Anxiety emanated from Carlisle, Esme, Rose and Emmett.
i was having a hard time differentiating between what I fed to the room, and what the room was feeding me.
I worried for Edward, who had become my brother in so many unspoken ways. The thought losing my brother forever instilled a fear in me I'd never known before. The weight of the knowledge that it was borne out of my own unbridled bloodlust only added guilt to my fear.
And Bella, so small and fragile, whose panic and longing for Edward was so undeniable that even if I had not had my gift, I would have felt it just as strongly.
Fear. Panic. Longing.
And my guilt.
These were nothing compared to the mad, stark, naked terror I felt for my wife.
Each member of the family stood with their own pinpoints of turmoil and anxiety, worried for the outcome, concentrating on the component highest ranked in their heart. They'd become frozen by intense horror into absolute stillness. My violent fears only added to the uncontrolled and unreasoning fear; Alice's call had done nothing to allay my blame-ridden distress.
"Carlisle, I have to go," I said quietly, using all my available strength and inner discipline to keep an even and measured tone.
"Jasper, where? Where will you go? Certainly, there's nothing to be gained by following them to Italy." Carlisle's fear of the loss of his friend and son was only heightened by the possibility of losing his daughter and his daughter-to-be.
I thought for a moment, tasting the apprehension in the room. "I thought I'd go south, no where in particular. Just for a while." I could feel the palpable sigh of relief permeate the room.
"Jasper, go if you must. Take our care with you, and come back to us soon. Let us know what you hear."
I drove down Pacific Coast Highway with abandon, speeding to a fate unknown. The drive during the daylight hours had seemed endless, moving at human speeds to avoid attention. Finally in the wee hours of the night, the darkness shrouded my accelerated rush to find solitude, though I knew none existed.
I searched for signs, signs that all was right in the universe, signs to comfort my ravaging self-reproach, signs that my love was safe, protected. Nothing. Nothing but endless night fraught with worry and fear. In the absence of comfort, I sought signs of familiarity and recognition as substitutes.
I saw the sign for the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. Military; familiar. I instinctively headed in that direction. As I parked the car, I could discern the silent surveillance that surrounded the base. I shoved his fists into my pockets and began to walk towards the smell of the ocean.
As I returned to the Coast Highway, life began to teem around me. Even in the small hours of the morning, fishermen and surfers abounded. I turned north, following their expectant moods and feeding on their drunken and wasted emotional atmospheres. I felt a minor shift in my mood as I was pulled into their abandon and carelessness. I gave myself over to the emotions of the night dwellers; still, I maintained a distance as I floated along in their numbed emotions.
The light from the Bay Theatre marquee snapped off as I approached, causing me to look up. the marquee announced "Wings of Desire: The Angels Among Us". As I brought my gaze back to street level, I noticed a "Help Wanted" sign in the window. I looked down the street as a gust of ocean spray carried on the wind around me.
The haze of expectancy mixed with drugged-induced complacency led me through the streets to the ocean. I allowed the mood to pull me out to the pier, past the sparse population dotting its sides. "No Overhead Casting" signs marked the fisher's bounds. My thoughts were aimless and desperate. I began the pensive pace along the waterfront, stopping now and then to gaze out into the seemingly endless sea, lost in the black of night.
I had complete faith in Alice's abilities. Time and time again, her visions gave her the confidence to act assuredly, and the outcome was always favorable. Yet Edward's determination and drive when he set his mind to a task were formidable. Could Edward be stopped, saved by love? Would Alice arrive in time? Would the Volturi harm Alice? Could this crisis of my creation end well?
The probable outcomes had extremely finite indications of a favorable end; the strategies were not in my favor. Try as I might, the scenarios that ran through my head were vulnerable to failure on so many fronts that the possibility of success was remote at best. The panic and hopelessness of the situation seized me momentarily, yanking me back from my dazed stupor.
The pier populace had changed. I looked around, only to find several groups of the people who had been fishing were on their knees or lying flat on the pier; some were sobbing gently to themselves. I stared blindly, wondering how a group prayer had seized them, until I realized I needed to withdraw from the crowd, taking my emotional unrest with me.
I wandered the night streets, unfocused and adrift. As the crowds thinned, my feelings returned to me and they were all my own. My guilty despair returned. I resolved that I would not indulge in these emotions; I would find the one outcome that would return Alice to me, whole and vibrant. My pace began to quicken.
I came up quickly upon a woman standing in front of a church. My approach must have startled her: her head swung to me and she dropped the sacks she was holding. As the contents of the bags spilled to the ground, she turned her whole body to face me, and smiled.
The air around her felt… different. She was obviously unafraid of me, though my rapid approach was enough to set most on guard. I was confused my her lack of fear and her… was it hope? My eyes found hers, trying to decipher the situation and I was bathed in the oddest sensation of familiarity and recognition.
The cans from the bag rolled to a rest against a stop sign. I walked toward her, stooping to pick up the spilled bags and said, "Ma'am, let me help you." Cans of food rolled on the ground, while sugar and flour held the bags in the spot where she'd dropped them.
"I'm so dimwitted sometimes. I just let them go!" she laughed as she bent to help me. Our faces were about level, only a few inches apart, when it struck me.
If Alice could grow physically older, if Alice could age, my wife would appear to be a twin of the woman now before me. I stared at her in wonder as she worked. She seemed to be unaware of my open-mouthed curiosity, but she smiled more broadly as she worked.
"I usually come earlier, when the doors are still open, but I just couldn't get away tonight," she breathed, clearly out of breath in her efforts. She stood up, placing her hands on her hips and stretching her back. "I'm not as young as I used to be." She groaned a little as I heard her vertebrae snap back into place.
Slowly, I began to rise, watching her. She reached toward heaven and brought her hands to her sides. She stood facing me, framed in the background by the doors of the Angel Food Ministry.
"Thank you for helping me pick that all up. Would you mind helping me move it over by the door?" She picked up one of the bags with an unabashed grunt and began to trudge towards the church doors.
"Please let me help," I said, still fascinated with her features and expressions as I took the bag from her hands. So much like Alice, I thought.
"Oh, thank you. I usually have to do this by myself," she said. "Not that I mind, really. I like to feel useful, and it helps people, you know?" She looked at me expectantly as I set the groceries by the church. I turned to check the church doors, hoping to set the groceries inside. "They're locked," she said, watching my movements. "Darn shame, too, used to be you could go in whenever you want. Were you hoping to go inside?"
I smiled and looked down at my feet. "Not really," I chuckled. "I'm not sure I'd be welcome there."
"I know how you feel, brother. It can be a lonely road." She continued to watch me. The emotional bubble surrounding her was calm, peaceful and accepting. It felt good; her mood began to pierce my despairing sheath. I smiled, thankful for the relief she inadvertently gave me.
As I walked back to where she stood, she cocked her head to one side. "Loneliness cuts deep," she said. "I know, I've been there. Add fear and guilt to that loneliness and you've got yourself a living nightmare."
I stopped where I stood and watched her, dumbfounded, unable to formulate a response to her keen description of my emotional state. I felt my anxiety and tension slipping away, flowing into the aura of acceptance surrounding her. It was stunning, coming from a stranger, a human stranger. I opened my mouth to speak. Nothing came out.
She looked at me as my mouth hung open. She seemed to take my whole countenance into consideration. "Hey. I bet you're hungry. Why don't you walk with me?" She turned and began to walk away from the church, arm outstretched to usher me along side her. "Don't be shy, now, I'm not going to hurt you."
The image of a mother bird stretching her wing over her chicks came to mind as she stuck out her other hand to shake mine. I looked down at her hand, and considered her outstretched arm. "It's nice to meet you, my friend. Be a gentleman and help an old woman to get something to warm her bones."
My upbringing didn't allow me to refuse her request, but at the mention of being hungry, I realized it had been too long since I'd hunted last. I moved toward her, holding my breath, and grasped her hand.
"Wow!" Her sharp intake of breath punctuated her reaction to my cold hand. She yanked my hand, pulling me under the protection of her outstretched arm. Her words seemed to falter for a moment, then she recovered. "You, ah, you got a … Whoa. You got a firm and cool handshake, there." My body stiffened in the irrational fear of discovery, but I did not stop moving with her. As if she hadn't noticed, she went on. "There's a little coffee shop up here I like," she motioned to a sign in the distance. "Will you help me get there? I can't see very well in that dark."
I didn't understand her outreach to me, and I couldn't understand my reactions to her. I was not emoting calm in any manner; to the contrary, my mood was filled with confusion, anxiety and fear. I could detect my feelings beneath the wave of calm that bathed my spirits, and I recognized that it came from her. As we shuffled slowly down the sidewalk, my arm reflexively wrapped around her waist, supporting her. I glanced up at her face and once again, saw Alice.
"She's got you worried, hasn't she?"
I stopped dead in my tracks. "I'm sorry?"
She took a step or two forward, and stopped. She turned to me. "Your woman, she's got you worried. She's left you, hasn't she?" She stood looking at me intently, her eyes twinkling with some inner secret.
"It's okay, she's coming back. She loves you, always has, always will." The right corner of her mouth pulled her lips into a half-smile. "Yes, I can see it in your face. You love her, too." Her smile faded. "You see, I don't know how or why, but ever since my stroke, I know things about people. I like to think of myself as a helper. I help people – it's just what I do." She smiled her half-smile again, Alice emerging in her features. "You see in me that which you hold dear."
My dark eyes were wide with fascination. "I don't understand," was all I could manage to say.
She took a step toward me. "Look. Here's what you have to do," she said in a low, conspiratorial tone. "First, get yourself something to eat. I'd feed you myself, but I have a few more errands to do before I'm done. Besides," she said, "You wouldn't be happy with yourself taking food from me." She glanced up at me. "You've got to go home. She'll come back."
"How do you – you, you can't know that..." I sputtered. As the words tumbled from my lips, I felt hope spread in my core and out through my limbs.
"I told you," she leaned in and whispered, "I help people. I'm helping you." She righted herself, pulling herself up to her full height. "You've got to forgive yourself and go on. Who you are, what you know – your family will need you soon."
"Ma'am, I don't know wha-" She cut me off with a gesture. Her raised hand seemed to stop the words as they pushed themselves to be uttered.
"Look. God gives us all different gifts. You got yours, I can feel that. I got mine," she said. "I knew what you needed, God gave it to me to give to you. It's a gift I give to you." She turned her face to me, bringing her face close to mine. "You've struggled for so long with who you are and who you want to be. The Almighty, He knows that," she emphasized her words with a finger jab to my chest. "He sees you."
She leaned back and looked away from me, over her shoulder. "Your car's over there, about a mile up. Sun's starting to rise; I got to go. Got a few more errands before I'm done."
She turned, and shuffled away down the sidewalk as I stood watching her. I felt the acceptance begin to leave me, and I took a step in her direction. She didn't turn, but lifted her arm to point in the direction of the car, then waved as she walked into the dark.
I turned, and began to walk to the car.
I decided she was right: I needed to go home. I drove south to catch the freeway, knowing the quickest route took me up the Interstate. As I passed Angels Stadium, I smiled to myself, still riding an emotional high and knowing, somehow, that things would turn out right. Los Angeles passed in a blur.
The calm didn't leave me until I was halfway back to Forks. I felt stronger, revitalized and more assured that Alice would be successful. She would come back; she did love me, despite my weaknesses. I gunned the engine, anxious to return to my family who needed me.