21. PHONE CALL
I could feel it was too early again when I woke, and I knew I was getting the schedule of my days and nights slowly reversed. I lay in my bed and listened to the quiet voices of Alice and Jasper in the other room. That they were loud enough for me to hear at all was strange. I rolled till my feet touched the floor and then staggered to the living room.
The clock on the TV said it was just after two in the morning. Alice and Jasper were sitting together on the sofa, Alice sketching again while Jasper looked over her shoulder. They didn't look up when I entered, too engrossed in Alice's work.
I crept to Jasper's side to peek.
"Did she see something more?" I asked him quietly.
"Yes. Something's brought him back to the room with the VCR, but it's light now."
I watched as Alice drew a square room with dark beams across its low ceiling. The walls were paneled in wood, a little too dark, out of date. The floor had a dark carpet with a pattern in it. There was a large window against the south wall, and an opening through the west wall led to the living room. One side of that entrance was stone — a large tan stone fireplace that was open to both rooms. The focus of the room from this perspective, the TV and VCR, balanced on a too-small wooden stand, were in the southwest corner of the room. An aged sectional sofa curved around in front of the TV, a round coffee table in front of it.
"The phone goes there," I whispered, pointing.
Two pairs of eternal eyes stared at me.
"That's my mother's house."
Alice was already off the couch, phone in hand, dialing. I stared at the precise rendering of my mother's family room. Uncharacteristically, Jasper slid closer to me. He lightly touched his hand to my shoulder, and the physical contact seemed to make his calming influence stronger. The panic stayed dull, unfocused.
Alice's lips were trembling with the speed of her words, the low buzzing impossible to decipher. I couldn't concentrate.
"Bella," Alice said. I looked at her numbly.
"Bella, Edward is coming to get you. He and Emmett and Carlisle are going to take you somewhere, to hide you for a while."
"Edward is coming?" The words were like a life vest, holding my head above the flood.
"Yes, he's catching the first flight out of Seattle. We'll meet him at the airport, and you'll leave with him."
"But, my mother… he came here for my mother, Alice!" Despite Jasper, the hysteria bubbled up in my voice.
"Jasper and I will stay till she's safe."
"I can't win, Alice. You can't guard everyone I know forever. Don't you see what he's doing? He's not tracking me at all. He'll find someone, he'll hurt someone I love… Alice, I can't —"
"We'll catch him, Bella," she assured me.
"And what if you get hurt, Alice? Do you think that's okay with me? Do you think it's only my human family he can hurt me with?"
Alice looked meaningfully at Jasper. A deep, heavy fog of lethargy washed over me, and my eyes closed without my permission. My mind struggled against the fog, realizing what was happening. I forced my eyes open and stood up, stepping away from Jasper's hand.
"I don't want to go back to sleep," I snapped.
I walked to my room and shut the door, slammed it really, so I could be free to go to pieces privately. This time Alice didn't follow me. For three and a half hours I stared at the wall, curled in a ball, rocking. My mind went around in circles, trying to come up with some way out of this nightmare. There was no escape, no reprieve. I could see only one possible end looming darkly in my future. The only question was how many other people would be hurt before I reached it.
The only solace, the only hope I had left, was knowing that I would see Edward soon. Maybe, if I could just see his face again, I would also be able to see the solution that eluded me now.
When the phone rang, I returned to the front room, a little ashamed of my behavior. I hoped I hadn't offended either of them, that they would know how grateful I was for the sacrifices they were making on my account.
Alice was talking as rapidly as ever, but what caught my attention was that, for the first time, Jasper was not in the room. I looked at the clock — it was five-thirty in the morning.
"They're just boarding their plane," Alice told me. "They'll land at nine-forty-five." Just a few more hours to keep breathing till he was here.
"He went to check out."
"You aren't staying here?"
"No, we're relocating closer to your mother's house."
My stomach twisted uneasily at her words.
But the phone rang again, distracting me. She looked surprised, but I was already walking forward, reaching hopefully for the phone.
"Hello?" Alice asked. "No, she's right here." She held the phone out to me. Your mother, she mouthed.
"Bella? Bella?" It was my mother's voice, in a familiar tone I had heard a thousand times in my childhood, anytime I'd gotten too close to the edge of the sidewalk or strayed out of her sight in a crowded place. It was the sound of panic.
I sighed. I'd been expecting this, though I'd tried to make my message as unalarming as possible without lessening the urgency of it.
"Calm down, Mom," I said in my most soothing voice, walking slowly away from Alice. I wasn't sure if I could lie as convincingly with her eyes on me. "Everything is fine, okay? Just give me a minute and I'll explain everything, I promise."
I paused, surprised that she hadn't interrupted me yet.
"Be very careful not to say anything until I tell you to." The voice I heard now was as unfamiliar as it was unexpected. It was a man's tenor voice, a very pleasant, generic voice — the kind of voice that you heard in the background of luxury car commercials. He spoke very quickly.
"Now, I don't need to hurt your mother, so please do exactly as I say, and she'll be fine." He paused for a minute while I listened in mute horror. "That's very good," he congratulated. "Now repeat after me, and do try to sound natural. Please say, 'No, Mom, stay where you are.'"
"No, Mom, stay where you are." My voice was barely more than a whisper.
"I can see this is going to be difficult." The voice was amused, still light and friendly. "Why don't you walk into another room now so your face doesn't ruin everything? There's no reason for your mother to suffer. As you're walking, please say, 'Mom, please listen to me.' Say it now."
"Mom, please listen to me," my voice pleaded. I walked very slowly to the bedroom, feeling Alice's worried stare on my back. I shut the door behind me, trying to think clearly through the terror that gripped my brain.
"There now, are you alone? Just answer yes or no."
"But they can still hear you, I'm sure."
"All right, then," the agreeable voice continued, "say, 'Mom, trust me.'"
"Mom, trust me."
"This worked out rather better than I expected. I was prepared to wait, but your mother arrived ahead of schedule. It's easier this way, isn't it? Less suspense, less anxiety for you."
"Now I want you to listen very carefully. I'm going to need you to get away from your friends; do you think you can do that? Answer yes or no."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I was hoping you would be a little more creative than that. Do you think you could get away from them if your mother's life depended on it? Answer yes or no."
Somehow, there had to be a way. I remembered that we were going to the airport. Sky Harbor International Airport: crowded, confusingly laid out…
"That's better. I'm sure it won't be easy, but if I get the slightest
hint that you have any company, well, that would be very bad for your mother," the friendly voice promised. "You must know enough about us by now to realize how quickly I would know if you tried to bring anyone along with you. And how little time I would need to deal with your mother if that was the case. Do you understand? Answer yes or no."
"Yes." My voice broke.
"Very good, Bella. Now this is what you have to do. I want you to go to your mother's house. Next to the phone there will be a number. Call it, and I'll tell you where to go from there." I already knew where I would go, and where this would end. But I would follow his instructions exactly. "Can you do that? Answer yes or no."
"Before noon, please, Bella. I haven't got all day," he said politely.
"Where's Phil?" I asked tersely.
"Ah, be careful now, Bella. Wait until I ask you to speak, please."
"It's important, now, that you don't make your friends suspicious when you go back to them. Tell them that your mother called, and that you talked her out of coming home for the time being. Now repeat after me, 'Thank you, Mom.' Say it now."
"Thank you, Mom." The tears were coming. I tried to fight them back.
"Say, 'I love you, Mom, I'll see you soon.' Say it now."
"I love you, Mom." My voice was thick. "I'll see you soon," I promised.
"Goodbye, Bella. I look forward to seeing you again." He hung up.
I held the phone to my ear. My joints were frozen with terror — I couldn't unbend my fingers to drop it.
I knew I had to think, but my head was filled with the sound of my mother's panic. Seconds ticked by while I fought for control.
Slowly, slowly, my thoughts started to break past that brick wall of pain. To plan. For I had no choices now but one: to go to the mirrored room and die. I had no guarantees, nothing to give to keep my mother alive. I could only hope that James would be satisfied with winning the game, that beating Edward would be enough. Despair gripped me; there was no way to bargain, nothing I could offer or withhold that could influence him. But I still had no choice. I had to try.
I pushed the terror back as well as I could. My decision was made. It did no good to waste time agonizing over the outcome. I had to think clearly, because Alice and Jasper were waiting for me, and evading them was absolutely essential, and absolutely impossible.
I was suddenly grateful that Jasper was gone. If he had been here to feel my anguish in the last five minutes, how could I have kept them from being suspicious? I choked back the dread, the anxiety, tried to stifle it. I couldn't afford it now. I didn't know when he would return.
I concentrated on my escape. I had to hope that my familiarity with the airport would turn the odds in my favor. Somehow, I had to keep Alice away…
I knew Alice was in the other room waiting for me, curious. But I had to deal with one more thing in private, before Jasper was back.
I had to accept that I wouldn't see Edward again, not even one last glimpse of his face to carry with me to the mirror room. I was going to hurt him, and I couldn't say goodbye. I let the waves of torture wash over me, have their way for a time. Then I pushed them back, too, and
went to face Alice.
The only expression I could manage was a dull, dead look. I saw her alarm and I didn't wait for her to ask. I had just one script and I'd never manage improvisation now.
"My mom was worried, she wanted to come home. But it's okay, I convinced her to stay away." My voice was lifeless.
"We'll make sure she's fine, Bella, don't worry."
I turned away; I couldn't let her see my face.
My eye fell on a blank page of the hotel stationery on the desk. I went to it slowly, a plan forming. There was an envelope there, too. That was good.
"Alice," I asked slowly, without turning, keeping my voice level. "If I write a letter for my mother, would you give it to her? Leave it at the house, I mean."
"Sure, Bella." Her voice was careful. She could see me coming apart at the seams. I had to keep my emotions under better control.
I went into the bedroom again, and knelt next to the little bedside table to write.
"Edward," I wrote. My hand was shaking, the letters were hardly legible.
I love you. I am so sorry. He has my mom, and I have to try. I know it may not work. I am so very, very sorry.
Don't be angry with Alice and Jasper. If I get away from them it will be a miracle. Tell them thank you for me. Alice especially, please.
And please, please, don't come after him. That's what he wants. I think. I can't bear it if anyone has to be hurt because of me, especially you. Please, this is the only thing I can ask you now. For me.
I love you. Forgive me.
I folded the letter carefully, and sealed it in the envelope. Eventually he would find it. I only hoped he would understand, and listen to me just this once.
And then I carefully sealed away my heart.