Post Reply chapter 22: hide-and-seek
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Posted 11/28/08
It had taken much less time than I'd thought — all the terror, the despair, the
shattering of my heart. The minutes were ticking by more slowly than usual.
Jasper still hadn't come back when I returned to Alice. I was afraid to be in the
same room with her, afraid that she would guess… and afraid to hide from her
for the same reason.
I would have thought I was far beyond the ability to be surprised, my thoughts
tortured and unstable, but I was surprised when I saw Alice bent over the desk,
gripping the edge with two hands.
"Alice?"
She didn't react when I called her name, but her head was slowly rocking side to
side, and I saw her face. Her eyes were blank, dazed… My thoughts flew to my
mother. Was I already too late?
I hurried to her side, reaching out automatically to touch her hand.
"Alice!" Jasper's voice whipped, and then he was right behind her, his hands
curling over hers, loosening them from their grip on the table. Across the room,
the door swung shut with a low click.
"What is it?" he demanded.
She turned her face away from me, into his chest. "Bella," she said.
"I'm right here," I replied.
Her head twisted around, her eyes locking on mine, their expression still
strangely blank. I realized at once that she hadn't been speaking to me, she'd
been answering Jasper's question.
"What did you see?" I said — and there was no question in my flat, uncaring
voice.
Jasper looked at me sharply. I kept my expression vacant and waited. His eyes
were confused as they flickered swiftly between Alice's face and mine, feeling
the chaos… for I could guess what Alice had seen now.
I felt a tranquil atmosphere settle around me. I welcomed it, using it to keep my
emotions disciplined, under control.
Alice, too, recovered herself.
"Nothing, really," she answered finally, her voice remarkably calm and
convincing. "Just the same room as before."
She finally looked at me, her expression smooth and withdrawn. "Did you want
breakfast?"
"No, I'll eat at the airport." I was very calm, too. I went to the bathroom to
shower. Almost as if I were borrowing Jasper's strange extra sense, I could feel
Alice's wild — though well-concealed — desperation to have me out of the
room, to be alone with Jasper. So she could tell him that they were doing
something wrong, that they were going to fail…
I got ready methodically, concentrating on each little task. I left my hair down,
swirling around me, covering my face. The peaceful mood Jasper created
worked its way through me and helped me think clearly. Helped me plan. I dug
through my bag until I found my sock full of money. I emptied it into my pocket.
I was anxious to get to the airport, and glad when we left by seven. I sat alone
this time in the back of the dark car. Alice leaned against the door, her face
toward Jasper but, behind her sunglasses, shooting glances in my direction every
few seconds.
"Alice?" I asked indifferently.
She was wary. "Yes?"
"How does it work? The things that you see?" I stared out the side window, and
my voice sounded bored. "Edward said it wasn't definite… that things change?"
It was harder than I would have thought to say his name. That must have been
what alerted Jasper, why a fresh wave of serenity filled the car.
"Yes, things change…" she murmured — hopefully, I thought. "Some things are
more certain than others… like the weather. People are harder. I only see the
course they're on while they're on it. Once they change their minds — make a
new decision, no matter how small — the whole future shifts."
I nodded thoughtfully. "So you couldn't see James in Phoenix until he decided to
come here."
"Yes," she agreed, wary again.
And she hadn't seen me in the mirror room with James until I'd made the
decision to meet him there. I tried not to think about what else she might have
seen. I didn't want my panic to make Jasper more suspicious. They would be
watching me twice as carefully now, anyway, after Alice's vision. This was
going to be impossible.
We got to the airport. Luck was with me, or maybe it was just good odds.
Edward's plane was landing in terminal four, the largest terminal, where most
flights landed — so it wasn't surprising that his was. But it was the terminal I
needed: the biggest, the most confusing. And there was a door on level three that
might be the only chance.
We parked on the fourth floor of the huge garage. I led the way, for once more
knowledgeable about my surroundings than they were. We took the elevator
down to level three, where the passengers unloaded. Alice and Jasper spent a
long time looking at the departing flights board. I could hear them discussing the
pros and cons of New York, Atlanta, Chicago. Places I'd never seen. And would
never see.
I waited for my opportunity, impatient, unable to stop my toe from tapping. We
sat in the long rows of chairs by the metal detectors, Jasper and Alice pretending
to people-watch but really watching me. Every inch I shifted in my seat was
followed by a quick glance out of the corner of their eyes. It was hopeless.
Should I run? Would they dare to stop me physically in this public place? Or
would they simply follow?
I pulled the unmarked envelope out of my pocket and set it on top of Alice's
black leather bag. She looked at me.
"My letter," I said. She nodded, tucking it under the top flap. He would find it
soon enough.
The minutes passed and Edward's arrival grew closer. It was amazing how every
cell in my body seemed to know he was coming, to long for his coming. That
made it very hard. I found myself trying to think of excuses to stay, to see him
first and then make my escape. But I knew that was impossible if I was going to
have any chance to get away.
Several times Alice offered to go get breakfast with me. Later, I told her, not yet.
I stared at the arrival board, watching as flight after flight arrived on time. The
flight from Seattle crept closer to the top of the board.
And then, when I had only thirty minutes to make my escape, the numbers
changed. His plane was ten minutes early. I had no more time.
"I think I'll eat now," I said quickly.
Alice stood. "I'll come with you."
"Do you mind if Jasper comes instead?" I asked. "I'm feeling a little…" I didn't
finish the sentence. My eyes were wild enough to convey what I didn't say.
Jasper stood up. Alice's eyes were confused, but — I saw to my relief— not
suspicious. She must be attributing the change in her vision to some maneuver of
the tracker's rather than a betrayal by me.
Jasper walked silently beside me, his hand on the small of my back, as if he were
guiding me. I pretended a lack of interest in the first few airport cafes, my head
scanning for what I really wanted. And there it was, around the corner, out of
Alice's sharp sight: the level-three ladies' room.
"Do you mind?" I asked Jasper as we passed. "I'll just be a moment."
"I'll be right here," he said.
As soon as the door shut behind me, I was running. I remembered the time I had
gotten lost from this bathroom, because it had two exits.
Outside the far door it was only a short sprint to the elevators, and if Jasper
stayed where he said he would, I'd never be in his line of sight. I didn't look
behind me as I ran. This was my only chance, and even if he saw me, I had to
keep going. People stared, but I ignored them. Around the corner the elevators
were waiting, and I dashed forward, throwing my hand between the closing
doors of a full elevator headed down. I squeezed in beside the irritated
passengers, and checked to make sure that the button for level one had been
pushed. It was already lit, and the doors closed.
As soon as the door opened I was off again, to the sound of annoyed murmurs
behind me. I slowed myself as I passed the security guards by the luggage
carousels, only to break into a run again as the exit doors came into view. I had
no way of knowing if Jasper was looking for me yet.
I would have only seconds if he was following my scent. I jumped out the
automatic doors, nearly smacking into the glass when they opened too slowly.
Along the crowded curb there wasn't a cab in sight.
I had no time. Alice and Jasper were either about to realize I was gone, or they
already had. They would find me in a heartbeat.
A shuttle to the Hyatt was just closing its doors a few feet behind me.
"Wait!" I called, running, waving at the driver.
"This is the shuttle to the Hyatt," the driver said in confusion as he opened the
doors.
"Yes," I huffed, "that's where I'm going." I hurried up the steps.
He looked askance at my luggage-less state, but then shrugged, not caring
enough to ask.
Most of the seats were empty. I sat as far from the other travelers as possible,
and watched out the window as first the sidewalk, and then the airport, drifted
away. I couldn't help imagining Edward, where he would stand at the edge of the
road when he found the end of my trail. I couldn't cry yet, I told myself. I still
had a long way to go.
My luck held. In front of the Hyatt, a tired-looking couple was getting their last
suitcase out of the trunk of a cab. I jumped out of the shuttle and ran to the cab,
sliding into the seat behind the driver. The tired couple and the shuttle driver
stared at me.
I told the surprised cabbie my mother's address. "I need to get there as soon as
possible."
"That's in Scottsdale," he complained.
I threw four twenties over the seat.
"Will that be enough?"
"Sure, kid, no problem."
I sat back against the seat, folding my arms across my lap. The familiar city
began to rush around me, but I didn't look out the windows. I exerted myself to
maintain control. I was determined not to lose myself at this point, now that my
plan was successfully completed. There was no point in indulging in more terror,
more anxiety. My path was set. I just had to follow it now.
So, instead of panicking, I closed my eyes and spent the twenty minutes' drive
with Edward.
I imagined that I had stayed at the airport to meet Edward. I visualized how I
would stand on my toes, the sooner to see his face. How quickly, how gracefully
he would move through the crowds of people separating us. And then I would
run to close those last few feet between us — reckless as always — and I would
be in his marble arms, finally safe.
I wondered where we would have gone. North somewhere, so he could be
outside in the day. Or maybe somewhere very remote, so we could lay in the sun
together again. I imagined him by the shore, his skin sparkling like the sea. It
wouldn't matter how long we had to hide. To be trapped in a hotel room with
him would be a kind of heaven. So many questions I still had for him. I could
talk to him forever, never sleeping, never leaving his side.
I could see his face so clearly now… almost hear his voice. And, despite all the
horror and hopelessness, I was fleetingly happy. So involved was I in my
escapist daydreams, I lost all track of the seconds racing by.
"Hey, what was the number?"
The cabbie's question punctured my fantasy, letting all the colors run out of my
lovely delusions. Fear, bleak and hard, was waiting to fill the empty space they
left behind.
"Fifty-eight twenty-one." My voice sounded strangled. The cabbie looked at me,
nervous that I was having an episode or something.
"Here we are, then." He was anxious to get me out of his car, probably hoping I
wouldn't ask for my change.
"Thank you," I whispered. There was no need to be afraid, I reminded myself.
The house was empty. I had to hurry; my mom was waiting for me, frightened,
depending on me.
I ran to the door, reaching up automatically to grab the key under the eave. I
unlocked the door. It was dark inside, empty, normal. I ran to the phone, turning
on the kitchen light on my way. There, on the whiteboard, was a ten-digit
number written in a small, neat hand. My fingers stumbled over the keypad,
making mistakes. I had to hang up and start again. I concentrated only on the
buttons this time, carefully pressing each one in turn. I was successful. I held the
phone to my ear with a shaking hand. It rang only once.
"Hello, Bella," that easy voice answered. "That was very quick. I'm impressed."
"Is my mom all right?"
"She's perfectly fine. Don't worry, Bella, I have no quarrel with her. Unless you
didn't come alone, of course." Light, amused.
"I'm alone." I'd never been more alone in my entire life.
"Very good. Now, do you know the ballet studio just around the corner from
your home?"
"Yes. I know how to get there."
"Well, then, I'll see you very soon."
I hung up.
I ran from the room, through the door, out into the baking heat.
There was no time to look back at my house, and I didn't want to see it as it was
now — empty, a symbol of fear instead of sanctuary. The last person to walk
through those familiar rooms was my enemy.
From the corner of my eye, I could almost see my mother standing in the shade
of the big eucalyptus tree where I'd played as a child. Or kneeling by the little
plot of dirt around the mailbox, the cemetery of all the flowers she'd tried to
grow. The memories were better than any reality I would see today. But I raced
away from them, toward the corner, leaving everything behind me.
I felt so slow, like I was running through wet sand — I couldn't seem to get
enough purchase from the concrete. I tripped several times, once falling,
catching myself with my hands, scraping them on the sidewalk, and then
lurching up to plunge forward again. But at last I made it to the corner. Just
another street now; I ran, sweat pouring down my face, gasping. The sun was hot
on my skin, too bright as it bounced off the white concrete and blinded me. I felt
dangerously exposed. More fiercely than I would have dreamed I was capable
of, I wished for the green, protective forests of Forks… of home.
When I rounded the last corner, onto Cactus, I could see the studio, looking just
as I remembered it. The parking lot in front was empty, the vertical blinds in all
the windows drawn. I couldn't run anymore — I couldn't breathe; exertion and
fear had gotten the best of me. I thought of my mother to keep my feet moving,
one in front of the other.
As I got closer, I could see the sign inside the door. It was handwritten on hot
pink paper; it said the dance studio was closed for spring break. I touched the
handle, tugged on it cautiously. It was unlocked. I fought to catch my breath, and
opened the door.
The lobby was dark and empty, cool, the air conditioner thrumming. The plastic
molded chairs were stacked along the walls, and the carpet smelled like
shampoo. The west dance floor was dark, I could see through the open viewing
window. The east dance floor, the bigger room, was lit. But the blinds were
closed on the window.
Terror seized me so strongly that I was literally trapped by it. I couldn't make my
feet move forward.
And then my mother's voice called.
"Bella? Bella?" That same tone of hysterical panic. I sprinted to the door, to the
sound of her voice.
"Bella, you scared me! Don't you ever do that to me again!" Her voice continued
as I ran into the long, high-ceilinged room.
I stared around me, trying to find where her voice was coming from. I heard her
laugh, and I whirled to the sound.
There she was, on the TV screen, tousling my hair in relief. It was Thanksgiving,
and I was twelve. We'd gone to see my grandmother in California, the last year
before she died. We went to the beach one day, and I'd leaned too far over the
edge of the pier. She'd seen my feet flailing, trying to reclaim my balance.
"Bella? Bella?" she'd called to me in fear.
And then the TV screen was blue.
I turned slowly. He was standing very still by the back exit, so still I hadn't
noticed him at first. In his hand was a remote control. We stared at each other for
a long moment, and then he smiled.
He walked toward me, quite close, and then passed me to put the remote down
next to the VCR. I turned carefully to watch him.
"Sorry about that, Bella, but isn't it better that your mother didn't really have to
be involved in all this?" His voice was courteous, kind.
And suddenly it hit me. My mother was safe. She was still in Florida. She'd
never gotten my message. She'd never been terrified by the dark red eyes in the
abnormally pale face before me. She was safe.
"Yes," I answered, my voice saturated with relief.
"You don't sound angry that I tricked you."
"I'm not." My sudden high made me brave. What did it matter now? It would
soon be over. Charlie and Mom would never be harmed, would never have to
fear. I felt almost giddy. Some analytical part of my mind warned me that I was
dangerously close to snapping from the stress.
"How odd. You really mean it." His dark eyes assessed me with interest. The
irises were nearly black, just a hint of ruby around the edges. Thirsty. "I will give
your strange coven this much, you humans can be quite interesting. I guess I can
see the draw of observing you. It's amazing — some of you seem to have no
sense of your own self-interest at all."
He was standing a few feet away from me, arms folded, looking at me curiously.
There was no menace in his face or stance. He was so very average-looking,
nothing remarkable about his face or body at all. Just the white skin, the circled
eyes I'd grown so used to. He wore a pale blue, long-sleeved shirt and faded blue
jeans.
"I suppose you're going to tell me that your boyfriend will avenge you?" he
asked, hopefully it seemed to me.
"No, I don't think so. At least, I asked him not to."
"And what was his reply to that?"
"I don't know." It was strangely easy to converse with this genteel hunter. "I left
him a letter."
"How romantic, a last letter. And do you think he will honor it?" His voice was
just a little harder now, a hint of sarcasm marring his polite tone.
"I hope so."
"Hmmm. Well, our hopes differ then. You see, this was all just a little too easy,
too quick. To be quite honest, I'm disappointed. I expected a much greater
challenge. And, after all, I only needed a little luck."
I waited in silence.
"When Victoria couldn't get to your father, I had her find out more about you.
There was no sense in running all over the planet chasing you down when I
could comfortably wait for you in a place of my choosing. So, after I talked to
Victoria, I decided to come to Phoenix to pay your mother a visit. I'd heard you
say you were going home. At first, I never dreamed you meant it. But then I
wondered. Humans can be very predictable; they like to be somewhere familiar,
somewhere safe. And wouldn't it be the perfect ploy, to go to the last place you
should be when you're hiding — the place that you said you'd be.
"But of course I wasn't sure, it was just a hunch. I usually get a feeling about the
prey that I'm hunting, a sixth sense, if you will. I listened to your message when
I got to your mother's house, but of course I couldn't be sure where you'd called
from. It was very useful to have your number, but you could have been in
Antarctica for all I knew, and the game wouldn't work unless you were close by.
"Then your boyfriend got on a plane to Phoenix. Victoria was monitoring them
for me, naturally; in a game with this many players, I couldn't be working alone.
And so they told me what I'd hoped, that you were here after all. I was prepared;
I'd already been through your charming home movies. And then it was simply a
matter of the bluff.
"Very easy, you know, not really up to my standards. So, you see, I'm hoping
you're wrong about your boyfriend. Edward, isn't it?"
I didn't answer. The bravado was wearing off. I sensed that he was coming to the
end of his gloat. It wasn't meant for me anyway. There was no glory in beating
me, a weak human.
"Would you mind, very much, if I left a little letter of my own for your Edward?"
He took a step back and touched a palm-sized digital video camera balanced
carefully on top of the stereo. A small red light indicated that it was already
running. He adjusted it a few times, widened the frame. I stared at him in horror.
"I'm sorry, but I just don't think he'll be able to resist hunting me after he watches
this. And I wouldn't want him to miss anything. It was all for him, of course.
You're simply a human, who unfortunately was in the wrong place, at the wrong
time, and indisputably running with the wrong crowd, I might add."
He stepped toward me, smiling. "Before we begin…"
I felt a curl of nausea in the pit of my stomach as he spoke. This was something I
had not anticipated.
"I would just like to rub it in, just a little bit. The answer was there all along, and
I was so afraid Edward would see that and ruin my fun. It happened once, oh,
ages ago. The one and only time my prey escaped me.
"You see, the vampire who was so stupidly fond of this little victim made the
choice that your Edward was too weak to make. When the old one knew I was
after his little friend, he stole her from the asylum where he worked — I never
will understand the obsession some vampires seem to form with you humans —
and as soon as he freed her he made her safe. She didn't even seem to notice the
pain, poor little creature. She'd been stuck in that black hole of a cell for so long.
A hundred years earlier and she would have been burned at the stake for her
visions. In the nineteen-twenties it was the asylum and the shock treatments.
When she opened her eyes, strong with her fresh youth, it was like she'd never
seen the sun before. The old vampire made her a strong new vampire, and there
was no reason for me to touch her then." He sighed. "I destroyed the old one in
vengeance."
"Alice," I breathed, astonished.
"Yes, your little friend. I was surprised to see her in the clearing. So I guess her
coven ought to be able to derive some comfort from this experience. I get you,
but they get her. The one victim who escaped me, quite an honor, actually.
"And she did smell so delicious. I still regret that I never got to taste… She
smelled even better than you do. Sorry — I don't mean to be offensive. You have
a very nice smell. Floral, somehow…"
He took another step toward me, till he was just inches away. He lifted a lock of
my hair and sniffed at it delicately. Then he gently patted the strand back into
place, and I felt his cool fingertips against my throat. He reached up to stroke my
cheek once quickly with his thumb, his face curious. I wanted so badly to run,
but I was frozen. I couldn't even flinch away.
"No," he murmured to himself as he dropped his hand, "I don't understand." He
sighed. "Well, I suppose we should get on with it. And then I can call your
friends and tell them where to find you, and my little message."
I was definitely sick now. There was pain coming, I could see it in his eyes. It
wouldn't be enough for him to win, to feed and go. There would be no quick end
like I'd been counting on. My knees began to shake, and I was afraid I was going
to fall.
He stepped back, and began to circle, casually, as if he were trying to get a better
view of a statue in a museum. His face was still open and friendly as he decided
where to start.
Then he slumped forward, into a crouch I recognized, and his pleasant smile
slowly widened, grew, till it wasn't a smile at all but a contortion of teeth,
exposed and glistening.
I couldn't help myself— I tried to run. As useless as I knew it would be, as weak
as my knees already were, panic took over and I bolted for the emergency door.
He was in front of me in a flash. I didn't see if he used his hand or his foot, it was
too fast. A crushing blow struck my chest — I felt myself flying backward, and
then heard the crunch as my head bashed into the mirrors. The glass buckled,
some of the pieces shattering and splintering on the floor beside me.
I was too stunned to feel the pain. I couldn't breathe yet.
He walked toward me slowly.
"That's a very nice effect," he said, examining the mess of glass, his voice
friendly again. "I thought this room would be visually dramatic for my little film.
That's why I picked this place to meet you. It's perfect, isn't it?"
I ignored him, scrambling on my hands and knees, crawling toward the other
door.
He was over me at once, his foot stepping down hard on my leg. I heard the
sickening snap before I felt it. But then I did feel it, and I couldn't hold back my
scream of agony. I twisted up to reach for my leg, and he was standing over me,
smiling.
"Would you like to rethink your last request?" he asked pleasantly. His toe
nudged my broken leg and I heard a piercing scream. With a shock, I realized it
was mine.
"Wouldn't you rather have Edward try to find me?" he prompted.
"No!" I croaked. "No, Edward, don't—" And then something smashed into my
face, throwing me back into the broken mirrors.
Over the pain of my leg, I felt the sharp rip across my scalp where the glass cut
into it. And then the warm wetness began to spread through my hair with
alarming speed. I could feel it soaking the shoulder of my shirt, hear it dripping
on the wood below. The smell of it twisted my stomach.
Through the nausea and dizziness I saw something that gave me a sudden, final
shred of hope. His eyes, merely intent before, now burned with an uncontrollable
need. The blood — spreading crimson across my white shirt, pooling rapidly on
the floor — was driving him mad with thirst. No matter his original intentions,
he couldn't draw this out much longer.
Let it be quick now, was all I could hope as the flow of blood from my head
sucked my consciousness away with it. My eyes were closing.
I heard, as if from underwater, the final growl of the hunter. I could see, through
the long tunnels my eyes had become, his dark shape coming toward me. With
my last effort, my hand instinctively raised to protect my face. My eyes closed,
and I drifted.
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