Chapter 12: The Letter
We were the last passengers to board the plane, but many of our fellow travelers were still stowing away carry-on luggage, attending to cranky children, and turning off cell phones. After a minute, there was a general settling down for the flight ahead. Two attendants, one was the woman who met us at the gate, swooped down the aisle closing overhead bins.
The phone intercom crackled on. It was the man who examined our boarding stubs.
"A very good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to American Airlines flight 978 with non-stop service to Phoenix." With caffeine-inflected enthusiasm, the man looped the phone cord around his free hand. "My name is Bruce, and I will be part of the crew for your flight today."
Then his hand rotated loose from the cord and turned it out with a flourish. "May I please draw your attention to our gorgeous flight attendants for our pre-departure safety demonstration." Bruce went on indicating the plane's safety features and the location of emergency exits.
In the midst of his spiel, I was afflicted with a sudden apnea. I stopped breathing, moving, thinking and concentrated beyond the metal skin of the plane. A premonition scraped up my spine. I didn't see or hear her, but I was positive Victoria was still at the airport.
"What is it?" Carlisle whispered.
"Nothing." I said. There was no point sharing this with him. Nevertheless, I spanned the quadrant for any sonic blip that might network me into Victoria's thoughts. My telepathic dragnet netted nothing.
In the immediate background, without regard to the dark hour, people were laughing at Bruce's comedy routine. The two flight attendants at the front and at the center of the cabin were simulating placing oxygen masks to their faces.
"Once your mask is secured," Bruce instructed, "You may attend to others who may need assistance. If you're traveling with more than one child, help the one with the most potential then go down the line." There was more laughter.
I dropped my forehead to my hands as I resumed my mental search for Victoria. I might as well have been looking for a needle in fields of haystacks. Yet, I just knew she was somewhere close.
Bruce was concluding his shtick. "For those of you who plan on catching some zzz, we will be administrating a sleep aid in the form of our in-flight movie, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But before we make our way through our own star system, please be sure to turn off all cell phones, laptops, and any other electronic devices. Thank you and have an enjoyable flight." A reception of applause and a short whistle followed.
I stared at the digital display of my mobile, contemplating giving Alice a head's up on Victoria's latest appearance. Another phone call would only cause Bella more distress. Reluctantly, I copied my father and brother and shut off my phone.
Before long we pushed off from the gate and began to taxi along the tarmac. The PA system scratched on briefly. It was the captain this time.
"Flight attendants please prepare for takeoff."
My father turned his head to me. Over his shoulder, Emmett lifted his vision from the oval window that belonged to our row and included his gaze with Carlisle's. "This will soon be over." Carlisle words of comfort had an opposite effect. My only chance to get intelligence on the tracker's next move was somewhere in that airport we were leaving behind.
The plane shuddered as its wheels increased their speed. When the back tires left the runway, my insides rose up ahead of the plane's climb into the sky. It always reminded me of the aerial feeling of running, but this time I thought of Bella's last kiss.
Past Carlisle and Emmett, I stared into the stale predawn light counting down the seconds. We were on a head-on collision with the waking sun. Short of four hours, this leg of what turned out to be a hapless boondoggle, would be over. There would be more airports, more planes, but I would be with Bella. The prospect of being alone together cooped up cozily in a hotel room left me keening for time to hurry.
One hour and forty-seven minutes into the flight, we entered Nevada's airspace. One of a dozen post-landing scenes I had imagined the last hour and forty-seven minutes replayed in my mind. This one was of me shooting out from the gate and immediately finding Bella as she searched the faces of disembarking passengers for mine.
She would know I was there before she saw me. Then finally our sightlines would connect and seam together. She'd start towards me, but I'd have her in my arms before she could take a step. I'd wrap her into my kiss, my hands raveling in her hair. Eyes and fingers and lips would explore her face. That beautiful darling face, I missed so much. I would inhale her until every atom that made up my body sang with her scent.
And because I wouldn't let her go, Bella would just have to put up with me carrying her to the gate of our connecting flight that would deliver us out of the country and the threat that still remained.
In spite of that threat, my thoughts easily came away with her. I drew Bella's t-shirt from my breast pocket onto my lap. It was soft and pliable from many washings. I smoothed a hand over it and felt a rut in the cotton material.
Looking down, I discovered a hole the size of an eraser tip and smiled. This was one of Bella's sleeping t-shirts. I imagined that was what she was doing or should be doing right about now. I held it to my nose. It smelled of laundry detergent, but Bella's floral fragrance was there. I breathed in slowly, deeply. Her scent wreathed around me in a caress.
"Auckland." My brother agreed.
He awakened me from my daydream. Swallowing the venom that collected in my mouth, I murmured, "Yes… good… right..."
Emmett was hashing the next set of plans with Carlisle.
"Like we said, it's going to be tight, but we should be able make the connection to Miami." Carlisle spoke to both of us now that I rejoined the conversation.
Two flight attendants were pushing a beverage cart up the aisle. There were no soda cans or foil wrappers to retrieve from our row. Earlier, when the obligatory refreshments were served, my brother and I pretended to be asleep while Carlisle politely declined the offered snacks.
It had been two days since they last fed and more than five days for me. We had gone weeks without feeding before under Carlisle's mentorship. He was insistent that our family conditioned ourselves by stretching out the times between meals. It was like we had been training for this all along.
But my father was a sensible man. Once we secured Bella, he thought it wise to slot in a hunt before we left the continent. Not that he feared one of us might be tempted. He wanted us fortified when the time came to kill James. There was a question when that would be.
When he verbalized his plan, I had already agreed; though, I resisted the idea of leaving Bella's side even for an instant. Following our arrival in Miami, there were two hours until our flight to New Zealand. We would take turns guarding her as each of us partook of the everglade wildlife. Then there was the task of obtaining Bella's passport. These were the only points that could be finalized. We spent the remainder of our flight reviewing the various scenarios that were dependent on Alice's next projections.
An eternity elapsed inside of two hours when the PA system switched on. The captain updated that we were sixty miles from the airport and would be touching down ten minutes ahead of schedule.
I tensed in anxiousness when the tires hit the runway. Emmett had pulled down the shutter slat of our window as the Arizona sun paraded its strength through the other portholes of the cabin. At the sound of the seatbelt sign belling off, Carlisle had his medical bag in hand while Emmett grabbed the shoulder straps of the backpack. We powered on our phones.
Their faces angled to mine when I looked up from my mobile's digital display. There were three missed calls from Alice. She had attempted to contact each of us while we were in the air. The general anxiety I was feeling localized into a pit in my stomach.
While people were gathering their belongings, Bruce and another flight attendant were seeing to the door that linked to the gate. They had only slid it open by a section when Bruce did a double take as Carlisle, Emmett and I shimmied through the column of space in an illusionary blur.
"Damn it!" Emmett tried to place a call to Alice. "No answer."
When we emerged from the gate, I didn't spot Bella as I had earlier envisioned it. There was no Bella, no Alice or Jasper. They were nowhere to be found. Emmett was calling Alice again. Then as I moved around the rows of chairs, I smacked right into Bella's scent. Proof that she was here. My heart clutched.
"Alice." Carlisle called out as she sprinted toward us. The black case that was cross-strapped to her flapped against her hip.
She was alone. When we closed the gap, she took hold of my forearms. "Bella, she's gone! Missing!" Alice cried. I watched the scenes in her mind as she narrated them. She was leading us away in the direction of a small food court and could have been speaking in an alien language.
I jerked ahead of her. "What are you saying?"
"She was with us. I swear to you she was right here." A vision of Bella sitting by the metal detectors popped into Alice's thoughts.
Alice halted in front of a ladies' restroom. Through her recollections, I watched Alice skidding into Jasper at what appeared to be this very spot.
"Jasper took Bella to get something to eat. On the way she stopped in here for a minute. I'm sorry Edward, I should have never let her go anywhere without me." Alice enumerated what happened next in a torrent. She took us to the other side of the terminal.
"I saw that something was wrong. Jasper had checked the restroom when I met up with him. We tracked Bella through a back exit and towards that bank of elevators." Alice pointed in their direction. "We found her trail at level one and out the exit. That's where it ends. We feared that she might have been taken. But there's no evidence of it. Jasper did detect James' scent. It wasn't recent. He said it was at least a day old."
Panic and nausea squirmed in my belly and rose to my throat.
Minutes before our plane landed, Bella had vanished. Their fevered search through the airport's terminals played out in Alice's head. "We've combed this place top to bottom, three times, and nothing. She's not here."
Carlisle tried to get the story straight. "Where's Jasper?"
"He went to get the car."
We broke free of the pedestrian flow and raced towards the exit, vivisecting pass the luggage carousels and constellations of people with no care for what the humans observing us were thinking.
My father questioned me as we ran. "Is it possible Bella ran away, left on her own?"
I was still dazed at Alice's mental and verbal account.
Emmett answered him, "It's possible."
"But she left her clothes, all her things behind. Jasper has her duffle bag. I went through it. There wasn't anything that could explain this." Alice blinked owlishly.
Desperate for more answers, I searched my sister's mind. Her thoughts were a conniption of fright and guilt that doubled my own.
We gusted through the automatic doors. She was gone. Bella's trail went cold just outside the exit. Her scent inexplicably terminated at the curb.
"This is not supposed to happen." Alice's entire being vibrated with confusion at a memory. It was ensnarled within a knot of recent images. Then in a flash of recall, I saw a mirrored room streaked with blood.
"Tell me!" I took my sister by the shoulders shaking her. "Damn it, tell me what you saw."
"What's going on!?" Emmett snarled hauling me off from her.
Alice sputtered, "This morning there was another vision. James… Bella..."
Her face voided. Then after a slow count of three, Alice pulled an envelope from her black case. She spoke again in mystified whisper.
"She gave this to me to give to her mother." Alice removed the letter from the envelope and placed it in my hand before I could grab it.
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 from 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.
"James has her mother… Bella went to him…" The words wouldn't come out of me because I didn't believe them. Then against the screen of her mind, with high definition exactness, Alice's vision transplanted into my mind — James celebrating over Bella's broken blood-soaked body.
My legs were kicked out from under me, and I keeled to my knees. A howl reverberated from parallax viewpoints between Carlisle, Alice, and Emmett. It came from me. Someone, I did not know who, was at my side scaffolding my frame.
I missed what my father yelled out to me.
When Emmett spoke, I only saw his mouth move, "Alice, what's happening?"
Just then a car swerved to a stop milli-inches from the curb. A figure materialized. I didn't realize it was Jasper until he was facing Alice as she froze in concentration.
"Fifty-eighth Street and Cactus." Alice recited awakening from her trance.
Jasper held on to her, "The dance studio?"
"Yes, yes… The tracker's there. I can see Bella hasn't arrived yet. It's not too late..."
Carlisle's Mercedes was already parked in front of the Audi Jasper must have hot-wired. Alice winged my left side. It was Carlisle who was knelt beside me holding my right arm. I stood up.
Emmett went with Jasper in the Mercedes after I insisted on driving the Audi with Carlisle and Alice riding with me. It became clear the two vehicles were a tactical precaution. With the Arizona sun limiting our movement on foot, Jasper anticipated that we might have to split up.
"I'm so sorry, Edward. I'm so sorry. This is my fault. I'm sorry…" my brother lamented as we pulled out of the airport.
"Just get me to her, please Jasper." When he heard my plea, the Mercedes hurtled ahead with me keeping on his tail.
Slewing through lanes of traffic, we were speeding at a reckless velocity to Scottsdale. Mercifully, Jasper had obtained directions to Bella's home while configuring their relocation to a nearby hotel. Fifty-eighth Street and Cactus would be close. My brother was a skilled driver, but we couldn't travel fast enough. I wanted to take the lead from him. There was no telling how far a head start Bella had gotten.
Carlisle conjured a baseball cap and leather gloves and passed them over my shoulder. I dressed quickly. He and Alice were already similarly outfitted.
Our cavalcade burned through the parched landscape past reefs of dried chaparral. Scottsdale, with its crops of low-lined buildings and serried homes was in our sights not a quarter-hour from when we left the airport. It was approaching high sun. Cacti and sagebrushes in the distance were etched black against a stark sky.
"No, no, no!" Alice bawled hysterically. I nearly missed the hairpin turn as I broke sharply onto Cactus. "He has her!"
It was a scream. A bone splintering scream. Then glass shattering and another shriek of pain, and I was inverted inside-out.
Savagery overrode my conscious will. "Take the wheel!" I shouted then hurled myself out from the thrown-open driver's side door. In a ballistic rage, I targeted the tracker's voice.
"Would you rather have Edward try to find me?" James' flat tone couldn't cover his bloodlust.
"No!" I heard Bella's voice fracture. "No, Edward, don't —"
I chased after her desperate call. The ground held no traction as it slipped beneath my feet.
In the following sickening silence, a monster readied his kill.