Chapter 4

Playlist selection: Lonestar by Norah Jones

Bella POV
I'm pulled into consciousness by the piercing light of the Arizona sun shining through my window.  My mouth is parched and the sheets cling to my body like a second skin.  Why the fuck is it so hot in here?  Blindly reaching toward the bedside table, I sweep my arm across its surface, searching for the ceiling fan remote control.  I knock over a little bud vase, spilling water and the flower that Edward picked from his mom's flower garden to the floor.
I grab a discarded t-shirt from the floor beside my bed and mop the mess quickly.  Tossing the soaked shirt in the general direction of my closet, I climb out of bed, peeling the sheets off and stripping the mattress.  Finding a hair tie on my dresser, I pull my hair into a loose bun on top of my head and slip on a pair of denim shorts and my bathing suit top.  I stagger to the door of my room and open it swiftly, praying that a cool gust of wind from the hallway will hit me square in the face and squelch this ridiculous heat.  No such luck.
"Mom?!" I yell from the landing at the top of the stairs. "MOOOOM!"
"WHAAAAT?" Her voice echoes from downstairs.
"What's wrong with the A/C?"
No shit.  Queue eye roll.
"Is someone coming to fix it?"
"Nope.  Do you know how much they charge for weekend emergencies?  Your father is working on it."  Great.  That means that it's not going to be fixed anytime today, and he'll break some crucial piece that costs more than the damn weekend fees. 
I dart down the stairs and through the kitchen, hoping to stop the madness before it truly starts. "Who gave him tools?  You know he's not allowed to have any work tools!" 
Charlie, also know as 'The Great Destructo', has been banished from using ordinary shop gadgets to fix anything. He's a genius with weaponry and spackle, but he's a danger to himself with power tools and screwdrivers.
"He borrowed them from Ed this morning.  You know that I can usually convince him to call a professional before he gets going on a project, but he was already working on it when I got up this morning, so..."
Ed? They're back?
"They're back!?" My face breaks out into a face-splitting grin as I jog out of the garage, hoping to see their minivan in their driveway.
"No. He just used the spare key and went into their garage," she yells from the kitchen. 
My smile is quickly replaced by a deep frown as I notice no recent vehicular activity at the Masen's home.  I turn and shuffle back into the kitchen, heading straight for the fridge.  After pouring myself a glass of orange juice, I stand in front of the kitchen window and make plans to occupy my time today.  Feed Carrumba, check out a few florists with my mother, and finish my laundry.  Speaking of laundry... Renee is mumbling to herself and rustling around in the laundry room, probably cursing the washing machine again. 
"Mom!  I'm going over to feed the bird, then we can go to the flower shops this afternoon.  Okay?"
"Yeah, sure," she says, yelling over the loud clanking of coins being tossed around in the dryer. "Anything to get out of this sweatbox."
I head up the stairs to find some flip flops and a t-shirt and grab my discarded bed sheets from the floor, shoving them in the laundry chute.  "Look out below!"  I shout, listening for them to hit the basket at the bottom and laughing when Renee starts cussing again.
It's late morning and the intense sun is blaring down on my skin as I walk through the Weber's front yard, heading to the Masen's.  Pausing at the front porch, I notice a faint sound coming from inside.  No. No, it's not just a sound, but a voice.  Edward's voice.  The hell?
I quickly wrangle the keys and burst through the door, startling Carrumba as she is perched in her cage. 
"Sorry, bird." I scramble through the first floor, searching for the owner of that velvety voice I would know anywhere. "Edward?"
"Hello?  Anyone home?"
Convincing myself I was hearing things, I shake my head quickly and enter the kitchen, looking for Carrumba's food supply.  The house is quiet other than the sounds of my washing and chopping of fruits and veggies for the bird and occasional sounds of it clambering around in it's cage.  I've always wanted to have a pet, but was always shut down by my parents.  Renee is allergic to cats, Charlie doesn't want to deal with the dog poop in the backyard, and I refuse to clean the grime and sediment in a fish aquarium.  The one pet we never considered was a bird until the Masens got one, and then we decided we could come over to visit it whenever we wanted to get our pet-fix and didn't have to deal with the care and clean up. 
Carrumba is a very quiet bird, at least when I'm around.  I've only heard her make a few sounds, but Edward tells me she hardly shuts up.  Maybe I frighten her.  Hell, I'm more scared of her - what with the strong beak and sharp talons...
Placing the slices of apple and a handful of whole peanuts in her bowl, I carry them over to her cage.  She sits on the highest branch of her enclosure, eyeing me warily.  I try not to pay much attention to her, not wanting to create a dive-bomb situation because she's annoyed by the sound of my voice or whatever.  I replenish her water bottle and head back to the kitchen, cleaning up my mess.
I find a pad of paper and pen in the junk drawer next to the pantry and write a quick note, letting them know that Carrumba was fed this morning and the dishes in the dishwasher are clean.  Leaving my message on top of the counter, I slip past Carrumba as she loudly cracks the shell of a peanut.  Just as I'm pulling the door closed, I hear the voice again. 
I stop in my tracks for a moment and peek my head back inside the house, looking for anything that could explain the disembodied voice of Edward.
"Hello?" I call out into the empty house, waiting for a response.
Carrumba.  Of course!  She's a damned parrot, for fuck's sake!   
I walk over to her cage and watch her as she wipes the remnants of an apple slice from her beak onto her branch. "Bye-bye, Carrumba."
She says nothing, watching me retreat back to the door and closing it behind me as I step onto the front porch.  I twist the key in the lock and hear a faint murmur from the other side.
At the dinner table, Renee passes the casserole to my dad and they argue about future home improvement projects. "I don't understand you sometimes, Renee. We live in the desert. Why would we need rain gutters?"
I tune out the majority of their conversation, quietly sulking because I have not heard from Edward yet today.  Usually they are home in the late afternoon, but I haven't even gotten a text message letting me know they are enroute.
I interrupt their banter without a care. "Have either of you heard from the Masens today?"  I look up from the chicken and rice mush on my plate and into the blank faces of my parents.
"Usually Edward calls or texts me when they are on their way home, but I haven't heard from him yet.  Neither has Peter."  I had called Peter this afternoon to see if he'd gotten word of their departure time, but he said he hadn't talked to him since Wednesday at lunch in the school's courtyard.
They shake their heads and my dad mumbles that they probably stayed at the cabin a bit later since Edward doesn't have school tomorrow.  I nod slowly, trying to convince myself that his suggestion is the most logical.   
I excuse myself from the table and stumble upstairs, looking for my shoes and wedding bouquet brochures from the florists we stopped by earlier in the day.  My parents are still bickering at the table when I return downstairs.
"I'm going to feed the bird again, since we don't know what time they'll be home."
"Okay, honey," my mom replies, carrying her dinner plate to the sink. 
"I may hang around over there for a bit, in case they show up before it gets too late.  I'll just watch a DVD or something."
She waves her hand dismissively and I leave through the garage door and scamper through the lawns to the Masen's front porch just as the sun is starting to set in the western sky.  I listen quietly and smile as I hear Edward's beautiful voice emulated by Carrumba as she talks to herself in her cage.
"Hel-lo. Good girl. Step up. Waahka doohoo boo GAWWWK!"
She shuts up the moment I enter the living room.  I slip her bowls from the cage's trap doors and replenish the apples and peanuts, tossing in a hand full of dried chili peppers.  I hand her a long, green bean pod through the slats of the cage.  She extends one creepy claw and grasps it with the talons.  She tears into the flesh of the pod with determination, rooting out the tender beans inside. 
I leave Carrumba to her dinner and flop down on the leather couch.  Opening the folder of brochures, I spread them out across the coffee table and separate them into piles.  After making my selection of the perfect wedding bouquet, I collect all the piles and put the winning brochure on top and wrap a rubber band around the stack.  I toss the bundle back into the folder and leave it on the table as I make my way to their DVD collection.  Snuggling into the soft leather cushions, I pull Grandma Masen's quilt from the back of the couch to cover my legs as I hit 'play' on the remote control.
I'm startled awake by an awful sound and I bolt up from the couch in alarm.  It's Carrumba, and she's going ape-shit in her cage.  Suddenly, I realize there's bright sunlight shining in through the living room window.  Is it morning, already?  Did the Masens come home last night?  Why didn't Edward wake me up?  I hurry up the steps to his room... nothing. I knock on the door to the master bedroom... nothing.  Down to the garage... no minivan.  Where are they?
I grab my cell phone and try calling him but it goes straight to voice mail.  Getting the same result with calls to Liz and Ed Senior's cell phones, I frantically call my mother at home.
"Mom! Have you heard from them yet?"
"Bella?  Why are you calling me from your bedroom?  Come downstairs.  I made some muffins this morning."
"No, mom.  I'm still at the Masens.  I fell asleep on the couch, but they never came home last night.  Have you heard from them?"  My voice registers an octive higher with each spoken word. 
"Uhh, no, babydoll.  Not yet.  You want me to call Liz?  Maybe they-"
"No.  I already tried."  I let out a shuddering breath and asked the one question that I didn't want to have confirmed. "Do you think something happened to them?  An accident?"
"I doubt it, sweetie.  Liz is scheduled off from the salon today, but I don't know if Ed took off as well.  Maybe you should ask your dad if he requested a vacation day or something.  Maybe they decided to spend and extra day since school is out."  She was quiet on the other end of the line for a moment as her comments tumbled around in my brain, attempting to make sense of it all.  "Look, I'm about to head into work.  Why don't you call me later when you hear something, okay?"
We say our goodbyes and I hang up the phone.  I swiftly feed Carrumba and sprint back to my house, forcefully dodging the increasing anxiety I feel.
Busying myself by scrubbing floors and dusting the tchotchkes, I try to fight off the panic that something terrible has happened to them until I can’t take it anymore.  I snatch my cell phone from the confines of my bag and dial Edward’s number again.
It’s Edward… I’m busy!  Leave a message.   BEEP!
“Baby?  I’m starting to get worried.  I thought you were going to be home yesterday, but I haven’t heard from you.  Call me as soon as you get this message, okay?”  I pause, battling the overflow of tears. “I love you.”
Hesitantly, I close my phone and grip it tightly to my chest as a renegade tear escapes and speeds down my cheek.  God, please, let him be okay.
The rest of the day is spent aimlessly pacing the house and mumbling little prayers to God, asking for Him to protect Edward and keep him safe.  I call my father in the afternoon and beg him to contact the ranger’s station to investigate. 
“Bella, honey, I will call tomorrow if we haven’t heard from any of them.”
“NO, DAD!  THIS IS NOT NORMAL! Use your policeman investigative skills or something!  Put out an A.P.B.!”
“Look, Ed had already taken today off, so maybe they plan to come home later today or in the morning.  He’s on the evening patrol tomorrow, so I’m not going to file a missing person’s report because you can’t get a hold of your boyfriend, ” He reprimands in his ‘Officer Swan’ voice.
“Fiancé,” I quietly correct, picking at an imaginary thread on my shorts.
“Whatever,” he huffs.  “They’ll be back before the graduation ceremony.  There’s no way Ed and Liz are going to miss it.”
“Yeah…” I whisper, defeated.
“Why don’t you spend some girl-time with Angela until you hear from him?  You know… get a pedicure or go see a movie or something.” 
I know I’m probably overreacting.  There haven’t been any visits by highway patrolmen, delivering bad news; no solemn three A.M. phone calls from a hospital’s emergency department.  Liz and Ed had apparently scheduled off work today and maybe they had something special planned for Edward as a surprise graduation gift.  While these thoughts help to alleviate my worry, the nagging feeling that something has gone amiss continues to smolder in the pit of my stomach.
“Okay, Dad,” I sigh, resigned. “Do you promise to call tomorrow if we don’t hear from them?”
“Yes, now I’ve got to get back to work.  I’ll see you around dinner time, Bells.”
For the next twenty-four hours, Angela hardly leaves my side.  She understands my anxiousness can reach epic proportions when Edward is away, and now that he seems to have gone off the radar, it’s reaching a cataclysmic level.  We spend time between the three houses watching movies, teaching cuss words to Carrumba, and trying out hair styles and make-up for the graduation ceremony, anything to keep my mind distracted... it doesn't help.  The unmistakable, gut-feeling of misfortune continues to burn inside of me.
When Charlie arrives home from work on Tuesday evening, his face bears a slight panic as he maneuvers through the kitchen door and into the living room.  He glances at me briefly, but diverts his eyes over to my mother as she chews on her fingernail.  She’s been sitting on the couch, staring out the front window for the last three hours, not once does she pay attention to the television.
“Uhhh, Renee?  Can I talk to you for a minute?”  My dad nervously skirts around my chair to grab her hand, pulling her to stand, and leads her to the kitchen.  I strain to listen to their conversation from my spot in the recliner in the living room.
“…called… station… no records...”
“…Sunday afternoon…”
“…no signs… tell her… at graduation…”
After a few silent minutes, my parents return to the living room, wearing identical worried looks.  My stomach plummets and I have the sudden urge to hurl all the pizza that Angela and I had earlier today.  My mother gently sits on the arm of the recliner and drapes her arm across the back, ready to offer emotional support.  Charlie stands awkwardly in front of me, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Oh God, no.  No. No. NO!  Tears fill my eyes and my dad’s tall figure blurs into a ripply form.
He continues, “I called the ranger’s station this evening.  They said they haven’t seen the Masens in a couple days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean something has happened.”  He hurried through that last sentence, hoping to reassure me before the dams holding back my tears explode. 
“Okay…” I reply meekly, letting him know I understand and am still in the conversation.  Sometimes I get lost in my own head when I start to panic.
“There was an entry in their gate log that indicated their van left the national park on Sunday afternoon, but there were no entries for them returning.  The ranger I spoke with said that sometimes they miss logging vehicles as they come or go because they get a phone call or are out running patrol on the public park facilities.”
“Alright, that makes sense… but where have they been for the last two days?!”
“I don’t know, honey.  I called the Apache County Sheriff’s office, and they haven’t gotten any reports of them.  Maybe they planned a secret side trip before coming back home.”
I nod my head slowly.  This was the same conclusion I came to, but it just doesn’t feel right.  I know something is wrong.
“What if we’re wrong, Dad?” My wavering voice betrays my stoic façade. “What if something terrible has happened to them?  You know they would have told you or mom if they had a surprise for Edward and wanted to keep it from me!”
“Sweetheart,” Renee interjects softly, “Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and not stress any more about it until tomorrow.  We know they would never miss Edward’s graduation… or yours, for that matter. When they show up before the ceremony, you will see that all this worry and anxiety was for nothing.”  The hand that was lounging across the back of my chair moves to run through my hair.  It’s soothing, but doesn’t squelch my worry.  She stares deeply into my eyes and offers a motherly smile, willing me to accept her rationale as truth and that all my anxiety is unnecessary.
My father bends to place a rare kiss on my hair and squeezes my shoulder, then retreats to the kitchen, scavaging for leftovers.  Renee offers a lingering, one-armed hug and rises from the arm of the recliner to return to her post on the couch, staring out the window. I can tell my parents are starting to get worried.  It's unusual for their best friends to not tell them about their plans, regardless if they were trying to keep it a secret from Edward or me.  It just doesn't make sense. 
Trying to heed my parents' advice, I attempt to focus on anything and everything that won't remind me of Edward.  I look to the floor and notice a discolored spot next to the stairs -  a stain made by Edward when he accidently spilled grape juice on the carpet four years ago.  Over to the photo collage frames above the entertainment center - pictures of the Masens and my family at Disney World when Edward and I were eight.  Down to the discarded pile of mail, laying on the coffee table - a utility bill, Renee's attempted crossword puzzle from the Sunday newspaper... and a bridal magazine. 
Fuck! I can't take this anymore.
"I gotta get outta here, Mom."  A tear escapes and runs down my cheek as I lurch from the recliner and out the front door.  "I'll be at the Masens!"
I run through our front yards, stumbling over Mrs. Weber's garden decor and plowing through Liz's flower beds, my vision clouded by the rampant stream of moisture flowing from my eyes.  Crashing into the front door with a loud 'thud', I faintly hear Carrumba reciting her nightly ritual - practicing her human vocabulary and mixing the words with her birdly squawking.  I smile internally, hearing her sounds mimic Edward's voice.  It's heart-wrenching, but still somewhat comforting. 
The key slides into the lock easily and I quietly open the door, not wanting to startle her.  Tip-toeing through the foyer, I peek around the wall and watch her climb around her tall, steel cage.  She jingles the tiny bell that's attached to the rope toy hanging from the roof. "Hel-lo. Tank yooo.  Powaah wahh boo GAWWW!  Car-rum-ba good girl."  I giggle at her last statement and she whips her yellow-headed, green-feathered body toward my hiding place. "Hel-looo."
I slowly approach her cage, smiling, hoping she will continue her rambling. "Hi, Carrumba."
Stupid bird.
The sunlight has faded, and shadows of the tall shrubbery  in the backyard dance across the windows.  I close the blinds to the dining room and kitchen windows, and pull the shades in the living room.  Settling into Ed's favorite spot on the sectional sofa, I click on the television, hoping to occupy my thoughts with a cheeky sitcom or brainless reality show.  An hour later, I huff in frustration because there's nothing to watch and turn off the t.v., making my way up the stairs to Edward's bedroom.
His laundry piles are still scattered across the floor, blocking the path to his desk.  Stepping over them, I slide into his desk chair and hit the power button on his computer.  It whirrs and wheezes to life, revealing a picture of a hairy caterpillar on the login page.  Typical. I type in his password and drum my fingers on the keypad, waiting for his desktop to appear.  I laugh loudly when I see the image of he and I at the county fair last year, arguing over whether to get separate bumper cars, or ride together.  I complained because I couldn't reach the pedals, so I wanted to ride together.  He agreed that that was the same reason he wanted to ride in different cars... so he could ram into mine.  Ass.  Angela had secretly taken the picture as we were standing in line for funnel cakes. Edward and I didn't even realize she had snapped the camera and captured us in our usual banter until she taped a 4x6 glossy print to my locker the following Monday at school.
I don't even realize I'm crying again until I feel a drop of something hit my hand.  Glancing down at my skin, I notice the tear drop resembles a lopsided heart and I frantically wipe away it's existence .  From anger? Worry? Sadness? I don't have a clue, but I'm tired and I need to relax and try to get some sleep before the graduation ceremony tomorrow.
I climb into Edward's bed, pulling his dingy, blue-plaid comforter up to my face and inhaling his scent.  It's musky, maybe from sweat and who knows when he last washed the sheets, but I don't care.   It's just so him, and to me... it smells like Heaven. 
"...Bella?" A deep voice croons softly in my ear. 
"Bella? C'mon, get up."  I feel a dip in the bed as someone sits next to me.
"Baby... please?  At least let go of the blanket."
"No, I'm too comfy.  Snuggle with me?"  It's so early in the morning that my brain is fuzzy as I pout to that familiar voice.  My face is buried in Edward's pillow, and my words come out muffled.
He gently laughs, "You're going to strangle yourself with them. C'mon..."  A warm hand gently grasps my fist, trying to loosen my grip on Edward's comforter from around my neck.  Fingers are softly running through the matted locks of my hair and a waft of fruity fragrance permeates my senses. 
"I brought you some Earl Gray to help wake you up."
"With cream and two sugars?"
"Mm-hmm."  Edward always knows how much I love my English Breakfast teas in the morning, especially if I've had a long night. 
I smile widely into the bed linens and whirl myself out of bed toward him, wanting to either hug him fiercely for coming back to me or beat him senseless for keeping me worried for days... maybe both.


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