"It's nice to see you again," Caroline said. "This is my husband Esmund." He was smaller than the others, rounder too. One might think he was a dwarf, as in Tolkien, but he was too clean shaven and too far too inhumanly white for that.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you," Esmund said. I responded with some pleasantry or other but my mind was elsewhere. Something was nagging at me and I couldn't work out what it was.
Something about their appearance. Caroline's appearance. But there was nothing odd there. The excessive whiteness I'd gotten used to and her clothing was certainly unremarkable enough. The same sort of casual clothes anyone might wear.
Then it hit me. "You look," I said to her, then hesitated for a moment, "younger."
She nodded. "There's no need for deception here. Outside I have to look old enough to be my adopted children's mother. Given when I stopped aging that can take some effort."
Presumably makeup and such was involved in that effort, which meant that it was effort that could go toward making them look like normal human beings. I wondered if she felt the same way about it as Edith: forced to hide it, but completely unashamed and so unwilling to change her appearance to hide it.
It was around that point that Alex made his entrance. "Hi, Edith!" he called from the top of the stairs and then was a blur. The blur stopped in front of us with him doing a pirouette that became a bow.
"Hey, Ben," he said and extended a hand to me. I shook it.
And then no one seemed to know what to say. Awkwardness. It was in the air.
And Jasmine came. She seemed to notice something and then asked, "Anyone object?"
"To what?" I asked, Alex smiled. The others shook their heads.
"Calm, happy feels," Edith told me.
"What?" I asked, followed almost immediately by, "Ohhh..." as I remembered what Jasmine could do. "Um, I guess not."
"If you change your mind, just say so," Jasmine said. And then the awkwardness melted away and a feeling of calm spread over me. That and a small, yet definite, upward tick in my mood.
"Is this what being high feels like?" I asked.
"Generally speaking, no." Edith said.
"More of a bright side of normal," Jasmine said.
Caroline just raised an eyebrow. I wasn't sure whom at.
Jasmine kept her distance, as if she were afraid of what she might do, but apart from that the way she moved reminded me of things that had no cause for fear. A feline grace, but more that of a lion than a house cat.
She greeted me and I greeted her, nothing terribly spectacular.
"Thank you," Esmund said. At first I wasn't sure who he was talking to and assumed Jasmine for easing the mood. Then he said, "We're so glad you came," and I realized he was talking to me. The way he said it made me realize he thought I was brave.
That was wrong. I was fully prepared to hide behind Edith if anything went sour. Plus since Edith could read minds I figured there would be advanced notice. Plus there was a matter of trust. I trusted Edith, and --even though we'd only met briefly on previous occasions-- I liked Alex. If Edith could comfortably live with these people, then vampires or no I trusted that they weren't the type to kill me.
Or horribly mutilate me, or whatever, as the case may be.
My mind drifted, and so did my eyes. I noticed their piano again. Much more impressive than the secondhand upright I knew from my home in Phoenix. It lived up to the name "grand" and Esmund noticed my interest, "Do you play?" he asked.
"No," I said. I never could stick with the lessons. I'd always feel like I was going nowhere and doomed to failure. "My father plays." Not well, mind you, but he plays. With passion. My list of things to do upon becoming absurdly wealthy included buying him a brilliant piano. One like the one the Cullens had.
"Do you play?" I asked.
"No," Esmund said. "Edith didn't tell you?"
And then Edith, I think, blushed. It's hard to tell with vampires because they're excessively white, and they stay excessively white regardless of all things. Well, all things internal. Fire a paint gun at one and they can have color pretty quick but that is neither here nor there and is achronological as well.
"She's the musical one," Esmund said.
"You should play him something," Alex said to Edith.
Edith started to protest then Alex added, "Don't if you don't want to, but consider who's giving you the advice."
It was said in a friendly way, and there was definitely more emphasis on the, "Don't if you don't want to," than the second half, but I couldn't help but wonder how often someone who can see the future pulls out that line of argument. "Fine, don't mind me, I'm just the person who can see the bloody future, what do I know?"
"I'd like to hear you play," I told Edith.
"Ok," Edith said. There was a nervousness in her voice that, even though I'd heard it before by now, still felt out of place. Edith and nervous still didn't occupy the same space in my brain.
She took me by the hand and led me to the piano. I sat on the bench beside her and she said, "This is Esmund's favorite of mine."
Before she could start I said, surprised, "You compose?"
"I've got a lot of time to fill," she said. Then she started playing something that reminded me of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, but more complex.
When she finished I was speechless. Then she, haltingly, started to play another. Something simpler, something more modern. Once she was started it flowed and, without knowing what the right notes were, I knew she was hitting them. Without knowing the time it was in, I knew she was keeping it. Her awkward start was over and she was in the music.
I thought I could pick out a call back to Herman's Hermits. I felt a strain of a melody she'd once hummed to me. Something told me I was into something good,
There was, it seemed to me, a sadness in the song, but it was overpowered by a greater joy.
Something about major and minor scales maybe? Music is something I don't know.
When she finished she asked, with nervousness, "Did you like it?"
"I loved it," I said.
She glanced away. "I wrote it for you."
And, slowly, doing my best to make sure that if she didn't want me to I'd notice and stop, I leaned over and hugged her. Thankfully she did want me to, and we hugged each other for I don't know how long.