Summary: Something terrible has happened to Bella and Edward, and Charlie's the poor sap who has to tell Renee. A post-BD, canon example for the Twilight Anniversary Challenge.
Author's Note: This story is an example for the Twilight Anniversary Challenge hosted by edward-bella-harry-ginny, Gleena and me. The challenge is complete, and there are some fun stories in the C2, which you can reach from my profile or the challenge profile:
This particular story owes a lot to ebhg. When she floated the idea of an anniversary challenge, I told her about a story idea I had months ago and shared with her the few paragraphs I'd written back then. She encouraged me to continue. But this isn't that story! I haven't made much progress on that piece, but in thinking about it, this idea came to mind. I also benefited from comments by Juliejuliejulie.
The first call was the hardest.
Minutes went by as I sat with the receiver in my hand. I'd had to deliver news like this before. It was part of my job... Who was I kidding? That was hardly the same thing. I'd taken years worth of target practice at the shooting range, but I still didn't feel prepared to fire a bullet into a living, breathing person. I'd never been in that situation, and I hoped I never would be. Well, it wasn't going to get any easier. I took a deep breath and pressed the buttons. As I listened to the ringing, I prayed for Phil to pick up. Lo and behold, my prayers were answered. Small favors.
"Hey, Phil," I said quietly. "May I speak to Renee, please?"
"Sure thing, Charlie. She's right—"
"Phil," I added quickly. "Don't go far, okay?"
"Okay, here she is," he replied, a note of apprehension in his voice.
"Hi, Charlie. What's up?" My eyes squeezed shut like I was bracing for impact. Renee was never going to sound so carefree again.
"Renee, I have some very bad news."
"Bad news?" she asked, sounding worried. But nowhere near worried enough for what I was about to hit her with.
"It's Bella. She and Edward were flying on a small plane from Boston to Hanover. Renee—" My voice broke, and I struggled to keep my words clear and strong. I couldn't make her ask me to repeat this. "The plane crashed, and there were no survivors."
There was silence. It couldn't have been very long, but it felt like hours. And then Renee screamed. I heard the phone clatter to the floor, but her howls of grief were so loud, so penetrating, so unbearable that it was like we were in the same room. Tears were pouring down my face. It was awful to be in the presence of so much pain.
"Charlie?" Phil's raw voice snapped me out of the storm of emotion.
"Yes," I managed to gasp out.
"We'll call you back in a little while, okay?"
I cleared my throat. "Of course. I'll be here."
"I'm so sorry, Charlie," he said, and he hung up before I could thank him.
I gazed at the phone in my hands for a moment before lifting my head to look at Bella and Edward. She was curled up so tight against him you couldn't slip a dime between them anywhere. At one time, I might have found her behavior inappropriate. But my daughter was distraught, and I was glad he was here for her. Her shoulders were shaking, and he was stroking her back. He met my gaze.
"That was hard," he said. "You did it well."
I shrugged, and we sat for a while with our separate thoughts.
Eventually Bella was able to form words. "Oh, God, Mom," she moaned.
"I'm sorry, love," he murmured.
"Don't say that!" she retorted. "I'm the one who did this to her. We should feel sorry for her, not me."
"We do feel sorry for her," Edward said. "But I love more than one person, and I can have sympathy for more than one person." He knew the right thing to say, apparently, because she did grow calmer. "And this isn't your choice," he continued. "It's the only choice. It is the lesser of many evils for everyone."
"We had to," she repeated for about the twentieth time that evening. "I know we had to. You know what this reminded me of?"
He shook his head.
"When I was in tenth grade World History, a Holocaust survivor came to speak at our school. He was ten years old when the Germans invaded, and his parents took him to live with a Christian family that they knew in another village. He was supposed to pretend to be their nephew. After just a few days, though, he ran away and made his way back home. When his parents saw him, they told him to leave them alone. They said he was a bad son and that's why they had given him away. He never saw them again. All the Jews who remained in that village were rounded up and killed. Of course, later, after the war, he understood that they had rejected him only in order to save his life. Afterwards, we all talked about his feelings, how much that must have hurt. But his parents…." She trailed off.
"They had to do that to him," he said.
"Yeah," she said sadly, and we all fell silent again for a while. Well, I say silent, but his lips were moving. I couldn't hear what he was murmuring to her.
"You're sure we're going to get away with this?" I asked Edward after a time.
"Yes," he said, as patiently as if I'd never asked before. "This is exactly what we were waiting for: a small plane with at least two empty seats that exploded on contact. Jasper is a wizard. The records show that we were on that flight, and the fire was so destructive that there is no physical evidence to raise any doubts."
"Nobody at the airport will remember you boarding the plane," I realized suddenly. "When they see your pictures in the paper they'll wonder why they didn't notice you two."
"Some might wonder, idly," he said calmly. "But you know eyewitness testimony is very susceptible to the power of suggestion. Some people will come to believe they did see us." I had to admit he had a point.
"Don't worry about that part, Dad," Bella said.
The sound of the phone made us all jump. "Renee?" I said.
"Tell me everything," she demanded, her voice hoarse.
"I will tell you everything I know, but there's not much to tell. They were going to look for an apartment for this fall, and something went wrong with the plane. There was an explosion, a fire, when it hit the ground."
"Oh my God," she moaned. "They must have been terrified."
"I don't know, Renee. They were together. I'm glad about that."
"Yeah," she whimpered. "They loved each other so much. They were so happy. I just can't believe it. Their lives were going so well. Bella was finally recovered from that terrible illness. They were going to start college together at last…" Phil's voice muttered something in the background. "I know," she said to him. I heard her take a deep breath. "Charlie, what about the funeral arrangements? We need to make plans."
"Yes, honey," I said gently. I'd seen this phenomenon. The death of a child was the most powerful life lesson anyone ever had to face. People changed in a heartbeat. Rigid people became freer, because what did it matter anymore? The worst had already happened. Relaxed people became tense, because they knew now in their bones that they were not immune to bad things. And scatterbrained people became focused, because one thing alone dominated their thoughts. "Carlisle and I talked about that, and we want to know what you think."
"I want them to be buried in Forks," she blurted out.
"Are you sure?"
"What about the Cullens? What do they want?"
"We all thought Forks was the best choice if it was okay with you."
"It's where they met and got married, and they lived there together the longest. They'll be with your parents. And…"
I waited for her to finish, but she seemed to find it difficult. "And me someday? Is that what you were going to say?"
"I want them to be with family."
"Me too, Renee. We all feel the same. You and Carlisle and Esme have moved around a bit. This is the best place for them."
Renee laughed quietly. "I hope Bella's not mad that she'll be spending eternity in Forks."
"I think she'd say that as long as she and Edward are together, she doesn't care."
"Edward," she said sadly. "He had so much potential. Poor Esme and Carlisle. And his brothers and sisters."
"It's a bad time for all of us."
"I'm so glad they spent that weekend with us in February. You know, at the time I was annoyed that the weather was so bad! But now I'm so grateful because we had so much time to just talk." Her voice became more animated as she remembered the visit. "Edward made Bella and me tell so many stories about her childhood. We had a wonderful time. They were so happy and in love. They were such a beautiful couple. I mean, Bella was still getting over that disease. She wasn't back to normal. But she seemed strong, and she looked good, even though she wasn't quite herself yet. They talked about having children someday."
"Well, not for a while, of course. But they had so little time!" Renee began crying again.
"Listen," I said gently. "I'm going to call Carlisle now and let them know what we decided."
She sniffed. "Okay. We need to make travel arrangements too."
"Renee," I said very seriously.
"Anytime you want to talk to me, you call. Anytime at all. I'm not going anywhere."
"Thank you, Charlie. I will."
I ended the call, and the three of us looked at each other grimly.
"It's time for us to go," Edward said.
"I understand," I answered, but none of us moved. "You know, Bella," I said.
"Ever since you explained this plan of yours, I've been thinking about your honeymoon."
"What about it?" she said warily.
"You were pretty sick when you got back."
"I was," she said emphatically.
"Well, it crossed my mind that it was pretty touch and go for a while there."
"You could say that," Edward agreed.
"I think that maybe we could have lost you then, and Renee and I, and Edward and his family, all of us would have been devastated like your mother is now. But Carlisle pulled you through that. You dodged a bullet. We've all been living on borrowed time."
"Borrowed time," Edward echoed slowly.
"And maybe, if you thought I was going to get curious—which I'm not—Carlisle might be giving me some bad news right about now. So I figure that you did the least amount of damage that you could. If I could be hurt instead of Renee, I'd do it. But I can't, and I am grateful that I didn't have to get hurt along with her. And that's all I'm going to say about that."
"Thanks," she whispered. For the first time in hours, she got up from Edward's lap and came over to hug me. I smiled as I breathed in that familiar, sweet, flowery smell that hung around her. "I love you, Dad."
The second call was pretty dicey too.
It wasn't my idea, of course. It was Bella's idea, and she was very insistent. How could I refuse to do anything that might help Renee feel better? She'd gotten such a raw deal. I knew how I'd felt when she ripped Bella out of my life, but I'd been certain every minute that Bella was happy and thriving. Even if I'd never had the chance to see her or talk to her again, just knowing she was out there, flourishing, was enough. Renee didn't have that comfort.
Sometimes it seemed Renee was like ballast tossed overboard so the rest of us could remain afloat. She was the one paying the price. Edward had explained to me more than once that there was no choice, that the big lie was the only way to save Renee's own life— and Phil's and quite a few others. "You're an observant man," he had said. "But you're willing and able to let well enough alone. Renee's different. We simply cannot let her get curious. It would be catastrophic. Unfortunately, seeing Bella again would make her wonder, and not seeing her again would also make her wonder." I had no idea what made him so confident about that, and I had no intention of asking. At this point, the damage was done. We'd cut out Renee's heart, and there was no going back.
"Edward," I said, turning to a different question. "Do you think this is a good idea?"
He smiled slightly. "Bella does." That didn't really answer my question, but, then again, I supposed it did. If she wanted it, he did too.
"Here's hoping," I said, placing the call. They both nodded at me encouragingly.
"Hi, Charlie." Renee's voice was flat. We'd spoken almost daily in the six weeks since the plane crash, which was how I thought of it, but I hadn't gotten used to her slow, glum speech.
"How are you, Renee?"
"The same. Hanging in there."
"That's good. Keep hanging."
"Renee, there's something I wanted to tell you." I paused for a moment, but I knew she didn't have the energy to foster conversation. My next words came out in a rush. "I had a dream about Bella."
"I had a dream about Bella," I repeated more slowly.
"You did?" She was interested. I glanced at Bella. She looked very tense.
"She told me some things, and she said I should tell you."
"Go on." She sounded almost eager.
"Okay, well, she said she doesn't want us to worry about her."
"Wait, what did she look like? What was she wearing?"
"Jeez, Renee, I don't know." Edward ripped a page from a pad of paper and handed it to me. I quickly scanned his words. "She looked the same as always. She had on jeans and a blue shirt. The kind of thing she used to wear to school."
"That was Edward's favorite color!" I raised an eyebrow at him, and he flashed me a quick smile.
"I never knew that. Anyway, she said she knows we've been worried about their last minutes, on the plane."
"She said that?"
"Yes, and she said there was no pain or fear." I looked down at the statement Bella had prepared. "She said the pilot made an announcement and everyone knew their chances weren't good. She and Edward just stared at each other, and she said they didn't even have to say anything. She just felt so much love that she felt like she was floating, and that's the way she felt the whole time. I'm quoting her words now, from the dream. She said, 'Edward and I made our love into a cage, and we were inside where nothing could hurt us.'"
"Oh my God!" Renee burst into loud, racking sobs.
"Renee!" I said anxiously. "Renee, it was just a dream. I shouldn't have told you. Who knows where these things come from."
"No," she gasped. "It's okay. Just give me a moment."
"I'm sorry," I said while she pulled herself together. "I didn't mean to upset you. It's just, Bella wanted me to tell you that. In the dream."
She took a long shaky breath. "Charlie, I can't believe you," she said reproachfully.
"Don't take it to heart. It's just one of those things."
"Don't take it to heart?" she repeated incredulously. "Charlie Swan, I have been tormented by the idea that my baby girl spent her last moments on earth— well, she wasn't even on earth, but her last moments in terror and agony."
"You were?" I asked, stunned. I met Bella's gaze. Her eyes were wide. "You never said anything about it."
"Well, what was the point? During the day I just miss her so much, and I think about what could have been. What should be. Everything she's missing out on. Or I'll almost forget that she's gone, and the phone will ring, and I'll think, Maybe that's Bella! But then I realize that it won't be, that it never will be and I'll never hear her voice again, and it hits me all over again. But at night…" She took another deep breath. "At night I can't sleep. All I can think about is: did she know? was she afraid? did it hurt? And I knew that I would never know the answers, but I couldn't stop asking myself those questions over and over."
"Oh, Renee," I said helplessly.
"The doctor prescribed sleeping pills. They helped me sleep, but they made me never want to get up, and I didn't think that was healthy."
"It's not. Please take care of yourself. That's what she would want."
"I know. That's what keeps me going from one minute to the next. What she would want me to do. Charlie, your dream. I feel like she's telling me to let go of my worry about how she died."
"She said that. She said she didn't want us to worry."
"Charlie," she said, and my heart twisted in my chest at the yearning in her voice. "Do you think it was really her spirit that came to you while you slept?"
I looked at Bella and Edward, but they had no notes for me. I glared at them. Renee waited patiently for my response. Finally I knew what to say. "It felt real."
"Do you think it's true, what she said?"
I looked over at my daughter and her husband again. "Renee, there is one thing I am absolutely positive about. Bella is surrounded by love."
Renee began weeping. "I have to go," she mumbled, and she hung up.
The third call was a surprise.
I heard Sue answer the phone in the kitchen.
"Oh, hello, Phil. I hope there's nothing wrong." I held my breath. Surely, surely Renee had enough to live for without our little girl. She wouldn't do that to Phil. She wouldn't. "He's right here. I'll put him on."
I glanced at Sue fearfully as I snatched the phone from her. She seemed calm and squeezed my shoulder gently. "Hello, Phil."
"Charlie, everything's fine," he said immediately.
I let out a huge sigh of relief. "That's good," I said.
"I wanted to talk to you about your call the other night."
"It was upsetting for Renee, I know that," I admitted. "I'm sorry."
"It was upsetting," he agreed. Damn! I shouldn't have let Bella talk me into it. "She cried for hours. But it's a different kind of crying."
"What do you mean?"
"She's sad, but… I don't know how to explain it exactly. She's calmer. Not as desperate. It really helped her."
"Look, I know you two are really different, and there have been times you haven't had too much to say to each other. But you are Bella's parents. We all loved her. We all miss her. But you are the only ones who lost your daughter when she died."
"Yeah, that's true."
"For Renee, talking to you is different than talking to anyone else in the world. I mean, you didn't have to call and tell her about your dream. You could have just kept it to yourself. But you shared it with her."
"Well, I felt like I had to."
"I wanted you to know it meant a lot to her and I appreciate it."
"Thanks." Damn! Bella was going to make me do it again.
The fourth call was also unexpected.
It was very early in the morning. I figured it was the office calling. "Swan residence," I said briskly.
"Charlie!" There was something strange about Renee's voice.
"Renee, how are you?" I inquired.
"Charlie, the most wonderful thing!" she cried, and I realized what was different. She sounded happy. Joyous, even.
"I had a dream about Bella!"
"You don't have to sound so shocked," she reproached me. "Why can't she visit me in my dreams just like she visits you?"
"No reason," I said quickly. "That's great. Tell me about it."
"I was on the beach all by myself, and Bella and Edward walked out of the ocean holding hands. They looked exactly the same, just like their pictures, just as I saw them last. Well, it's only been six months. They wouldn't have changed much anyway."
"What happened next?" I demanded.
"In my dream, I didn't know it was a dream. I thought I was really seeing them. I said, 'Bella! Where have you been? Everyone thinks you're dead.' They laughed, and Bella said, 'We're not dead.'"
"Charlie, it was just a dream."
"Of course," I said, reminding myself to stay cool. No reaction to the testimony. "I know that. Go on, please."
"Bella said, 'We're not dead,' and Edward said, 'But we're not alive either.' I was confused, and I said, 'What are you?' She said— and I remember this so clearly. I can hear her voice saying it. She said, 'We're together, and we're in love. Everything living has to die, but love never does. It can go on forever.' I said, 'Bella, that's so beautiful.' She said, 'Forever, Mom. I love you forever.' And that's all there was, or at least, that's all I remember."
"Wow," was the only thing that came to mind to say.
"Charlie, can I tell you something?"
"Yes, of course."
"I was kind of jealous that you had dreams about Bella and I didn't. I thought maybe it was because she's buried near you, or she lived in Forks and she never lived around here. I mean, it is wonderful of you to share your dreams with me, but I wanted to see her too. And now I have! And I just feel so comforted. I miss her so much. When I think of everything she didn't get to do, I can't help crying. But at the same time, I feel like, wherever she is, she's happy. She's with Edward, and they're in love."
"Yeah," I said. "That's exactly how I think of her."
"Charlie, do you think it's crazy for me to hope to see her again? In my dreams, I mean."
"Not crazy at all," I said. "That's what I hope for, too."
I was feeling pretty confident about the fifth call. I'd shared two more "dreams" with Renee, and it seemed to go well. Then Bella told me what she had in mind.
"Are you sure about this?"
"I want to do something special," she said.
"The dreams are already special," I argued. "She feels connected to you."
"Well, we can't do it as often in the future. It wouldn't be realistic. This one has to be good and really last her."
God, I was a fortunate man. Renee clung to photographs, memories and what she thought were sporadic messages from the beyond. I had the luxury of being with Bella in person, and I was using my precious knowledge and access to bicker with her. "Whatever you want, Bella. I'll do whatever you think will be best for Renee. I'm just worried I won't be able to pull it off."
"We're right here with you, Charlie," Edward said.
I raised an eyebrow at him. "And you are going to bail me out this time if I get in a jam," I said sternly.
He chuckled. "I'll do my best, but I'm better at face-to-face interactions. Phone conversations are more difficult for me."
"I'm surprised to hear that. According to Bella, nothing is difficult for you."
"Let's just humor her," he replied. I snorted. What a smooth talker. My son-in-law should be a lawyer. No matter what anyone threw at him, he had the perfect answer.
"Dad, you're procrastinating," she said. "And Edward, you are not helping!"
"Sorry, love," he said, and the look he gave her made her smile. Well, he might be slick, but he had his good qualities.
Renee picked up the phone on the first ring. "Charlie, how are you?" she asked warmly.
"I'm okay. How are you doing?"
"I'm glad you called. I was dreading today, but it's not so bad."
"That's good to hear."
"I can't believe it's been a year. Everyone says the first year is the worst. Bella and Edward's anniversary, their birthdays, all the holidays. We got through all those occasions without her. A lot of times this past year I didn't know how I was going to make it even to the next morning. Some days were so hard."
"I know what you mean. It's tough when people are talking about their children. I don't have anything to contribute to the conversation. Other people's kids are graduating from college, they had a baby, they bought a car, they took a trip to New York City. Nothing earth-shattering, but their lives are moving forward, and Bella and Edward are in the same place."
"Yeah," she said sadly. "But if they can't be here with us, at least they're in a good place, right? We've both seen them, and they're happy."
"Yes, well, I dreamed about Bella again last night, and Edward was there too."
"Really?" she said with delight. "Oh, we've all been thinking about them so much with the anniversary of the crash today. They must have heard us."
"Renee, this dream was really different."
"Different how?" she asked nervously.
"Not in a bad way. Do you know anything about Edward's family history?"
"A little," she said slowly. "Carlisle and Esme adopted him when he was a boy. His parents died in a car crash, and he didn't remember—" Suddenly she gasped. "Are they with Edward's parents now?"
"Yeah," I said, thankful I didn't have to sell her on the concept. "That's what they told me."
Renee began crying quietly. "What did they say?"
"Well, in my dream, I came home from work, and Edward and Bella were here in the house, reading together in the living room, just like they used to. It was so comfortable and familiar. Bella said she left my dinner on the stove and she and Edward were going to see his parents. I said, 'Tell Carlisle and Esme I said hello.' And Edward said, 'Not my adoptive parents, sir. My biological parents.'"
Renee sighed. "That boy had such good manners," she remarked fondly. "Nobody talks like that anymore." Bella snickered, and I frowned at her to stay quiet.
"I said I thought his parents had passed on, and Bella laughed and said, 'Yes, silly, and so did we!' In the dream I wasn't upset about it. She was just reminding me, like she might tell me where I'd left my keys. I asked her whether she'd met Edward's parents. She said, 'Dad, I was so nervous. I was worried they wouldn't like me.'"
"Of course they would like her!" Renee said indignantly.
"That's what I said, too. And Edward smiled at her and said, 'Bella, they love you. Because you're wonderful and you make me so happy.'"
"Oh, Charlie, that's how I feel about Edward. He was such a special young man, and Bella was so crazy about him."
"Yeah, he's a good kid," I conceded, while Edward smirked. "I mean, he was."
"Was there more to the dream?"
"Yes. I said I bet Edward's parents were happy to see him again. Bella answered. She said, 'They were hoping it would be longer. But we can't change the way things are.' Then Edward said, 'Bella, love, it's time to go.' She didn't touch me. You know she's never touched me in any of my dreams. She just looked at me and said 'I love you, Dad.' And Edward, well, he said the very same words he said to me the first time he took Bella out. 'She'll be safe with me, I promise, sir.' And then they were gone."
Renee was silent for while. Finally she spoke. "Charlie, do you know why I think your dreams are real?"
"Because the dreams are telling me what I need to hear, even if I didn't realize it until I heard it. I know most people think dreams come from the dreamer's subconscious. But, Charlie, I don't think your subconscious ever really understood what I needed. No offense."
"Uh, none taken," I stammered. Edward was trying to keep a straight face. Bella wasn't even trying.
"It has to come from Bella," Renee concluded.
"Interesting theory," I said. "You needed to hear that Edward's parents like Bella?"
"Charlie!" she said in exasperation.
"No, really. Explain it to me."
"Well, how do you feel about the dream?"
"I was just glad to see them. Glad that they're together and they seem happy."
"That's good, of course, but I realize now that I've been worried about them, and I don't have to."
"Charlie, they're just kids. I know they care about each other more than anything, but I felt like they were all alone. The idea of Edward's parents never crossed my mind. I mean, think about it. They're not here with us and Esme and Carlisle, but they still have parents."
"Yeah, that's true."
"I'm so relieved. I didn't even know I was carrying that worry around until it was gone."
"That's great. You shouldn't worry. There's nothing to worry about, and if there were, worrying wouldn't help anyway."
"Charlie, do you think…" She trailed off.
"What? Go ahead and ask."
"Do you think it sounded like they were saying goodbye? Like you're not going to see them again?"
I looked at Bella for direction. She shook her head.
"No," I said. "If you're right and it's really Bella, I know she won't leave us or forget us. If it's my subconscious, well, I'm not done with her and I never will be. I can't say when, but I know she'll be back."
"Charlie," Renee said shakily. "I love you."
"What?" I said in shock. "You don't have to say that."
"Yes, I do. We have to say what's on our minds because we don't know when it might be the last time. Charlie, this year has been so hard. Our daughter died suddenly and violently, and for a long time all I could think about was her death. How she died and the fact that she was gone. But now I'm starting to be able to remember her life. I'm sad that it ended so soon, but, oh, it was good while it lasted, wasn't it? She was the best thing that ever happened to me, and she came from you. I love you for being Bella's father and for helping me through this. I wish you could have had more time with her, like I did."
"I don't know, Renee. She might not have turned out so well if she'd spent less time with her mother. We made some mistakes— at least, I know I did— but we got lucky with Bella."
"Thank you for calling, Charlie."
"You're welcome." I took a deep breath. "And Renee?"
"I love you too."
Author's Note: I always thought that Bella was going to have to give up Renee, and having to inflict that pain on her mother was the single thorn among all the roses in her new life. Breaking Dawn didn't take us very far after Bella's change, so we never saw them confront this painful issue.
More than a decade ago, I heard Holocaust survivor Solomon Perel speak. His amazing story was made into the movie "Europa Europa." What Bella tells happened to him.
I posted the first chapter of my first story exactly a year before the day I posted this. I had read the Twilight saga, one book after another, a month earlier. There were untold scenes I was curious about, and finally it occurred to me that if Stephenie Meyer was not going to write them, I was as qualified as anyone. Writing Dilemma was huge fun, and the seed had been planted. Story ideas started sprouting, and it was been an incredible year. I made some great friends whose real names I don't even know. I posted well over a hundred thousand words, more than the number in Twilight itself. Between this site and Twilighted, I was blessed with more than 3,000 reviews. It's still amazing to me that complete strangers from all over the world are reading my words and taking the time to let me know they enjoy my work. Thank you so much!