Feathers and Wax
Esme's weakness was always love. A brief study of her childhood. Written for the prompt 'Sun' at the LJ community twilight20. Carlisle/Esme.
1. Feathers and Wax
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“Zachary’s going to teach me how to climb a tree,” she chattered, gripping the edge of the table and pulling herself up onto her toes. “I want it to be a big tree. Mama, there’s an oak in his garden, he thinks I could climb that if I learned right. What do you think Mama, do you think I could?”
Her mother sighed. She was sitting at the table, her bound hair frazzled by heat, by sweat. She pressed her pale fingers to the table and shadows branched out from the tips. Her wedding ring looked to big for her little finger, as if her husband’s ostentatious pride had worn her bones down.
“If you like,” said her mother, which meant I don’t really care. But she let Esme sip her drink which was lovely and cold, and she twirled one strand of Esme’s hair between her fingers which showed she loved her after all. Esme gives a contented little sound and pressed her forehead against her mother’s arm.
“I love you,” said Esme. She’d have liked to tell her mother that one day she’d marry Zachary and teach their children to climb that big oak tree too (because she would, she knew it) but she thought mother wouldn’t like it so instead she stayed quiet.
“About the boy,” began her mother. But she didn’t end her sentence. She touched her finger to Esme’s hot, sunned forehead. Then she said: “You need to learn to love a little less.”
“Love what?” asked Esme, bewildered because there was so much in the world to love. The trees, Zachary’s gap-toothed grin, the smell of wood and varnish in church on Sundays, even the tingling feeling of her skin where it was just beginning to burn.
“The sun,” her mother said, sighing again. “Just the sun, my darling.”
When Esme is sixteen years old she falls out of the oak tree. It isn’t the first time she’s tried to climb it but it is the first time she’s tried while dressed in a whalebone corset and an ankle-length dress, in the rain. It was a mistake. Now, lying on a bed with the smell of blood in her nose, Esme is willing to admit that, however grudgingly.
Her head feels like it is stuffed with cotton wool and she already knows her father isn’t going to let her see Zachary again. And that isn’t fair - it isn’t as if there’s anything untoward going on. She doesn’t like him in that way. For her, love was something that vanished when she stopped believing in fairytales. (She was eleven, her mother tried to jump off the roof; a nervous disposition, her father called it, and no one ever spoke of it again.)
She props herself up onto her arm and looks at her leg – another mistake. The sight of it, still crooked and bent at a sickening ankle sets her vision reeling and her stomach rolling. Biting her lip she groans and falls back against the bed. She doesn’t even see the doctor come in, and she doesn’t really want to anyway. She doesn’t like doctors.
The doctor is standing in the shadows, talking to her father; and then he steps into the light and her breath catches and she wonders if she might not faint after all, just out of sheer shock. Because there in front of her is the most beautiful man she’s ever seen. The doctor smiles at her, and says her name.
She’ll remember this moment, in years to come, when she dies and lives and again. And she’ll remember her mother’s hand on her forehead too, and her words spoken in that weary voice: You need to learn to love a little less.
But right now she’s dazzled, blinded. And the doctor’s hand on her skin doesn’t feel cold at all but warm, burning. Like the sun.