A/N: Hi everyone! I hope that you have sufficiently mourned the loss of Uncle Chuck. Here is a long chapter for you. I hope that you enjoy it! Oh, and happy Independence Day to any American readers.
38. When One Door Closes
"Open the door, Audrey," Bella repeated, more forcefully.
Feeling the rattling of the hard wood against my back, I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to let her in at some point . . . literally and figuratively.
Begrudgingly wiping the stinging tears from my face, I stood, turned the knob and yanked away the physical barrier between us.
Bella straightened her posture, as if shocked that she was no longer staring at the plain face of the door. It didn't take long for her eyes to probingly find mine, or for her to move with intent across the threshold and shut me back inside the room – this time with the added bonus of her company.
I closed my eyes briefly trying to calm and centre myself, before the silence was broken by Bella's voice.
"What is going on, Audrey?" I looked up to see her step towards me. She seemed to know that I wasn't exactly willing to give her an immediate answer. "And don't tell me that you don't know. You do."
A mirthless chuckle-slash-scoff left me.
I'm not sure that I do, Bella.
My response, or lack of a response, seemed to incite Bella.
"What? Didn't you plan for me to find out about you?"
My brow grew taut as I peered into her eyes, hoping that they'd help me to fathom the direction of her thoughts. A gut feeling catalysed my answer.
"Plan? Are you suggesting that I'm part of some sort of . . . scheme?!"
"I don't know," she answered, pensively, before increasing the intensity of her tone. "But, no matter how unbelievable it sounds, I'm sure that you're not meant to be here."
My breath left me.
How can she know that?
The suffocating silence seemed to affirm Bella's suspicions. Her eyes widened revealing each gear clicking into place as she came to her epiphany.
"Charlie doesn't know you . . . and I've never . . . I've never had a cousin. Who are you? Is your name even Audrey?" she pressed.
Is the story going back to how it was meant to be?
Something needed to be said and whatever was said needed to spur Bella to share more of her knowledge – more of her experience. Perhaps, in seeking answers from me, she could help me answer the questions that had plagued me from the moment that I'd woken up in Forks. I swallowed and tried to find my voice.
"My name is Audrey . . . but you're right - I'm not your cousin."
Bella, watching me all the more closely, took a deep breath and bit down on her lip. I decided to ask a question of my own.
"How did–" but Bella didn't let me finish.
"Stop! Just . . . stop!"
She continued to stare at me with thoughts visibly moving behind her eyes, until she looked down and began shaking her head with what seemed to be disbelief. Her actions were juxtaposed by the words that she soon muttered.
"It's all starting to make sense now . . . the dreams . . . everything . . ."
"Well, please, enlighten me."
It was only when Bella looked up and stared at me sharply that I realised that I had automatically verbalised my thoughts.
An intangible silence made its presence well felt, until Bella released her bottom lip from her teeth.
"Enlighten you? You're the one who has come and infiltrated my life. How did you do it? Why did you do it?"
As she willed me to answer, it became apparent that if I wanted answers I needed to give her some too – carefully worded, of course. Trying to put an end to the confrontational atmosphere, I moved to sit on the bed that had been mine and that, strangely, still seemed to exist in the room.
Has my presence changed things? Will signs of my existence remain, or will they fade just like Charlie's memories?
My heart faltered.
. . . Oh, God, will Edward remember me?!
"Well?" Bella stepped forward, making me cognisant of her expectation of an answer, but her demands could not override the dominance of the worry compressing my chest, or the shadows of doubt that lingered as I swallowed, preparing to talk.
"I didn't choose to come. I was sent here by a stranger. I went to bed one night and woke up here in Forks, with your dad claiming to be my uncle."
Bella's mouth now hung slightly agape. Pleased by her unwavering attention, I was encouraged to continue.
"All that I've done is try and find a way to survive with what I've been given – to try and live a life that isn't the one I knew. Can you blame me for doing that?"
Bella seemed to contemplate my expression and my words carefully. I watched her just as carefully as she folded her arms across her chest and stepped backwards and forwards, once again biting down on her bottom lip. I breathed more deeply, when she turned her back on me, but my moment of increased comfort was short lived. Bella turned around and froze me with an accusatory tone and penetrating stare.
"You took Edward from me."
My breath left me, audibly.
You might take Edward from me . . .
"I can see it in your eyes," she continued. "You knew what you were doing. You knew that I was meant to be here, with Edward –"
"Who are we to decide what is meant to be and what isn't meant to be, Bella?!" I stood and almost yelled, my contained façade cracking. She looked at me like a deer confronting headlights. "Maybe things were meant to be this way and not the way that you've dreamed. Maybe we were always meant to have this conversation. I certainly don't know and neither do you, but you should know that I am always conscious of how my actions might affect others. And it doesn't matter how much I analyse my choice or theirs, I still can't choose how others act towards me, or anyone else for that matter."
My mind drifted to the memories of how I'd tried to stay away from Edward and my hand reflexively moved to touch the heart charm beneath my shirt. He hadn't stayed away.
My eyes moved to the window over Bella's shoulder.
"I can make a move in a game of chess that might encourage my opponent to respond in a certain way, but ultimately they can choose how to make the next move . . . and they might influence me to change my strategy." I met Bella's face again, as Mavis' words replayed in my head and I came to my own realisation. Her eyes were still fixed on me. "Don't you see? No matter how constrained we may feel, no matter how narrow our options may seem, you, me and Edward, we all have a choice . . . and each choice changes everything."
"I see that you're choosing to make yourself the queen in this game of chess," Bella countered. "While I'm left to be the pawn that you're making sure will never reach the king."
I clenched my right fist by my side trying to remain calm.
"Edward's moves aren't limited or controlled, Bella. Despite what you may think, I'm certainly not keeping him from moving towards you – not if that's what will give him happiness and fulfilment."
Bella sighed, seemingly not knowing how to take my comment. She let silence dwell as she ran a hand through her hair, before replying in a strained voice.
"But you are keeping him from me. If you weren't here, he would be with me. As weird as it seems to base my reasoning from my dreams, I know that I'm right in believing that."
"Is that why you came here?" She raised an eyebrow, so I clarified. "Did you come to Forks primarily because of what you saw in your dreams? I know that your mum's marriage to Phil might have had some part to play, but -"
"Yes," she admitted, not letting me finish. "Yes, my dreams were so intense and real, yet otherworldly at the same time . . . I just . . ." She wrapped her arms around her middle, diverted her eyes from my face and moved towards the window. "I don't know why I'm telling you this."
"Because you think that I might be able to give you answers."
She spun around, clumsily and would have fallen over if not for meeting the bed.
"You know his secrets," she said, righting herself. "I want to know them, too."
I took a few breaths before saying what needed to be said.
"They're not mine to share."
Frustration was reflected in every part of her expression and tone.
"I lied for you before in front of Charlie and I don't like to lie unless it's for a very good reason. You've taken things from me. Don't you think that you owe me something in return?" She bargained.
My eyes widened in incredulity.
"No, I don't. You have your life here and you only have to look at Charlie to see what I've already lost."
At my words, Bella raised an eyebrow and turned pensive. "Already lost . . ." I heard her murmur to herself, before I was able to discern the path that her thoughts were taking.
"You think that you're going to lose Edward, too," she breathed, before her voice found more strength. "That's what you meant when you said "I'm leaving"! You're fading away. You're going back to where you came from."
My throat tightened upon seeing an undercurrent of happiness flit across her features. It was easy to infer that she had begun to think of what the future could hold with me out of the picture.
I swallowed, knowing that I had to respond.
"If I am, he deserves to be respected and loved for who he is."
"Are you implying that I won't do that?"
I kept my eyes firmly fixed on hers and dared her to challenge me.
"I'm stating that right now you don't even truly know him and yet you want him to be yours. This isn't some game or a competition, Bella. He isn't some novelty prize. The only reason that I would want to see you with Edward is if I can be assured that you can respect and love him and only him." Jacob's image popped up in my thoughts as I spoke. "Because I care too much for him to see him get used or hurt." My eyes turned misty. "I've already potentially hurt him."
Bella studied me like a Where's Waldo or a Where's Wally book, seemingly searching for something that was almost impossible to detect amongst other things.
"You're in love with him," she eventually said.
I whispered my immediate response, effortlessly.
I was surprised to see Bella look upon me with pity, before she glanced around the room for anything but me. I followed her eyes and saw them linger on the worn copy of Wuthering Heights that sat on her bedside table. When she spoke, she caused an icy quiver to descend down my spine.
"You need to be forgotten, Audrey. He needs to forget you in order to move on. You can't be a memory – a ghost, like Cathy – haunting him . . . haunting me." I looked up to see her staring at me intently.
I swallowed back my hurt, before managing to ask a question that I hoped would linger with her even if the memory of me did fade into oblivion.
"Does it all come back to you, Bella? Is it all about you?"
Affronted, Bella took a step back, before shaking her head and moving towards the door. "You need to go," she said, opening it. "You need to go back to your own life, Audrey."
An almost eerie sense of relief washed over me at the thought of leaving this conversation and Bella behind me. I knew that there was somewhere else that I had to go. There were others that I had to see and she was no longer keeping me from seeing them.
The irony of the words that I answered her with were not lost on me.
"Well, then, you can go on with your life without any more interference from me. Give me a moment to collect my things. Let me remove all traces of me from this place. It will be as if I never existed."
Bella appraised me as if trying to contemplate my sincerity. Then, with a barely perceptible nod of her head, she, predictably, bit down on her lip and, rather unpredictably, acquiesced and left without another word, closing the door behind her.
A shaky breath escaped me as I sunk to the bed. Feeling an ache grow on my forehead, between my eyebrows, I brought the heel of palm to the spot and began to massage, all the while trying to settle myself on a course of action. A tentative plan gradually came to me – a plan that was worth a try. When the pain settled, I ran both my hands through my hair and pondered how things had changed so quickly.
Would I have done things differently if I'd woken up knowing how today would end?
"Is this karma for ditching class, Mavis?" I spoke towards the ceiling, before standing up and moving to collect my clothes and suitcase from the wardrobe. "Was this whole experience meant to be some elaborate form of torture?"
Gosh . . . I'm beginning to sound like Edward.
I pulled my clothes from coat hangers and threw them haphazardly into the suitcase, then moved to some drawers, choosing a few essential and standard items to keep in my messenger bag. I collected my laptop from the desk and pushed it into the suitcase amongst the clothes. I looked at the walls of the bedroom to already find that, like downstairs, they were bare of any photographs of me and my family. That meant that my bedside table was the last place that contained reminders of my presence.
I opened the drawer and grabbed the Moonlight Sonata Music that Edward had given me. My chest warmed seeing his elegant handwriting still on it. With a new sense of hope, I collected the other note that Edward had given me, as well as my Australian passport – the American passport had apparently vaporised – and placed them in the messenger bag, along with my wallet. Checking the drawer one final time, I found, beneath my own abandoned copy of Wuthering Heights, a book that I had forgotten and wished to continue forgetting. The silver, circling star embossed on its navy blue spine glared at me and made me recall why it was mine. Its title – The Time Machine - still mocked me and served to remind me that my time machine – Mavis' blank copy of Twilight - was showing that my time here was running out. Immediately, I was pulled back to my memories of the conversation with Mavis that had eventuated after I'd touched the book at the Cullens'. Some of her words remained dormant in the back of my mind, while one of her remarks demanded to be heard and came to the forefront of my recollections.
"He won't forget you, dear."
I hope that you were speaking the truth, Mavis.
With one final glance at what I'd come to know as Mavis' emblem, I placed the book in my messenger bag, having every intention to return it to Carlisle's study.
I needed to make my way to the Cullens'. The question was; how?
I sighed and closed my eyes briefly.
Alice, you've seen my future here once before . . . what I would give for you to see that I need you now.
Resigned to the fact that I was on my own, I moved to the door and, tentatively, opened it to peek out onto the upstairs landing.
The tightness in my chest left me when I noticed that Bella or Charlie were nowhere to be seen. I tiptoed into the bathroom and gathered my toiletries and toothbrush, before carefully heading back onto the landing and looking down the staircase as if facing a huge obstacle.
You could try and sneak out. It wouldn't be easy, but you could try. It would be more plausible if you hid your suitcase and had it collected later . . . if there is still someone willing to collect it.
Conscious of the sound of footfalls beginning to crescendo near the base of the staircase, I hurriedly moved back into the bedroom and dumped the toiletries on top of the messenger bag. Swiftly turning back towards the door, I closed it. I rested my forehead against the wood of the door, trying to calm myself, until a blast of cold air hit my back, triggering a blossoming hopefulness, but also a clenching doubt, to settle in my chest.
Never had hearing my name spoken rendered me with such an overwhelming sense of comfort and relief. I wrapped my arms around my centre and turned to find the proof that my ears hadn't deceived me.
Edward glanced at my suitcase on the bed and was soon quickly moving towards me with evident concern across his face. His bronze hair was windswept and brushed away from his forehead, in a way that many would pay a great deal of money to have achieved by a hairdresser. I welcomed his arms when he wrapped them around me and tenderly pulled me towards his chest. He kissed my hair and I felt him trace soothing circles against my back. Then, before I was able to even try and prevent it, I felt a tear leave my eye. Edward stepped back and brought his hand up to gently guide my eyes to his. Another tear fell. He brushed it away and I could see in his eyes that he knew how much his presence meant to me.
"How did you know?" I said, my voice barely breaking free of my emotions. "How did you know that I needed you?"
He brushed some hair behind my ear.
"Alice. She had a vision of you trying to carry your suitcase behind Bella and Charlie." He paused, before admitting, "I ran here as soon as I read her thoughts. I didn't think to question whether she was seeing you clearly. I was just worried that I'd get here and find you . . ." he didn't need to finish his train of thought for me to understand.
"I know," I murmured, reaching up to touch his jaw, but I never reached it.
Like a deer sensing a predator, his head snapped to the side and almost stared a hole through the wall. He quickly intercepted my hand and intertwined his fingers with mine, before guiding me towards the window.
"Bella's at the base of the stairs," he offered as a way of explanation. "Do I need to get you away from here?"
"Yes," I answered, without hesitation. My own explanations could be given later.
In the blink of an eye, Edward was standing in front of me holding my suitcase and messenger bag.
"I'll be back in a moment," he said, before moving out of the window, into the tree branches and down onto the ground. True to his word, he soon returned and, without saying anything, quickly positioned me on his back, like he'd done when we'd travelled to the meadow. In the next second, he traversed the tree at a sickening speed and, before I knew it, we were on solid ground, amongst the forest at the back of the Swan residence.
I leant back against the trunk of a large tree and attempted to steady myself with some deep breaths of the dank, forest air.
Close your eyes next time, Audrey!
Edward gave me the space that he knew I needed. Not liking that he was still looking at me with concern and shouldering the responsibility for my current state, I fought against the unsettling feelings in my head and stomach and righted myself.
"You're always welcome." Edward offered a hint of a reassuring smile as he moved towards me, but he appeared agitated – if such an appearance could be had by a vampire - as he ran his hand down the length of my arm. "You're not wearing a coat."
Now that he had pointed that fact out to me, the cold seemed to make itself all the more present.
"It's hanging up in the hall," I chattered, not noticing that Edward was removing his superfluous jacket and holding it open so that I could put it on. "I'm such an idiot! I knew that something was missing-"
"Audrey." He drew my attention towards his offering.
I tried to memorise the way he caressed my name, as his consoling scent enveloped me – a consolation prize that came with the proffered gift of warmth.
As I expected and wished, he heard my thoughts.
"Are you going to keep making me say, "You're always welcome"?" he quipped.
"Not every answer has to be spoken, you know. Haven't you heard that actions speak louder than words?"
He moved closer, with purpose. There was a glint in his eye to accompany his much loved crooked grin. He held my gaze, until his eyes fell to my lips.
"I believe that I may have heard that somewhere before," he breathed before kissing me, allowing me to experience the strange and yet enlivening sensation of fire and ice.
With the chilly evening air, my breath showed itself like smoke clouds, when he pulled back. My obviously flushed cheeks rose with my bashful smile.
"I think that I might prefer that answer."
"You're not certain?" There was a playfulness behind Edward's raised brow. My spirits were lifted and for a moment all of my worries were elapsed. It was as if we were in our own world.
"Further trials may be necessary."
What was intended to be light-hearted, if not a bit flirtatious, twisted, instead, into a tone so serious. One poorly chosen word brought us both back to our reality.
Trials . . . how many would be necessary to face? Could we face them together?
Edward took my hand and then released it just as quickly, realising more quickly than my human brain could that there was barely a differential between the temperature of his skin and mine.
"We need to get you warm." His tawny eyes shifted to the Swan's house and then back to a distant spot in the forest. "Alice and Jasper are coming." He met my eyes, determinedly. "I'm going to go back and get your coat. I won't be long."
I acknowledged his words with a nod. It wasn't long before he disappeared and his place was filled by Alice, who quickly wrapped her arms around me, not giving me a moment to register Jasper's presence until she pulled away.
"I was worried that I wouldn't see you again," she said with undoubtable sincerity, as Jasper moved to her side. Her next words were affirmed by the brightness of their eyes. "We were hunting when I had the vision."
Edward returned then, carrying my much desired coat. I moved to take his jacket off, but he shook his head and helped me put my coat on over it.
The thought left me automatically and it was a while before I understood why Edward's lips twitched minutely, as if he was pleasingly diverted.
Alice and Jasper must have communicated with Edward through their thoughts, too, because he soon verbalised one side of the conversation.
"We'll address that when we get home. Audrey needs to get warm and the rain will start again soon. Will you carry her bags, please?"
Jasper turned to Edward and peered at him curiously, while Alice offered a departing smile. I had a feeling that much would be discussed and explored when we reached the Cullens', but I prayed that I might have chance to rest my mind before that took place. As much as I loved Alice, I was glad when her and Jasper left and it was only Edward who stood with me, albeit a bit uneasily.
I knew that he'd have to piggyback me back through the forest and back to his home, but I was reticent to move behind him as a thought came to mind, bringing with it a sense of compunction. While I knew that it was easy for Edward to carry my physical weight, I was confronted with Bella's words and the idea that he would carry the weight of my memory.
His voice brought me out of my contemplations. Blinkingly, I met his eyes. They told me that I hadn't done a good job of hiding what had crossed my mind. However, Edward's interest in my comfort seemed to take precedence, as he moved to stand in front of me, before carefully positioning me on his back. It was a surety that my concerns and worries would be addressed as soon as we'd reached his home.
I wrapped my arms around him and rested my head against his right shoulder.
"Remember to close your eyes this time," he said, prior to turning his attention back to the journey that lay before him.
I felt him shift beneath me, as if he were a poised Olympic sprinter, simply waiting to set free by the sound of the gun. In a way he was an Olympic sprinter, when you considered out geographical location and I . . . I was the starter who felt the need to signal a false start.
He turned his head to look back at me, alertly.
"What's wrong? Audrey?"
My nerves almost got the better of me.
"I just need you to know that . . . that I never intended to be a burden for you to carry. And I'm not talking about you transpor—"
He brought a finger gently to my lips, but his profile displaying his earnest tenderness would have been enough to silence me.
"You are no burden, Audrey Darling." He paused, asking me to believe him. I was transfixed. "Not having you here to carry; now that . . . that would be a burden."
My insides knotted, reacting to the sentiment behind the words, as if accepting that I was tied to the one who had spoken them.
He craned his head enough to kiss me along my jaw.
"Are you certain, now?" he asked, pulling back and I knew that he wasn't just referring to answering with a kiss.
I nodded, closed my eyes and allowed him to carry us forward.
"Audrey," Esme greeted me with a hug. Her warm reception mirrored the comfort offered by entering her home. She glanced fondly at Edward, before encouraging me to follow her lead. "Please come through. We thought that you might want something to eat."
Her words brought an enticing, meaty scent to my attention and I smiled back with gratitude, but an underlying sense of uneasiness also made itself known.
"That's very kind of you, but, please, I don't want you to go out of your way for me, Esme."
She stopped just before the entrance to the kitchen and turned to me in a manner that I could only describe as maternal.
"I'm afraid it's only a frozen meal."
"But, still," I began. "You don't have to usually deal with this."
Her response was equally shocking and soothing.
"Families look after each other, Audrey." she said, endearingly, causing a new wave of overwhelming emotions to surface from within.
She didn't look at Edward. She said it looking directly at me. She sees me as part of the family?
Esme seemed to sense my internal struggles and stepped forward to touch my arm.
"Besides, you are actually doing me a favour," she continued with a smile in Edward's direction, before moving into the kitchen.
I turned to him with a questioning expression.
"Esme has to go shopping to keep up pretences and there are a few items getting quite close to their best before dates."
My mouth formed an 'O', conveying my understanding. Esme's efforts to welcome me were quite humbling. It was as if she could tell that I desperately needed a place to call home. It wasn't long before I was perched on a stool at the kitchen bench, enjoying a single serving of lasagne – and not of the cheap frozen meal variety either. It was the best frozen lasagne that I'd ever tasted. The initial awkwardness of having Esme and Edward watch me eat, was soon eradicated by the tranquillity of the surrounding silence. I didn't realise how much I'd been seeking some quiet time, until I was granted it. When I drew close to finishing they began conversing.
"I asked Carlisle to bring some milk home."
"We already have tea?" Edward queried.
Thankfully I had no food in my mouth and was able to readily insert, "Like I said, please don't go out of your way. I'm quite happy to drink water and eat more meals like this." I moved to stand up and take my plate to the sink, but Esme pre-empted me. Resigned to her hospitality, I added, "It was delicious, Esme, thank you."
Edward's hand fell to the small of my back, giving me the feeling that he appreciated my response.
"I'm glad to hear it," Esme replied, with a smile, seeming to notice Edward's arm around me just as Jasper and Alice entered.
"Your bags are in Edward's room, Audrey," Alice spoke to me and then turned to Esme. "Carlisle should be here in a minute."
I knew that Cullen family council would soon follow and that I would be the point of inquiry. However, there were still two members yet to make their presence known.
"Emmett and Rosalie?" I queried.
Alice inclined her head in the direction of the dining room and gave me a look that implied that not everyone was happy. I hadn't expected Rosalie to be pleased by this arrangement. Perhaps there would be an opportunity to mend the breach. Edward rolling his eyes, supposedly in response to someone's thoughts, caught my attention.
I raised an eyebrow.
"Emmett," was all he needed to say. I was curious as to why he hadn't come and greeted me or called out to me even though his wife was in the vicinity.
And then it dawned on me. "I ditched Chemistry."
"You didn't think about how your lab partner would react to your absence, did you?" Emmett's unmistakeable voice hollered, singed with a teasing tone that betrayed his attempt at being serious. "I see how it is. You wanted to bond with someone else."
"Can you blame her?" I thought that I heard Alice whisper.
I brought my hand to my mouth to cover my grin. Edward pinched the bridge of his nose, obviously being confronted with certain thoughts from Emmett. I took my hand from my mouth and rested it over his free hand. He opened his eyes and moved his hand away from his face. I tried to offer him a calming smile. It appeared to work, before Carlisle's arrival captured everyone's attention.
"I believe that someone requested milk," he said, moving forward to kiss Esme on the cheek. Once Esme had taken the milk from him, he turned to face me. I felt the full force of his wise eyes.
"It's a pleasure to have you here again, Audrey. However, something tells me that the circumstances that have led to your stay weren't exactly desirable."
A slight understatement there, Carlisle.
He intimated to the dining room and I knew what was to come.
I stood and Edward took my hand as we followed the other couples out of the kitchen. I felt Rosalie's eyes on me as soon as the dining table came into view. Surprisingly, they didn't convey as much anger as I expected – only an intense curiosity. Emmett turned his face away from me, as if still affronted, but then quickly looked back my way to give me a wink and I knew that all was forgiven. I'd never had an older brother, but somehow I knew that Emmett had fulfilled that role.
Edward guided me to a chair and then sat beside me. He reached for my left hand, intertwined our fingers and rested our joined hands against my thigh. Already feeling my concentration slipping, I conspicuously moved them to rest against his thigh instead. I registered a slight squeeze of my hand as Edward's acceptance.
Carlisle's voice, while having a calm and unassuming tone, demanded to be heard.
"Audrey, the last time that you were here, you shared some information with us about your knowledge of us and your knowledge of Bella Swan. You also expressed your belief that you've been inserted into what you understood to be a novel. You said that you would have to leave. Do you still hold these beliefs?"
I swallowed and prepped myself to speak for a long time.
"Yes. If I had had any doubts, today's incidents would have eliminated them."
I looked to Edward, who squeezed my hand reassuringly and then turned my focus to all other occupants of the table. Even though I could see questions formulating, they let me talk without any interruptions. I shared how all photos of me had vanished. I told them of Charlie's wiped memory. However, most of my words centred on Bella's awareness of who I was and the fact that I had infiltrated her life.
"Does she know about us?" Rosalie probed immediately upon my conclusion, seemingly looking for a reason to condemn me.
I sat up straighter and answered with what I hoped was evident honesty.
"She suspects that you are different. She knows that you are keeping secrets, but she doesn't know what they are. Like I said, in the novel, she spends a lot of time with Edward and pieces together evidence from their interactions, but also from her visit to First Beach and the stories that Jacob Black tells her."
"It appears as though the Treaty has become folk law to the younger generations," Emmett said in a tone more serious than usual, while Edward was given the full force of Rosalie's gaze.
I nodded. "It's only when they start to transform that they become aware of the full truth."
"They will begin to transform, again?" Carlisle asked with interest.
"If things occur according to the story that I know, then, yes."
He seemed to accept that and then it was Jasper's turn.
"You said that Charlie has forgotten you and that the American Passport that you had when you arrived here has disappeared. However, your Australian passport is still in your possession. I know that you believe that you are fading out of the story, but have you given any consideration to my suggestion that your younger self still exists in this world?"
I shook my head.
"Jasper is suggesting that, with the disappearance of your false links to the Swan family, it might be easier to learn if an Audrey Darling, apart from yourself, still exists in this world," Edward explained and Jasper nodded. "When we tried to call your home in Sydney, the woman who sent you here was the one to say that the call could not be connected."
"And you know that I have had visions of you and your family," Alice chimed in. "With the supposed decoys out of the way, perhaps we have a chance to make the best of this situation?"
"And what would that be?" Rosalie added, rhetorically. "To find Edward without the Audrey that he has come to know, after her time here is up and chasing after a girl who looks like her and sounds like her, but does not even know him yet? It will uproot this family."
I dropped my eyes and found myself staring at the wood grain of the table.
"And how many times has Edward done things to support this family when others have needed him to?" Alice retorted. I felt Edward's eyes on me, but I couldn't find the courage to look up and see what expression they would hold.
"I am curious to understand why Audrey would have been sent here if not for some particular design," Carlisle spoke, quickly settling the tone. I looked up and watched as he continued to hold everyone's concentration. "It would be of interest to learn if Jasper's theories can be confirmed. Would you be opposed to exploring that option, Audrey?"
With all eyes on me, it would be hard to answer in the negative if I'd wanted to, but I found myself compelled to try anything. I turned to meet Edward's eyes and I could see that they were almost begging me to agree to explore Jasper's theory. He'd always held onto the belief that we'd met for a purpose and, despite my own misgivings, who was I to not allow him to hold onto that hope – the hope that, even if time was against us, we wouldn't always be without each other when the pages ended?
Can't you hold out hope, too? Remember, Alice did see you as one of them.
"I wouldn't be opposed to it, Carlisle."
Edward ran his thumb across my palm and Esme's lips upturned, as her eyes flicked between Edward and me.
"I'll contact Jenks," Jasper said, with a rare smile, before moving with resolve in the direction of the staircase.
Rosalie seemed to eye me contemplatively and with a slight edge of frustration prior to following his lead.
"Let the investigating begin," Emmett said, before following his wife.
All signs suggested that the meeting had reached its conclusion, particularly when Esme moved to hug me and whispered, "Rest well" near my ear.
When Carlisle stood, so did Edward, Alice and I. I felt Alice move to stand beside me, as Edward addressed me.
"I just want to talk with Carlisle for a few moments, but I will meet you upstairs shortly." It was easy to convey that I was fine with that notion.
"I'll walk you to Edward's room, Audrey," Alice said in a warm way, being the ever consummate hostess and friend.
As we climbed the stairs, the day's toll on me became apparent, particularly in my fatiguing legs. However, we soon reached Edward's room, where I found a towel laid on the black, leather chaise, near my bags.
"You've had a tough day," Alice said, with empathy. "Know that if you want to talk about anything, I'm here."
I smiled and bent down to hug her.
"I appreciate it, Alice."
She released me from the hug and smiled that glistening smile of hers.
"The shower is in the bathroom just across the hallway."
I wasn't so fatigued that my playfulness was suppressed.
"Are you trying to say that I stink?"
She placed her hands on her hips and shook her head as a glint appeared in her eye.
"Go and have a shower, Audrey, relax and sleep well. I don't want you being grouchy when I choose your outfit for tomorrow." Her tone became tender as she moved to the door. "Remember, our home is your home."
I nodded, not being able to find words adequate enough to offer a response apart from, "Thank you."
With Alice gone, I found myself running my hands through my hair and craving the shower that Alice had suggested. I hastened to collect the items that I'd need for the shower, so that I could be finished by the time that Edward returned. If my time here was drawing to a close, I wanted to maximise every opportunity that I had to be with him. When I came to my messenger bag, I stopped when my hand found the book that I needed to return. The Time Machine. The title glared at me all the more and Jasper's words from moments ago reverberated in my mind.
Was she providing me with clues? Could Mavis have just brought me to a different time and place in a world that was no different to my own?
As I placed the book on the chaise and moved towards the bathroom, I knew that it was time to find out.
A/N: What did you think?
Did Bella react how you expected her to?
Is Jasper on to something? Or is Mavis playing with all of them like they're her own chess pieces?
What future trials will Audrey and Edward face?
As always, thank you to those who review. I adore reading them. I'm on holidays for the next week, so reviews might motivate me to produce another update by the 13th of July.
All the best,