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Chapter 22 Hide and Seek

Chapter 22 Hide and Seek

    It had taken much less time than I'd thought — all the terror, thedespair, the shattering of my heart. The minutes were ticking by moreslowly than usual. Jasper still hadn't come back when I returned toAlice. I was afraid to be in the same room with her, afraid that shewould guess… and afraid to hide from her for the same reason.

  I would have thought I was far beyond the ability to be surprised, mythoughts tortured and unstable, but I was surprised when I saw Alice bentover the desk, gripping the edge with two hands.

   "Alice?"She didn't react when I called her name, but her head was slowly rockingside to side, and I saw her face. Her eyes were blank, dazed… My thoughtsflew to my mother. Was I already too late?

  I hurried to her side, reaching out automatically to touch her hand.

  "Alice!" Jasper's voice whipped, and then he was right behind her, hishands curling over hers, loosening them from their grip on the table.

  Across the room, the door swung shut with a low click.

  "What is it?" he demanded.

  She turned her face away from me, into his chest. "Bella," she said.

  "I'm right here," I replied.

  Her head twisted around, her eyes locking on mine, their expression stillstrangely blank. I realized at once that she hadn't been speaking to me,she'd been answering Jasper's question.

  "What did you see?" I said — and there was no question in my flat,uncaring voice.

  Jasper looked at me sharply. I kept my expression vacant and waited. Hiseyes were confused as they flickered swiftly between Alice's face andmine, feeling the chaos… for I could guess what Alice had seen now.

  I felt a tranquil atmosphere settle around me. I welcomed it, using it tokeep my emotions disciplined, under control.

  Alice, too, recovered herself.

  "Nothing, really," she answered finally, her voice remarkably calm andconvincing. "Just the same room as before."She finally looked at me, her expression smooth and withdrawn. "Did youwant breakfast?""No, I'll eat at the airport." I was very calm, too. I went to thebathroom to shower. Almost as if I were borrowing Jasper's strange extrasense, I could feel Alice's wild — though well-concealed — desperation tohave me out of the room, to be alone with Jasper. So she could tell himthat they were doing something wrong, that they were going to fail…I got ready methodically, concentrating on each little task. I left myhair down, swirling around me, covering my face. The peaceful mood Jaspercreated worked its way through me and helped me think clearly. Helped meplan. I dug through my bag until I found my sock full of money. I emptiedit into my pocket.

  I was anxious to get to the airport, and glad when we left by seven. Isat alone this time in the back of the dark car. Alice leaned against thedoor, her face toward Jasper but, behind her sunglasses, shooting glancesin my direction every few seconds.

  "Alice?" I asked indifferently.

  She was wary. "Yes?""How does it work? The things that you see?" I stared out the sidewindow, and my voice sounded bored. "Edward said it wasn't definite… thatthings change?" It was harder than I would have thought to say his name.

  That must have been what alerted Jasper, why a fresh wave of serenityfilled the car.

  "Yes, things change…" she murmured — hopefully, I thought. "Some thingsare more certain than others… like the weather. People are harder. I onlysee the course they're on while they're on it. Once they change theirminds — make a new decision, no matter how small — the whole futureshifts." I nodded thoughtfully. "So you couldn't see James in Phoenix until hedecided to come here.""Yes," she agreed, wary again.

  And she hadn't seen me in the mirror room with James until I'd made thedecision to meet him there. I tried not to think about what else shemight have seen. I didn't want my panic to make Jasper more suspicious.

  They would be watching me twice as carefully now, anyway, after Alice'svision. This was going to be impossible.

  We got to the airport. Luck was with me, or maybe it was just good odds.

  Edward's plane was landing in terminal four, the largest terminal, wheremost flights landed — so it wasn't surprising that his was. But it wasthe terminal I needed: the biggest, the most confusing. And there was adoor on level three that might be the only chance.

  We parked on the fourth floor of the huge garage. I led the way, for oncemore knowledgeable about my surroundings than they were. We took theelevator down to level three, where the passengers unloaded. Alice andJasper spent a long time looking at the departing flights board. I couldhear them discussing the pros and cons of New York, Atlanta, Chicago.

  Places I'd never seen. And would never see.

  I waited for my opportunity, impatient, unable to stop my toe fromtapping. We sat in the long rows of chairs by the metal detectors, Jasperand Alice pretending to people-watch but really watching me. Every inch Ishifted in my seat was followed by a quick glance out of the corner oftheir eyes. It was hopeless. Should I run? Would they dare to stop mephysically in this public place? Or would they simply follow?

  I pulled the unmarked envelope out of my pocket and set it on top ofAlice's black leather bag. She looked at me.

  "My letter," I said. She nodded, tucking it under the top flap. He wouldfind it soon enough.

  The minutes passed and Edward's arrival grew closer. It was amazing howevery cell in my body seemed to know he was coming, to long for hiscoming. That made it very hard. I found myself trying to think of excusesto stay, to see him first and then make my escape. But I knew that wasimpossible if I was going to have any chance to get away.

  Several times Alice offered to go get breakfast with me. Later, I toldher, not yet.

  I stared at the arrival board, watching as flight after flight arrived ontime. The flight from Seattle crept closer to the top of the board.

  And then, when I had only thirty minutes to make my escape, the numberschanged. His plane was ten minutes early. I had no more time.

  "I think I'll eat now," I said quickly.

  Alice stood. "I'll come with you.""Do you mind if Jasper comes instead?" I asked. "I'm feeling a little…" Ididn't finish the sentence. My eyes were wild enough to convey what Ididn't say.

  Jasper stood up. Alice's eyes were confused, but — I saw to my relief—not suspicious. She must be attributing the change in her vision to somemaneuver of the tracker's rather than a betrayal by me.

  Jasper walked silently beside me, his hand on the small of my back, as ifhe were guiding me. I pretended a lack of interest in the first fewairport cafes, my head scanning for what I really wanted. And there itwas, around the corner, out of Alice's sharp sight: the level-threeladies' room.

  "Do you mind?" I asked Jasper as we passed. "I'll just be a moment." "I'll be right here," he said.

  As soon as the door shut behind me, I was running. I remembered the timeI had gotten lost from this bathroom, because it had two exits.

  Outside the far door it was only a short sprint to the elevators, and ifJasper stayed where he said he would, I'd never be in his line of sight.

  I didn't look behind me as I ran. This was my only chance, and even if hesaw me, I had to keep going. People stared, but I ignored them. Aroundthe corner the elevators were waiting, and I dashed forward, throwing myhand between the closing doors of a full elevator headed down. I squeezedin beside the irritated passengers, and checked to make sure that thebutton for level one had been pushed. It was already lit, and the doorsclosed.

  As soon as the door opened I was off again, to the sound of annoyedmurmurs behind me. I slowed myself as I passed the security guards by theluggage carousels, only to break into a run again as the exit doors cameinto view. I had no way of knowing if Jasper was looking for me yet.

  I would have only seconds if he was following my scent. I jumped out theautomatic doors, nearly smacking into the glass when they opened tooslowly.

  Along the crowded curb there wasn't a cab in sight.

  I had no time. Alice and Jasper were either about to realize I was gone,or they already had. They would find me in a heartbeat.

  A shuttle to the Hyatt was just closing its doors a few feet behind me.

  "Wait!" I called, running, waving at the driver.

  "This is the shuttle to the Hyatt," the driver said in confusion as heopened the doors.

  "Yes," I huffed, "that's where I'm going." I hurried up the steps.

  He looked askance at my luggage-less state, but then shrugged, not caringenough to ask.

  Most of the seats were empty. I sat as far from the other travelers aspossible, and watched out the window as first the sidewalk, and then theairport, drifted away. I couldn't help imagining Edward, where he wouldstand at the edge of the road when he found the end of my trail. Icouldn't cry yet, I told myself. I still had a long way to go.

  My luck held. In front of the Hyatt, a tired-looking couple was gettingtheir last suitcase out of the trunk of a cab. I jumped out of theshuttle and ran to the cab, sliding into the seat behind the driver. Thetired couple and the shuttle driver stared at me.

  I told the surprised cabbie my mother's address. "I need to get there assoon as possible.""That's in Scottsdale," he complained.

  I threw four twenties over the seat.

  "Will that be enough?""Sure, kid, no problem."I sat back against the seat, folding my arms across my lap. The familiarcity began to rush around me, but I didn't look out the windows. Iexerted myself to maintain control. I was determined not to lose myselfat this point, now that my plan was successfully completed. There was nopoint in indulging in more terror, more anxiety. My path was set. I justhad to follow it now.

  So, instead of panicking, I closed my eyes and spent the twenty minutes'

   drive with Edward.

  I imagined that I had stayed at the airport to meet Edward. I visualizedhow I would stand on my toes, the sooner to see his face. How quickly,how gracefully he would move through the crowds of people separating us.

  And then I would run to close those last few feet between us — recklessas always — and I would be in his marble arms, finally safe.

  I wondered where we would have gone. North somewhere, so he could beoutside in the day. Or maybe somewhere very remote, so we could lay inthe sun together again. I imagined him by the shore, his skin sparklinglike the sea. It wouldn't matter how long we had to hide. To be trappedin a hotel room with him would be a kind of heaven. So many questions Istill had for him. I could talk to him forever, never sleeping, neverleaving his side.

  I could see his face so clearly now… almost hear his voice. And, despiteall the horror and hopelessness, I was fleetingly happy. So involved wasI in my escapist daydreams, I lost all track of the seconds racing by.

  "Hey, what was the number?"The cabbie's question punctured my fantasy, letting all the colors runout of my lovely delusions. Fear, bleak and hard, was waiting to fill theempty space they left behind.

  "Fifty-eight twenty-one." My voice sounded strangled. The cabbie lookedat me, nervous that I was having an episode or something.

  "Here we are, then." He was anxious to get me out of his car, probablyhoping I wouldn't ask for my change.

  "Thank you," I whispered. There was no need to be afraid, I remindedmyself. The house was empty. I had to hurry; my mom was waiting for me,frightened, depending on me.

  I ran to the door, reaching up automatically to grab the key under theeave. I unlocked the door. It was dark inside, empty, normal. I ran tothe phone, turning on the kitchen light on my way. There, on thewhiteboard, was a ten-digit number written in a small, neat hand. Myfingers stumbled over the keypad, making mistakes. I had to hang up andstart again. I concentrated only on the buttons this time, carefullypressing each one in turn. I was successful. I held the phone to my earwith a shaking hand. It rang only once.

  "Hello, Bella," that easy voice answered. "That was very quick. I'mimpressed.""Is my mom all right?""She's perfectly fine. Don't worry, Bella, I have no quarrel with her.

  Unless you didn't come alone, of course." Light, amused.

  "I'm alone." I'd never been more alone in my entire life.

  "Very good. Now, do you know the ballet studio just around the cornerfrom your home?""Yes. I know how to get there.""Well, then, I'll see you very soon."I hung up.

  I ran from the room, through the door, out into the baking heat.

  There was no time to look back at my house, and I didn't want to see itas it was now — empty, a symbol of fear instead of sanctuary. The lastperson to walk through those familiar rooms was my enemy.

  From the corner of my eye, I could almost see my mother standing in theshade of the big eucalyptus tree where I'd played as a child. Or kneeling by the little plot of dirt around the mailbox, the cemetery of all theflowers she'd tried to grow. The memories were better than any reality Iwould see today. But I raced away from them, toward the corner, leavingeverything behind me.

  I felt so slow, like I was running through wet sand — I couldn't seem toget enough purchase from the concrete. I tripped several times, oncefalling, catching myself with my hands, scraping them on the sidewalk,and then lurching up to plunge forward again. But at last I made it tothe corner. Just another street now; I ran, sweat pouring down my face,gasping. The sun was hot on my skin, too bright as it bounced off thewhite concrete and blinded me. I felt dangerously exposed. More fiercelythan I would have dreamed I was capable of, I wished for the green,protective forests of Forks… of home.

  When I rounded the last corner, onto Cactus, I could see the studio,looking just as I remembered it. The parking lot in front was empty, thevertical blinds in all the windows drawn. I couldn't run anymore — Icouldn't breathe; exertion and fear had gotten the best of me. I thoughtof my mother to keep my feet moving, one in front of the other.

  As I got closer, I could see the sign inside the door. It was handwrittenon hot pink paper; it said the dance studio was closed for spring break.

  I touched the handle, tugged on it cautiously. It was unlocked. I foughtto catch my breath, and opened the door.

  The lobby was dark and empty, cool, the air conditioner thrumming. Theplastic molded chairs were stacked along the walls, and the carpetsmelled like shampoo. The west dance floor was dark, I could see throughthe open viewing window. The east dance floor, the bigger room, was lit.

  But the blinds were closed on the window.

  Terror seized me so strongly that I was literally trapped by it. Icouldn't make my feet move forward.

  And then my mother's voice called.

  "Bella? Bella?" That same tone of hysterical panic. I sprinted to thedoor, to the sound of her voice.

  "Bella, you scared me! Don't you ever do that to me again!" Her voicecontinued as I ran into the long, high-ceilinged room.

  I stared around me, trying to find where her voice was coming from. Iheard her laugh, and I whirled to the sound.

  There she was, on the TV screen, tousling my hair in relief. It wasThanksgiving, and I was twelve. We'd gone to see my grandmother inCalifornia, the last year before she died. We went to the beach one day,and I'd leaned too far over the edge of the pier. She'd seen my feetflailing, trying to reclaim my balance. "Bella? Bella?" she'd called tome in fear.

  And then the TV screen was blue.

  I turned slowly. He was standing very still by the back exit, so still Ihadn't noticed him at first. In his hand was a remote control. We staredat each other for a long moment, and then he smiled.

  He walked toward me, quite close, and then passed me to put the remotedown next to the VCR. I turned carefully to watch him.

  "Sorry about that, Bella, but isn't it better that your mother didn'treally have to be involved in all this?" His voice was courteous, kind.

  And suddenly it hit me. My mother was safe. She was still in Florida.

  She'd never gotten my message. She'd never been terrified by the dark redeyes in the abnormally pale face before me. She was safe.

  "Yes," I answered, my voice saturated with relief.

  "You don't sound angry that I tricked you." "I'm not." My sudden high made me brave. What did it matter now? It wouldsoon be over. Charlie and Mom would never be harmed, would never have tofear. I felt almost giddy. Some analytical part of my mind warned me thatI was dangerously close to snapping from the stress.

  "How odd. You really mean it." His dark eyes assessed me with interest.

  The irises were nearly black, just a hint of ruby around the edges.

  Thirsty. "I will give your strange coven this much, you humans can bequite interesting. I guess I can see the draw of observing you. It'samazing — some of you seem to have no sense of your own self-interest atall."He was standing a few feet away from me, arms folded, looking at mecuriously. There was no menace in his face or stance. He was so veryaverage-looking, nothing remarkable about his face or body at all. Justthe white skin, the circled eyes I'd grown so used to. He wore a paleblue, long-sleeved shirt and faded blue jeans.

  "I suppose you're going to tell me that your boyfriend will avenge you?"he asked, hopefully it seemed to me.

  "No, I don't think so. At least, I asked him not to.""And what was his reply to that?""I don't know." It was strangely easy to converse with this genteelhunter. "I left him a letter.""How romantic, a last letter. And do you think he will honor it?" Hisvoice was just a little harder now, a hint of sarcasm marring his politetone.

  "I hope so.""Hmmm. Well, our hopes differ then. You see, this was all just a littletoo easy, too quick. To be quite honest, I'm disappointed. I expected amuch greater challenge. And, after all, I only needed a little luck."I waited in silence.

  "When Victoria couldn't get to your father, I had her find out more aboutyou. There was no sense in running all over the planet chasing you downwhen I could comfortably wait for you in a place of my choosing. So,after I talked to Victoria, I decided to come to Phoenix to pay yourmother a visit. I'd heard you say you were going home. At first, I neverdreamed you meant it. But then I wondered. Humans can be verypredictable; they like to be somewhere familiar, somewhere safe. Andwouldn't it be the perfect ploy, to go to the last place you should bewhen you're hiding — the place that you said you'd be.

  "But of course I wasn't sure, it was just a hunch. I usually get afeeling about the prey that I'm hunting, a sixth sense, if you will. Ilistened to your message when I got to your mother's house, but of courseI couldn't be sure where you'd called from. It was very useful to haveyour number, but you could have been in Antarctica for all I knew, andthe game wouldn't work unless you were close by.

  "Then your boyfriend got on a plane to Phoenix. Victoria was monitoringthem for me, naturally; in a game with this many players, I couldn't beworking alone. And so they told me what I'd hoped, that you were hereafter all. I was prepared; I'd already been through your charming homemovies. And then it was simply a matter of the bluff.

  "Very easy, you know, not really up to my standards. So, you see, I'mhoping you're wrong about your boyfriend. Edward, isn't it?"I didn't answer. The bravado was wearing off. I sensed that he was comingto the end of his gloat. It wasn't meant for me anyway. There was noglory in beating me, a weak human.

  "Would you mind, very much, if I left a little letter of my own for your Edward?"He took a step back and touched a palm-sized digital video camerabalanced carefully on top of the stereo. A small red light indicated thatit was already running. He adjusted it a few times, widened the frame. Istared at him in horror.

  "I'm sorry, but I just don't think he'll be able to resist hunting meafter he watches this. And I wouldn't want him to miss anything. It wasall for him, of course. You're simply a human, who unfortunately was inthe wrong place, at the wrong time, and indisputably running with thewrong crowd, I might add."He stepped toward me, smiling. "Before we begin…"I felt a curl of nausea in the pit of my stomach as he spoke. This wassomething I had not anticipated.

  "I would just like to rub it in, just a little bit. The answer was thereall along, and I was so afraid Edward would see that and ruin my fun. Ithappened once, oh, ages ago. The one and only time my prey escaped me.

  "You see, the vampire who was so stupidly fond of this little victim madethe choice that your Edward was too weak to make. When the old one knew Iwas after his little friend, he stole her from the asylum where he worked— I never will understand the obsession some vampires seem to form withyou humans — and as soon as he freed her he made her safe. She didn'teven seem to notice the pain, poor little creature. She'd been stuck inthat black hole of a cell for so long. A hundred years earlier and shewould have been burned at the stake for her visions. In thenineteen-twenties it was the asylum and the shock treatments. When sheopened her eyes, strong with her fresh youth, it was like she'd neverseen the sun before. The old vampire made her a strong new vampire, andthere was no reason for me to touch her then." He sighed. "I destroyedthe old one in vengeance.""Alice," I breathed, astonished.

  "Yes, your little friend. I was surprised to see her in the clearing. SoI guess her coven ought to be able to derive some comfort from thisexperience. I get you, but they get her. The one victim who escaped me,quite an honor, actually.

  "And she did smell so delicious. I still regret that I never got totaste… She smelled even better than you do. Sorry — I don't mean to beoffensive. You have a very nice smell. Floral, somehow…"He took another step toward me, till he was just inches away. He lifted alock of my hair and sniffed at it delicately. Then he gently patted thestrand back into place, and I felt his cool fingertips against my throat.

  He reached up to stroke my cheek once quickly with his thumb, his facecurious. I wanted so badly to run, but I was frozen. I couldn't evenflinch away.

  "No," he murmured to himself as he dropped his hand, "I don'tunderstand." He sighed. "Well, I suppose we should get on with it. Andthen I can call your friends and tell them where to find you, and mylittle message."I was definitely sick now. There was pain coming, I could see it in hiseyes. It wouldn't be enough for him to win, to feed and go. There wouldbe no quick end like I'd been counting on. My knees began to shake, and Iwas afraid I was going to fall.

  He stepped back, and began to circle, casually, as if he were trying toget a better view of a statue in a museum. His face was still open andfriendly as he decided where to start.

  Then he slumped forward, into a crouch I recognized, and his pleasantsmile slowly widened, grew, till it wasn't a smile at all but acontortion of teeth, exposed and glistening.

   I couldn't help myself— I tried to run. As useless as I knew it would be,as weak as my knees already were, panic took over and I bolted for theemergency door.

  He was in front of me in a flash. I didn't see if he used his hand or hisfoot, it was too fast. A crushing blow struck my chest — I felt myselfflying backward, and then heard the crunch as my head bashed into themirrors. The glass buckled, some of the pieces shattering and splinteringon the floor beside me.

  I was too stunned to feel the pain. I couldn't breathe yet.

  He walked toward me slowly.

  "That's a very nice effect," he said, examining the mess of glass, hisvoice friendly again. "I thought this room would be visually dramatic formy little film. That's why I picked this place to meet you. It's perfect,isn't it?"I ignored him, scrambling on my hands and knees, crawling toward theother door.

  He was over me at once, his foot stepping down hard on my leg. I heardthe sickening snap before I felt it. But then I did feel it, and Icouldn't hold back my scream of agony. I twisted up to reach for my leg,and he was standing over me, smiling.

  "Would you like to rethink your last request?" he asked pleasantly. Histoe nudged my broken leg and I heard a piercing scream. With a shock, Irealized it was mine.

  "Wouldn't you rather have Edward try to find me?" he prompted.

  "No!" I croaked. "No, Edward, don't—" And then something smashed into myface, throwing me back into the broken mirrors.

  Over the pain of my leg, I felt the sharp rip across my scalp where theglass cut into it. And then the warm wetness began to spread through myhair with alarming speed. I could feel it soaking the shoulder of myshirt, hear it dripping on the wood below. The smell of it twisted mystomach.

  Through the nausea and dizziness I saw something that gave me a sudden,final shred of hope. His eyes, merely intent before, now burned with anuncontrollable need. The blood — spreading crimson across my white shirt,pooling rapidly on the floor — was driving him mad with thirst. No matterhis original intentions, he couldn't draw this out much longer.

  Let it be quick now, was all I could hope as the flow of blood from myhead sucked my consciousness away with it. My eyes were closing.

  I heard, as if from underwater, the final growl of the hunter. I couldsee, through the long tunnels my eyes had become, his dark shape comingtoward me. With my last effort, my hand instinctively raised to protectmy face. My eyes closed, and I drifted.