As the engine cut off, I realized that I could hear something I hadn’t been expecting.
Police Chief Swan opened his door, struggled for a moment and then his boots thudded onto the ground – just as the passenger door opened. As Sue climbed out of her side of the cruiser (much more gracefully, too, I might add), Bella’s brow creased. She began to bite down on her lip when she saw the look on Edward’s face; my brother was glaring daggers in Sue’s direction, not that she could see him, of course. But, as usual, his strongest instinct was to blame me for not seeing this little complication on a perfectly uncomplicated visit from Charlie.
“Not little, Alice,” Edward hissed through gritted teeth, “and not uncomplicated, either.” Sue and Charlie were still walking to the door – we could recite War and Peace before they actually got to the house. (Well, maybe not War and Peace. Maybe just Anna Karenina -)
“ALICE!” Edward barked, infuriated by my short attention span. “Could you please make yourself useful! What is -”
To everyone’s surprise, Bella interrupted her husband in mid-sentence. “Don’t yell, Edward – how is that going to help right now? You should be listening to Sue’s thoughts, not harassing Alice – I’m sure she would have told us if she saw anything going wrong.” As she spoke, she crossed the room and placed a hand on my shoulder in solidarity. I don’t think anyone else even noticed that her fingers were shaking just a bit. But I did, and remorse flooded through me. Had I been paying attention to my earlier vision? Was there more I hadn’t seen, distracted as I was – ? No. If there had been more, both Edward and I would have seen it.
At the door, Charlie paused to clear his throat before knocking. Briefly, I wondered why he and Sue hadn’t said anything to each other the whole time they were within hearing range of our house. That led me to wonder what Edward was hearing in Sue’s thoughts, as Bella hesitated for the merest fraction of a moment and then flitted to the door. “Slowly, Bella,” Jazz cautioned, seeing her jerky movements. She straightened her shoulders, and pulled the door open at a reasonable speed.
“Ch – Dad!” Bella laughed, affecting surprise. Behind me, Emmett chuckled softly and Edward ground his teeth together. It was, as usual, a pretty unconvincing performance – Bella attempting to lead them into the living room at a human pace, but forgetting to blink, breathe, and talk in a lower octave. I’m sure her nerves were making it worse tonight – the last time Charlie was here, she had done slightly better.
But I’ve got to give Chief Swan credit – the man is brave. He sees everything, or at least more than most humans would, but he restrains his curiosity and tries to play along as if nothing was out of the ordinary. For example, on this particular occasion, he was ignoring all of us and had gone straight to Nessie, picking her up and swinging her through the air. Ness still wasn’t allowed to speak to, or near, Charlie, but she was squealing and giggling the way any little girl would. Sue, on the other hand, had her arms tightly crossed and was frowning intensely at Charlie as he pretended no one else was there.
Finally, she let out a short, exasperated sigh and turned, scanning our faces one by one with a fierce scowl, stopping when her eyes found Bella and Edward. Still trying to seem normal, Bella had gone to stand at his side, but the grin on her face was ghastly – a nervous, twisted smile that wavered as she met Sue’s stare. She swallowed, flicking her eyes toward Edward’s face, and then said, “Um … is anything wrong, Sue?” I winced – her voice was awful, thin and hesitant – she really needed to work on at least appearing self-confident.
“Well, Bella,” Sue began, stepping toward her, “since you ask, yes, there is something wrong.” Once again, she looked to Charlie, but was steadfastly ignored. I was beginning to get a pretty good picture of what was going on. My hunch was confirmed when Sue rolled her eyes in frustration and plowed forward, clenching her fists as she said, “You can’t keep involving people in your twisted life! You can’t keep dragging Charlie into these situations with horrible consequences! And you certainly can’t allow your mother, of all people, to put herself in danger by getting anywhere near you!” As she finished, she actually shook her fist at Bella, and, though I knew it was inappropriate, I found myself cheering Sue on mentally for just a second. What courage! To yell at a vampire like that …
Well, obviously, that was not going to fly. Edward tucked Bella behind him in one smooth movement, so fast it didn’t exist. Sue blinked in dizzy confusion, but quickly regained her composure, just in time for Edward to oh-so-politely ask, “Please, Sue – won’t you sit? We’ve prepared some snacks for you and Charlie, though Seth may have eaten them already,” he chuckled. He even went so far as to ruffle Seth’s hair affectionately. I watched as Sue, completely thrown off balance by Edward’s demeanor, obediently sat down on the sofa where Emmett had been earlier.
“Uh, yeah … I’ll go get that,” Seth said slowly, glancing from Charlie to Sue to Edward to Bella and then shaking his head. He got up and tripped off to the kitchen, leaving the rest of us in a calm, agreeable atmosphere, specially created by Jazz of course.
“S-so -” Sue began, touching her forehead. Edward interrupted in the most charming way possible.
“Now, Sue, we haven’t seen you in a few weeks. How have you been?” he inquired, quirking a finger at Bella behind his back where the humans wouldn’t see it. She glided forward, masking her confusion behind a bland expression, and stood by Edward’s side once more. I could almost hear Sue’s thoughts myself as she shook her head, fighting Jasper’s mood control.
“Please. None of the phony-baloney vampire tricks,” she insisted, twisting to glare at Emmett, who immediately let loose with a booming laugh.
“Hey, it’s not me! You got the wrong vampire trickster,” he guffawed, with a playful punch to Jasper’s shoulder. Jazz hid a smirk while Sue turned back to Edward, more annoyed than embarrassed.
“I’m serious, Mr. Cullen,” she spat, looking straight into his eyes.
All traces of humor left his face as he responded to her thoughts rather than her words. “I know, Sue. Please, allow me to assure you that your feelings are both natural and correct, as well as being seconded by Bella and myself. None of us wish to endanger Renee, but with Alice’s help, we’ve discovered that a quick visit and some misdirection will ensure everyone’s safety much more than lies and avoidance would.”
Because Edward was using his most persuasive tone, I was sure that Sue could not sense any insincerity in his words. Of course, it wasn’t exactly true … I hadn’t been checking to see if this visit was more safe than lying and avoiding, but Edward could be right about that part. He analyzes everything at the speed of light; I wouldn’t be surprised if his assessment of the situation was correct.
Charlie, with Ness on his lap, had finally joined Sue on the sofa and chose this moment to speak up. “Hey, you know, Bells, I’d do anything you asked me to if it means you staying close by,” he began gruffly. Sue shot him a look that was equal parts frustration and tender concern. “But, well, I hate to think that anything would happen to Renee because of what I’ve said to her today. Is it – I mean, how sure are you that it’s gonna be okay, Alice?” he asked, turning his head to find me.
I stepped forward with a carefree grin perfectly arranged on my face. “Charlie, how could you ever doubt me?” I giggled, grabbing Bella’s hand. “You know I want to keep Bella safe, just like you do!”
Here Sue interrupted our lovefest. “That doesn’t exactly answer the question,” she pointed out, leveling a no-nonsense stare in my direction. Once again I was impressed by her courage of convictions.
Edward, however, was not. Under his breath, he muttered, “Really, Alice, whose side are you on?” before clearing his throat to regain their attention. “We have seen that there is no possibility of danger,” he announced, lying through his teeth. And with a straight face, too! “Renee will not be staying here, and will only spend a few hours at a time in our home. In fact, you’ll both be here for one of those visits.”
I couldn’t help it – I frowned and my eyes slid off to the side as I looked for the future that he was rapidly inventing. Hmmm … so Sue was going to be invited to the dinner party at our house. That should be interesting …
“Well, I don’t have a problem with it, ‘s long as nobody gets hurt,” Charlie said with his usual bluntness. Even Sue could hear the finality in his voice, and she looked resigned. It seemed that she really, really hadn’t wanted Renee to come visit … Edward lazily looked up at the ceiling, then lowered his gaze to the floor in his standard invisible nod, confirming my suspicions. So Sue was not just afraid, then – she was also jealous. Well, that was just plain silly. Any fool could see that Charlie was in awe of Sue; respecting her opinion enough to allow her to come here and argue with a bunch of vampires was proof positive of that. And Sue, for her part, clearly cared very deeply for Charlie, though she masked it with aggression toward us, her natural enemy.
Anyway, Seth figured it was safe for him to come out of the kitchen at that point, so it got a little boring after that – a few humans eating the greasy food, a vampire or two pretending to visit the bathroom … the usual. By the time Charlie and Sue left that night, we’d verified the details of Renee’s visit, including where she would stay.
This is getting awfully long, though, which means I’m neglecting Jasper. Hello! Priorities! The rest can wait.
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Vampires have perfect recall. Photographic memories. No, that’s not quite it – more like hi-def Blu-Ray DVD memories.
Today, I found myself thinking about the time I thought Bella was dead.
As soon as the vision found me – Bella clenching her fists in determination before she jumped right off a high cliff, was swallowed by the rushing water, and did not come up – my world shattered into a million jagged fragments.
Guilt assaulted me in waves. What were we thinking, leaving Bella in Forks all by herself?! Why had I agreed not to keep an eye on her, to never return to her, never influence her life again? Why, when my brother left us, had I not immediately returned to Washington to discreetly stalk Isabella Swan?
Anyone could see that Bella felt more for Edward than any human had ever felt for another. Anyone could have predicted that she would not just “get over it” when he left. Anyone who had ever seen them together might have known that Bella would never forget the pain. But me? I was a so-called psychic, and I hadn’t seen it coming.
WHY had I obeyed Edward’s parting order to not watch Bella’s future?! DAMN it, why hadn’t Jasper and I boarded the first flight back to Washington after Edward left? Now it was too late, far too late. No vampire could run fast enough, no car could drive quickly enough; even a jet plane could not get me there in time to save Bella’s life.
But I would go to Forks, inexcusably late though I would be, and try to help relieve Charlie Swan’s agony in some small way. We had always gotten along. Maybe my company would give him some relief … and, since I could not help but be honest with myself, I had to admit that I fiercely hoped being there would give my pain some relief too.
On the flight to Seattle, I stared sightlessly at the back of the seat in front of me. In this agony of despair that had frozen my dead heart, I continued to analyze my actions without self-pity. It was my fault. Despite the very real pain that had gripped me when I had to leave Bella, my soul sister, behind in Forks without even so much as a goodbye, I now knew that I had never really believed it was goodbye forever. Some part of my subconscious mind had always known that these two couldn’t stay apart. Well, that false hope had caused the death of my beloved sister, Charlie, Renee, Carlisle and Esme’s cherished daughter, everyone’s best friend, and Edward’s true love.
I went through the motions robotically, not even concerned about acting human as I ran to the garage where our Mercedes was parked and then drove to the Swan residence. There was no car in the driveway and no light on inside. Charlie must be at the hospital, then, or the beach. And Bella … the pain twisted around her name, stabbing my empty chest with remorse. Her truck must be somewhere near those horrid cliffs. But I couldn’t bring myself to track it down. For one thing, I wasn’t eager to cross into Quiluete territory, and for another, Bella’s sweet scent still filled the house and was wreaking havoc on me as I stood motionless in the front hall.
I have no idea how long I stayed there, locked in place, letting her fragrance swirl around me, drowning in memories, guilt, despair, and self-reproach. But the next thing I was aware of was a familiar chugging sound. Coming out of my reverie, I listened more closely. Yes, it was definitely Bella’s ancient Chevy heading my way. For the briefest moment I wished it would drive straight into the house and crush me – but, of course, that was impossible.
Someone was returning the truck to its home, but its owner would never return. I listened dully as it drew closer, then stopped in front of the house. A low, rough male voice began to speak, and it suddenly hit me – there were two heartbeats in the truck, not just one. Did that – ? Did the man just say “Bella?” But no, I couldn’t let irrational hope take over. That could only make it worse …
And yet … I heard the second heartbeat so clearly. It was impossible, but it sounded exactly like Bella’s heart. Nobody was speaking now … I could only hear movements. And then the man opened and slammed closed the passenger door, almost in the same instant. As he began revving the engine I heard her voice. I heard it! She was speaking! Had I lost my mind? Was she haunting Forks? I had never seen evidence of a ghost’s existence before, but I knew beyond doubt that if Bella’s ghost were here, Edward and I would devote the rest of our miserable existences to following her and begging her to stay with us forever.
The truck was roaring in protest as the man threw a rough U-turn, and then – I heard her voice again. I could hear Bella conversing with the unknown man. It was her, in the flesh, and she was begging to be allowed to come back to her house, which made no sense, but then it also made no sense that Bella was somehow there and able to speak at all.
The rest of the brief conversation was just as confusing, but as the man jumped out of the truck, I heard him say, “Bye, Bella. I really hope you don’t die.” By now I was frozen in place, insane hope and joy battling the sure knowledge that Bella was dead. I had not seen Bella come up. I saw her jump off a cliff and disappear into the rough waves. But now she was driving her truck back down the street to the house. Now she was walking up the path, those fumbling, awkward footsteps as familiar and dear to me as Jasper’s smooth gait. Now her scent was strong in the air, though tempered by saltwater and some repulsive wet dog smell. Now she was opening the door and fumbling for the light switch. I couldn’t bear to wait for her slow human hands.
I flipped the switch and almost exploded from the force of my bliss.
BELLA! BELLA, BELLA, BELLA!!! I screamed in my mind as my wide eyes found her whole, healthy, though bedraggled and exhausted-looking; her dear heart beating loudly, blood rushing through her veins and suffusing her cheeks with color. I could not move or speak for fear that I was somehow dreaming the entire thing.
Bella seemed to crumple, but then she flung herself at me with surprising strength, crying my name and wrapping her arms around me. I could not be imagining this, it was real. Bella was alive, Bella was sobbing in my arms. The relief I felt was immeasurable, life-changing, and all-consuming, but tempered by confusion. How? How was this possible?
“Bella?” I asked tentatively. The only response I received was increased gasping sobs, so I pulled her to the couch and onto my lap. As I rubbed her back soothingly, I fought the burning pain in my throat. Her potent scent was nothing compared to the pure heaven of seeing her again.
When Bella had calmed down a bit, we spent some time catching up. That is, I spent some time interrogating her, demanding an explanation for the attempted suicide. I’ve never been as surprised as I was then: first, to find her alive, then to learn that not only did werewolves exist, but that her best friend was one. A young werewolf, to be precise. What new kind of madness was this? I had to interrupt to scold her – this definitely counted as reckless behavior; the fact that a werewolf had saved her life didn’t entirely placate me. As she continued her tale of what I had been missing, I learned that Victoria and Laurent had both returned to harm Bella. My eyes narrowed to slits as she spoke; apparently Bella had seen Victoria in the water, coming after her. My god, Bella just couldn’t get a break, could she? In this tiny, insignificant town, her life had come so close to an abrupt end – how many times now? Finally, Bella’s voice trailed off, and she looked down at her hands pensively. My icy heart constricted as I analyzed her grief-stricken expression.
“Our leaving didn’t do you any good at all, did it?” I murmured, guilt seeping into my voice as I took in the deep shadows under her eyes, the wild disbelief whenever she looked at me, not to mention her hoarse, seawater-roughened voice struggling to pronounce each word. I had to reassure her that I was not going to disappear again … at least, not immediately. When she looked able to focus, I told her straight out, “You look like hell, Bella.”
“I drowned today,” she reminded me, but her eyes slid away from my face and her cheeks reddened a bit. I knew, and she knew, that wasn’t the only reason for it.
“It goes deeper than that. You’re a mess.” My words made her flinch, and her next statement sounded more defensive.
“Look, I’m doing my best.”
“What do you mean?” I asked warily. I still wasn’t entirely convinced that the cliff dive had been purely recreational. There was something in her face …
“It hasn’t been easy. I’m working on it.” She sounded so brave, but the signs were impossible to ignore. She was deeply and profoundly depressed, and had been for months.
“I told him,” I muttered to myself. Bella sighed in fond exasperation.
“Alice. What did you think you were going to find? I mean, besides me dead? Did you expect to find me skipping around and whistling show tunes? You know me better than that.”
I know the depth of her bond with Edward better than that – that was what she meant. Once again, guilt filled my granite body, and I made a silent vow. I would not ever allow Bella to be left defenseless and heartbroken, never again. No matter what anyone tried to tell, ask, order, or beg me to do or not to do, I could not let Bella live in danger and misery like this. For her, I would be the best sister anyone had ever had, whether or not she and Edward ever saw each other again …
Slowly, I surfaced from the memory. It had been one of the worst days of my life, and I had never hated myself more; but the sweet relief of being reunited, after the painful absence and then the terrifying experience in Volterra, more than made up for it. Though the memory could still paralyze me with the intensity of its pain, it also made me even more grateful for what we all have now – happily ever after couldn’t even come close.
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