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Chapter 24 An Impasse

Chapter 24 An Impasse

    My eyes opened to a bright, white light. I was in an unfamiliar room, awhite room. The wall beside me was covered in long vertical blinds; overmy head, the glaring lights blinded me. I was propped up on a hard,uneven bed — a bed with rails. The pillows were flat and lumpy. There wasan annoying beeping sound somewhere close by. I hoped that meant I wasstill alive. Death shouldn't be this uncomfortable.

  My hands were all twisted up with clear tubes, and something was taped across my face, under my nose. I lifted my hand to rip it off.

  "No, you don't." And cool fingers caught my hand.

  "Edward?" I turned my head slightly, and his exquisite face was justinches from mine, his chin resting on the edge of my pillow. I realizedagain that I was alive, this time with gratitude and elation. "Oh,Edward, I'm so sorry!""Shhhh," he shushed me. "Everything's all right now.""What happened?" I couldn't remember clearly, and my mind rebelledagainst me as I tried to recall.

  "I was almost too late. I could have been too late," he whispered, hisvoice tormented.

  "I was so stupid, Edward. I thought he had my mom.""He tricked us all.""I need to call Charlie and my mom," I realized through the haze.

  "Alice called them. Renée is here — well, here in the hospital. She'sgetting something to eat right now.""She's here?" I tried to sit up, but the spinning in my head accelerated,and his hand pushed me gently down onto the pillows.

  "She'll be back soon," he promised. "And you need to stay still.""But what did you tell her?" I panicked. I had no interest in beingsoothed. My mom was here and I was recovering from a vampire attack. "Whydid you tell her I'm here?""You fell down two flights of stairs and through a window." He paused.

  "You have to admit, it could happen."I sighed, and it hurt. I stared down at my body under the sheet, the hugelump that was my leg.

  "How bad am I?" I asked.

  "You have a broken leg, four broken ribs, some cracks in your skull,bruises covering every inch of your skin, and you've lost a lot of blood.

  They gave you a few transfusions. I didn't like it — it made you smellall wrong for a while.""That must have been a nice change for you.""No, I like how you smell.""How did you do it?" I asked quietly. He knew what I meant at once.

  "I'm not sure." He looked away from my wondering eyes, lifting mygauze-wrapped hand from the bed and holding it gently in his, careful notto disrupt the wire connecting me to one of the monitors.

  I waited patiently for the rest.

  He sighed without returning my gaze. "It was impossible… to stop," hewhispered. "Impossible. But I did." He looked up finally, with half asmile. "I must love you.""Don't I taste as good as I smell?" I smiled in response. That hurt myface.

  "Even better — better than I'd imagined.""I'm sorry," I apologized.

  He raised his eyes to the ceiling. "Of all the things to apologize for." "What should I apologize for?""For very nearly taking yourself away from me forever.""I'm sorry," I apologized again.

  "I know why you did it." His voice was comforting. "It was stillirrational, of course. You should have waited for me, you should havetold me.""You wouldn't have let me go.""No," he agreed in a grim tone, "I wouldn't."Some very unpleasant memories were beginning to come back to me. Ishuddered, and then winced.

  He was instantly anxious. "Bella, what's wrong?""What happened to James?""After I pulled him off you, Emmett and Jasper took care of him." Therewas a fierce note of regret in his voice.

  This confused me. "I didn't see Emmett and Jasper there.""They had to leave the room… there was a lot of blood.""But you stayed.""Yes, I stayed.""And Alice, and Carlisle…" I said in wonder.

  "They love you, too, you know."A flash of painful images from the last time I'd seen Alice reminded meof something. "Did Alice see the tape?" I asked anxiously.

  "Yes." A new sound darkened his voice, a tone of sheer hatred.

  "She was always in the dark, that's why she didn't remember.""I know. She understands now." His voice was even, but his face was blackwith fury.

  I tried to reach his face with my free hand, but something stopped me. Iglanced down to see the IV pulling at my hand.

  "Ugh." I winced.

  "What is it?" he asked anxiously — distracted, but not enough. Thebleakness did not entirely leave his eyes.

  "Needles," I explained, looking away from the one in my hand. Iconcentrated on a warped ceiling tile and tried to breathe deeply despitethe ache in my ribs.

  "Afraid of a needle," he muttered to himself under his breath, shakinghis head. "Oh, a sadistic vampire, intent on torturing her to death,sure, no problem, she runs off to meet him. An IV, on the other hand…"I rolled my eyes. I was pleased to discover that this reaction, at least,was pain-free. I decided to change the subject.

  "Why are you here?" I asked.

  He stared at me, first confusion and then hurt touching his eyes. Hisbrows pulled together as he frowned. "Do you want me to leave?""No!" I protested, horrified by the thought. "No, I meant, why does my mother think you're here? I need to have my story straight before shegets back.""Oh," he said, and his forehead smoothed back into marble. "I came toPhoenix to talk some sense into you, to convince you to come back toForks." His wide eyes were so earnest and sincere, I almost believed himmyself. "You agreed to see me, and you drove out to the hotel where I wasstaying with Carlisle and Alice — of course I was here with parentalsupervision," he inserted virtuously, "but you tripped on the stairs onthe way to my room and… well, you know the rest. You don't need toremember any details, though; you have a good excuse to be a littlemuddled about the finer points."I thought about it for a moment. "There are a few flaws with that story.

  Like no broken windows.""Not really," he said. "Alice had a little bit too much fun fabricatingevidence. It's all been taken care of very convincingly — you couldprobably sue the hotel if you wanted to. You have nothing to worryabout," he promised, stroking my cheek with the lightest of touches.

  "Your only job now is to heal."I wasn't so lost to the soreness or the fog of medication that I didn'trespond to his touch. The beeping of the monitor jumped arounderratically — now he wasn't the only one who could hear my heartmisbehave.

  "That's going to be embarrassing," I muttered to myself.

  He chuckled, and a speculative look came into his eye. "Hmm, I wonder…"He leaned in slowly; the beeping noise accelerated wildly before his lipseven touched me. But when they did, though with the most gentle ofpressure, the beeping stopped altogether.

  He pulled back abruptly, his anxious expression turning to relief as themonitor reported the restarting of my heart.

  "It seems that I'm going to have to be even more careful with you thanusual." He frowned.

  "I was not finished kissing you," I complained. "Don't make me come overthere."He grinned, and bent to press his lips lightly to mine. The monitor wentwild.

  But then his lips were taut. He pulled away.

  "I think I hear your mother," he said, grinning again.

  "Don't leave me," I cried, an irrational surge of panic flooding throughme. I couldn't let him go — he might disappear from me again.

  He read the terror in my eyes for a short second. "I won't," he promisedsolemnly, and then he smiled. "I'll take a nap."He moved from the hard plastic chair by my side to the turquoisefaux-leather recliner at the foot of my bed, leaning it all the way back,and closing his eyes. He was perfectly still.

  "Don't forget to breathe," I whispered sarcastically. He took a deepbreath, his eyes still closed.

  I could hear my mother now. She was talking to someone, maybe a nurse,and she sounded tired and upset. I wanted to jump out of the bed and runto her, to calm her, promise that everything was fine. But I wasn't inany sort of shape for jumping, so I waited impatiently.

  The door opened a crack, and she peeked through.

  "Mom!" I whispered, my voice full of love and relief.

   She took in Edward's still form on the recliner, and tiptoed to mybedside.

  "He never leaves, does he?" she mumbled to herself.

  "Mom, I'm so glad to see you!"She bent down to hug me gently, and I felt warm tears falling on mycheeks.

  "Bella, I was so upset!""I'm sorry, Mom. But everything's fine now, it's okay," I comforted her.

  "I'm just glad to finally see your eyes open." She sat on the edge of mybed.

  I suddenly realized I didn't have any idea when it was. "How long havethey been closed?""It's Friday, hon, you've been out for a while.""Friday?" I was shocked. I tried to remember what day it had been when…but I didn't want to think about that.

  "They had to keep you sedated for a while, honey — you've got a lot ofinjuries.""I know." I could feel them.

  "You're lucky Dr. Cullen was there. He's such a nice man… very young,though. And he looks more like a model than a doctor…""You met Carlisle?""And Edward's sister Alice. She's a lovely girl.""She is," I agreed wholeheartedly.

  She glanced over her shoulder at Edward, lying with his eyes closed inthe chair. "You didn't tell me you had such good friends in Forks."I cringed, and then moaned.

  "What hurts?" she demanded anxiously, turning back to me. Edward's eyesflashed to my face.

  "It's fine," I assured them. "I just have to remember not to move." Helapsed back into his phony slumber.

  I took advantage of my mother's momentary distraction to keep the subjectfrom returning to my less-than-candid behavior. "Where's Phil?" I askedquickly.

  "Florida — oh, Bella! You'll never guess! Just when we were about toleave, the best news!""Phil got signed?" I guessed.

  "Yes! How did you guess! The Suns, can you believe it?""That's great, Mom," I said as enthusiastically as I could manage, thoughI had little idea what that meant.

  "And you'll like Jacksonville so much," she gushed while I stared at hervacantly. "I was a little bit worried when Phil started talking aboutAkron, what with the snow and everything, because you know how I hate thecold, but now Jacksonville! It's always sunny, and the humidity reallyisn't that bad. We found the cutest house, yellow, with white trim, and aporch just like in an old movie, and this huge oak tree, and it's just afew minutes from the ocean, and you'll have your own bathroom —" "Wait, Mom!" I interrupted. Edward still had his eyes closed, but helooked too tense to pass as asleep. "What are you talking about? I'm notgoing to Florida. I live in Forks.""But you don't have to anymore, silly," she laughed. "Phil will be ableto be around so much more now… we've talked about it a lot, and what I'mgoing to do is trade off on the away games, half the time with you, halfthe time with him.""Mom." I hesitated, wondering how best to be diplomatic about this. "Iwant to live in Forks. I'm already settled in at school, and I have acouple of girlfriends" — she glanced toward Edward again when I remindedher of friends, so I tried another direction — "and Charlie needs me.

  He's just all alone up there, and he can't cook at all.""You want to stay in Forks?" she asked, bewildered. The idea wasinconceivable to her. And then her eyes flickered back toward Edward.

  "Why?""I told you — school, Charlie — ouch!" I'd shrugged. Not a good idea.

  Her hands fluttered helplessly over me, trying to find a safe place topat. She made do with my forehead; it was unbandaged.

  "Bella, honey, you hate Forks," she reminded me.

  "It's not so bad."She frowned and looked back and forth between Edward and me, this timevery deliberately.

  "Is it this boy?" she whispered.

  I opened my mouth to lie, but her eyes were scrutinizing my face, and Iknew she would see through that.

  "He's part of it," I admitted. No need to confess how big a part. "So,have you had a chance to talk with Edward?" I asked.

  "Yes." She hesitated, looking at his perfectly still form. "And I want totalk to you about that."Uh-oh. "What about?" I asked.

  "I think that boy is in love with you," she accused, keeping her voicelow.

  "I think so, too," I confided.

  "And how do you feel about him?" She only poorly concealed the ragingcuriosity in her voice.

  I sighed, looking away. As much as I loved my mom, this was not aconversation I wanted to have with her. "I'm pretty crazy about him."There — that sounded like something a teenager with her first boyfriendmight say.

  "Well, he seems very nice, and, my goodness, he's incrediblygood-looking, but you're so young, Bella…" Her voice was unsure; as faras I could remember, this was the first time since I was eight that she'dcome close to trying to sound like a parental authority. I recognized thereasonable-but-firm tone of voice from talks I'd had with her about men.

  "I know that, Mom. Don't worry about it. It's just a crush," I soothedher.

  "That's right," she agreed, easily pleased.

  Then she sighed and glanced guiltily over her shoulder at the big, roundclock on the wall.

   "Do you need to go?"She bit her lip. "Phil's supposed to call in a little while… I didn'tknow you were going to wake up…""No problem, Mom." I tried to tone down the relief so she wouldn't gether feelings hurt. "I won't be alone.""I'll be back soon. I've been sleeping here, you know," she announced,proud of herself.

  "Oh, Mom, you don't have to do that! You can sleep at home — I'll nevernotice." The swirl of painkillers in my brain was making it hard toconcentrate even now, though, apparently, I'd been sleeping for days.

  "I was too nervous," she admitted sheepishly. "There's been some crime inthe neighborhood, and I don't like being there alone.""Crime?" I asked in alarm.

  "Someone broke into that dance studio around the corner from the houseand burned it to the ground — there's nothing left at all! And they lefta stolen car right out front. Do you remember when you used to dancethere, honey?""I remember." I shivered, and winced.

  "I can stay, baby, if you need me.""No, Mom, I'll be fine. Edward will be with me."She looked like that might be why she wanted to stay. "I'll be backtonight." It sounded as much like a warning as it sounded like a promise,and she glanced at Edward again as she said it.

  "I love you, Mom.""I love you, too, Bella. Try to be more careful when you walk, honey, Idon't want to lose you."Edward's eyes stayed closed, but a wide grin flashed across his face.

  A nurse came bustling in then to check all my tubes and wires. My motherkissed my forehead, patted my gauze-wrapped hand, and left.

  The nurse was checking the paper readout on my heart monitor.

  "Are you feeling anxious, honey? Your heart rate got a little high there.""I'm fine," I assured her.

  "I'll tell your RN that you're awake. She'll be in to see you in aminute."As soon as she closed the door, Edward was at my side.

  "You stole a car?" I raised my eyebrows.

  He smiled, unrepentant. "It was a good car, very fast.""How was your nap?" I asked.

  "Interesting." His eyes narrowed.

  "What?"He looked down while he answered. "I'm surprised. I thought Florida… andyour mother… well, I thought that's what you would want."I stared at him uncomprehendingly. "But you'd be stuck inside all day inFlorida. You'd only be able to come out at night, just like a realvampire." He almost smiled, but not quite. And then his face was grave. "I wouldstay in Forks, Bella. Or somewhere like it," he explained. "Someplacewhere I couldn't hurt you anymore."It didn't sink in at first. I continued to stare at him blankly as thewords one by one clicked into place in my head like a ghastly puzzle. Iwas barely conscious of the sound of my heart accelerating, though, as mybreathing became hyperventilation, I was aware of the sharp aching in myprotesting ribs.

  He didn't say anything; he watched my face warily as the pain that hadnothing to do with broken bones, pain that was infinitely worse,threatened to crush me.

  And then another nurse walked purposefully into the room. Edward satstill as stone as she took in my expression with a practiced eye beforeturning to the monitors.

  "Time for more pain meds, sweetheart?" she asked kindly, tapping the IVfeed.

  "No, no," I mumbled, trying to keep the agony out of my voice. "I don'tneed anything." I couldn't afford to close my eyes now.

  "No need to be brave, honey. It's better if you don't get too stressedout; you need to rest." She waited, but I just shook my head.

  "Okay," she sighed. "Hit the call button when you're ready."She gave Edward a stern look, and threw one more anxious glance at themachinery, before leaving.

  His cool hands were on my face; I stared at him with wild eyes.

  "Shhh, Bella, calm down.""Don't leave me," I begged in a broken voice.

  "I won't," he promised. "Now relax before I call the nurse back to sedateyou."But my heart couldn't slow.

  "Bella." He stroked my face anxiously. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll beright here as long as you need me.""Do you swear you won't leave me?" I whispered. I tried to control thegasping, at least. My ribs were throbbing.

  He put his hands on either side of my face and brought his face close tomine. His eyes were wide and serious. "I swear."The smell of his breath was soothing. It seemed to ease the ache of mybreathing. He continued to hold my gaze while my body slowly relaxed andthe beeping returned to a normal pace. His eyes were dark, closer toblack than gold today.

  "Better?" he asked.

  "Yes," I said cautiously.

  He shook his head and muttered something unintelligible. I thought Ipicked out the word "overreaction.""Why did you say that?" I whispered, trying to keep my voice fromshaking. "Are you tired of having to save me all the time? Do you want meto go away?""No, I don't want to be without you, Bella, of course not. Be rational.

  And I have no problem with saving you, either — if it weren't for thefact that I was the one putting you in danger… that I'm the reason that you're here.""Yes, you are the reason." I frowned. "The reason I'm here — alive.""Barely." His voice was just a whisper. "Covered in gauze and plaster andhardly able to move.""I wasn't referring to my most recent near-death experience," I said,growing irritated. "I was thinking of the others — you can take yourpick. If it weren't for you, I would be rotting away in the Forkscemetery."He winced at my words, but the haunted look didn't leave his eyes.

  "That's not the worst part, though," he continued to whisper. He acted asif I hadn't spoken. "Not seeing you there on the floor… crumpled andbroken." His voice was choked. "Not thinking I was too late. Not evenhearing you scream in pain — all those unbearable memories that I'llcarry with me for the rest of eternity. No, the very worst was feeling…knowing that I couldn't stop. Believing that I was going to kill youmyself.""But you didn't.""I could have. So easily."I knew I needed to stay calm… but he was trying to talk himself intoleaving me, and the panic fluttered in my lungs, trying to get out.

  "Promise me," I whispered.

  "What?""You know what." I was starting to get angry now. He was so stubbornlydetermined to dwell on the negative.

  He heard the change in my tone. His eyes tightened. "I don't seem to bestrong enough to stay away from you, so I suppose that you'll get yourway… whether it kills you or not," he added roughly.

  "Good." He hadn't promised, though — a fact that I had not missed. Thepanic was only barely contained; I had no strength left to control theanger. "You told me how you stopped… now I want to know why," I demanded.

  "Why?" he repeated warily.

  "Why you did it. Why didn't you just let the venom spread? By now I wouldbe just like you."Edward's eyes seemed to turn flat black, and I remembered that this wassomething he'd never intended me to know. Alice must have beenpreoccupied by the things she'd learned about herself… or she'd been verycareful with her thoughts around him — clearly, he'd had no idea thatshe'd filled me in on the mechanics of vampire conversions. He wassurprised, and infuriated. His nostrils flared, his mouth looked as if itwas chiseled from stone.

  He wasn't going to answer, that much was clear.

  "I'll be the first to admit that I have no experience withrelationships," I said. "But it just seems logical… a man and woman haveto be somewhat equal… as in, one of them can't always be swooping in andsaving the other one. They have to save each other equally."He folded his arms on the side of my bed and rested his chin on his arms.

  His expression was smooth, the anger reined in. Evidently he'd decided hewasn't angry with me. I hoped I'd get a chance to warn Alice before hecaught up with her.

  "You have saved me," he said quietly.

  "I can't always be Lois Lane," I insisted. "I want to be Superman, too." "You don't know what you're asking." His voice was soft; he staredintently at the edge of the pillowcase.

  "I think I do.""Bella, you don't know. I've had almost ninety years to think about this,and I'm still not sure.""Do you wish that Carlisle hadn't saved you?""No, I don't wish that." He paused before continuing. "But my life wasover. I wasn't giving anything up.""You are my life. You're the only thing it would hurt me to lose." I wasgetting better at this. It was easy to admit how much I needed him.

  He was very calm, though. Decided.

  "I can't do it, Bella. I won't do that to you.""Why not?" My throat rasped and the words weren't as loud as I'd meantthem to be. "Don't tell me it's too hard! After today, or I guess it wasa few days ago… anyway, after that, it should be nothing."He glared at me.

  "And the pain?" he asked.

  I blanched. I couldn't help it. But I tried to keep my expression fromshowing how clearly I remembered the feeling… the fire in my veins.

  "That's my problem," I said. "I can handle it.""It's possible to take bravery to the point where it becomes insanity.""It's not an issue. Three days. Big deal."Edward grimaced again as my words reminded him that I was more informedthan he had ever intended me to be. I watched him repress the anger,watched as his eyes grew speculative.

  "Charlie?" he asked curtly. "Renée?"Minutes passed in silence as I struggled to answer his question. I openedmy mouth, but no sound came out. I closed it again. He waited, and hisexpression became triumphant because he knew I had no true answer.

  "Look, that's not an issue either," I finally muttered; my voice was asunconvincing as it always was when I lied. "Renée has always made thechoices that work for her — she'd want me to do the same. And Charlie'sresilient, he's used to being on his own. I can't take care of themforever. I have my own life to live.""Exactly," he snapped. "And I won't end it for you.""If you're waiting for me to be on my deathbed, I've got news for you! Iwas just there!""You're going to recover," he reminded me.

  I took a deep breath to calm myself, ignoring the spasm of pain ittriggered. I stared at him, and he stared back. There was no compromisein his face.

  "No," I said slowly. "I'm not."His forehead creased. "Of course you are. You may have a scar or two…""You're wrong," I insisted. "I'm going to die.""Really, Bella." He was anxious now. "You'll be out of here in a few days. Two week at most."I glared at him. "I may not die now… but I'm going to die sometime. Everyminute of the day, I get closer. And I'm going to get old."He frowned as what I was saying sunk in, pressing his long fingers to histemples and closing his eyes. "That's how it's supposed to happen. How itshould happen. How it would have happened if I didn't exist — and Ishouldn't exist."I snorted. He opened his eyes in surprise. "That's stupid. That's likegoing to someone who's just won the lottery, taking their money, andsaying, 'Look, let's just go back to how things should be. It's betterthat way.' And I'm not buying it.""I'm hardly a lottery prize," he growled.

  "That's right. You're much better."He rolled his eyes and set his lips. "Bella, we're not having thisdiscussion anymore. I refuse to damn you to an eternity of night andthat's the end of it.""If you think that's the end, then you don't know me very well," I warnedhim. "You're not the only vampire I know."His eyes went black again. "Alice wouldn't dare."And for a moment he looked so frightening that I couldn't help butbelieve it — I couldn't imagine someone brave enough to cross him.

  "Alice already saw it, didn't she?" I guessed. "That's why the things shesays upset you. She knows I'm going to be like you… someday.""She's wrong. She also saw you dead, but that didn't happen, either.""You'll never catch me betting against Alice."We stared at each other for a very long time. It was quiet except for thewhirring of the machines, the beeping, the dripping, the ticking of thebig clock on the wall. Finally, his expression softened.

  "So where does that leave us?" I wondered.

  He chuckled humorlessly. "I believe it's called an impasse."I sighed. "Ouch," I muttered.

  "How are you feeling?" he asked, eyeing the button for the nurse.

  "I'm fine," I lied.

  "I don't believe you," he said gently.

  "I'm not going back to sleep.""You need rest. All this arguing isn't good for you.""So give in," I hinted.

  "Nice try." He reached for the button.

  "No!"He ignored me.

  "Yes?" the speaker on the wall squawked.

  "I think we're ready for more pain medication," he said calmly, ignoringmy furious expression.

  "I'll send in the nurse." The voice sounded very bored.

   "I won't take it," I promised.

  He looked toward the sack of fluids hanging beside my bed. "I don't thinkthey're going to ask you to swallow anything."My heart rate started to climb. He read the fear in my eyes, and sighedin frustration.

  "Bella, you're in pain. You need to relax so you can heal. Why are youbeing so difficult? They're not going to put any more needles in you now.""I'm not afraid of the needles," I mumbled. "I'm afraid to close my eyes."Then he smiled his crooked smile, and took my face between his hands. "Itold you I'm not going anywhere. Don't be afraid. As long as it makes youhappy, I'll be here."I smiled back, ignoring the ache in my cheeks. "You're talking aboutforever, you know.""Oh, you'll get over it — it's just a crush."I shook my head in disbelief— it made me dizzy. "I was shocked when Renéeswallowed that one. I know you know better.""That's the beautiful thing about being human," he told me. "Thingschange."My eyes narrowed. "Don't hold your breath."He was laughing when the nurse came in, brandishing a syringe.

  "Excuse me," she said brusquely to Edward.

  He got up and crossed to the end of the small room, leaning against thewall. He folded his arms and waited. I kept my eyes on him, stillapprehensive. He met my gaze calmly.

  "Here you go, honey." The nurse smiled as she injected the medicine intomy tube. "You'll feel better now.""Thanks," I mumbled, unenthusiastic. It didn't take long. I could feelthe drowsiness trickling through my bloodstream almost immediately.

  "That ought to do it," she muttered as my eyelids drooped.

  She must have left the room, because something cold and smooth touched myface.

  "Stay." The word was slurred.

  "I will," he promised. His voice was beautiful, like a lullaby. "Like Isaid, as long as it makes you happy… as long as it's what's best for you."I tried to shake my head, but it was too heavy. "'S not the same thing,"I mumbled.

  He laughed. "Don't worry about that now, Bella. You can argue with mewhen you wake up."I think I smiled. '"Kay."I could feel his lips at my ear.

  "I love you," he whispered.

  "Me, too.""I know," he laughed quietly.

  I turned my head slightly… searching. He knew what I was after. His lips touched mine gently.

  "Thanks," I sighed.

  "Anytime."I wasn't really there at all anymore. But I fought against the stuporweakly. There was just one more thing I wanted to tell him.

  "Edward?" I struggled to pronounce his name clearly.

  "Yes?""I'm betting on Alice," I mumbled.

  And then the night closed over me.