Chapter 3 THE END|
I FELT ABSOLUTELY HIDEOUS IN THE MORNING. I HADN'T slept well; my arm burned and my head ached. It didn't help my outlook that Edward's face was smooth and remote as he kissed my forehead quickly and ducked out my window. I was afraid of the time I'd spent unconscious, afraid that he might have been thinking about right and wrong again while he watched me sleep. The anxiety seemed to ratchet up the intensity of the pounding in my head.
Edward was waiting for me at school, as usual, but his face was still wrong. There was something buried in his eyes that I couldn't be sure of - and it scared me. I didn't want to bring up last night, but I wasn't sure if avoiding the subject would be worse.
He opened my door for me.
"How do you feel?"
"Perfect," I lied, cringing as the sound of the slamming door echoed in my head.
We walked in silence, he shortening his stride to match mine. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, but most of those questions would have to wait, because chey were for Alice: How was Jasper this morning? What had they said when I was gone? What had Rosalie said? And most importantly, what could she see happening now in her strange, imperfect visions of the future? Could she guess what Edward was thinking, why he was so gloomy? Was there a foundation for the tenuous, instinctive fears that I couldn't seem to shake?
The morning passed slowly. I was impatient to see Alice, though I wouldn't be able to really talk to her with Edward there. Edward remained aloof. Occasionally he would ask about my arm, and I would lie.
Alice usually beat us to lunch; she didn't have to keep pace with a sloth like me. But she wasn't at the table, waiting with a tray of food she wouldn't eat.
Edward didn't say anything about her absence. I wondered to myself if her class was running late - until I saw Conner and Ben, who were in her fourth hour French class.
"Where's Alice?" I asked Edward anxiously.
He looked at the granola bar he was slowly pulverizing between his fingertips while he answered. "She's with Jasper."
"Is he okay?"
"He's gone away for a while."
Edward shrugged. "Nowhere in particular."
"And Alice, too," I said with quiet desperation. Of course, if Jasper needed her, she would go.
"Yes. She'll be gone for a while. She was trying to convince him to go to Denali."
Denali was where the one other band of unique vampires - good ones like the Cullens - lived. Tanya and
her family. I'd heard of them now and again. Edward had run to them last winter when my arrival had made Forks difficult for him. Laurent, the most civilized member of James's little coven, had gone there rather than siding with James against the Cullens. It made sense for Alice to encourage Jasper to go there.
I swallowed, trying to dislodge the sudden lump in my throat. The guilt made my head bow and my shoulders slump. I'd run them out of their home, just like Rosalie and Emmett. I was a plague.
"Is your arm bothering you?" he asked solicitously.
"Who cares about my stupid arm?" I muttered in disgust.
He didn't answer, and I put my head down on the table.
By the end of the day, the silence was becoming ridiculous. I didn't want to be the one to break it, but apparently that was my only choice if I ever wanted him to talk to me again.
"You'll come over later tonight?" I asked as he walked me - silently - to my truck. He always came over.
It pleased me that he seemed surprised. "I have to work. I had to trade with Mrs. Newton to get yesterday off."
"Oh," he murmured.
"So you'll come over when I'm home, though, right?" I hated that I felt suddenly unsure about this.
"If you want me to."
"I always want you," I reminded him, with perhaps a little more intensity than the conversation required.
I expected he would laugh, or smile, or react somehow to my words.
"All right, then," he said indifferently.
He kissed my forehead again before he shut the door on me. Then he turned his back and loped gracefully toward his car.
I was able to drive out of the parking lot before the panic really hit, but I was hyperventilating by the time I got to Newton's.
He just needed time, I told myself. He would get over this. Maybe he was sad because his family was disappearing. But Alice and Jasper would come back soon, and Rosalie and Emmett, too. If it would help, I would stay away from the big white house on the river - I'd never set foot there again. That didn't matter. I'd still see Alice at school. She would have to come back for school, right? And she was at my place all the time anyway. She wouldn't want to hurt Charlie's feelings by staying away.
No doubt I would also run into Carlisle with regularity - in the emergency room.
After all, what had happened last night was nothing. Nothing had happened. So I fell down - that was the story of my life. Compared to last spring, it seemed especially unimportant. James had left me broken and nearly dead from loss of blood - and yet Edward had handled the interminable weeks in the hospital much better than this. Was it because, this time, it wasn't an enemy he'd had to protect me from? Because it was his brother?
Maybe it would be better if he took me away, rather than his family being scattered. I grew slightly less depressed as I considered all the uninterrupted alone time. If he could just last through the school year, Charlie wouldn't be able to object. We could go away to college, or pretend that's what we were doing, like Rosalie and Emmett this year. Surely Edward could wait a year. What was a year to an immortal? It didn't even seem like that much to me.
I was able to talk myself into enough composure to handle getting out of the truck and walking to the store. Mike Newton had beaten me here today, and he smiled and waved when I came in. I grabbed my vest, nodding vaguely in his direction. I was still imagining pleasant scenarios that consisted of me running away with Edward to various exotic locales.
Mike interrupted my fantasy. "How was your birthday?"
"Ugh," I mumbled. "I'm glad it's over."
Mike looked at me from the corners of his eyes like I was crazy.
Work dragged. I wanted to see Edward again, praying that he would be past the worst of this, whatever it was exactly, by the time I saw him again. It's nothing, I told myself over and over again. Everything will go back to normal.
The relief I felt when I turned onto my street and saw Edward's silver car parked in front of my house was an overwhelming, heady thing. And it bothered me deeply that it should be that way.
I hurried through the front door, calling out before I was completely inside.
As I spoke, I could hear the distinctive theme music from ESPN's Sports Center coming from the living room.
"In here," Charlie called.
I hung my raincoat on its peg and hurried around the corner.
Edward was in the armchair, my father on the sofa. Both had their eyes trained on the TV. The focus was normal for my father. Not so much for Edward.
"Hi," I said weakly.
"Hey, Bella," my father answered, eyes never moving. "We just had cold pizza. I think it's still on the table."
I waited in the doorway. Finally, Edward looked over at me with a polite smile. "I'll be right behind you," he promised. His eyes strayed back to the TV.
I stared for another minute, shocked. Neither one seemed to notice. I could feel something, panic maybe, building up in my chest. I escaped to the kitchen.
The pizza held no interest for me. I sat in my chair, pulled my knees up, and wrapped my arms around them. Something was very wrong, maybe more wrong than I'd realized. The sounds of male bonding and banter continued from the TV set.
I tried to get control of myself, to reason with myself.
What's the worst that can happen? I flinched. That was definitely the wrong question to ask. I was having a hard time breathing right.
Okay, I thought again, what's the worst I can live through? I didn't like that question so much, either. But I thought through the possibilities I'd considered today.
Staying away from Edward's family. Of course, he wouldn't expect Alice to be part of that. But if Jasper was off limits, that would lessen the time I could have with her. I nodded to myself - I could live with that.
Or going away. Maybe he wouldn't want to wait till the end of the school year, maybe it would have to be now.
In front of me, on the table, my presents from Charlie and Renee were where I had left them, the camera I hadn't had the chance to use at the Cullens' sitting beside the album. I touched the pretty cover of the scrapbook my mother had given me, and sighed, thinking of Renee. Somehow, living without her for as long as I had did not make the idea of a more permanent separation easier. And Charlie would be left all alone here, abandoned. They would both be so hurt...
But we'd come back, right? We'd visit, of course, wouldn't we?
I couldn't be certain about the answer to that.
I leaned my cheek against my knee, staring at the physical tokens of my parents' love. I'd known this path I'd chosen was going to be hard. And, after all, I was thinking about the worst-case scenario - the very worst I could live through.
I touched the scrapbook again, flipping the front cover over. Little metal corners were already in place to hold the first picture. It wasn't a half-bad idea, to make some record of my life here. I felt a strange urge to get started. Maybe I didn't have that long left in Forks.
I toyed with the wrist strap on the camera, wondering about the first picture on the roll. Could it possibly turn out anything close to the original? I doubted it. But he didn't seem worried that it would be blank. I chuckled to myself, thinking of his carefree laughter last night. The chuckle died away. So much had changed, and so abruptly. It made me feel a little bit dizzy, like I was standing on an edge, a precipice somewhere much too high.
I didn't want to think about that anymore. I grabbed the camera and headed up the stairs.
My room hadn't really changed all that much in the seventeen years since my mother had been here. The walls were still light blue, the same yellowed lace curtains hung in front of the window. There was a bed, rather than a crib, but she would recognize the quilt draped untidily over the top - it had been a gift ROM Gran.
Regardless, I snapped a picture of my room. There wasn't much else I could do tonight - it was too dark outside - and the feeling was growing stronger, it was almost a compulsion now. I would record everything about Forks before I had to leave it.
Change was coming. I could feel it. It wasn't a pleasant prospect, not when life was perfect the way it was.
I took my time coming back down the stairs, camera in hand, trying to ignore the butterflies in my
stomach as I thought of the strange distance I didn't want to see in Edward's eyes. He would get over this. Probably he was worried that I would be upset when he asked me to leave. I would let him work through it without meddling. And I would be prepared when he asked.
I had the camera ready as I leaned around the corner, being sneaky. I was sure there was no chance that I had caught Edward by surprise, but he didn't look up. I felt a brief shiver as something icy twisted in my stomach; I ignored that and took the picture.
They both looked at me then. Charlie frowned. Edward's face was empty, expressionless.
"What are you doing, Bella?" Charlie complained.
"Oh, come on." I pretended to smile as I went to sit on the floor in front of the sofa where Charlie lounged. "You know Mom will be calling soon to ask if I'm using my presents. I have to get to work before she can get her feelings hurt."
"Why are you taking pictures of me, though?" he grumbled.
"Because you're so handsome," I replied, keeping it light. "And because, since you bought the camera, you're obligated to be one of my subjects."
He mumbled something unintelligible.
"Hey, Edward," I said with admirable indifference. "Take one of me and my dad together."
I threw the camera toward him, carefully avoiding his eyes, and knelt beside the arm of the sofa where Charlie's face was. Charlie sighed.
"You need to smile, Bella," Edward murmured.
I did my best, and the camera flashed.
"Let me take one of you kids," Charlie suggested. I knew he was just trying to shift the camera's focus from himself.
Edward stood and lightly tossed him the camera.
I went to stand beside Edward, and the arrangement felt formal and strange to me. He put one hand lightly on my shoulder, and I wrapped my arm more securely around his waist. I wanted to look at his face, but I was afraid to.
"Smile, Bella," Charlie reminded me again.
I took a deep breath and smiled. The flash blinded me.
"Enough pictures for tonight," Charlie said then, shoving the camera into a crevice of the sofa cushions and rolling over it. "You don't have to use the whole roll now."
Edward dropped his hand from my shoulder and twisted casually out of my arm. He sat back down in the armchair.
I hesitated, and then went to sit against the sofa again. I was suddenly so frightened that my hands were shaking. I pressed them into my stomach to hide them, put my chin on my knees and stared at the TV screen in front of me, seeing nothing.
When the show ended, I hadn't moved an inch. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward stand.
"I'd better get home," he said.
Charlie didn't look up from the commercial. "See ya."
I got awkwardly to my feet - I was stiff from sitting so still - and followed Edward out the front door. He went straight to his car.
"Will you stay?" I asked, no hope in my voice.
I expected his answer, so it didn't hurt as much.
I didn't ask for a reason.
He got in his car and drove away while I stood there, unmoving. I barely noticed that it was raining. I waited, without knowing what I waited for, until the door opened behind me.
"Bella, what are you doing?" Charlie asked, surprised to see me standing there alone and dripping.
"Nothing." I turned and trudged back to the house.
It was a long night, with little in the way of rest.
I got up as soon as there was a faint light outside my window. I dressed for school mechanically, waiting for the clouds to brighten. When I had eaten a bowl of cereal, I decided that it was light enough for pictures. I took one of my truck, and then the front of the house. I turned and snapped a few of the forest by Charlie's house. Funny how it didn't seem sinister like it used to. I realized I would miss this - the green, the timelessness, the mystery of the woods. All of it.
I put the camera in my school bag before I left. I tried to concentrate on my new project rather than the fact that Edward apparently hadn't gotten over things during the night.
Along with the fear, I was beginning to feel impatience. How long could this last?
It lasted through the morning. He walked silently beside me, never seeming to actually look at me. I tried to concentrate on my classes, but not even English could hold my attention. Mr. Berty had to repeat his question about Lady Capulet twice before I realized he was talking to me. Edward whispered the correct answer under his breath and then went back to ignoring me.
At lunch, the silence continued. I felt like I was going to start screaming at any moment, so, to distract myself, I leaned across the table's invisible line and spoke to Jessica.
"What's up, Bella?"
"Could you do me a favor?" I asked, reaching into my bag. "My mom wants me to get some pictures of my friends for a scrapbook. So, take some pictures of everybody, okay?"
I handed her the camera.
"Sure," she said, grinning, and turned to snap a candid shot of Mike with his mouth full.
A predictable picture war ensued. I watched them hand the camera around the table, giggling and flirting and complaining about being on film. It seemed strangely childish. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for normal human behavior today.
"Uh-oh," Jessica said apologetically as she returned the camera. "I think we used all your film."
"That's okay. I think I already got pictures of everything else I needed."
After school, Edward walked me back to the parking lot in silence. I had to work again, and for once, I was glad. Time with me obviously wasn't helping things. Maybe time alone would be better.
I dropped my film off at the Thriftway on my way to Newton's, and then picked up the developed pictures after work. At home, I said a brief hi to Charlie, grabbed a granola bar from the kitchen, and hurried up to my room with the envelope of photographs tucked under my arm.
I sat in the middle of my bed and opened the envelope with wary curiosity. Ridiculously, I still half expected the first print to be a blank.
When I pulled it out, I gasped aloud. Edward looked just as beautiful as he did in real life, staring at me out of the picture with the warm eyes I'd missed for the past few days. It was almost uncanny that anyone could look so... so... beyond description. No thousand words could equal this picture.
I flipped through the rest of the stack quickly once, and then laid three of them out on the bed side by side.
The first was the picture of Edward in the kitchen, his warm eyes touched with tolerant amusement. The second was Edward and Charlie, watching ESPN. The difference in Edward's expression was severe. His eyes were careful here, reserved. Still breathtakingly beautiful, but his face was colder, more like a sculpture, less alive.
The last was the picture of Edward and me standing awkwardly side by side. Edward's face was the same as the last, cold and statue-like. But that wasn't the most troubling part of this photograph. The contrast between the two of us was painful. He looked like a god. I looked very average, even for a human, almost shamefully plain. I flipped the picture over with a feeling of disgust.
Instead of doing my homework, I stayed up to put my pictures into the album. With a ballpoint pen I scrawled captions under all the pictures, the names and the dates. I got to the picture of Edward and me, and, without looking at it too long, I folded it in half and stuck it under the metal tab, Edward-side up.
When I was done, I stuffed the second set of prints in a fresh envelope and penned a long thank-you letter to Renee.
Edward still hadn't come over. I didn't want to admit that he was the reason I'd stayed up so late, but of course he was. I tried to remember the last time he'd stayed away like this, without an excuse, a phone call... He never had.
Again, I didn't sleep well.
School followed the silent, frustrating, terrifying pattern of the last two days. I felt relief when I saw Edward waiting for me in the parking lot, but it faded quickly. He was no different, unless maybe more remote.
It was hard to even remember the reason for all this mess. My birthday already felt like the distant past. If only Alice would come back. Soon. Before this got any more out of hand.
But I couldn't count on that. I decided that, if I couldn't talk to him today, really talk, then I was going to see Carlisle tomorrow. I had to do something.
After school, Edward and I were going to talk it out, I promised myself. I wasn't accepting any excuses.
He walked me to my truck, and I steeled myself to make my demands.
"Do you mind if I come over today?" he asked before we got to the truck, beating me to the punch.
"Of course not."
"Now?" he asked again, opening my door for me.
"Sure," I kept my voice even, though I didn't like the urgency in his tone. "I was just going to drop a letter for Renee in the mailbox on the way. I'll meet you there."
He looked at the fat envelope on the passenger seat. Suddenly, he reached over me and snagged it.
"I'll do it," he said quietly. "And I'll still beat you there." He smiled my favorite crooked smile, but it was wrong. It didn't reach his eyes.
"Okay," I agreed, unable to smile back. He shut the door, and headed toward his car.
He did beat me home. He was parked in Charlie's spot when I pulled up in front of the house. That was a bad sign. He didn't plan to stay, then. I shook my head and took a deep breath, trying to locate some courage.
He got out of his car when I stepped out of the truck, and came to meet me. He reached to take my book bag from me. That was normal. But he shoved it back onto the seat. That was not normal.
"Come for a walk with me," he suggested in an unemotional voice, taking my hand.
I didn't answer. I couldn't think of a way to protest, but I instantly knew that I wanted to. I didn't like this. This is bad, this is very bad, the voice in my head repeated again and again.
But he didn't wait for an answer. He pulled me along toward the east side of the yard, where the forest encroached. I followed unwillingly, trying to think through the panic. It was what I wanted, I reminded myself. The chance to talk it all through. So why was the panic choking me?
We'd gone only a few steps into the trees when he stopped. We were barely on the trail - I could still see the house.
Edward leaned against a tree and stared at me, his expression unreadable.
"Okay, let's talk," I said. It sounded braver than it felt.
He took a deep breath.
"Bella, we're leaving."
I took a deep breath, too. This was an acceptable option. I thought I was prepared. But I still had to ask.
"Why now? Another year - "
"Bella, it's time. How much longer could we stay in Forks, after all? Carlisle can barely pass for thirty, and he's claiming thirty-three now. We'd have to start over soon regardless."
His answer confused me. I thought the point of leaving was to let his family live in peace. Why did we have to leave if they were going? I stared at him, trying to understand what he meant.
He stared back coldly.
With a roll of nausea, I realized I'd misunderstood.
"When you say we - ," I whispered.
"I mean my family and myself." Each word separate and distinct.
I shook my head back and forth mechanically, trying to clear it. He waited without any sign of impatience. It took a few minutes before I could speak.
"Okay," I said. "I'll come with you."
"You can't, Bella. Where we're going... It's not the right place for you."
"Where you are is the right place for me."
"I'm no good for you, Bella."
"Don't be ridiculous." I wanted to sound angry, but it just sounded like I was begging. "You're the very best part of my life."
"My world is not for you," he said grimly.
"What happened with Jasper - that was nothing, Edward! Nothing!"
"You're right," he agreed. "It was exactly what was to be expected."
"You promised! In Phoenix, you promised that you would stay - "
"As long as that was best for you," he interrupted to correct me.
"No! This is about my soul, isn't it?" I shouted, furious, the words exploding out of me - somehow it still sounded like a plea. "Carlisle told me about that, and I don't care, Edward. I don't care! You can have my soul. I don't want it without you - it's yours already!"
He took a deep breath and stared, unseeingly, at the ground for a long moment. His mouth twisted the tiniest bit. When he finally looked up, his eyes were different, harder - like the liquid gold had frozen solid.
"Bella, I don't want you to come with me." He spoke the words slowly and precisely, his cold eyes on my face, watching as I absorbed what he was really saying.
There was a pause as I repeated the words in my head a few times, sifting through them for their real intent.
"You... don't... want me?" I tried out the words, confused by the way they sounded, placed in that order.
I stared, uncomprehending, into his eyes. He stared back without apology. His eyes were like topaz - hard and clear and very deep. I felt like I could see into them for miles and miles, yet nowhere in rheir bottomless depths could I see a contradiction to the word he'd spoken.
"Well, that changes things." I was surprised by how calm and reasonable my voice sounded. It must be because I was so numb. I couldn't realize what he was telling me. It still didn't make any sense.
He looked away into the trees as he spoke again. "Of course, I'll always love you... in a way. But what happened the other night made me realize that it's time for a change. Because I'm... tired of pretending to be something I'm not, Bella. I am not human." He looked back, and the icy planes of his perfect face were not human. "I've let this go on much too long, and I'm sorry for that."
"Don't." My voice was just a whisper now; awareness was beginning to seep through me, trickling like acid through my veins. "Don't do this."
He just stared at me, and I could see from his eyes that my words were far too late. He already had.
"You're not good for me, Bella." He turned his earlier words around, and so I had no argument. How well I knew that I wasn't good enough for him.
I opened my mouth to say something, and then closed it again. He waited patiently, his face wiped clean of all emotion. I tried again.
"If... that's what you want."
He nodded once.
My whole body went numb. I couldn't feel anything below the neck.
"I would like to ask one favor, though, if that's not too much," he said.
I wonder what he saw on my face, because something flickered across his own face in response. But, before I could identify it, he'd composed his features into the same serene mask.
"Anything," I vowed, my voice faintly stronger.
As I watched, his frozen eyes melted. The gold became liquid again, molten, burning down into mine with an intensity that was overwhelming.
"Don't do anything reckless or stupid," he ordered, no longer detached. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
I nodded helplessly.
His eyes cooled, the distance returned. "I'm thinking of Charlie, of course. He needs you. Take care of yourself - for him."
I nodded again. "I will," I whispered.
He seemed to relax just a little.
"And I'll make you a promise in return," he said. "I promise that this will be the last time you'll see me. I won't come back. I won't put you through anything like this again. You can go on with your life without any more interference from me. It will be as if I'd never existed."
My knees must have started to shake, because the trees were suddenly wobbling. I could hear the blood pounding faster than normal behind my ears. His voice sounded farther away.
He smiled gently. "Don't worry. You're human - your memory is no more than a sieve. Time heals all wounds for your kind."
"And your memories?" I asked. It sounded like there was something stuck in my throat, like I was choking.
"Well" - he hesitated for a short second - "I won't forget. But my kind... we're very easily distracted." He smiled; the smile was tranquil and it did not touch his eyes.
He took a step away from me. "That's everything, I suppose. We won't bother you again."
The plural caught my attention. That surprised me; I would have thought I was beyond noticing anything.
"Alice isn't coming back," I realized. I don't know how he heard me - the words made no sound - but he seemed to understand.
He shook his head slowly, always watching my face.
"No. They're all gone. I staved behind to tell you goodbye."
"Alice is gone?" My voice was blank with disbelief.
"She wanted to say goodbye, but I convinced her that a clean break would be better for you."
I was dizzy; it was hard to concentrate. His words swirled around in my head, and I heard the doctor at the hospital in Phoenix, last spring, as he showed me the X-rays. You can see it's a clean break, his finger traced along the picture of my severed bone. That's good. It will heal more easily, more quickly .
I tried to breathe normally. I needed to concentrate, to find a way out of this nightmare.
"Goodbye, Bella," he said in the same quiet, peaceful voice.
"Wait!" I choked out the word, reaching for him, willing my deadened legs to carry me forward.
I thought he was reaching for me, too. But his cold hands locked around my wrists and pinned them to my sides. He leaned down, and pressed his lips very lightly to my forehead for the briefest instant. My eyes closed.
"Take care of yourself," he breathed, cool against my skin.
There was a light, unnatural breeze. My eyes flashed open. The leaves on a small vine maple shuddered with the gentle wind of his passage.
He was gone.
With shaky legs, ignoring the fact that my action was useless, I followed him into the forest. The evidence of his path had disappeared instantly. There were no footprints, the leaves were still again, but I walked forward without thinking. I could not do anything else. I had to keep moving. If I stopped looking for him, it was over.
Love, life, meaning... over.
I walked and walked. Time made no sense as I pushed slowly through the thick undergrowth. It was hours passing, but also only seconds. Maybe it felt like time had frozen because the forest looked the same no matter how far I went. I started to worry that I was traveling in a circle, a very small circle at that, but I kept going. I stumbled often, and, as it grew darker and darker, I fell often, too.
Finally, I tripped over something - it was black now, I had no idea what caught my foot - and I stayed down. I rolled onto my side, so that I could breathe, and curled up on the wet bracken.
As I lay there, I had a feeling that more time was passing than I realized. I couldn't remember how long it had been since nightfall. Was it always so dark here at night? Surely, as a rule, some little bit of moonlight would filter down through the clouds, through the chinks in the canopy of trees, and find the ground.
Not tonight. Tonight the sky was utterly black. Perhaps there was no moon tonight - a lunar eclipse, a new moon.
A new moon. I shivered, though I wasn't cold.
It was black for a long time before I heard them calling.
Someone was shouting my name. It was muted, muffled by the wet growth that surrounded me, but it was definitely my name. I didn't recognize the voice. I thought about answering, but I was dazed, and it took a long time to come to the conclusion that I should answer. By then, the calling had stopped.
Sometime later, the rain woke me up. I don't think I'd really fallen asleep; I was just lost in an unthinking stupor, holding with all my strength to the numbness that kept me from realizing what I didn't want to know.
The rain bothered me a little. It was cold. I unwrapped my arms from around my legs to cover my face.
It was then that I heard the calling again. It was farther away this time, and sometimes it sounded like several voices were calling at once. I tried to breathe deeply. I remembered that I should answer, but I didn't think they would be able to hear me. Would I be able to shout loud enough?
Suddenly, there was another sound, startlingly close. A kind of snuffling, an animal sound. It sounded big. I wondered if I should feel afraid. I didn't - just numb. It didn't matter. The snuffling went away.
The rain continued, and I could feel the water pooling up against my cheek. I was trying to gather the strength to turn my head when I saw the light.
At first it was just a dim glow reflecting off the bushes in the distance. It grew brighter and brighter, illuminating a large space unlike the focused beam of a flashlight. The light broke through the closest brush, and I could see that it was a propane lantern, but that was all I could see - the brightness blinded me for a moment.
The voice was deep and unfamiliar, but full of recognition. He wasn't calling my name to search, he was acknowledging that I was found.
I stared up - impossibly high it seemed - at the dark face that I could now see above me. I was vaguely aware that the stranger probably only looked so tall because my head was still on the ground.
"Have you been hurt?"
I knew the words meant something, but I could only stare, bewildered. How could the meaning matter at this point?
"Bella, my name is Sam Uley."
There was nothing familiar about his name.
"Charlie sent me to look for you."
Charlie? That struck a chord, and I tried to pay more attention to what he was saying. Charlie mattered, if nothing else did.
The tall man held out a hand. I gazed at it, not sure what I was supposed to do.
His black eyes appraised me for a second, and then he shrugged. In a quick and supple notion, he pulled me up from the ground and into his arms.
I hung there, limp, as he loped swiftly through the wet forest. Some part of me knew this should upset me - being carried away by a stranger. But there was nothing left in me to upset.
It didn't seem like too much time passed before there were lights and the deep babble of many male voices. Sam Uley slowed as he approached the commotion.
"I've got her!" he called in a booming voice.
The babble ceased, and then picked up again with more intensity. A confusing swirl of faces moved over me. Sam's voice was the only one that made sense in the chaos, perhaps because my ear was against his chest.
"No, I don't think she's hurt," he told someone. "She just keeps saying 'He's gone.' "
Was I saying that out loud? I bit down on my lip.
"Bella, honey, are you all right?"
That was one voice I would know anywhere - even distorted, as it was now, with worry.
"Charlie?" My voice sounded strange and small.
"I'm right here, baby."
There was a shifting under me, followed by the leathery smell of my dad's sheriff jacket. Charlie staggered under my weight.
"Maybe I should hold on to her," Sam Uley suggested.
"I've got her," Charlie said, a little breathless.
He walked slowly, struggling. I wished I could tell him to put me down and let me walk, but I couldn't find my voice.
There were lights everywhere, held by the crowd walking with him. It felt like a parade. Or a funeral procession. I closed my eyes.
"We're almost home now, honey," Charlie mumbled now and then.
I opened my eyes again when I heard the door unlock. We were on the porch of our house, and the tall dark man named Sam was holding the door for Charlie, one arm extended toward us, as if he was preparing to catch me when Charlie's arms failed.
But Charlie managed to get me through the door and to the couch in the living room.
"Dad, I'm all wet," I objected feebly.
"That doesn't matter." His voice was gruff. And then he was talking to someone else. "Blankets are in the cupboard at the top of the stairs."
"Bella?" a new voice asked. I looked at the gray-haired man leaning over me, and recognition came after a few slow seconds.
"Dr. Gerandy?" I mumbled.
"That's right, dear," he said. "Are you hurt, Bella?"
It took me a minute to think that through. I was confused by the memory of Sam Uley's similar question in the woods. Only Sam had asked something else: Have you been hurt? he'd said. The difference seemed significant somehow.
Dr. Gerandy was waiting. One grizzled eyebrow rose, and the wrinkles on his forehead deepened.
"I'm not hurt," I lied. The words, were true enough for what he'd asked.
His warm hand touched my forehead, and his fingers pressed against the inside of my wrist. I watched his lips as he counted to himself, his eyes on his watch.
"What happened to you?" he asked casually.
I froze under his hand, tasting panic in the back of my throat.
"Did you get lost in the woods?" he prodded. I was aware of several other people listening. Three tall men with dark faces - from La Push, the Quileute Indian reservation down on the coastline, I guessed - Sam Uley among them, were standing very close together and staring at me. Mr. Newton was there with Mike and Mr. Weber, Angela's father; they all were watching me more surreptitiously than the strangers. Other deep voices rumbled from the kitchen and outside the front door. Half the town must have been looking for me.
Charlie was the closest. He leaned in to hear my answer.
"Yes," I whispered. "I got lost."
The doctor nodded, thoughtful, his fingers probing gently against the glands under my jaw. Charlie's face hardened.
"Do you feel tired?" Dr. Gerandy asked.
I nodded and closed my eyes obediently.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with her," I heard the doctor mutter to Charlie after a moment. "Just exhaustion. Let her sleep it off, and I'll come check on her tomorrow," he paused. He must have looked at his watch, because he added, "Well, later today actually."
There was a creaking sound as they both pushed off from the couch to get to their feet.
"Is it true?" Charlie whispered. Their voices were farther away now. I strained to hear. "Did they leave?"
"Dr. Cullen asked us not to say anything," Dr. Gerandy answered. "The offer was very sudden; they had to choose immediately. Carlisle didn't want to make a big production out of leaving."
"A little warning might have been nice," Charlie grumbled.
Dr. Gerandy sounded uncomfortable when he replied. "Yes, well, in this situation, some warning might have been called for."
I didn't want to listen anymore. I felt around for the edge of the quilt someone had laid on top of me, and pulled it over my ear.
I drifted in and out of alertness. I heard Charlie whisper thanks to the volunteers as, one by one, they left. I felt his fingers on my forehead, and then the weight of another blanket. The phone rang a few times, and he hurried to catch it before it could wake me. He muttered reassurances in a low voice to the callers.
"Yeah, we found her. She's okay. She got lost. She's fine now," he said again and again.
I heard the springs in the armchair groan when he settled himself in for the night.
A few minutes later, the phone rang again.
Charlie moaned as he struggled to his feet, and then he rushed, stumbling, to the kitchen I pulled my head deeper under the blankets, not wanting to listen to the same conversation again.
"Yeah," Charlie said, and yawned.
His voice changed, it was much more alert when he spoke again. "Where?'" There was a pause. "You're sure it's outside the reservation?" Another short pause. "But what could be burning out there?" He sounded both worried and mystified. "Look, I'll call down there and check it out."
I listened with more interest as he punched in a number.
"Hey, Billy, it's Charlie - sorry I'm calling so early... no, she's fine. She's sleeping... Thanks, but that's not why I called. I just got a call from Mrs. Stanley, and she says that from her second-story window she can see fires out on the sea cliffs, but I didn't really... Oh!" Suddenly there was an edge in his voice - irritation... or anger. "And why are they doing that? Uh huh. Really?" He said it sarcastically. "Well, don't apologize to me. Yeah, yeah. Just make sure the flames don't spread... I know, I know, I'm surprised they got them lit at all in this weather."
Charlie hesitated, and then added grudgingly. "Thanks for sending Sam and the other boys up. You were right - they do know the forest better than we do. It was Sam who found her, so I owe you one... Yeah, I'll talk to you later," he agreed, still sour, before hanging up.
Charlie muttered something incoherent as he shuffled back to the living room.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
He hurried to my side.
"I'm sorry I woke you, honey."
"Is something burning?"
"It's nothing," he assured me. "Just some bonfires out on the cliffs."
"Bonfires?" I asked. My voice didn't sound curious. It sounded dead.
Charlie frowned. "Some of the kids from the reservation being rowdy," he explained.
"Why?" I wondered dully.
I could tell he didn't want to answer. He looked at the floor under his knees. "They're celebrating the news." His tone was bitter.
There was only one piece of news I could think of, try as I might not to. And then the pieces snapped together. "Because the Cullens left," I whispered. "They don't like the Cullens in La Push - I'd forgotten about that."
The Quileutes had their superstitions about the "cold ones," the blood-drinkers that were enemies to their tribe, just like they had their legends of the great flood and wolf-men ancestors. Just stories, folklore, to most of them. Then there were the few that believed. Charlie's good friend Billy Black believed, though even Jacob, his own son, thought he was full of stupid superstitions. Billy had warned me to stay away from the Cullens...
The name stirred something inside me, something that began to claw its way toward the surface, something I knew I didn't want to face.
"It's ridiculous," Charlie spluttered.
We sat in silence for a moment. The sky was no longer black outside the window. Somewhere behind the rain, the sun was beginning to rise.
"Bella?" Charlie asked.
I looked at him uneasily.
"He left you alone in the woods?" Charlie guessed.
I deflected his question. "How did you know where to find me?" My mind shied away from the inevitable awareness that was coming, coming quickly now.
"Your note," Charlie answered. surprised. He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a much-abused piece of paper. It was dirty and damp, with multiple creases from being opened and refolded many times. He unfolded it again, and held it up as evidence. The messy handwriting was remarkably close to my own.
Going for a walk with Edward, up the path, it said. Back soon, B.
"When you didn't come back, I called the Cullens, and no one answered," Charlie said in a low voice. "Then I called the hospital, and Dr. Gerandy told me that Carlisle was gone."
"Where did they go?" I mumbled.
He stared at me. "Didn't Edward tell you?"
I shook my head, recoiling. The sound of his name unleashed the thing that was clawing inside of me - a
pain that knocked me breathless, astonished me with its force.
Charlie eyed me doubtfully as he answered. "Carlisle took a job with a big hospital in Los Angeles. I guess they threw a lot of money at him."
Sunny L.A. The last place they would really go. I remembered my nightmare with the mirror... the bright sunlight shimmering off of his skin -
Agony ripped through me with the memory of his face.
"I want to know if Edward left you alone out there in the middle of the woods," Charlie insisted.
His name sent another wave of torture through me. I shook my head, frantic, desperate to escape the pain. "It was my fault. He left me right here on the trail, in sight of the house... but I tried to follow him."
Charlie started to say something; childishly, I covered my ears. "I can't talk about this anymore, Dad. I want to go to my room."
Before he could answer, I scrambled up from the couch and lurched my way up the stairs.
Someone had been in the house to leave a note for Charlie, a note that would lead him to find me. From the minute that I'd realized this, a horrible suspicion began to grow in my head. I rushed to my room, shutting and locking the door behind me before I ran to the CD player by my bed.
Everything looked exactly the same as I'd left it. I pressed down on the top of the CD player. The latch unhooked, and the lid slowly swung open.
It was empty.
The album Renee had given me sat on the floor beside the bed, just where I'd put it last. I lifted the cover with a shaking hand.
I didn't have to flip any farther than the first page. The little metal corners no longer held a picture in place. The page was blank except for my own handwriting scrawled across the bottom: Edward Cullen, Charlie's kitchen, Sept. 13th.
I stopped there. I was sure that he would have been very thorough.
It will be as if I'd never existed, he'd promised me.
I felt the smooth wooden floor beneath my knees, and then the palms of my hands, and then it was pressed against the skin of my cheek. I hoped that I was fainting, but, to my disappointment, I didn't lose consciousness. The waves of pain that had only lapped at me before now reared high up and washed over my head, pulling me under.
I did not resurface.