WE WERE IN A BRIGHTLY LIT, UNREMARKABLE HALLWAY. The walls were off-white, the floor carpeted in industrial gray. Common rectangular fluorescent lights were spaced evenly along the ceiling. It was warmer here, for which I was grateful. This hall seemed very benign after the gloom of the ghoulish stone sewers.
Edward didn't seem to agree with my assessment. He glowered darkly down the long hallway, toward the slight, black shrouded figure at the end, standing by an elevator.
DEMETRI LEFT US IN THE CHEERFULLY OPULENT RECEPTION area, where the woman Gianna was still at her post behind the polished counter. Bright, harmless music tinkled from hidden speakers.
"Do not leave until dark," he warned us.
Edward nodded, and Demetri hurried away.
Gianna did not seem at all surprised by the exchange, though she did eye Edward's borrowed cloak with shrewd speculation.
"Are you all right?" Edward asked under his breath, too low for the human woman to hear. His voice was rough—if velvet can be rough—with anxiety. Still stressed by our situation, I imagined.
I had the sense that i'd been asleep for a very long time—my body was stiff, like i hadn't moved once through all that time, either. My mind was dazed and slow; strange, colorful dreams—dreams and nightmares—swirled dizzily around the inside of my head. They were so vivid. The horrible and the heavenly, all mixed together into a bizarre jumble. There was sharp impatience and fear, both part of that frustrating dream where your feet can't move fast enough… and there were plenty of monsters, red-eyed fiends that were all the more ghastly for their genteel civility. The dream was still strong—i could even remember the names. But the strongest, clearest part of the dream was not the horror. It was the angel that was most clear.
ALMOST EVERYTHING WAS BACK TO NORMAL—THE GOOD, pre-zombie normal—in less time than I would have believed possible. The hospital welcomed Carlisle back with eager arms, not even bothering to conceal their delight that Esme had found life in L.A. so little to her liking. Thanks to the Calculus test I'd missed while abroad, Alice and Edward were in better shape to graduate than I was at the moment. Suddenly, college was a priority (college was still plan B, on the off chance that Edward's offer swayed me from the post-graduation Carlisle option). Many deadlines had passed me by, but Edward had a new stack of applications for me to fill out every day. He'd already done the Harvard route, so it didn't bother him that, thanks to my procrastination, we might both end up at Peninsula Community College next year.
HE WAS NOT PLEASED, THAT MUCH WAS EASY TO READ in his face. But, without further argument, he took me in his arms and sprang lithely from my window, landing without the slightest jolt, like a cat. It was a little bit farther down than I'd imagined.
"All right then," he said, his voice seething with disapproval. "Up you go."
He helped me onto his back, and took off running. Even after all this time, it felt routine. Easy. Evidently this was something you never forgot, like riding a bicycle.
WE MADE OUR FLIGHT WITH SECONDS TO SPARE, AND THEN the true torture began. The plane sat idle on the tarmac while the flight attendants strolled—so casually—up and down the aisle, patting the bags in the overhead compartments to make sure everything fit. The pilots leaned out of the cockpit, chatting with them as they passed. Alice's hand was hard on my shoulder, holding me in my seat while I bounced anxiously up and down.
"It's faster than running," she reminded me in a low voice.
I just nodded in time with my bouncing.
WE BEGAN THE STEEP CLIMB, AND THE ROAD GREW CONGESTED. As we wound higher, the cars became too close together for Alice to weave insanely between them anymore. We slowed to a crawl behind a little tan Peugeot.
"Alice," I moaned. The clock on the dash seemed to be speeding up.
"It's the only way in," she tried soothe me. But her voice was too strained to comfort.
The cars continued to edge forward, one car length at a time. The sun beamed down brilliantly, seeming already overhead.
I sprinted down the stairs and threw the door open.
It was Jacob, of course. Even blind, Alice wasn't slow.
He was standing about six feet back from the door, his nose wrinkled in distaste, but his face otherwise smooth—masklike. He didn't fool me; I could see the faint trembling of his hands.
Hostility rolled off of him in waves. It brought back that awful afternoon when he'd chosen Sam over me, and I felt my chin jerk up defensively in response.
Jacob's Rabbit idled by the curb with Jared behind the wheel and Embry in the passenger seat. I understood what this meant: they were afraid to let him come here alone. It made me sad, and a little annoyed. The Cullens weren't like that.
"Bella?" There was a strange mingling of relief and confusion in her voice.
I locked my arms around her, gasping to inhale as much of the scent of her skin as possible. It wasn't like anything else—not floral or spice, citrus or musk. No perfume in the world could compare. My memory hadn't done it justice.
I didn't notice when the gasping turned into something else—I only realized I was sobbing when Alice dragged me to the living room couch and pulled me into her lap. It was like curling up into a cool stone, but a stone that was contoured comfortingly to the shape of my body. She rubbed my back in a gentle rhythm, waiting for me to get control of myself.
AT THAT MOMENT, MY HEAD BROKE THE SURFACE.
How disorienting. I'd been sure I was sinking.
The current wouldn't let up. It was slamming me against more rocks; they beat against the center of my back sharply, rhythmically, pushing the water from my lungs. It gushed out in amazing volume, absolute torrents pouring from my mouth and nose. The salt burned and my lungs burned and my throat was too full of water to catch a breath and the rocks were hurting my back. Somehow I stayed in one place, though the waves still heaved around me. I couldn't see anything but water everywhere, reaching for my face.