Chapter 9: Goodbyes
Every light in Bella's home shone like a beacon, making it clear that Chief Swan was awake and awaiting his daughter's return. My earlier oath cut through my conscience, "She'll be safe with me, I promise, sir." And I had failed outright. Charlie would never trust me again.
In a stealthy crawl, I reared up the Jeep well behind Bella's pickup. Along with Alice and Emmett, we sat bolt upright sentient to sound, movement, anything that would announce itself as unusual. When I silenced the engine, my mental sensory primed for the tracker's presence.
"He's not here." I determined and gave the order, "Let's go."
Emmett was already unbuckling Bella from the nylon rigging. "Don't worry, Bella," he said, "we'll take care of things here quickly." I was going to hold him to that.
Bella looked at him through corpulent tears that teemed then flowed from her eyes. Even for Emmett, a behemoth of might, the sight of her anguish clobbered him. Geez, poor kid… Feeling awful, he was unsure how to react until my voice called him to action.
"Alice, Emmett." They moved swiftly but noiselessly from the Jeep to their posts.
I opened Bella's door, took hold her hand, and circumscribed her into the hull of my arm. Zealously canvassing the perimeter, I partnered Bella in a close hold onto the porch. My hands latched onto her shoulders as I addressed her, "Fifteen minutes." Then I let her go.
Air sawed through Bella's lungs. She swallowed compulsively. "I can do this," she coached herself but hadn't turned to the door.
Then in a pounce, she launched herself at me grabbing my cheeks. Her hands singed my skin and stunned me motionless. Bella peered up at me from under the straight line of her brow.
"I love you." She was indomitable. "I will always love you, no matter what happens now."
My voice balanced on a knife's edge, "Nothing is going to happen to you, Bella."
"Just follow the plan, okay? Keep Charlie safe for me. He's not going to like me very much after this, and I want to have the chance to apologize later." Still holding my face, Bella drew me in closer. Urgency shimmered through her tear-filled eyes.
But at that precise moment, sirens sounded in my gut and in my head warning me that he was coming. Without question, once the tracker discovered our trail, found the high school or some other landmark, Bella's scent would deliver him here. My scalp tingled.
"Get inside, Bella. We have to hurry." I said almost begging.
"One more thing." Within that second, her forcefulness stopped the fissions in my concentration. I looked at her. "Don't listen to another word I say tonight!"
The illumination from the porch light limbed across Bella's features. I bent forward for her next instruction as she wet her lips about to say something. She then climbed up onto the balls of her feet and eyes sparking, kissed me full on the mouth.
Despite her human fragility, the volition of her kiss knocked me into a neural freakout. She next dragged herself away from me and barreled through the front door. I touched my swollen mouth.
"Go way, Edward!" Bella screamed and gave me one last emblazed look before banging the door shut on my thunderstruck face.
"Bella?" Chief Swan nervously called. He was shambling around downstairs with the television uncharacteristically off.
"Leave me alone!" she bawled. I heard her scamper up the stairs, slam her bedroom door and lock it. Like a well-aimed arrow, I zinged to her window and sighted Emmett and Alice patrolling the area that was still free of the tracker.
Charlie rapped hard on the door fairly terrified. "Bella are you okay? What's going on?"
"I'm going home," Bella yelled with a limp duffle bag in one hand and a lumpy sock in the other. I was already through her window with Bella's back was to me. I sniffed around, found the Chevy's key lying on her desk and palmed it.
"Did he hurt you?" Charlie was fuming.
"No!" she screeched. She swiveled around to see me grab a heap of clothes from her dresser and toss it to her.
"Did he break up with you?" Her father's anger was now attenuated by confusion.
"No!" Bella said in a winded shout as she stuffed the last of the clothes I threw to her.
Chief Swan clubbed the door with the side of his fist. "What happened, Bella?"
"I broke up with him!" Her fingers jittered attempting to zip up the duffle. I moved her hands away zipping up the bag, carefully placing the strap on her shoulder.
"I'll be in the truck — go!" I soughed in her ear. Then I prodded her to the door before flying out the window.
At the sound of the door unlocking and her strenuous steps down the stairs, I tarried restlessly on the porch. My siblings remained on guard circling the house.
"What happened?" Charlie blustered following right behind her. "I thought you liked him?"
They had both reached the bottom of the staircase, but Bella's progress alarmingly ceased. Chief Swan was not going to make this easy.
"I do like him — that's the problem. I can't do this anymore! I can't put down any more roots here! I don't want to end up trapped in this stupid, boring town like Mom! I'm not going to make the same dumb mistake she did. I hate it — I can't stay here another minute!" Bella cried stomping towards the front door.
"Bells, you can't leave now. It's nighttime." Charlie's temper had cooled into a wounded whisper.
"I'll sleep in the truck if I get tired."
"Just wait another week," her father implored. "Renée will be back by then."
"What?" Bella's arguments abruptly lost their footing.
Don't stop. Hurry Bella, please!
Charlie spoke, "She called while you were out. Things aren't going well in Florida, and if Phil doesn't get signed by the end of the week, they're going back to Arizona. The assistant coach of the Sidewinders said they might have a spot for another shortstop."
After several insufferable seconds, Bella murmured, "I have a key."
The front door's knob twisted. I was about to dash to her truck when I noticed the knob's rotation halt.
Oh no! Alice's inner voice bifurcated my attention. When she whipped around the side of the house, the picture played cinematically in her mind. It was as I feared — the tracker scenting Bella with a hundred times the cunning of a hound making a flat-out madman's push to the Swan residence. It was unclear how much time we had left. Panic gusted inside me. I reached for the doorknob ready to barge through and make off with Bella.
"Just let me go, Charlie."
Bella's father's dazed and bruised thoughts flowed around my panic in a mud slide.
There was movement again at the door. My fingers released the knob like a hot coal sprinting to her truck the moment before she flung it open.
"It didn't work out, okay? I really, really, hate Forks!" And with that, Bella ran out door and ran out on her father. It was her last injurious words that stayed Charlie at the threshold.
I hid in the Chevy with the key inserted in the ignition. Alice, after briefing Emmett, was already stationed in the Jeep. My brother positioned himself nearby amping to intercept the tracker — alone.
Yoked by the duffle bag, Bella hunched into the darkness making a run for the Chevy. She lobbed the bag into the truck bed and yanked the door open. Without looking back, she hustled inside the cab. Her hand gripped the key, "I'll call you tomorrow!"
The truck's engine kicked-up uproariously. Bella throttled it as Chief Swan still shadowed the doorway to see his daughter skid out of sight.
Emerging from the footwell, I placed my hand over hers. "Pull over."
"I can drive." Her voice was clotted from crying.
My arm slid around her waist as my foot displaced hers on the accelerator. Taking her by the hips, I plucked her from the driver's seat over my lap and assumed the wheel.
"You wouldn't be able to find the house," I said.
From behind, two cones of light suddenly flooded the cab. Bella jerked around.
"It's just Alice," I allayed and took her hand.
"He heard the end of your performance."
"Charlie?" Bella said aghast.
The tracker was much farther afield than I had imagined, but in his manic pursuit of Bella, he circumvented the Swan home completely overlooking Charlie. "The tracker followed us. He's running behind us now."
"Can we outrun him?"
"No." But my foot pushed the gas pedal nonetheless. With gallant exertion, the Chevy chugged on as if knowing his owner's life was threatened.
Bella twisted around so that the Jeep cast her face in a spotlight. Her cheeks were sheened with tears. Then out of the night, a ghostly figure filled the passenger window. Bella let out a hysteric shriek. My hand that was holding hers flew to her mouth before the second passed.
"It's Emmett!" I exclaimed and dropped my hand to wind it around her waist. Emmett continued to run along the side of the truck Secret Service style.
"It's okay, Bella," I heartened. "You're going to be safe." I floored the accelerator that was already at its maximum facility and linked up to the north highway. Bella clung to me as her heart beat triple time.
"I didn't realize you were still so bored with small-town life." I was resorting to small-talk to divert her attention, "It seemed like you were adjusting fairly well — especially recently. Maybe I was just flattering myself that I was making life more interesting for you."
"I wasn't being nice." Bella wore a pained expression; her gaze fell to her lap. "That was the same thing my mom said when she left him. You could say I was hitting below the belt."
I wanted to envelop her in a hug but could only tuck her into my side, "Don't worry. He'll forgive you."
There was an attempt on my part at a smile. It was weighed down with anxiety. Bella's countenance mimicked my inward distress.
"Bella, it's going to be all right," I maintained.
Her voice paled into nothing, "But it won't be all right when I'm not with you." She ended up mouthing the words. It destroyed me.
"We'll be together again in a few days." My arm squeezed her to me. I added in an effort at levity, "Don't forget that this was your idea."
"It was the best idea — of course it was mine." She said half crying, half laughing.
I glanced at her with a labored short-lived smile.
"Why did this happen?" Her question came out segmented through her tears. "Why me?"
With a frank stare to the road before me, I acknowledged, "It's my fault — I was a fool to expose you like that."
"That's not what I meant," Bella objected. "I was there, big deal. It didn't bother the other two. Why did this James decide to kill me? There're people all over the place, why me?"
"I got a good look at his mind tonight," inchoate thoughts wormed their way to the surface, "I'm not sure if there's anything I could have done to avoid this, once he saw you. It is partially your fault," I teased. Though there was no breaking up the overwrought mood.
"If you didn't smell so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered. But when I defended you… well, that made it a lot worse. He's not used to being thwarted, no matter how insignificant the object. He thinks of himself as a hunter and nothing else. His existence is consumed with tracking, and a challenge is all he asks of life. Suddenly we've presented him with a beautiful challenge — a large clan of strong fighters all bent on protecting the one vulnerable element. You wouldn't believe how euphoric he is now. It's his favorite game, and we've made it his most exciting game ever."
Thanks to me, Bella was a fugitive. I didn't put up a struggle against my self-avarice. "But if I had stood by, he would have killed you right then."
"I thought… I didn't smell the same to the others… as I do to you."
"You don't. But that doesn't mean that you aren't still a temptation to every one of them. If you had appealed to the tracker — or any of them — the same way you appeal to me, it would have meant a fight right there."
I felt Bella quake beside me. I tightened my arm around her.
"I don't think I have any choice but to kill him now," I resolved. "Carlisle won't like it."
The wheels of the Chevy bumped over the slats of the Calawah River Bridge. We would soon reach my home, the last outpost before Bella's plan forced us to part. Now at this eleventh hour, I was still undecided if I could separate myself from her, even for the sake of the plan.
Bella focused me on the immediate. "How do you kill a vampire?"
My eyes took in her careworn face. "The only way to be sure is to tear him to shreds, and then burn the pieces."
"And the other two will fight with him?"
"The woman will. I'm not sure about Laurent. They don't have a very strong bond — he's only with them for convenience. He was embarrassed by James in the meadow…"
"But James and the woman — they'll try to kill you?" Panic entered her voice.
"Bella, don't you dare waste time worrying about me. Your only concern is keeping yourself safe and — please, please — trying not be reckless."
"Is he still following?"
All the while, I scrabbled for the tracker's thoughts. He had drifted further back. He would not gamble an offensive against a heavily defended target. His mind worked with martial order that I speculated if like Jasper, he was a soldier in his past life.
Before he slipped from my mental fix, I caught a lucky break. He was to rendezvous with the female, Victoria, before his next move. The remainder of his strategy was undeterminable, and worst yet, adaptable.
"Yes. He won't attack the house, though. Not tonight."
I took the ninety-degree bend onto our drive with Alice right behind us and Emmett running shotgun. Our convoy was pulling up to the porch steps when Emmett hooked the handle of Bella's door. He opened it and nabbed her from the seat before the truck juttered to a halt. Like an infant, Emmett carried Bella into the house.
I was at his side with Alice covering the other when we rushed past the front doors. My family was on high alert when they recognized the Chevy and the Jeep approach. Although surprised, they were ready to receive us.
In the center of the group, Laurent froze. Emmett disgorged a snarl as he returned Bella to me.
Glowering at the Frenchman I charged, "He's tracking us."
"I was afraid of that." Laurent was displeased with this news and at being the mark of my wrath. A wrath that was only contained by the thinnest membrane of restraint.
Alice skipped over to Jasper. Leery of the stranger in our midst, she whispered that he join her in her room where she would bring him up to speed on our plan. As they wisped up the stairs, Rose moved in to claim Emmett settling a glare towards Bella.
"What will he do?" Carlisle quickly surmised that our plans had drastically altered when he questioned Laurent.
"I'm sorry," the Frenchman offered. "I was afraid, when your boy there defended her, that it would set him off."
"Can you stop him?"
"Nothing stops James when he gets started." He shook his head more disappointed that his own plans were disrupted.
Emmett's gaze encircled our family. "We'll stop him."
"You can't bring him down. I've never seen anything like him in my three hundred years. He's absolutely lethal. That's why I joined his coven." Laurent only confirmed what I knew.
He suddenly favored Bella with a look of intense interest then returned his regard to Carlisle. "Are you sure it's worth it?"
Fury erupted through my ribs and from my throat in cavernous growl that seemed to jangle the joists and masonry. Laurent's dismissal of Bella made him an easy target. His face pinched, and he shrunk back.
Carlisle took charge. "I'm afraid you're going to have to make a choice."
Laurent was aware that this would happen when I faced-off with James in the field. He waffled inwardly with his decision, separately engaging each of us. His vision described a wide arc across the great room.
"I'm intrigued by the life you've created here. But I won't get in the middle of this. I bear none of you any enmity, but I won't go up against James. I think I will head north — to that clan in Denali."
His tone turned austere. "Don't underestimate James. He's got a brilliant mind and unparalleled senses. He's every bit as comfortable in the human world as you seem to be, and he won't come at you head on… I'm sorry for what's been unleashed here. Truly sorry." He lowered his head in a propitiating gesture then fitted Bella with another confused glance.
Carlisle extended his hand, "Go in peace,"
Bon chance. Laurent remarked to himself. Yet, there was something false behind his courtly smiles. He would readily switch to whichever side suited him.
The Frenchman enjoyed a final view of our home and made his exit. Within a beat of the doors closing, Carlisle turned to me. "How close?"
Esme was at the security controls tapping in codes. Louvered steel panels brayed as they rolled over the wall of windows and clamped shut.
Over the din, I answered, "About three miles out past the river; he's circling around to meet up with the female."
"What's the plan?"
"We'll lead him off, and then Jasper and Alice will run her south."
"As soon as Bella is clear, we hunt him." I anticipated opposition but received none.
"I guess there's no other choice."
In order for the plan to work we needed to move. I looked to Rosalie. "Get upstairs and trade clothes."
My sister wore her disgust like a garment. "Why should I?" thrusting her chin combatively forward, "What is she to me? Except a menace — a danger you've chosen to inflict on us."
Bella winced at Rose's insults, which was akin to a slap in the face.
"Rose…," Emmett muttered abashed. He checked her with a hand to her shoulder, but she shrugged it off.
Time was evaporating before us. Although I was absolutely apoplectic at my sister's behavior, it merited a non-response from me.
I turned to my mother. "Esme?"
Before Bella could react, Esme scooped her up in her arms and spirited up the stairs to swap clothes. It was an old trick of confusing scents. One small measure to impede the tracker.
As I headed for the kitchen, Carlisle addressed my sister gravely. "Rosalie, I'm ashamed of you." He needn't say another word. By Rose's reaction, it was more than enough of a dressing down.
Emmett followed me with Alice and Jasper sliding down the staircase right behind. My brothers exited the backdoor for the garage while Alice remained in the kitchen awaiting my final directions.
I noticed she had a black case in her hand. I began to fill my own backpack with supplies. As I stuffed it with maps, matches, lighter fluid, and cash from the storage cabinets of our unused kitchen, I glanced over at her. "Don't let Bella out of your sight. And if she comes up with any more ideas, I don't care what they are, she is not to do anything outside the plan."
"Edward." Alice said my name in a tone that indicated I was stating the obvious.
I wrangled several cell phones in my hand. "Don't forget her mealtimes. Remember she'll need to eat more frequently than we do." Alice nodded.
"Bella is undeviatingly inquisitive. Whatever you do, keep all your conversion prophecies, soothsaying, and fortunetelling to yourself. I mean it, Alice." My sister's face hosted a quizzical expression for an instant, but inwardly answered, "Okay, okay."
Her inner voice stopped me. She'll be safe with us. I swear she'll never be without me. I gave her a half-hearted smile.
We returned to the great room where Carlisle had his head bent to Rose giving her his own set of orders. We were shortly joined by Emmett who just finished topping off the get-away vehicles, including Bella's pickup, with gas.
Alice winged up the stairs to wait for Bella.
After I pocketed one and pitched another to Emmett, I handed the rest of the freshly charged mobiles to Carlisle. He had worked out a sequenced departure of vehicles in his mind. From what I saw it was a good plan. But we were nearly at the point when I would have to say goodbye to Bella. My support of that plan lost its purchase.
Jasper reappeared. He must have recognized the stress fractures in my composure when he approached me. You have my word. I will guard Bella with my life. Alice and I will keep her safe. Jasper's silent oath did not calm me; but, I felt some assurance that allowed me to entrust Bella in their care.
"Thank you, Jazz." My voice became stiff with emotion. "I know you will." And I clasped his arm in appreciation.
You found her then. I heard Jasper's voice again. It was of a man empathetic yet grateful that it wasn't him this time. I understand completely.
Like a ninja star, Carlisle tossed a cell phone to him. It cartwheeled across the room before Jasper picked it out of the air. Carlisle then passed one to Rose who was keeping her choice remarks for me and Bella inside her head this time.
Dressed in my mother's clothes, Bella emerged on the landing with Alice and Esme at each elbow. They alighted down the staircase in a careful swoop. Carlisle then began to apprise everyone on the next step of the stratagem. Courteously, he directed his attention to Bella.
"Esme and Rosalie will be taking your truck, Bella," he said as he distributed a mobile to Esme and one to Alice with Rose frowning at him like a petulant brat.
"Alice, Jasper — take the Mercedes. You'll need the dark tint in the south." They nodded in agreement.
"We're taking the Jeep." Emmett went to Carlisle's side as he spoke.
"Alice," Carlisle called, drafting her into service, "will he take the bait?"
She shut her eyes and stilled in meditation.
Then her eyelids switched on like headlights. "He'll track you. The woman will follow the truck. We should be able to leave after that."
Carlisle marshaled, "Let's go," and proceeded towards the kitchen.
This was happening. And it was happening far too soon.
In one stride, I swarmed up to Bella in an embrace. My family politely turned their notice away from us. I held her fast to me that I could feel flesh over bones.
I breathed her in.
There were so many things I meant to tell her, so many things I hadn't said. I took her face into my hands. And with every undeveloped word, I kissed her. It was warm and ambrosial on my lips. Then sadly, gently, I set her down.
It would go against everything I had become to say goodbye. There was a finality in it that wouldn't allow me to go through with the task ahead. Not letting go of her face, tears ridged and burned over my hands.
I breathed her in.
The pain in my throat and in my chest was a comfort to me. I wanted Bella's scent trapped inside me forever.
With one last look into those liquid brown eyes, I was struck with a crystalline clarity on what needed to be done. It was at that moment, I set myself on the reckoning I intended for the tracker and steeled myself away.
And we were gone.
As soon as we hit the main road off our drive, James was on our tail. Emmett was with me in the backseat. Earlier, he had pulled out a bundle covered in a blanket. He explained that he and Jasper had taken one of Alice's dress forms and created this decoy of Bella.
Underneath the blanket, Jasper had thrown one of the girls' dark wigs and a t-shirt he pilfered from Bella's duffle bag. "Ingenious!" Carlisle lauded. I threw my arm around it for effect.
It was working. James continued his pursuit. The female remained behind just as Alice had envisaged. I was on the phone to Esme. I listened hard for Bella's voice but only heard Esme alert Rosalie, "Now," before she closed the signal.
When the security shutters were deployed, our home was a virtual black hole for sound even to a vampire's bionic hearing. However, the sealed barricades held a weakness against my telepathy. Although we were a few miles out, I canted about for anything from the house.
My phone buzzed in my hand. "Yes." It was Esme affirming Victoria was following them. We kept our conversation to one word.
I next called Alice and gave the all clear for them to take off. I wanted her to give the phone to Bella but thought better of it. Over my shoulder, I could see that that James continued to follow us. I pulled the decoy into my chest.
Then out from the darkness, Jasper's voice traveled to my mind. The transmission was compromised with distance and static interference from the crosswire of noises around me, but through his thoughts, I heard him, and through his vision, I found Bella.
She was shaking from crying. A soft fist cushioned her mouth.
"You're wrong, you know," he said.
Bella hiccupped with a start, "What?"
"I can feel what you're feeling now — and you are worth it..."
Then the reception died.