This was written for my beta, Lucette212, who told me once in passing that she would have liked to see a conversation between Carlisle and Charlie like the one contained below. I can only hope this is what she had in mind.
Thank you, my friend, I owe you more than I can ever express. Finding Home was a challenge for me in many ways, but it was made easier by the fact that I had you for a beta. Happy Birthday.
Thanks to LTR and SR for filling in for the aforementioned beta.
This takes place right before chapter one of Finding Home.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
"That was delicious, Esme. Thank you," I said, patting my stomach and leaning back in my chair.
"You're more than welcome, Charlie," she replied, smiling kindly at me. I knew she appreciated the fact that I enjoyed her meals with gusto. I was a fair cook, but Esme Cullen was the best I'd ever encountered. "Who's ready for dessert?"
"May I please be excused?" Edward asked, looking down at his plate, an absolutely pained expression on his face. If I had to guess, that pain was somehow associated with the way he had been staring at my daughter all evening.
"Oh," Esme responded. "It's apple pie. Are you sure you don't want some?"
"Yes, ma'am," he mumbled, looking quickly at Bella and then at his mother. "I'd just like to go to my room, please."
"You feeling all right, son?" Carlisle interjected.
"Yes, I'm fine," he replied, his leg bouncing up and down. Poor kid seemed likely to have a heart attack if they didn't excuse him from the table. "I have homework."
Carlisle looked at him for a long minute before nodding his head. "All right. Say good night to Captain Swan and Bella."
"Good evening," he said quickly, practically running up from the table and up the stairs. Esme shook her head and got up from the table, starting to clear it, as I chuckled at Edward's retreating form. That boy had it bad.
"How about a brandy before coffee?" Carlisle asked me.
"Sounds good," I replied, looking over at Bella, who was helping Esme clear the table.
She smiled at me and my stomach twisted. She was such a sweet girl and I was dreading the news I had that was sure to blindside her. "I'll just be out on the back deck with Dr. Cullen, baby girl."
"Okay," she said innocently, picking up dishes and stacking them neatly.
"Do you have homework too?" I asked her.
"Just a little bit of reading. I can do that here," she answered, taking her stack of dishes and turning toward the kitchen.
I watched her go before I got up and met Carlisle at the bar, where I gratefully accepted a snifter of brandy as we made our way outside. I loved this house for many reasons, but after the sense of love and family I felt within its walls, I enjoyed this, the calm I felt at the beach, more than anything else. Perhaps it was being so close to the ocean, which after Bella was the thing I loved most in the world. Before she came along, I thought being at sea was my fondest wish, but she changed everything about my life, and for the better.
Carlisle and I sipped our brandy in comfortable silence until I told him the news I was dreading telling Bella.
"I just received word yesterday. I've been promoted and they're giving me the Arizona. I ship out right after the first of the year," I announced.
"Okay," he said cautiously. "Why don't you seem happier? Isn't this what you wanted?"
"It's what I want in a lot of ways. What I've always wanted. But you know as well as I do that war is coming. And soon."
I looked at him, sure he would understand what I was trying to say. We'd been friends for a long time.
"She's almost an adult, Charlie. You can't be with her forever."
"I know, but she's still in high school and she has plans to go to college. It's not a great time for me to be leaving," I lamented. I wanted to go. America would undoubtedly be at war soon and it was my duty to be a part of that, but she had always been my first priority.
"The choice is going to be taken out of your hands either way. Maybe it's better to leave this way, when you can prepare her."
"Maybe," I said distractedly. I was going to be in combat and I needed to make sure that if I didn't come home, she was taken care of.
"I know I've asked you this before," I began. "But if I don't come home, you'll take care of my little girl, won't you?"
"You know I will," he replied firmly. "I'm almost insulted that you felt the need to ask."
"She's a good girl and I've been thinking...maybe I didn't prepare her properly for life. And I don't want it to be too late."
"What do you mean? I've never seen a father more devoted to his child."
"I've been thinking," I repeated, "that I raised her all wrong. She accused me once of wishing she had been born a boy. I don't think she was right, but I wonder if she needed a mother. Someone to teach her to sew and cook and do the things she's going to be expected to do."
"Expected by whom?" he asked me pointedly.
"By the boy she marries some day, I would imagine."
"You don't know that," he replied.
"I taught her to fish and fight and to speak her mind freely. I went to her school and demanded that she be taken out of Home Economics and put into classes with boys. I could have asked Esme to give her some of those skills but I thought studying was more important than sewing. Boys are bound to be intimidated by that."
"Do you really want Bella with a boy who doesn't appreciate how smart and strong she is?"
"Of course not. But I may not be around to tell her that, and that terrifies me."
"I know I'm not her father and Esme's not her mother, but she'll always have us. We love her as if she was our own and we'll make sure she knows."
I swallowed thickly, clearing out the lump that was forming in my throat. I was lucky to have a friend like Carlisle. He took my child in when I had to travel and opened his home to both of us with no questions asked. I couldn't have asked for a better family for my little girl.
"I appreciate that more than I can say. If I'm not around...well, I want her to still be the person she was meant to be. If that makes sense."
"Have you seen the way your boy looks at her?" I asked, lightening the mood.
"You noticed that too, huh?" he replied, smiling.
"It's hard to miss. He looks like a sick puppy," I said. I was laughing, something I was sure I wouldn't have been doing had we been talking about any other boy.
"That he does," Carlisle said, joining in my laughter.
"If he ever gets off his ass and asks for her hand, I want you to know that I approve. There's no one I'd rather see her with."
"Thank you. That means a lot to me. He's a good boy. And he definitely won't expect her to be anyone other than who she is. You know that."
"I do," I said softly. I didn't necessarily like to think of my baby as a married woman, but Edward was a good boy and he would take good care of her, of that I was certain.
"My boy's going off to war too, you know," Carlisle said softly. "All of our lives are going to change."
"He's a smart kid, he'll be fine," I said, my words sounding hollow to my own ears. War was a nasty business that often took the best and the brightest in their prime.
He just nodded and we sat there for a long while, silently looking out into the ocean and sipping our drinks, lost in our own thoughts.
"I better tell her," I suddenly announced.
Carlisle got up and put a hand on my shoulder. "I'll send her out."
As I waited for her to come out, I remembered the day Bella's mother left us. I was so sure I would fall apart, that I would fail at raising a child alone, a daughter especially.
Renee left us on a Tuesday night, long after Bella had been fed and put to bed. She told me that she loved us but that she didn't think she was cut out for being a mother and wife. It was all too much responsibility and she was too young to be tied to a family. She took a small suitcase, walked out the front door, and I never saw her again.
I stayed up all that night, in shock, mostly. Until a tiny voice called from upstairs, asking for her mother.
I slowly made my way to her room, unsure of what I was going to do or say when I got there. It wasn't that I hadn't taken an interest in my child before then. It was just that child-rearing was the work of women and men were relegated to a few minutes a day of playtime.
I went to her room and when she saw me she smiled from her crib, put her arms straight out and said "Daddy."
I knew then and there that I would devote myself to her, to making sure that her life was fulfilled and happy, even without her mother.
But that didn't change the fact that I had a hungry, wet toddler, and at the moment taking care of her seemed more challenging than navigating a battleship through open sea. I packed her into the car and drove to Carlisle and Esme straight away, seeking advice. After I told them that Renee left and they got over their shock, I asked Esme for help. My daughter needed me and I was her only parent now – I had a lot to learn.
Esme carefully walked me through the steps of changing a diaper and showed me how to give Bella a bath. She gave me some pointers on what Bella might like to eat and wrote down the recipes. She was my saving grace that day and after we put the kids down for their nap that afternoon, I allowed myself to grieve for the loss of my wife and my daughter's mother.
But that was all the mourning I would do. I had a daughter to raise. It wasn't always easy, and I often felt more challenged by being a father than a Naval Officer, but she really was the best, brightest part of my life.
I turned and saw Bella coming to join me on the back porch. I still couldn't get over the woman she was becoming and how far she'd come from that two year old who held her arms out to me.
When she sat next to me, I came right out with it. We didn't lie to each other and we didn't beat around the bush.
"I'm leaving again, kiddo."
"Oh," she whispered, blinking at me in surprise.
"I've never lied to you and I'm not going to start now. War is coming. I've been given the Arizona and I have no idea where we're going or how long we'll be gone." I paused to give her time to digest what I was saying before continuing. "You know you'll always have a home with Dr. and Mrs. Cullen."
"I know. I'm going to miss you, though," she said softly, looking up at me with those big brown eyes and making me instantly regret my decision to go. There was no going back now, though. And I also knew that as much as I wanted to stay with her, going was the right thing. I had a job to perform and I would do it to the best of my ability so I could come home to her as soon as possible.
"I'm going to miss you, too. But you're almost an adult now. You finish up high school and then I want you to do whatever makes you happy. If that's college, it's college. If not, that's okay too. Remember, I can only push you so far, the rest is up to you."
"I know, Daddy."
"There's no harm in reminding you, baby girl. You be your own person, you hear me?"
She nodded and looked at me, biting her lip lightly. "What is it?" I asked.
She didn't respond. Instead, she got up and threw her arms around my neck, holding me tight. I held her close and relished the moment, knowing there wouldn't be many left.
"I love you, Daddy," she whispered in my ear.
"I love you, Isabella. And I'm proud of you, no matter what. Never forget that."
Thank you for reading.