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Altered Reality

Summary:
Edward Masen has led a charmed life. As the son of a prominent Chicago attorney he has grown up in the highest circles of society. The Spanish Influenza of 1918 cared nothing for social standing, however, and treated everyone equally. Now Edward must adjust to a world he never imagined after becoming a victim of the epidemic. This is the story of Edward's first six months as a vampire, as told by Edward himself. This story is 100% in canon. Come get reacquainted with Edward and Carlisle. small banner


Notes:
Altered Reality is a companion to my first fan-fic, New Beginnings, which is available on Ramblings and Thoughts. I would have never had the courage to tackle this story if Alphie had not challenged me to write it when she reviewed NB.


6. Chapter 5 ~ First Lessons ~

Rating 0/5   Word Count 6077   Review this Chapter

Carlisle’s thoughts had rung out clearly from the chaos of the other voices much like a soloist’s voice soars above the choir’s. He was hopeful that he had been successful as he returned from his foray into my world. Or maybe it was no longer my world, but a distant fantasy.

With skill and care, Carlisle had falsified my medical records and returned them to the hospital. They now indicated that I had recovered from the influenza but, because my parents were deceased, I had been released to the care of Dr. Carlisle Cullen until a relative could come for me.

From the hospital, Carlisle had gone to my home. First, to ascertain if anyone else lived there, but also, to gather information. Mama had told him about her older brother in St. Louis. He now planned to impersonate Uncle Daniel to legitimize his caring for me. All he had needed was my uncle’s full name and address; easily found in Mama’s address file. Carlisle had gotten lucky and found some letters from Uncle Daniel as well that indicated some of his character and professional pursuits. This would enable him to make the impersonation more credible. Apparently, this kind of deception was commonly used in the vampire community, much to my disdain. Little did I know how many times I would be assuming a new identity in the future.

The house appeared to be secure and empty. A letter in the mail indicated that our housekeeper had regretfully resigned her post. Like so many others, she had been called away to care for an ill relative and did not know when she would be able to return.

A concerned neighbor had stopped Carlisle as he was leaving the house. Taking advantage of the neighbor’s curiosity, he had assumed Daniel’s identity. After expressing condolences at the news of Elizabeth’s passing, Mrs. Gates had been pleased that Edward Jr. had such an attentive and compassionate uncle to care for him as he recovered from his illness. And thus the ruse began.

Mr. Rutherford’s office had been the next stop. Assuming Uncle Daniel’s identity for the second time, Carlisle explained that Mama had summoned him two weeks ago for help with some personal concerns. When he had arrived from St. Louis, he’d learned that Elizabeth was deceased, and that I was recovering in the care of a Dr. Cullen until other arrangements could be made. He was anxious to return to St. Louis but was willing to stay with me here in Chicago until I was recovered enough to relocate.

“Daniel” was immensely grateful to Mr. Rutherford for his help in beginning the appropriate paperwork to settle the estate and arrange for my continued care until I was at the age of majority. He had sent his condolences to me along with a wish for a speedy recovery. Little did he know that recovery from the influenza was no longer what I required.

The last stop had been a farm just outside town. Carlisle had purchased a goat. The animal’s legs were bound securely as the terrified animal was loaded into the car. Carlisle felt bad that this was the best he could provide me with until he could take me hunting during the night.

I wondered what he expected me to do with a goat. Oh, and what kind of hunting were we going to do?

I had ascertained all of this information from Carlisle’s thoughts before he had even pulled up to the house. Now he was apprehensive as he carried the struggling animal into the kitchen and released its bindings. It had only taken Carlisle a moment to detect the smell of the dust, plaster and splintered wood from the devastation in the bathroom as he finished dealing with the animal.

“Edward?” Carlisle’s voice was quiet and fraught with tension. He paused briefly to assess the damage in the bathroom before continuing on to the bedroom.

I saw myself as Carlisle saw me in his thoughts, a statue seated on the bed.

Carlisle approached me tentatively. Newborn vampires were apparently known for being volatile.

That was the thought that set me free from my frozen state. Without thinking, a growl rumbled from my chest as I hurled myself at Carlisle. He was thrown into the desk, shattering it into splintered fragments upon impact. His hat rolled into the corner when I then threw him into the chair that had been at the desk. With the sound of a massive rockslide, I began pummeling him with every ounce of my being.

Blow upon blow rained down on Carlisle. No part of his body was spared from my unleashed fury. He never raised a hand in defense against me, though. He absorbed it all, as the voices of those in the neighborhood that filled my head seemed to cheer me on. I beat him for letting my parents die. I beat him for leaving me to flounder on my own through this most perplexing of days. I beat him for preventing my death.

The light in the room had dimmed by the time I was spent. The anger was still present, but its fuel had been absorbed by Carlisle’s passive response. If he had acted in self-defense, I saw now, I would have torn him apart.

I staggered backwards a few feet until the wall stopped me when my back pressed against it. As I took in the devastation that surrounded me, I did not breathe. Broken furniture littered the floor, paintings hung askew on the wall; some of them torn and a bookcase had fallen, spilling its contents in a river across the small room.

Slowly, cautiously, Carlisle rose to his feet. The tattered shreds of his coat hung loosely from his shoulders. His shirt had fared only slightly better.

“I shouldn’t have left you alone so soon. I’m sorry,” Carlisle’s voice rang with remorse. “How do I make this right?

I saw myself again in Carlisle’s mind, trembling and naked against the wall, my towel having been lost in the melee. All of the confusion I felt was obviously etched on my face.

Warily, Carlisle crossed the room to the bed, picked up the trousers that he had laid out for me earlier and silently offered them to me. However, his thoughts were not silent, but were filled with concern. He now understood that training and controlling a newborn was not a task for the feint of heart.

Taking the pants from him with an unthankful snarl, I turned around and pulled them on. They were loose, as I was of a somewhat smaller girth than Carlisle, but the suspenders secured them well enough.

“How’s your throat?” Carlisle queried as he removed his tattered coat and carefully draped it on the back of the chair that had been by the bed. Somehow, it had survived the attack. The iron bedstead had not fared so well. The frame was dented and twisted where I had slung Carlisle into it.

With this reminder, my throat flamed. “It hurts,” I murmured without much hope.

“Do you smell anything?” Carlisle paused. “Something alive?”

So, this was how my lessons were to begin. Surreptitiously, I sniffed the air. I didn’t want Carlisle to think that I was interested in anything he had to offer. I failed almost immediately.

The scent that wafted through the house was sweet. While I could not describe it as the best thing that I could imagine, it had a certain appeal to it that made my mouth water in spite of the flare that erupted in my throat with a renewed vengeance.

“Come with me, Edward.” Carlisle motioned for me to follow him as he headed down the hall.

I started to reach for the shirt Carlisle had laid out for me but he shook his head. “The shirt will only be ruined,” he thought before saying, “ You can put it on in a few minutes. We need to take care of your thirst first.”

I wondered what we would be doing that would ruin the shirt as I reluctantly followed Carlisle. He was being careful with his thoughts as we entered the kitchen. The goat, hooves clattering on the hardwood floor, flung itself into the most distant corner of the small room behind the table. He was desperate to put as much distance from us as he could possibly get. I could feel the boards vibrate alarmingly under my feet as it scrambled to get away.

“I’m afraid that goat is not the most appetizing of meals but it should tide you over until I can take you hunting later tonight,” Carlisle apologized.

“What am I supposed to do with a goat?” My voice was thick with indignation.

“Take a deep breath,” Carlisle instructed from behind me, “and let your instincts dictate what you do.”

Dubiously, I took a deep breath. The sweet aroma that had caught my attention in the bedroom was stronger here, more present. I wanted to drink it in, but I was confused. How could a goat possibly smell so good?

Carlisle’s hopes of my doing something on my own were fading as I turned to face him. “Did you give the goat a bath?” The sarcasm was profuse in my voice. “It smells fine, but there seems to be no point to this exercise in goat observations.”

Carlisle sighed and thought, “If this were a human, Edward’s instincts would have taken over back in the bedroom. He probably would not have needed a demonstration in how to feed.”

“What?” There was that strange term again: feed. I could feel my anger rising again.

I stared after Carlisle as he maneuvered around me and quickly caught the goat in the corner where it cowered, and then carried it to the middle of the room. It was unnerving how he had been able to subdue the animal so quickly. I thought he would have had more trouble catching it, but Carlisle moved considerably faster than the goat did.

Carlisle gazed at me cautiously. “Just watch and then do what you feel compelled to do.” In his thoughts he added, “I hope this doesn’t go badly.”

Before I could fashion my next question, Carlisle had secured the goat’s head and turned it sharply resulting in a cracking sound. The animal was now limp in his arms, dead. In one swift motion, he bit the neck, placed the goat on the floor at my feet and retreated to the farthest wall from me to observe my reaction. He had no intentions of getting between the goat and me.

To say that I was stunned does not begin to express my shock in that moment, but it was short lived. As I stared in disbelief at the goat’s body, a red crescent blossomed on the neck where Carlisle had bitten into the flesh. The aroma was overwhelming as I convulsed toward the body. All I saw was the beautiful red liquid bubbling forth from the wound. I would have discarded anything that was in my path in order to get to that marvelous elixir.

My lips pressed against the warm flesh as I drew the sweet nectar into my mouth without any further thought. The fire in my throat was finally put at ease for the first time as I swallowed. Unexpected strength coursed through my body. Power that had previously been unknown to me was now mine. I felt well . . . whole.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As the evening deepened into night, Carlisle became increasingly anxious to take me hunting for something that would be more satisfying than a single goat. He did not want to take me out until well after dark, however, for fear of encountering anyone. He was concerned that I would become uncontrollable if I so much as caught the scent of a human.

Humans. Wasn’t I still one of them? I wanted to be. My memories may not have been intact, but I thought that I could still identify with them. Carlisle seemed to think that that would all change the moment I caught someone’s scent.

The way a person smelled had never been of particular importance to me before. I saw no reason for this to have changed dramatically. My sense of smell did seem to have been enhanced, but that shouldn’t have made humans more appealing. I did not think I had a desire to drink human blood. It wasn’t until later that night when I took my reaction to the smell of the goat’s blood into consideration, that I realized there might be more, much more desire there than I was willing to admit to. My first indication should have been when Carlisle took the carcass outside.

When the goat’s body was lifted away, a small puddle of blood was revealed. It was no bigger around than the lid from a jar of preserves, but I wanted it - badly.

As soon as Carlisle was out of the door I knelt by it. I ran my fingers through the thickening red liquid and licked them clean. I couldn’t help myself, despite the fact that this behavior was unseemly.

What could I possibly have been thinking? I was Edward Masen, son of Edward and Elizabeth Masen. I had a vague notion that my family held some prominence in Chicago society. There was no way on this good earth that what I was doing would be acceptable - and yet, here I was, running my fingers through a congealing circle of blood, hungrily licking it from my fingers as if my life depended upon its nourishment.

From outside, Carlisle’s thoughts told me that he had covered the goat with a tarp. We would dispose of it later when we went out. My focus returned to the few remaining drops of blood on the floor. I was startled when Carlisle reentered the kitchen. Snarling instinctively, I hovered over the sacred spot.

The aroma of the remaining few drops of blood was intoxicating. The snarls that emanated from my mouth were nothing short of combative. “Mine! It’s mine!” My words were the embodiment of possession.

Carlisle took a slow step backward. “It’s yours, Edward. Go ahead and finish.” His voice was quiet and reassuring. There was no judgment in his thoughts.

The image I saw of myself in his thoughts gave me reason to pause. I looked like a savage animal. I skidded back on my haunches in humiliation. “What am I doing? This is not how I was brought up to behave,” I panted.

“Go ahead and finish, Edward. The scent of the blood will not make this any easier for either of us and I doubt that you would allow me to clean the floor in spite of yourself.” Carlisle gave me a consoling look. “You’re a newborn vampire and the feeding instinct is very strong. It will take time to learn how to control.”

I wanted to ignore the last smudge of red on the floor. I wanted to be able to wash it away. But I could not. I had to taste the last delicate drops.

Keeping a wary eye on Carlisle, I advanced on the beckoning blush of color on the floor. I knew it was irrational, but I felt sure that he would try to take it from me.

Taking measured steps, Carlisle moved to the table, pulled out a chair and took a seat. With the patience of a man with all the time in the world, he watched me move back to what was left of the blood and savored the last of its essence. He sighed when I had finished the remaining droplets. “You may want to clean up. There’s a washcloth in the second drawer down to the right of the sink,” Carlisle murmured.

Raising my hand to my chin, I realized it was sticky with blood. Blood had dripped down to my chest as well. No wonder Carlisle had told me not to bother with a shirt. I reached into the drawer, selected a cloth and moistened it under the faucet.

As I washed my face, Carlisle’s thoughts caught my attention. “It never occurred to me that training a newborn would be this challenging.”

I turned and glared at Carlisle, the cloth clenched in my fist. “I never asked you to ‘train’ me.” The feeling of humiliation from my behavior over the spilt blood only served to compound my defensiveness. I very nearly attacked Carlisle again, but I did not want to humiliate myself more than I already had.

Carlisle was not exactly remorseful for what he had done to me, but he did regret that I was struggling with the reality of my change. “You didn’t ask for any of this.” He shrugged. “How could you? You didn’t even know that vampires were more than mythical creatures. I would not have changed you if your mother had not asked me to save you.”

“Oh, I get it. This is all my mother’s fault!” I hissed in a violent response to his reference to Mama.

“No, no, no. The responsibility is all mine. She asked that I save you; the method was my choice.” Carlisle paused thoughtfully. “Perhaps letting you die could have been a way to save you.” He finished his thought silently. “But I know that was not what she meant.

I huffed at his last statement.

“I was being selfish as well.” Carlisle’s voice was little more than a whisper now. “I saw how you genuinely cared for the infirmed the few times you came in with your mother to volunteer. You were kind and insightful toward the patients in a way that was unique. You seemed to understand their needs even when they could not articulate them.” Carlisle blew out a long breath before continuing. “I’ve been alone for a long time, Edward. I wanted . . . I wanted someone I could confide in, I wanted a friend. I didn’t realize you would need a ‘father.’ I didn’t think this through completely. I acted impulsively”

The damp cloth was rough against my skin as I continued to wash-up while I considered what Carlisle was telling me. How was I supposed to argue with his confession? It was clear from what Carlisle said and thought that he had not expected me to be hurting the way I was. He wanted to help me make this awful transition into my new life as easy as possible. I also understood that as lonely as he had become, he did not consider the life of a vampire to be that reprehensible.

“Edward, I know another vampire who can teach you if you don’t want to stay with me.”

Leaning back against the counter, I considered Carlisle. He was not what I had imagined vampires to be. True, his skin was pale, but he seemed to have no desire to drink human blood. The very idea was loathsome to him. His eyes were the same amber color as butterscotch, not the brilliant scarlet I had seen in my own reflection, or even those eyes that had occupied my nightmares. And, he was a physician! That certainly did not fit with my image of a vampire.

“Are all vampires like you? You don’t exactly fit the usual description of one. I always thought that vampires were supposed to drink human blood, not goat’s. Your eyes aren’t red and we don’t have fangs!”

Pulling a chair out from the table, Carlisle motioned for me to join him.

I shook my head, “I’d rather stay over here, thank you.” The bitter sarcasm was thick in my voice.

Carlisle nodded and then rubbed his hands together thoughtfully as he considered how to address my queries.

“No, no fangs, just very sharp teeth.” Carlisle chuckled without humor.

Surreptitiously, I ran my tongue over my teeth. They were indeed sharp, and yet my tongue was not cut.

“To say that I am unique among vampires would be an understatement,” Carlisle continued. “There are no other vampires that I know of that live the way I do. Vampires do subsist on human blood, and we are usually deadly to our prey. Very, very few people are changed. It’s too difficult to stop feeding in time to allow the change to occur.”

“But you don’t, as you put it, feed on humans.”

“No, I don’t,” Carlisle replied. His eyes met mine in earnest. “I could never bring myself to feed from humans. I feed from animals. Predators are the most satisfying. The first time I ever tasted human blood was the night I changed you,” he said in confession.

Not being sure as to how I should respond to this, I waited for him to continue.

Carlisle sighed as he gazed out the window in thought. “There is so much to teach you and no shortage of time. Hmm.” Carlisle paused as he deliberated on how to best continue. It was hard to ignore his thoughts, but I tried to.

“Your eyes are red because you are a new vampire,” Carlisle continued. “All of the blood that was in your body before you were changed is still there, and it will strengthen you for a time. It is your human blood that is giving your eyes their red hue. As long as you have human blood in your system, your eyes will be red. If you do not feed from humans, your eyes will probably lose their red cast, most likely in about a year. I can’t say for certain because no one else has gone without human blood besides me.”

“Will my eyes return to green if I don’t take human blood?” I couldn’t bear the memory of the red eyes staring back at me in the mirror.

“Not likely. You may resemble a human in form but that is as far as the similarities go. If a human were to touch you, you would feel as cold and hard as marble to them. I can’t say for certain what color your eyes would become if you were to abstain from human blood. Mine were originally blue. I expect yours would become a shade of amber similar to my own.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose as I tried to formulate my next question. Looking up I met Carlisle’s eyes. My expression in his thoughts reflected the deep confusion and resentment I was feeling. Carlisle was not judging me. He wanted me to understand my new reality.

“What would happen if a human were to walk into the kitchen right now?”

Carlisle paused to consider how best to answer. “Remember how you felt when you smelled the goat’s blood?”

I nodded and Carlisle continued. “You would desire it a hundred times more. You wouldn’t be able to stop yourself from consuming the human’s blood. Nothing could hold you back and you would feed.”

Protesting, I said, “But you claim not to have fed from humans.”

Without elaborating Carlisle simply replied that he had known about vampires before he was changed and that his convictions were very strong. My circumstances were different. I would be ruled by instinct, as other vampires are, if I were left to my own devices.

Unable to help myself, I snarled. “If I’m supposed to be feeding from humans why are you giving so much thought as to how to stop me? Why not let me live as other vampires do?”

Carlisle had been staring at me, but he now turned his eyes to the rosy smudge still faintly visible on the floor when confronted with my accusation. His voice was quiet as he spoke. “For now, you are my responsibility. I changed you. If you choose to feed from humans you are free to do so, but I will have to teach you how to conceal what you have done. If humans find out about the vampire populace because of your actions, there are those who will come and destroy both of us: you for revealing us and me for allowing you to do so.” Carlisle looked up and met my startled gaze.

“You would let me feed from humans,” I gasped.

Biting his lower lip, Carlisle nodded. “The choice is yours. I can only tell you why I have chosen to live as I do, nothing more. It is not within my power to compel you to follow my example. In fact, it would be easier for you to follow your instincts.”

Carlisle’s convictions were strong. I did not understand them, yet. He was not revealing his reason for living as he did to me. He really was going to give me the freedom to choose for myself: go with my instincts or follow an alternative way of life as he had done. I leaned my head back against the wall with a quiet thud. I felt the wall vibrate beneath my touch.

“You don’t have to decide now, Edward. There’s plenty of time for you to think this through.” The loneliness that had compelled Carlisle to change me flooded his thoughts. He was hurting because I was hurting. He wanted to do right by me. He saw my loss, my confusion and my anger for what they were. I wanted to stay mad but I just felt weary and drained. Maybe for tonight I could allow Carlisle to help me.

The chair scraped across the floor as Carlisle rose and cautiously took a couple of steps toward me. “I brought something back for you. It was all I could do to protect it when you lashed out at me. Will you allow me to get it for you?”

I nodded dumbly. Carlisle was not thinking about whatever it was that he had retrieved, but it was clear that he considered the object significant. I turned and followed Carlisle back down the hall.

Pausing at the bathroom door, Carlisle again assessed the damage I had caused. “It’s not that bad; just a fist-sized hole. We can fix it and the door in the morning,” he said as he continued back to the bedroom. He honestly did not want me to feel bad about what I had done. Carlisle felt that the responsibility was his for leaving me alone before I was ready.

Taking a step into the bathroom after Carlisle had passed, I could see that he was right; just one fist-sized hole in the wall was the totality of the significant damage. The mirror had suffered the greatest injury. Hundreds of fragments were scattered across the floor. If I had not broken it, there would have been only one pair of eyes looking into the room but now there was a pair for each splinter. I took a staggering step backward into the hall.

“Edward?” Carlisle turned around to see what was wrong.

“The eyes . . . I don’t want to be a monster,” I stammered.

Still approaching me with caution, Carlisle came back to me and put his hands on my shoulders, turning me to face him. “You will only be a monster if you choose to be. Drinking from a human does not necessarily make you a monster. It depends on your perspective. A lion is not a monster just because is feeds from a zebra, but the zebra would probably disagree.”

“How can I not be a monster? Vampires drink human blood.” I shook my head in despair. “You’re panic stricken that I will feed from a human and expose us!”

Dropping his hands back to his sides, Carlisle regarded me. “I won’t deny that I’m concerned. I don’t feed from humans by choice. You will instinctively crave human blood, but there is another way to live. I told you before; you can choose not to feed from humans. I will teach you as best I can, regardless of what your decision is. There is plenty of time for you to consider what direction you want to take.” With that, Carlisle turned and went into the bedroom. I followed like a forsaken puppy.

My shirt still lay on the bed where it had been abandoned when Carlisle took me into the kitchen to feed. I removed the suspenders from my shoulders and slipped my arms into the sleeves. I squeezed the first button too tightly and it snapped in two as I attempted to fasten the front. I failed with the next two buttons as well. Just how strong was I? Giving up in frustration, I tucked the tails into my trousers and replaced the suspenders, closing the open gap as best I could. I hoped Carlisle had not noticed.

Carlisle’s smile was encouraging. He had noticed. “Learning to control your new strength will take a little practice. It shouldn’t take you very long.”

Reaching for the remains of his coat, Carlisle pulled out a small, sable-colored volume from an inside pocket. He must have been guarding it while I pummeled him, or it would not have been in much better condition than his coat. The soft leather cover spoke of good quality. “I found this on the desk in your room. It’s your journal. I thought that since you are unable to remember very much, it might help you to understand who you are.”

I wondered if it was possible for me to be anything like the person I had been.

As Carlisle extended the book to me, I gingerly took it from his outstretched hand. Muttering between clenched teeth I accused, “I suppose you read it?”

“Only a portion of the first page, just enough to identify it.” His thoughts did not contradict what he was telling me. “This is your story. You never intended it for anyone but yourself and those you choose to share it with. Right now, I don’t think you would extend that privilege to me.”

Not knowing how to respond, I turned and made my way back down the hall and into the small parlor. The furnishings were simple. A green velvet settee faced a tile-fronted fireplace. Two simple mahogany chairs with needlepoint seats were positioned on either side of a small, round pedestal table at the far end of the room. Carlisle’s house was small and simple. It was all that a bachelor living a reclusive life would need.

I sank onto the settee and regarded the book in my hand. Just looking at it made me feel anchored to my life somehow. I knew nothing of its contents yet, but this thin volume, even in its incompleteness, represented my life; the epitome of all that I had lost.

The sound of sweeping and the chiming of glass meeting glass drifted into the room. Carlisle was cleaning up the wreckage in the bathroom. I did not feel the least bit guilty. It was his fault after all, that I had been compelled to break the mirror.

It seemed as if only a few minutes had passed when Carlisle came into the room, but the clock on the mantle indicated that it was close to 10:00 PM. He had been giving me some privacy. The passage of time seemed to mean very little. “You haven’t opened your journal,” he observed quietly.

Indeed, I was longing to open it. I already treasured this seemingly insignificant volume. “I’m afraid I’ll destroy it if I try to open it,” I mumbled through tight lips.

Carlisle left the room and returned momentarily with a volume in his hand and gave it to me. “You can practice handling a book with this.”

Gingerly, I turn the book over and looked at the title on the spine. “Wuthering Heights?” Misgiving was thick in my voice.

“It’s just a book, Edward. If it’s damaged it makes no difference to me,” he reassured me. “I’ve already read it.”

Not only had he read it, I knew from his thoughts that he had it memorized – after one reading. I wondered if that was another vampire trick.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I gingerly laid the book on my lap and opened the cover with my left hand. I felt as if I had to move in slow motion and use only one hand so as not to tear the book apart.

While I had been concentrating on just opening a silly book, Carlisle had carried one of the chairs over and placed it where he could sit in order to see from a better perspective. “That’s good, Edward. Very good.”

I felt like such an idiot. No one should be afraid to open a book. And then to cherish the praise of the person who had so radically altered your world when you did it successfully made the whole thing seem even more ludicrous. Yet, I did cherish Carlisle’s praise in that moment. My confidence in my own abilities had been shattered throughout the day. If I was careful, I could open a book!

Carlisle’s smile was warm and encouraging. “Try turning a page.”

Brushing my thumb up the bottom edge of the pages, I endeavored to turn the page when the top one lifted free from the rest. Delicately, I took it between my thumb and index finger and rotated it over toward the open cover. I froze as the sound of tearing paper echoed through the room. It seemed unnaturally loud.

“Keep going, Edward. The page only tore about an inch,” Carlisle encouraged. “Just go slow. Vampires naturally move much faster than humans.”

I looked up and met Carlisle’s eyes, the torn page still held immobile in my grasp. I had been concentrating so hard on what I was doing that I only now realized he had been coaching me through every move, and I had been responding. The wealth of knowledge that Carlisle conveyed to me in his last comments and thoughts were immense and I was able to absorb it all! I had the extraordinary sensation that my head could consume the whole of the world’s knowledge. There seemed to be room for everything.

“Keep going,” Carlisle prompted again. He was oblivious to the dearth of information he had just revealed to me. “Just practice turning a couple more pages. I’m sure you will be fine when it comes to handling books.”

Cautiously, I released the torn page and allowed it to fall back against the open cover. Slowing my movements even more, I was able to successfully turn the next few pages without incident. I breathed out a sigh of relief. I had never anticipated that the simple act of turning the page of a book could feel like a victory, but it was! I could do this! If I could do this I didn’t have to go around pulling doorknobs out of their doors. I didn’t have to break every button I encountered. I could feel myself smiling for the first time during this very long, very strange day.

“It’s late enough now that we can go hunting.” Carlisle’s comment cut into my concentration. “No one goes out at night right now because of the epidemic. Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of big game around Chicago, but we should be able to find some coyotes or badgers that will be a little more satisfying for you than a goat.”

Carlisle was wishing that we could hunt bear. Even deer would be better than what was available in the immediate area around Chicago, but for tonight, we would not be roaming far from home.

Home, where was home? When would I be able to return? “Carlisle, when can I go home?” I felt like a small child pleading for a piece of candy.

“Tomorrow night,” Carlisle promised. “Tomorrow morning we’ll repair the damage in the bathroom and the door, and then I need to tell my landlady that I’m moving out.” In his thoughts I saw the white–haired widow who owned the house. She was living with her son’s family a few blocks away. After her husband had passed away three years before, she could not bear to continue living in the house and had rented it to Carlisle.

I wasn’t sure I wanted Carlisle moving into my house, but under the circumstances, I did not see any alternatives. There was obviously more that I needed to learn about this altered world I had awoken to. For now, he was the only person I knew who could help me.