Chapter Ten: Surveillance
These days, Charlie considered designated visiting hours as that time of the day when he drew on his years of experience as a law enforcement officer and engaged in that venerable police activity known as surveillance. And Charlie was on full alert. When Edward showed up at the house, Charlie hunkered down in his favorite chair and pretended to worship the television and whatever was on it. Charlie did these things because he knew that Bella had something up her sleeve and he figured Edward was in on it.
So far, Bella had refused to give Charlie the slightest hint what she was thinking about when it came to her plans for college and graduation was three days away. Bella had even rejected Charlie's attempts to help her financially and pay the deposit needed to hold her seat in Alaska. Despite his assurances that he believed any funds tucked into his retirement account would be better spent on Bella's future, she insisted that her education was her responsibility - and no one else's.
Of course, Charlie began to fantasize that Bella was thinking about staying on in Forks. He imagined her enrolling at Peninsula College in Port Angeles and coming home every night to make dinner. Maybe Charlie would buy one of those fuel-efficient little cars for Bella to drive. Heck, I'll get one of those hybrids. Bella will like that. Maybe Bella would learn to really love Forks.
Uncertainty gnawed at Charlie, but he was soothed by the slightly confused and tense expression Edward was wearing most evenings. Charlie shook his head. Congenial acquiescence to Edward's nearly constant presence had slipped in stealthily, and that acceptance threatened to spoil the flavor of the tension Charlie tried to create - and enjoyed - whenever Edward dared show his face.
Charlie chuckled. If Bella could play sneaky, Charlie figured he could, too. Undercover, Charlie said to himself, as he pulled one of his mother's crocheted afghans across his lap. (Police work was seldom strenuous or mentally taxing.)
Charlie went out of his way to celebrate Edward's rare absence and to act grumpy whenever Edward was around. Subterfuge. Charlie didn't want Bella to realize he was getting soft on Edward any more than he wanted her to know he daydreamed about shooting Edward and turning him into chum.
The day after Bella and Edward returned from Jacksonville, Harold Greene called. He wanted Charlie to be aware of an incident that occurred at the high school. Greene related he had chased off 'a scary Indian', who threatened Edward Cullen. According to the gossip among Forks students, the argument stemmed from a rivalry for the affections of the Charlie's daughter.
Charlie could barely keep his excitement to himself. Until Jacob showed up at school, he had been freezing Bella out - just like Billy was telling Jacob to do, ignoring Bella's notes and calls, while Charlie prodded and poked at Bella's need to play the caretaker.
"That sounds serious. We don't want trouble," Charlie told the principal. Of course, Charlie really had been looking forward to a little public skirmish between Jacob and Edward; but he hoped he could keep Jacob out of trouble, and that might be harder to do if Jacob was trespassing on school property.
"It sounds like you're describing Jacob Black." Charlie couldn't lie. Anyway, if Greene got an itch to punish the kid and had to track him down, the idea might cement.
"The way I see it is that Bella's older than Jacob and she's planning for college now. Growing up and moving on. Being left behind is hard on Jacob. Let me call his dad and I'm sure that will be the end of it. You won't see Jacob Black again unless he's been invited."
The principal agreed and promised to keep Charlie informed of any further problems. "Cullen . . . he looked like he was thinking about ripping something apart," Greene warned.
"I've got my eye on things here at home. Trust me, if there's trouble brewing, I'll see it."
Sure enough, the Bella who practically floated back from Florida and skipped out of the house to jump in Edward's car early Monday morning was not the perturbed, anxious she-cat who came home that night and tossed a pot pie in the microwave for Charlie.
Instead of claiming a chair in the kitchen while Bella puttered, Edward meandered into the living room where Charlie was checking out the Weather Channel. Occasionally, Edward turned around to look at Bella like he wanted to ask her something.
Maybe something like 'what's up with you tonight, Bells?'
"PMS," Charlie had conveniently said aloud as Bella walked by with a box filled with plastic for the recycling center.
Instantly, she froze and gave Charlie one of those faces that quite articulately expressed half a dozen swear words. Her reaction coincided with Edward's sniff and a puzzled bunching of eyebrows.
Charlie decided the mere mention of PMS rendered a disturbed expression on Edward's face, although there was no way Bella could have seen it. However, she must have heard the sniff and that was enough to earn Edward a proverbial swat to the back of the head with a dish towel.
"I'm not talking to you any more tonight," she had told Edward. If either Edward or Charlie held any hope she would keep that promise, their optimism was pointless, because she immediately began to rattle off a list of things she wanted Edward to know. Bella didn't directly mention Jacob's presence at school, but she alluded to the visit.
"You can't decide everything for me. I have a mind of my own. I have feelings of my own and I can talk to whom every I wish, whenever and wherever I want."
Charlie was having a great time watching Bella torment the boy she'd been so eager to fly off to Florida with only days before. Charlie even turned the volume on the flatscreen down, so he wouldn't miss a word.
"I know. I know. I know." Edward only knew three words and it was plain to Charlie that despite Edward's assurances to the contrary, he didn't know a doggone thing.
"You keep saying that," Bella growled. "I'd like to see a little of that understanding in action."
"It's just.." Charlie sat up; Edward was getting ready to step into quick sand and Charlie didn't want to miss the drama.
Unfortunately, Bella spoiled the event by being classically Bella. That is, she tripped and scattered junk all over the floor. While she stood there shaking her head, Edward began retrieving the rolling bottles. Charlie squinted. Edward was a little too fast, like he was hastily trying to conceal the evidence of a crime; but his reaction hardly seemed appropriate, since it appeared Bella was the one contemplating murder.
"It's okay if I decide to clean up without asking, right?" Edward said when he dropped the last bottle back into the recycle bin.
Charlie thought Edward should have manned up and kept his mouth zipped tight.
"You're always doing nice things for other people without asking. So as long as I'm helping you, it's okay. Right?"
When Bella didn't answer, Charlie guessed she wasn't happy about Edward taking a turn at... selflessness, Charlie grumbled wordlessly. Bella hadn't lived long enough to understand that spreading that kind of thing around looked pretty selfish and uncaring when the person who was doing the spreading forgot to think about the impact her actions had on other people - people who were not recipients of the do-goodery. A person like Jacob Black.
Charlie smiled remembering how he'd played on Bella's instincts and inexperience when he tried to get her hooked up with Jake again. "Keep trying, Bella. I know you'll do the right thing. You're a good person." As he spoke, Charlie had seen the hesitation in Bella's eyes, and he wondered if Bella sensed Charlie was trying to manipulate her. He didn't care; the seeds of cognitive dissonance had been sown, taken root and seemed to be thriving.
After all, a couple of weeks had now passed and Bella's continued calls and visits to Jacob suggested that Bella might be making a few plans that didn't involve her delinquent. Charlie noticed that Edward's face hardened whenever Jacob's name was mentioned and sometimes Edward even closed his eyes, like he was trying to pretend he hadn't heard Bella rush breathlessly to answer the ringing phone. But . . . that was before Jacob went and pulled a pig-headed stunt like kissing Bella. Go figure.
When Jacob followed Bella into the house yesterday, Charlie was surprised to see him. At first, Charlie didn't see the harm in a little peck on the lips. It was just a kiss. But it was kiss that made Bella mad. A kiss that Bella didn't want.
As much as Charlie dreamed of seeing an altercation between Edward and Jacob, Charlie wanted it to happen over something petty and not because Jake was in the wrong. And this time Jake was absolutely wrong. Worse, Jake seemed proud of his behavior and he freely admitted that he'd forced a kiss on Bella. Then, Jacob arrogantly waited around to gloat in front Edward.
Charlie had assumed that Edward would be angry and confrontational, but when he arrived, he calmly and gently examined Bella's hand. His tone had been controlled, even when he promised Bella that he would take care of it. Nothing in his demeanor suggested violence, but Charlie felt it there simmering, chaffing under Jake's eagerness.
Against Charlie's advice, Jacob followed Bella and Edward outside.
While Charlie stood at the window watching and straining to hear the conversation between Edward and Jacob, it finally dawned on Charlie that maybe Jacob's kiss had been very different from the shy kisses Charlie had seen Edward give Bella. When Jacob had leaned past Edward to leer openly at Bella, Charlie's anger flared and he fought the urge to rush to Bella's defense.
Charlie was going to have some quality time with Jacob Black.
Jacob stepped back into the grass and watched the Volvo head down the street before he turned and strolled to the house. Charlie watched Jacob pucker his lips, like he was whistling. That was the last straw. As Jacob was casually reaching for the door knob, Charlie flung the door open and stomped out onto the porch, backing Jacob down the stairs.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" What the hell have I been doing? Charlie thought. Encouraging this . . . this . . . what did Edward call him? Mongrel? Right, mongrel. "I don't care how long I've known you and your Dad, if you ever touch Bella again without permission - in any way - you'll have someone a whole lot madder and meaner than Edward Cullen to deal with."
Jacob's face was frozen. "Huh?" Jacob was struggling to process the fact that Charlie wasn't going to congratulate him again on his achievement or on his handling of Cullen.
"I'm gonna talk to Bella when she gets home. I hope you kept your hands to yourself, because if I hear that you touched Bella in any way that made her afraid or you hurt her, I'll have you castrated."
Jacob looked shocked and hurt, like a puppy that didn't understand what was wrong with chewing on shoes or peeing on the carpet.
"Now, get out of my yard and get on home. By the time you get there, I'm sure you'll have found a way to explain your stupidity to your old man. I'll bet he'll still have a few questions for you after I get done telling him that you lost your mind and decided to paw Bella."
Jacob found his voice. "Aw, Charlie, I didn't mean any harm."
"Go home, Jake. Go home now."
Charlie spun toward the door and stepped forward. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw that Jacob was still standing. "Do I need to fetch my shotgun?"
The sound of footsteps on the porch pulled Charlie back into the moment and alerted Charlie to the arrival of the mail. Then, Charlie heard the Volvo pulling up in front of the house. When Bella and Edward didn't come in right away, Charlie used the mail as an excuse to go outside.
The box was full. Pacific Power. Outdoors. Field and Stream. Dartmouth College - Student Activities. Dartmouth College? Charlie snorted and fingered the corner of the envelope. Edward said he had been accepted at Dartmouth. Dartmouth was Ivy League. Did Bella apply to Dartmouth? The cost of attending Dartmouth was probably half of Charlie's yearly salary.
Charlie's mouth was instantly dry, even though he was beginning to sweat. He looked over at the Volvo. Edward was standing beside the car dutifully holding Bella's door open. Bella was ignoring Edward's outstretched hand.
"It was her wasn't it? You just don't want to tell me. But it was her."
"Her? Who?" Edward asked; he seemed puzzled.
Charlie was torn between the need to hustle that envelop from Dartmouth into the house - where he could hide it until he had a chance to read it - and hanging around outside so he wouldn't miss a word of Edward's interrogation. This tiff looked too good to miss.
"That blonde," Bella spat.
Edward was baffled. "Blonde?"
Even though Charlie wasn't looking at Bella directly, he could tell she was bright red. He'd seen it a lot during the previous week. Boy, is she pissed, Charlie thought. Looks like Bella's temper is going to make for fine entertainment tonight.
Unfortunately, if Bella broke her other hand slugging Edward, she might not be able to count on his dad to fix it up for her. Charlie moaned quietly and he made his way back inside. He headed to the couch and tossed the mail - minus the Field and Stream magazine - on a stack of old newspapers. Maybe Bella won't notice. Plain view.
An eternity later, Bella and Edward finally made it into the house. Edward was begging. "Could you give me a hint? Please?"
"Aw, come on Bella, it's officially your last weekend as a high school student. Just tell him what he did wrong, so he can apologize, and you two can get down to planning your escape from Forks. It's not like he can read minds."
Edward and Bella turned to look at Charlie as if they'd discovered a new species of plant life. Uncultivated intrudous.
"You get caught looking at another girl there, Edward?" Charlie smiled broadly and laughed, seizing the opportunity to help Edward improve upon another bad habit. "You gotta learn to keep those dark sunglasses on as much as possible. Makes it hard for the women to catch you looking in the wrong places and at the wrong people," Charlie said smugly.
"Tanya," Bella growled. "Her name is Tanya and Edward's been keeping her a secret."
Edward's jaw dropped only a split second before Charlie's did. He had no way of knowing that Edward had thoroughly rejected Tanya's companionship or that Bella had only recently learned of her preference for Edward.
"I explained about Tanya and I thought you understood." Edward was glancing nervously between Charlie and Bella. "I . . . I never dated Tanya. She's a . . . cousin."
Charlie didn't miss a beat. "Well, you shouldn't have a problem with that, Edward, seeing how your foster sisters are dating your foster brothers. Or did I get the high school gossip wrong?"
Edward might have mumbled a response, but Charlie wasn't sure; he was too busy congratulating himself for skewering Edward. Bella might be able to break your heart, kid, but nobody can kick the chair out from under you like old Charlie Swan can.
Edward flinched. True, he internally agreed. That is true.
"Sir," Edward started. "I assure you that Bella is the only woman to whom I have ever given my heart and . . ."
Charlie began waving his hands. "Enough already. You don't have to convince me. So it would be nice if you'd skip the sappy stuff, 'cause it's gonna make me sick to my stomach."
Bella broke the tractor beam stare she had on Edward long enough to roll her eyes at Charlie. But, she immediately cut her eyes back to Edward, who blinked at her sheepishly before turning to look at Charlie again. Damn. Charlie's gaze was laser-guided, easily as intimidating as Bella's. Edward had never heard of humans who could stare down vampires and no one was ever going to hear about it from Edward. It was the kind of anomaly that Emmett would tease Edward about forever.
"I don't know what Bella is talking about, but I swear I have conducted myself honorably and my treatment of Bella has been respectful."
Charlie loved seeing Edward verbally flail about. What made it even better was that as long as Bella was pissed, Charlie could get away with acting downright ornery.
"Well, it sounds like you've got some explaining to do before Bella decides she's a southpaw." Charlie let his face wrinkle up just enough to show he was hoping Bella would start whaling on Edward. Charlie always loved a good wrestling match. When he was in high school, nobody could pin him. Charlie regretted he hadn't recognized Bella's talent for brawling earlier. These days girls played all the sports.
"Dad," she hissed.
"What's the matter, Bella? Edward doesn't kiss as good as Jacob?"
Bella practically threw herself out of her chair, stomping off toward the laundry room.
"I hope you learn how to wash your own clothes this summer," she yelled.
Charlie shrugged. Doing laundry was another little domestic duty that Charlie let Bella think he was incapable of doing. It wasn't that Charlie was lazy; he just liked the feeling he got from having her worry about him.
Edward walked into the living room and started to sit down. Maybe he was going to give convincing Charlie of his innocence another go. I'm not the one you need to impress, kid. Charlie handed Edward a laundry basket. Edward nodded and made his way to toward Bella.
Charlie could hear Edward whispering, but he couldn't make sense of the sounds. They were meaningless. Charlie wandered over to the refrigerator and reached in for a cold can. Gently fingering the pull tab, he listened closer.
"It was her. She was here. You're keeping things from me - again."
"She's in Alaska, Bella," Edward sighed softly.
Even Charlie was comforted by the reassuring tone of his voice. The thought was quickly replaced by revulsion, as he stepped toward the living room and into a spot with a better view.
"Like I said, she's in Alaska, and she's never been to Forks. Why would I withhold information that could decrease your anxiety? "
"Why?" Bella snarled, her voice rising over the slamming of a metal door. "Why indeed." Bella paused. "Her family won't come here, but she came to see if I was worth the trouble I've caused."
For a moment, Charlie's mind raced back to the day when Edward insinuated that he would turn down his acceptance at Dartmouth to follow Bella to Alaska. That might make Ivy League-hungry relatives, foster or not, upset. There was no reason for Charlie to ever suspect that Edward's Denali cousins were furious about the death of Laurent, who had been intent on devouring Bella; that was why they refused to come to Forks and help the Cullens deal with the vampire threat in Seattle.
"Bella, this isn't about Tanya or her family." Edward reached for Bella's injured hand gently, cradling it as he slowly stroked the length of her splinted fingers "I'm not your enemy and I will never push you or demand anything of you."
Looks like Edward's needs to be rescued . . . again. Charlie weighed his options and decided to let the undertow drag Edward out a little before tossing him a life preserver. Saving Edward wouldn't be any fun, but Bella's disagreeable disposition could squash Charlie's plans for graduation.
When Charlie told Bella that Billy and Jacob would be coming to her graduation, Bella indictated that Charlie should hitch a ride, so he wouldn't have to drive to the high school alone. Apparently, Bella had intended to ride with Edward. No way! No how!
Charlie tossed reticence aside to make a sweeping proclamation of his having earned the privilege of chauffeuring Bella to the ceremony. He deluded himself, believing his boldness might have been regarded as begging by the less astute and uneducated. However, there was no mistaking the fact that, on that evening, Charlie was one snort of exasperation away from dropping to his knees in supplication.
But it hadn't come to a woefully beseeched request, because the new king of kitty whipped had fortuitously asked if he could ride with the hell cat holding his leash and her father. It was beautiful. Divine even. Because it meant that Edward Cullen was going to grace the back seat of Charlie's police cruiser.
Charlie motioned to Edward. "Come on. She'll work it out."
Time to extract a little information from Edward. He looked befuddled, at least he did to Charlie, who couldn't have been more pleased. It helped make up for the assorted irritations that had been biting at Charlie's ankles this week.
Charlie smiled. Since Edward's parents had readily agreed to drop Edward off, nothing was going to keep the delinquent from being treated to a slow ride through the streets of Forks. Be warned all yea hooligans who dare look at my daughter!
Wait! Edward is laughing! That stupid kid! Charlie panicked. Edward's going to mess everything up when he makes Bella mad enough to tell Edward he'll have to get to graduation on foot.
Charlie decided he should take the heat off Edward, so Charlie leapt in front of the bus and started snickering, too.
"You think this is funny," she snarled at Charlie, as she stomped up stairs with the wadded linens and shirts.
Crisis averted, Charlie thought.
"So where have you decided to go to school next year, Edward?" Charlie asked reaching for the Dartmouth envelope.
"Honestly, I've been waiting to see where Bella wants to go," Edward said evenly.
"Is that so? Are you talking about choosing between Alaska and Peninsula College?" Charlie let the consonants pull the tone of his voice toward the floor. The effect on Edward, who was once again chaffing against some internal discomfort, was pleasant.
"Well, those are both possibilities." Edward sat down. The movement was awkward and tentative, as if he was thinking about hitting the door and his feet weren't sure whether to obey the command to sit or an instinct to run.
Charlie passed the envelope from one hand to the other and started tapping it on his leg. Once, Edward said his father would be happy with any choice Edward made, but how far would and could Carlisle Cullen go to guarantee Edward made the right choice.
"Are there others? Possibilities, I mean?" Charlie was sure he had Edward pinned down. He was either going to lie or tell Bella's little secrets.
"I encouraged Bella to apply at several fine universities and, as far as I know, she has not been refused a seat at any of those institutions."
"Including this one?" Charlie stopped fidgeting long enough for Edward to read the return address.
"Yes, including that one," Edward admitted.
Charlie looked around the room. How would he pay for Dartmouth? How could he not, if that is where Bella wanted to go.
"Um, well, Bella's been pretty quiet on the whole subject." Charlie was sorry he had guzzled his beer.
"That's Bella's story to tell. When it comes to knowing what is going on in Bella's mind, I am just as much in the dark as you are." Edward sounded sincere.
"Bella, can you join us?" Charlie figured he would beard the lion in its den. The worst that could happen would be that she packed on overnight back and took off and as long as she wasn't headed some place like Seattle where the murder rate was skyrocketing, Charlie was relatively sure she'd be okay.
Bella walked in the living room and busied herself with the straightening of knick-knacks and papers; the conversation momentarily ceased. Charlie reviewed his mental checklist. Bella was chewing her lip. Edward was sitting tensely. Yep, everybody was at their stations.
"Here, you missed one." Charlie waved the Dartmouth letter.
Bella face tightened, but the effect was one of dread rather than excitement. Maybe Edward's pushing Dartmouth on Bella. It suddenly occurred to Charlie that it was entirely possible that Bella wasn't so much as hiding an acceptance from Dartmouth from him as she was hiding it from Edward.
Bella took a deep breath and opened the envelope, dropping several brochures on the floor in her haste. This time, Edward didn't jump to clean up after her. "Student Activities is hosting weekly events for people visiting the Hanover area."
"Hanover?" Charlie asked for clarification.
"Hanover, New Hampshire," she replied.
"That's a long way from Forks."
"Yeah, Dad. Dartmouth is a long way from Forks. Practically another world."
"So you applied? Because Edward did." Charlie lost the nerve to ask if Bella had been accepted there.
"It's a good school." Bella expression had softened and her voice had acquired an almost wistful tone.
"Dartmouth is Ivy League. That'd really be something. Going to a school like that."
Charlie's gaze dropped to the desk; he realized it didn't matter where Bella would go to college; if she went to college at all. His daughter had grown up and he'd barely caught the tail end of her youth. Charlie sighed and remembered the days when Bella would mail school papers and pictures she had drawn to him from Phoenix. Maybe it's time to really learn how to use email, he thought.
When Charlie looked up again, he saw that Bella was holding Edward's hand, having let go of whatever had fouled her mood earlier. Dartmouth, he said to himself, trying to wrap his head around the idea of just what wanting the best for Bella might mean to Edward Cullen.
A/N: The world of Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. I'm just playing with her toys. No copyright infringement intended.
In the next chapter:
Charlie felt sorry for Edward and was almost grateful that the young man appeared to temper Bella's wild blood and wanderlust. Her penchant for cliff diving, motorcycle riding and spur of the moment adventures had proven to Charlie that Bella was much like her mother in that regard, and it had been Reneé's yearning for excitement and adventure that had doomed Charlie's marriage.