Disclaimer: Any recognizable Twilight 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: Ug, sorry about the delay, guys. Writer's block + death in the family and my brother's wedding nightmare have taken the fun out of writing for a while. At least I was finally able to crank this one out!
A gigantic round of applause to my betas yoda5683 and jrs_storm. They're supportive and just generally awesome beyond the telling of it!
Most of all, thank you so much to all my readers for bearing with me! As always, big hugs to my reviewers and those of you who favorited!
From Chapter Three: The Longest Day…
Suddenly, I felt very alone. Jake couldn't help beyond what he'd already given me. Something – or someone – was holding him back. But what he hadn't said was more important than what he had. Never once did he discredit his father's claims. He knew it was true. It was all true.
I looked at the list, paper trembling in my unsteady hands. I finally had proof. Not a hell of a lot to stand on, but it was something. And after twenty years of being cop, I could work with something.
Chapter Four – Everybody Lied
"Shit," I mumbled as I ended the call and slammed my phone down satisfyingly onto its base.
Well, that was all of 'em. I'd spent the last week trying to verify the Cullens' adoption paperwork, or rather to just verify their existence. The files themselves were closed to everyone but the Cullens' eyes, but I was using my badge for every last ounce it was worth to see if they at least checked out.
They did. Every damn one of them.
The group in charge of Jasper and Rosalie Hale's adoption had just finally returned my phone calls to confirm they had files on record for them. To be honest, it had been a long shot to begin with. Of course the adoptions were valid. Why wouldn't they be? If it weren't for Billy and Jake's wild goose chase, I'd have never thought twice about those stupid records.
Honestly, contacting the adoption agencies was just a last ditch effort to track down information – any information – on the Cullens.
When I got home from the police station in Olympia, I had racked my brain for anything else I could remember about the days surrounding Bella and Edward's accident. In the end, I hadn't come up with much more than I had at the station – except for the food situation at the campsite, that is.
The police reports had listed the food storage's low proximity to the ground as the probable cause of the bear attack. Bella would have been the only one amongst a group of highly experienced campers to have not realized the potential danger in leaving food on the ground, and knowing Edward's over-the-top protective streak, he never would have left food duty up to her.
I didn't know what to make of it other than there was just something off about the whole thing. It went on the list.
As an afterthought, I had also made note of the Cullens' grief in the days immediately following the accident. That was the only chink in the works – the only thing working against Billy's conspiracy theory that my daughter hadn't actually died in those woods. I knew real pain when I saw it; I'd seen way too much of it in my career. What I saw from all the Cullens was real. It practically came off them in waves.
Could it have been possible that the family didn't know what really happened? Had this somehow stayed between Edward and Bella?
There were far too many unknown variables, and it was throwing off my search. Here I was, a week in, and still sporting a pretty pathetic set of clues to Bella's disappearance.
I grabbed my ongoing list from the end table and had a seat on my armchair. My eyes quickly scanned the list, and I felt just as lost as I had ever since coming home from Olympia. I still didn't really have a leg to stand on.
- B's hair – hairspray?
- K-9 unit refused to track E's scent
- Wedding photo missing from B's wallet
- Food at the campsite
- Mourning…did the Cullens know?
I flipped the paper in my notepad and looked at the next shorter list of oddities I had collected about the Cullens themselves. If Bella really hadn't died camping, there had to be something in the family's history that would set off a red flag. But the more I tried to find out about them, the more I realized I didn't even begin to have the resources to make any real headway. There wasn't much information about them in the public sector, and my FPD badge only got me so far outside of Washington state.
Regrettably, I now added as an aside to my list, "Adoptions all check out."
Researching the kids' adoptions was the last in a string of futile attempts to find out more about the Cullens. All five kids had near perfect GPAs at Forks High, as well as their high school in Alaska. I couldn't find any other educational information outside of what the overly-eager-to-help FHS secretaries had given me.
I originally assumed that meant their previous school records were from before the adoptions, and therefore would be under different last names, but wouldn't they have still traveled with the Cullen kids throughout their education? Records like that don't just disappear.
While I had no idea what missing transcripts might mean, it had been the first weird thing about the Cullens I'd written down. I had sworn to myself that anything I found that didn't seem right would make it onto my list, no matter how odd.
- Transcripts missing – all Cullen kids pre-adoption
I looked at the second item on my list and shook my head: "."
Money. A lot of money.
The Cullens had money; everyone in Forks knew that. Seeing a doctor pull into a hospital parking lot in a Benz wasn't really a surprise to anybody, but it was so much more than that.
Until the night of the wedding rehearsal, I'd never been inside the Cullen's gigantic home. Sure I'd known it was huge, but until that night, I hadn't understood exactly how much of the surrounding property they owned. And the cars? Good Lord, the cars. After the reception, I watched Edward drive my little girl away in an Aston Martin and realized that it was much more than just a doctor's salary they were living on. The Cullens had some serious family money.
My buddy, Richard, down at the bank had confirmed – over the fourth beer I'd bought him – that not only had the the Cullen's account at the bank been completely massive, but also that money was wired in from other banks. God Bless the Miller Brewing Company for that nugget of information.
With that and the estimated value of the home and the cars, I immediately added dollar signs to my list. The Cullens had more money than they let on. Quite a bit more. Certainly enough to pay off the right people to stage an accident.
This is where I kept shooting blanks. Wasn't the motive what it all kept coming down to?
Despite all the evidence in front of me, I just couldn't get it in my head that the Cullens would knowingly lie to the police and stage an elaborate accident in the woods. I didn't care what the guys on the Rez thought of the Cullens; this kind of behavior from them didn't add up. Or maybe it didn't add up cause I just didn't want to admit that two and two really do equal four. I didn't want the Cullens to have been capable of something like this.
Esme? Alice? I knew they loved my daughter almost as much as I did. I knew it. They wouldn't have done this to me, to her.
But the fact of the matter was somebody lied to me. That was the damned short and long of it. I just didn't know if it had been the almost-too-good-to-be-true Cullens or my only child; my dead friend or his green-eyed son who'd yet to move on.
I just knew that somebody lied.
My work cell's obnoxious ring interrupted my thoughts and brought me back to the present. I stared at it, ringing and vibrating on the table next to me. There was no way I was in the mood for whatever the hell was going on in Forks this morning.
"Swan," I said curtly.
"Chief?" I recognized the caller as one of my officers, Anne. "I know you're off duty today, but we need you down here at the station. Brian never came home from his shift last night. His wife is here right now. She's pretty upset, Chief."
Brian never made it home? What the hell happened?
I sat up straighter in my chair. "What do you mean he never came home? Where did we have him last night?"
Damn it, anyway. I hated asking that question. Before Billy passed away, I wouldn't have had to ask that question. I used to know everyone's daily assignments like the back of my hand. This little obsession of mine had completely taken over my life, and for the first time, I felt ashamed of it.
Thankfully, Anne was none-the-wiser to my embarrassment. "Brian was on patrol for most of the evening. At 2:07, dispatch contacted him. Some campers had reported a large ruckus in the woods. They figured it that it was coming from west of the 110."
My heart jumped up into my throat. I knew those woods. I knew them too well.
"A-a ruckus? What kind of ruckus?"
On the other end, I could hear Anne's breath catch a moment as she read further into the dispatch log. "Says here the caller told dispatch it sounded like two boulders crashing together."
Son of a bitch. More boulders.
When I didn't respond right away, Anne continued in a rush, "But-but they weren't sure. Brian radioed in when he reached the approximate location, and that's the last we have from him. Uniforms were unable to locate his squad car. Should we send someone out to investigate the woods?"
Already in motion before Anne was done speaking, I moved around the house grabbing my wallet and badge. "Yeah, but call county before you do it. I want a team out there, and I want them safe. I'm on my way in right now."
I opened the front door and took one last look at my list, still sitting by my armchair. As much as I would rather continue mulling over what I knew, I had to get to the station. I was getting pretty sick and tired of all this unexplained shit happening in my town.
"Sorry, sweetheart, I gotta get this," I whispered to Bella and quickly locked up behind me.
A little more than three hours later, I finally let myself back into the house and toed my boots off at the front door.
"Shit," I muttered under my breath as I fell back into my armchair's well-worn cushions.
Alexis Delany, Officer Delany's wife, had been beside herself when I'd walked into the station. Rightly so. This wasn't typical behavior for Brian, which was grounds for concern. We put an APB out on the squad car but hadn't gotten a hit off it yet. Meanwhile, my officers had started working with county to look through the woods. No sign of Delany or the commotion that brought him there.
Mercifully, my deputy had stopped me from joining the search when I pulled up alongside the road in my cruiser. It was my duty as chief to be in those woods, but it was probably best for me as a father that I didn't step foot in them.
So here I was, back in my armchair and feeling about as useless as could be. My eyes caught sight of my little notepad on the table next to me, and I groaned. When did my life get so complicated? Was this really easier than when I had thought my daughter to be long since at peace?
No. Shit, no.
Nothing was worse than that. I'd take all the complication and frustration in the world if I could prove Billy right - that Bella was still out there somewhere.
I picked up the notepad and studied the list – the one with what the notes about the Cullens. Having stepped away from the Cullen Zone for a few hours, I was able to process the information with a fresh set of eyes. Researching them hadn't turned up much, and I wondered if I was going about this the wrong way.
Maybe the problem was I'd zoomed in too far. I was seeing all the little details about the accident itself and missing the obvious bigger picture. If the Cullens really were guilty of faking my daughter's death, then there had to have been warning signs I'd glossed over in the past that could indicate something wasn't right.
Billy's hatred naturally came to mind. What the hell kind of family gets banned from a reservation? The Cullens, save for the debacle with Edward leaving, had always seemed so kind. What the hell hadn't I seen that the Quileutes had? If I'd learned anything in the last week or so, it was that I needed to trust their instincts above my own right now. They knew something I didn't.
"And it would have damn well helped for you to have given me somethin' to work with, Billy," I muttered under my breath. "One day, you and I are gonna have a little chat at the pearly gates about this."
Having slumped further into my chair, I tried to think past the awful time surrounding Bella's accident and back to when I had a lot of contact with the family she'd marry into. Had I noticed anything off? Anything at all?
I stared at my paper. Tapped my pen against the pad. Scratched my ear with the cap.
Rather, nothing of significance. Obviously, they were all good-looking. Ridiculously good-looking in a bizarre, improbable kind of way. Even little Alice looked like she belonged in a Victoria's Secret catalog instead of the dark hallways of Forks High School. Unless being born beautiful suddenly made someone a criminal, that didn't mean anything to my cause.
"Aw, damn it," I grumbled, unable to stop images of Alice in Victoria's Secret lingerie from ghosting through my mind. That was neither helpful nor appropriate. What the hell was the matter with me?
I'm sure Billy would have had a zinger ready to answer that question for me. My chest constricted just a little; I'd been dealing with his last mission for me for seemingly forever; it was almost difficult to remember that he really hadn't been gone for that long.
"Gah, not doing this right now," I said as I sat up in my seat.
Come on, come on. What else did I know about the Cullens?
Carlisle and Esme had a large, adopted family for such a young couple, but I knew why they'd taken the kids in when they had; I'd verified the adoptions. Nothing significant there, either.
Think, Charlie. God damn it.
I rubbed my face with the palm of my hand. Ran my fingers through my hair. Tipped my head back and groaned pathetically.
The problem was that when it came to the Cullen I saw the most, Edward, I barely remembered a time when just looking at the kid didn't piss me off. Especially after he and Bella had returned from California, I'd spent most of my time around him imaging all the different spots on his body I could use for target practice, not taking inventory on his quirks.
I laid my notepad on the table beside me and slowly stood. One long and severely needed stretch later, I was headed into the kitchen. If I was gonna keep this up for much longer, I was sure as hell gonna have a Reiner in my hand when I was doin' it. Thinking about the Cullens too hard always meant thinking about her. Billy's letter or no, remembering the good times still hurt like a bitch.
As I reached into the fridge for my beer, I caught sight of the kitchen table out of the corner of my eye and couldn't help but smile. Maybe looking into the Cullens wasn't so bad after all. I hadn't thought about one of my better Dad moments with Edward since before the accident…
Bella sat across from me at the table in her usual spot, barely coming up for air as she chewed small forkfuls of pasta and chatted nervously about her day with Alice. I honestly couldn't remember hearing her string that many words together about absolutely nothing in all the months since she'd moved back to Forks. The only explanation had to be our dinner guest.
Sitting awkwardly next to me at the kitchen table was Edward Cullen, he of a thousand food allergies. Or a special diet. Or whatever the hell the reason was that he never ate with us. He somehow managed to always slink over to our house right after our nightly meal – planned perfectly to skip right to cuddling with my daughter on the couch or on our back lawn. Convenient timing, kid.
I swore I saw Edward glare at me out of the corner of my eye, but when I looked over, he was concentrating on his plate and pushing the remainder of his small helping of noodles around with a fork. God forbid he eat a full meal like a normal human being. I'm sure Bells was careful to follow his dietary needs.
Edward sighed and twisted more noodles onto his fork, and I watched him chew them forever before swallowing with a slight grimace. At least Bella was too busy yammering away to catch his rude reaction to her cooking.
What was she saying, anyway? I'd been focusing most of my attention on intimidating Edward for the first half of our meal to catch most of her desperate attempts at conversation between the three of us.
"So then, we 'had' to go to four different stores looking for a purse. I saw some that were fine, but Alice just kept saying that we hadn't found the exact one she wanted to get for Esme. And I think that's ridiculous because she always knows what store she needs to go to. I swear she was doing it just to keep me in that mall for as long as possible."
Oh good God, Bella is still talking about shopping.
I figured now was as good a time as any to take pity on her and interrupt the running commentary. "Hey Bells, this pasta is really good. New recipe?"
Bella sputtered for a second, almost as if she couldn't just stop the babbling midstream. "Oh, um, y-yeah. Just trying out some new things. Glad you like it."
I looked over at Edward and raised my eyebrow. Like it or not, he was going to be polite and compliment the chef.
"Yeah, love, it's good," he said with a little smirk.
I choked on the sip of beer I'd just taken. Love? When the hell did they start throwing that word around?
Bella blushed from her hair down to her toes and squirmed in her seat as she mumbled something back to Edward that I didn't quite catch.
So, it was like that then. I couldn't say it was something I necessarily wanted to hear from that boy's mouth towards my daughter after the hell they went through in May, but I wasn't about to question it with the kid sitting right there. Besides, my relationship with Bella had always had been don't ask, don't tell. And I really didn't want to be told anything more about that word right now.
With a shrug, I swirled some more pasta onto my fork. "Huh. Alright."
Edward took another bite and made that pinched face again.
"Uh, Dad?" Bella said, grabbing my attention away from Mr. Scowl. "Why don't you tell us about your day? I think if I say anything more about shopping I'll have officially turned into Alice, and…Oh my God, why didn't you guys stop me?"
A forkful of pasta unwove itself from Bella's fork as she spoke and landed with a splat back on her plate. She muttered something about her clumsiness and tried to pick it up again. I caught Edward staring at her, smiling the kind of smile that no father wants to see on his daughter's boyfriend's face. It seemed very genuine, like he just enjoyed watching her. Problem was I had been seventeen once, too, and that sort of smile led to exactly one thing at seventeen. It certainly had with Renee and me…repeatedly.
All the more reason for me to take this opportunity to tell them about my day, I thought with a smirk as I remembered the look on the Thomas boy's face as I escorted him out of the back seat of his car.
Edward groaned next to me. Here we went with the food, again. Gees, kid…Give it a rest. You can go sip your damn tofu shakes or whatever as soon as we're done here.
"My day? Well you know, wasn't very exciting. Nothing like shopping for purses must have been."
Bella lifted her head to frown at me, then shot Edward an equally dirty look when he laughed along with me. "I'm sure it was thrilling, Dad," she said.
I put my hands up in surrender for a moment before going back to my meal. "Well, I had some paperwork I needed to catch up on. Met with some of the guys about new equipment that's coming in. Like I said, wasn't very exciting." I paused to take a bite and build up to the moment. "Oh, but there was one interesting thing. Caught a couple kids from your school getting a little too close in the backseat of a car just off the 101. Gave them a pretty good scare, but I definitely didn't need to see that much male…business this afternoon.
"Long story short, you two, make sure all your friends know that we patrol those roads pretty good for any parkers. Wouldn't want someone you know to wind up just as embarrassed."
Neither one of the kids said a damn thing as I lifted my fork to my mouth again. Yep – message received loud and clear. There would be no silver Volvos or red Chevys parked along any road in my town.
When I looked back up at my daughter, Bella's mouth was still frozen in a perfect "O" for a long moment before she went back to eating. "Uh, y-yeah, sure, Dad. Will do."
I was still chuckling to myself as I walked back into the living room and took a seat in my armchair. The looks on their faces had been absolutely priceless. Edward wasn't really one for blushing, but Bella had been red as a buoy floatin' in the ocean. To tell the truth, I had felt just a smidge bad about it afterwards since neither one of them really ate much after that.
Well that was something that hadn't occurred to me, yet – Edward's strange diet. I had questioned it a few times over the course of their relationship, but never really pursued it much past asking Bella what was up with him from time to time. I always got the same canned answer from her anyways about allergies and nutritional supplements.
But it wasn't just Edward. Alice never ate anything over by us, either. Even when she brought over a meal Esme had prepared for Bella and me, she'd make her excuses.
So what had been going on in that house? Couldn't be genetic because the kids were all adopted, and most of them weren't even related. Eating disorders were probably out, too. Those kids were all healthy as horses.
I wasn't sure what Edward's bizarro all-tofu all-the-time diet had to do with the accident in the woods, but it was a start. Wasn't this list all about including everything that could be a red flag, no matter how insignificant it seemed? One thing was for sure – it beat writing, "They're all beautiful," down as a viable clue.
On my list, I added, "Weird diet – never ate," underneath "Not allowed on the Rez."
My pencil immediately added a third bullet point, "Uneasy around Edward," before I really even knew I was doing it.
Jesus, was I?
The answer was yes. It was a little startling. I don't know that I'd ever formed that thought all the way through, but yeah – Edward made my cop sense tingle. I usually dismissed that feeling I got down the back of my neck as my instincts fighting the urge to deck him one, but maybe that wasn't it.
After thinking about it for a moment, I crossed off "Edward" and rewrote the bullet point as, "Uneasy around them." Carlisle's expression at the memorial wasn't one I'd soon forget, even if some days I thought I'd imagined it. The more I thought about the clues, the more I realized I probably hadn't.
I'd almost forgotten about that…
I cast a line off the boat and huffed.
Billy looked at me out of the corner of his eye and asked, "You gonna talk about it?"
"Nope," I replied immediately.
He frowned a little deeper in my direction before turning back towards the water. "Well, I think you should talk about it."
Another dirty look. "Those mutilated worm parts down there sure as hell tell a different story there, Chief."
I glanced down at the wormy mush in question. Okay, so I mangled a couple pieces of worm trying to get them on the damn hook. No cause for the Spanish Inquisition.
"I said I'm fine."
It was crap. I knew Billy wouldn't let that slide.
Sure enough, he shook his head and said, "'Fine.' Yeah, okay. That's why you're out here fishin' with me in the middle of the week…to say nothing about mashing our bait into slop." Billy smirked and added, "That's all fine. Totally normal."
"Don't be a smartass, Billy."
"Don't lie to me, Charlie."
Ignoring my muttered response telling him where to go, Billy said, "Come on. How in the world are you 'fine?'"
I didn't have an answer for him. Billy was right. But given everything that had happened in the last four days, I felt as though it were justified.
"Alight, alright…You got me. This sucks."
Billy braced his pole against the side of the boat and turned to face me. "There it is. Been wondering if you were ever gonna spit it out."
Honestly, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to put this week into words yet, either. It had been utter hell. The very last thing I'd expected coming home from Harry's funeral was a note from my daughter telling me that she'd run off because Edward freaking Cullen was in trouble.
Bella had changed so much since she came to Forks. Over the summer, I thought it was for the better – the much, much better. But that Cullen kid was like a toxin to her. Depression to the point of being catatonic. Jumping off cliffs for shits and giggles. Flying to another state…again…because something was wrong with Edward Cullen.
I hated what that kid had done to her. I hated that she'd refused to live when he'd walked out on her. But most of all, I hated that she'd gone running to his rescue without a second thought.
Bella had been too exhausted for school yesterday, which suited me just fine. At least when she was at home, I could keep her from seeing that slimly little asshole.
But today? Today Bella was back at school with that Goddamn prick, and I was…Well, I was fishing. Or trying to, anyway. Cause what the hell else was I supposed to do? All I could think about what ripping that snot-nosed kid to shreds. I sure as shit wasn't going to be very useful to anyone in Forks.
He didn't say anything in return, but let me have my moment to think. I looked out over the water and shook my head. Had it really been over ten years since I'd first taken my little girl out here with me? La Push hadn't changed in that time. Same trees. Same traditions. Same friendly folk. But Bella? She had changed.
And that's what makes this so damn hard.
"I don't know…It feels like I don't know her anymore. Bella, I mean."
"Why do you say that?" Billy asked, his eyes narrowed.
I turned my pole a fraction of an inch back and forth in my hands to keep them busy and responded, "I just…I just thought I got it, the whole teenage love-sick thing or whatever. I mean, it was pretty intense between those two last summer, but I-"
With a shrug, I leaned back in my seat and looked up from my idle hands. "I should have stepped in sooner - should have made her take a break after the whole Phoenix disaster last spring. But I didn't…and now this? That kid dropped her in a flash when some hot California tail was on the line. She barely eats or speaks for months, and the minute he's feeling blue she's crossing state lines to go comfort him?"
A growling kinda shout got past my lips before I could put a lid on it. "GAAHHHH! It isn't normal!"
"No, it isn't," Billy agreed calmly.
"So what now? Do I have her checked out or something?"
Billy narrowed his eyes. "Your daughter isn't the problem here, Charlie. It's those Cullens-"
"Now hold on," I interrupted. "I'll be the first one in line any day of the week to say that kid of theirs is a complete douche bag for using her the way he has, but can we please leave the rest of them out of this for a change? I'm not in the mood for this."
I heard Billy sigh and grumble to himself as I looked back out over the water and continued, "Bella's a damn good kid. I don't know what Renee did right, but my daughter turned out pretty incredible."
"She did," Billy agreed simply.
"So why the hell did I make her show me her boarding pass yesterday?" I shouted back as I turned to face my startled friend. "Why can't I shake this feeling that…God, I don't know. That something just-just wasn't right!"
Getting this out was every bit as hard as I figured it would be. I hated that I didn't completely trust my daughter. When the hell had that happened? "I just think that there was more to the story than she told me."
"And did she have it?"
"Have what? The boarding pass?" Billy nodded. "Of course she did. Sea-Tac to LAX. A late evening flight, just like she said."
Billy made a noncommittal sound, but didn't say anything right away. I was glad for the moment alone with my thoughts. It gave me time to think about what a shitty dad I was for even questioning Bella in that moment. Every time I did something like that, I realized how little time I'd actually gotten to spend as a father.
Finally, Billy cleared his throat and interrupted my moping. "Why didn't you trust her?"
I hid my face behind my hands. "Because she took her passport with her…And because the Cullens weren't in Los Angeles."
"What?" Billy responded loudly.
"The Cullens…they weren't in Los Angeles." I dropped my hands back down to my lap and clarified, "At least, I don't think they were."
"How did you know that?"
I shrugged and picked up some more bait. "I tried to find them back in the fall when Bella…When Bella was the way she was. I thought maybe I could talk Carlisle into having Alice come visit or something."
Billy leaned forward and motioned for me to continue. "And? What did you find?"
"Nothing," I mumbled as adjusted my line a little. "I called every hospital in Los Angeles looking for a Dr. Cullen. They weren't there, Billy…I'm sure I just must missed one or something, but when Bells left me that note, I couldn't help but doubt that she'd actually gone to Los Angeles."
A moment passed between us while Billy thought about what I'd said. He watched the water crash into the side of our boat with a grim expression I knew well on his face. I'd seen those set lips and scrunched up eyebrows enough times to know what they meant. There was something he didn't want to tell me.
Well, here's your opportunity, old man.
But Billy didn't say anything. Just kept staring at the water.
I tried prompting him. "Look, if you knew something, you'd tell me, right?"
Billy's line pulled suddenly pulled hard, and he took his time reeling in his catch and detaching it from his hook before he finally answered me. "If Bella told you she was in LA, and she had a boarding pass to prove it, I'm sure that's where she was, Charlie."
Yeah, that's probably right.
Billy had his chance right then and there. He could have told me what the hell was going on in that family – the real reason Bella had seemed so scared for Edward in her letter to me.
He didn't, and damn him for it.
So after stewing about it for over two more weeks, I finally just came out and asked Carlisle about not finding his hospital when I tried to reach out to him. He'd calmly told me that while they were living within the city limits, the hospital had actually been in the suburbs at a prestigious teaching hospital.
Carlisle's story checked out. One quick Google of the hospital name he'd give me and I'd found an article from the hospital's website about his departure. The whole thing had almost been too easy. And just like that, I'd excused everything away like always and stuck my head right back in the sand.
But what if Bella hadn't gone to LA? What if the boarding pass had been some sort of decoy? Surely if I was saying that the Cullens had enough money and resources to stage an animal attack, they could also have purchased separate tickets to LAX to cover their tracks? Created a phony article on a website?
Even as I added "California?" to my list, it felt really wrong doing it. First off, by including it I was officially turning into the crazy old man who saw conspiracy theories everywhere he looked. Sadly, being crazy wasn't even my biggest concern. If I believed this…and I think I did…then that meant that Bella lied to me about where she had gone – proof that I really was on to something.
That right there was enough to warrant throwing back a beer or two to calm my nerves, but I resisted the urge. I wanted to be fully in this moment because I felt like finally…finally, something was coming together in my mind. Like the fog was lifting, and I was starting to see things as they really were.
The Cullens had something to hide and the money to cover it up. I was sure of it. I just didn't know what that something was.
A heavily locked and guarded vault in the very back of my mind protected the last memories I had of my little girl. For four and a half years, remembering that day two days before her death had symbolized everything that was unfair about life. She'd been so happy. So ready to start her college career. How could Bella, who'd never harmed a soul, deserve to have her chance at life ripped away from her?
Now I was starting to see everything I'd missed. The bracelet she'd given me. The tears in her eyes I thought had been about leaving soon for college. The way Edward smiled so sadly and uncharacteristically at me from over Bella's shoulder. Whatever the Cullens' secret was, Bella knew what it was.
And she knew that she was never going to see me again.
It wasn't that someone was lying to me. They all were – the Cullens, the Quileutes, even my own daughter.
I stood up and kicked my armchair. It skidded across the floor a bit as I sent my notepad and pen flying in the opposite direction across the room.
Why did Bella feel like she had to lie for them? Fake her own death for them?
Everything was just too damn confusing. Billy knew all along that something was going with the Cullens, but he never said anything. If Bella were ever truly in danger, wouldn't he have told me? I refused to accept that my closest friend would have allowed her to get wrapped up in something that dangerous.
Could that mean the secret wasn't necessarily bad? Just…worth keeping? Were they in witness protection? Was someone after them?
That made me wonder, whatever it was, how long did Bella know? How long had she been covering for them?
I just didn't know. I didn't know anything.
All I knew right now was that I was done being played and kept in the dark. No more games. No more bullshit. I wanted answers. Now.
I reached for my cell phone and scrolled through my contacts for Jacob's number. It rang through to voice mail the first time. And the second. And the third. On the third try, I finally left a message. "Jake, it's Charlie. Listen, you wanted me to let you know if I found anything out and I- … Jesus, Jake, I have no idea what to do with the information I have, but I need you to start talking yesterday. I'm headed down to the Rez. I'll try to find you at your place first."
I quickly added, "Put on a damn shirt," before ending the call.
Now to track down Jake.
I grabbed my car keys and hurried out the door. In my rush, I almost missed the postal envelope leaning against the house just outside the door.
As I bent over to grab it, I tried to remember if I'd ordered anything in the last couple weeks. I was coming up with nothing until I looked at the return address – it was the PO box in Alaska.
"Get the hell outta here," I mumbled as I went right back into the house.
La Push was gonna wait.
Billy's letter had taught me a thing or two about opening important pieces of mail while standing. Not a good move. I moved quickly into the living room and fell into my beat-up old chair.
My fingers quickly tore open the large envelope and I pulled out another, smaller envelope. This one had a note written on the front in an unfamiliar, feminine handwriting. Definitely not Alice's. It read simply, "Charlie, you should have had this years ago."
Fingers trembling, I carefully ripped into the manila envelope. A weight laid heavily on my chest. I couldn't have taken a deep breath if I wanted to. It all came down to this.
The document inside felt glossy on the front, obviously a photo. I asked for Alice's help with her best friend's possible disappearance, and someone sends me a picture? How in the world did that make sense?
I pulled the photo out of the envelope and just stared. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting to see, but it sure as shit wasn't this.
"Alice…What the hell?"
A/N: As always, thank you for reading. Please take a moment to tell me what you thought!
Also, I recently began a Twitter account for my thoughts on the fandom, my fic, and assorted randomness - _horizon77_ I look forward to seeing you guys there!
Coming up next – Chapter 5: Wedding Bells