When I woke up I was confused. My thoughts were hazy, still twisted up in dreams and nightmares; it took me longer than it should have to realize where I was.
This room was too bland to belong anywhere but in a hotel. The bedside lamps, bolted to the tables, were a dead giveaway, as were the long drapes made from the same fabric as the bedspread, and the generic watercolor prints on the walls.
I tried to remember how I got here, but nothing came at first.
I did remember the sleek black car, the glass in the windows darker than that on a limousine. The engine was almost silent, though we'd raced across the black freeways at more than twice the legal speed.
And I remembered Alice sitting with me on the dark leather backseat. Somehow, during the long night, my head had ended up against her granite neck. My closeness didn't seem to bother her at all, and her cool, hard skin was oddly comforting to me. The front of her thin cotton shirt was cold, damp with the tears that streamed from my eyes until, red and sore, they ran dry.
Sleep had evaded me; my aching eyes strained open even though the night finally ended and dawn broke over a low peak somewhere in California. The gray light, streaking across the cloudless sky, stung my eyes. But I couldn't close them; when I did, the images that flashed all too vividly, like still slides behind my lids, were unbearable. Charlie's broken expression - Edward's brutal snarl, teeth bared - Rosalie's resentful glare - the keen-eyed scrutiny of the tracker - the dead look in Edward's eyes after he kissed me the last time... I couldn't stand to see them. So I fought against my weariness and the sun rose higher.
I was still awake when we came through a shallow mountain pass and the sun, behind us now, reflected off the tiled rooftops of the Valley of the Sun. I didn't have enough emotion left to be surprised that we'd made a three-day journey in one. I stared blankly at the wide, flat expanse laid out in front of me. Phoenix - the palm trees, the scrubby creosote, the haphazard lines of the intersecting freeways, the green swaths of golf courses and turquoise splotches of swimming pools, all submerged in a thin smog and embraced by the short, rocky ridges that weren't really big enough to be called mountains.
The shadows of the palm trees slanted across the freeway - defined, sharper than I remembered, paler than they should be. Nothing could hide in these shadows. The bright, open freeway seemed benign enough. But I felt no relief, no sense of homecoming.
"Which way to the airport, Bella?" Jasper had asked, and I flinched, though his voice was quite soft and un-alarming. It was the first sound, besides the purr of the car, to break the long night's silence.
"Stay on the I-ten," I'd answered automatically. "We'll pass right by it."
My brain had worked slowly through the fog of sleep deprivation.
"Are we flying somewhere?" I'd asked Alice.
"No, but it's better to be close, just in case."
I remembered beginning the loop around Sky Harbor International... but not ending it. I suppose that must have been when I'd fallen asleep.
Though, now that I'd chased the memories down, I did have a vague impression of leaving the car - the sun was just falling behind the horizon - my arm draped over Alice's shoulder and her arm firm around my waist, dragging me along as I stumbled through the warm, dry shadows.
I had no memory of this room.
I looked at the digital clock on the nightstand. The red numbers claimed it was three o'clock, but they gave no indication if it was night or day. No edge of light escaped the thick curtains, but the room was bright with the light from the lamps.
I rose stiffly and staggered to the window, pulling back the drapes.
It was dark outside. Three in the morning, then. My room looked out on a deserted section of the freeway and the new long-term parking garage for the airport. It was slightly comforting to be able to pinpoint time and place.
I looked down at myself. I was still wearing Esme's clothes, and they didn't fit very well at all. I looked around the room, glad when I discovered my duffel bag on top of the low dresser.
I was on my way to find new clothes when a light tap on the door made me jump.
"Can I come in?" Alice asked.
I took a deep breath. "Sure."
She walked in, and looked me over cautiously. "You look like you could sleep longer," she said.
I just shook my head.
She drifted silently to the curtains and closed them securely before turning back to me.
"We'll need to stay inside," she told me.
"Okay." My voice was hoarse; it cracked.
"Thirsty?" she asked.
I shrugged. "I'm okay. How about you?"
"Nothing unmanageable." She smiled. "I ordered some food for you, it's in the front room. Edward reminded me that you have to eat a lot more frequently than we do."
I was instantly more alert. "He called?"
"No," she said, and watched as my face fell. "It was before we left."
She took my hand carefully and led me through the door into the living room of the hotel suite. I could hear a low buzz of voices coming from the TV. Jasper sat motionlessly at the desk in the corner, his eyes watching the news with no glimmer of interest.
I sat on the floor next to the coffee table, where a tray of food waited, and began picking at it without noticing what I was eating.
Alice perched on the arm of the sofa and stared blankly at the TV like Jasper.
I ate slowly, watching her, turning now and then to glance quickly at Jasper. It began to dawn on me that they were too still. They never looked away from the screen, though commercials were playing now. I pushed the tray away, my stomach abruptly uneasy. Alice looked down at me.
"What's wrong, Alice?" I asked.
"Nothing's wrong." Her eyes were wide, honest... and I didn't trust them.
"What do we do now?"
"We wait for Carlisle to call."
"And should he have called by now?" I could see that I was near the mark.
Alice's eyes flitted from mine to the phone on top of her leather bag and back.
"What does that mean?" My voice quavered, and I fought to control it. "That he hasn't called yet?"
"It just means that they don't have anything to tell us."
But her voice was too even, and the air was harder to breathe.
Jasper was suddenly beside Alice, closer to me than usual.
"Bella," he said in a suspiciously soothing voice. "You have nothing to worry about. You are completely safe here."
"I know that."
"Then why are you frightened?" he asked, confused. He might feel the tenor of my emotions, but he couldn't read the reasons behind them.
"You heard what Laurent said." My voice was just a whisper, but I was sure they could hear me. "He said James was lethal. What if something goes wrong, and they get separated? If something happens to any of them, Carlisle, Emmett... Edward..." I gulped. "If that wild female hurts Esme..." My voice had grown higher, a note of hysteria beginning to rise in it. "How could I live with myself when it's my fault? None of you should be risking yourselves for me -"
"Bella, Bella, stop," he interrupted me, his words pouring out so quickly they were hard to understand. "You're worrying about all the wrong things, Bella. Trust me on this - none of us are in jeopardy. You are under too much strain as it is; don't add to it with wholly unnecessary worries. Listen to me!" he ordered, for I had looked away. "Our family is strong. Our only fear is losing you."
"But why should you -"
Alice interrupted this time, touching my cheek with her cold fingers. "It's been almost a century that Edward's been alone. Now he's found you. You can't see the changes that we see, we who have been with him for so long. Do you think any of us want to look into his eyes for the next hundred years if he loses you?"
My guilt slowly subsided as I looked into her dark eyes. But, even as the calm spread over me, I knew I couldn't trust my feelings with Jasper there.
It was a very long day.
We stayed in the room. Alice called down to the front desk and asked them to ignore our maid service for now. The windows stayed shut, the TV on, though no one watched it. At regular intervals, food was delivered for me. The silver phone resting on Alice's bag seemed to grow bigger as the hours passed.
My babysitters handled the suspense better than I did. As I fidgeted and paced, they simply grew more still, two statues whose eyes followed me imperceptibly as I moved. I occupied myself with memorizing the room; the striped pattern of the couches, tan, peach, cream, dull gold, and tan again. Sometimes I stared at the abstract prints, randomly finding pictures in the shapes, like I'd found pictures in the clouds as a child. I traced a blue hand, a woman combing her hair, a cat stretching. But when the pale red circle became a staring eye, I looked away.
As the afternoon wore on, I went back to bed, simply for something to do. I hoped that by myself in the dark, I could give in to the terrible fears that hovered on the edge of my consciousness, unable to break through under Jasper's careful supervision.
But Alice followed me casually, as if by some coincidence she had grown tired of the front room at the same time. I was beginning to wonder exactly what sort of instructions Edward had given her. I lay across the
bed, and she sat, legs folded, next to me. I ignored her at first, suddenly tired enough to sleep. But after a few minutes, the panic that had held off in Jasper's presence began to make itself known. I gave up on the idea of sleep quickly then, curling up into a small ball, wrapping my arms around my legs.
"Alice?" I asked.
I kept my voice very calm. "What do you think they're doing?"
"Carlisle wanted to lead the tracker as far north as possible, wait for him to get close, and then turn and ambush him. Esme and Rosalie were supposed to head west as long as they could keep the female behind them. If she turned around, they were to head back to Forks and keep an eye on your dad. So I imagine things are going well if they can't call. It means the tracker is close enough that they don't want him to overhear."
"I think she must be back in Forks. She won't call if there's any chance the female will overhear. I expect they're all just being very careful."
"Do you think they're safe, really?"
"Bella, how many times do we have to tell you that there's no danger to us?"
"Would you tell me the truth, though?"
"Yes. I will always tell you the truth." Her voice was earnest.
I deliberated for a moment, and decided she meant it.
"Tell me then... how do you become a vampire?"
My question caught her off guard. She was quiet. I rolled over to look at her, and her expression seemed ambivalent.
"Edward doesn't want me to tell you that," she said firmly, but I sensed she didn't agree.
"That's not fair. I think I have a right to know."
I looked at her, waiting.
She sighed. "He'll be extremely angry."
"It's none of his business. This is between you and me. Alice, as a friend, I'm begging you." And we were friends now, somehow - as she must have known we would be all along.
She looked at me with her splendid, wise eyes... choosing.
"I'll tell you the mechanics of it," she said finally, "but I don't remember it myself, and I've never done it or seen it done, so keep in mind that I can only tell you the theory."
"As predators, we have a glut of weapons in our physical arsenal - much, much more than really necessary. The strength, the speed, the acute senses, not to mention those of us like Edward, Jasper, and I, who have extra senses as well. And then, like a carnivorous flower, we are physically attractive to our prey."
I was very still, remembering how pointedly Edward had demonstrated the same concept for me in the meadow.
She smiled a wide, ominous smile. "We have another fairly superfluous weapon. We're also venomous," she said, her teeth glistening. "The venom doesn't kill - it's merely incapacitating. It works slowly, spreading through the bloodstream, so that, once bitten, our prey is in too much physical pain to escape us. Mostly superfluous, as I said. If we're that close, the prey doesn't escape. Of course, there are always exceptions. Carlisle, for example."
"So... if the venom is left to spread..." I murmured.
"It takes a few days for the transformation to be complete, depending on how much venom is in the bloodstream, how close the venom enters to the heart. As long as the heart keeps beating, the poison spreads, healing, changing the body as it moves through it. Eventually the heart stops, and the conversion is finished. But all that time, every minute of it, a victim would be wishing for death."
"It's not pleasant, you see."
"Edward said that it was very hard to do... I don't quite understand," I said.
"We're also like sharks in a way. Once we taste the blood, or even smell it for that matter, it becomes very hard to keep from feeding. Sometimes impossible. So you see, to actually bite someone, to taste the blood, it would begin the frenzy. It's difficult on both sides - the blood-lust on the one hand, the awful pain on the other."
"Why do you think you don't remember?"
"I don't know. For everyone else, the pain of transformation is the sharpest memory they have of their human life. I remember nothing of being human." Her voice was wistful.
We lay silently, wrapped in our individual meditations.
The seconds ticked by, and I had almost forgotten her presence, I was so enveloped in my thoughts.
Then, without any warning, Alice leaped from the bed, landing lightly on her feet. My head jerked up as I stared at her, startled.
"Something's changed." Her voice was urgent, and she wasn't talking to me anymore.
She reached the door at the same time Jasper did. He had obviously heard our conversation and her sudden exclamation. He put his hands on her shoulders and guided her back to the bed, sitting her on the edge.
"What do you see?" he asked intently, staring into her eyes. Her eyes were focused on something very far away. I sat close to her, leaning in to catch her low, quick voice.
"I see a room. It's long, and there are mirrors everywhere. The floor is wooden. He's in the room, and he's waiting. There's gold... a gold stripe across the mirrors."
"Where is the room?"
"I don't know. Something is missing - another decision hasn't been made yet."
"How much time?"
"It's soon. He'll be in the mirror room today, or maybe tomorrow. It all depends. He's waiting for something. And he's in the dark now."
Jasper's voice was calm, methodical, as he questioned her in a practiced way. "What is he doing?"
"He's watching TV... no, he's running a VCR, in the dark, in another place."
"Can you see where he is?"
"No, it's too dark."
"And the mirror room, what else is there?"
"Just the mirrors, and the gold. It's a band, around the room. And there's a black table with a big stereo, and a TV. He's touching the VCR there, but he doesn't watch the way he does in the dark room. This is the room where he waits." Her eyes drifted, then focused on Jasper's face.
"There's nothing else?"
She shook her head. They looked at each other, motionless.
"What does it mean?" I asked.
Neither of them answered for a moment, then Jasper looked at me.
"It means the tracker's plans have changed. He's made a decision that will lead him to the mirror room, and the dark room."
"But we don't know where those rooms are?"
"But we do know that he won't be in the mountains north of Washington, being hunted. He'll elude them." Alice's voice was bleak.
"Should we call?" I asked. They traded a serious look, undecided.
And the phone rang.
Alice was across the room before I could lift my head to look at it.
She pushed a button and held the phone to her ear, but she didn't speak first.
"Carlisle," she breathed. She didn't seem surprised or relieved, the way I felt.
"Yes," she said, glancing at me. She listened for a long moment.
"I just saw him." She described again the vision she'd seen. "Whatever made him get on that plane... it was leading him to those rooms." She paused. "Yes," Alice said into the phone, and then she spoke to me. "Bella?"
She held the phone out toward me. I ran to it.
"Hello?" I breathed.
"Bella," Edward said.
"Oh, Edward! I was so worried."
"Bella," he sighed in frustration, "I told you not to worry about anything but yourself." It was so unbelievably good to hear his voice. I felt the hovering cloud of despair lighten and drift back as he spoke.
"Where are you?"
"We're outside of Vancouver. Bella, I'm sorry - we lost him. He seems suspicious of us - he's careful to stay just far enough away that I can't hear what he's thinking. But he's gone now - it looks like he got on a plane. We think he's heading back to Forks to start over." I could hear Alice filling in Jasper behind me, her quick words blurring together into a humming noise.
"I know. Alice saw that he got away."
"You don't have to worry, though. He won't find anything to lead him to you. You just have to stay there and wait till we find him again."
"I'll be fine. Is Esme with Charlie?"
"Yes - the female has been in town. She went to the house, but while Charlie was at work. She hasn't gone near him, so don't be afraid. He's safe with Esme and Rosalie watching."
"What is she doing?"
"Probably trying to pick up the trail. She's been all through the town during the night. Rosalie traced her through the airport, all the roads around town, the school... she's digging, Bella, but there's nothing to find."
"And you're sure Charlie's safe?"
"Yes, Esme won't let him out of her sight. And we'll be there soon. If the tracker gets anywhere near Forks, we'll have him."
"I miss you," I whispered.
"I know, Bella. Believe me, I know. It's like you've taken half my self away with you."
"Come and get it, then," I challenged.
"Soon, as soon as I possibly can. I will make you safe first." His voice was hard.
"I love you," I reminded him.
"Could you believe that, despite everything I've put you through, I love you, too?"
"Yes, I can, actually."
"I'll come for you soon."
"I'll be waiting."
As soon as the phone went dead, the cloud of depression began to creep over me again.
I turned to give the phone back to Alice and found her and Jasper bent over the table, where Alice was sketching on a piece of hotel stationery. I leaned on the back of the couch, looking over her shoulder.
She drew a room: long, rectangular, with a thinner, square section at the back. The wooden planks that made up the floor stretched lengthwise across the room. Down the walls were lines denoting the breaks in the mirrors. And then, wrapping around the walls, waist high, a long band. The band Alice said was gold.
"It's a ballet studio," I said, suddenly recognizing the familiar shapes.
They looked at me, surprised.
"Do you know this room?" Jasper's voice sounded calm, but there was an undercurrent of something I couldn't identify. Alice bent her head to her work, her hand flying across the page now, the shape of an emergency exit taking shape against the back wall, the stereo and TV on a low table by the front right corner.
"It looks like a place I used to go for dance lessons - when I was eight or nine. It was shaped just the same." I touched the page where the square section jutted out, narrowing the back part of the room. "That's where the bathrooms were - the doors were through the other dance floor. But the stereo was here" - I pointed to the left corner - "it was older, and there wasn't a TV. There was a window in the waiting room - you would
see the room from this perspective if you looked through it."
Alice and Jasper were staring at me.
"Are you sure it's the same room?" Jasper asked, still calm.
"No, not at all - I suppose most dance studios would look the same - the mirrors, the bar." I traced my finger along the ballet bar set against the mirrors. "It's just the shape that looked familiar." I touched the door, set in exactly the same place as the one I remembered.
"Would you have any reason to go there now?" Alice asked, breaking my reverie.
"No, I haven't been there in almost ten years. I was a terrible dancer - they always put me in the back for recitals," I admitted.
"So there's no way it could be connected with you?" Alice asked intently.
"No, I don't even think the same person owns it. I'm sure it's just another dance studio, somewhere."
"Where was the studio you went to?" Jasper asked in a casual voice.
"It was just around the corner from my mom's house. I used to walk there after school..." I said, my voice trailing off. I didn't miss the look they exchanged.
"Here in Phoenix, then?" His voice was still casual.
"Yes," I whispered. "Fifty-eighth Street and Cactus."
We all sat in silence, staring at the drawing.
"Alice, is that phone safe?"
"Yes," she reassured me. "The number would just trace back to Washington."
"Then I can use it to call my mom."
"I thought she was in Florida."
"She is - but she's coming home soon, and she can't come back to that house while..." My voice trembled. I was thinking about something Edward had said, about the red-haired female at Charlie's house, at the school, where my records would be.
"How will you reach her?"
"They don't have a permanent number except at the house - she's supposed to check her messages regularly."
"Jasper?" Alice asked.
He thought about it. "I don't think there's any way it could hurt - be sure you don't say where you are, of course."
I reached eagerly for the phone and dialed the familiar number. It rang four times, and then I heard my mom's breezy voice telling me to leave a message.
"Mom," I said after the beep, "it's me. Listen, I need you to do something. It's important. As soon as you get this message, call me at this number." Alice was already at my side, writing the number for me on the bottom of her picture. I read it carefully, twice. "Please don't go anywhere until you talk to me. Don't worry, I'm okay, but I have to talk to you right away, no matter how late you get this call, all right? I love you, Mom. Bye." I closed my eyes and prayed with all my might that no unforeseen change of plans would bring her home before she got my message.
I settled into the sofa, nibbling on a plate of leftover fruit,
anticipating a long evening. I thought about calling Charlie, but I wasn't sure if I should be home by now or not. I concentrated on the news, watching out for stories about Florida, or about spring training - strikes or hurricanes or terrorist attacks - anything that might send them home early.
Immortality must grant endless patience. Neither Jasper nor Alice seemed to feel the need to do anything at all. For a while, Alice sketched the vague outline of the dark room from her vision, as much as she could see in the light from the TV. But when she was done, she simply sat, looking at the blank walls with her timeless eyes. Jasper, too, seemed to have no urge to pace, or peek through the curtains, or run screaming out the door, the way I did.
I must have fallen asleep on the couch, waiting for the phone to ring again. The touch of Alice's cold hands woke me briefly as she carried me to the bed, but I was unconscious again before my head hit the pillow.
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