ. Everyone else had backed away. Mothers herded the few children left on the beach into the nearest house. Others moved off as if this dance of death was too intimate, too horrible to watch.

As if it won’t be you here one day. As if you can hide your heads and ignore your own mortality. The mortality of everyone around you.

I wanted to hiss and spit at them all. For their callousness. Their carelessness. He was maybe dying here and they couldn’t look, they couldn’t be with him when he needed them most.

Time passed. The EMTs arrived. A look passed between the men in uniforms standing over the still, too still form.

“Time of death, 7:57 pm.”

They stood, they stopped the breathing, the beating.

“No, no, no, no, no.”

I was there, pounding, breathing, screaming, begging, pleading, clutching the limp body to my chest.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

Arms and hands tried to separate us. I clasped him tighter to me. I fought them off with teeth and nails.

They don’t care. They gave up. They let him die. He died. He died. He died.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

I wailed and moaned and cried and sobbed until there was nothing left and I cried some more.

They left us there together. They backed away. They held the black body bag in which they would take him away.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

Not JJ. Small Fry, so full of life. So full of my life. Not funny, JJ. Not supposed to be this way.

Someone was bringing Bella. Holding her close. Pulling her forward.

Where has she been? Kitchen. We were in the kitchen.

I searched through my memories, but I didn’t see her anywhere near me. Near us. Near him. She didn’t watch. She wasn’t here. She didn’t hold his hand.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

A hand on my shoulder. I tried to shrug it off. “Alice? Alice. You have to let him go. They need to take him away now.”

Bella. That was Bella’s voice.

I looked blindly into her face. My eyes focused. Pale. Her face was pale. But no tears. No tracks. No red or puffy eyes. No tears. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t cling. She’s not even touching him now. I turned away from her and looked into the dead face of my beloved.

Carefully, I tried to wipe the sand off his face. No response.

“JJ? JJ?” I shook him. “JJ, it’s Shrimpy. It’s time to wake up. Please wake up now.” No response. “JJ, this isn’t funny anymore.” Nothing.

I pulled his head tighter to my breast and wailed my loss for the world to hear.

“Alice? Alice. Stop now. Hush. You’ll scare the children.” She tugged on my arm. I pulled away.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

“Alice. You must let him go now.” A new voice. Vaguely familiar. My fingers buried in JJ’s hair.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

I rocked and swayed embracing my beloved.

“Alice! Enough!” A strong hand grasped my arm and jerked it up, forcing me to see just who dared to interrupt me and my love. Who? Who is. . . Edward. Edward? I looked more closely to see his arm wrapped around Bella protectively. She was tucked into his side looking at me gravely. It clicked then. Edward. Edward and Bella. An affair? Had she cheated on my JJ. . . ?

“No, no, no, no, no!”

I howled and wailed my betrayal. I trusted you. I trusted you with him. He loved you. How could you have possibly turned to another? I trusted you to take care of him. To be faithful to him. I helped you have a baby with him. How could you?

“No, no, no, no, no!”

Voice raspy in my throat. Dry gasping breaths. Cold, limp body in my arms. Sand under my legs.

I tumbled.

I fell.

My beloved was dead.

— • — • — • —

Drip, drip, drip
the rain runs down
the window pane.

Drip, drip, drip
the blood runs down
the shower drain.

My love, my life
my existence is gone.

Do not fret,
do not fear

I am coming my love
I am very near.

How you hate
solitude and silence,
the things I hold dear.

But I will go with you,
follow you

I am coming my love
I am very near.

Drip, drip, drip
the blood spills
onto the floor

Oh! I think it’s time now
for me to be
             By mostly a lurker
The Rivers of Forks

A/N: This is my entry for the Twilight Round of The Canon Tour. Many thanks to LJ Summers, my beta extraordinaire. You've made me a better writer, and are an incredible friend. Thank you. As usual Stephenie owns Twilight, Billy Burke owns Charlie ;-D

Cool grey light, diffused by the misty fog clinging to the treetops, spread over the cold dawn.

Quiet. Silence. Solitude.

This is the best part of the day. 

He paused his actions to watch the sky brighten.


He sighed and shook his head slightly before lifting the rod and casting upstream.


Seasonal Tidings & Update from Leslie

Finally, here is a new picture of Leo. Leslie had a professional photographer take a couple of portraits for me! #SOhandsome ;-)

I'm SO excited about going up to meet him for the first time in just a few weeks! *Squeeeeee*
I don't know when he'll be coming home with me for good yet, but I promise to keep you posted.

Now, for the good stuff. Here's the latest update from Leslie:

Your boy is doing really well.  Applying himself with his heart!  I had a wonderful work session with Michele P. and I was so proud of Leo's efforts!

We are working on the platform training - he's learning about finding and maintaining "working position."  I am focusing him on LEFT HEEL positon and FRONT and finding both positions.  Once he's in position, he's becoming comfortable seeing me from there and is getting a high rate of reinforcement for maintaining those positions!  He now loves to work and is "in the game" :))  He waited patiently for his turn and was very happy when he got his chance to work!  He's also learning the foundation skills for WAIT and COME.

Leo and I are looking forward to your visit!

Writing News

Yes, I am still writing fic, lol. It's been such a busy time and I must admit to being complete review reply fail. Please forgive me. I do read and cherish each one, and hope to catch up one day soon (or at least before the end of the year!)

I'm up for author auction in The Fandom Gives Back!!!  
You only have until November 23rd at midnight EST to make a bid via the comments. C'mon, you know you want me to write something just for you! (Please save me from Alby, she wants to make me write slash!)

Here's what else is going on with me on the writing front:
Firstly, I have an entry in the Season of Our Discontent Anonymous Angst Contest. There are lots of entries just waiting for you to read and review, more arriving almost daily. Public voting runs from November 25 - December 10. I hope you'll find some things here to love (maybe even mine!)

Next, Alby Mangroves and I have ventured into a collaboration together. We're penning a story for Beyond the Pale 2 entitled A Crown of Asphodels. Our joint penname is Mal and Alby, and you can find our collab profile here. We're still writing, so put Mal and Alby on author alert — we don't want you to miss out on all the good stuff! Public voting runs from November 28 - December 12.

Also, I am entering each round of The Canon Tour. New Moon is the upcoming round in December. Lots of good canon and slightly AU entries each time. I hope you read, vote, and enjoy!
Donations Are Now Closed!

Thank you one and all for your support! There were 360 donors of money, words, and or time that contributed $7,200!!!!!

We're working feverishly to begin emailing the compilation to you either late today, 11/16 or tomorrow, 11/17. Watch Twitter for updates. We thank you for your patience as we finish sorting out a few kinks. 

Just so you know, I'm in the process of booking my flights for the visit in early January and we're all thrilled!

I hope you'll continue to stop by for updates, pictures, and video all the way through our team training. You've made it possible, and I want to share as much of it with you as I'm able :-D

Thanks again!
More soon,

A Little Bit of Everything in One Place

Donations will only be accepted until November 15, 2011
at midnight PST.

Since mid-August or so, I've been making posts and running a fundraiser here to support my efforts in acquiring a successor service dog. Peter was my faithful working partner for nearly 3 years before he was unexpectedly removed from service by the organization that placed him (and retained legal ownership) well over a year ago now. I was completely devastated, and began trying to obtain his successor immediately. Since many of you may be coming here for the first time, I've attempted to coalesce information that is in several places on this blog into one place to bring you up to speed, so to speak.

So, from my very first post:
Some of you know, but most of you don’t, that I’ve been working to overcome injuries from a workplace accident that left me disabled over 6 years ago. I fell down the stairs (not something I recommend) and the trauma of falling triggered CRPS (click here for info) and a mild TBI (click here for info) both of which trigger depression, so I have physical, emotional, and neurological disabilities. I’m in graduate school learning a new profession with the hope of remaining self-sufficient.

This is where you come in. Obtaining a service dog is an expensive proposition. The dog, training, equipment, team training and all the expenses that come along with traveling and staying in Oregon for 3 weeks really add up. While I’m incredibly lucky that an anonymous benefactor stepped up to cover $8,000 of the approximate $13,600 base cost, that still leaves $5,600 I need to raise. (More means I'll get to go meet and visit him during his training period, and that would be so very awesome!)

I know things are tight all over, so if all you can do is spread the word, no worries, that’s very valuable, too! The more, the merrier! Please feel free to pass the link to my blog to anyone at all you think might be interested/willing/available to assist or support in any way. Thank you!
From the "Gift and Wish List" post, here are the details of the compilation:
~ Every donation – no matter how large or small – will receive a compilation of one-shots, outtakes, and/or short stories from the following list of authors:
  • AgoodWITCHTill I Come Marching Home, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • Alby MangrovesThe Goth King of UW, a new Edward/Garrett one-shot
  • Anais MarkEating In, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • Bella Flan — alternate ending to Stigmata Tomato entitled Kill Phil
  • CharliDenae Beneath the Scars, a new Alice/Jasper one-shot 
  • C. Valentina Dunn — an original short fiction entitled The One Percent
  • DeJean Smith — a new Liriope outtake, From the Journal of Liriope M. Hermitage, from Evermore Experience
  • DontRunPlease Don't Leave Me, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • DuskwatcherWorth It, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • eddiebell69 Love, Madness, and Music, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • Exquisite EdwardDark Descent, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • javamomma0921 — an original short fiction entitled The Selkie's Bride
  • just duckie Fuzzy Logic, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • kitkat681 — a new Bella/Edward/Jasper outtake from Choices
  • Lady Gwynedd Selfless, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • Lady TazzDirty Money, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • Mina RiveraIt Isn't Over, prologue to a new post-BD story featuring Tanya 
  • Morgan Locklear — a new Edward & Jasper episode from Cockeyed Optimist
  • Morgan Phoenix — a new Bella/Edward outtake from Moving Violations
  • Mrs. The King — a new Bella/Edward epilogue from Late Night with Aro
  • MsKathyUnfolding the Pages, a new Bella/Edward one-shot 
  • SaritaDreaming Red Kryptonite, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • Savage7289 — a new Esme Platt/Edward Masen outtake, Play By Play, from Offside
  • sexilexicullen — a new Bella/Edward outtake, Coming Home, from Quiet Storm
  • Sebastien Robichaud a new BxE outtake, In the Shadow of the Prado, from The Ice Queen and Mr McCarty
  • SqueakyZorroDetente, a new Rosealie/Edward one-shot
  • tufano79a new BxE outtake, Attack of the Killer Lube... It's Coming to GET YOU!, from A Nerd Story of Love
  • wmr1601 More Than My Own Life, a new Bella/Edward one-shot 
  • writingbabeLate, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • yellowglue Grey Skies and Light Fading, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
To read teasers for these stories, please click on the "Contributing Authors" button at the top of this page or click here. The compilation will be emailed to donors beginning November 16, 2011 (donations close November 15, 2011).
Custom banners, desktop wallpapers, and beta services are still available to donors. Fallanydeeper is offering a custom banner or desktop wallpaper for each donation of $25 or more, and betas afmtoo, HollettLA, lulabelle98, Marly580, Perry Maxwell, SaritaDreaming, Songster, SqueakyZorro, SueBee0619, and wmr1601 are still up for grabs for beta service on a one-shot for a donation of $50 or more. Click here to view individual beta qualifications.

We have a new highly limited donation premium available just in time for the holidays. Wendy (aka Mingo) is offering personally customized template-based holiday photo e-cards for a donation of $35 or more, as well as completely custom designed and created holiday e-cards for a donation of $50 or more. There are only 6 of the template-based and 2 of the fully custom e-cards available to donors in total. Complete confidentiality is guaranteed and the digital file will be delivered by December 1st to allow time for traditional printing if you so desire. To see samples of Wendy's work, please click here.

Look for the PayPal Donate button second box from the top on the left sidebar of every page (just below the paw icons) — simply click and follow the instructions. ←
Leslie, What Kind of Treats Do You Use?

Some time ago, Elletee asked what kind of treats Leslie was giving Leo. The answer turned out not to be as simple and straightforward as you might think. Here is her detailed answer in full:
Dogs learn in different ways. Through the consequences of their own actions and/or through association ie: you get the leash, then a walk follows!

In the old days training was a process of coersion, force and intimidation.  It was hell for both the dogs and for many trainers!  In the days of heavy handed, coersive training, motivating the dogs in positive ways was never done. 

Thank goodness training has evolved and is now a much gentler, more positive relationship building process!  This kinder approach builds trust, enthusiasm, committment to work and love between partners!  It also requires a careful use of all positive "reinforcers."

As a firm believer in Positive Training methods, I strive to use all resources available to me to shape the dogs attitude and behaviors.  All our dogs need food, water, exercise, companionship and play.  So, I routinely manipulate the meal times, food quantities, exercise opportunities, availability of toys and time to play in order to use these resources as tools.

Our Wish & Gift Lists

Congratulations to all! You've done it – our minimum budget goal of $5,600 has not only been reached, but surpassed, yahooooooo!!! Current donation total stands at $5,856.00!! This means I will unequivocally be able to get Leo when he's ready next year!!! I think that's pretty frickin' remarkable. Certainly beyond my wildest dreams and way beyond anything I thought might happen when I made my first post about all this (and yes, I think I would have felt less vulnerable selling pencils naked on the street corner than I did sharing my story for all the world to see).
Estimated Minimum Budget Breakdown

$1,500 Leo's Breeder's Fee

$2,696 Hotel for 19 Days (+2 free days already donated via Hilton Reward Points)

$650 Rental Car for 21 Days at $31 per day

$355 Airfare Round Trip

$400 Meals/Misc. Expenses
So, what happens now? Well, as I mentioned in that very first post, if there were extra funds, that would enable me to go visit Leo during his training, something that our trainer, Leslie, is very eager for me to do. So, now we're working on that second plane ticket for a January visit.

And as I mentioned in my post last week (SO Close!), there were many expenses I didn't include or low-balled in my budget estimate for fear of asking for too much. Things like ground transportation to and from home to the airport ($135 round trip), a potentially more expensive plane ticket because I need no layovers and prime travel hours when I return with Leo, and a list of little things as long as your arm that really add up. Know what I mean?

Therefore, donations will continue to be accepted through November 15, 2011, with the compilation beginning distribution the following day. There are so many donors, it may take a day or two to get all the emails out.

Please know that Leo and I are very grateful to everyone and anyone who donates anything — money, time, promotion, hotel reward points, stories, beta services, beautiful banners — in support of our becoming a team together. I give you my solemn oath that every penny donated will go toward team training, a visit, and/or bringing Leo home in the spring next year. A full accounting will be provided at the end of this adventure.

~ Every donation – no matter how large or small – will receive a compilation of one-shots, outtakes, and/or short stories from the following list of authors:
  • AgoodWITCHTill I Come Marching Home, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • Alby MangrovesThe Goth King of UW, a new Edward/Garrett one-shot
  • Anais Mark
  • Bella Flan — alternate ending to Stigmata Tomato entitled Kill Phil
  • CharliDenae One Knight in Time, a new Alice/Jasper one-shot
  • DeJean Smith From the Journal of Liriope M. Hermitage (from Evermore Experience)
  • dontrun
  • DuskwatcherWorth It, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • eddiebell69 Love, Madness, and Music, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • Exquisite EdwardDark Descent, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • javamomma0921 — an original short fiction entitled The Selkie's Bride
  • just duckie Fuzzy Logic, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • KitsuShel
  • Lady Gwynedd 
  • Lady TazzDirty Money, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • MG2112 — future take from The Singer and The Sorrow
  • Mina RiveraIt Isn't Over, prologue to a new post-BD story featuring Tanya 
  • Morgan Locklear — episode from Cockeyed Optimist
  • Morgan Phoenix — outtake from Moving Violations
  • Mrs. The King — outtake or extra chapter from Late Night with Aro
  • MsKathy 
  • SaritaDreaming Red Kryptonite, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • Savage7289Play By Play, an outtake from Offside featuring the Esme Platt/Edward Masen story
  • sexilexicullen — an outtake from Quiet Storm
  • Sebastien Robichaud a new BxE outtake set in Spain from The Ice Queen and Mr McCarty
  • sleepyvalentina
  • SqueakyZorro
  • tkat681 — Bella/Edward future-take from Choices
  • tufano79a new BxE outtake Attack of the Killer Lube... It's Coming to GET YOU! from A Nerd Story of Love
  • wmr1601 More Than My Own Life, a new Bella/Edward one-shot 
  • writingbabe — new Bella/Edward one-shot
  • yellowglue Grey Skies and Light Fading, a new Bella/Edward one-shot
~  Teasers for these stories are now being posted. click on the "Compilation Teasers" button in the upper right of this page.

~ fallanydeeper is offering a custom banner or desktop wallpaper for each donation of $25 or more. Click here to view her extensive gallery of work.

~ Ten top-flight betas are offering ten lucky people their beta service for a one-shot, one each per donation of $50 or more.
•  afmtoo — Project Team Beta beta, beta for Miss Betty Smith's Full Disclosure, luvrofink's Let Me Drive. Speciality is Britishness, "but I can turn my hand to most."

•  BellaFlan claimed

•  HollettLA — beta for Project Team Beta, Sparkly Red Pen, Emergency Beta Service, and The Twilight Awards as well as multiple authors/stories. For the full list, click here.

•  katmom claimed

•  lulabelle98 — senior beta for Sparkly Red Pen, beta for DreamOfTheEndless' Beautiful Sorrow, Antevorte's Fragments, and TheEdwardians All That Remains

•  Marly580 — Project Team Beta beta, Emergency Beta Service moderator and beta, beta for Raum's De Immortalitate, and ginger1983ff's Life As I Know It

•  Perry Maxwell — beta for BellaFlan's In the Shadow of Your Heart, Gingerandgreen's Plight Thee My Troth, Purelyamuse's Masen Days, and Mac214's original fiction

•  SaritaDreaming — Twilighted validation beta, Sparkly Red Pen beta, beta for Aleeab4u's Prey for the Wicked

•  Songster — Fictionista Workshop admin, beta for Emmanuelle Nathan's This Buried Life, Spring Hale's Never Bargained for You, BettiGefecht, and ChocolateLover82. Specialist helping foreign writers with English and American idiomatic speech.

•  SqueakyZorro — Project Team Beta moderator and beta, beta for bloodonmylips's Feral Blood, Michelle M. Marie & Paige Parkker's Little Fish, Big Fish, TwiLoverSue's Once Bitten

•  SueBee0619 — beta for FictionFreak95's Vines and Meet the Masens, VirginiaMay's Arms, OneBraveLamb's Set Fire to the Rain, and SweetPoeticJustice's Gonorrhea Always Ends With A HEA

•  wmr1601 — Sparkly Red Pen beta, beta for SaritaDreaming and lilmssomething

If you are interested in a custom banner by fallanydeeper, or one of the betas above, please note that in the comment section on the paypal donation page when making your donation, Thank you.

PayPal sends me a receipt for each and every donation, so there is no need to send a copy of it to me or anyone else unless you do not receive a thank you e-card from Leo and I emailed to the address connected to your PayPal account within one week of your donation.

I've been deeply touched by the outpouring of support and generosity of our incredible community of women and men. Our thanks to each and every one of you!
SO Close!

As you can see on the Wish & Gift Lists post, we are almost to our goal. So, will I stop taking donations? Actually, no. I will be accepting donations until the compilation comes out. Why? Well, for a couple of reasons.

I mentioned in my very first post about this, extra money means I will be able to travel to Oregon to meet Leo in January, during his advance training. Leslie really wants me to come up and meet him before team training. I want to go and meet him, too — like all of you, I've only seen pictures and videos, and I can't wait to sink my fingers into that glorious coat and scratch behind those soft, soft ears.

In addition, when I researched and created the budget posted here, there were many miscellaneous expenses I left off because I was afraid to ask for too much, to ask for what I really needed. (Like ground transportation to and from the airport from my home, no small expense as I live so far away from any nearby airport.)

I never in even my wildest dreams ever thought I could raise $2,000, much less $5,600, so I set my goal for only the very barest minimum expenses I had to have, figuring I'd have to eat oatmeal and go without everything for several months to cover the rest.

Leslie, Why the Clicker?

Recently, Elletee asked why the clicker is used in training Leo, and I didn't know, though I know it's a popular training method for dogs. So, I emailed Leslie asking her "Why the clicker?" and this is her answer: 
I use the clicker to "Mark" the behavior from the dog that I like.  Because the clicker is exactly the same sound every time, the dog learns more quickly than if I used my voice and said "Good" for instance, when I see the desired behavior.  Our voices reflect so much: how we're feeling, how happy or sad we are, if we're patient or frustrated. NONE of which is relevant to Leo's efforts! The clicker communicates one simple message "You are doing the right thing!" and it doesn't include any of the multitude of overtones and undertones we convey with our voices.

Once the click sound is made I then move my hand to get the treat for Leo.  During the time that I'm reaching for and feeding him the treat, I also use my voice to convey my delight to Leo and my appreciation for his efforts! This verbal input becomes a bridge to the verbal praise he'll receive whenever he volunteers a desired behavior — and the clicker is no longer used.

The clicker is a training device only  and is phased out once Leo is good at the skill and repeats it easily. Then the skill is labeled verbally, and next, and the label is used AFTER Leo offers the behavior (in this way he can not fail!) and in the final step, the label "cue" is used to request the behavior and the reward is offered AFTER the behavior is elicited with the verbal cue. :)
You Are My People

This has been a busy and exhausting week for me with school and school assignments, fic and blog chores, and I'm afraid I've fallen behind in everything. I will catch up, but it will take me a few more days to do so, and I appreciate your patience in the meantime.

There's little specific news of Leo right now. He's fully healed from his neutering surgery, and enjoying the late summer/early fall days. Leslie has her hands full at the moment, having just finished a team training, with a litter of puppies due any moment now, and with another team training scheduled for mid-October.

So, this week's post is about the realization I came to talking with my bestie on the phone recently. You are my people, y'all are my peeps and I fit here! I FINALLY fit somewhere, squeeeeee!

What If You Don't Raise the Money?

Hi. *shy waves*

I hope you've checked out the Wish & Gift List post to see the updated graph of funds raised, and all the additions to betas available and authors writing for the compilation. Tkegl is now only available until the end of the month, so if you want one of her stellar banners, get your donation in by September 30th! Special shout out to @sexilexicullen for spreading the word far and wide, especially on Facebook, and for making a Twibbon you can add to your twitter avi by clicking here. As the word spreads, donations poured in, so if you visit a forum, a blog or some other place, please consider sharing this campaign with others. Thank you!

Now, onto a couple of related things.

I was asked recently by two different friends the dreaded questions: "What if you don't raise the money? What happens to Leo?"

Puppy Raisers Needed!

A little business first – current donation total is $1856, woo hoooo! And there are now twelve authors signed on for the compilation,  four top-flight betas offering one-shot services, and Tkegl still has some banners available, too! By next Thursday, there will be a new section under Leo's World that will include our detailed wish list needs, a graph showing dollars raised/still needed, and all the premiums available to you when you donate! I'm such a nerd, I'm actually excited about getting all that up for you, squee!

Oh, and I'm learning about all this bloggy stuff – I now have some affiliations! (and hope to have more soon!) Plus, there are avi's/blog buttons over there in the left hand column in case you want to show off your support on Twitter, Facebook, or wherever :-D

Now, on to the juicy stuff. In a recent conversation, a friend asked about how she might get involved in supporting service dog partnership in a different way – as a puppy raiser. What is a puppy raiser you ask? It's an individual (or couple, or family) that takes on the task of raising a puppy that will one day (hopefully) become a dog partner for someone like me.

All's Quiet in Leo's World

Hello again!

Happy Thursday. I hope all who read this are warm, safe, dry, and well fed. Hurricane Irene has been quite a disruption in so many lives :-(

So, this has been a quiet week in Leo’s world. He was neutered yesterday and came through with flying colors. He'll be kept crated to restrict his activity level for the next several days while he heals. According to Leslie (our trainer), he was acting like the horny teenaged boy he is — interested in anything on four legs, lol. He should settle into training more now and be able to relax and focus better without all the hormonally driven distraction.

Donations were off this week as well, which didn’t surprise me at all. To date, we’ve raised $1,685, which is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. Truly, I’m so very, very grateful for every dollar! There are now five authors writing for this cause — Anais Mark, Bella Flan, eddibell69, just duckie, and Sebastien Robichaud. The compilation will go to all donors. Tkegl still has banners available for a donation of $25 a piece, and Bella Flan is offering her stellar beta services for a one-shot to the next donor of $50 to claim her. Jeez, I feel like a public radio or tv station during pledge time! Ha ha ha ha ha! :-D

The Fandom: A Dog's Best Friend


So. . . I’ve had a few requests for an update and things so far have been quite astonishing. The generosity of the Twilight fandom is legendary. Any time a benefit is organized, the response is tremendous and this personal appeal is no exception.

As of this writing, we’ve raised $1,550 and it hasn’t even been a full week yet! We can’t stop now – there’s still $3,450 to go.

Leo is coming along nicely already. Leslie (the trainer) is very pleased. He will be neutered next week. I’ve now created a new section of my blog entitled “Leo’s World” where you can find pictures, videos, and all the blog posts about us – the button is in the upper right of this page. FYI, I intend to make weekly posts on Thursdays moving forward.

Mal & Leo Need Your Help for Their HEA!


Um. . . so, this is awkward for me. Just want to put that out there first.

Some of you know, but most of you don’t, that I’ve been working to overcome injuries from a workplace accident that left me disabled over 6 years ago. I fell down the stairs (not something I recommend) and the trauma of falling triggered CRPS (click here for info) and a mild TBI (click here for info) both of which trigger depression, so I have physical, emotional, and neurological disabilities. I’m in graduate school learning a new profession with the hope of remaining self-sufficient. 

When I learned the diagnosis of my disabling condition and that it would be permanent, I set about finding a service dog for myself, being inspired by a classmate at that time. Peter was my faithful working partner for nearly 3 years before he was unexpectedly removed from service by the organization that placed him (and retained legal ownership). I was completely devastated, and began trying to obtain his successor immediately. It’s been well over a year now that I’ve been on several waiting lists.

Fics I Love

These are fics I love and would rec without hesitation. Note: many of my most favorite fics are no longer publicly available. I've made the choice not to include them here because I've been so disappointed to hear wonderful things about a particular story only to find it's no longer around.
~ Mal


Works in Progress

One Shots

Quite Some Time to Come

A/N: This is my entry for the Pre-Twilight Round of The Canon Tour. Many thanks to Melolabel, SerendipitousMC, and SqueakyZorro who pinch hit and beta'd this for me. As usual, Stephenie owns Twilight, I just love her vamps ;-)

Please stop by The Canon Tour's profile to read the entries for subsequent rounds (including mine!)

I recently won an Emerging Swan Award for My Brother's Wife and I want to thank you for nominating and voting for me. See the pretty banner here. It's my first ever award of this kind, and I'm still gobsmacked! Thanks!

Carlisle was adrift with no shore in sight. The ocean of eternity stretched out before him as far as his eye could see. The world surrounding him was crude, rough, illiterate, and uneducated. Everyone he’d known as a human had died decades ago. It wasn’t safe to mingle with humans, and others of his kind he found barbaric and repulsive. He was as alone as a man can be and still be alive.

It was a loneliness that ripped at his heart and tore at his soul, slowing destroying him with wails of lament.

I have to find something. . . there must be more to life than this barren existence! Please Father, guide me. Reveal yourself to me in some way! I need companionship, a purpose. A way to spend this existence and use my knowledge in service to others. . . .

He continued to pray fervently for help and guidance, as he was at his wit’s end – not wanting to go on as he had but knowing death at his own hand was an impossibility.

This was not the first time he’d prayed such and would not be the last. His faith had been sorely tested as the decades had passed with no response, and this was his most impassioned prayer yet. He was completely desperate and it echoed in his heart, his mind, his soul as never before.

As dawn began to lighten the sky outside the chapel, he rose in silence and fled through the darkness of the surrounding woods to the small, damp cave he’d called home for nearly thirty years, to wait out the sun that would mark him for what he was – vampire.

— ✦✧✦ —

When the light of day faded from the sky, Carlisle rose and headed toward the nearest village, deciding that even some closeness to others was better than another night alone. While he had recently tried studying at a university some distance away at night, before long, several people had become suspicious of him and he’d had to flee. He’d managed to slip away with a small handful of books, but they’d long since been committed to memory.

He was quite some distance from his abode, and the moon was high as he slipped into the outskirts of the small market town. He inhaled the odors of unwashed bodies, excrement, rotting produce, and animals that marked human habitation, while his ears heard the snorts and snores of deep sleep.

On his third breath, Carlisle caught a hint of something in the air and froze.

Another. Another was near.

This was dangerous and he immediately retreated to a nearby treetop, knowing they would scent him, too, but hoping they’d pass through and leave him be.

Before long, he heard voices in the distance – too low for human hearing, but as clear as if they stood at his side. They were upwind, moving quickly, and hadn’t yet caught his scent in the air.

“I want to make this quick. I don’t like being away from Alec,” a high-pitched girl’s voice whined.

“And I don’t want to go back to face Aro without completing the task. Do you?” A deep male voice answered.

“No, of course not. I just don’t want to linger, Felix.”

“I have no more desire to remain outside the castle walls than you do, Jane.” A third voice piped up.

“Ah, yes, Heidi waits for you, doesn’t she?” Jane’s voice was now cutting and cruel.

Carlisle became completely immobile. He was clearly outnumbered. At least three vampires traveled together, the largest group he’d encountered outside the city walls of London, his home from a lifetime ago.

Jane hissed just then. “Someone is here! I thought you said this way was clear, Demetri!”

“It must be someone I’ve not met. The tenor of this mind is unknown to me. . . .”

“Wait here, I’ll flush them out.”

A silence followed as Carlisle dared not even breathe. Suddenly, the tree he was hiding in began to shake violently. Carlisle looked down and saw the largest vampire he’d ever seen grasping the trunk as if it were a toy.

“Stop, please. I’m a man of peace.”

The shaking stopped, but the giant did not remove his hands from the tree. “What is your business here?”

“I. . . I live nearby. . . .”

“You lie. No one lives anywhere for long and this territory is not claimed.”

“I’ve. . . I’ve been here for nearly thirty years.” he stuttered. “A few others have wandered this way, yes. I have avoided them. I’m sorry, I do not understand – what is it you mean by ‘claimed?’”

“Thirty years is but a grain of salt in time. It is nothing. To remain, you must make your claim with the rulers of our kind.”

“Rulers? But where? Whom? I have never heard of such a thing!”

“Blasphemous heretic! The Volturi are our ruling leaders.” Felix’s eyes narrowed. “Who is your maker? I demand to be presented to him at once!”

“I do not know my maker. I woke to this life alone and have been alone since that day. I have been lucky enough to avoid others of our kind until this very moment. They are barbarous. . . .”

“You speak as a man of letters. Come down immediately, or I shall bring you down myself.”

“There is no need for violence, friend. I will climb down in peace, but I ask that from you as well. I mean no harm.”

“Request granted.”

Carlisle jumped down and landed softly a defensibly safe distance away.

“I am Carlisle of Wight, Clan of Cullen.” He remained wary and tense, prepared for a fight, but he did not show this outwardly lest he provoke the other that was nearly twice his size.

“I am Felix of Brescia. Member of the Guard, 3rd Rank. What is your age?”

“I am not sure. In this life? Perhaps 40 years.”

“You are still young then. I am over 500 years in this life. Do not test or tempt me if you value your life.” He turned his head and spoke over his shoulder. “Jane, Demetri, it is safe now. Reveal yourselves.”

Two shrouded figures appeared at his side. A tiny hooded form that barely reached Felix’s waist stood to his left, and a taller, slimmer young man with his hood thrown back took the place on the giant’s right. All three moved in unison closer to Carlisle.

“Your eyes are yellow. Explain this.”

“I. . . what? My eyes are blue.” Carlisle looked closer at the large man’s face. “Your eyes are red. How has this come to be?”

“We are vampire, as are you. Our eyes are normal. Yours are not. No vampire has blue eyes. Have you not looked at your reflection in a looking glass or still waters?”

“No. Vanity is abhorrent to me, and I do not wish to see what I have become.”

The small form shifted restlessly. “Felix, be done with your toy. I wish to move on.”

“Will you join us and return to Volterra when our task is complete, or are you ready to meet the true death?”

“You give me poor choices with little knowledge. What and where is Volterra?”

“Volterra is our homeland and castle. It is a long distance east. I think my King would be most interested to meet you. He will know the reason for your strange eyes; he is a learned man.” Both men were looking at him as if he were a newly discovered insect under a magnifying glass.

“Has he books and letters?”

“Yes, more than most universities; an extensive art collection, as well.”

“Then yes, I would be most honored to journey with you.”

“Let us go, then,” the high female voice commanded, and they set off together at once.

— ✦✧✦ —

Before dawn, they reached a large town to the north, surrounding a castle. Skirting the town itself, their destination was a farm. The smell of human blood was thick in the air, but the Volturi members didn’t hesitate or slow in their approach.

At the edge of the farmyard, they halted.

“Carlisle, remain here.” Felix directed with a warning look.

“Demetri?” Jane asked.

“He is inside.” The three moved closer to the hovel.


The hulking vampire flung the farmhouse door open, ripping it from its hinges, disappeared and reappeared dragging something behind him before Carlisle had blinked once. Felix dropped a filthy, bedraggled creature clutching a baby to his lips at Jane’s feet.

“Who is your maker?”

The vampire didn’t stop drinking to answer. After only a few seconds of silence, he flung the baby from his grip and began shrieking in agony. As quickly as it began, it stopped.

“Speak, or there’ll be more.”

“John Lacy.”

“Where is he? Did he not teach you our ways?”

“He. . . I. . . I killed him within a fortnight.”

“Are there others?”

“No. I killed them all. They wanted what was mine.” He began screaming and writhing again as Jane stepped back.

“Felix, be done with it. Demetri, clean up this mess.” Jane returned to Carlisle’s side and smiled angelically at him. 

Felix reached down and lifted the wretch by the front of his neck, choking off his screams. While holding him aloft as he thrashed, Felix began tearing him apart joint by joint starting with his fingers. Each piece he tossed casually through the open doorway.

Demetri collected the various remains of an entire human family, pitching them haphazardly through the door as well.

Carlisle stood frozen in utter horror as he watched the two guardsmen indifferently complete their tasks. He abhorred violence of any kind, and it was clear that Jane and Felix enjoyed the terror and pain they inflicted on their victims. Carlisle hid his distaste carefully, lest he encounter the same fate.

Felix added several armloads of hay as Demetri set the house afire. An odd purple smoke and sweet smell rose into the air along with the odor of burning human flesh. As soon as the pyre was reduced to smoldering ash, the four began the return trip to Volterra as quickly as their feet would carry them.

There was no conversation, no witty banter. Only a word or two passed amongst them the entire journey. Before long, Carlisle realized that while they served together in this guard, they were not true friends, with few if any warm feelings between them.

Perhaps it is not possible for there to be true friendship or love between our kind. Carlisle shook his head to clear it of such unhappy thoughts and focused instead on his traveling companions.

The men clearly deferred to Jane on most matters as she was wont to use her gift at the drop of a hat to get her way. Jane and Demetri were subtly cowed by Felix’s great size, strength, and speed, knowing he could kill them in less than the blink of an eye. Jane and Felix knew there was no place on Earth where Demetri could not find them. They were banded together by the unconscious fear of the power of each other and their unified commitment in service to the Volturi and all that that entailed.

Carlisle was utterly fascinated by their interactions and attitudes towards each other. He was looking forward to the reportedly refined company of others of his kind immensely, as well as the access to books and knowledge contained within the castle walls. But he shuddered to think of the violence he’d seen and hoped it was an anomaly.

Before he expected, there was a collective sigh as a walled city appeared before them through the trees, perched high upon a hilltop.

“Home.” Jane breathed as she began running faster, still keeping to the shadows.

“Volterra?” Carlisle asked.

“Yes, the stronghold of our kind,” Demetri answered.

The walls were burnished yellow in the fading daylight, the land around the citadel green and lush. The city gates were open and a flood of human activity flowed in and out.

“Humans live here?”

“Yes, of course. We must hide our existence at all cost. Humans provide a facade as well as a meal,” Felix said.

“The Volturi have carefully cultivated the humans that reside here to be docile and comfortable with our presence. Our feedstock is culled from the surrounding lands,” Jane added.

“We wish to keep the population stable as well as healthy and strong. Our people are grateful as there is no sickness or weakness in Volterra. We were untouched by the Black Death.” Demetri preened slightly as he spoke.

“Impressive.” Carlisle murmured, not knowing what else to say as they reached a side entrance into the city.

Here, the shadows were already deep, and they slipped undetected through the opening. The cobbled streets were narrow and empty of life, everyone apparently at the market in the city square.

Demetri led them through the winding streets to a latticed iron gate that was shut and locked tightly. Producing a key, he ushered them through the opening quickly before securing it behind them.

“I will go ahead and gather everyone in the receiving hall.” Jane sped away before anyone could answer her.

His cloak fluttering behind him as he darted up a stone stairway in the opposite direction, Demetri departed without a word.

Felix sighed. “This way.” He led Carlisle through yet another ancient stone passageway directly in front of them. Felix hunched over and wound his way swiftly through the low, arched tunnel. Their path was lit by just a few flaming sconces, and a pervasive dampness, which reeked of mold and mildew, filled Carlisle’s senses.

They emerged from the crypt-like corridor into a well-lit hallway lined with beautiful tapestries and large paintings. The air here was drier, with little odor of dampness but a strong odor of blood.

Turning right, Felix stepped up to a monumental pair of doors that dwarfed even his giant size.

“The time has come. Are you ready?”

Carlisle could only nod before standing to his full height and straightening his shoulders.

The huge doors swung open silently at Felix’s touch, and the grand receiving room came into view.

The walls were rounded, and it was clear this was one of the castle turrets. The archers’ slits high up on the walls allowed the sun’s last rays to penetrate the approaching darkness. Many torches around the walls and a chandelier overhead provided ample illumination.

Directly in front of them was a raised dais with three ornately carved thrones upon it; only the center one was occupied. A handful of faceless guards stood evenly spaced around the room.

Felix preceded Carlisle into the room, stopping several feet away from the edge of the rostrum and bowing his head before speaking.

“It is done, m’lord.”

“Excellent, Felix. Jane has informed me that you did an exemplary job. Thank you for your service.”

At the mention of her name, Jane appeared, accompanied by a boy only slightly larger than she. They assumed a protective stance to the right and behind the enthroned vampire.

“But who have we here?” The vampire’s dark crimson eyes focused on Carlisle with intense curiosity.

“My Lord, King Aro Aurillac, please allow me to present to you Carlisle of Wight, clan of Cullen.” Felix extended his arm with a flourish, and Carlisle bowed formally.

“Carlisle of Wight, what brings you to my castle?”

“I have heard that you have a vast library of books and art. I should like to study here if it please your Majesty.”

“Come closer, boy. Jane tells me you are but forty years in this life. Is that correct?”

“Yes, m’lord.”

“And that you’ve had no contact with others of our kind and know not your maker.”

“That is true, your Majesty.” Carlisle stepped up to the edge of the platform and finally braved making eye contact with the man before him.

“I see now what Jane told me about your unusual eyes. . . .” Aro trailed off as he reached out his hand and caressed Carlisle’s cheek. He paused his movement briefly as his eyes bored into Carlisle’s with an unsettling, piercing gaze.

“Ah, a simple answer, one that denies your true nature.” Aro murmured to Carlisle. Looking up, he spoke to the room at large, “This man feeds from animals only. That is why his eyes are of golden hue. He carries no gift and is not a threat to our kind.”

Turning to Felix he said, “Thank you for bringing Carlisle to us. He is a most intriguing specimen, and I look forward to a long and fruitful friendship.” His lips curled into his version of a smile.

“Carlisle, you are welcome to stay here and study as long as you wish. I’m sorry, I have no place for you in my guard as you have no skill useful to me, so I cannot offer you the full benefits of membership. You and I will have frequent conversations to encourage your studies and entertain my mind. Our only rule here is there will be no feeding within the walls of the city outside of this room. Do you agree?”

“Yes, your Majesty. I am most grateful for your hospitality.” Carlisle bowed his head once more.

Aro made a dismissive gesture as if this were nothing. “Helena?”

The most beautiful woman Carlisle had ever seen appeared from the same entranceway Jane had used earlier.

“Yes, sire?”

Her voice is like that of a songbird, such an enchanting sound.

“Please see that our guest is settled in. I expect you to make him feel welcome and tend to his every need.” With the tone of his voice, Aro left no doubt as to the meaning of his words.

“As you wish, sire.” She bowed deeply to the ancient one, and as her eyes shifted to Carlisle’s, a seductive smile gently graced her lips.

Hmmm. There are clearly many pleasures of mind and body in this palace. I think I’ll stay for quite some time to come. . . .

Copyright © 2010 mostly a lurker