Author's Note: Sorry for the extensive delay. Faster updates will occur in direct correlation to the ending of real-life suck. Also, remember what I said at the beginning: chapter length is dependent on the story action. The current trend towards drabbles is not permanent.
Jasper's low voice cut through my whirling thoughts.
"This process would take much less time if you'd cut the sarcasm," he told Bella crisply.
"It would take even less if you'd fuck off and mind your own business," she shot back.
My jaw fell open and my eyes shot to Alice. Seeing her with a look of surprise was so foreign, it took me a moment to recognize the expression. She was just as stunned as I was.
The realization gave me pause. If Alice hadn't seen it coming, Bella must have said that without thinking-did that indicate that she was just angry, that she didn't really mean it? Or had she truly become the type of person that would speak like that to a loved one?
I watched Jasper and Bella glare at each other, feeling helpless. The despair I'd felt while seeing Alice's visions of Bella as a vampire was creeping back into my bones. Seeing her cold and sparkling, virtually unrecognizable, had shaken me to my core. Now, with her standing in front of me as warm and alive as ever, I still could not recognize her.
"What will it take to get you to leave?" Bella's eyes narrowed in contemplation.
"We're here to help," Jasper admonished her.
"Your help is only going to get people killed," Bella said. "If you want to actually be of use, go back in time and clean up the mess you made in the first place!"
Jasper looked at his shoes. "I've apologized for that," he reminded her softly.
"Not the birthday thing again, for Christ's sake!" Bella threw her hands in the air.
Alice stepped forward. "We really can help you, Bella. You just have to let us."
Bella spun to face Alice, her eyes ablaze. "Letting you help me is the exact thing I don't need, you miserable little fortune teller! In fact, it's one of the worst things I can do! That gift of yours isn't worth shit!"
Clenching her fists in her hair, Bella gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. I couldn't tell if she was trying to hold herself in, or shut us out.
"What is wrong with you Cullens?" she demanded through clenched jaws. "I begged you not to leave, and now I can't get rid of you. Is it just the power? You like forcing your wants on everyone else, making them submit to you?"
Alice's expression was equal parts wary and disgusted. Jasper was concentrating on sending calm towards Bella, but it seemed to just bounce off of her.
"No, Bella," I pleaded. I fisted my hands at my sides to keep myself from reaching for her.
A low pulsing sound came from the back room, too quiet to reach Bella's ears.
"Bee!" a female voice called out. Again with the insect problems? "Phone!"
Bella's eyes jerked sideways, and I watched as her furious scowl quickly morphed into a grin. The abrupt transformation was enough to make me queasy.
"Well, listen," Bella said, her smile false and exaggerated, "this been really great. Thanks so much for coming. Let's never do this again. " With a sarcastic salute, she spun on her heel and walked with purpose towards the back room where her hostages were sequestered.
So Bella was the bee? What kind of hostages dole out nicknames?
"What phone?" Bella asked. "I didn't hear the store line."
"No, it was your cell," the female replied, her voice full of concern. What the hell was this, advanced-onset Stockholm Syndrome?
"Fuck," Bella muttered. "That's never good."
"If it's him, he'll be calling again in a minute. He never leaves a voice mail," a male voice chimed in.
Sure enough, the pulsing started again almost immediately.
"Here goes nothing," Bella said lowly. "Hello?"
"Bella, you haven't been following the rules, you naughty girl," a snide voice admonished. "You know the consequences for misbehaving."
"I didn't break any of your goddamned rules," Bella snarled into the receiver. "Your information is wrong."
"Don't lie to me, human," the voice hissed. "Did you think we wouldn't find out that you have vampires in there with you?"
Bella huffed and quickly walked out of the room, turning left and making her way several feet down the wall until she sunk to the floor.
Jasper's thoughts were wild. Who is calling her that knows about vampires? That can't be the police department.
"I really doubt they'd call her personal number for hostage negotiations," I hissed at him. "Be quiet!"
"There's nothing illegal about being in the presence of vampires," she whispered precisely. "I didn't ask them to come. I've spent the past half hour trying to get them to go the hell away."
Whispers and rustling came through the phone as Bella stared defiantly into space. After a few moments of debate with someone else, the voice came back on the line.
"So you haven't sought their help? That's what you're claiming?"
Bella snorted. "She knows damned well that I wouldn't have been able to find the Cullens even if I tried. They just showed up and started telling me what to do, as usual."
Alice looked at me and smirked. I was about to tell her off when a familiar voice came on the line.
"The Cullens? Are you telling me those miserable bastards are there right now?"
Without thinking, I shot up from the seating area and flew to the back of the store, stopping directly in front of Bella's huddled form.
Bella stared up at me and smirked. "That's exactly what I'm telling you, Victoria."