Holidays were always bittersweet for Bella and me. The sweet aspect was very obvious—the love that Bella and I share makes celebrating special occasions meaningful. However, her reluctance to receive gifts tended to be an obstacle for these events.
We had many high-tech digital cameras throughout our house. It was an indulgence, really, as none of us aged and we were careful with the amount of pictures we took. However, especially since Renesmee was born, we've been using the camera more often. Rosalie and Alice took many pictures of her for her baby book, but we tried not to get any of us mature vampires or Jacob in them, so that there would not be proof of our non-aging.
It was one of these picture taking episodes that triggered the memory of a different camera. It was barely a year ago, but it seemed like a lifetime. The memory was accompanied by sharp pain, drawing an anxious look from Jasper. I shook my head the tiniest amount, letting him know I was fine. This camera was a representation of the darkest season of my existence, the time without my Bella.
I knew that it would not feel the same way for her. Human memories fade, and I know those memories would not be ones that she would purposefully think of to retain in her immortal mind. I knew she may have a vague memory of the camera, but I was certain what it would represent. The fact that it was 35 mm and an inexpensive brand would remind her of her humble human life, of her loving parents.
Charlie was an unexpected blessing to our new lives. While he was still on a "need-to-know" basis with us, and he did not associate the term "vampire" with our family, the tenor of his thoughts let me know he had completely accepted the fact that we were not human. Since I had never been able to clearly see his thoughts, I could not be entirely sure, but I had seen glimpses of ghosts (which was not too far of a stretch, what with our pale, cold skin) and also aliens. However, his thoughts finally settled on something similar to a werewolf, assuming that we were somehow related to the shape-shifter that he saw in action. He imagined Bella turning into something beautiful, like a unicorn.
Renee, on the other hand, had been a challenge. We were hoping, in the future, that Bella would be able to have limited contact with her. We believed that it would've been too suspicious to sever all ties. Charlie was invaluable to this charade, reassuring Renee that Bella was fine and was taking to married live beautifully. Due to our limitless technology, we were able to Photoshop pictures weekly to send to Renee via email, chronicling our married life, using pictures of Bella before she was turned. However, Renee was not able to send any back due to her slow dial-up connection in Florida.
Recently, Jasper had an idea about conferencing with Renee via "webcam," using a black and white camera and adjusting the resolution to come in just a little fuzzy. Renee would attribute the difference in Bella's voice to her substandard Internet connection in Florida. It would not be a permanent fix, but I believe that it had enough merit to investigate further. Nevertheless, we had all agreed to delay telling Bella this idea until we were certain it would work. Alice was searching the future, and Jasper was trying to manipulate the software to take care of each concern Alice foresaw.
In the meantime, Bella was missing her mother terribly. I was hoping to have the conferencing abilities up by Valentine's Day, but it wasn't going as smoothly as I expected. There were a few issues on Renee's end that Alice suggested needed to be changed. There was no way to manipulate the concerns in Florida except in person. I had made up my mind to employ a general contractor to discretely make the changes necessary, but thinking of Bella's old 35 mm camera gave me an idea.
It would be a challenge to pull off, especially since Bella and I were unable to be separated, only sharing our attention with Renesmee. We were completely enjoying married life, basking in the glow if immortality. If I were to be missing for 24 hours, her suspicion would ruin any Valentine's Day surprise I would plan. I would need help—probably everyone in the family's help. Starting with Alice. Perhaps a girls' shopping trip would be in order to distract Bella.
"Sweet!" Alice thought. "It's going to work perfectly." I watched vague pictures flit through her mind of a grumpy-yet, not suspicious, Bella. The pictures were blurry because Renesmee was there. But it was enough of an encouragement to go on to the next part of my plan. I needed to get Bella's old camera from Charlie's.
Bella, Renesmee, Jacob, and I drove to Charlie's house. Usually, I did not appreciate Jacob's seemingly constant presence with my wife and daughter. However, I was grateful today for his distracting appearance. Hopefully, he would distract Bella enough for me to secure the camera from her old bedroom.
When we arrived at Charlie's, instead of parking in the center of the driveway as we usually did, I parked off to the side, under the tree in the front yard. Bella gave me a confused look but didn't question it. I had opened the sunroof at Renesmee and Jacob's request—something I prompted them to do before we left. Everything was in order so far for this plan.
We got out of the car, moving at human speed. Jacob unbuckled Renesmee from her car seat, a necessary prop when your father-in-law is the chief of police. There was no use explaining the absurdity of the "safety" device to Charlie. When Grandpa is on a "need-to-know" basis, the fact that his granddaughter is nearly indestructible and the three adults in the car would never have a wreck, and even if they did, they would grab Renesmee and wrap themselves around her well before the impact was a mute point. So when we traveled to see Grandpa, there was no "lap-babies" allowed. Part of the charade. We all knew it was important for Renesmee to start playing her part.
Charlie was watching for us out of the window. The tenor of his thoughts still betrayed his curiosity with Jacob. I really could not blame him. Jacob went from being a Cullen-hating, Bella-loving, teenage runaway to being a member of our family with a very usual obsession with our daughter. I knew he was dying to ask me about it, to ask why I allowed it. I did not know how I would answer, because I barely understood myself why I allowed him to constantly hold my daughter.
This thought made me decide that I needed to hold Renesmee. I went to the backdoor of the Volvo as Jacob finished removing her from her straps and held out my hands. He noticed me over his shoulder, and I heard him mentally sigh. "Play nice, Jacob," he told himself. He pasted on a smile and handed her to me. "Here ya go, Daddy," he said out loud, playfully, and just a little sarcastically. Bella sighed as us both and held out her arms. "I NEED her," she said, and I obliged by handing our daughter to her. Renesmee giggled from being passed around by her three favorite adults, and buried her head in Bella's hair. Jacob and I grinned at each other, a little sheepishness in each of our expressions.
"Nessie!" Charlie called from the doorway. She peeked out between Bella's hair, and I saw Charlie swallow noisily. He may not have vampire-sharp vision, but even a human could tell that Renesmee was growing faster than a normal baby. His worried thoughts were swirling around me as we stepped into the house.
We all settled into the small living room making small talk. Charlie was asking about the rest of the family, and Jacob stretched out on the floor, and I knew he would be asleep in no time. "I'll be right back," I said under my breath to Bella, and Jacob opened one eye to look at me. To Charlie I said, "Will you excuse me? I need to use your restroom, please." Charlie's thoughts were surprised at this ordinary request, although he did not specifically know that vampires had no use for a toilet.
I walked up the stairs and opened the bathroom door. I closed it noisily so that Charlie would think I went in. However, at the same time, I silently opened the door to Bella's old room and slipped in.
The bedroom had not changed since the last night she stayed here, the night before our wedding. I remembered with clarity my brothers dragging me out for a last-minute hunting trip and unsolicited honeymoon advice. A quiet chuckle escaped my lips, and I heard Bella's sudden thoughts. "What are you doing?" she asked me, her thought words slightly strained at the effort to unshield her mind.
"It's okay, love," I murmured. "Just taking a trip down memory lane. I'll be down in a moment." I waited for Jacob to sleepily ask Bella a question that I prompted him to, effectively distracting her. I slipped over to her desk, found the camera in question, silently opened her bedroom window, and dropped the camera out of the window, though the open sunroof in the Volvo, and into Renesmee's open diaper bag, where Alice had arranged Renesmee's clothes to cushion the fall.
I slipped back out into the hallway and noisily re-opened and shut the bathroom door, and came down the stairs. Charlie's thoughts were focused on Renesmee, Jacob was slowly drifting back into oblivion, Bella's shield was tightly back in place, and Renesmee was wishing she could let Charlie know she could talk. She wanted to have the same relationship with him that she had with the rest of her family. I caught her eye and shook my head a millimeter to the left, but I tempered the rebuke with a smile, as I knew she didn't really mean to expose herself to Charlie. I felt the need to remind her though, just in case.
Bella caught my eye, and I was preparing myself for her mental questions, when Charlie turned to us and asked if we had heard from Renee recently. Bella recounted the last email we had received, and Charlie's thoughts were concerned—I assumed, both for Renee and also for our secret.
A couple of hours later, his thoughts and Renesmee's thoughts both started to slow, so I knew it was time to return home. I kicked Jacob with the toe of my shoe (gently, since Charlie was watching) and rose to gather everyone up. I heard Bella hold her breath to prepare to hug Charlie good-bye, and I stayed with arms reach of Bella, just in case. It really was easy to forget she was a newborn.
I caught Jacob's eye as we returned to the car, and I saw him slip into the car first and zip up Renesmee's diaper bag before Bella reached the car to hand him the baby to put in her car seat. Bella heard the zipper and looked at the diaper bag, but then shook her head and turned back to wave at Charlie, more concerned with keeping up her human façade than figuring out her strange werewolf friend's bizarre behavior. We climbed in our car and zoomed for home, the first phase of my plan complete, with Bella's camera safely hidden behind me.