Disclaimer: Any recognizable characters and ideas are property of Stephenie Meyer. I am not profiting from the distribution of this story. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: This takes place after Eclipse, but goes off canon from that point. I'm seriously contemplating a multi-chapter prequel or sequel. See author's notes at the end for more details!
That does it. I officially hate March. I hate it almost as much as August. Nothing good ever happens in this lousy month. My wife and baby girl left me one March. A good friend died of a heart attack in March. And now cancer had cost my best friend his life – again in March.
I rubbed my fingers idly across my forehead before moving down to my as though it would somehow make everything better. As though I could rub the crap out of my skin and find the answers to the questions I had asked myself for years now: what had really been going on in this damn town and why did life have to suck so bad?
I sat alone in my ratty living room armchair like I did most evenings. Tonight was different, though. Tonight the hand that usually held my Vitamin R was flung over the armrest so far it almost skimmed the wooden floor. It held the one thing that was about to change my life if I dared to believe it.
Two days had already come and gone since Billy Black's funeral. Even though I had expected his death, the actual act of letting him go into the ground was had been overwhelming. My only comfort was knowing that unlike so many losses before his, Billy and I had actually gotten our goodbyes. Of course, those goodbyes had seemed a little strange at the time.
I had been sitting by Billy's bedside for a few minutes, reminiscing with him about some of the old fishing tall tales from our youth. His eyes suddenly got serious, and I knew it was coming. His goodbye.
"Charlie," Billy said.
"Billy," I replied. I knew I should have had something better to say here, but I really was no good at this stuff.
After taking a moment to read the grief in my eyes, Billy said, "Charlie, don't you go givin' me the sad eyes. I'm done here. Taught Jacob what I could. But you…you have a lot left to do. There's still a bunch of stuff out there in this world you haven't learned yet. Make it your mission to find out."
Billy paused to turn his head towards the closed door. Whispering he continued, "I only hope they can forgive me."
I didn't say anything. Honestly, I wasn't sure how to respond. I just laid a hand near his cool arm as Billy let his eyes fix on the door. Just beyond it, I knew Jacob had folded his massive body into a ball on one of the hospice chairs. It was times like these when I wished Bella could be here for him. His close circle of friends from the Rez was a great comfort to him, but my daughter and he understood each other on a different level. Bella would have known what to say to Jacob today.
My heart clenched with slight tremors. Bella. There was a lot that would have been different with her here.
Billy turned his heavy-lidded eyes back to me. "And you, Charlie. I hope that you can forgive me, too."
"Of course I forgive whatever-"
One hand came up to silence me. Billy shook his head in response and grunted under his breath. Then he slowly lowered his hand and let his head fall back down to the pillow. After holding a firm stare with me for a moment longer, he closed his eyes to rest.
I know Billy regained consciousness a few more times that evening, but that was the last time I saw my friend alive. Billy died in his sleep a few hours past dawn. I'm almost positive he had many of his immediate and extended family members around him when he slipped away. They won't tell me for sure. All Sam had said at the funeral was, "He wasn't alone."
I supposed that would have to do for comforting me. Not that the Quileute men's behavior was exactly comforting at Billy's funeral. Jake and his pack of supporters stood aloof from the ceremonies. I knew he must be hurting, but it looked as though Jacob couldn't wait to leave as soon as he could – which was exactly what happened. Almost the very moment the ceremony finished, Jacob jogged off - suit and all - with some of the others. They disappeared into the tree line beyond the headstones.
Just before they had completely vanished, I thought I saw Jake's gait waver slightly as I whispered to Billy's casket. I must have been mistaken, though. Jake never took a misstep. He was still quite in shape and light on his feet at a young 21-years-old. I often wonder if Bella would have managed to gain a little grace herself if she had been given more time to discover it.
But she wasn't given more time. She never even made it to her nineteenth birthday.
Six years had passed since the day Bella came back to Forks to live with her old man. I still clearly remember spending that weekend de-bachelorizing the house for her. I supposed having things like actual dishes would be necessary.
As I stood in line at the store with what the saleslady assured me was a very appropriate bedding style for a seventeen-year-old, I was terrified that I would mess up this whole dad thing. While I loved my daughter and knew she was a good girl, I was still a cop. I knew how even the best teenagers could get, and that was with parents who had raised them from birth. As much as I cared for my little girl, I hadn't raised her. How was I supposed to pick up where Renee left off? I thought for sure I was going to be in over my head.
But that's the damnedest thing. Turns out, for the most part, I wasn't in over my head at all. The year and a half Bella lived under my roof again was the best eighteen months I had spent since before her mother left. Bella had been an incredibly easy girl to live with and having her back under my roof brought me closer to her than I thought possible after losing her to Renee.
It had taken me sixteen years to get my daughter back in my life, but only a year and a half to lose her again.
Bella died just weeks after her marriage to Edward Cullen, a boy who had broken her heart and crushed her spirit less than a year before. I hadn't kept my displeasure about their decision a secret from anyone. They were too young to get married. I desperately wanted my daughter to have an easier life than I did. Getting married so young was not the way to accomplish that. I knew that from experience.
I'd like to think I wouldn't have made too much of a stink about it on their actual wedding day, but I had a terrible stubborn streak. In reality, I'm sure I would have at the very least pleaded my case one last time as the strings began playing their prelude. Of one thing I was positive - I wasn't going to let Bella make that mistake without a fight.
What I didn't count on was the Cullens systematically winning me over the week of the wedding. That Esme could charm the moss off a tree without thinking twice. And honestly, no one could doubt Edward and Bella's feelings for each other at the wedding. The adoration was easy for even me to see. I still wonder how I missed seeing its intensity before those moments.
My greatest regret is not telling Bella how I finally got it. I understood that those two kids were not Renee and I. But she was gone before I had even realized it.
At the end of August in 2006, a fatal bear attack occurred in a forested area just beyond the Forks town limits. Years had passed since anyone had been killed in such a way in our county. If someone were to look at the official report, it would explain that a young couple was spending a weekend camping with the man's brother and sister. Evidence indicated food was left at ground level and attracted a bear. Something provoked it, and the bear turned on the couple. Police speculated it went after the wife, and her husband tried to save her. His brother and sister returned from a swim to find the campsite disturbed. Scraps of clothing, as well as patches of hair and blood, littered the ground.
Search teams scavenged the area but only found a few more scraps of cloth. The brother and sister were brought in for questioning. Sometimes I wonder how Alice made it through that process. I watched numbly from behind the glass as she recounted what she had seen, holding her brother's hand for dear life as she spoke. Her grief was so palpable that it was as though it saturated the entire room.
Edward and Bella Cullen were presumed dead, victims of a bear attack. Case closed.
We held a joint memorial service for Bella and Edward. They would have wanted to be celebrated together. Their funeral was held on the same lawn at the Cullen's home on which they had been married a month earlier. The Cullens were obviously all in attendance, as were the Quileutes. Each group sat on opposing sides of the circle formed around two large floral arrangements. Tension rippled across the divide, something that I still wondered about to this day.
In my grief, I'm sure I must have missed whatever ignited the tension. All I knew was after the ceremony's conclusion, I saw Jacob walking briskly over to where I was standing with Renee and that Phil. He was muttering something under his breath until his attention quickly snapped towards the Cullens.
I almost missed it. Some days, I swear it must have just been my mind playing tricks on me. Because for a moment - just a moment - Carlisle's expression phased from that of a grieving father into something else. A warning, and a damn scary one at that.
Sam grabbed Jacob one-handed around his bicep and stopped his approach towards me. They spoke in hushed tones, and then almost as quickly as it had began, it was over. Carlisle once again appeared completely heartbroken as he held his wife close to him, and Jake had returned to stand quietly behind his father's wheelchair.
I've thought about that exchange more often that I would've liked to over the past four and a half years. I still can't explain the look in Carlisle's eyes as he asserted his…authority, maybe?
The Cullens left Forks permanently about a month after the service. The kids had already left for college, and Carlisle had explained to the hospital that his wife was struggling with being so far away from what was left of her family. I never envied the Cullens their wealth until that moment. Parts of me would have felt so much relief in moving away from Forks and the memories it presented me every single day.
Alice, bless her heart, called to check on me about once a month for her first year of college. That summer and following fall, her calls became more and more sporadic until finally they stopped all together. The number Alice had used to contact me was no longer in service.
Two years to the day of Bella and Edward's wedding, I received a simple certified letter with an Alaskan PO Box number enclosed. I was supposed to write to the family in case of an emergency. I never did. What was an emergency anyway?
Bella has been gone for almost five years now. Sometimes I felt like at any moment she would come quietly through the door and start fussing with dinner in the kitchen. Other times, the weight of her absence made it clear that Bella hadn't been around here in a long while.
Then Rachel Black knocked on the door this afternoon. Now, I'm not sure what or who to believe.
I sat in front of the television, Sports Center rapidly firing college basketball highlights at me, but I wasn't really paying attention. Carlisle and Jacob's behaviors at the funeral, coupled with Billy's final words to me, preoccupied my thoughts.
A knock at the door quickly grabbed my attention. I groaned and grumbled as I set my beer on the side table to answer it. I turned the knob and found one of the last faces I expected to see on my doorstep.
Rachel, still a Black to me even though she had married Paul a few years ago, stood before me on the porch. She was just as pretty as ever and looking more like Sara every day. All except for her eyes; those were her old man's. A pang of sadness swept through me as it still did whenever I remembered another pretty girl with eyes like her dad. Moving on.
"Rachel…How are you holding up, kid?"
It seemed silly to call her that since she was a grown woman with a child of her own, but I couldn't help myself. Habits die hard.
I opened my arms for a small hug when I saw Rachel moving quickly towards me, falling into my embrace. "I'm alright, Charlie. It's finally over. Maybe he can get some peace."
She released me and took a step back. It was then I noticed a thin envelope in her hands. Even with my declining eyesight I could clearly recognize Billy's handwriting on the front. Neat, even lettering - the writing of a young man, or rather, a younger man. One strong enough to move a pen with purpose across an envelope. Not a man dying cancer. Whatever was in that envelope was not a dying wish or deathbed confession. It was premeditated, and I immediately considered that Billy probably hadn't intended his letter to be opened until after his death.
Rachel glanced down at her hands after noticing where my eyes had fallen. She met my gaze again.
"I have something for you. From Dad," Rachel said quietly, her voice quivering just the tiniest bit on her father's name.
Poor kid. Evidently, recognizing that Billy's death marked the end of his suffering wasn't totally enough to take away the pain. Not that I could blame her for that. I completely understood.
I gestured for Rachel to come inside from the cool, hazy March weather. Rachel quickly shook her head and held up a hand. "I-I can't. I don't want to be here when…"
When I read whatever was in that damn envelope. "Didn't Billy tell you what- "
"No," Rachel interrupted. "We found it today at the house right on top of all his important papers. He never mentioned anything about a letter to Rebecca or me, but Paul and Jake were acting funny about it. It was probably a…man…thing. I think they knew about it."
"And they elected you to come give it to me?"
With a small nod, Rachel replied, "The boys had some things to take care of, and Rebecca is already on her way back to Hawaii, so…"
Rachel looked back down at the envelope in her hands and ran a finger over the handwriting that had so specifically been Billy's.
"I can't believe you didn't peek," I said before I could stop myself.
The truth was I did believe it. The whole Black family was nothing if not completely honorable. They would have kept their noses out of it without thinking twice. That even included
Billy's hotheaded son-in-law.
Without looking up from the envelope or stopping her finger's movement, Rachel echoed what I had been thinking. "If Dad had something to say to us, he wouldn't have addressed this to just you. He meant for this to be for your eyes, only. We know how to keep secrets in our family, Charlie."
I nodded my head. After being a frequent visitor to the reservation for many more years than I hadn't been one, I understood what she was saying. Harry Clearwater and Billy had been good at keeping what they didn't want to share out of the conversation. It helped that I never pressed matters with them. There were things that I just didn't want or need to know. Like why some of the younger Quileutes had a tendency to skulk around together in a group with no shirts on. Didn't need to know.
"So I'm not going to ask you what's in this letter," Rachel continued. "Not today and not ten years from now. But I need you to promise me something."
Rachel met my eyes with her suddenly blazing brown ones. She waited until I nodded my head in agreement before she spoke again. "Please be careful. Whatever Dad needs to say to you now, he felt he couldn't in life. Be careful with what you know. Don't pursue it and go digging around for more information."
Her arm came forward and finally presented the envelope to me. I took it and was shocked at its weight. It definitely wasn't heavy in the literal sense, but I could feel it weighing heavily on my chest and sending a swarm of butterflies flapping away in my gut.
"Thank you, Rachel. My best to the family," I told her.
Just like her mother might have, Rachel pulled me into another hug. "If you need anything, Charlie…"
She pulled back and said, "Please, remember what I told you."
Without another word, Rachel turned and walked back down the porch steps. I watched her car pull out of the driveway and head down the street before finally closing the door.
This was it.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I should probably sit down to read Billy's letter – the real last words I would ever get from my closest friend. But somehow, I knew I couldn't handle waiting even one moment more before tearing into the sealed envelope.
My finger dug underneath the flap and pulled back towards me. The paper came apart with a satisfying rip. I half expected a cloud of ancient dust to fly up in my face. Stupid.
I carefully removed the paper from the envelope. It wasn't anything fancy. He had used a piece of computer paper to write on. Billy had never been swimming in money.
I unfolded the top third of the letter. There was no writing visible on this portion except for the date: September 6, 2006. The butterflies stopped flapping their wings in my stomach and transformed themselves into a solid mass that settled painfully and abruptly. I felt completely nauseated.
I knew this date well. It was ten days after her death, seven days before what would have been her nineteenth birthday, and the day of her memorial service. However you wanted to look at it.
My hands trembled at this message's added significance. An image of Billy sitting at the table writing in his dark suit coat on the day we said our goodbyes to Bella and Edward flashed through my mind. Maybe now I would finally get some answers about that day. Something had been communicated between the Quileutes and the Cullens at the funeral. Carlisle's glare had haunted me all these years. Did it have something to do with why Billy took every opportunity since Bella and Edward died to blame the family for what seemed to be an accident?
I unfolded the rest of the letter, took the damn biggest breath I have in years, and looked down. And then I was thankful for my gulp of air. I wasn't sure when I would be able to take another one. Ever.
I was expecting an explanation for the past eight years of listening to my friends at the reservation actively hating one family - hatred beyond the suspicion and weariness a small town typically holds towards outsiders. Maybe the letter would explain Billy's inexplicable panic when he found out Bella was dating the youngest Cullen. Or maybe it was simply a rationale behind the secretive glances, the whispers that were so common at La Push.
What I wasn't expecting was just one sentence written in Billy's familiar scrawl. And definitely not this sentence.
I stumbled backwards from the door in the direction of my armchair. My body flopped down on the cushion when the back of my calves hit stuffing. The hand holding Billy's letter flopped over the armrest, pulling the entire arm with it. It swung limply for a moment before hanging stationary, the paper grazing the floor. I was amazed I could still make my fingers work well enough to hold on. My head dropped into my free hand, and I let myself sit quietly with ESPN still squawking away in the background as if Billy hadn't just completely turned my world on its side.
Who knows how long I had been sitting here. Enough time had passed that the arm draped over the armrest felt heavy and numb with lack of blood flow. The television flickering brightly across the dark room told me enough time had passed for the sun to set.
I squeezed my eyes shut as I remembered the last thing Billy told me from his hospital bed, "I hope you can forgive me."
I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.
What made that damn, old fool think something like this, anyway? It was a wild accusation, bordering on insane and backed by absolutely no evidence.
But what if it was true? How the hell could I forgive myself if I didn't at least try to find out what happened? How the hell could Billy have kept this from me?
Carlisle's icy glare sprang up again behind my closed eyelids, and for a moment I had my answer. Maybe I should have listened to Billy years ago when he tried to warn me about the Cullens. I didn't. In fact, I never wanted to hear that crap about them. If I had, I could have watched over her like a father was supposed to and protected my little girl from that whole family.
"Aw, what the hell am I thinking?" I mumbled to no one as I reopened my eyes.
Protect Bella from what? The Cullens had been nothing but wonderful to my daughter and this town. I had even begrudgingly forgiven Edward for breaking up with Bella and having himself a dramatic little breakdown in California. Besides which, the Cullens lost one of their own that morning, too. Or did they? What the hell really happened that warm August night in the woods?
"Be careful with what you know. Don't pursue it and go digging around for more information."
Rachel's words of warning replayed themselves in my mind, just like they had for what must have been the last several hours judging by the darkness outside. Renee had always said that our daughter attracted danger from a fifty mile radius. Thing was, she got that from her good old dad. I just tended to do it by sticking my nose where it probably didn't belong.
There was more to this letter than meets the eye. Billy Black had waited until his death to communicate this information to me, information that his daughter warned me against pursuing. But how could I not?
I heard Billy's gruff voice reminding me, "There's still a bunch of stuff out there in this world you haven't learned yet. Make it your mission to find out."
Okay, Rachel hadn't wanted me to go digging around for more information, but her dad wanted to make damn sure I did. And hell, if I listened to Billy now, it wouldn't be the first time one of his bright ideas got me in a heap of trouble. Damn fools, the both of us.
I made up my mind right then and there to get to the bottom of this, starting with the mysterious Alaskan PO Box. If this wasn't an emergency, what else was? Maybe, if I was lucky, it could get some of the Quileutes to talk down at the Rez. Even with Harry and Billy both gone I still had pull there, especially with Jake.
This letter was only a piece of what Billy had been trying to say to me for years. What he wanted to say, but clearly couldn't. Not in life, anyway. Regardless of the outcome, I would get to the bottom of this for Bella. And hell, for Edward, too.
My fingers finally got too tired and numb to hold on anymore and released Billy's letter. It fluttered to the floor next to my chair. The crisp paper landed right side up, and I could still make out the neat handwriting.
She didn't die, Charlie.
A/N: So there you have it. As I wrote this, I felt more and more like I needed to see what came before this and/or what Charlie does with this knowledge. I have some ideas for a multi-chapter prequel, sequel, or combination prequel/sequel using flashbacks. If you're interested, tell me what you'd like to see!
Thanks for reading this far! Please take a moment to comment. It feeds a writer's soul! Hope you enjoyed!