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Chapter 19 Goodbye

Chapter 19 Goodbye

   Charlie was waiting up for me. All the house lights were on. My mind wasblank as I tried to think of a way to make him let me go. This wasn'tgoing to be pleasant.

  Edward pulled up slowly, staying well back from my truck. All three ofthem were acutely alert, ramrod straight in their seats, listening toevery sound of the wood, looking through every shadow, catching everyscent, searching for something out of place. The engine cut off, and Isat, motionless, as they continued to listen.

  "He's not here," Edward said tensely. "Let's go." Emmett reached over tohelp me get out of the harness.

  "Don't worry, Bella," he said in a low but cheerful voice, "we'll takecare of things here quickly."I felt moisture filling up my eyes as I looked at Emmett. I barely knewhim, and yet, somehow, not knowing when I would see him again aftertonight was anguishing. I knew this was just a faint taste of thegoodbyes I would have to survive in the next hour, and the thought madethe tears begin to spill.

  "Alice, Emmett." Edward's voice was a command. They slithered soundlesslyinto the darkness, instantly disappearing. Edward opened my door and tookmy hand, then drew me into the protecting enclosure of his arm. He walkedme swiftly toward the house, eyes always roving through the night.

  "Fifteen minutes," he warned under his breath.

  "I can do this." I sniffled. My tears had given me an inspiration.

  I stopped on the porch and took hold of his face in my hands. I lookedfiercely into his eyes.

  "I love you," I said in a low, intense voice. "I will always love you, nomatter what happens now.""Nothing is going to happen to you, Bella," he said just as fiercely.

  "Just follow the plan, okay? Keep Charlie safe for me. He's not going tolike me very much after this, and I want to have the chance to apologizelater.""Get inside, Bella. We have to hurry." His voice was urgent.

  "One more thing," I whispered passionately. "Don't listen to another wordI say tonight!" He was leaning in, and so all I had to do was stretch upon my toes to kiss his surprised, frozen lips with as much force as I wascapable of. Then I turned and kicked the door open.

  "Go away, Edward!" I yelled at him, running inside and slamming the doorshut in his still-shocked face.

  "Bella?" Charlie had been hovering in the living room, and he was alreadyon his feet.

  "Leave me alone!" I screamed at him through my tears, which were flowingrelentlessly now. I ran up the stairs to my room, throwing the door shutand locking it. I ran to my bed, flinging myself on the floor to retrievemy duffel bag. I reached swiftly between the mattress and box spring tograb the knotted old sock that contained my secret cash hoard.

  Charlie was pounding on my door.

  "Bella, are you okay? What's going on?" His voice was frightened.

  "I'm going borne," I shouted, my voice breaking in the perfect spot.

  "Did he hurt you?" His tone edged toward anger.

  "No!" I shrieked a few octaves higher. I turned to my dresser, and Edwardwas already there, silently yanking out armfuls of random clothes, whichhe proceeded to throw to me.

  "Did he break up with you?" Charlie was perplexed.

   "No!" I yelled, slightly more breathless as I shoved everything into thebag. Edward threw another drawer's contents at me. The bag was prettymuch full now.

  "What happened, Bella?" Charlie shouted through the door, pounding again.

  "I broke up with him!" I shouted back, jerking on the zipper of my bag.

  Edward's capable hands pushed mine away and zipped it smoothly. He putthe strap carefully over my arm.

  "I'll be in the truck — go!" he whispered, and pushed me toward the door.

  He vanished out the window.

  I unlocked the door and pushed past Charlie roughly, struggling with myheavy bag as I ran down the stairs.

  "What happened?" he yelled. He was right behind me. "I thought you likedhim."He caught my elbow in the kitchen. Though he was still bewildered, hisgrip was firm.

  He spun me around to look at him, and I could see in his face that he hadno intention of letting me leave. I could think of only one way toescape, and it involved hurting him so much that I hated myself for evenconsidering it. But I had no time, and I had to keep him safe.

  I glared up at my father, fresh tears in my eyes for what I was about todo.

  "I do like him — that's the problem. I can't do this anymore! I can't putdown any more roots here! I don't want to end up trapped in this stupid,boring town like Mom! I'm not going to make the same dumb mistake shedid. I hate it — I can't stay here another minute!"His hand dropped from my arm like I'd electrocuted him. I turned awayfrom his shocked, wounded face and headed for the door.

  "Bells, you can't leave now. It's nighttime," he whispered behind me.

  I didn't turn around. "I'll sleep in the truck if I get tired.""Just wait another week," he pled, still shell-shocked. "Renée will beback by then."This completely derailed me. "What?"Charlie continued eagerly, almost babbling with relief as I hesitated.

  "She called while you were out. Things aren't going so well in Florida,and if Phil doesn't get signed by the end of the week, they're going backto Arizona. The assistant coach of the Sidewinders said they might have aspot for another shortstop."I shook my head, trying to reassemble my now-confused thoughts. Everypassing second put Charlie in more danger.

  "I have a key," I muttered, turning the knob. He was too close, one handextended toward me, his face dazed. I couldn't lose any more time arguingwith him. I was going to have to hurt him further.

  "Just let me go, Charlie." I repeated my mother's last words as she'dwalked out this same door so many years ago. I said them as angrily as Icould manage, and I threw the door open. "It didn't work out, okay? Ireally, really hate Forks!"My cruel words did their job — Charlie stayed frozen on the doorstep,stunned, while I ran into the night. I was hideously frightened of theempty yard. I ran wildly for the truck, visualizing a dark shadow behindme. I threw my bag in the bed and wrenched the door open. The key waswaiting in the ignition.

  "I'll call you tomorrow!" I yelled, wishing more than anything that I could explain everything to him right then, knowing I would never be ableto. I gunned the engine and peeled out.

  Edward reached for my hand.

  "Pull over," he said as the house, and Charlie, disappeared behind us.

  "I can drive," I said through the tears pouring down my cheeks.

  His long hands unexpectedly gripped my waist, and his foot pushed mineoff the gas pedal. He pulled me across his lap, wrenching my hands freeof the wheel, and suddenly he was in the driver's seat. The truck didn'tswerve an inch.

  "You wouldn't be able to find the house," he explained.

  Lights flared suddenly behind us. I stared out the back window, eyes widewith horror.

  "It's just Alice," he reassured me. He took my hand again.

  My mind was filled with the image of Charlie in the doorway. "Thetracker?""He heard the end of your performance," Edward said grimly.

  "Charlie?" I asked in dread.

  "The tracker followed us. He's running behind us now."My body went cold.

  "Can we outrun him?""No." But he sped up as he spoke. The truck's engine whined in protest.

  My plan suddenly didn't feel so brilliant anymore.

  I was staring back at Alice's headlights when the truck shuddered and adark shadow sprung up outside the window.

  My bloodcurdling scream lasted a fraction of a second before Edward'shand clamped down on my mouth.

  "It's Emmett!"He released my mouth, and wound his arm around my waist.

  "It's okay, Bella," he promised. "You're going to be safe."We raced through the quiet town toward the north highway.

  "I didn't realize you were still so bored with small-town life," he saidconversationally, and I knew he was trying to distract me. "It seemedlike you were adjusting fairly well — especially recently. Maybe I wasjust flattering myself that I was making life more interesting for you.""I wasn't being nice," I confessed, ignoring his attempt at diversion,looking down at my knees. "That was the same thing my mom said when sheleft him. You could say I was hitting below the belt.""Don't worry. He'll forgive you." He smiled a little, though it didn'ttouch his eyes.

  I stared at him desperately, and he saw the naked panic in my eyes.

  "Bella, it's going to be all right.""But it won't be all right when I'm not with you," I whispered.

  "We'll be together again in a few days," he said, tightening his armaround me. "Don't forget that this was your idea." "It was the best idea — of course it was mine."His answering smile was bleak and disappeared immediately.

  "Why did this happen?" I asked, my voice catching. "Why me?"He stared blackly at the road ahead. "It's my fault — I was a fool toexpose you like that." The rage in his voice was directed internally.

  "That's not what I meant," I insisted. "I was there, big deal. It didn'tbother the other two. Why did this James decide to kill met There'repeople all over the place, why me?"He hesitated, thinking before he answered.

  "I got a good look at his mind tonight," he began in a low voice. "I'mnot sure if there's anything I could have done to avoid this, once he sawyou. It is partially your fault." His voice was wry. "If you didn't smellso appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered. But when I defendedyou… well, that made it a lot worse. He's not used to being thwarted, nomatter how insignificant the object. He thinks of himself as a hunter andnothing else. His existence is consumed with tracking, and a challenge isall he asks of life. Suddenly we've presented him with a beautifulchallenge — a large clan of strong fighters all bent on protecting theone vulnerable element. You wouldn't believe how euphoric he is now. It'shis favorite game, and we've just made it his most exciting game ever."His tone was full of disgust.

  He paused a moment.

  "But if I had stood by, he would have killed you right then," he saidwith hopeless frustration.

  "I thought… I didn't smell the same to the others… as I do to you," Isaid hesitantly.

  "You don't. But that doesn't mean that you aren't still a temptation toevery one of them. If you had appealed to the tracker — or any of them —the same way you appeal to me, it would have meant a fight right there."I shuddered.

  "I don't think I have any choice but to kill him now," he muttered.

  "Carlisle won't like it."I could hear the tires cross the bridge, though I couldn't see the riverin the dark. I knew we were getting close. I had to ask him now.

  "How can you kill a vampire?"He glanced at me with unreadable eyes and his voice was suddenly harsh.

  "The only way to be sure is to tear him to shreds, and then burn thepieces.""And the other two will fight with him?""The woman will. I'm not sure about Laurent. They don't have a verystrong bond — he's only with them for convenience. He was embarrassed byJames in the meadow…""But James and the woman — they'll try to kill you?" I asked, my voiceraw.

  "Bella, don't you dare waste time worrying about me. Your only concern iskeeping yourself safe and — please, please — trying not to be reckless.""Is he still following?""Yes. He won't attack the house, though. Not tonight."He turned off onto the invisible drive, with Alice following behind.

   We drove right up to the house. The lights inside were bright, but theydid little to alleviate the blackness of the encroaching forest. Emmetthad my door open before the truck was stopped; he pulled me out of theseat, tucked me like a football into his vast chest, and ran me throughthe door.

  We burst into the large white room, Edward and Alice at our sides. All ofthem were there; they were already on their feet at the sound of ourapproach. Laurent stood in their midst. I could hear low growls rumbledeep in Emmett's throat as he set me down next to Edward.

  "He's tracking us," Edward announced, glaring balefully at Laurent.

  Laurent's face was unhappy. "I was afraid of that."Alice danced to Jasper's side and whispered in his ear; her lips quiveredwith the speed of her silent speech. They flew up the stairs together.

  Rosalie watched them, and then moved quickly to Emmett's side. Herbeautiful eyes were intense and — when they flickered unwillingly to myface — furious.

  "What will he do?" Carlisle asked Laurent in chilling tones.

  "I'm sorry," he answered. "I was afraid, when your boy there defendedher, that it would set him off.""Can you stop him?"Laurent shook his head. "Nothing stops James when he gets started.""We'll stop him," Emmett promised. There was no doubt what he meant.

  "You can't bring him down. I've never seen anything like him in my threehundred years. He's absolutely lethal. That's why I joined his coven."His coven, I thought, of course. The show of leadership in the clearingwas merely that, a show.

  Laurent was shaking his head. He glanced at me, perplexed, and back toCarlisle. "Are you sure it's worth it?"Edward's enraged roar filled the room; Laurent cringed back.

  Carlisle looked gravely at Laurent. "I'm afraid you're going to have tomake a choice."Laurent understood. He deliberated for a moment. His eyes took in everyface, and finally swept the bright room.

  "I'm intrigued by the life you've created here. But I won't get in themiddle of this. I bear none of you any enmity, but I won't go up againstJames. I think I will head north — to that clan in Denali." He hesitated.

  "Don't underestimate James. He's got a brilliant mind and unparalleledsenses. He's every bit as comfortable in the human world as you seem tobe, and he won't come at you head on… I'm sorry for what's been unleashedhere. Truly sorry." He bowed his head, but I saw him flicker anotherpuzzled look at me.

  "Go in peace," was Carlisle's formal answer.

  Laurent took another long look around himself, and then he hurried outthe door.

  The silence lasted less than a second.

  "How close?" Carlisle looked to Edward.

  Esme was already moving; her hand touched an inconspicuous keypad on thewall, and with a groan, huge metal shutters began sealing up the glasswall. I gaped.

   "About three miles out past the river; he's circling around to meet upwith the female.""What's the plan?""We'll lead him off, and then Jasper and Alice will run her south.""And then?"Edward's tone was deadly. "As soon as Bella is clear, we hunt him.""I guess there's no other choice," Carlisle agreed, his face grim.

  Edward turned to Rosalie.

  "Get her upstairs and trade clothes," Edward commanded. She stared backat him with livid disbelief.

  "Why should I?" she hissed. "What is she to me? Except a menace — adanger you've chosen to inflict on all of us."I flinched back from the venom in her voice.

  "Rose…" Emmett murmured, putting one hand on her shoulder. She shook itoff.

  But I was watching Edward carefully, knowing his temper, worried abouthis reaction.

  He surprised me. He looked away from Rosalie as if she hadn't spoken, asif she didn't exist.

  "Esme?" he asked calmly.

  "Of course," Esme murmured.

  Esme was at my side in half a heartbeat, swinging me up easily into herarms, and dashing up the stairs before I could gasp in shock.

  "What are we doing?" I asked breathlessly as she set me down in a darkroom somewhere off the second-story hall.

  "Trying to confuse the smell. It won't work for long, but it might helpget you out." I could hear her clothes falling to the floor.

  "I don't think I'll fit…" I hesitated, but her hands were abruptlypulling my shirt over my head. I quickly stripped my jeans off myself.

  She handed me something, it felt like a shirt. I struggled to get my armsthrough the right holes. As soon as I was done she handed me her slacks.

  I yanked them on, but I couldn't get my feet out; they were too long. Shedeftly rolled the hems a few times so I could stand. Somehow she wasalready in my clothes. She pulled me back to the stairs, where Alicestood, a small leather bag in one hand. They each grabbed one of myelbows and half-carried me as they flew down the stairs.

  It appeared that everything had been settled downstairs in our absence.

  Edward and Emmett were ready to leave, Emmett carrying a heavy-lookingbackpack over his shoulder. Carlisle was handing something small to Esme.

  He turned and handed Alice the same thing — it was a tiny silver cellphone.

  "Esme and Rosalie will be taking your truck, Bella," he told me as hepassed. I nodded, glancing warily at Rosalie. She was glowering atCarlisle with a resentful expression.

  "Alice, Jasper — take the Mercedes. You'll need the dark tint in thesouth."They nodded as well.

  "We're taking the Jeep." I was surprised to see that Carlisle intended to go with Edward. Irealized suddenly, with a stab of fear, that they made up the huntingparty.

  "Alice," Carlisle asked, "will they take the bait?"Everyone watched Alice as she closed her eyes and became incredibly still.

  Finally her eyes opened. "He'll track you. The woman will follow thetruck. We should be able to leave after that." Her voice was certain.

  "Let's go." Carlisle began to walk toward the kitchen.

  But Edward was at my side at once. He caught me up in his iron grip,crushing me to him. He seemed unaware of his watching family as he pulledmy face to his, lifting my feet off the floor. For the shortest second,his lips were icy and hard against mine. Then it was over. He set medown, still holding my face, his glorious eyes burning into mine.

  His eyes went blank, curiously dead, as he turned away.

  And they were gone.

  We stood there, the others looking away from me as the tears streakednoiselessly down my face.

  The silent moment dragged on, and then Esme's phone vibrated in her hand.

  It flashed to her ear.

  "Now," she said. Rosalie stalked out the front door without anotherglance in my direction, but Esme touched my cheek as she passed.

  "Be safe." Her whisper lingered behind them as they slipped out the door.

  I heard my truck start thunderously, and then fade away.

  Jasper and Alice waited. Alice's phone seemed to be at her ear before itbuzzed.

  "Edward says the woman is on Esme's trail. I'll get the car." Shevanished into the shadows the way Edward had gone.

  Jasper and I looked at each other. He stood across the length of theentryway from me… being careful.

  "You're wrong, you know," he said quietly.

  "What?" I gasped.

  "I can feel what you're feeling now — and you are worth it.""I'm not," I mumbled. "If anything happens to them, it will be fornothing.""You're wrong," he repeated, smiling kindly at me.

  I heard nothing, but then Alice stepped through the front door and cametoward me with her arms held out.

  "May I?" she asked.

  "You're the first one to ask permission." I smiled wryly.

  She lifted me in her slender arms as easily as Emmett had, shielding meprotectively, and then we flew out the door, leaving the lights brightbehind us.