"Jasper, I hate to disturb you but -"
A howling, followed by the crash of furniture sounded over the connection made by two cell phones and Carlisle excused himself before ending the call.
The interruption had halted Jasper's reading of the final draft of the work of "historical fiction" he had finished. It was a project he was embarking upon while Alice and all the other Cullen Coven females were off taking young Ren on her very first European Tour. "What the hell, Carlisle?" he muttered at the small phone.
He could have resumed his reading, but chose instead to change clothes and try to look professional. Maybe decades of being mated to Alice had given him a dose of intuition – or maybe not – but he felt it behooved him to get ready for an "emergency consultation" with Dr. Carlisle Cullen.
"On it, Dr. Whitlock," his brother-of-kind informed him from the music room. "Let's take the Volvo."
Jasper snorted. "No. The Jag," he proposed instead, snatching up the set of identification cards he used as Jasper Whitlock, MD, Doctor of Psychiatry.
Swearing and muttering under his breath, Jasper flashed upstairs and tugged a generic gray silk tie from the rack in the closet. "You better be wearing one, too, Dr. Masen, Pediatrician."
They were already in the car, belted as per traffic laws in the state of Wyoming, when Carlisle called again.
"We're on our way," Jasper said before Carlisle had time to get in a word. Jasper winced though; he could hear whimpering in the background. The kind of whimpering that only came from intense terror. "Is everything all right? Are you in any danger?" he asked rapidly, meeting Edward's eyes as the mindreader sped into Cheyenne.
"No, nothing like that," Carlisle assured them. Jasper knew Edward caught that, so he didn't bother passing the message along. Both vampires relaxed minutely as Edward passed two SUVs and a Camaro. "I've got a patient whom I cannot quite figure out. A nervous disorder, Dr. Whitlock," he continued with a slightly louder, slower cadence. "Or perhaps some sort of PTSD."
"Post traumatic stress? How old is your patient, Dr. Cullen?"
"Pediatric," Edward said with a nod. "We're coming, Carlisle."
Relief was audible. "Thank you."
PTSD in a teenager? Abuse leapt immediately to Jasper's thoughts, then he wondered if it could be bullying at school.
"No point speculating until we have facts," Edward reminded him.
"Yes, Sherlock Holmes," Jasper retorted. Edward had gone through a period in the sixties where Sherlock Holmes had been his literary idol. No one spoke of it, fifty-odd years later, but it wasn't as if they had forgotten, even in a time and place so removed.
Cheyenne, Wyoming had one of the higher rates of "cloudy days" in the Continental United States, making it a favorable place for the enlarging coven of Carlisle Cullen to relocate after a stint in New Hampshire where Bella, Jacob and Ren got their first college degrees. Jasper and Edward had been going to join them – Jasper enjoyed discovering new things with his niece Renesmee because her whole emotional vibe was so explodingly positive – but Alice had advised him and Edward to pursue their advanced degrees. Again.
So here they were. Once again, well-educated.
Jasper maneuvered the Jaguar – he liked the silhouette and Rosalie kept it in perfect mechanical condition – into a parking space, relieved that the skies were overcast. Carlisle worked in the Emergency Room of a local hospital. Apparently a young man, full of energy and a gift for soothing stressed patients, he often got a chance to detect underlying problems in the controlled chaos of the ER.
Badges on their lapels, Jasper and Edward strode confidently through the sliding glass doors of the hospital. "Carlisle?" Edward murmured in the quiet, rapid manner they used as a family. Then, it was clear to Jasper that Edward was hearing Carlisle speak to his mind. Oh, the two of them often thought they were being invisible about it, but the rest of the family had decided long ago to let them continue thinking that. Even vampires liked privacy.
Edward relayed Carlisle's private communication. I'm not sure what is wrong with this young man. He exhibited pronounced violence and was yelling and screaming, but is quiet now. He isn't responding to me and his mother is only able to sit on the floor with him. I don't perceive that it's helping. Find out what Jasper's feeling.
Jasper felt the pulse of curiosity Edward pushed toward him. It was, again, another form of silent communication that they indulged in.
That curiosity was suddenly obliterated by the rush of absolute, gut-wrenching terror that threatened to weaken even Jasper's knees. Nothing else existed for him but that overwhelming fear and the jagged shards of dark anger that sliced through it like the backside of a broken mirror.
Edward was beside him in a moment. "I hear it. Him. Something. He's not sure. Where...?"
Carlisle reached them after what seemed like a dog's age. "Dr. Whitlock. Dr. Masen, good to see you. Thank you for coming on such short notice."
Jasper didn't even roll his eyes at that; he was still trying to separate himself from the intense emotion. Edward smoothly picked up the conversation.
"Dr. Cullen. How can we help?"
Jasper knew his mind was recording the events from moving from the main entrance to the examination room where the patient was waiting. He felt Edward's constant bursts of reassurance as well as Carlisle's subdued concern. He did. But over the nervous or frightened smiles of the nursing staff, the short, professional nods of other doctors and the curious glances of patients, Jasper felt the waves of fearful fury.
And finally, they were in Exam Room Four.
"He wouldn't go to Three, even though it's larger. He gripped the doorframe and we couldn't budge him," Carlisle murmured.
The room's overhead light fixtures were dark. The wheeled stool that had been part and parcel of doctors' offices since the 19th Century was overturned in the corner, the small black wheels spinning. The other two chairs had been likewise overturned and there, under the exam table, was a young man and an older woman.
The two of them stared at the newcomers with wide eyes. The young man's eyes were a pain-shadowed green and the woman's were an intense blue, so vibrant with hope and sorrow that Jasper felt as if he had been plunged into range of a newborn vampire.
"Caleb, Mrs. Ross, I've called in a couple of men I know who are adept at working with troubled young people. Dr. Whitlock is an experienced psychiatrist and has worked with volatile situations many times. Dr. Masen is a pediatric specialist with rare insight."
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Jasper felt the smirk he held back with tight control. Amusement from Edward reached him as well. Oh sure. "Rare insight. Troubled young people." Right.
One hundred percent true, but also kind of funny.
He didn't want to be obvious, but Jasper slowly pushed calming emotions to the people huddled under the exam table. Patience. Relaxation. A mellow one-two combination that the humans would perceive only as a "we're getting used to this room" kind of feeling.
"Hi, Caleb," Edward said, crouching so as to be on eye-level with the sandy-haired young man. "I'm Edward. Dr. Masen. Good to meet you. You okay under there?"
The green eyes clouded over and, fear evaporating, the teenager buried his head against the woman's shoulder. Worry and fluttering anxiety became predominant.
"I'm sorry," Mrs. Ross said. "My son isn't really verbal. We've tried and we have – cards with symbols and such at home and in my purse, there? See? But...he's not good with, with a lot of words."
Carlisle, having introduced everyone, stepped back to lean against the door of the room. He crossed his legs at the ankles and gave off every impression of confidence. "He's been diagnosed as autistic, gentlemen. Therapies have not, as yet, seemed to be terribly effective and he is, by and large, refusing to take his medication."
"They make him all...quiet and strange," Mrs. Ross protested as she scooted herself out from under the table. "Not like himself at all."
Hope, indignation and a heavy maternal protectiveness struck Jasper as if she were using them as purposeful weapons. She'd make a hell of a vampire, he surmised with a grim internal smile.
Edward backed up a bit as Caleb scrambled out from his hiding place to stand up in the middle of the room. "His thoughts ricochet," the mind-reader informed Jasper and Carlisle. "I'm hearing that it'll be like this forever, that he needs to stop everyone. Stop them all. He's so angry, hates everything. Trapped. He thinks he's trapped but he is also really confused. His mind – it's flashing images and tiny boxes and he doesn't seem to be focusing on just one, but on all of them. It's almost like the mind of a vampire – if a vampire were insane."
"Great, an insane newborn vampire."
"He's not a vampire," Carlisle inserted with quiet authority. "If you're quite finished comparing him to something of an entirely different species, can you help me calm him?"
This conversation took less than the time it required the young man to take a wet hand wipe from his mother and – with meticulous rapidity – clean his hands before folding it four times exactly and throwing it the waste bin next to the examination table.
Edward then made a show of washing his hands. Jasper could feel a calm descend upon him as if it were Bella's shield being brought into play. In fact, he had to remind himself that his sister-in-law was nowhere near Cheyenne at present so he would be able to use his gift effectively.
"Caleb?" Edward said, his voice smooth and somehow coaxingly professional."He keeps thinking 'Don't touch me!" Edward informed the others at their private decibel. "I'm not going to touch you," he said so that Mrs. Ross could comprehend as well as her son. "I would like you to put the stethoscope to your chest for me, though, and I'll listen, all right?"
Jasper felt a flaring of curiosity from Caleb, but it was only for a moment. Fear and confusion quickly tangled that other feeling up, followed by a sense of such despair and helplessness that Jasper had to catch his breath. He had never, in all his years since leaving the newborn armies, felt emotion of this tragic intensity.
"Careful," he rasped at Edward.
It's gonna be like this forever. Too many people. Lost lost lost. Why? This is wrong! Scared! Break it all down. Break it! No no no no! NO! Break it all. Kill them all. Start over. Break it all. Hate it! All! Why? Why? Why? They all must die! I am done with this!
The mental tirade went on behind the troubled green eyes of the teenager in front of him. Edward heard the rushing of his heart, could see the thrumming of his pulse at the thin skin of Caleb's temples. He tried to discern a pattern beyond the thoughts of violence and terror, but he was unable to do so.
"Mrs. Ross?" he asked quietly. "What usually calms your son at home?"
"I – I try to hold him. Pressure."
"Would you try that now, please? We'll leave the room and you can calm him and then maybe we can try," Edward said with a practiced rueful smile at Caleb, "not to gang up on him when we come back in."
"You're not –"
Edward shook his head and indicated with small gestures that Carlisle and Jasper were to leave the office. "Many young people on the Autistic Spectrum have difficulty with crowds, Mrs. Ross. Four to one might very much feel like a crowd to your son. We'll be right outside the door."
With a tight smile, Mrs. Ross nodded until the door closed. The Cullen men could hear the murmured encouragements from Mrs. Ross and the whining not-quite-verbal protests.
Home. Home. Quiet. Home. Must get out of here. All done! Oh. Mom. Oh. Mm. Mm. Mmmmm. Mmmmm. Mmmmm. "Saurus," the young man whispered.
"The Numbersaurus, yes. It's in the car, remember?"
The thoughts soothed somewhat, though the underlying repetition of Home, home, home, was a constant. As was the image of a stuffed dinosaur with numbers. The toy was green, and the numbers were in yellow circles. The remembered image that Edward took from the mother was that the toy was dirty, shoved under a seatbelt against brown leather upholstery. The boy saw it as a fierce protector, though, with gleaming teeth and shining numbers in a dark corner.
Interesting. Edward remembered to keep that as something to refer to when he got the opportunity.
"Well?" Carlisle asked at a level that anyone passing by could hear. It would seem strange for three doctors to be standing about in silence, after all. "What do you think, gentlemen?"
Jasper leaned rather heavily against the wall. "I've never felt that level of intensity from a human. Ever. The boy is terrified," he added on a human level. "And his mother is not in favor of chemical assistance." With a grim look at Carlisle, Jasper wondered, "Is that legally actionable?"
"No. Only if his health is at risk."
"What about the well-being of others?" Edward queried. Quietly, he told them what Caleb had said about killing people.
"I'm not getting a murderous intensity," Jasper stated, pushing off the wall. "He's terrified and angry, but his feelings don't match violence as much as they do a need to protect himself."
"He's got a dinosaur in the car," Edward offered, looking with a question in his eye at Jasper. "I think he'd calm down if he had it."
"Self-comforting. Of course. I'll ask."
Carlisle folded his hands in front of himself. "I agree that we need to address him one at a time," he said at a speed and sound that anyone could understand. "I propose Jasper go in first, bring up the doll. I want to see if you can get find out why he's so violent. I'm afraid he'll hurt someone."
Edward nodded slowly. "The family would be disrupted."
"Are there other children?"
Jasper's question provoked an immediate review of the patient's history in Carlisle's thoughts. "No," Edward and his sire said simultaneously.
"Good," Jasper said. He looked toward the nondescript door with the "4" on the frame and red flag flipped on it to indicate the room was not available. Listening over there, Dr. Masen?
Edward indicated he was.
Jasper tapped on the door. "Caleb? Mrs. Ross? It's Dr. Whitlock."
And they began.
Jasper pulsed very light waves of reassurance and calm as he re-entered the room. "All right," he said, accenting his underlying Southern drawl, "now what I'd like to do, Caleb, is just talk to you." Mrs. Ross, he saw, had pulled out a flip-chart from a capacious black handbag. Jasper nodded with a crooked smile at the woman, noting how her feelings of disconcertion coincided predictably with a mild attraction. He couldn't help it, but he would work with what he had. "Thank you, ma'am. I appreciate your help."
Caleb was still frightened and angry, but both these emotions had eased in response to Jasper's efforts. "So," the empath said, settling himself in the newly-upright swivel stool, "You got pretty angry there, huh?" Caleb nodded, a shock of hair falling over his forehead. He pushed it away with the back of his hand. "Can you show me what made you angry?"
The young man frowned, his eyes downcast even as he reached out to snag the flip chart from his mother. Without seeming to look – even at the pictures he was choosing – he brushed a picture of a doctor, and then of a carousel, and then a megaphone with lines coming from it. As an apparent afterthought, he flipped back to the first page and seemed to caress an image of a dinosaur with the tip of his forefinger. That image, he stared at. "Want!" The emphasis was there, but the volume was low.
"Doctor? He's got a toy, a Numbersaurus toy. It's in the car."
Jasper smiled again at her. "Go on ahead, ma'am. If it's okay with you, Caleb and I can just hang out." Another wave of reassurance, combined with a smooth edging of happiness.
It worked for both of them and Jasper mentally patted himself on the back. We'll only have a minute. Got anything new, Edward?
Edward's voice was, of course, only audible to the local vampires. "Just that he's seeing a room and a computer. And then houses. No, wait. Architectural drawings. He's been finding them online or something."
Mrs. Ross left and Jasper left the door open to reassure any hospital busybody that all was above board in the examining room. "So do you have things you like to do, Caleb?"
The boy sat absolutely still before he bobbed his head and turned the flip chart over and over. Then he pointed to a picture of a computer. Score one for Dr. Masen, Jasper thought.
"You like computers? Do you have games you play? My brother, Emmett, likes video games." Caleb thought about it, as if processing.
"Don't throw him so many questions at once. He's not following. Try again, one at a time."
Edward's advice was taken and Caleb nodded, his emotions more placid, though part of his anxiety was rising. Only part, which Jasper found odd. As if part of the boy's mind was worried, while the rest was just looking at pictures.
Pen. Paper. Computer. House. Happy face.
"You're very good at this, Caleb," Jasper commented as the teenager's emotions signaled a sense of completion. "Yeah, he likes to draw houses and wants to on the computer," he informed Carlisle and Edward.
Mrs. Ross returned then, with a floppy-necked dinosaur under one arm. "Here you go, Caleb."
The boy's face glowed with a shy smile. Refusing to talk or meet anyone's eyes, he still pulled the dinosaur to his chest, inhaled deeply and sighed. His anxiety dipped dramatically.
"You all right, Caleb? Did you and Dr., er, Whitlock have a good talk?"
Jasper waited, but the boy didn't say anything. He just hummed quietly into the plush green stuffed toy in his arms. So, Dr. Whitlock spoke instead.
"That's a great visual organizer and picture chart you have there, Mrs. Ross. It has to be reassuring for your son to be able to express himself, even in such a limited way. The human mind is usually far healthier for the ability to communicate, verbally or non-verbally."
"Thank you. We tried sign language, but –"
Jasper nodded when her voice fell into silence. "With autistic people, the communication centers of the brain are often like a series of roads. Good roads, well-paved, but they stop in the middle of a field and become unnavigable. So the goal is to get him comfortable and see how to teach his mind to find connections – to make new ones, build new bridges or find stepping stones from one road to the next."
"You can't cure autism," Mrs. Ross stated emphatically, suspicion flaring all around her in an almost visible (to Jasper) wave.
Jasper smiled and held up a hand. "Not gonna try, ma'am. I just want him to be less angry and afraid, same as you." He paused and studied both of them, waiting for a sense of calm to reassert itself. "Now, what I'd like to do is talk with you about some things Caleb showed me. A pen, paper, computer and a house. And an image of a happy person. Does he draw houses? Or does he try?"
After a mild spurt of surprise, Mrs. Ross nodded. "Yeah. He also looks at stuff on the computer. Is this something he showed you?"
Ah, I cheated. Better cover. "Just connecting the dots in my head, Mrs. Ross. He might find the ability to create to give him control over an immediate place in his environment. This kind of control over a small thing might lessen his fear about things he cannot control, things in his life that are beyond his ability to maneuver. It's a good outlet for his communication and creativity, too."
Edward filled him in on what the woman was thinking. "She likes that. She's thinking of several images of floor plans and model homes and building sites. She likes this a lot. Nice work, Dr. Whitlock."
Jasper managed not to grin.
Carlisle decided it was time to enter and he discussed therapy ideas with Mrs. Ross and made some referrals. Jasper and Edward waited in Carlisle's office, both of them monitoring the entire population of the Emergency Room. Just in case.
"Not bad for a Southern boy," Edward murmured as he sat, legs crossed, in the Spartan office with its hard white plastic and disinfected Lucite accents.
Jasper stretched out physically as well as with his empathic gift and allowed a broad grin to crinkle his features. "That boy understands more than he can say, I'm guessing."
"I do believe so," Edward said, steepling his fingers. "But he has problems organizing everything in his head. He knows what they mean but he doesn't quite comprehend how they mean. You know?"
"Definition but not implication?"
"Exactly." Puffing out a breath, Dr. Edward Masen uncrossed his legs. His actions were entirely human and Jasper was rather in awe of how thoroughly Edward and Carlisle assumed the façade of humanity at will. "Carlisle is still discussing therapy options. I'd like to see that boy again. See how he's doing. She's still resistant to medication, but therapy sounds good, she's saying."
"I can hear them, you know."
Edward cocked a brow. "Not as well as I."
It was an old argument and the two of them slid into silence.
Seven months later, after a series of heavy snowfalls had fairly isolated the outlying areas of Cheyenne – not a problem for the Cullen Coven in general, but for the humans with whom they interacted Dr. Masen and Dr. Whitlock were once more driving into Cheyenne. They were in the Volvo – to Edward's extreme satisfaction – when Carlisle called.
"Jasper. Are you on your way? They got here a bit early and since most of the locals are driving very carefully today, it's rather slow here."
"We're coming. How's he doing?"
He, of course, was Caleb Ross.
Jasper could hear Carlisle's smile. "I'll let you see when you arrive. He had drawn pictures of you and Edward, you know. They're on his visual chart."
Jasper exchanged a grin with Edward. "Nice to know we made an impression. We'll be there soon."
In Exam Room Two, Jasper felt a huge wave of gratitude wash over him from the mother as well as Caleb. The young man was standing taller, and though he wasn't meeting Jasper's eyes, his own were smiling as he looked at the sheaf of paper in his hand.
He thrust it out to Jasper. "Hunh," Caleb grunted. "You."
Jasper flashed a look to Edward, who had come in with him. The mind-reader smoothed the awkward moment over, saying, "Thank you, Caleb. You made these?"
A quick nod. "Me. Yes."
The tears in Mrs. Ross' eyes were entirely unexpected but also welcome. "He's been saying things. Short words, but he's been trying so hard!" Jasper and Edward noted the way the hair rose at the back of her neck. "It's been amazing. Thank you for suggesting the floor plan idea. I got him some software for the computer and bought him magazines and he's just been – obsessed. It's incredible. I had no idea all of that was in his head."
Jasper and Edward smiled at Mrs. Ross, grinned at Caleb, and flipped through computer print-outs of different kinds of house designs. Some roundish, some long and rectangular, there were huge bathrooms delineated and every single design had a swimming pool.
"I guess you like to swim?" Edward wondered out loud. "It's very healthy. Almost the perfect exercise."
Mrs. Ross almost spoke, but she physically stopped herself with her own hand as Caleb took the pictures back. "Swim. Me. Yes."
"That's wonderful, Caleb. We're very pleased for you."
"You look like a man who has grown up a lot," Jasper added. "You've learned some new stuff, huh?"
Caleb stood even taller and glanced up at the fluorescent lighting of the examination room with a smile on his face. He looked for all the world like a champion.