[7-1-2013] A new character arrives in this chapter. Meet Alice.
"What are we for your kind?" she snapped. "Just snacks? Bags of food, whose lives mean nothing? Is that what I am to you?"
Edward cringed at her outburst. "No, Bella!"
She turned her back on him, quickly shutting the intercom down.
"Listen to me!" he begged.
She was out, running along the corridor before he could finish his plea.
The image of Bella running away from him, along with her parting words, continued to haunt Edward for hours, digging like a spear into his unyielding memory.
Frames from a video he'd seen years before came back to him.
One of the many things Sicily was known for was the tradition of the marionette theater. Those Italian marionettes were works of art, crafted with painted wood and dressed as medieval characters, with shining armor and swords; their shows weren't meant only for children, but depicted legendary events based on history. The onlookers could see their own lives and ideals mirrored through the characters' adventures, and as long as the show lasted, the marionettes were heroes. But when the performance was over, the puppeteer revealed that they were nothing but little statues controlled by his strings.
Edward had heard about those shows when he was still human, and when he'd planned his Grand Tour he'd included a trip to Sicily in his plans; only as a vampire had he gotten the chance to watch those marionettes, on a video.
They're just like me, he thought, hunched up on his couch.
His whole existence over the last two centuries had been a performance–a perpetual illusion. He'd played the part of a student even when he'd already achieved degrees upon degrees; he'd disguised himself as a young man even though he was older than any human being on Earth; he'd kept his monstrous nature a secret and allowed himself the luxury of believing that his humanity wasn't lost, that not everything of him had been annihilated on that distant night in Volterra.
More than that, with Bella he'd nursed the hope that even in his condition, even from behind the barrier of a top-security cell, he could experience a strong bond with a human. Bella had been able to do something that no one else had ever accomplished for him: she'd made him overcome all the layers of his isolation. With her, sometimes Edward forgot that they didn't even belong to the same species. With her, he'd been sure that the choice he'd made since the beginning of his supernatural existence–abstaining from humans– had been worth it, because it made him different than the monster whose actions had led to the Drainer's homicides and the death of Bella's mother. With her, and only with her, he wasn't a freak who heard voices inside his head.
But then, Bella had kept her promise. I won't lie to you, she'd vowed since their first meeting. And she hadn't. Even when Edward wanted to believe in his delusions, hoping he could cling to them so strongly that they would become true, Bella had seen beyond his mask.
"What are we for your kind?" she snapped. "Just snacks? Bags of food, whose lives mean nothing? Is that what I am to you?"
Like the puppeteers at the end of a marionette's performance, she'd shown him his own strings, reminding him that he would never be able to cut them. He was and would always remain nothing more than an inhuman creature meant to bring pain.
In his hotel room in Portland, Robert Walsh tapped nervously on the desk while he waited for his laptop to start. "Alice Whitlock," he mumbled. "Who the hell is she?"
Swan's conference had been a success, as usual. Walsh had beamed when his boss mentioned that he had been making a substantial contribution to the research. Even if they couldn't disclose anything about the extraordinary subject they were currently studying, Walsh knew that the mere association between his name and Swan's would be a blessing for his career. He'd watched the parade of admirers and college students who had circled the famous profiler at the end of his speech; many of them were holding a copy of one of his books and had asked for an autograph. Walsh could almost envision the day when he would be the keynote speaker himself; he couldn't understand how Lee Stephens could have given up such a great opportunity. But he wasn't about to complain, because with Lee out of the game, his own career could only benefit.
It had promised to be a good evening, indeed, until that girl had turned up. Walsh had attended previous conferences with Swan, and in Portland his boss had been his usual self. He was calm and polite, always careful to answer the questions without glorifying the killers he'd caught or studied in his long career. Some of the bolder members of the public had tried to elicit a stronger reaction, asking if he liked looking evil right in the eye or if he was thrilled when he interviewed a serial killer, but Charlie hadn't fallen for their tricks. They thought they were original, but he was more than used to getting questions like those.
Walsh hadn't been surprised even when, as usual, Swan had brushed off the numerous women paying him compliments. He hadn't noticed Alice Whitlock, at first. She was so petite that she'd easily blended in with the crowd of people filling the conference room. She hadn't approached Swan immediately, but had reached for him when he was already on his way toward the door. Swan had waved at his assistant, signaling him to go ahead and call for their car while he quickly listened to whatever the young woman had to say. Walsh had spared her an appraising glance. She was attractive, and it had taken him a moment to realize what it was about her that bothered him. She seemed very young, and with her formal black suit, matching heels, and a leather briefcase, she resembled a high school student dressed like a grown-up. But she was different from the many other students who swarmed around Swan, telling him how they dreamed of becoming profilers and considered him a role model. She exuded confidence and appeared perfectly at ease, as if she already knew that Swan wouldn't hurry away after meeting her.
Walsh hadn't been able to catch the words she'd said to him, but he noticed how Swan had frozen. He'd stopped in his tracks and turned toward her, slightly bowing his head to meet her gaze. At first the girl had given him kind smiles, but then her expression became more serious. She was the only one talking while Swan nodded at her words, seemingly forgetful of anything else around him. Walsh considered going to tell him that the car was ready and they could leave, but before he could take more than a few steps, Swan called him over.
"Meet Alice Whitlock," he'd told his assistant.
They'd shaken hands, and a closer look had confirmed to Walsh that she was young—even younger than he'd assumed before. He'd had to fight against the urge to raise an eyebrow at his boss. Is he up for a girl who might be younger than his daughter?
"I'm not coming to the dinner," Swan had informed him. Before Walsh could object, he'd gone on. "Please give my apologies to the conference board, but Miss Whitlock has delivered a message that requires my immediate attention." He'd given him a tight smile. "Enjoy your evening, Robert."
A number of different scenarios paraded through Walsh's thoughts as he searched for information about Miss Whitlock and came up with nothing. Is she with the FBI? Or the CIA? Over the months they'd spent working together, Swan had mentioned a few former colleagues, and other profilers were already known to both him and Stephens, because they'd followed their work when they were still students. But Whitlock didn't ring any bell. Did she give him a fake name? As the night wore on, one question became more and more pressing: was Swan going to replace Stephens with her? Walsh glanced at the clock, counting the hours until the morning, when he and his boss would meet for the second conference scheduled for the weekend. If Whitlock was going to work with them, why hadn't Swan involved him in that decision? He recalled how angered Swan had been after his experiment with showing fresh blood to the freak–he'd even threatened to fire him. But I told him that I could call the press, and he thought better of it. Could it be...? Robert smacked his fist on the desk. Could it be that Swan wanted to replace him? If he was actually going to inform the government about the freak, he could just end the project and get rid of his assistant and the private guards.
An even worse possibility sprang to mind: What if Whitlock's with the media? Walsh barked a bitter laugh. What if his threats had given Swan the idea of using the freak to make money? Such a scoop would be lucrative, to say the least. No way, he told himself. Swan is too dutiful, too goody two-shoes. He'd never have the guts. Regardless, Walsh fell asleep, musing about the vital importance of beating people to the punch.
After dashing away from the observation gallery, Bella shut the door of her room at the lodge and curled up on her bed. She resented every sob tearing through her, because she knew that Edward would hear it. On a whim, she'd considered heading home as fast as she could, but she'd ended up staying. She was too upset to drive even as far as the closest town, let alone all the way to Seattle. She told herself she needed to get through the next few days, at least until Charlie's return; if her car had wound up smashed against a tree, she wouldn't have been able to tell him what Edward had revealed. Now that she knew how much the truth hurt, and how painful it was to face it alone, she would do whatever she could to prevent her father from undergoing the same experience. She promised herself that in the moment when he got the closure he'd been seeking for the last six years, Charlie would be looking into the face of a person who cared for him, who could understand his grief and would give him her support.
Bella opened one of the large windows overlooking the woods, letting the crisp air fill the room. The scent of the trees made her remember those lost times when the thick forests of Olympic Peninsula had been a beloved place. When she was a little girl, she'd gone camping there with her parents; over the years, nature had become a refuge where she could wander or find a secluded spot to enjoy a book in peace. But then, that sanctuary had been stained with the blood of the people who'd been brought among the trees to become the Drainer's playthings, destroyed by a vampire's gluttony and a psychopath's fantasies.
And I've taken it out on Edward, associating him with that monster. As she calmed down, the thought made her shudder.
There had been two killers – a vampire and a human. Comparing Edward to the nomad who'd started the homicides had been a blasphemy. It would be like accusing Charlie of being like Renée's killer, just because he and the murderer were both men.
Edward was imprisoned down there, treated as if he were a monster; Charlie had said he was like a lethal weapon, but on what basis? Who are the humans and who are the monsters, now? If Edward hadn't lied – and nothing made Bella think that he was a liar – it meant he'd always fought against his nature and his instincts, resisting the impulse to kill. Even if humans were little more than food for vampires, Edward had continued to consider them his peers. But at what cost? She would never be able to understand how much he'd had to struggle to maintain his restraint.
Forgive me, she thought. Edward's plea echoed in her mind as she recalled how they'd parted on bad terms. If she thought about someone who could comfort her, Edward was still among the very few with whom she'd opened up. What had he called their meetings? Vampire therapy. The memory of that moment almost brought a smile to Bella's face and was followed by other images of the kindness with which Edward had always welcomed her.
She left her room and went down the stairs, hoping that her decision would prove to be the right one.
In his cell's small bathroom, Edward switched on the hot water and tried to ease his tension with the scorching shower. He forced himself to focus on the sound of the spray on his skin, wishing that it could muffle the echo of Bella's sobs and frantic heartbeat. The last few hours had been maddening. He couldn't ignore that Bella was crying, but as usual he couldn't get a read on her thoughts. Even if he could have seen into her mind, he was trapped in the cell, unable to reach her. Being damned to witness her pain without being able to offer her comfort was nothing short of torture.
Her heartbeat seemed to get closer and closer. Edward leaned against the tiles of the shower, wondering if he was becoming so obsessed with Bella that his hearing was playing tricks on him. When he heard the door of the observation gallery open and then close, he switched off the water. She's here. He took long breaths, bracing himself for whatever she was about to tell him. She's back. He wrapped a towel around his hips, but hesitated before leaving the bathroom. The desire to go to her conflicted with the need to protect himself–she despised what he was, and she had every right to do so, in his opinion. But her rejection had the power to hurt him more than his own contempt for what he was.
He stopped behind the door separating the bathroom from his cell and cracked it open. No light came from the observation gallery, but Bella's heartbeat and the sound of her breathing confirmed that she was still there. He resolved to wait until she called for him, but the minutes trickled by without a sound.
He heard the rustle of her clothing, accompanied by footsteps, and he could tell that she was heading for the exit. Moving with the swiftness of his kind, he began to put on his clothes; if she was going to leave, maybe he could manage to get a last glimpse of her.
Edward was pulling his shirt over his head when he froze at the sound of Bella's voice. Her next words—and her obvious terror—nearly made him burst through the door.
"Help!" she cried out. "Somebody help me!"
Thanks for reading!
After a few chapters, the cliffies are back :-) I can tell you that many things are going to change in the upcoming chapter. About Garrett's story: it isn't over yet. Bella will tell the rest. Stay tuned.
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