The envelope lay innocently in the mailbox, sandwiched between the power bill and the newest edition of French Vogue. I noted the yellow forwarding sticker that had been placed by a postal worker at the Forks Post Office, ensuring that it found its way to our new home. It had been a couple of months since we had received any other forwarded mail. A quick look at the upper left corner told me that the Cherished Images Studio, Official Photographers of Forks High School, had apparently not updated its mailing list from the beginning of the school year. We hadn't resided in Forks since September.
I carefully tore open the envelope, although I was pretty sure I knew the "Important Reminder" that it contained. Over the years, from many different high schools, we had received other reminders that we should "preserve these special memories" of our children's Senior Year. For most everyone else, this was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Not so much for the Cullen students. And considering the fact that we always made an effort to avoid any official photography whenever possible, those reminders had all been studiously ignored and ended up in landfills somewhere near wherever we were living at the time.
I unfolded the flyer that had been enclosed. A likeness of the Forks High School insignia was front and center, and the message read "Don't Delay—Time is Running Out!" Seniors who had not yet been photographed were urged to make their appointment before March 10th or their photo would not be included in the yearbook. I perused the list of students affected, not surprised to see "Cullen, Alice" and "Cullen, Edward" at the beginning of the list. As I began to re-fold the sheet, my thoughts turning to my eldest son and my ever-present worries about him, something else caught my eye, and I stopped suddenly. Last on the list of five students who had not yet had their senior photos taken was a name that caused me to inhale sharply: "Swan, Isabella."
My silent heart lurched as a vision of her engaging face appeared in my mind. If tortured thoughts of Edward were my constant companion, they were not alone; they had company in my frequent worries about the girl whom I still considered my youngest daughter. The daughter we had left behind.
My eyes moved up from their inspection of the paper I held, and I instinctively turned my head and my attention toward the west. Carried by the cold breeze and scattered along the ground were the dried and dismal remains of leaves that had, when we first arrived in Ithaca, gloriously welcomed us from dark boughs of towering trees in their hues of gold, auburn, scarlet and orange. I stared, unseeing, toward the direction from whence we had come those months ago, thinking of who and what we had abandoned, and feeling kinship with the pathetic, tortured pieces of membrane that had been tossed about by forces outside of their control, only to end up in fragments under my feet.
I climbed the steps and entered the foyer of our newest home. Normally I felt a sense of welcome and accomplishment each time I entered the beautiful historic house; my work to restore the dwelling had been a labor of love. I often paused in our entryway, glad to have been able to give new life to the once rundown abode.
But not today. Instead, I continued through the living room and the short hallway into the kitchen, my measured steps on the burnished oak flooring echoing around me. I didn't pause as I walked out onto the deck, carefully closing the wood-and-glass door behind me. I needed to make excuses to no one, for I was, as usual, alone.
Alice and Jasper were expected to arrive in two days' time from their most recent research trip to Biloxi. I was well aware of the fact that, since our relocation to Ithaca, Jasper had made a concerted effort to be home as often as possible because of his concerns for my emotional well being. Alice had made a couple of trips alone, leaving Jasper to 'tend' to me while she was away. But enough was enough; I had practically forced him from the house last week so that he could accompany Alice on her latest visit to look into her past, and just four days ago strongly discouraged them from returning early, citing imaginary plans I had made to occupy my time. Alice, I'm sure, saw through the ruse, but thankfully did not give away my lie.
Rose and Emmett were still in Europe, and weren't expected to return for another week. Their frequent absences had not abated since their trip to Africa in October. A ten-day stop in Ithaca for the Christmas and New Year's holidays had been their longest stay since beginning their globetrotting ways. They had spent the fall, winter, and early spring in various far-away locales.
Carlisle was, of course, working. He had buried himself in his work, both at the hospital and in the course that he was teaching at Cornell. I knew he would have added another course, and therefore more opportunity for distraction, if not for his concerns that I not be left alone even more than I already was. Truthfully, I had been looking forward longingly to the next couple of days, his off rotation, when we could spend our time together watching the world go by from within our personal sanctuary.
As I lowered myself onto one of the cedar chaise lounges on the deck (as always, we had all the props in place), I looked out at the stark landscape that hovered at the boundary of our property. The frigid breeze continued to whisper its way across the landscape, whistling through the naked limbs of ancient trees and around large hills and rock formations that I could clearly see, even from a distance. I lowered my head and again peered at the flyer I still clasped in my hand. "Swan, Isabella."
Bella, where have you been?
My thoughts again turned to my absent daughter. Was this notice that she had not had her photograph taken indicative of a continued sorrow she would surely have felt after our departure? I had tried often in the last few months to convince myself that Edward was right; that Bella would have moved on after a brief period of mourning for her lost love.
I, too, was aware of how often teenaged love affairs ended, the capricious children often bouncing from partner to partner almost in a sort of mating square dance. Certainly Bella's own parents had set a dubious example for her that "happily ever after" is a dream more often than a reality—even with the best of intentions, human love doesn't always last.
Edward, in the days after the disastrous birthday party, had made haste to remove himself and the rest of us from her life, and had specifically forbidden Alice from checking in on Bella. He was determined that Bella should be free-one might say forced-to have a human life devoid of interference from the Cullen family. He had made it plain to all of us that he wanted no snooping of any kind into Bella's life and future.
Once we had reached Ithaca, however, he quickly removed himself from our home, ensuring that there would be no interfering of any kind in his life, either. His self-appointed task of hunting Victoria to eliminate any potential danger to Bella had apparently kept him busy since his disappearance. But knowing my son as I did, I knew that a significant portion of his "free" time would be spent in critical introspection and self-loathing. As always, the thoughts of his unhappiness caused a distress in my own still heart.
In the first weeks and months after our exodus from Forks, I relentlessly strived to reassure myself that we had done the right thing in bowing to Edward's request; abrupt relocations had happened often enough over the decades that the process itself was familiar to all of us. But never had we left for the reasons that compelled us this time. Nor had we ever found ourselves in a familial situation like the one we were now experiencing, Edward's vigilante period notwithstanding.
At first we (maybe I should say I) tried daily to call him. After a week of once-a-day phone calls lasting a minute or less, he gently but determinedly asked me to not try to contact him again; after securing a promise from him that he would call every month or so to let us know his general whereabouts, I had acquiesced. To be honest, there was never any reassurance to be had during those brief, painful conversations.
Though I didn't need to close out the extraneous noise of my surroundings to bring Bella's face clearly into focus in my mind, I closed my eyes and again recalled her sweet face. I conjured up memories of last summer, afternoons she had spent at our house in Forks, and the happiness I had experienced as I watched the relationship between her and Edward bloom. Throughout the summer she had inexorably become part of the fabric of our lives; a familiar presence, usually quiet and shy, occasionally laughing and teasing, always friendly and accepting. Though there were times when each of us felt an uncomfortable reaction to her humanness, I felt the absolute rightness of her being part of our family.
As I continued to recline on the lounge chair, a favorite image of Bella surfaced; I recalled with brilliant clarity one of my happiest memories of Bella and our family. It was very shortly before her ill-fated birthday, during the Labor Day festivities that were a yearly staple in Forks. The annual picnic and fireworks at the City Park had been the scene, and the entire Cullen family had found itself, for the first time, in the midst of the celebrations. Edward, Bella, and Alice had spent a good portion of the afternoon in the City Park with the contingent of up-and-coming members of the Class of 2006 enjoying their last day of freedom on the eve of their Senior Year. Rosalie and Jasper (each for reasons of their own) had maintained a separate presence, with Emmett wandering back and forth between the two groups. Carlisle and I had spent the day socializing with the other "old folks." Charlie, on duty keeping an eye out for those who might celebrate too much, stopped to visit occasionally.
At twilight, as the City's fireworks display began to light up the night sky, the entire Cullen clan had joined countless other families on the lawn of the park, gathered on blankets brought from home. The cloudiness of the day had dissipated enough that the pyrotechnics were clearly visible, and the assembled townsfolk oohed and aahed approvingly during the 45-minute show. I, however, had no interest in the activities in the sky above me; I had spent the entire half hour watching with grateful happiness the display that was Edward and Bella.
Nestled against Edwards's chest, with his arms encircling her, Bella had leaned her head against his shoulder, looking up into the night sky and often turning her head to peer up at him and smile. He would occasionally whisper something to her which would make her giggle or nod, and several times I noticed him closing his eyes and resting his cheek against hers. They spent the entire time with their fingers intertwined, wrapped up completely in each other. And I had quietly rejoiced.
Regretfully, I tore myself away from my memory and returned to the here and now. My cloak of despair, one I had worn constantly since the middle of September, seemed to get even heavier—a sensation that I was quite familiar with. Thoughts of Edward and Bella hovered persistently in my mind, weaving patterns like wayward children playing in and around a revolving door. The feelings of immense sadness had not eased over time; rather, they had intensified. And my recent thoughts about the whys and wherefores of the situation had compounded the sadness even more.
As my fears, worries, doubts, and concerns about the two of them had continued to pollute my mind, they melded with the general sense of unhappiness and malaise that had wrapped itself around the entire family. The relentless idea that this move had been a huge mistake for all of us had taken root and begun to grow and here, courtesy of the Forks Post Office, was more fertilizer to support that belief.
I absently noted the sound of a car approaching the house, the echo of shifting gravel rising over the soft whisper of the wind moving through the landscape fading further into the background. I recognized the sound of Carlisle's new Mercedes, and came to the realization that I had been reclining on the deck for several hours, mulling over my unhappy thoughts and fond recollections. As Carlisle turned the knob on the front door and stepped through the entry, I called out softly to let him know where I was. Seconds later he was leaning against the kitchen doorjamb, his eyes scanning my face.
"Hey, my love. What can I do? You look like you've lost your best friend?" he asked in a soft, gentle voice.
As I carefully considered his expression, I hesitated. This was a conversation we had scrupulously skirted many times since September as we dutifully tried to honor Edward's wishes for Bella and for himself. The situation was not exactly the elephant in the room. It was more like a tyrannosaurus rex in the room; much bigger, much uglier, and much more devastating.
Drawing an unnecessary breath, I softly said "News from Forks" and reached over to show him the flyer from the photographer. It took only an instant for Carlisle to peruse the document and travel the same thought pattern that I had.
"Why do you think she hasn't had her picture taken? Surely Charlie and Renee would have encouraged her?" His brows came together over his beautiful dark gold eyes, which had turned sorrowful as he spoke.
"I'm afraid to think that this may mean that she's not coping well after all this time, but it's the most likely conclusion I come to," I murmured. I leaned back against the pillowed backrest, placing my hands over eyes that suddenly stung with venom that would never replace the tears I had so often wanted to shed. "Carlisle, I'm becoming convinced that we made a huge mistake when we left Forks. It's not just this senior photo issue—the thought just keeps circling in my head. It's something I don't think I can deny anymore."
As he stepped to the foot of the chaise and settled astride it facing me, I withdrew my hands from my face and sat forward to grasp his hands in mine. He leaned forward, resting his forehead against mine, and I could feel him slowly breathing in my scent as I did the same of his. We sat quietly for a moment, the ambient sounds of nature filling the space around us, taking comfort in each other's presence.
When Carlisle spoke, it was thoughtfully, slowly. "I understand how you feel, and truthfully, I've felt the same way. It kills me to think of Edward not having this—a relationship like ours—after having been so happy with Bella for such a short time. But I sincerely believe we owe it to him to work through this on his own terms, in his own way. We really don't have enough justification to get involved."
"I know, I know," I replied. "Intellectually I guess you may be correct, but emotionally I feel that the exact opposite is true. There has not been a day since we left Forks that I've felt comfortable with his decision. I haven't been completely happy in all this time—and you know as well as I do that the same is true for all of us."
Carlisle's amber gaze, which had been trained on my face, dropped to my hands and he continued to hold them with his.
"Goodness knows you're right," he commented, rubbing his thumbs across my knuckles slowly. "But I believe we need to be very careful about how we proceed, if we decide we want to. You know Edward about as well as I do, and I can't imagine he would change his mind about this—he has what he thinks is an extremely valid concern for her, and I certainly can't prove him wrong."
Straightening slightly and bringing my fingertips to his lips, he continued. "I will see if Edward is open to discussion the next time I speak to him—will that soothe you for now? I'll try to see if I can get him to open up a bit about it and see where the conversation takes us. Though this entire discussion is an exercise in futility until he decides to call again. I'm hoping he calls in the next week or so—I don't really have any hope that we could convince him to join us in Denali, but I'm certainly going to try."
Pulling my hands from his grasp, I leaned forward to rest them lightly on his shoulders and gazed imploringly into his eyes. "Thank you, sweetheart," I murmured. "I haven't spoken to any of the others about this, but I know I'm not alone in the way I feel about Bella. I think she needs us—not as much as she needs Edward, of course, but she is a part of us. And we need her, too."
Late Monday afternoon I saw Carlisle off to Cornell and stood for a moment on the portico, enjoying the chill breeze that always seemed to be part of the landscape here in Ithaca. The last two days spent with Carlisle had been wonderful, and sweet recollections of the time we spent together floated through my mind. I had come closer to being happy than I had ever been since our departure from Forks. In the cold light of another cloud-shrouded day, though, as life returned to "normal," feelings of unhappiness began to return.
I gratefully noted the sounds coming from inside the house, relieved to have some of my family home. Alice and Jasper's return from Biloxi late last night had, no doubt, been carefully orchestrated to allow me no more alone time. We had all gone together for a short hunt before Carlisle's departure, again enjoying the plentiful wildlife that our new surroundings provided for us. A surprise sighting of a black bear, a little early in the season, had sparked a conversation about Emmett and Rosalie's anticipated return Saturday evening, and our upcoming trip to Denali while Carlisle was enjoying Cornell's spring break (he was taking one night off from his Monday evening class and two weeks off from the hospital so we could enjoy an extended family vacation with our "cousins"). And that conversation had, of course, sent each of our thoughts directly along the path that led to Edward.
I reentered the house, went into the laundry room to pick up some clean laundry that needed to be put away, and walked up the stairs toward our second-floor bedroom. The color scheme in this house, in the interests of preserving the history of the dwelling, had been more varied than was my usual habit. Much of the beautiful woodwork had been sanded and re-stained, and shone with a rich glow. Careful research had guided me in my efforts to enhance the house's design.
While the entire family was accustomed to the "usual shades of cream," as they often teased me about my normal proclivities, this house was more colorful. I had taken their teasing to heart, and decided to play a little with colors and textures. I had researched period wallpapers, covered windows with richly appointed draperies, and carefully carpeted appropriate areas, all in the interests of complimenting the structure. Alice had spent hours with me choosing appropriate pieces of furniture to adorn the rooms. Even in my distracted state, I felt a glimmer of satisfaction with the fruits of our labors.
Entering my bedroom, I stepped to the armoire that was centered on the north wall of the room, placing the folded clothing in their allotted spaces. Before I closed the last drawer, my fingers moved under the lightly scented liner at the bottom of the drawer and I carefully withdrew an envelope. I closed the door to the armoire and went to sit at the edge of the bed, staring mindlessly across the room for a moment, seeing my ivory face and golden eyes staring back me from a large framed mirror.
I slowly withdrew the piece of folded cardstock and photos that were encased in the envelope. The greeting card, in shades of pink, yellow, and green, said "Happy Mother's Day to Someone Special." I removed the pictures nestled inside the card and read the irregular writing that appeared on the inside cover. "Esme—Just a note to let you know how grateful I am for everything you've done for me. I appreciate your affection and support more than you know. Edward is so lucky to have such a wonderful mom! Love, Bella."
I had been so engrossed in my memories that I had barely registered Alice's presence in my room. She sat carefully beside me, leaning in to look with me at the few pictures I had carefully tucked inside the card and brought with me on our flight from Washington. Random snapshots of all six of my "children" were subjected to our scrutiny, as the two of us silently mourned Bella's absence. Alice's dark head rested softly on my shoulder as she spoke.
"I've been so tempted to look for her, but I promised . . . . The first month or so I would get random visions, but she always looked so destroyed that I would banish them immediately, otherwise I was afraid I'd go insane from grief. It's been so long since I saw her in anything other than a memory."
My finger slowly caressed a picture of Bella and Edward on his "birthday." Bella had arrived at the house that June morning with a "Tigger" cake (the closest thing to a mountain lion she could find, she assured him), and the photo of her laughing into his adoring eyes as he had obligingly "tasted" some of the icing was one of my favorites.
"You're right, you know." Alice continued. "I saw your conversation with Carlisle after you got the envelope from Forks the other day. This thing with Edward has gotten all out of proportion, and I'm seriously thinking of giving him an ultimatum. Either he goes to Forks and checks up on her, or I'll check up on her myself. He's going to argue, but he doesn't own her—friends have rights, too, you know. Besides, if I can convince him to check on her himself, this whole episode will be over. It doesn't take a vision for me to know that Bella truly loves Edward, and there's no way she's happy without him. Once he sees her again, he'll cave."
I replaced the photos and card in their envelope, and once again hid my memories at the bottom of the drawer. Turning to Alice, I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her.
"You know you're right, and I know you're right, but we have a lot of convincing to do if we want to see any kind of change with this situation. For now I'm letting Carlisle have a try at changing Edward's mind about things. He promised he would talk with Edward about it the next time he calls. We're hoping he'll call home before we leave for Alaska next Monday, in hopes that he'll join us..."
"Okay, "Alice agreed reluctantly, squeezing me gently before stepping away. "But if Edward refuses to listen to reason from Carlisle, he's going to have to deal with me."
The rest of the week was relatively unexciting. I finalized our travel plans and arranged for a rental from Anchorage for the duration of our visit. Alice did a little last-minute internet shopping for the trip, arranging for overnight delivery of several items she had decided the Cullen women simply "had to have" for our vacation.
Carlisle spent as much time at the hospital as he feasibly could, scheduling as many surgeries as possible in anticipation of his two-week absence. This year's extended flu season added to his concerns; the number of patients being admitted to the hospital had not dropped as the hospital administration had anticipated it would, and they were nearing capacity.
Rosalie and Emmett's return late Saturday night was the highlight of the week. While I understood Rosalie's desire to separate herself from our situation in the aftermath of our flight from Forks, it didn't make me miss my two continent-hopping children any less. Carlisle, Alice and Jasper clearly shared my happiness at their return.
Sunday was a day of preparation, as we would be departing from the local regional airport before dawn on Monday, traveling to Alaska by way of a chartered flight. Sunlight considerations were always part of any extended travel plans, and we occasionally used charters when we would be covering extensive distances.
I kept hoping Edward would call, and even broached the subject of Carlisle calling him, but Carlisle insisted that, since we had heard from him about three weeks ago, he would be expecting another call in the next week or so, and thought we should wait to let Edward "come" to us, rather than pursuing him.
As we settled in for our long flight from New York to Alaska early Monday morning, I reached for one of the newspapers that had thoughtfully been provided for us, along with the obligatory (and totally unnecessary) coffee and pastries. The New York Times article titled "Dash to Baghdad Left Top U.S. Generals Divided" would no doubt be the first thing most of my fellow Americans would notice. I, however, could not get past the date at the top of the page.
Monday, March 13, 2006.
I had been busy in the last few days with our personal arrangements, and had not paid any attention to the dates as they passed. Indeed, since our arrival in Ithaca, most of my days had flowed in a never-ending pattern of refurbishing and shopping and hunting. I had barely looked at a calendar.
This date, however, was special. For me, at least. And it was one that the rest of my family would not necessarily remember in a positive light, with good reason. But today was an anniversary of an event that had changed my "second" life, and it might have passed unnoticed if I had not picked up the newspaper.
Carlisle had been leaning over, peering at the article that was of absolutely no interest to me. It took him only a few seconds to sense my profound stillness, and I felt his attention quickly shift from the Times to my face. He gripped my hand and reached out to touch my chin, bringing my gaze to him.
"What's wrong? Did you forget something—are you OK?" His questions, in the relatively quite space of the cabin, carried clearly to the rest of the family, and I looked around at the five pairs of variously-hued golden eyes that were looking expectantly at me.
"I just realized what today is," I replied. "It was exactly one year ago today that Edward brought Bella to the house. You all had already seen and met her, but that was the first time I ever saw her, got to meet her."
That wonderful day and the brief hilarity of our family baseball game had too quickly been followed by the devastating episode with James and Victoria. It was hard to not acknowledge that Edward did have valid reasons for concern with Bella.
My pained gaze found its mate in Alice's, and we shared a silent thought about our recent conversation and the girl we had both been missing these last six months.
Carlisle reached forward to press his lips against my forehead, then settled back in his seat with his eyes closed, presumably to recall his own memories of that afternoon and, of course, the nightmare that had followed. After a brief silence where everyone communicated silently through exchanged glances, the moment passed, and we all made the effort to return to a normal atmosphere. I, however, spent a good portion of the day re-visiting all of my favorite memories of Bella and Edward, my determination that something needed to be done growing ever more firm in my mind.
Our arrival at the home of our Denali friends was a happy event—I always marveled at Rosalie's friendship with Tanya. Though one might anticipate a "two lionesses in the same pride" type of scenario when those two were together, it was always baffling to me to see how well they coexisted. They always sheathed their claws and truly seemed to respect each other, though Rosalie's affection for Tanya in no way approached her regard for Alice.
We quickly got ourselves settled and then Carmen, Eleazar, Carlisle and I gathered in their large, comfortable den. The sounds of a roaring fire were a soothing backdrop and the beautiful landscape clearly visible through the wall-to-wall windows was a feast for the eyes. We chatted for a while as the others slowly filtered into the large open area.
Emmett and Jasper, after pessimistically perusing the selection of PS2 games available, had exclaimed joyfully upon discovering a prototype of the not-yet-released Sega Genesis Collection of classic games. They had commandeered the large flat-screen television and were enthusiastically facing off over Phantasy Star IV. After living with them for sixty-plus years, I was accustomed to being more familiar with current entertainment trends than the average mom, and knew more about video game titles than I cared to admit.
Alice, Rosalie, Kate, Irina and Tanya, having conceded the television to the boys-who were enjoying their figurative walk down Memory Lane-headed to the lower-level theatre room to immerse themselves in a re-hashing of Paris Fashion Week Fall 2006. For the thousandth time I wondered to myself how Alice had ever survived before the advent of cable television and the internet.
Conversation flowed between the four of us seated near the fireplace. Carmen and Eleazar described a recent trip to Spain, where they both had been born. They were rather close in age to Carlisle, which made me the youngster of the group. Their conversation drifted to life in 17th century Europe and I was, as usual, absorbed in their descriptions of what they remembered of their human lives and their experiences as newborn vampires in those long ago times. Eventually, however, conversation shifted along more current topics.
"Well, Carlisle," said Eleazar, "how has your time in Ithaca been? Has Edward been out to visit very often?"
I felt Carlisle stiffen slightly, as he anticipated my reaction to the abrupt question. I quickly lowered my eyes to my hands, watching as my fingers intertwined while I struggled to maintain my calm demeanor. I felt the sudden stillness in the atmosphere, as Emmett's and Jasper's attention split between their current pursuit and the conversation taking place in front of the fire.
We had decided in September, in light of the fact that Laurent had left Forks for Denali the evening of our disastrous baseball episode, that we would keep certain details regarding our departure from Forks (and the reasons for it) to ourselves. Though we had informed them that we had relocated to New York, and that Edward had not relocated with us, we had led our friends to believe that Edward had remained in Forks and maintained his relationship with Bella.
We had had very little contact with our "cousins" in the six months since our arrival in New York, and were not sure how their relationship with Laurent had evolved. He obviously was not in residence currently, but there had been no discussion of where he was, or how long he had been gone. Before leaving Ithaca, Edward had specifically requested that we not let anyone know that Bella was no longer under our protection. While we felt that Bella was not in a position to be threatened by vampire sources, we had, however, made a promise to Edward that we would continue to honor.
Sensing my turmoil, Carlisle put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me into his side, giving me a brief, intense look before answering. I relaxed a bit, trying to minimize my reaction to the uncomfortable subject and my renewed unhappiness in general. A lessening of my tension alerted me to Jasper's influence, and I shot him a grateful glance. I untangled my fingers, curving my hand around Carlisle's arm and laying my head against his shoulder as he drew breath to reply.
"We're doing well, although we miss him. He hasn't come out to New York to see the house since we first arrived, and Esme has done a marvelous job refurbishing it. We speak occasionally, of course, but not seeing him has been hard on all of us, especially Esme." He turned to press his firm lips against my forehead, and continued. "I had hoped I could convince him to join us this week, but he's actually on a trip to South America and didn't plan to be back in time."
Carmen lifted her delicately arched eyebrows slightly, looking from Carlisle to me, and smiled faintly. She leaned comfortably into Eleazar, and her gaze became curious in nature.
"You haven't mentioned Bella, but I can't help being interested—how are things progressing? He certainly seemed to have been greatly affected by her when he was here last year, and of course his actions during the incident with James were very telling. I'm assuming she's still human, since you haven't indicated that she's been turned. Did she travel to South America with him?"
The calm I had managed to instill in my body evaporated, and my level of tension shot into the stratosphere with the question. I was thankful that I didn't have a human heartbeat to give away my reaction to this line of questioning. Almost immediately I felt a renewed wave of calm from my concerned son.
Carlisle continued to sit with his arm around me, and I was impressed to note that he didn't display any sort of discomfort with the subject matter, though I guessed that I was uncomfortable enough for the both of us. After a brief pause, Carlisle answered in his usual, modulated tone, and only Emmett, Jasper and I were aware of how finely he was walking the line between truth and fabrication in his comments.
"No, she hasn't been changed. Edward has been very determined on that front—he wants her to have her human life. He cares for her very much, but he wants to do what is best for her. And he traveled to South America alone; he had a research project he was working on. Bella's getting ready to graduate from high school, so it's best if she stays home to concentrate on her schoolwork."
Carmen and Eleazar exchanged a rather pointed look, and Carmen leaned slightly toward us. In a subdued voice, she asked "Has he, by chance, mentioned if he has seen any of our kind in the Forks area recently? Laurent, specifically?"
Carlisle and I glanced at each other curiously, and turned together to again face Carmen. Carlisle paused for a moment, no doubt deciding how to best answer her question. At that moment, however, the sounds of the four fashionistas returning to the upper level distracted us.
"Never mind," Carmen said quickly. "We'll talk more later."
Carlisle and I again shared a fleeting, confused look, wondering about Carmen's query. We knew Laurent had left Forks last year headed for Denali, and knew he had stayed here for a while, but were not aware of the exact nature of their relationship with him. I could tell from our non-verbal exchange that we were both surprised by the surreptitious way in which Carmen had asked about the other vampire.
With the entire group reassembled in the large living area, conversation turned to the much-anticipated hunts we had been planning for our visit. After a brief discussion regarding the anticipated events, it was decided that Carlisle and I, Carmen and Eleazar, Emmett, Kate, and Irina would leave tomorrow morning for the first of our excursions. Tanya, Rosalie, Alice and Jasper were staying behind for this jaunt. The girls had decided a trip to Ooingmak and the Ulu Factory would be an interesting change of pace, and a quick look ahead by Alice warned of sunnier days next week, so the shopping trip was pushed to the fore. The entire group would enjoy a second hunt before we left Alaska on the 24th.
After our plans had been finalized, Carlisle and I excused ourselves to the room we had been given, to pack a few necessities for the next few days and unwind from a conversation that had turned into an unexpected ordeal. I hugged each of the Denali sisters before heading off, thankful for their welcome. They all seemed happy to have us there, though I noticed (not for the first time) that Irina was more subdued than normal. I felt a bit of tension between her and Carmen, but didn't want to intrude in their family dynamics.
Once in the bedroom, Carlisle and I studiously avoided in-depth discussion about the exchange, both because of sensitive ears and a tacit agreement not to delve too deeply into such sensitive subject matter. Upon leaving the bathroom, where I had washed my face and pulled a brush through my hair, I noticed Carlisle checking his phone for missed messages or calls before he plugged it in to charge. Though cell coverage in the Alaskan wilderness was sporadic at best, we planned to keep our phones with us in hopes that Edward would call.
Carlisle looked up at me before I could avert my eyes, sensing and seeing my distress, and he walked toward me, pulling me into his arms.
"I don't have to be Edward to know exactly what you're thinking," he said gently, "but we agreed we were going to give him a little more time to see if he called us on his own. Give him a few more days, and then if he hasn't called, I'll try to get in touch with him."
Looking up into Carlisle's amber gaze, I saw my concern and edginess reflected there, and leaned up on my toes to softly brush his lips with my own. We stood together for another moment, comforting each other, before I reached up again, my lips this time clinging to his, drawing strength from the man I had loved and trusted for over eighty years.
"Ok," I said resolutely. "I can give it a few more days, but heaven help him if he doesn't call us soon. It's about time for a mother-son, heart-to-heart conversation about this, and I'll track him through South America if I have to."
Two days later, after having run and hunted our way well into the Alaskan wilderness, we were completely sated and a bit lazy from our feasting. The men, of course, had made a competition out of nearly every aspect of the hunting trip, and Carmen, Kate, Irina and I had enjoyed their hilarity. At daybreak we had gathered all of our gear and were about to begin our journey southeast back to Denali, anticipating a return to the sisters' home on Friday.
"Well, I hope the ladies have enjoyed their hunt as much as we have ours," Carlisle chuckled, putting his arms around my waist and nuzzling my neck, pressing his lips gently to my skin.
"Jasper might object to your use of the word 'ladies' in that statement, but he asked for it when he chose chicks over a hunt," Emmett stated, grinning, as the rest of us laughed.
I turned in Carlisle's arms, brushing a blond lock away from his forehead, and smiling into his eyes. The activity and exhilaration of our recent hunt had left him slightly flushed, and his expression was, for once, relaxed and carefree. With a quick peck on his lips, I reached down and picked up my backpack, lifting and settling it on my back.
"Alright, you two, there will be plenty of time for tormenting Jasper when we get back. No need to start in on him until he's there to hear you," I admonished them. "Carmen, are you all ready?"
Carmen answered in the affirmative, and I glanced around as everyone else picked up his or her gear, turning toward Denali.
"Don't get me wrong, I love to run," Emmett remarked, throwing his bag across his back and passing in front of me as he started to jog to the southeast, "but next week when we head out, I want to drive. We're taking the Jeep."
Everyone else broke into a run, but I was frozen in place at his statement. A feeling of deja vu struck me with an almost physical blow. I wasn't seeing what was in front of me in this minute; I was transplanted mentally to our home in Forks last year, after the baseball game. The scene in my head continued to unwind, and I remembered watching Emmett stalk past me, backpack across his back, uttering the phrase "We're taking the Jeep." An event with some similarities, but a different time, with a much darker purpose.
The concept of "deja vu" to a human is quite different than it is to a vampire; indeed, with our usual perfect recall, we experience deja vu-like visions frequently. However, the vision I experienced carried with it such an emotional impact that I reeled from the force of the blow.
The heartrending sight of Edward gathering Bella in his arms, lifting her off the floor, pressing his lips to hers desperately in a goodbye kiss, and his intense gaze burning her image into his soul before he walked out was one I, of course, could never forget. And the remembered picture of Bella's face as she watched him leave, tears streaming silently down her face, which was white with terror and anguish, was such a poignant memory that I shuddered with sorrowfulness.
My heart remembered the agony of that evening, and Bella's devastated reaction to Edwards's departure, and it left me in no doubt that my concerns about the welfare of my missing daughter were well founded. Though I had not, of course, been present when Edward took his leave of her in September, I knew without hesitation that her heart would have been just as broken as I had imagined, and that no amount of time would heal her. Bella's love was not the flighty, impermanent love of a teen; I knew in my soul that she loved him with a depth beyond most human capabilities.
I was abruptly brought out of my musings by the sound of Carlisle's return; he was running toward me, concern and confusion clearly marking his beautiful face as I turned to him numbly.
"What is it-what's wrong?" The urgent tone in his voice brought my attention from my memory to the man standing before me, his hands gripping my arms tightly as he looked searchingly at my face, his brow furrowed with worry.
I squared my shoulders, looking up at him with determination in my eyes. As he realized I was in no danger, his expression morphed into one of curiosity. His hands relaxed on my arms, sliding down to take my hands into his. As he did so, I gripped his fingers tightly, feeling an intensity of energy and emotion as I opened my mouth to speak.
"I just had a flashback that brought a few things home to me. When we get back to Denali, one of us is going to start calling our son, and we're not stopping until he answers. It's time Edward and I had a chat."