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Chapter no 28 – THREE CONVERSATIONS

Midnight Sun (The Twilight Saga, Book 5)

DR. SADARANGANI, CARLISLE’S FRIEND, DID MAKE THINGS SMOOTHER. Carlisle

had him paged while they were still bringing a gurney for Bella. It only took minutes for Dr. Sadarangani to get Bella started on her first transfusion. Once she was receiving blood, Carlisle relaxed. He was fairly sure that everything else was in order.

It was not so easy for me to be calm. Of course I trusted Carlisle, and Dr. Sadarangani seemed competent. I could read their honest judgment of her status. I heard the wonder of Dr. Sadarangani and the doctors on his team when they inspected the perfect suturing of Bella’s wounds, the impeccable setting of her leg in the field. I heard Dr. Sadarangani behind closed doors, regaling his coworkers with tales of Dr. Cullen’s exploits in the inner-city hospital in Baltimore where they’d worked together fourteen years ago. I heard the surprise he voiced at Carlisle’s unchanged appearance, and his silent suspicions that—despite Carlisle’s claims that the cool, humid air of the Pacific Northwest was a natural fountain of youth—Carlisle had been experimenting in plastics. He was sanguine enough about Bella’s case to beg Carlisle to look in on a few of his as yet undiagnosed patients, declaring to his interns that they would never see a better diagnostician than Dr. Cullen. And Carlisle was confident enough in her condition that he agreed to go help others.

But this wasn’t life or death for either of them the way it was for me. That was my life on the gurney. My life, pale and unresponsive, covered in tubes and tape and plaster. I kept myself together as best I could.

As the attending physician, Dr. Sadarangani had made the first call to Charlie, which was painful to listen to. Carlisle quickly took over for him and explained the fictional version of what he and I were doing here as succinctly as possible, assured Charlie that everything was going well, and promised to call soon with more information. I could hear the panic in

Charlie’s voice and was sure that he was no more persuaded than I.

It didn’t take very long before Bella was presumed in stable condition and placed in a recovery room. Alice hadn’t even returned from her errands. The new blood pulsing through Bella’s body altered her scent in a way I should have anticipated, but it took me by surprise. While I was aware of a significant lessening of my thirst-pain, I didn’t enjoy the change. This strange blood seemed an interloper, alien. It wasn’t part of her and I resented the intrusion, irrational as that was. Her scent would begin to return in just twenty-four hours, before she’d even woken up. But she would not entirely replace that which was lost for many weeks. Regardless, this brief distortion was too strong a reminder that, at some point in the future, the scent that had compelled me for so long would be lost to me

forever.

Everything had been done that could be done. Now there was nothing left but the waiting.

During the interminable lull, there were few things that could hold my attention. I updated Esme. Alice returned, but left quickly when she saw that I would rather be alone. I stared through the east-facing window at a busy road and a few modest skyscrapers. I listened to the steady beat of her heart to stay sane.

A few conversations, however, had some significance for me.

Carlisle waited until he was in Bella’s room with me to call Charlie again. He knew I would want to listen.

“Hello, Charlie.”

“Carlisle? What’s happening?”

“She’s had a transfusion and an MRI. Things look very good so far. It doesn’t appear there are any internal injuries we missed.”

“Can I talk to her?”

“They’re keeping her sedated for a while. It’s perfectly normal. She would be in too much pain if she were awake.” I winced while Carlisle continued. “She needs to heal for a few days.”

“Are you sure everything is okay?”

“I promise you, Charlie. I will tell you the moment there is something to worry about. She really is going to be fine. She’ll be on crutches for a while, but other than that, she’ll be back to normal.”

“Thank you, Carlisle. I’m so glad you were there.”

“So am I.”

“I know this must be putting you out—”

“Don’t even mention it, Charlie. I’m only too happy to stay with Bella till she’s ready to come home.”

“I’ll admit, that does make me feel a lot better. Will… will Edward be staying, too? I mean, with school and everything…”

“He’s already spoken with his teachers,” Carlisle said, though actually Alice was the one who would set everything up, “and they’re letting him work remotely. He’s keeping track of Bella’s homework, too, though I’m sure the teachers will cut her a break.” Carlisle pitched his voice a bit lower. “He’s gutted about all this, you know.”

“I’m not sure I understand. He—Edward talked you into going to all the way to Phoenix?”

“Yes. He was extremely concerned when Bella left. He felt responsible.

He thought he had to put it right.”

“What even happened?” Charlie asked, sounding bewildered. “One minute everything is normal and then Bella is shrieking about liking your boy, and that being a problem, and then she’s running out in the middle of the night? Did you get anything coherent out of yours?”

“Yes, we had time to discuss everything on the way here. I guess Edward told Bella how much he cares for her. He said at first she seemed happy, but then something clearly started to bother her. She got upset and wanted to go home. When they got there, she told him to go away.”

“Yeah, I was there for that.”

“Edward still doesn’t understand what it was all about. They didn’t have a chance to talk before…”

Charlie sighed. “That part I get. It’s some complicated stuff with her mother. She was overreacting just a little, I think.”

“I’m sure she had her reasons.”

Charlie harrumphed uncomfortably. “But what do you think about all this, Carlisle? I mean, they’re just teenagers. Isn’t this a little… intense?”

Carlisle’s answering laugh was breezy. “Don’t you remember being seventeen?”

“Not really, no.”

Carlisle laughed again. “Do you remember the first time you fell in love?”

Charlie was quiet for a minute. “Yeah, I do. Hard stuff to forget.”

“It is indeed.” Carlisle sighed. “I’m so sorry, Charlie. If we hadn’t come here, she wouldn’t have even been in that stairwell in the first place.”

“Now, now, don’t start with that, Carlisle. If you weren’t there, she could have fallen through a window anywhere. And she wouldn’t have been so lucky if you weren’t close by.”

“I’m just happy she’s safe.” “It’s killing me not to be there.” “I’d happily arrange a flight—”

“No, that’s not the problem.” Charlie sighed. “You know we don’t get a lot of serious crime up here, but that nasty assault case from last summer is finally going to trial and if I’m not here to testify, it would only help the defense.”

“Of course, Charlie. There’s no need for you to worry. Do your job, put the bad guy away, and I’ll make sure Bella is back to you in good condition, very soon.”

“I wouldn’t be able to stay in my right mind if you weren’t there. So thank you again. I’m sending Renée out. That will probably make Bella happier anyway.”

“That’s a wonderful idea. I’m delighted to get the chance to meet Bella’s mother.”

“I’m warning you now, she’ll make a fuss.” “That’s certainly her prerogative as a mother.”

“Thank you again, Carlisle. Thank you for taking care of my girl.” “Of course, Charlie.”

Carlisle only sat with me a few moments after he disconnected. It was always difficult for him to sit still inside a hospital full of suffering humans. It should have made me feel better that he had no concerns about leaving Bella. It didn’t.

The next significant thing to happen was the arrival of Bella’s mother. It was nearly midnight when Alice let me know that Renée would be in Bella’s room in fifteen minutes.

I tried to clean myself up a little in the attached bathroom. Alice had brought us the new clothes, so I wasn’t looking macabre, at least. Fortunately, by the time I’d thought to check, my eyes were back to normal, a dark ocher. Not that a small ring of red would have been so noticeable

with everything else that was going on; I just didn’t want to see it myself.

Done with that, I went back to brooding. I wondered if Bella’s mother would hold me more responsible than her father had. If either of them had known the real story…

My wallowing was abruptly interrupted by something unexpected. Something I’d never heard before, which was rare indeed: a voice so clear and strong that for a second I thought someone had come in the room without my noticing.

My daughter. Please, someone. Where do I go? My baby…

My next thought was that someone was shouting or screaming in the hospital lobby downstairs—as that seemed to be the location of the voice, now that I was concentrating—but no one had noticed a ruckus.

However, they had all noticed something else.

A woman, maybe thirty, maybe older. Pretty, but visibly distraught. Her distress was eye-catching, conspicuous, though she stood quietly in an out of the way corner, seeming unsure. Several orderlies and two nurses with places to be paused to see what she needed.

It was obviously Bella’s mother. I’d seen her in Charlie’s mind, and she bore a striking resemblance to her daughter. I’d thought Charlie’s memory was of Renée as a younger woman, but it could also have been more current. She hadn’t aged much. I guessed that she and Bella would often be mistaken for sisters.

“I’m looking for my daughter. She came in this afternoon. She was in an accident. She fell through a window.…”

Renée’s physical voice was perfectly normal, similar to but a little higher pitched than Bella’s own. Her mental voice, however, was piercing.

It was fascinating to watch how the other minds responded. No one seemed to notice the ringing mental broadcast, yet everyone was compelled to help her. Somehow, they were picking up on her need, and unable to ignore it. I listened, mesmerized by the interplay between her mind and theirs. An orderly and a nurse led her through the halls, towing her small bag for her, anxious to help.

I remembered my earlier speculations about Bella’s mother—my curiosity to understand what kind of mind had combined with Charlie’s to create someone as distinct and unusual as Bella.

Renée was the opposite of Charlie. I wondered whether that was

somehow what had brought them together in the beginning.

With her redundant number of guides, it didn’t take Renée long to find Bella’s room. She picked up another escort on her way: Bella’s assigned RN, who was immediately drawn to Renée’s urgency.

For a moment, I imagined Renée as a vampire. Would her thoughts shout audibly at everyone, inescapable? I couldn’t imagine that she would be very popular. I was surprised to find myself smiling at the thought—well and truly distracted.

Renée hurried into the room, dropping her bag at the door, the RN close beside her. At first Renée didn’t notice me leaning against the window, her eyes only for her daughter. Bella lay unmoving, the bruises just starting to bloom across her face. Her head was wrapped in gauze—though Carlisle had managed to keep them from shaving her hair—and there were tubes and monitors hooked to her everywhere. Her broken leg was casted from toes to thigh, and elevated on a contoured foam support.

Bella, oh baby, look at you. Oh no.

Another similarity to Bella—Renée’s blood was sweet. Not in the same way as Bella’s. Renée’s was too sweet, almost cloying. It was an interesting, if not entirely appealing, fragrance. I’d never noticed anything unusual about Charlie’s scent, but combined with Renée’s it had made for something potent.

“She’s sedated,” the RN said quickly as Renée approached the bed, hands outstretched. “She’ll be out for a bit, but you’ll be able to talk to her in a few days.”

“Can I touch her?” It was a whisper and a shout.

“Sure, you can pat her arm right there if you like, just be gentle.”

Renée stood by her daughter and rested two fingers lightly against Bella’s forearm. Tears started to cascade down Renée’s cheeks, and the RN put a motherly arm around her. It was hard for me to hold my place. I wanted to comfort her, too.

I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so, so sorry.

“There, there, honey. She’s gonna be fine, all right? That pretty doctor stitched her up as neat as I’ve ever seen. You don’t need to cry, hon. Why don’t you come sit over here and relax? It was a long flight, I bet. You came in from Georgia?”

Renée sniffed. “Florida.”

“You must be exhausted. Your daughter’s not going anywhere and she’s not doing any tricks, either. Why don’t you try to get some sleep, hon?”

Renée let herself be led toward the blue vinyl recliner in the corner of the room.

“Do you need anything? We’ve got some toiletries at the counter if you want to freshen up,” the nurse offered. She was a grandmotherly type, with long gray hair rolled into a bun on top of her head. Her nametag said “Gloria.” I’d met her earlier and not noticed her much, but I found myself feeling fondly toward her now. Was that for her kindness, or was I reacting to Renée’s appreciation? What a strange thing it was, being near someone who projected—apparently totally unconsciously—her thoughts this way. I supposed it was a little like Jasper, though rough and unsophisticated in comparison. And it wasn’t emotional projection, it was definitely her thoughts. Only I was aware I was hearing them.

This gave new dimension to what Bella’s life with her mother must have been. No wonder she had been so protective, so nurturing. No wonder she’d given up her childhood to take care of this woman.

“I’ve got my things.” Renée nodded tiredly to the small suitcase in the doorway.

I was feeling a bit like an elephant in the room. Neither of them had noticed me yet, though I was quite obvious. The lights were dimmed for nighttime, but still bright enough for the nurses to do their work.

I decided to announce my presence. “Let me get that for you.”

I moved quickly to place her bag on a small counter convenient to the recliner.

Like Charlie’s, Renée’s first reaction was a sudden spike of fear and adrenaline. She shook that off quickly, assuming she was just overtired and my unexpected movement had startled her.

I’m so jumpy. But who could this be? Um, hmm. Is this the pretty doctor? He looks too young.

“Oh, hey there, son,” Gloria said, a little disapproving. She’d had time to grow used to both Carlisle and me. “I thought you’d gone home.”

“My father asked me to keep an eye on Bella while he’s helping Dr. Sadarangani. He left me some specific things he wanted watched.” I’d used the same excuse several times today. I’d said it with confidence, and the

nurses had let their objections slide.

“Are they still at it? They’re going to fall asleep standing up.”

Of course, Dr. Sadarangani had long ago headed home. But he’d introduced Carlisle to the hematologist on the night shift, and Carlisle was off consulting on some of the more difficult cases.

Bella’s mother was broadcasting her confusion. Gloria jumped in to make the introductions.

“This is Dr. Cullen’s son. Dr. Cullen is the one who saved your daughter’s life.”

“You’re Edward,” Renée realized.

This is the boyfriend? Oh boy. Bella doesn’t stand a chance.

“I only have the one recliner, honey,” Gloria said, “and I think Mrs.

Dwyer needs it more than you.”

“Of course. I slept earlier. I’m perfectly comfortable standing.” “It’s very late.…”

I want to talk to him.

“It’s fine,” Renée said out loud. “I’d like to hear about the accident, if it’s okay. We’ll be very quiet.”

I wanted to laugh at that.

“Of course. I’ll just do my rounds and check in later on. Try to get some rest, hon.”

I smiled as warmly as I could at the woman, and she softened a little.

Poor kid. He’s really worried. Won’t hurt anything if he stays, especially with the mom here.

I walked over to Renée and held my hand out. She shook it weakly without standing, exhausted. She recoiled slightly from the chill; an echo of her earlier adrenaline rush washed through her.

“Oh, sorry, the AC is freezing in here. I’m Edward Cullen. I’m very glad to meet you, Mrs. Dwyer, I just wish it was under better circumstances.”

He sounds very mature. The room resonated with her approval.

“Call me Renée,” she said automatically. “I… I’m sorry, I’m not really myself.”

My, but he’s handsome.

“Of course you’re not. You should rest, as the nurse said.”

“No,” Renée objected quietly—in her physical voice, at least. “Do you mind talking with me for just a minute?”

“Of course not,” I answered. “I’m sure you have a thousand questions.”

I picked up the molded plastic chair from beside Bella’s bed and moved it closer to Renée.

“She didn’t tell me about you,” Renée announced. Her thoughts rang with hurt.

“I… I’m sorry. We haven’t been… dating for very long.”

Renée nodded, and then sighed. “I think it’s my fault. Things have been stressful with Phil’s schedule and, well, I haven’t been the best listener.”

“I’m sure she would have told you soon.” And then, in the face of her self-doubt, I lied. “I didn’t tell my parents for a bit, either. I think neither of us wanted to jinx things by speaking too soon. It’s a little silly.”

Renée smiled. That’s sweet. “It’s not silly.” I smiled back.

What a heartbreaking smile. Oh, I hope he’s not playing with her.

I found myself stumbling to reassure her. “I’m so sorry about what happened. I feel horribly responsible and I’d do anything to make it right. If I could trade places with her, I’d do it.” Nothing but the truth there.

She reached out to pat my arm. I was glad the sleeve was thick enough to conceal my skin’s temperature. “It’s not your fault, Edward.”

I wished she were right.

“Charlie told me some of the story, but he was pretty confused,” she said.

“I think we all were. Bella, too.” I thought of that night, so innocent to begin with, all pleasure and happiness. How quickly everything had gone awry. I felt as though I was still trying to catch up.

“That’s my fault,” Renée said, suddenly miserable. “I think I messed my girl up. For her to run away because she cares about you—that’s all on me.” “No, don’t think that.” I knew how much it had hurt Bella to say those things to Charlie. I could imagine what she would feel to know her mother was taking this on herself. “Bella’s a very strong-willed person. She does

what she wants. Anyway, she probably just needed some sun.” Renée smiled a tiny bit at that. “Maybe.”

“Did you want to hear about the accident?”

“No, I just said that to the nurse. Bella fell down some stairs, it’s not that unusual.” It was amazing how easily both of her parents accepted the story. “The window was unfortunate.”

“Very.”

“I just wanted to get to know you a little. Bella wouldn’t be acting this way if her feelings were mild. She’s never cared seriously about anyone before. I’m not sure she knows what to do.”

I smiled at her again. “She and I both.”

Sure, handsome, she thought doubtfully. He’s very smooth.

“Be gentle with my baby,” she ordered, more forceful. “She feels things very deeply.”

“I promise you I will never do anything to hurt her.” I said the words, and I meant them in the strongest way—I would give anything to keep Bella happy and safe—but I wasn’t sure they were true. Because what would hurt Bella the most? I couldn’t escape the truest answer.

Pomegranate seeds and my underworld. Hadn’t I just witnessed a brutal example of how badly my world could go wrong for her? And she was lying here broken because of it.

Surely, keeping her with me would be the greatest hurt possible.

Hmm, he thinks he means it. Well, people get broken hearts, and then they recover. It’s part of life. But then she thought of Charlie’s face and was uneasy. I can’t think, I’m so tired. It will all make sense in the morning.

“You should sleep. It’s very late in Florida.” I could hear how distorted with pain my voice had become, but she didn’t know my voice that well.

She nodded, eyes drooping. “Wake me if she needs anything?” “Yes, I will.”

She nestled into her uncomfortable chair and was quickly unconscious.

I moved my chair back to Bella’s side. It was strange to see her so still in sleep. I wished more than anything that she would start mumbling something from her dreams. I wondered whether I was there with her, in the dark. I didn’t know if it was right to hope that I was.

While I listened to mother and daughter breathe, I thought about Alice for the first time since she’d left me here alone. It was unlike her to give me this much space, no matter how desperate my mental state. I realized I’d been expecting her to check on Bella and me for some time now. And I could only guess one reason why she had avoided me instead.

I’d had plenty of time to process the events of the day, but I hadn’t. I’d

just stared at Bella and wished fruitlessly that I’d been more, that I’d been better. That I’d found the right thing and stuck to it before this nightmare could have touched her.

Now I realized there was something more I had to do. I knew it would be painful, but also that it would not be painful enough. I deserved worse. I didn’t want to leave Bella, but this wasn’t the place. I would call Alice. I wasn’t sure where she had gone to hide from me.

I stepped out into the hall—much to the interest of two nurses, who had wondered whether I would ever leave the room—and before I could reach for my phone I heard Alice’s thoughts coming up the stairs. I walked out to meet her just inside the stairwell doors.

She was carrying something in her hands, something small and black and wrapped in thin cords, and she held it as though she wished she could crush her hands together to destroy it. Part of me was surprised she hadn’t.

I’ve had this argument with you over three hundred times, but I could never convince you.

“No, you can’t. I need to see this.”

Agree to disagree. But here. She shoved the camera toward me, and I could see she was happy to be rid of it. I took it unwillingly. It felt dark and wrong in my hand. Go somewhere you can be alone.

I nodded. It was good advice.

I’ll keep an eye on Bella. It’s not necessary, but I know it will make you feel better.

“Thank you.”

Alice darted out of the stairwell.

I wandered the halls, which were quiet this late, but not unoccupied. I thought of ducking into a vacant patient room, but that didn’t feel secluded enough. I made my way to the lobby and exited to the grounds. This felt more alone, but I could still see the odd security officer making rounds. As long as I walked with purpose, they didn’t mind me, but if I were to linger, I was sure they would come question me.

I searched for a bubble of empty space, and was relieved to find an area devoid of human thoughts just across the large circular drive.

It seemed ironic that the deserted building was the campus chapel, lit and unlocked, despite the hour. I knew the place would have comforted Carlisle, but I was fairly sure nothing could help me now.

From the inside, I couldn’t find a way to lock the door, so I went to the very front of the room, as far from that door as possible. There were wooden folding chairs instead of pews. I pulled one against the wall, in the shadow of the organ.

Alice had left me with headphones. I put them in my ears.

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath. Once I saw this, I would have it in my head forever. There would never be a release from it. That seemed fair. Bella had lived it. I would only have to watch.

I opened my eyes and powered the camera on. The replay screen was just two inches across. I didn’t know whether to be grateful for that, or if I deserved to see it on a much larger scale.

The video began on a close-up of the tracker’s face. James—the name was too benign for what he was. He smiled at me, and I knew that this was what he wanted—to smile at me. This was all for me. What followed would be a conversation between the two of us. One-sided, but for all that would happen, Bella would never be the object. I was.

“Hello,” he said in a pleasant tone. “Welcome to the show. I hope you enjoy what I’ve prepared for you. I’m sorry that it’s a little rushed, a little thrown together. Who would have guessed it would only take me a few days to win? Before the curtain goes up, so to speak, I’d like to remind you that this is really your own fault. If you’d stayed out of my way, it would have been quick. This is more fun, though, isn’t it? Again, enjoy!”

The video cut to black, and then a new “scene” began. I recognized the angle of the camera. It was in place on top of the TV, pointed across the long wall of mirrors. The tracker was just leaning away. His speed, as he darted to the far-right side of the shot, was almost invisible to the camera— only a disjointed flicker was recorded. He settled himself there by the emergency exit, freezing in place with one hand extended. In that hand, a black rectangle. A remote control. His head was cocked slightly to the side, listening. He heard something too low for the recording, and smiled directly at the camera. At me.

Then I could hear her, too. Running, stumbling feet. Strained breathing.

A door opened, and then a pause.

The tracker lifted his remote and pressed a button.

Louder than anything else so far, coming through the speakers right under the camera, Bella’s mother’s voice cried out in panic.

“Bella? Bella?”

In the other room, the footsteps were running again. “Bella, you scared me!” Renée said.

Bella burst into the room, panicked and searching.

“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” Renée continued with a laugh. Bella spun to the sound of her mother’s voice, turned to face me now,

her eyes focusing just below the camera. I watched as the realization hit. She hadn’t entirely processed the trick yet, but I could see the relief beginning. Her mother wasn’t in danger.

The sound from the speakers went silent. Bella moved reluctantly. She didn’t want to see, but she knew he was there. She stiffened when her eyes found him, waiting motionlessly. I could only see the side of her face, but I could see him clearly as he smiled at her.

He approached, and I had to loosen my fingers. It was too soon to crush the recorder. He passed her, continued to the TV to set the remote down. As he did so, he looked into the camera and winked at me. Then he turned to face her. The way he turned his body put his back to me, but I had a perfect view of Bella. The camera was angled so that I couldn’t see him in the mirrors. That must have been a mistake on his part. I imagined he wanted me to see his performance.

“Sorry about that, Bella, but isn’t it better that your mother didn’t really have to be involved in all this?”

Bella looked at him with a strange, almost relaxed expression. “Yes.” “You don’t sound angry that I tricked you.”

“I’m not.” Truth radiated in her tone.

The tracker hesitated for one second. “How odd. You really mean it.” His head cocked to the side, but I could only guess at his expression. “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 leaned toward her as though he was expecting an answer, but she stayed silent. Her eyes were opaque, giving nothing away.

“I suppose you’re going to tell me that your boyfriend will avenge you?” he asked, his voice taunting. The taunt was not for her.

“No, I don’t think so,” Bella replied quietly. “At least, I asked him not to.”

“And what was his reply to that?” “I don’t know. I left him a letter.”

Please, please don’t come after him, she’d written in that letter. I love you. Forgive me.

Her manner was almost casual. This seemed to bother the tracker, because his voice was sharper now, his tone twisting into something ominous.

“How romantic.” The sarcasm was palpable. “A last letter. And do you think he will honor it?”

Her eyes were still impossible to read, but her face was calm as she said, “I hope so.”

Please, this is the only thing I can ask you now, she’d written. For me.

“Hmmm. Well, our hopes differ, then.” His voice turned sour. Bella’s composure was disrupting the scene he had planned. “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.”

Bella’s expression was patient now, like a parent who knows that her toddler’s story is going to be long and rambling but is determined to humor him anyway.

The tracker’s voice grew harder in response. “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.…”

The tracker kept going, working to keep his words slow and smug, but I could feel the undercurrent of his frustration. He started talking faster. Bella didn’t react. She waited, patient and polite. It was obvious this rattled him.

I’d thought little about how the tracker had found Bella—there hadn’t been time for anything besides action—but this all made sense. None of it surprised me. I winced a little when I realized our flight to Phoenix had been the trigger for his last move. But it was only one of a thousand mistakes on my conscience.

He was wrapping up his monologue—I wondered whether he thought I would be impressed?—and I tried to brace myself for what would follow.

“Very easy, you know,” he concluded. “Not really up to my standards. So, you see, I’m hoping you’re wrong about your boyfriend. Edward, isn’t

it?” It was a silly thing, to pretend he’d forgotten my name. He couldn’t forget it any more than I would ever forget his.

Bella didn’t answer him. She was looking a little confused now. As though she didn’t understand the point. She didn’t realize the show wasn’t for her.

“Would you mind, very much, if I left a little letter of my own for your Edward?”

The tracker walked backward until he was out of the frame. The picture suddenly zoomed tight on only Bella’s face.

Her expression was perfectly clear to me. She was starting to realize. She’d known he was going to kill her. She had never considered that he would torture her first. Panic touched her eyes for the first time since she’d discovered her mother was safe.

My own fear and horror grew with hers. How would I survive this? I didn’t know. But she had, so I must.

When the tracker was sure I’d had time to absorb her dawning fear, he widened the frame again, turning the angle slightly so that I could now see his reflection in the mirror over Bella’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, but I just don’t think he’ll be able to resist hunting me after he watches this.” He was satisfied again with his production. Bella’s terror was the drama he’d been waiting for, expecting. “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 into frame again, moving closer to her. His smile was twisted in the mirrors. “Before we begin…”

Bella’s lips were white.

“I would just like to rub it in, just a little bit.” His eyes met mine in the mirror. “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.”

Alice had shown me the way to make the tracker lose interest. He didn’t realize that I’d rejected the idea. He would never have understood why.

He began another monologue, and though I recognized that his need to gloat was the reason Bella had survived long enough for us to get there, I was still grinding my teeth in frustration until he said the words little friend,

and I realized this was something more. This was what Bella had tried to tell us. Alice, the video—he knew you, Alice, he knew where you came from. “… She didn’t even seem to notice the pain, poor little creature,” the tracker was explaining. “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. I destroyed

the old one in vengeance.”

“Alice,” Bella breathed. The revelation didn’t bring any color back into her face. Her lips were ever so faintly green now. Would she pass out? I found myself hoping there would be a break, a moment of escape, even though I knew it couldn’t last.

There was a lot to think about here, and at some point I would want to know what Alice felt, but not now. Not now.

“Yes, your little friend. I was surprised to see her in the clearing.” He made eye contact with me again. “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 walked closer and closer until he was looming over her, then reached out with one hand, and I nearly crushed the camera again. He didn’t hurt her yet, he just played with a strand of her hair, drawing out her dread. Milking it.

I slid out of the chair, to the ground, and put the camera on the floor beside me. I clenched my fists tightly together. It was good I had done this. Next the tracker reached out to softly stroke her cheek, and I wondered if I would break my hands.

“No, I don’t understand,” the tracker concluded. “Well, I suppose we should get on with it.” He looked at me again, the hint of a smile on his lips. He wanted me to see that he was eager, that he was going to enjoy this. “And then I can call your friends and tell them where to find you, and my little message.”

Bella started to tremble. Her face was so ashen I was surprised she was still on her feet. The tracker started to circle her, smiling at me in the mirror. He crouched, his eyes shifted to her face, and that smile turned into an exhibition of teeth.

Terrified, she broke for the back door. I guessed this is what he wanted, that he’d been trying to goad her into action. His bared teeth shifted into a pleased smile as he leaped in front of her and, with a dismissive backhand, hurled her toward the wall of mirrors.

She was airborne for one fleeting, endless pause, and then with a metallic clang, a crunch of bone, and the shattering of glass, she slammed into the brass ballet barre and the mirror behind it. The barre burst free of its brackets and crashed to the boards below. Her body followed, completely limp as she slid to the floor, splinters of glass catching the light like glitter around her. I hoped again that she was unconscious. But then I saw her eyes.

Stunned, helpless, petrified.

My hands ached with the crushing pressure of my grip, but I couldn’t relax them.

The tracker sauntered toward her, his eyes focused in the mirror on the lens of the camera, staring at me.

“That’s a very nice effect,” he pointed out to me, hoping I wasn’t taking any of his planning for granted. “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 didn’t know if Bella was aware of his shift in attention, of if she was just acting on instinct alone, but she twisted painfully to put her hands on the floor and began crawling for the entrance.

The tracker laughed quietly at her pathetic attempt, and then he was standing over her.

Alice had shown me this. I wished I could look away. But I couldn’t, and the tracker’s foot came down hard against her calf. I heard both snaps as her tibia and her fibula gave way.

Her whole body jerked, and then her scream filled the small room, ricocheting off the glass and the polished wood. It felt like a drill boring into my ears through the headphones. Her face strained with the agony, and tiny blood vessels burst inside her eyes.

“Would you like to rethink your last request?” he asked Bella, all his focus on her now. He pointed one toe and pressed it with delicate care into the nexus of the break.

Bella screamed again, the sound scraping and tearing out of her throat. “Wouldn’t you rather have Edward try to find me?” the tracker prompted

like a director on the edge of the stage.

The tracker was going to torture her until she begged me to hunt him. She must know that I would understand that her answer was coerced. Surely she would give him what he wanted quickly.

“Tell him what he wants to hear,” I whispered uselessly to her.

“No!” she rasped hoarsely. For the first time she stared into the camera’s lens, her bloody eyes pleading, speaking directly to me. “No, Edward, don’t

—”

He kicked her in her upturned face.

I’d already seen the mark of this blow developing across the left side of her face. There were two tiny fissures in her cheekbone. He’d been careful, knowing if he kicked her with even a fraction of his strength, it would kill her, and he wasn’t done yet. It was just a tap, really.

She flew through the air again.

I saw his mistake immediately, watching her trajectory.

The glass was already broken, the buckled edges pointing outward like ragged silver teeth. Her head hit nearly the same spot as before, but this time the glass teeth ripped into her scalp as gravity pulled her down to the floor. The sound of her skin giving way was impossible to miss.

He turned to watch, and in the mirror I saw his expression tighten when he realized what he’d done.

Blood was already seeping through her hair, trickling in crimson threads down the sides of her face, rolling down her neck and pooling in the hollows above her collarbones. Just watching this called fire into my throat, and the memory of the taste of that blood.

The blood found the floor, dripping in loud splats as it started to puddle around her elbows.

There was so much blood, flowing so quickly. It was overwhelming. I watched, shocked that she’d survived this. The tracker watched, too, all his planning and all his conceit fading. His face turned feral, inhuman. Some small part of him wanted to fight his thirst—I could see that in his eyes—

but he wasn’t conditioned for control. He could barely remember his audience or his show.

A hunting snarl ripped from between his teeth. Instinctively, she raised one hand to protect herself. Her eyes were already closed, life bleeding from her face.

An explosive crunch, a roar. The tracker lunged. A pale shape flashed so quickly through the shot that it was impossible to make it out. The tracker vanished from the scene. I saw the crimson mark of his teeth across Bella’s palm, and then her hand fell, lifeless, into the lake of blood with a quiet splash.

I watched, entirely numb, as my image on the screen sobbed and Carlisle’s worked to save her. My eyes were pulled to the bottom right corner of the shot, where every now and then, some piece of the tracker would flash through the picture. Emmett’s elbow, the back of Jasper’s head. It was impossible to create any sense of the fight from these little glimpses. Someday, I would have Emmett or Jasper remember it for me. I doubted it would soothe any of the rage I felt. Even if I had been the one to rip the tracker apart and burn him, it wouldn’t have been enough. Nothing could make this right again.

Eventually, Alice walked toward the lens. A spasm of agony crossed her features, and I knew she was seeing a vision of the recording, and also, I was sure, a vision of me watching it now. She picked up the camera, and the screen went dark.

I reached slowly for the camera and then, just as slowly, methodically crushed it into a pile of metal and plastic dust.

When that was done, I pulled from my shirt pocket the little bottle cap I’d been carrying around with me for weeks. My token of Bella—my talisman, my silly but reassuring physical link to her.

It flashed dully in my hand for a moment, and then I pulverized it between my thumb and index finger and let the fragments of steel fall onto the remains of the camera.

I didn’t deserve any link, any claim to her at all.

I sat for a long time in the empty chapel. At one point, music started playing quietly through the speakers, but no one entered and there was no sign that anyone had noticed me here. I guessed the music was on an automatic timer. It was the adagio sostenuto from Rachmaninoff’s second

piano concerto.

I listened, numb and cold, trying to remind myself that Bella was going to be all right. That I could get up now and return to her side. That Alice had seen that her eyes would open again in only thirty-six more hours. A day and a night and a day.

None of that seemed relevant now. Because it was my fault, everything she had suffered.

I stared out the high windows across from me, watching the black of night slowly give way to a pale gray sky.

And then I did something I hadn’t done in a century.

Curled there in a ball on the floor, motionless with agony… I prayed.

I didn’t pray to my God. I’d always instinctively known that there was no deity for my kind. It made no sense for immortals to have a god; we had taken ourselves out of any god’s power. We created our lives, and the only power strong enough to take them away again was another like us. Earthquakes couldn’t crush us, floods couldn’t drown us, fires were too slow to catch us. Sulfur and brimstone were irrelevant. We were the gods of our own alternate universe. Inside the mortal world but over it, never slaves to its laws, only our own.

There was no God that I belonged to. No one for me to supplicate. Carlisle had different ideas, and maybe, just maybe, an exception could be made for someone like him. But I wasn’t like him. I was stained like all the rest of our kind.

Instead, I prayed to her God. Because if there was some higher, benevolent power in her universe, then surely, surely, he or she or it would have to be concerned about this bravest and kindest daughter. If not, there was really no purpose to any such entity. I had to believe she mattered to that distant God, if one existed at all.

So I prayed to her God for the strength I would need. I knew I wasn’t strong enough in myself—the power would have to come from the outside. With perfect clarity, I recalled Alice’s visions of Bella abandoned—her bleak, shadowed, empty, hollow face. Her pain and her nightmares. I’d never been able to imagine my resolve not breaking, not caving to the knowledge of her grief. I couldn’t imagine it now. But I would have to do it. I had to learn the strength.

I prayed to her God with all the anguish of my damned, lost soul that he

—or she, or it—would help me protect Bella from myself.

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