24. AN IMPASSE
My eyes opened to a bright, white light. I was in an unfamiliar room, a white room. The wall beside me was covered in long vertical blinds; over my 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 was an annoying beeping sound somewhere close by. I hoped that meant I was still 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 just inches from mine, his chin resting on the edge of my pillow. I realized again 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 rebelled against me as I tried to recall.
"I was almost too late. I could have been too late," he whispered, his voice 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's getting 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 being soothed. My mom was here and I was recovering from a vampire attack. "Why did 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 huge lump 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 smell all 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 my gauze-wrapped hand from the bed and holding it gently in his, careful not to 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," he whispered. "Impossible. But I did." He looked up finally, with half a smile. "I must love you."
"Don't I taste as good as I smell?" I smiled in response. That hurt my face.
"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 still irrational, of course. You should have waited for me, you should have told 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. I shuddered, 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." There was 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 me of 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 black with fury.
I tried to reach his face with my free hand, but something stopped me. I glanced down to see the IV pulling at my hand.
"Ugh." I winced.
"What is it?" he asked anxiously — distracted, but not enough. The bleakness did not entirely leave his eyes.
"Needles," I explained, looking away from the one in my hand. I concentrated on a warped ceiling tile and tried to breathe deeply despite the ache in my ribs.
"Afraid of a needle," he muttered to himself under his breath, shaking his 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. His brows 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 she gets back."
"Oh," he said, and his forehead smoothed back into marble. "I came to Phoenix to talk some sense into you, to convince you to come back to Forks." His wide eyes were so earnest and sincere, I almost believed him myself. "You agreed to see me, and you drove out to the hotel where I was staying with Carlisle and Alice — of course I was here with parental supervision," he inserted virtuously, "but you tripped on the stairs on the way to my room and… well, you know the rest. You don't need to remember any details, though; you have a good excuse to be a little muddled 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 fabricating evidence. It's all been taken care of very convincingly — you could probably sue the hotel if you wanted to. You have nothing to worry about," 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't respond to his touch. The beeping of the monitor jumped around erratically — now he wasn't the only one who could hear my heart misbehave.
"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 lips even touched me. But when they did, though with the most gentle of pressure, the beeping stopped altogether.
He pulled back abruptly, his anxious expression turning to relief as the monitor reported the restarting of my heart.
"It seems that I'm going to have to be even more careful with you than usual." He frowned.
"I was not finished kissing you," I complained. "Don't make me come over there."
He grinned, and bent to press his lips lightly to mine. The monitor went wild.
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 through me. 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 promised solemnly, and then he smiled. "I'll take a nap."
He moved from the hard plastic chair by my side to the turquoise faux-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 deep breath, 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 run to her, to calm her, promise that everything was fine. But I wasn't in any 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 my bedside.
"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 my cheeks.
"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 my bed.
I suddenly realized I didn't have any idea when it was. "How long have they 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 of injuries."
"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.