A/N - First things first - I am for sale! For just $5, unlimited buyers will have the opportunity to read a 3-5K Little Slugger outtake from Edward's childhood through the The Fandom Gives Back fundraiser. There will be some nice insight to where he came from, who he really is and how he landed in New York so many years later, a shell of the vibrant child he once was.

Special thanks to SunKing, who took pre-reading to a whole new level helping me with this chapter, and venis_envy, who helped me figure out what kind of music Charlie likes. Of course, eternal love and thanks to my wonderful Project Team Betagirls, Batgirl8968 and TiffanyAnne3 and my Twilighted Validation Beta Strider.

Song for this chapter is There She Goes by the La's. YouTube it if you don't know it already, or even if you do. So worth it.

Little Slugger - Twelve - If You Build It, She Will Come

From the spot where she was lying on the floor, nestled between the sofa and the coffee table, the ceiling above looked like a mystical sky filled with puffy clouds of pink and seafoam green. Yellow ribbons made soft loop-de-loops, falling like rain from each of them. She reached up, pretending to catch it as it fell into her hands.

Miraculously, outside the bay window behind her head, the real, wet kind of rain that had fallen nonstop for weeks had dispersed, leaving behind tiny sparkling droplets on the drooping leaves that were at the very beginnings of slipping on their autumn brights. The rain had ceased and the sun broke through in time for the festivities, just as Charlie had promised her it would.

Well, he hadn't exactly promised per se; it was more like a doubtful, optimistic, calming sort of hoping. But whatever it had been, he had delivered in a very big way.

Charlie had boasted that he'd cashed in on some favor that Mother Nature had owed him as they'd stepped out onto the front porch that morning, Bella's round face beaming in fierce competition with the great shining star that showered yellow light onto them and everything around them. The dreary gray skies of Forks had parted ways and revealed their inner blue to celebrate her. First the impressive complete ceiling balloon coverage, and now this? It was going to be the best birthday ever.

"Your old man doesn't take this Greatest...um...est Birthday Wish thing lightly," he'd said, puffing up his chest, as if he actually believed he'd had something to do with the well-timed weather surprise. "I'm just glad you got your wish, Bells. You only turn ten once, and I think you deserve a lot more than just a sunny day." He was doing that shifting from one foot to the other and looking around at nothing thing that he did whenever he tried to say something sweet.

Bella had smiled at him, adjusting the large bow she had clipped in her hair that morning. The bow she'd been saving special for this day for months. She added extra teeth to the smile, even, in hopes that Charlie wouldn't realize that the sunshine had actually been her second Greatestest Birthday Wish.

She had not confided the real wish. That was her most closely guarded secret.

She'd quietly mouthed "Thank you" to the Earth for its gift, said a little prayer for the real Greatestest Wish, and then turned to go back inside. Girl had a party to throw. And everything had to be perfectly perfect, just in case.

As Bella lay on the living room floor, admiring the balloons, she came up with a magnificent plan in which to display the ginger ale.

She inched her way out of her cozy nook, again adjusting the bow in her hair - which was, just so you know, the perfect shade of pink - and marched her way into the kitchen to begin the implementation of the great ginger ale plan. She figured, with spillage allowance, she would have just enough time to finish before her friends began to arrive.

"Well, hello birthday girl!" Mrs. Cope's voice boomed like a tuba through the tiny kitchen. Mrs. Cope was Charlie and Bella's next door neighbor - a kind, plump widow with a big fluffy perm and a mole on her chin with three coarse white hairs tangling out of the center of it. Charlie had instructed Bella to pay special attention to looking at her eyes instead of the mole, but it was not easy. Sometimes, Bella's eyes would cross with the sheer concentration of the whole affair, and Mrs. Cope would ask with concern if everything was okay, to which Bella would respond that she was fine, it was just her indigestion acting up. She didn't know exactly what indigestion was, but Charlie sometimes mumbled about it when he had that uncomfortable sort of look in his face.

Mrs. Cope always appeared at the house whenever anything remotely girly was happening at the Swan residence. Bella thought she helped Charlie sort through his girl parts allergy. Plus, Mrs. Cope's children were already grown up and living in Seattle, and it seemed like she enjoyed the feeling of being put to use.

"Enough balloons in there for you yet?" she asked with a smile, obviously having overheard the ongoing battle between Charlie and Bella that morning about how much soaring latex in the living room was enough/too much.

Bella grinned at her. "It's perfect! Like a cotton candy sky!" she said dramatically with her arms swooping through the air. She could feel the muscles in her eyes straining as they began moving down Mrs. Cope's face without her permission. Look away from the mole, Bella. She quickly squatted to the floor and opened the nearest cupboard and began rifling through it.

"The real sky had something else in mind for you today, though, didn't it?" she said knowingly, cutting a tray of her infamous (-ly awful) mystery layer bars into squares. Charlie and Bella always took turns choking down a bar and then going on and on about how deliciously delicious it was, and please could they keep the whole tray full as long as they promised to return the dish clean? Of course, they would throw them in the garbage after she left. Technically, it was Bella's turn today, but she was hoping Charlie would take the fall, seeing that it was her birthday and all.

Mrs. Cope really was a special person in their world. But man, those bars were terrible.

"Yeah," Bella said, smiling and glancing out the window. She could see her father outside mowing the lawn. She was startled and thrilled yet again to see those rare, warm rays streaming in through the treetops. She realized quite suddenly that she was beginning to feel nervous. The sun had set a very strong precedent for the remainder of the day. A butterfly city was being built very efficiently somewhere in the pit of her belly. "Have you seen the pink cups?" she asked Mrs. Cope. "I cooked up a brilliantly brilliant idea for a display on the cake table." Her eyes, Bella, look at her EYES.

"Over there, dear. On the counter."

Sure enough, there they were, in two equal towers. Paper cups almost the same shade of perfect as the bow in her hair. She scooped up the matching stacks in her arms and trotted back to the living room, where Charlie had set up the table that usually only came out on poker night in the corner and placed a white paper cloth over it to hide the ugly chipped paint and drink rings. She set the cups down and breezed back to the kitchen, returning moments after with two 2-liter bottles of ginger ale, cold from the fridge.

Then she set to work on her project, her tongue poking out a bit in concentration. If she worked quickly, she would have just enough time. The doorbell would begin to ring in about twenty minutes.

On the evening of March 14, 1985, Bella's mother, Renee, slung a small bag filled with an assortment of mismatched clothing items over her shoulder and walked quietly out the front door, closing it gently behind her. She left behind a confused and heartbroken newly-wedded husband and a beautiful and needy six-month-old baby with a haphazard tuft of dark hair sitting atop her head.

Charlie, being Charlie, never chased after her or tried to hunt her down. Instead, he continued going to work, took the best care of that baby he could, with the generous support of friends and neighbors, and proceeded to make their home a living tomb to the memory of his sheer failure of a marriage. The only room that had changed over the years was Bella's, which changed with remarkable frequency. Everything else lay precisely as it had on that misty March night.

Wherever Renee ran off to, or whatever she did with herself after that was a mystery. In fact, no one in Forks saw or heard from Renee again until more than nine years later when she reappeared on that very same doorstep with a huge wrapped and ribboned package cradled in her arms.

"Umm...Shelly, did you tell her she could do this?" Charlie sighed, stroking his mustache.

Mrs. Cope stepped out of the kitchen with a wooden spoon in her hand. "Tell her she could do wha...?" she started, the arm holding the spoon dropping down towards the floor. Charlie raised his eyebrows. "Oh."

Bella was standing on a chair next to the card table, ignoring both of them, carefully placing the final piece of a ten-tier pyramid made of dangerously full paper cups of ginger ale, many of which depending upon surface tension alone to keep from spilling over. Her hand shook a bit as she made the landing, drew her hand away, and licked a sticky drip off the tip of her finger. Then she turned to her father and Mrs. Cope with wide, excited eyes, stepped down from her chair and stepped back a few feet to admire her masterpiece.

"Ta da!" she exclaimed, her arms thrown up into the air. At the shift of air in the room, both Charlie and Mrs. Cope tensed, but the structure remained strong. For the moment . Charlie was now kicking himself for not moving the party outside the moment the weather had turned. For months, Bella had been forming some very firm ideas about this party, and there was pretty much zero possibility she was going to let him nix this now. In short, the old man was a total pushover. "The top one is for me," she whispered to him.

"No running in the living room today, Bells, you understand?" he ordered, wondering if laying the old tarp from the shed on the floor would mess with Bella's color scheme.

Bella saluted him. "You got it, Chief!" Charlie had very recently been promoted at the department, and Bella found endless joy in teasing him about it. She skipped by him, onto her next task.

Charlie gulped and sighed. Technically, she had not been running.

Then, the first of several doorbell rings sounded out through the festive room. Party time.

As Bella's friends filtered in, she skipped about the room, bopping them on their heads with balloons and accepting gifts to deposit on the growing pile in the corner, occasionally taking a shortcut over the top of the sofa. The room buzzed with ten different conversations happening at once.

At 11:52 am, as one of Bella's friends spit a bite of mystery bar into a paper napkin, and Charlie and Bella jokingly argued about whether to put Johnny Cash or Ace of Base on the stereo, and Mrs. Cope began the careful placement of ten candles on a made-from-scratch chocolate cake, the doorbell rang.

Charlie didn't seem to think anything of it as she made her way to the door, but Bella knew that all of her friends from school had already arrived.

Her heart raced as she gripped the doorknob. As she clicked it open, she peeked through the sunny crack first, and then pulled the door open slowly and with effort, like it was under water. With the door fully ajar, all she could see from where she stood was a giant box with pink striped paper and a shiny silver ribbon on top. Two sets of fingers grasped it from behind. After a moment, a smiling, angular face peeked over the side of the box. The woman was in her late twenties or early thirties, with piercing gray eyes and full lips painted a vibrant red. She was pretty, eerily familiar, and at the same time frighteningly unknown.

Enough time had passed where the house had gone quiet around them, and as Charlie stepped to Bella's side, his footsteps sounded like echos from a thunderstorm in the distance.

They did nothing but stare at one another for a while. Bella had yet to even make the full realization that the practically fictional Renee had actually come to her party, had come back to her; that both Greatestest Birthday Wishes had actually come true for her on this day. But she noticed immediately that the warm sunshine from this morning felt far more natural than this did. The moment's deflating continued as Renee thrust the enormous package into Charlie's paralyzed arms and she squatted down in front of Bella, looking her straight in the eyes.

Nothing about this was the way Bella had dreamed it would be.

"Aww, brown. It figures," she muttered with humored disappointment, quickly glancing up to Charlie's gaping expression, and then back to Bella. As the room ceased to even breathe, Renee reached out carefully and touched Bella's temple with her pointer finger, drawing it down her cheekbone to the soft point of her chin, and then gently cupped her cheeks in both palms. "Hi, you," she said, her eyes sparkling. "Happy Birthday. You're so lovely."

Nearly ten years of wondering, fantasizing, wishing, sleuthing, hoping, pining and missing had all come to this moment. Bella shook Renee's hands free from her face and smacked them away with fast, swinging hands like panic near a beehive.

Even though she knew precisely who this woman was, she was nothing but a stranger. The exact kind of stranger that Charlie had coached her away from since she was in diapers, complete with graphic flash cards and dated PSA videotapes.

She peered up to Charlie, begging him to do something. Make it better, make it go away, make it something else, just make something happen! She pleaded of him, silently. But instead, he stood frozen, watching as the ghost of his past crossed paths with the angel of his present.

A throat cleared somewhere in the room. "Chief Swan..." awkwardly muttered the father of one of Bella's friends. She didn't look up to see who.

"Charlie!" pierced Mrs. Cope, who was moving through the room from the kitchen like a guinea pig, pushing people and furniture aside to get to the scene of the action.

Still, Charlie was motionless save his chest, which was heaving deeply as he stared down at the woman who knelt before his daughter. At one point something caught his eye that made his brow crease.

"Daddy…" Bella stammered out through clenched teeth, her hands in tight fists at her sides. Her eyes were squeezed into slits but she knew that Renee was still sitting there, examining her.

Papa Bear instincts, activate! It was the collective thought of almost every person in the room, willing Charlie to wake from his otherworldly stupor and help his poor daughter.

After a moment of a silence so tangible it could've grown legs and walked out the room on its own if it'd wanted to, Charlie finally snapped to action. He snatched Bella up into his arms and held her tightly, glaring at a surprised Renee.

Bella snuggled up against him, never taking her eyes off her father's expression as it morphed from shock to pain to utter fury. When his voice was rediscovered, he made a verbal lunge at Renee.

"Who do you think you are? Barging in here after ten years, uninvited, unannounced, and unwanted? In the middle of her birthday party! Are you insane?"

Renee flinched. She opened her mouth to defend herself but stopped short, looking to her daughter with pleading eyes. She seemed to be trying to communicate something to her that only she could respond to. Bella quickly turned away from her, rooting her face deep into Charlie's shirt.

Desperate to say something, but never able to put more than a few words together before the thought fell apart, Renee flailed. "Charlie, I...I didn't mean to...I thought that...I should have...Oh my God."

Unable to listen to another word, Bella squirmed in Charlie's arms, forcing him to set her back down to the floor. She gazed up at him gratefully for a brief moment, squeezed his hand once, and then without a sound, she strode out of the crowded room with wide, graceful steps, working her way towards the back frightened, staring friends and their sympathetic parents parted, creating a path for her. As she walked, she reached behind her and violently ripped out the pink bow, taking a chunk of hair with it, and flung it over her head the way a bride tosses her bouquet.

She whisked outside, not even hearing the chaos unfold behind her, and escaped into a grove of trees in the back yard, where a flood of tears finally escaped her. Bella had refused to let her see her cry. This Renee had not earned the rights to her tears.

If what happened back at the house as Bella made her exit had occurred in slow-motion, it might've looked something like this: A knotted pink bow flipping haphazardly in the air, loose strings dancing around it as it flew; Mrs. Cope's loose pink lips shaping out the word "NOOOOOOOO!" as she leapt forward in pure superhero fashion; Charlie shell-shocked, fixated on the unexpected house guest and completely unaware of the bow's trajectory; partygoers lifting their hands to cover their faces, as if to test the theory that if you did not see it happen, then it didn't actually happen; and then, of course, the impact. The bow hitting Bella's carefully crafted display approximately at the fourth tier; the cups on that level knocking sideways, taking the rest with them like an ocean wave, landing firm dents in the frosting of the now-ruined cake and dripping sticky sweet onto the pile of wrapped gifts that were stacked below the table.

But, since it happened in real time instead, it went something like this: Fling. Gasp! Smash. Splatter. Silence.

Mrs. Cope began herding up the gawking party guests and ushering them in a messy line out the front door, whispering too loudly about this being really the worst thing that could've happened on this particular day.

Only Charlie and Renee remained inside the house, standing at odds inside the same space where the hopeful beginnings of their life together had come and gone so fleetingly, so long ago. Bella's absence rang loud between them as they stood frozen in contentious silence.

Renee's eyes were glossed over with tears. She mindlessly grabbed at her face and shook her head no. "I shouldn't have come, Charlie, I'm...I am so sorry. I didn't realize that you...Shit."

Charlie grimaced at her in disgusted pity. "You're sorry, Renee?" He hunched a bit as if just the act of saying her name made him weak. "Sorry? Listen, I don't care how flaky or quirky - or whatever it is you're so proud of being - you are, you cannot leave a little girl behind with zero explanation and zero contact and then just march back one day and expect everything to be okay! Or anything to be okay, for that matter!"

She stood defeated before him, a single tear falling from her left eye. Charlie followed it as it moved slowly down her face and settled into the crevice of her nose. "I'm just gonna go, okay?"

"No, Renee, not until I get my turn to speak. You never let me have my say before, so I'm going to make damn sure I get my chance now. Let me make this perfectly clear for you. You cannot come here, you cannot touch her, you cannot show up here without being asked. Ever. Do you understand?" Renee nodded pitifully as he continued. "She. Does. Not. Know. You. And by the looks of it, I don't think she wants to." He was quiet for a moment as he looked at her with grave sadness. "And I can't say I blame her. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find my daughter."

Charlie breezed past her, through the door and out into the yard to search for Bella, embarrassed in how much he had relished in the brief moment their shoulders grazed.

Alone in the house and caged in at all angles by bad memories, balloons, pink cups and spilled ginger ale, Renee swallowed hard, turned and left, exiting the house as quickly and quietly as she had the last time she had walked over the threshold of that same heavy wooden door.

From behind a large oak, Bella braved a peek with one eye as she watched her estranged mother's slim, youthful form walk away from her. Again.

It was then that she noticed the pink bow speckled with black polka dots that was holding Renee's dark blonde hair away from her face at the base of her neck. Her hand subconsciously raised to touch the tender spot on her own head. Her breath hitched.

That was the day that Bella discovered that what you think you want and what you actually want are not always passengers in the same car.

What Bella never told Charlie on that day or in all the years that followed is that, while Renee did arrive unannounced that day, she had indeed been invited.

So, there you have it - a window into Bella's childhood. If you'd like to see the same for Little Slugger's Edward, all it will take is a single $5 donation to The Fandom Gives Back, Eclipse edition. Let's you, me, and Specward kick childhood cancer's ass one o/s at a time, shall we? www - dot - thefandomgivesback - dot - com. Search for stories, realimaginary. Thank you all so much for your support!