A/N: Thank you so much to my incredible beta, silly bella, for her help on this story. Also, this is my first time posting on this site, so please let me know if I'm doing something wrong! I hope you enjoy this story, and reviews would be very helpful! Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or any plots or characters (except in my dreams). In reality, they all belong to the super fabulous Stephenie Meyer.
Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or any plots or characters (except in my dreams). In reality, they all belong to the super fabulous Stephenie Meyer.
The Waiting Game
Sunday, March 13th
"Just let me go, Charlie," Bella said angrily, throwing the door open. "It didn't work out, okay? I really, really hate Forks!"
My extended hand froze in midair—I was seeing double. In my mind's eye I saw Renée, seventeen years ago, walking out this same door. In front of me stood Bella, my sweet little girl, who had helped fill the hole inside me. The two images were nearly identical, in both appearance and dialogue. I wasn't sure which was more painful.
Too stunned to move, I watched helplessly as Bella ran across the yard and jumped into her truck. "I'll call you tomorrow!" she yelled. It brought me little comfort. She was gone, and for all I knew, she was never coming back.
I don't know how long I stood motionless in the open doorway, trying to overcome the past and focus on the present. At first I was too shocked by the déjà vu and the anguish caused by Bella's words. Slowly, very slowly, my mind started to clear. As similar as the two incidents were, somehow they must be different. It just wasn't possible that Bella could act so much like Renée. Look like her, yes. But not behave like her. Bella's personality was too much like mine.
When I was finally able to move again, I felt like I had aged ten years. I sluggishly made my way to the kitchen table and sank down into the nearest chair. I was living a nightmare, but I had to try to think rationally. I needed to discover the real reason Bella was running away.
So much had happened in such a short time, it was hard to fathom. Just a few hours ago, during supper, Bella had told me about her date with Edward Cullen. Out of nowhere, too; I hadn't even known she liked the guy. How could one date, which was just supposed to involve playing baseball, wreak so much havoc? Besides, Bella was not one for making major decisions hastily. Once she made a decision, she stuck with it, but that was after much deliberation. It didn't make any sense for her to go to Phoenix without hesitation, at this time of night, when Renée wasn't even there yet.
Something else bothered me. Before she left, Bella said she hated Forks; she called it a stupid, boring town. But this totally contradicted her recent behavior. After the accident in January, Renée had begged Bella to return to Phoenix. Bella elected to stay in Forks, surprising both me and Renée. I was even more surprised in the following weeks, because Bella had seemed almost depressed. Why would she stay if she wasn't happy here? But since the beginning of March, I had noticed an obvious change in her attitude. She had more bounce in her step, more color in her face, more light in her eyes. Sometimes I'd catch her smiling for no apparent reason. She was acting like—
I gasped. She was acting like she was in love.
Why didn't I realize this sooner? Bella had said she liked Edward too much. Didn't that mean she loved him? It would certainly explain her behavior the past couple weeks. I was beginning to doubt that tonight had been their first date, which would mean she'd been lying to me. Or she was lying about her reason for leaving Forks. Either way, she was hiding information from me.
I buried my face in my hands. I had tried so hard to be a good father so Bella would want to stay here. Even though I worried about her all the time, I did my best not to show it. I didn't want her to think I was overbearing. But I should have been more involved in her life. Maybe then she would have confided in me, and I could have helped her with whatever she was going through. Then again, maybe not. What did I know about raising a teenaged girl? I needed help. Someone who could give me advice about teenagers…
The answer came almost immediately—Billy. Not only was he my best friend and the father of three kids (two of which were girls), but he had stopped by this afternoon. Maybe he had noticed something unusual about Bella while he was here. I nearly jumped out of the chair in my hurry to get to the phone. I dialed Billy's number and paced the floor until someone picked up the phone.
"Billy!" I was relieved to hear his voice. "This is Charlie."
"Hey, Charlie. Calling about the fish fry?"
"Actually, no. I mean, yes, I wanted to thank you for the fish fry. But there's something else." I hesitated. This was going to be harder to talk about than I'd expected. "Bella ran away from home tonight," I finally managed.
Billy inhaled sharply. "What happened? Is she all right?"
"She came home very upset, packed a bag, and left for Phoenix in the truck. It all happened so fast; I didn't know how to stop her." The words tumbled out so quickly, I wondered if Billy could understand them.
"Did she say why she was leaving?" Billy asked anxiously.
I gulped. In my concern for Bella, I had forgotten about Billy's opinion of the Cullens. "Yes, because of Edward Cullen."
"Son of a—did he hurt her?!" The fear in his voice surprised me.
"No, no, she's not hurt. She left because she likes him…" I trailed off, not relishing the explanation.
"Charlie, are you sure he didn't hurt her?" Why did he sound so frightened? Did he really think Edward was that capable of violence?
"I saw her, she seemed fine. Apart from being really upset, of course." Just thinking about Bella upset was making me upset. I started pacing again.
"But why would liking him make her want to leave?" Billy seemed a little calmer, but now confused.
This was the part that hurt the most. I sighed. "She said she didn't want to put down roots in Forks." It was all I could manage. I couldn't repeat the other words, the words Renée had also used.
Billy pondered this in silence while I waited impatiently. Finally I couldn't keep quiet any longer. "You saw her this afternoon. Was she acting strangely then?"
"Um, I didn't notice anything strange," he mumbled. I narrowed my eyes in frustration. Evasive answers would get me nowhere.
"Well, you have two daughters. Is this normal behavior? I mean, what do you think will happen?" I wanted to ask if he thought she'd come back, but I bit my lip.
Billy paused, and then began talking confidently. "It's definitely normal for teenaged girls to have crushes. My girls used to claim to be in love with a guy one day, but the next day they'd be mad at him or despise him for some reason. It never really made sense. But they always got over it pretty quickly, so I'm sure Bella will, too."
I frowned. That didn't sound like Bella at all. But I wanted it to be true. Yes, blame it on the hormones. "So you think she'll be okay?"
"Yes, I do. In fact, I think Bella showed great maturity in walking away from the relationship before she could get hurt." The more he talked, the more convincing he became.
Suddenly I stopped pacing. I couldn't avoid the question any longer. "Do you think she'll come back to Forks?" My voice was husky, so I tried covering it with a cough.
Another pause. "Well, Charlie, I'm not sure. Maybe it would be better for Bella if she stayed in Phoenix."
How could he say that?! I gripped the counter for support. "What do you mean?" I said through clenched teeth.
"I mean, it would be safer there. She wouldn't be tempted to return to Cullen, so she wouldn't end up with a broken heart." He seemed so sure of himself, but I disagreed with his reasoning. I couldn't protect Bella from falling in love, even if I wanted to. No matter where she lived, guys would be waiting for her to fall in love with them.
I stifled a sigh. "Billy, thank you for the advice. I really appreciate it."
"Don't mention it. But please call me when you hear from Bella. I'm sure Jacob will want to know how she's doing."
"Of course. I'll give you a call when I hear something definite. Bye, Billy." I waited for his goodbye, and then hung up the phone. The conversation hadn't improved my mood like I'd hoped it would. For some reason, Billy's words didn't ring completely true with me. He was concerned for Bella's welfare, that much was certain. I just couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me.
Without thinking, I banged my fist down on the counter. Why did I let her leave? Why?
Monday, March 14th
I got ready for work, more out of habit than any real desire to go. I had debated staying home and waiting for Bella to call, but I needed work to distract me from constantly thinking of her. Besides, she'd probably call me at work anyway. No point in pacing the kitchen floor all day.
Unfortunately, I had to call in Bella's absence to the school. I considered using illness as an excuse, but quickly dismissed the idea. In Forks, the truth always comes out, usually sooner than later. But that didn't mean I had to reveal all the scandalous details to Mrs. Cope, the high school secretary. I simply told her that Bella was visiting her mother and wasn't sure how long she'd be gone, which was true enough. Mrs. Cope seemed understanding, but I could almost hear the curiosity in her voice. She was probably eager to start spreading the gossip to the rest of the faculty and staff.
Hanging up the phone, I sighed. Before walking out the door, I grabbed a bottle of Tylenol. It was going to be a long day.
The day turned out even more frustrating than I'd imagined. I stayed at my desk as much as possible, waiting for Bella to call. When I did leave, I'd hurry back quickly, hoping for a message. And thus the day dragged on, with no word from her.
After work when I was driving home, a sudden inspiration gave me hope. Maybe she had left a message at the house. Yes, that must be it. I rushed inside to check the answering machine. Nothing.
It was ten o'clock at night before I finally gave up hope of her calling. I was forced to admit it—she had lied to me again. And while I was admitting defeat, I had to face another fact; it was time to call Renée. I'd been putting it off, wanting to hear from Bella first. Deep down I'd been hoping Bella would return to Forks, and then Renée would never have to know. I never wanted her to know what a failure I was at being a father.
But I could no longer avoid calling Renée. I had to tell her everything. I picked up the phone in disgust. In the course of the day, I'd come to hate phones in a way I'd never thought possible.
Tuesday, March 15th
Today felt even worse than yesterday. What little hope I had yesterday was replaced by worry today. It all started going downhill after the call to Renée last night. I had told her an edited version of the whole story because I couldn't bear to repeat the exact words Bella had used. I also downplayed Bella's feelings for Edward, saying that she'd just started to like him and they'd only been on one date. I didn't want to hear Renée's lecture on how Bella was too young to be so in love.
Even with the edited version, Renée's reaction was hard to handle. First she seemed shocked by what had happened. Then she became angry with me for letting Bella leave. Finally came the part I'd been dreading the most—the panic. Where is she now? Why hasn't she called yet? What if something happened to her?
The same questions had been circling in my head all day, but talking to Renée had increased my own level of panic. Images of Bella in trouble kept surfacing. Maybe the truck had broken down along the roadside. Or worse, she'd been in an accident…
It took all my years as Police Chief to help calm the father in me. I reminded myself of the facts. Bella was smart; she'd find a way out of a tough situation. And if she'd been in an accident, I would have received a call by now. Back in January I'd made Bella put emergency contact information inside her truck. I relayed all this information to Renée with an air of confidence. I didn't tell her that these facts could only keep my worry at bay, not make it disappear completely.
I had finally convinced Renée that flying to Phoenix immediately wasn't necessary. Bella would be fine on her own for a couple days, which would give Renée and Phil time to wrap up the job search and return to Phoenix together. But Renée did insist that I call her as soon as I heard anything, in case she needed to fly in sooner.
So now I was back to the waiting game, and my stress was starting to show. I'm sure my coworkers noticed how abnormally I was acting. I accidentally snapped at the receptionist when she said I had a message from my dentist. As if I cared about any message unless it was from Bella. Or about Bella—but I shied away from that thought.
For supper I fried bacon and eggs for the second night in a row. I definitely missed Bella's delicious cooking, but that's not why I wanted her back. I'd gladly eat bacon and eggs every day for the rest of my life if only she'd come home. Of course, my life probably wouldn't last much longer if I ate that way.
After supper I watched TV, as usual. Normally I would have been thrilled by such an exciting game. But tonight I could barely even focus on it. Part of my mind was waiting, listening for the phone to ring…
Wednesday, March 16th
I slowly walked into the house, exhausted after another long day at work. An aggravating day, to say the least. I'd actually been approached by a few people who had heard of Bella's absence and wanted to inquire about how she was doing. I'd been forced to admit that I hadn't heard from her. Then I'd watched as their surprise faded to pity and sympathy for me—the same looks I'd received after Renée left. That had been the worst time of my life, and the thought of reliving it was excruciating.
Coming home held no appeal, other than the chance to escape from curious eyes. I glanced at the answering machine out of habit. Then I opened the fridge, fooling myself into thinking I would make something other than bacon and eggs. I was standing there, leaning against the door wearily, when it happened.
The phone rang.
I slammed the fridge door shut and tripped over a chair in my rush to pick up the phone. "Bella?" I said breathlessly into the receiver.
"Um, no, I'm sorry. This is Alice Cullen," the musical voice explained.
My emotions fluctuated rapidly as I stood, bewildered. First my wild hopes were dashed, only to be replaced by confusion. I knew Alice Cullen, of course, but I had never talked to her before. Why would she be calling me? Wait, she was Edward's sister—"Do you know something about Bella?" I blurted out before I could stop myself. I shut my mouth, wondering if she thought I was crazy or just incredibly rude.
She hesitated briefly before answering, "Yes, I do." Then she paused again.
I took a deep breath. "Please, tell me. I have to know."
"There's no need to worry, Chief Swan. Bella is going to be fine."
Going to be fine? "You mean—she's hurt?" My voice broke on the last word.
"Bella was in an accident. She's in the hospital, but her condition is stable. Chief, you must believe me. She is no longer in any danger." Her voice was purposefully steady, but I couldn't feel its calming effect. No longer trusting my legs to support me, I leaned my back against the wall.
"It was a car accident, wasn't it?" I whispered so softly, I was sure Alice wouldn't be able to hear me.
But she answered. "Actually, no, she made it to Phoenix just fine. I'm here at the hospital, too, watching her as we speak."
That shocked me. "You're there?"
"Yes, along with Edward and my father, Dr. Cullen. The three of us flew to Phoenix this morning, because Edward wanted to talk to Bella about returning to Forks. She agreed to meet us at the hotel where we were staying. On her way up to our room she tripped, falling down two flights of stairs and through a window."
"My God!" I gasped. I clutched at my chest in a futile attempt to keep my heart from racing. "Are you sure she's all right? What are her injuries?"
Alice sighed, as though not wanting to answer. "She has a broken leg, four broken ribs, and some cracks in her skull. She's covered in bruises, and she's lost a lot of blood."
I couldn't speak. My legs gave out, and I slumped down the wall until I was sitting on the floor. I even forgot about the phone in my hand until Alice spoke again.
"I know it sounds terrible, but I promise she'll be okay. My father helped take care of her. He said she'll have to stay in the hospital for awhile, but she'll definitely make a full recovery." I closed my eyes and forced myself to breathe normally.
Clearing my throat, I finally managed to say, "Thank God your father was there when it happened. Please give him my thanks, from the bottom of my heart."
"Is Bella—awake?" I had to clear my throat again to hide how shaky my voice was.
"No, I'm sorry. They're keeping her heavily sedated." Alice's voice was regretful. "But I'm sure she'll want to call you when she wakes up."
I wasn't so sure, but I didn't want to tell Alice that. My head was slowly starting to clear. Then I groaned. "Oh no, I need to call Renée." She's going to panic…
"Actually, I called her right before I called you." Alice sounded almost amused.
My eyes snapped open. "You did? What did she say?"
"She's getting on the next available flight to Phoenix. She's hoping to arrive here tonight."
I sighed in relief, a huge weight having been lifted off my shoulders. "Thank you so much, Alice, for everything. How can I ever repay you?"
"Don't worry about that, Chief Swan. I'm just glad I could help in some way."
Her voice made me smile, which was amazing after the news I'd just received. "Please, call me Charlie."
She gave a little laugh, a wonderful, musical sound. "Okay, Charlie. I'll tell Renée to call you when we have an update on Bella's condition. But like I said, you have nothing to worry about. Bella's going to be fine."
"Thank you, Alice."
"Goodbye." The line went dead. I sat on the floor listening to the dial tone, too weak to stand and hang up the phone. If I'd been physically drained from work, I was now emotionally drained as well.
The rest of the evening was spent in various states of thankfulness and denial. I was thankful because, even though Bella was in the hospital with terrible injuries, she would eventually make a full recovery. Plus, after three days of worrying, at least I finally knew where she was.
I was in denial about many things. First, Bella had made it to Phoenix and never called me. Why? Bella hated to lie, so what reason could she have to lie to me? Second, Edward had convinced Dr. Cullen to take him and Alice to Phoenix, just so Edward could see Bella and persuade her to return to Forks. If that wasn't love, I didn't know what was. I had been worried before about Bella being in love with Edward, but now it appeared that he was also in love with her. Frankly, the idea terrified me. They were too young to be that in love (I refused to think about the fact that Bella wasn't much younger than I had been when I married Renée). Third, I still didn't know where Bella would decide to live. Would Edward convince her to come back here? Or would Renée talk her into living in Phoenix, or wherever it was Phil would get signed to? Apparently, my waiting game wasn't over after all.
With all these thoughts running through my head, I fell into a restless sleep on the couch, the TV still on.
Thursday, March 17th
I awoke early, feeling stiff from a night on the couch. But my mind was refreshed, and I remembered that I needed to call Billy. I'd promised him I'd let him know when I had an update on Bella. I ate breakfast and got ready for work, just to make sure Billy had time to wake up before I called. When it was half past seven, I couldn't wait any longer, so I picked up the phone and dialed his number.
"Hello?" Billy's voice wasn't groggy, so I assumed he'd been awake for awhile.
"Billy, this is Charlie." As I talked, I started gathering my things for work: keys, wallet, jacket, hat, gun…
"Charlie! Did you hear from Bella? Is everything all right?" His concern was palpable.
"Well, it's sort of a good news-bad news situation." I told Billy how Bella had reached Phoenix safely, and he was relieved to hear that. Then I said how the three Cullens had followed her to Phoenix. I heard Billy gasp, but I wasn't sure how to interpret it. Was he surprised that the people he distrusted actually cared a lot for Bella? I continued the story, telling about Bella visiting their hotel and her resulting accident. Billy seemed even more upset than I had been upon hearing that news.
"Where is she now? Are you sure she's okay?" I didn't understand the frightening urgency in his voice. My brow furrowed in confusion.
"She's at a hospital in Phoenix. And I know she's fine because Alice called and told me so. Thankfully, Dr. Cullen is there helping to take care of her—"
"Charlie, you need to get on a plane for Phoenix!"
My mouth dropped open in shock. "Billy, what the—"
"Trust me on this! You need to leave now!"
I shook my head, baffled by his frantic interruptions. "I know you're worried about Bella's injuries, but she's going to make a full recovery."
Billy made a contemptuous noise. "Just because Dr. Cullen said that doesn't make it true."
So that was it. He wasn't worried about Bella; he was worried about the Cullens. My eyes narrowed angrily. "Dr. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon, who also just saved my daughter's life. So I don't appreciate you questioning his honesty."
"You don't know him like I do," Billy pleaded with me.
"Really, you know him personally?" I said sarcastically, my hands clenching into fists. "Have you even talked to him before?"
"I don't want to fight with you about this. Please, just go and make sure Bella's safe. For her sake, not mine. I really hope you're right, and that she's fine. But just in case…"
"In case what?" I nearly shouted, pacing the floor in agitation. "In case Dr. Cullen secretly plans to stick a dirty needle in her arm?"
"Charlie, you don't understand—"
It was my turn to interrupt. "No, you don't understand. I trust the Cullens, and I'm not going to Phoenix. Besides, Renée should be there by now. She would have called me if something was wrong."
"I'm glad she's there, but something could still happen." Billy sounded like he was trying very hard to control his frustration and anger.
"I'm done talking about this. Thank you for your concern, but I'm not going to listen to your paranoia any longer. I hope to talk to you again, Billy, but not about this." Billy started to reply, but I hung up before I could hear him.
Several minutes passed before I was able to stop pacing and regain some composure. Only then did I notice the clock—I was late for work. Swearing under my breath, I stormed out of the house and slammed the door behind me.
The conversation with Billy plagued me for the rest of the day. I hated arguing with him, but his comments about the Cullens were absolutely ridiculous. He had never given me any proof or reason to dislike them, yet I was supposed to avoid them just because he said so. I prided myself on my common sense, and I knew there was nothing logical about his opinion of the Cullens.
As if Billy wasn't enough to worry about, other thoughts were pestering me. I hadn't received any calls from or about Bella, which implied that she was still sleeping. Was that normal for someone in her condition? When would she wake up? Was she really going to be all right? These questions and others buzzed like mosquitoes around my head.
Friday, March 18th
It was almost noon before all my questions were finally answered. I was getting ready to leave for lunch when the phone on my desk rang. I jumped and my hand shot forward, accidentally knocking over my coffee cup. Fortunately, I had drunk most of the coffee already, so I threw some napkins on the little puddle and snatched up the phone.
"Chief Swan," I said, just in case it was a business call.
"Charlie, this is Renée."
I realized I'd been holding my breath, and I exhaled nosily. I'd never been so glad to hear her voice. "Is Bella okay?" I asked nervously.
"She's fine. She woke up about an hour ago." I sighed in relief.
"Did you talk to her for long? How is she feeling?" I absentmindedly wiped up the spilled coffee, eagerly awaiting the answer.
"We only talked for about ten minutes. I couldn't stay long because I was expecting a call from Phil." She sounded guilty, and I tried to ignore the surge of jealousy I always felt upon hearing Phil's name. "And you know Bella; she'll never admit anything's wrong. But I noticed that even little movements seemed to be painful for her."
I frowned, hating the thought of Bella in pain. "Did you talk to Dr. Cullen about her condition?"
"Yes. He said she'll soon be back to her normal self, apart from the leg cast. But my goodness, he looks much too young to be a doctor! All three of the Cullens I've met are extremely good-looking."
"You met Edward and Alice, too?" I was curious to know what Renée thought of them. Maybe an unbiased opinion would shed some light on the argument with Billy.
"Oh yes, and they're both very nice." I smiled triumphantly. "But, Charlie, I think you've underestimated Edward's feelings for Bella." I heard an undertone of disapproval creep into her voice.
"What do you mean?" I tried to sound innocent, but my fingers were drumming nervously on the desk.
"Well, I think he's in love with her!" I managed a disbelieving grunt. "Don't worry though, I confronted Bella about it. She said she just has a crush on him."
"Thank goodness." I pretended to be relieved, but really I was confused. Was that true, or had Bella just hoodwinked Renée? I certainly wasn't going to voice my doubts though. I decided to change the subject. "So, any news from Phil about the job hunt?" I hated talking about Phil, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
"Oh, I can't believe I forgot to tell you! Phil got signed with the Suns! And we already found a house in Jacksonville…" She continued talking about the house, but I stopped listening. All I could think about was how Bella would probably love to live in Florida. I slumped back in my chair, dejected.
"Charlie? Did you hear what I said?"
"Yeah, that's great news." My attempt at enthusiasm was pathetic. "Did you tell Bella about it?" I asked nonchalantly.
"Yes." Renée's bubbly tone was gone. "She said she wanted to stay in Forks."
I was completely stunned. After everything that had happened, she was passing up Florida to live in—Forks? I cleared my throat and tried to speak calmly. "Did she say why?"
"She mentioned a few things." Renée sounded disappointed, and I felt a little sorry for her. "She said she's settled in at school, and she has a couple girlfriends. She admitted that Edward was part of her reason for wanting to stay. And she also mentioned you, Charlie."
"Me?" I was horrified by how my voice squeaked.
"Yes. She said you need her."
A rush of thoughts and emotions left me speechless. Bella knew I needed her, and that was one of her reasons for staying in Forks? Or was she just trying to cover up the depth of her feelings for Edward? At the moment, I didn't care what her true motivation was; I was just thrilled she was coming back. Maybe I hadn't been a terrible father after all. Bella wouldn't choose to live with me if she hated me.
"Charlie?" Renée was getting impatient, but I didn't trust myself to answer her.
"I'm sorry, Renée, but I need to go take care of some business. Please call me if Bella's condition changes, or if you need anything."
She sighed, and I'm sure she could see right through my attempt to avoid the topic. "Okay, I'll keep you updated."
"Thank you. Bye, Renée."
I hung up the phone, but not before kissing it. God, how I loved phones. Thanks to the phone, my waiting game was finally over. I couldn't help but smile as I leaned back in my chair. Bella was awake and improving, and she wanted to live in Forks. It was more good news than I had dared hope for.
Except for the one catch—Edward. My smile faltered as I pondered him. Maybe Bella was coming back because him. But he was the reason she had left in the first place! I didn't know whether to thank Edward or yell at him. But I did know one thing—they were in love with each other. I shuddered at the thought. A relationship like theirs could end badly in so many ways. Bella could run away again, or get her heart broken. Or worse, they could have se—no, don't even think about that! That was not going to happen as long as she was living under my roof. I only had one choice—I had to buckle down. I would have to be stricter with Bella and more involved in her life if I wanted to protect her. If that meant setting curfews and visiting hours, so be it. She'd probably end up hating me, but that was better than seeing her get hurt by Edward.
Edward. Slowly my smile returned. Enforcing these new rules could actually turn out to be fun…