Twilight Summary: In Chapter 21, Bella receives a call from James claiming to have her mother; Bella agrees to try to get away from Alice and Jasper, and then writes a farewell note to Edward.
Twilight, Chapter 21: Phone Call
We're really racing towards the end here, because I think this may be the shortest chapter in the book. It certainly feels short; you can whip through it pretty quickly so we're going to do just that.
I COULD FEEL IT WAS TOO EARLY AGAIN WHEN I WOKE, and I knew I was getting the schedule of my days and nights slowly reversed. I lay in my bed and listened to the quiet voices of Alice and Jasper in the other room. That they were loud enough for me to hear at all was strange.
One of my biggest regrets about the Twilight series--aside from the way-too-common-in-literature abusive relationships and the fact that I dreamed last night that Bella was vampire'd mid-Twilight and everything was so much better--is all the missed opportunities to explore out the nuance between Bella's human life that she doesn't have much left to savor versus Bella's vampire life and what she can expect when that happens.
We've seen this quite a bit with the food; the fact that Bella will be choosing to eat yucky-tasting animal blood for the rest of eternity would probably carry more impact if we got to regularly see her enjoy a nice fettucine alfredo or chicken parmigiana. Now we get a brief flash of her days and nights being mixed up, which really ought to impact her, given her existing characterization and strong preference for seeing the sun. But instead it's just a quick, "meh, my sleep schedule is messed up," and then we zip away from the implications.
I'm not even sure why her sleep schedule is messed up; Alice and Jasper are active at all times (as opposed to the vampires that sleep during the day), so... Bella is just having her sleep affected by stress? Okay, noted.
I crept to Jasper’s side to peek.
“Did she see something more?” I asked him quietly.
“Yes. Something’s brought him back to the room with the VCR, but it’s light now.”
[...] “That’s my mother’s house.”
Alice was already off the couch, phone in hand, dialing.
Alice calls Edward while Jasper emotion-drugs Bella, and the Cullens decide that Edward is coming down to "get [Bella]" and that "[Edward] and Emmett and Carlisle are going to take you somewhere, to hide you for a while."
This seems phenomenally back-asswards; apparently Alice and Jasper and Bella are going to go to the airport in Phoenix to wait for Edward and then he's going to whisk Bella off with him, when it seems like it would be faster to put Alice and Jasper and Bella on a plane and leave Carlisle and Emmett to guard Bella's mother (who is ostensibly not even back in town yet) but whatever. If we can't move without the great wonderful Edward Cullen, then we play the cards we're dealt.
“Edward is coming?” The words were like a life vest, holding my head above the flood. “Yes, he’s catching the first flight out of Seattle. We’ll meet him at the airport, and you’ll leave with him.”
“But, my mother . . . he came here for my mother, Alice!” Despite Jasper, the hysteria bubbled up in my voice.
“Jasper and I will stay till she’s safe.”
“I can’t win, Alice. You can’t guard everyone I know forever. Don’t you see what he’s doing? He’s not tracking me at all. He’ll find someone, he’ll hurt someone I love. . . . Alice, I can’t —”
Bella makes some good points here. James doesn't even need to kill people she cares about; if he has a reliable way to contact her at least once to make it clear that he's doing this, he can start killing humans indiscriminately and let the survivor's guilt gnaw at her. Why, he could kill an innocent human every day until Bella gives herself up--
Oh wait. Hmm.
Well, this kinda falls apart a little when you remember that James probably already kills a human every day. (Or however often he feeds. The Cullens can go about a week between hunts, but they show every evidence of starving or at least being uncomfortably hungry. I assume that the Bad Vampires feed at least once every couple of days. Which would rack up 150+ deaths for James per year.) And we've just learned that Twilight vampires can't leave their human victims alive: the venom means that all fed-upon humans (assuming the blood is drawn via a method which injects venom) either die or turn. And the Cullens, we will remember, weren't going to do anything about James' murdering ways because their policy for fellow vampires is to live-and-let-live.
So we're kinda bumping up against the Spiderman Aunt May problem. Bella's issue isn't so much that her mother may die or even that her mother may be killed by a vampire, so much she minds that Renee may be killed in a way where Bella feels herself to be responsible (albeit indirectly) for her death. And while I can still get on-board with that being a terrible thing and something that must be prevented, it's... a little incongruous whenever we remember that James (or someone like him) could kill Renee tomorrow and the Cullens wouldn't lift a finger to help unless the victim would give Bella sadfeels.
I feel like part of the arc of Bella humanizing the Cullens should include them realizing that this live-and-let-live policy is massively selfish on their part. Except haha, Twilight isn't about Bella humanizing the Cullens; it's about the Cullen vampirizing Bella. And Bella is already 95% vampire ("Why don't you eat humans again? They sound tasty." ~Bella, paraphrased) because otherwise the acclimatization process might cut into gazing-at-Edward's-perfect-chest time.
Anyway, there is then a looooooooooooooong stretch of moping.
“They’re just boarding their plane,” Alice told me. “They’ll land at nine-forty-five.” Just a few more hours to keep breathing till he was here.
WHY ARE THEY IN THIS HOTEL ROOM WAITING. They know James is flying down to Phoenix. They know he's going to end up in Renee's house and in the ballet studio, both of which are a hop-skip-and-a-jump away. Why do they not fly to somewhere else, somewhere not featured in Alice's visions thus far, and have Edward meet them there?
I'm not even going to try to keep wasting brain cells on figuring this out; bottom-line, the Cullens are shit at fleeing. The only reason they haven't been caught by the human authorities by now is because the humans couldn't be arsed. Or the Volturi were going around cleaning things up behind the Cullens for the good of the masquerade.
“He went to check out.”
“You aren’t staying here?”
“No, we’re relocating closer to your mother’s house.”
The real reason why Jasper isn't there anymore is that Bella is about to have her emotions go wild (when James calls with his hostage demand) and Jasper would sense her emotional turmoil. Fine. I can live with removing an inconvenient character from the action in order for the plot to continue.
What I cannot buy is that the physiological symptoms that would accompany Bella's emotional spike wouldn't be sensed by Alice. These vampires are supposed to be able to hear the whispering feet of mice in the attic or whatever; it is entirely implausible that Alice couldn't hear Bella's heavy breathing or increased heartrate, nor that she wouldn't notice dilated pupils and sweaty palms or whatever. But the longer I complain, the longer this chapter will drag on so let's continue.
But the phone rang again, distracting me. She looked surprised, but I was already walking forward, reaching hopefully for the phone.
“Hello?” Alice asked. “No, she’s right here.” She held the phone out to me. Your mother, she mouthed.
“Bella? Bella?” It was my mother’s voice, in a familiar tone I had heard a thousand times in my childhood, anytime I’d gotten too close to the edge of the sidewalk or strayed out of her sight in a crowded place. It was the sound of panic.
Sigh. I'm just gonna skip ahead a bit: this isn't really Renee. It's a recording of Renee taken when Bella was twelve and nearly fell off a pier into the sea--Renee had called Bella's name in panic. Neither Alice nor Bella hear any static from the recording nor do they hear the sound of the ocean or any surrounding sound effects which might clue someone in to this not being genuinely Renee. While, you know, the World's Greatest Hunter is hunting Bella. But you know what? Fine.
Why is Alice answering the phone with words as opposed to picking up and letting the other party identify themselves first? They deliberately left this number with Renee and knew she might call. (Which, considering that Alice has had a vision of James in Renee's house means that James might call. I presume he can work an answering machine.) So lets assume that Renee is kept alive, but James isn't killed, and Bella does have to go on the lam; now Renee can report to the police that a young woman was with Bella.
Remember when we had to break Charlie's heart because flurble-gurble-something about that way the Cullens wouldn't have to leave Forks? That's just... it's just gone. We had the scene with Bella pretend-breaking-up with Edward (emotions!) and Bella pretend-being-an-ass to Charlie (emotions!) and now all that is over. I keep harping on it, but that chapter is so over, and we need to just all stop pretending that it existed or had any kind of relevance.
Anyway. There's a loooooooooooooooong conversation with James talking to Bella, and Bella being shit at subterfuge, so James tells her to go into another room (and Alice doesn't try to follow her), and then James talks to her for foooooorever and Bella answers in simple yes/no responses (which would be VERY suspicious in real life, seriously, try this as an experiment sometime and see how awkward you sound), and Bella agrees to meet James alone and decides to ditch Jasper and Alice at the airport. This is definitely a very good plan.
“Be very careful not to say anything until I tell you to.” The voice I heard now was as unfamiliar as it was unexpected. It was a man’s tenor voice, a very pleasant, generic voice — the kind of voice that you heard in the background of luxury car commercials. He spoke very quickly.
Because being a vampire makes you better at everything, it also ensures that your voice is the best of voices. No vampire voice-overs for economy cars, oh no. Luxury models all the way. That's evolution for you.
“Very good, Bella. Now this is what you have to do. I want you to go to your mother’s house. Next to the phone there will be a number. Call it, and I’ll tell you where to go from there.” I already knew where I would go, and where this would end. But I would follow his instructions exactly. “Can you do that? Answer yes or no.”
“Before noon, please, Bella. I haven’t got all day,” he said politely.
Here noting that apparently you can have all the time in the world and still be impatient. I'm not sure how I feel about James' deadline here; I realize he's trying to motivate Bella here, but seeing as how he's used to playing a long game, I'm not sure I'd want my prey to assume that if they can't get away before noon (which is by no means assured, given the constraints Bella is laboring under) then WELP, I guess it's too late, might as well jet off to Acapulco or whatever.
I'm just saying.
Slowly, slowly, my thoughts started to break past that brick wall of pain. To plan. For I had no choices now but one: to go to the mirrored room and die. I had no guarantees, nothing to give to keep my mother alive. I could only hope that James would be satisfied with winning the game, that beating Edward would be enough. Despair gripped me; there was no way to bargain, nothing I could offer or withhold that could influence him. But I still had no choice. I had to try.
[...] I knew Alice was in the other room waiting for me, curious. But I had to deal with one more thing in private, before Jasper was back.
I had to accept that I wouldn’t see Edward again, not even one last glimpse of his face to carry with me to the mirror room. I was going to hurt him, and I couldn’t say goodbye. I let the waves of torture wash over me, have their way for a time. Then I pushed them back, too, and went to face Alice.
Pro-tip for writers, and I dedicate this to Silver Adept who is suffering through Pern right now: Sometimes you may be tempted to use rape metaphors for consensual things. Like "[fancying] the sand begged to be violated" or letting emotions "have their way". Do not do this. It is, first of all, really creepy to use rape metaphors for things which are not rape. And second of all, if the sand is begging for the thing to happen or if Bella is choosing for the emotions to happen, then whatever happens next may be a rough ride, but it is very probably not rape at that point.
And, really, just...all the rape culture feels at this. At this whole book. At Bella not enjoying food because obviously a girl enjoying food is the worst of sins, and so she needs Edward and Alice to make her eat. (A plot point which expands in increasingly horrifying directions in the fanfic 50 Shades of Grey unofficial sequel.) At Bella wanting sex and vampirism and emotions but needing to have it denied to her for her "own good" until she can have them in the "right" ways. At Bella not feeling allowed to self-care and needing Edward to order her to do that too. At the culture we live in such that it's easier and safer to fantasize about being raped than about having hot consensual sex.
I just want to hold Bella forever and reassure her over and over again that she is allowed to feel things. To want things. To have nice things. She doesn't need to have the things she wants "forced" on her by Edward or by circumstance so that she's having them in Socially Approved Non-Consensual Ways. Society can go fuck itself. Bella, you are allowed to emo-out a bit over your impending death. I want you to know that, hon, because people are going to tell you that you're not allowed this. And I hope you can feel safe enough to tell them to go fuck themselves rather than bending to their demands that you only experience these things if you're "forced" to.
Though if you're not in a safe place for that, I understand that too. And that's not your fault. Systemic sexism is not your responsibility to dismantle all on your very own by your solo self.
Sigh. Anyway. Bella writes a letter to Edward, but tells Alice that the letter is for her mother.
My eye fell on a blank page of the hotel stationery on the desk. I went to it slowly, a plan forming. There was an envelope there, too. That was good.
“Alice,” I asked slowly, without turning, keeping my voice level. “If I write a letter for my mother, would you give it to her? Leave it at the house, I mean.”
[...] “Edward,” I wrote. My hand was shaking, the letters were hardly legible.
I love you. I am so sorry. He has my mom, and I have to try. I know it may not work. I am so very, very sorry.I folded the letter carefully, and sealed it in the envelope. Eventually he would find it. I only hoped he would understand, and listen to me just this once.
Don’t be angry with Alice and Jasper. If I get away from them it will be a miracle. Tell them thank you for me. Alice especially, please.
And please, please don’t come after him. That’s what he wants, I think. I can’t bear it if anyone has to be hurt because of me, especially you. Please, this is the only thing I can ask you now. For me.
I love you. Forgive me.
And then I carefully sealed away my heart.
So, oof. Bella feels that secrecy is essential here or her mother will die. So she writes a note and hands it to Alice. And just (correctly) assumes that Alice won't read it. Which means that the one time the Cullens respect Bella's privacy is the time when it really did count and she is heading off to be murdered. So what did we all learn today about privacy?
And--and props to Thomas for pointing this out to me during this post--Bella's whole plan of this letter getting to Edward flat-out depends on assuming that Edward will violate her privacy. The only way this letter works is if Alice mentions after Bella's death that, "oh, hey, I have a letter to give Renee" and Edward demands that she hand it over for him to open it.
Because if the Cullens do respect Bella's privacy and give this letter unopened to Renee, it's going to (a) confuse the hell out of her, and (b) potentially put her on the list of people who Know Too Much. Which, granted, Bella doesn't know about the latter category or the Volturi, but that's part of why Edward needs to talk to her more about vampires rather than making the whole thing a taboo subject that she's not allowed to bring up.
So, yeah, Chapter 21 is basically about Alice giving Bella all the privacy that she deserves to have, and the narrative hammering home how much this was a Bad Idea on Alice's part. Oof.