Thank you so much for your kind comments on Chapter One; I hope you like Chapter Two as much!!
I stood to open our overhead compartment, taking Bella's backpack down for her so that we could deplane as soon as she returned. Alice was also prepared by the time Bella came up the aisle toward us, and the three of us smiled faintly at the too-cheerful flight attendants as we walked into the Atlanta airport. Fortunately, our connecting flight was on time. I offered to purchase Bella something to eat at the row of eateries lining the west side of our wing of the airport. She started to refuse until Alice intervened and told her to eat something if she wanted to stay awake.
Nice reverse psychology, Alice.
Alice remained with our carry-on bags, calling Jasper on her cell as Bella walked beside me down the causeway. She did not reach out her hand to hold mine as she used to when we walked somewhere together, but her eyes kept sliding sideways several times a minute, apparently making certain that I was still beside her.
I had to admit that I couldn't stop glancing at her, either.
Bella finally decided on a turkey sub, and I ordered her a large one over her protests.
“If you can't eat it all now, you can take the other half on the plane in case you get hungry later,” I suggested, and she finally nodded. I frowned, though, when she ordered an extra-large Coke to go with her sandwich. She noticed my displeasure and simply shrugged, making no apologies.
Once her sandwich was made and bagged up for her, I carried it while she held the huge drink, sipping at it as we walked back to the boarding area for our connecting flight. We made our way back to Alice, and Bella managed to consume almost half of the sandwich while we waited for our plane to arrive. Seeing her eat something made me feel so much better; now that I was back, I would be able to encourage her to eat regularly so that she could gain back the weight she lost while I was away.
I watched her as she folded away the remainder of her sandwich to eat later: her eyes still looked glassy with exhaustion and some other emotion I didn't recognize...it was as if she was suppressing her emotions so deeply that she appeared wooden and unfeeling.
I knew that she had been through a great deal in the last twenty-four hours, but she seemed to be on autopilot, responding with correct responses when directly asked a direct question, but allowing her mind to wander when we weren't talking...which was almost all of the time.
We boarded our connecting flight soon afterward, quietly settling again into the first-class cabin. This time, however, we were not alone; several business people in suits and ties joined us, spreading out files and booting up laptops as soon as they were allowed to do so.
Once the seat belt sign disappeared, Bella was moving toward the bathroom once again, the large Coke keeping her awake but obviously causing unwelcome side effects.
When she wasn't running off to the bathroom, I held Bella close beside me, unable to resist kissing her hands, wrists, hair, forehead, and cheeks, but avoiding kissing her on her lips the way I wanted to so badly. I refrained for several reasons: Bella's uncommunicative state, the fear and desperation still hiding behind her eyes, my desire for her to fall asleep and get the rest she so clearly needed, and the concern that if I kissed her properly on the lips, I would never be able to stop kissing her...ever.
She remained within my arms, but we did not talk. Bella seemed so fragile—not just physically as I had noted the moment I had embraced her in that alley in Volterra, but emotionally as well, as if one word from me could completely shatter her. Occasionally she would turn to me as if she had a question to ask or a comment to make, but then she would fold her lips stubbornly and turn away to stare out the window instead.