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.