*by Stephenie Meyer*
TWILIGHT - chapter 15 - THE CULLENS
I'd seen Dr. Cullen before, of couse, yet I couldn't help but be struck again by his youth, his outrageous perfection. At his side was Emse, I assumed, the only one of the family I'd never seen before. She had the same pale, beautiful features as the rest of them. Something about her heart-shaped face, her billows of soft, caramel-colored hair, reminded me of the ingenuesof the silent-movie era. She was small, slender, yet angular, more rounded than the others. They were both dressed casually, in light colors that matched the inside of the house. They smiled in welcome, but made mo move to approach us. Trying not to frighten me, I guessed.
"Carlisle, Esme," Edward's voice broke the short silence, "this is Bella."
"You're very welcome, Bella." Carlisle's step was measured, carefully as he aproached me. He raised his hand tentatively, and I stepped forward to shake hands with him.
"It's nice to see you again, Dr. Cullen."
"Please, call me Carlisle."
"Carlisle," I grinned at him, my sudden confidence surprising me. I could feel Edward's relief at my side.
Esme smiled and stepped forward as well, reaching for my hand. Her cold, stone grasp was just as I expected.
"It's very nice to know you," she said sincerely.
"Thank you. I'm glad to meet you, too." And I was. It was like meeting a fairy tale - Snow White, in the flesh.
"Where are Alice and Jasper?" Eddward asked, but no one answered, as they had just appeared at the top of the wide staircase.
"Hey, Edward!" Alice called enthusiastically. She ran down the stairs, a streak of black hair and white skin, coming to a sudden and graceful stop in front of me. Carlisle and Esme shot warning glances at her, but I liked it. It was natural - for her, anyway.
"Hi, Bella!" Alice said, and she bounced forward to kiss my cheek. If Carlisle and Esme looked cautious before, they now looked staggered. There was shock in my eyes, too, but I was also very pleased that she seemed to approve of me so entirely. I was startled to feel Edward stiffen at my side. I glanced at his face, but his expression was unreadable.
"You do smell nice, I never noticed before," she commented, to my extreme embarrassment.
No one else seemed to know quite what to say, and then Jasper was there - tall and leonine. A feeling of ease spread through me, and I was suddenly comfortable despite where I was. Edward stared at Jasper, raising one eyebrow, and I remembered what Jasper could do.
"Hello, Bella," Jasper said. He kept his distance, not offering to shake my hand. But it was impossible to feel awkward near him.
"Hello, Jasper." I smiled at him shyly, and then at the others. "It's nice to meet you all - you have a very beautiful home," I added conventionally.
"Thank you," Esme said. "We're so glad that you came." She spoke with feeling, and I realized that she thought I was brave.
I also realized that Rosalie and Emmett were nowhere to be seen, and I rememberd Edward's too-innocent denial when I'd asked him if the others didn't like me.
Carlisle's expression distracted me from this train of thought; he was gazing meaningfully at Edward with an intense expression. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward nod once.
I looked away, trying to be polite. My eyes wandered again to the beautiful instrument on the platform by the door. I suddenly remembered my childhood fantasy that, should I ever win a lottery, I would buy a grand piano for my mother. She wasn't really good - she only played for herself on our secondhand upright - but I loved to watch her play. She was happy, absorbed - she seemed like a new, mysterious being to me then, someone outside the "mom" persona I took for granted. She'd put me through lessons, of course, but like most kids, I whined until she let me quit.
Esme noticed my preoccupation.
"Do you play?" she asked, inclining her head toward the piano.
I shook my head. "Not at all. But it's so beautiful. Is it yours?"
"No," she laughed. "Edward didn't tell you he was musical?"
"No." I glared at his sudden innocent expression with narrowed eyes. "I should have known, I guess."
Esme raised her delicate eyebrows in confusion.
"Edward can do everything, right?" I explained.
Jasper snickered and Esme gave Edward a reproving look.
"I hope you haven't been showing off - it's rude," she scolded.
"Just a bit," he laughed freely. Her face softened at the sound, and they shared a brief look that I didn't understand, though Esme's face seemed almost smug.
"He's been too modest, actually," I corrected.
"Well, play for her," Esme encouraged.
"You just said showing off was rude," he objected.
"There are exceptions to every rule, she replied.
"I'd like to hear you play." I volunteered.
"It's settled then." Esme pushed him toward the piano. He pulled me along, sitting me on the bench beside him.
He gave me a long, exasperated look before he turned to the keys.
And then his fingers flowed swiftly across the ivory, and the room was filled with a composition so complex, so luxuriant, it was impossible to believe only one set of hands played. I felt my chin drop, my mouth open in astonishment, and heard low chuckles behind me at my reactions.
Edward looked at me casually, the music still surging around us without a break, and winked. "Do you like it?"
"You wrote this?" I gasped, understanding.
He nodded. "It's Esme's favorite."
I closed my eyes shaking my head.
"I'm feeling exrtemely insignificant."
The music slowed, transforming into something softer, and to my surprise I detected the melody of his lullaby weaving through the profusion of notes.
"You inspired this one," he said softly. The music grew unbearably sweet.
I couldn't speak.
"They like you, you knoe," he said conversationally. "Esme especially."
I glanced behind me but the huge room was empty now.
"Where did they go?"
"Very subtly giving us some privacy, I suppose."
I sighed. "They like me. But Rosalie and Emmett..." I trailed off, not sure how to express my doubts.
He frowned. "Don't worry about Rosalie," he said, his eyes wide and persuasive. "She'll come around."
I pursed my lips skeptically. "Emmett?"
"Well, he thinks I'm a lunatic, it's true, but he doesn't have a problem with you. He's trying to reason with Rosalie."
"What is it that upsets her?" I wasn't sure if I wanted to know the answer.
He sighed deeply. "Rosalie struggles the most with... with what we are. It's hard for her to have someone on the outside know the truth. And she's a little jealous."
"Rosalie is jealous of me?" I asked incredulously. I tried to imagine a universe in which someone as breathtaking as Rosalie would have any possible reason to feel jealous of someone like me.
"You're human." He shrugged. "She wishes that she were, too."
"Oh," I muttered, still stunned. "Even Jasper, though..."
"That's really my fault," he said, "I told you he was the most recent to try our way of life. I warned him to keep his distance."
I thought about the reason for that, and shuddered.
"Esme and Carlisle...?" I continued quickly, to keep him from noticing.
"Are happy to see me happy. Actually, Esme wouldn't care if you had a third eyes and webbed feet. All this time she's been worried about me, afraid that there was something missing from my essential makeup, that I was too young when Carlisle changed me.... She's ecstatic. Every time I touch you, she just about chokes with satisfaction."
"Alice seems very... enthusiastic."
"Alice has her own way of looking at things," he said through tight lips.
"And you're not going to explain that, are you?"
A moment of wordless communication passed between us. He realized that I knew he was keeping something from me. I realized he wasn't going to give anything away. Not now.