Millicent flinched in her seat when Parson Cullen slammed his Bible on the pulpit. "In the First Book of the Saint John, we find that 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!' This is the blessing of God, given to man! Do not take this gift in ill-gratitude, sons and daughters of the Lord God..."
Parson Cullen's sermons had grown louder and louder since the death of his son. Millicent Timmins born-again, faithful churchgoer became more concerned for him with each passing year.
After the service, the silent congregation shuffled out of the church into the dark winter night. The sky was clear stars and galaxies twinkled brightly in the evening sky. Millicent shivered as she exited the warm place of worship, pulling her wool cloak closer to her slim body.
She knew her father would be angry that she returned home unescorted once again, but she still wasn't keen on any of the suitors that he paraded before her. Her family was wealthy and respected... resulting, the men that called upon her were frivolous and insincere. However, their subtle intentions were glanced over by her uncaring father. He brought much material riches and earthly contentment to his family through his business-work, but he spared little time for his only daughter. Her mother, selfish and conceited, chose to ignore her child in favor of the lavish life of high society.
Many townsfolk bid her goodnight as they passed by her at the foot of the chapel steps. She waited there to speak with the minister - just as she did every winter evening on that specific day. "Pastor Cullen," she greeted, curtsying slightly.
"Millicent," the elderly man rasped, using his walking stick to descend the stairs. "Cold night, no?"
"Yes, sir. Cold, indeed." She reached up to collect her long, auburn hair when a gust of wind stirred it up. "How do you fare this evening, minister?"
The pastor took a long look at the girl's deep green eyes, full of worried questions. "I fare as I fare every winter, Millicent. I fare older." He coughed gruffly into his fist, as though to demonstrate the point.
Millicent nodded sharply. "Forgive me, minister. I only ask...," she trailed off, trying to forget her concern. He obviously didn't want to talk about it.
"I know, child. You needn't worry about an old man's guilt." He patted her shoulder fondly as he passed her by. "Go with God, Millicent. Pass my blessings to your father." He limped down the snowy street to his home.
"I shall!" she called after him as he disappeared into the night.
Millicent stood still for several moments, amid the cold night that pressed around her. The dark streets of London were empty due to the late hour. In the silence, distant owls hooted to the heavens. Her mind wandered to the past, and her chilled fingers twisted together inside her warm muff. Her eyes traveled to the low, black fence that surrounded the cemetery to the side of the church. Solemn gravestones stood among the untouched snow, bearing the names of many deceased loved ones.
Involuntarily, Millicent stepped closer to the ominous black gate. The cold metal stung the skin of her fingers when she touched it, and the rusty hinges gave a quiet squeak as she guided it open. When she stepped inside the enclosure, her heart filled with sorrow. The ground was hallowed and full of sacred tears.
She passed by some familiar names: her great-grandfather was buried beside his wife, and her aunt's deceased child lay a few graves away from them. Her family had been faithful members of the Church of England for many years. However, her eyes did not linger on them for long; she had shed enough tears for them all. Stopping only when she reached the last site on the row, she gazed at the roughly etched letters in the stone there.
Loving Son and Faithful Servant of God
May his Soul Rest in Peace
The tombstone itself was simpler than the others, perhaps due to his humble station. However, Millicent had never acknowledged the social classes separating them. Her father had been close to the church only for political reasons, but her friendship with Carlisle had been more genuine. She fell into recollection...
"Carlisle! Carlisle, look!" Young 6-year-old Millicent sprinted across the fresh spring grass of the chapel courtyard, cradling a delicate daisy in her hand. She skidded to a stop in front of the stone well, where Carlisle sat in the grass with a small book in his hands. Though he was six years her senior, the two often enjoyed spending time together in the yard outside his father's church. Millicent held her trophy before him, smiling brightly. "I've found it just for you! Look, Carlisle!" She waved it in front of his face until his unfocused, hazel eyes found the white petals.
"Millicent, where did you find this?" Carlisle asked, taking the green stem between his fingers. His brow furrowed at the sight.
"There! In the tall grass, there!" she giggled, indicating beyond the black fence beside the church.
"Put it back where you found it, right away," the boy ordered, his young features hardening with displeasure.
"But..." Millicent glanced toward the ominous cemetery, and the smile washed from her face. "Why? The flower will die in the grass!"
He released the stem, pointing the way with his finger. "That is what it's meant for, Millicent. Someone put it there for the dead."
The young girl didn't understand. Pastor Cullen had often told them not to enter the cemetery, but she'd set out to rescue the flower when she spied it among the tombstones. "Why?"
"'To honor them,' Father says. Return it now," he said sternly, resuming his place in the book.
Slowly, Millicent obeyed and returned the flower to its place. Her mind could not yet comprehend the concept of death.
The echoes of Millicent's past filled her eyes with moisture. As a single tear threatened to stain her cheek, she recalled the last night she'd seen him...
"You are simply too young to understand, Millicent."
Millicent's cheeks flushed red with insult. She stood in the doorway of her home, blocking Carlisle's exit. He had come to call on her that specific evening, bearing news that unsettled her. "I am seventeen now, Carlisle. I understand that your father is not in his right state of mind. Creatures of darkness that prey on human blood are nonexistent! Whatever ridiculous notion has caused you to imagine - !"
"I don't expect you to accept my calling; you are far too rational for that. I only wish you to respect my decision to accompany Father tonight." Carlisle had known that his announcement would provoke an argument with her, but he surely hadn't expected her to forcefully detain him. Her arms stretched across the doorway leading from the Timmins' spacious receiving room, sealing any chance he had for polite escape.
Her face was stoic. "No, I do not accept or respect it. Furthermore, if I had less reverence for your father, I would use all my power to end this silliness now."
He rose a challenging brow; his voice was mocking. "Your power? Do tell - which power do you possess, Miss Timmins?"
She sighed tolerantly. "Now is not the time for joking, Carlisle..."
"No," he said, gently grasping her forearm, "it certainly isn't." He brushed her aside as she scowled. "I'll take my leave now."
As he strode for the door, she seized the sleeve of his shirt. "Then let me come tonight. Others will be there; I shan't be in the way -"
He took the hand that held his sleeve gently in his own. "Millicent, I will return in the morning to visit you in perfect health. If what you say is true, and these creatures do not exist, then my safety is guaranteed. The London sewers is hardly a suitable place for a young lady of your stature." He forced a soft smile, and watched her features relax.
Her temperament calmed by his persuasive words. "Very well," she relented indignantly. A glint came into her eye, and her tone became light. "But, Carlisle, if you perish I shall never forgive you."
"It's been eight years, Carlisle." Millicent's face was brave despite the emotions tormenting her soul. She addressed the tombstone, yet his familiar face was pictured in her mind. "I'm a woman now you would be proud of me. You always said that twenty-five is a very mature age, after all."
The silent wind whispered through the trees behind the cemetery, and her skirts rustled in the breeze. She clutched them and bit her lip. "I'll never understand why you did it... why you were willing to pay the ultimate price for..." Her voice faded, and she held herself very still. It seemed inevitable that she cry, yet she endeavored to postpone the mourning for as long as she could.
She sighed then, and her voice trembled as she whispered her confession, "I wasn't thinking clearly; I was angry. You never saw... how I felt about you. You never saw... how much it hurt me when you put yourself in harm's way. I..." She hesitated. "I needed you..."
She shook her head, angry with her own admissions. "I was selfish. Now... now I can never beg your forgiveness, and I must live with that guilt forever." The stiff wind combed her hair as she knelt before the grave, and her knees sunk deep into the powdery snow. Closing her eyes, she folded her hands in prayer and bowed her head. Silently, she prayed a supplication for forgiveness...
Carlisle watched the woman from the trees behind the cemetery, keeping his crouched position silently. He caught her familiar scent on the wind, amplified now by his heightened senses. The human memory he held of her was vague, as though he'd dreamt of her long ago. However, the words that had passed between them on that night were imprinted on his mind. During the monster's attack and subsequent change, her words had filled every recess of his conscious. "...if you perish I shall never forgive you..."
He removed himself from his station and ghosted across the snow, jumping over the cemetery fence in one quick movement. His feet carried him to her, but his presence was silent and unknown.
She continued to pray, though in her own mind she knew it was meaningless. No God would listen to her penitent plea. She was far past the time for forgiveness. "I'm sorry," she whispered, tears silently falling to the snowy ground beneath her. "Please forgive me, Carlisle..."
Carlisle watched as her tears soaked into the ground, into the empty grave at which she knelt. Reasons unknown had drawn him to his hometown... to his own grave. Perhaps it was to gain the closure that he'd lost so suddenly along with his mortality. To see his father's face again, perhaps. Whatever it had been, he was there now. And so was she.
"Millicent..." His voice was below a whisper, and the breeze swept it away from her ears. Her eyelashes, damp with tears, brushed her soft cheeks as her lips trembled in a murmured prayer.
Unable to bear the suffering that the place held for her, Millicent stood and stepped back from the grave. Her vision clouded before her, and she reached up to dry her eyes. "Forgive me...," she whispered, turning away. The breeze faced her from this new direction, and she reached down to collect her skirts against the wind.
Her scent traveled to Carlisle anew, and he gasped at the intensity of it, stumbling back.
The footsteps in the snow alerted Millicent to another presence in the graveyard, and she spun around in surprise. Her hand slipped from her muff once again to clutch her chest as her heart skipped a beat. However, the same hand slowly traveled to her gaping mouth when she saw who, or what, it was.
Carlisle did not attempt to hide himself; he knew it would be fruitless and perhaps even more damaging. He stared at her as she stared at him, remembering how their eyes had met many times before. He hadn't seen her face outside of memory for so very long... it was more mature than he remembered, and more beautiful because of it. His breath held against her tempting aroma, and his arms were rigid at his sides with restraint. He was a new vampire... one easily enticed by the scent of human blood.
A terrible dread filled Millicent as she gazed at his pale face, so solemn in the moonlight. His features were angular, and his brow furrowed in concentration. His attire was tattered and his hair was disheveled, as though he hadn't attended to himself for many months. Yet, his face was as perfect as if carved from the smoothest stone. His eyes were a tawny brown, different from the familiar hazel irises that her memory held. His gaze was severe and soft all at once, and this frightened her greatly.
Nearly thirty feet separated them. Millicent held her ground, and when she finally spoke, her voice wavered. "Carlisle?"
His body took a step forward without his mind's consent. Catching himself, he planted his feet firmly in the snow. "Yes, I am here." His voice was cold and formal, a result of his restrained demeanor.
An illusion, Millicent's rational mind concluded, there's no such things as ghosts. She lowered her hand from her face and closed her eyes, willing herself to awake from the dream. By the time she counted to twenty, she determined that that was sufficient time to rouse herself. When she opened her eyes, however, the illusion was mere feet from her, watching her with a golden gaze. Her hands began to tremble when she realized that this was reality.
"I am here, truly," Carlisle insisted, seeing her disbelief.
"But... you are dead. I attended your funeral eight years ago..." Her words were expressionless, not entirely convinced of their own truth.
"I am no ghost, Millicent." Her forehead was furrowed, and her eyes were haunted as she stared at his face. "Touch me," he said, holding out a pale hand to her.
She eyed the hand skeptically. Carlisle smiled at her hesitation, revealing two rows of white teeth. Millicent shivered at the sight, but, nonetheless, it rose a familiar feeling within her. She slowly raised her trembling hand to his, which was held as still as a statue. When the tips of her chilled fingers touched the palm of his hand, she felt the coldness of his flesh that far surpassed her own. Her face held deep puzzlement as they stood there, connected by her fingertips.
"The man you knew died that night, Millicent. I am the monster which he fought against... and lost." His eyes softened, contrasting with his dark words.
Her mind raged with this new information. Several moments passed before she responded. "If you are no ghost, as you say; and you are no man, as you say... Then what sort of monster are you, who holds the appearance of my friend Carlisle?"
"I've told you: I am the monster with which he fought. Neither life nor death." Carlisle stopped, because his lungs had been drained of oxygen. If he wished to continue speaking, he would be forced to take a breath. At such a close distance, he feared that he may not be able to without... consequences.
Her posture began to relax, as did her defenses. Her voice was eager, "Carlisle, you stand here now; who am I to question the Lord's will? This is a great blessing -"
His breath came quickly through his nose in his retort, "I am not of God, but of cursed iniquity." The scent of her blood taunted his senses, and he felt the bloodlust flair up against his restriction.
Her face held the innocent joy of the past, something she hadn't experience for well over eight years. "Yet you stand, alive, breathing..."
He seized her warm wrist in his cold grasp, and moved her hand to his chest. Her fingers rested upon his heart, silent and still.
Her breath caught in her throat. His stoney chest was cold and motionless; not even rising with breaths. She looked up from her hand to his empty eyes, so close to hers, and her heart clenched with sadness. "Carlisle..." Her voice was thick with emotion, and her eyes filled once again.
"My heart stopped beating that night, Millicent," he said softly, releasing her wrist. It took every ounce of his minimal control to stand still. "I am not alive."
Though his grip was gone, her hand remained rested upon his lifeless chest. Compassion swam deep in her green eyes, and the moon illuminated the soft smile on her face. "It matters not," she laughed, lighthearted by the thought. "You've returned to us... I cannot help but be glad, Carlisle."
He drew away from her in a flash, as though burnt by her words. His horrified eyes traced over her feminine features, alight with happiness, and he felt himself cringe. "You do not know of what you speak," he said grimly.
She stepped closer to him, despite her instinct not to. Carlisle was her friend, not her foe. "I know what my eyes see, and what I can feel," she said, reaching out to touch his arm.
Like the worst magic, her touch held him there. He stood as motionless as the tombstones in the graveyard while the conflict raged behind his dark gold eyes. It was the first time in his immortal life that anyone had reached out to him... had touched him willingly. That, combined with the sweet memories of the woman before him, caused him to remain where he was. Slowly, he turned his body to face her.
She sensed his struggle, and laughed quietly. "You will not hurt me," she chided lightly. "You are far too good for that."
Her perception startled him, as it always had. His stance eased slightly, and his fingers itched to touch her delicate face. "Millicent..." He gazed down at her perplexedly. "Do not put your faith in something that you do not know."
"I do not know the face of God, yet my trust lays in Him. I do not know what has made you this way, but my trust in you remains." Her eyes danced. "Don't you remember those promises you made?"
Carlisle's lips turned up slightly as he recalled...
"Sign this, Carlisle. Right there." Millicent's elegant fingertip indicated where to sign on the hand-written document. Though the writing on the parchment was minute and illegible, the title clearly indicated the intent. "The Agreement," the top of the page read, "between Millicent Timmins and Carlisle Cullen."
Carlisle was sitting at the desk in his father's study, copying the Book of John twice as punishment for disobedience. Millicent had sneaked through the door of the Cullens' cellar, far too exited to wait for her friend to complete his sentence. Carlisle glanced over the document, and raised an eyebrow. "I believe your father's business-manner is rubbing off on you."
The twelve-year-old stomped her foot. "Father said that I'd be marrying age soon, Carlisle, and I don't wish to be. I want you to promise that you won't let a man carry me away."
Carlisle set his quill down, and half-turned in his chair to regard her. "What's come into you?" he rebuked lightly, smiling. "Marriage is not something to dread, Millicent. I'm sure your father will find a fine match for you."
She frowned. "Don't fill my head with rot, Carlisle. I know what marriage means, but that's not the point." She set the document before him, and shoved the quill back into his hand. "Sign," she ordered.
He laughed quietly at her antics, recalling the last several contracts he was forced to sign. "Very well, Millicent," he sighed, scripting his name on the semi-straight line at the bottom. "Whatever you say."
Carlisle's hand acted of its own, coming up to rest softly on her cheek. Her flushed skin scorched his frigid flesh, and he fought against his inner demon to keep his touch gentle. His eyes were sad as he looked down at her. "I wish I could have done more for you, Millicent. I wish we weren't separated by this curse."
"We needn't be apart, Carlisle." She reached up to cradle his hand with hers, ignoring the coldness of his skin. "If we don't wish to be, there's no need for it." Her eyes slipped closed, and her trustful smile remained.
Carlisle was petrified. New thoughts and futures passed through his mind, not as lonely as he'd once imagined. Her fingers curled around his hand, holding it there like the strongest shackle. He wished for his humanity; he longed to embrace her as a mortal would... not to be tempted like the disgusting creature he had become. But all of this was only a dream that could never been perceived. Only a wish that could never be granted. A prayer that could never be heard.
"Do not be sorry, Millicent...," he whispered, recalling her tearful plea. "I am the one who longs for forgiveness..."
When Millicent opened her eyes moments later, the only sight before her was the deserted graveyard. She blinked twice, waiting for him to reappear. Her hand held nothing but the cold air, so she let it fall to her side. The wind swept across the still cemetery as though nothing had occurred. The only evidence of their reunion was the footsteps in the snow, leading far away...