A/N: Surprise! All I will say is I suggest you read the previous chapter again and thank you for continuing to follow and support this story. It is certainly on the homeward straight.
Copyright karry4harry 2017 (Anything related to Twilight is Stephenie Meyer's. I just like to make stuff up about her characters.)
44. Homeward Bound
"It was delicious . . . thank you," I smiled, reassuringly.
The waitress simply raised her eyebrow, her disbelief clearly evident, as she emptied the table of our half-finished desserts. I probably would have responded in a similar fashion, if I'd been having to return half-eaten dishes (let alone unfinished desserts) to the kitchen of a fine dining restaurant all evening.
Edward seemed to recognise my embarrassment as the waitress left. He reached for my hand, after I'd removed the napkin from my lap and placed it on the table, effectively engaging me with his eyes.
"What she thinks of you isn't significant, Audrey."
I wasn't expecting his words to carry an edge of amusement. As I contemplated Edward's obvious entertainment, I carefully delayed my response.
"You know that I like to leave a good impression."
He smiled and ran his thumb over my knuckles.
"And to those who are worthy of knowing you, you will leave a remarkably good impression."
His words wrapped themselves warmly around my heart, as if wanting to leave an inscription. Immobilised, briefly, by such an intense sentiment, I took a deep, easing breath and tried to squeeze Edward's hand. His cool, marble skin stayed firm.
"Well, as hard as I try, I'm still unable to leave a lasting impression on you."
My wink was left unreturned as Edward's expression turned stern and instinctively my brow tightened.
"Audrey, although the words were said in jest, I feel as though I need to state that falser words were never spoken."
Tension built in my jaw, trailed down my neck and then through to my shoulders.
"Thank you," was as eloquent a response as I could muster.
Edward stared at me as if I was the keeper of some marvellous secret that only he could see. Never removing his eyes from mine, he raised my hand and softly kissed my knuckles. I was suddenly quite warm, despite the coolness of his touch, and the food that I'd recently consumed was being churned by the growing vortex of emotions descending from my chest, giving a whole new meaning to in-di-jest-ion.
Accompanied by the loud bass-track of my heartbeat, I withdrew my hand to run it through my hair, as the other reached for my glass of water. Taking a sip, I was careful to peer over the rim of the glass and assuage Edward's concern.
A lasting impression can be made through the most delicate of acts, it seems.
Edward's raised cheek and accompanying wink at my thought confirmed that I'd garnered the intended lesson behind his actions.
"Never let anyone question your intelligence, Audrey."
A grin, innately mirroring Edward's, brightened my face, as I returned the glass of water safely to the table.
"I will certainly store that phrase away for safe keeping."
Edward fleetingly glanced down at the table and sighed.
"I've provided you with another opportunity to use my words against me, it seems."
I rested my folded arms on the table and leaned in conspiratorially.
"Only if you stupidly decide to call me stupid."
Our mirth, though not expressed audibly, was confirmed as we shared a stare.
I reached for Edward's hand, relishing the sense of contentment that stemmed from the connection and trusting that we would both endeavour to ensure that the connection could grow.
"And I would be stupid if I didn't tell you that I'm very interested in a second date, Mr. Cullen."
No matter how freely they were spoken, or how truthful my words were whenever they concerned my feelings towards Edward, admitting them also required a surrender to vulnerability – a surrender to the possibility of being hurt by the choices of another.
But that's where trust comes in, right, Dree?
Edward had certainly deemed me worthy of his trust – a point that was enforced by his ensuing words.
"And I will certainly store that phrase away for safe keeping," he smirked - to which I rolled my eyes - before his tone became more business like, "But we'll have to continue this discussion when a third party is no longer in the vicinity." Edward's eyes intimated to a location over my shoulder and the rumbling of heavy footfalls signalled an approach. Anxieties and an overarching thought of being under prepared for this moment helped me to resist the urge to turn and look.
Tell me now if there's any role that I need to play, Edward.
His eyes hastily returned to mine and then fell to the heart charm hanging from the necklace against my chest.
"Just be the woman to whom I've given my heart," he whispered.
Wanting to be so much more articulate, I could only bring myself to nod, before he arose from the chair directly across from me and moved to stand beside the chair to my left. As I followed his movements, my attention was also drawn to the approaching party.
The man who was being escorted towards us by the maître d' was much like I imagined him to be, except shorter. He was certainly balding and middle-aged, but the way he presented himself suggested that, if he'd looked more Italian, he could have been a cast member of the Godfather Trilogy; the black leather case he carried, however, was not shaped like a violin. As he moved closer, it became more obvious to me that the few, mousy brown strands of hair that remained on his crown were glistening with sweat. As my peripheral vision caught Edward's expression, I could understand why Mr. Jenks had failed to overcome his nerves. When he wished it, Edward could diminish the softness of his apparent youth; the small change having the considerable ability to make him appear as a quite formidable figure.
"Jenks," Edward acknowledged, before gesturing to the seat that he had recently vacated.
Our guest barely glanced Edward's way before bowing his head and offering his own, trepid, greeting. "Mr. Cullen."
Having performed his duty, the maître d' left and Jenks and Edward took their seats. As Jenks placed his briefcase on his lap, he must have finally caught something of my appearance, because his wide eyes honed in on me.
"Mr. Jenks," I felt compelled to offer, extending my hand.
He eyed me curiously before allowing his sweaty hand to shake mine. I vowed then and there to go to the bathroom and wash my hands as soon as the meeting was over.
"May I introduce Miss Audrey Darling, Mr. Jenks."
My resulting smile in Edward's direction also seemed to catch Jenks off guard as he retracted his hand and moved to place it, once more, against his briefcase.
"A pl . . . a pleasure to meet you, Miss Darling," he strangled out, before obviously swallowing to moisten his throat.
"May we order you a drink, Mr. Jenks?" I asked, feeling some sense of pity for the man. Edward looked at me. Still sensing Jenks' discomfort, I added, "I was just about to order myself a tea."
With perfect timing, our reluctant waitress noticed my glance and came and took my order.
"Thank you, and Mr. Jenks will have a . . ."
His eyes flitted from me to Edward as if he were watching a tennis rally from an umpire's chair, before addressing the waitress, "An espresso, please."
It appears as though he wants to stay on alert, Edward.
Edward took my hand beneath the table and rested it on his thigh.
"Were you able to obtain what we asked, Jenks?"
"I was able to obtain what Mr. Jasper requested, Sir," Jenks responded and then began the task of unlocking his briefcase. "Would you both like to inspect them?"
He seemed to be waiting for me to answer and Edward confirmed this by applying an encouraging nudge to my hand.
My 'endearing' smile seemed to do the trick. A white, A4 envelope was soon handed to me, but, as I moved to open it, my intuition caused me to hesitate.
Do you want to chance another 'paper cut incident', Audrey?
Immediately, I looked to Edward, moved my hand out from under his and handed the envelope to him to open.
He pulled out an American passport, a larger piece of paper that looked like a birth certificate and a smaller envelope. Edward handed the passport to me.
I certainly had to school my expression into my best poker face when I opened it. Somehow, the photo was the same as the one contained in my Australian passport. Apart from my date of birth, this was where the similarities ended. I was named as an Audrey Masen from Seattle, Washington. Intrigued, I leant over and examined the birth certificate that Edward was perusing at a human pace. The details were the same, except that I was listed as adopted by Carlisle and Esme.
I sensed Edward searching to see if I was content with the details, but how could I be anything but content when such adjustments were necessary.
With the arrival of the tea and coffee, I handed the passport to Edward, who placed it, along with the other documents, back in the envelope.
"Everything is satisfactory, I hope," Jenks broke the silence, shakily, after consuming some of his espresso.
"So do I," Edward didn't hesitate to respond. "We shall certainly find out in the near future if you have fulfilled your duties adequately."
"Mr. Cullen," Jenks hastened to justify, softly, as more sweat became visible on his brow, "Your family knows my work to be sound. Everything is always done with the greatest discretion and every detail is analysed so that no questions are possibly ever asked. The difficulties that existing documents posed have been dealt with by the amendments Mr. Jasper suggested. Believe me, Sir, I offer you my guarantee that the envelope contains everything to sufficiently meet your needs!"
Edward maintained a discerning stare, surely necessary only for show, before eventually responding.
"I'm glad to hear it, Jenks, and let me offer you my own guarantee that Jasper will be in touch." With that, Edward stood and indicated for Jenks to do the same. Our dealings had reached a conclusion, it seemed.
Sensing my own opportunity, as Jenks packed up his case, I also stood and took it.
"I might make use of the restroom while you settle things," I whispered to Edward after reaching for his forearm and making certain that Jenks couldn't see his face. Sensing his apprehension to be separated from me, given what Alice had seen, I added, "It's five metres away and I won't take long. Just try and look a little bit less severe; Mr. Jenks' heart has been put under enough strain for one evening, don't you think?"
Dropping his stony façade with a very human sigh, he looked at me adoringly and delicately brushed a loose strand of my hair behind my ear, allowing his finger to linger and follow the path of my jaw down to my chin.
"What would I do without you, Audrey?"
I smiled and winked, "Let's hope that you never have to find out."
I grabbed my beautiful and (if Alice had anything to do with it) surely expensive clutch bag, and then, thinking better of taking it to a restroom, returned it to the table on top of the envelope with the documents.
You'll mind these, won't you?
He offered confirmation with a glance and subtle inclination of his head, prior to extracting his suddenly vibrating phone from the pocket of his suit jacket.
As I moved to push the door to the bathroom open, even though I couldn't see him or hear him, I intuitively knew that he was staring at me.
"You're staring," I thought, before cheekily looking over my shoulder to confirm if I was indeed correct. Being correct or incorrect was so insignificant when I saw the way that Edward was staring at me.
Even though he was superfluously nodding his head along with the conversation emanating from his cell, I felt as if I was his sole focus. His piercing eyes stared at me with so great a longing that I found it incredibly difficult to find the strength to turn away and walk through the door - but I tore myself away and continued.
When I walked back, I froze. It was immensely difficult to feel anything but empty. I was numb.
Edward wasn't there.
Edward . . .
There was no response - nothing filled the void of his absence.
I must have spun around with searching eyes three times before I steadied and noticed the reminders that he had been there mere minutes before; my clutch still sat upon the table, but the large envelope was nowhere to be seen.
Had Edward taken it? But Edward wouldn't just leave your bag unattended! What the hell is going on?!
Scrambling for answers with anxiety brewing in my chest, I grabbed the bag and walked, as fast as my high heeled feet could carry me, to the reception area of the restaurant. My eyes sought out any fragment of copper, or any glimmer of porcelain, but there was none to be seen that belonged to Edward.
He wouldn't just leave . . . Edward, please tell me that you're here! . . . Where the bloody hell are you?!
Still receiving no reply, I honed in on the maître d' crossing the foyer, thinking, surely, that he'd have some inkling of Edward's whereabouts.
"Excuse me . . . excuse me," I called, with increasing volume, politely, but somewhat frantically.
"What can I help you with, ma'am?" he responded quite quickly, in a hushed voice, while steering me to a more secluded corner. "Are you waiting for your driver?"
"My driver? Yes; the person who drove me here – who had dinner with me - I can't find him," I blurted out in such a garbled mess that I was amazed that I'd been understood at all. "Has he gone to get the car? Did he follow the shorter, balding, gentlemen outside? Did he settle the bill?"
The man stood up a bit straighter and eyed me peculiarly, before seeming to school his features.
"You settled the bill, ma'am," he responded rather carefully.
My bewilderment seemed to exacerbate the very human man's discomfort and my latent anger was further fuelled by his increasingly condescending tone as it mixed with my own confusion.
"You don't recall opening your bag and paying me?"
I didn't pay you off, but I'm starting to think that someone else has . . .
My eyebrow managed to raise and answer his question with an unspoken one of my own, despite the tightness in my forehead. I didn't have that sort of money, particularly not in cash.
Had Mavis intervened yet again? Had my pages ended?
"Please, make sure that I provided you with a receipt." He signalled to the clutch in my hand.
With movements far more forceful than usual, I sought out proof of something I knew to be totally fabricated and did open the bag. The sight of what was contained within almost stunned me enough to result in the contents being splayed all over the floor. I don't know how, but I managed to take a shallow breath and keep it together . . . in more ways than one.
My eyes, still fixed on the surprising contents of the bag, carefully avoided the maître d' as I murmured, "Thank you. It seems that you've provided me with the proof that I desired."
"Very good, ma'am," he replied, as if he were a tutor congratulating a student who'd passed a test. I met his rather satisfied eyes, while still feeling rather dissatisfied, anxiously seeking answers that I wasn't even sure a thorough exploration of my bag could provide. He ushered me towards the coat stand and continued, "It appears that your car is ready."
After helping me into my coat and guiding me down the front stairs, he led me to a black car that was certainly not Carlisle's Mercedes; nor was the man driving the car evidently related to the Cullens. Despite the uneasiness prickling over my skin, I fought hard to visualise the message that had greeted me when I'd opened my bag.
Trust me when I say that I can be trusted. A. D.
My old note to Edward – the note that he'd constantly carried with him - had spoken volumes in that moment. I needed to find the courage to trust him and whatever he had orchestrated. I needed to remember all of the times that he'd assured me that he loved me and that he'd do whatever he could to keep me safe. Truth be told, that thought, coupled with the memory of his stare before he disappeared, is what caused the most fear to descend over me.
Who had been on that phone? Was it Alice? What had she seen? What had she written on the note that accompanied the shoes . . . "trust me"? Was this a Breaking Dawn scenario all over again?
Edges of the puzzle continued to fit into place as the driver exited the car and moved to open the back door.
"Good evening, Mrs Masen. My name is Francis. Mrs Whitlock asked me to tell you that there has been a change of plans. I will be driving you to the airport this evening."
"Mrs Whitlock?" I found myself confirming. The older, heavy set, but kind faced man, nodded. "To the airport?" He nodded again. "Did she mention anything about my luggage?" I pressed, curious to see how credible this situation was.
Francis' memory appeared jolted by my words.
"Oh, I've collected your luggage from the hotel, ma'am. It's in the trunk." He moved away from the door and towards the boot of the car, which he opened, seemingly eager to ease my doubts. "I hope that this is the luggage that you were after."
Moving closer, I could easily confirm that the boot held my satchel and suitcase. What I couldn't wait to confirm was if they contained everything that I needed . . . particularly the book.
"Yes; that's what I needed. Thank you."
Francis smiled and moved back to the door. After perusing the inside of the car, still a little bit sceptical of my safety, I removed my coat and took my seat. It wasn't long before Francis was steering us away from the restaurant and further into the unknown.
I scanned the cityscape beyond the windows of the vehicle as we moved along foreign streets, praying that my trust in the Cullens was not being exploited and that I was not elaborately being preyed upon by the powerful force of something akin to the Volturi.
Had they taken Edward?
Suddenly, worry for Edward's safety threatened my contrived composure and various scenarios of how the Volturi could have entered the Twilight timeline so soon flitted in and out of my mind. None of them, though, seemed plausible.
Then again, you being sucked into the Twilight Saga never seemed plausible either.
A sideways look confirmed that Francis was still acting like a normal chauffeur, albeit frustrated by the sluggish traffic, before I decided that I needed to scour the only thing that could offer me answers – my clutch bag.
Motion sickness be damned!
And it did give me some answers.
The passport that I had observed in the restaurant was there; so, too, was the birth certificate, but it had been perfectly folded to slip inside the passport.
. . . Which explains the disappearance of the large white envelope.
The smaller white envelope, which I'd noticed, but hadn't explored, was also aligned perfectly against the back of the bag, suggesting that Edward had been alerted by Alice's phone call with enough time to spare.
But why did he need to be alerted? What choices had been made that meant that we were safer apart than we were together?
This resonated in my mind as I pulled the envelope from its place, soon discovering that it contained flight details for two tickets to Sydney via Vancouver at 9 pm.
Two tickets . . . will Edward meet me at the airport then?
A quick glance at the clock in the car confirmed that it was 6:43pm - our earlier start to the evening and 5pm meal suddenly making even greater sense.
Or had that choice ultimately led to this alteration in plans? . . . Even still, time is of the essence, Audrey.
My breaths came out more rapidly with the onset of my inevitable motion sickness. My condition was only aggravated further when we made our way into the heart of the busy part of the city and the car was forced almost to a standstill by the ever worsening traffic.
What if you miss your flight?
"Are you heading home, ma'am?" Francis queried, breaking the weighty silence.
Home . . . You can bring her home. . . The home that she will return to in 434 pages time . . .
A wave of acceptance, recognising the approaching conclusion of the page-filled journey, whether it was with Edward or without him, hit me.
"Yes . . . Yes, I guess I am."
"There's no place like home," Francis chimed in, but soon sighed. "And I want to make sure that you get there. I'm going to have to take us off this street."
With a nausea inducing turn, the car began to navigate the back streets. Heavy silence blanketed the vehicle once more, as I tried to not be sick, providing the perfect growing conditions for more careful observations and more perturbing thoughts. Finding the button to draw the window down and gain access to fresh, relieving air, I was startled when my eyes caught something familiar – a yellow Beetle . . . my yellow Beetle - and leaning awkwardly against it stood Bella Swan, surrounded by a group of four very shifty looking guys, all holding bottles and one of them with his hand raised.
"Stop the car! Stop!"
Francis drew the car to a sharp halt and turned to me rather alarmed.
"What in God's name is the matter?!" he reacted, shattering his quiet front, as I undid my seatbelt. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"We need to go back and help that girl – that girl by the yellow Beetle!" I implored, pointing out the back windscreen. "She needs our help!"
Without a second thought, Francis looked sharply in his rear-view mirror before shifting the car into reverse and blasting his horn. I grasped onto the door to secure myself as he applied the brakes, before spinning around in my seat to check if our proximity had led to the desired effect. Thankfully, I could make out the filthy figures tripping over each other as they retreated to their scummy shadows.
Garnering that my own safety was no longer a concern, I looked towards Bella, whose warm, cloudy breath made her slumped position on the ground with her hand placed over her cheek appear even more unsettling. Without delay, I grabbed my coat and exited the vehicle.
The sound of my heels meeting the asphalt echoed in the building lined street as I hastened closer, soon confirming that Bella appeared just as shattered as the remnants of the glass bottles scattered beside her. Their drops of liquor glistened under the back lights of the car and their scent stung my nose as I tentatively crouched down beside Bella.
"Bella. . . Bella, it's me, Audrey."
She turned her head slightly so that her eyes could meet mine, and they really were like the eyes of a doe – a doe who was suddenly faced with oncoming headlights.
"It's okay. . . They're gone . . . You're safe now."
"Audrey," she murmured croakily, slowly withdrawing her hand from her face to reveal a red, swelling cheek. "Audrey, how did you–"
She shrank back and closed her eyes, muzzled by the sound of shoes walking on broken glass. Francis instantly stilled.
"Francis is my driver, Bella. He won't hurt you. He just helped scare the bastards off," I assured her vehemently, which was enough for her to open her eyes again and examine the approaching man for herself.
She winced as she nodded.
"How badly did they hurt you?"
"Not as badly as they could have done if you hadn't stopped," she replied, still hoarsely, but with greater strength.
"But one of them hit you, didn't he?"
"Yes," she breathed. "He slapped me." She attempted to stand up, while resting some of her weight against her left hand, but was unable to as she was gripped by a sharp pain.
I rose from my crouch, tossed my coat to Francis, who was now flanked by a small group of people who'd finally noticed that something was amiss, and stepped forward to offer Bella support, using her uninjured arm. At the same time, I encouraged Francis to shoo the onlookers back.
Now that she was fully upright and stable, I turned us so that our backs were to the small dispersing crowd, before reaching for her left arm and carefully rolling up her sleeve. Red marks in the shape of fingers were like vines latching on to her swollen wrist. I felt my earlier anger resurfacing fiercely. A steady exhale was my way of trying to subdue and temper it.
"Does it feel broken?"
She shook her head. "No, it's just really sore. . . probably sprained . . . I've done that before."
"But you didn't do this," I affirmed. "Do you need to go to the hospital?"
"No . . . No, I don't want to go to a hospital. I just want to get out of here."
I understood that sentiment.
"Well, there's no way you can drive yourself anywhere. Does Charlie know where you are?" I queried, my heart still twitching with the pain of the loss of Uncle Chuck from my life.
"He knows that I've spent the day in Seattle, but he probably will think that I'm on my way home."
"Do you know the home phone number?"
"Do you?" she returned.
Bella seemed slightly pleased by that, but I didn't comment.
"Charlie did give a list of contact numbers, but they're in the car glovebox." She reached for her hair and ran her fingers through it in frustration, forcing my thoughts to quickly flicker to Edward.
Edward . . . what would you have done if you were with me? Would we have even been able to have stumbled across Bella if we hadn't been separated this evening?
Bella's groan broke me out of my ruminations.
"If you give me the keys I can fish them out for you, then we can get you to a pay phone and-"
"I don't have the keys!" she interrupted, her eyes growing glassy. "I dropped them and they kicked them away from my hand in that direction." She pointed towards a wired fence, running alongside the pavement where the car was parked.
"That's not the end of the world, Bella. We can at least try and find them," I encouraged, trying to maintain a calm, positive air. "You stay there and I'll look."
"Mrs Masen . . . Mrs Masen." It took me a moment to realise that Francis was addressing me.
"Ah . . . yes, Francis?"
He looked torn and went to say something, but thought better of it before glancing down at his watch.
"Ma'am, I feel obligated to tell you that you're going to miss your flight if we don't leave very soon."
And now I was torn . . . this was almost getting to that crucial point that the character of Dumbledore had wisely spoken of – the point where I'd have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.
"Understood," I sighed, resigning myself to the reality of the situation, before swiftly moving to search the ground beside the fence.
"Wouldn't you like to wear your coat?" He suggested. "It's growing cold."
My mind focused on the task at hand, I shook my head and moved past him.
Even with the poor light, I could spot the reflective logo of the keys against the sparse ground coverings; however, the problem lay in the fact that they had come to rest on the other side of the fence. There was some hope of retrieving them, though. Fortuitously, the keys had fallen in line with a hole formed from broken iron wire near the base of the fence. Suddenly my lack of sleeves was beneficial and the coat had a very valuable use.
Collecting it from Francis, I placed it on the pavement, like a mat, before carefully laying down on my stomach – and I do mean carefully, as my attire certainly made this task more difficult than usual.
Bella seemed to recognise this, too, as she shuffled around the car to follow my progress.
Sensing that I had safely navigated the narrow maze of tattered iron wire with my right arm, and not being able to get a clear view of the keys from my current position, I began to feel the ground near where I thought the keys were.
"A bit further to the left, Audrey," Bella instructed from her vantage point. "Yes, just reach a bit further."
Feeling the nerves along my shoulder to my neck strain, I breathed a sigh of relief when my fingers connected with the keys.
"Got them," I exclaimed, quickly retracting my arm and reducing the strain on my neck, only to hiss with a new pain. Gritting my teeth, I rolled onto my left side to try and examine what was causing the stinging on my upper right arm. A thick scratch was the source of a thin stream of blood moving towards my elbow.
"Do you happen to have a tissue . . . a towel . . . or, God willing, a bandage?" I rasped, beseeching first Francis, who ran to his car, and then turned to Bella, holding the keys out to her with my left hand.
But, instead of moving forward, she stumbled back; and she quickly brought her uninjured hand up to cover her nose and mouth as if she were about to dry retch.
Damn it – the blood! She can't handle blood!
"Quickly go and lean against the other side of the car, Bella," I demanded.
The last thing we need is for you to faint!
My thoughts pre-empted reality.
As she turned to face the car, she swayed. I quickly pushed my messy, but small, injury to the back of my mind and rushed to stand next to Bella. I managed to catch hold of her enough to dampen her fall as she wilted to ground, thankfully away from the glass.
"Bella! Bella!" I half yelled, trying to keep her conscious and trying to manoeuvre myself - still wearing the beautiful, but cumbersome heels - into a seated position that would allow me to rest her head against my shoulder. Francis approached me as I began clicking my fingers in front of Bella's flickering eye-lids. "Stay awake, damn it!"
"She's quite clammy," he stated. "Is it shock?"
"If I wasn't bleeding, I'd say yes, but she's squeamish when it comes to blood." I pushed the keys in his face. "Could you open the car? We should try and raise her legs."
It was then that I noticed that his hands were full of tissues and bottles of water. "Thank you, Francis. Could you put those on my coat please?"
Once again, he did as I asked and my heart went out to him. The poor man had probably left for work thinking that it would be as straight forward as any other assignment. Little did he know that fate would deal him a complicated hand tonight.
With Francis' excellent assistance and Bella's limited ability to cooperate, we soon managed to open the back passenger-side door, rest her on the makeshift blanket of my coat and raise her feet on the framework of the car.
Knowing that Bella's condition would probably improve if she was removed from the source of blood, I found a reason to attend to my own injury. I walked to the boot of the Beetle where we'd repositioned the tissues and bottles of water, after having to move my coat, and began mopping up the blood that had drizzled down my arm.
And you were worried about getting a papercut earlier this evening . . . yes . . . earlier this evening . . .
Wincing as I cleaned the wound with some water, I tilted my head up and was greeted by a darkened sky. I felt the tingling of another sort of pain tighten my chest.
Twilight had come and gone.
My plane would come and go without me if I didn't leave Bella, without any medics or anyone to support her, and immediately have Francis drive me to the airport.
Intuitively, I knew that I was scheduled to be on the last plane of the evening. There would be no other way of leaving for Sydney, tonight. There possibly wouldn't be any way of leaving for Sydney by plane in the morning, depending on how the pages fell.
But can you just leave Bella here?
The cool pendant of the necklace adorning my neck burned my skin . . . and I had my answer.
The person who Edward fell in love with wouldn't leave Bella here.
Taking a strained breath and blinking away the moisture from my glassy eyes, I resigned myself to the future that lay before me.
Pressing a fresh tissue to my wound, I found my way to the glove box of the car and extracted the list of numbers that Bella had mentioned.
If only Edward had left me a way of contacting him. Then again, perhaps tonight had been deliberately designed so that we were out of contact.
Edward's words rang in my head.
"Never let anyone question your intelligence, Audrey."
Edward's last message to me had been about trusting in him, but perhaps he also knew that I needed to have faith in myself . . . and in my own choices. Other people's choices had certainly steered us along a very different path to what we'd ever envisioned this evening, and my gut instinct told me that we'd been purposefully kept in the dark about someone else's envisioning.
Have my choices altered you plans, Alice, or did you see them coming?
A cool breeze hit my uncovered arms and neck, causing me to shiver.
"You need to get warm."
I pivoted to see Francis beginning to shrug of his suit jacket, but I quickly raised my hand, encouraging him to stop.
"I can't argue with you about that, but you need to stay warm." I looked at the back of the black town car. "I can get something from my suitcase if you open the trunk."
"Then I will open the trunk."
Before following Francis' steps towards his car, I tentatively approached Bella.
She spied me from the corner of her drowsy eyes.
"If you're still bleeding, please go away," she half groaned, still woozy, raising a hand to her forehead.
I smirked, as a memory resurfaced.
"You know, the last time you were affected like this, you asked me to go away, too. I did say that I'd let you go on with your life as if I didn't exist. Guess I went back on my word, ha?!"
My words catalysed the faint glimmer of a smile on Bella's face.
"Yes, I guess you did," she agreed, softly, before meeting my eyes. "But, for what it's worth, I'm glad that you interfered in my life tonight."
Sensing an apology and thank you were contained in her words, I replied, "You're welcome."
Her sigh melded with the white noise of the city. It was soon harshly disturbed by an irritating sound that I hadn't heard for a few years – the Nokia ringtone. My eyes followed the direction of the sound to find Francis checking the screen before ending the call.
Remembering the significant piece of paper in my hand, I quickly asked Bella if she had a cell phone. When she answered that she didn't, I had to disguise a natural look of incredulity into one of easy acceptance, prior to walking with purpose towards Francis.
"You've already gone beyond the call of duty tonight, but would you mind if I used your cell phone?"
"I haven't actually fulfilled my duty tonight, which was to get you to the airport on time, but you may still use my cell," Francis smiled, with a conciliatory tone.
"But only after you put on a sweater."
After appeasing Francis by extracting a cardigan from my suitcase and draping it over my shoulders, he handed me the phone. I dialled the Swan home phone number first, only to have it ring out. I then tried the police station wondering if Charlie was on duty.
"Forks Police Station," a masculine voice answered.
"Hi. I'm wondering if Chief Swan is there, please."
"Unfortunately, he's not here," was the robotic reply.
"Well, can you radio him a message, please? It's important. It's concerning his daughter."
This prompted a more energetic reply.
"You know where Bella is?"
"Yes, she's with me – her friend, Audrey," I assured. "We're still in Seattle. She suffered a small injury, which has prevented her driving, but she's okay. Can you tell Charlie?"
There seemed to be a delayed response after some discussion in the background. I listened even more intently.
"Ah . . . miss, The Chief is at the hospital . . . he was in a car accident."
My stomach dropped. Uncle Chuck . . .
"What?! Is he okay? What can I tell Bella?"
This didn't happen in Twilight! Then again, Bella didn't travel to Seattle, either.
"He's being assessed. His injuries don't appear to be life threatening," the clearly affected voice added. "He was asking for Bella, though. He was worried about her."
I tried to swallow down the lump of emotion stuck in my throat.
"I'll . . . I'll get her there as soon as I can."
Seeking clarification, the man said, "You can bring her home?"
Hearing the words from Alice's vision paralysed me, but made my panging heart beat more erratically in my chest.
Plane or no plane, you're not meant to go to the airport, tonight, are you?
"Miss . . ." the prompt came, snapping me out of my trance.
"Yes . . . I can bring her home."
A/N: I'm on holidays, so reviews are enormous incentives for me to try and publish chapter 45 within a week.
Some things to consider...
Why did Edward leave?
What is Alice up to?
What the hell was Bella doing staying that late in Seattle?!
Is Audrey doing the right thing?
What about poor Charlie?
Where is Mavis in all of this?
Wouldn't it be nice if there were more Francis' in the world?
Wishing you many blessings for 2017,