FINALLY! Thank you all for waiting so patiently (or impatiently in some cases). It's finally here! Enjoy. :o)
I stood in front of the mirror, dressed in my formal uniform. It looked better than it ever had thanks to Alice. I smiled to myself and shook my head. I had resigned myself to wearing a monkey suit for today. Alice had been determined, but Baby Girl would have none of that.
"You always wanted to wear your dress uniform for this Daddy," she had told me on the phone. "So that's what you will wear."
"Baby Girl," I said, trying to appease my girl. "It doesn't matter what I wear…"
"It does to me," she said. "Daddy, you told me a long time ago that there were two things that defined you. One was being a cop and the second, and most important, was being my daddy. Just because I am married to her brother, does not mean Alice can change that."
"I love you, Baby Girl," I said, chuckling, as she muttered some more under her breath.
"I already told Alice that you will be wearing your dress uniform. So, be prepared to have it shined up Cullen style."
"I will," I said, laughing at my girl's determination. "Thank you, Baby Girl."
"I love you Daddy."
The next morning, two people were at my door, forcing me to try on my uniform for them before they took it with them and left. Alice Cullen certainly was a force to be reckoned with. When I put it on this morning, it seemed to fit better, and I had never seen my buttons and badge so shiny.
"You look great Charlie," Sue said, slipping in front of me to help me straighten my tie. I felt her fingers tremble against my chest and I moved my hands to grasp hers, looking down into her eyes.
"I love you," I said to her softly. "Thank you for coming today."
She bit her lip as she looked up at me. She was dressed to the nines. She and Diane, Billy's long time girlfriend had spent the day before shopping. I knew they were both nervous about today. They were both meeting our children for the first time. I couldn't help but think Susie got the shorter end of the stick. Jacob may have been the man of honor, but Baby Girl was the bride, meaning their meeting would be a little more front and center .
"I'm sorry," I said to her. She shouldn't be in this position. She should have met Baby Girl years ago, but I was selfish and scared. Now, seeing the woman I loved, trembling in my arms, my selfishness slapped me in the face.
"Charlie…" she said.
"No," I said, knowing instantly she was going to try to take the blame somehow. I pulled her hands to my lips and kissed her fingers. She squeezed my hands and smiled up at me. Her sweet smile reminded me why I had fallen in love with this gentle woman, the baby sister of my dear friend Harry.
"You don't need to be sorry," she said, kissing me softly. She is so much like Bella, self-sacrificing almost to a fault.
"I do," I said, smiling sadly at her. I couldn't even begin to explain how much I loved her, and yet I had always kept her away from my family, from my baby girl.
"Do you not want me here?" she asked, her brow creasing with concern. Of course she would think that.
"It's not that at all," I said, caressing her cheek. "I do want you here, more than I can explain... but it shouldn't be this awkward. You've been it for me for such a long time and I..."
"Charlie," she said, interrupting me. But I needed to say it. Her eyes were tearing up and no matter how many times she said that it didn't bother her that I had never told Baby Girl about her, I knew it did. This was my mistake and I needed to make it right for her, and for my baby girl.
"Susie," I said, my own eyes starting to tear up. "I was wrong. I was so wrong. At first, I didn't know how to do it... to be the man you needed and the father that she needed... I didn't know how to do both at the same time so I kept it separate, and the longer that I did the harder it became to reconcile the two parts of my life together. I'm probably not explaining this right..."
"You're doing fine," she said, sniffling.
"I love you and I am sorry if I ever made you feel like I am ashamed to be with you or that you weren't good enough in any way. I just didn't know how..."
"I understand Charlie," she said. "I won't say I haven't wanted to be more involved in your life because I have, but I understood. You raised her on your own for almost her whole life and sharing that would have been incredibly awkward..."
"Maybe and maybe not," I said. "I'll never know because I never took that chance. I'm just glad you're here with me now."
"And she knows that I'm here?" she asked nervously. I nodded in response. "As your date?" she asked, looking hesitant once more.
"As my date," I confirmed, thinking of how Baby Girl and Jake had basically admitted to knowing all along. "And apparently she has known we've been together for a long time." I thought that it would make her feel better. I was wrong. Her eyes shot open as a look of sheer panic graced her beautiful features.
"And she never said anything?" she gasped. "Does she hate me? I don't want to ruin her wedding by being here. Oh, Charlie, I never should have come. Let me get my bag…"
"Hush," I said to her, pulling her into my arms. "She's happy. She's just too much like her old dad. She thought that since I didn't say anything, that she shouldn't either. She's happy for me, for us. She's really looking forward to meeting you."
"She is?" she asked, looking up at me with her dark watery eyes.
"She is," I said, leaning down to kiss her softly.
"I can't wait to really meet her too," she said. "I think we could be really great friends."
"I know you will be," I said to her. I did know it, too. They were both such great people that I had no doubt that they would get along marvelously. I kicked myself again for having waited so long.
"Now," she said, blinking back her tears and smiling at me. "Let's get you ready to walk your girl down the aisle."
"I can't believe this is really here," I said to her. "I knew one day someone would see how great she is and want to snap her up. I just hoped it wouldn't be for a long time."
"Oh hush," she said. "If he's half the man you've described then he's perfect. Besides, don't you want grandkids one day?"
"Grandkids?" I asked, smiling a bit.
"Cool Grandpa Charlie, taking the grandkids out fishing..." she said smiling at me.
"Do you think they'd like that? I mean Carlisle could probably buy them a whole damn lake and I..."
"Charlie," she said, shaking her head at my ramblings like she always did. "Any child of Bella's will adore you and will love spending time with you. You are perfect just the way you are."
"So are you," I said, smiling at her, feeling like an idiot for worrying about my future grandkids. "I wish I could give you all of this." I gestured to the grand room we were standing in.
"I won't say that this isn't nice," she said, looking around the room again. "But it's too much. I don't need a fancy house or any of this. All I need is you."
She fussed with my uniform a little more before declaring me ready. I escorted her down to meet the rest of the Forks contingent before following Esme's directions to find Bella. In my head I knew she was already married, but in my heart, I was giving her away today and I still wasn't ready for that. I felt like she was just born yesterday….
"Mr. Swan?" the nurse asked, walking into the waiting room.
"Yes?" I said, looking at her anxiously. Renee had been in labor for hours but she wanted nothing to do with me being in the delivery room. I was kicked out as soon as we arrived at the hospital and relegated to the waiting room. I paced. I twiddled my thumbs. I read every magazine and newspaper. I even counted the dots in the roof tiles above my head. I thought I was going to go crazy. Thankfully, a nurse came out with updates periodically, but she hadn't been out in almost three hours. I thought I was going to lose my mind.
"Congratulations," she said as she smiled at me. "It's a girl."
I was ecstatic. I would have been happy no matter what, but somehow the thought of having a baby girl made my heart beat double time. And now that I knew it was true… "Can I see her? Can I see them both?" I asked anxiously. I needed to see them both, to make sure both of my girls were okay.
"Mrs. Swan is resting and has requested that you wait until later in the morning to see her," she said. "However, the baby is in the nursery, and I'm sure she'd love to meet her daddy."
Before I knew it I was washing my hands and putting a blue gown over my clothes before following the nurse, Marsha, to see my daughter for the first time.
"She's a tiny thing," Marsha said as she reached into the clear plastic bassinet to pick up what appeared to me a big bundle of blankets. "Not even six pounds."
I stared at her. This was it. She was real.
"Mrs. Swan said you guys had chosen to name her Isabella," Marsha said as she maneuvered the pile of blankets that contained my daughter.
"Isabella Marie," I said, my eyes glued to the blankets, desperate for a glance at my daughter. We hadn't really agreed on the name. Renee had informed me that she would have sole naming rights, as she was the one that had given up her body for the past nine months. I had felt it was too long and fancy for a small town girl, but every time I tried to voice my concerns to Renee, I was shot down and shut out. Now the length of the name seemed insignificant as Marsha placed the blankets in my arm.
My first glimpse of my daughter was all it took. I was hooked. Marsha had been right she was tiny. But she fit into my arms like she was made to be there. Her skin was pale porcelain and completely perfect. She had little rosebud lips that were set into a tiny pout. As if she knew she was meeting her dad for the first time, her little eyes popped open and she stared at me with the most amazing chocolate brown eyes I had ever seen.
"Isn't she supposed to have blue eyes?" I asked Marsha, not taking my eyes from my baby girl.
"Most babies do," she said. "This lucky girl got her daddy's eyes right off the bat."
My eyes. I can't even begin to explain how happy that made me. Her tiny little fingers peeked out of the blanket near her face, causing me to chuckle. Her head was covered in one of those beige little hats and I just had to lift it to see more of her. She was mostly bald but the tiny bit of hair she did have was dark. She was perfect.
"Hello, my Bella," I said to her as she stared up at me.
"That suits her," Marsha said. "Isabella is such a big name for such a tiny girl, but Bella is perfect. Did you know it means beautiful in Italian?"
"No," I said, not taking my eyes off of my baby girl. "I didn't know that at all. Beautiful."
I stayed in the nursery with Bella all night. Marsha and the other nurses took me under their wing and taught me how to feed and burp her, the how to change her diaper, and I even got to give Bella her first bath. I had never felt so alive, so needed, so filled with purpose. I felt like I had been born to be her daddy.
If I had really paid attention, I would have seen Renee checking out long before she walked out. She had never been as taken with motherhood as I had been with fatherhood. The little coos and smiles didn't elicit the same responses from her as they did from me. In fact, the distance between us had grown into a chasm long before she walked out the door. I wanted to hate her for abandoning us, but instead I was thankful that she had left Bella with me. I didn't know how I was going to raise her on my own, especially all the girly bits, but I was glad I had that chance.
Walking up the stairs and down the hall to Alice's suites was daunting. In fact, everything about the Cullen house was daunting. It was so over the top. I shook my head and took a deep breath. I needed to stop. I knew none of this grandeur mattered to Sue or Bella and I needed to remember the things that were important. I looked up at a picture of flowers on the wall that was probably priceless, and remembered another picture of flowers, one that was in it's own frame back at home. I didn't know how much the Cullens must have paid for this one, but I knew mine was far more valuable.
I heard her sobs as soon as I got out of my police cruiser. The babysitter had called me at the station and told me my five year old had been inconsolable since she had picked her up from school. Nothing she said or did made a difference. I dashed up the stairs into Bella's room and scooped up my daughter, holding her tight to my chest.
"Shhh, Baby Girl," I said to her. "Daddy's here. Daddy has you."
She clutched her little arms around my neck and cried even louder. I didn't know what else to do so I just held her and started humming softly to her. I chose 'You are My Sunshine'. It had been her favorite when she was a baby. As her sobs started to ease, I hummed louder, finally whispering the song against her ear.
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are grey. You'll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."
By the time I finished she had stopped her sobs. The hiccups in her breathing were still there so I just held her and allowed her to calm down more as I continued to hum to her over and over. I had never seen her so upset, not even when she fell out of a tree at Jake and Billy's house and had broken her arm when she was three.
"Can you tell Daddy why you were so upset?" I asked as I rubbed her back when she was finally calm and her breathing was even.
She pulled away and went to pick up her little backpack from school. She pulled out a partially crumpled piece of paper and crawled up onto my lap.
"We maked pictures of flowers for Mother's Day," she said softly. "I maked mine and then when we put the words on I putted your name on my picture." She held up the drawing of yellow flowers with grass and clouds. Right at the top it said 'HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY DADDY'.
"Mrs. Banner said that I couldn't give my picture to you because daddy's didn't want pictures of flowers and that I should give my picture to a mommy or a grandma. I telled her that I didn't have a mommy or a grandma," she said her voice going up an octave as she got more upset. "Then Lauren and Jessica laughed at me and said that you wouldn't even want my stinky picture." The tears started again as I held her tight.
"I love your picture, Baby Girl," I said. "It's the best picture of flowers ever."
"Really?" she asked, sniffling.
"Really, really," I said to her. "In fact, I think I am going to buy a special frame so I can keep it for always."
"I love you, Daddy," she said, snuggling against me. "I don't need a mommy or a grandma. I just need you."
I did put that picture in a frame. It sat on our mantle for years before it found a place of honor in the hall that led to the kitchen. As she got older, Bella had often told me to take it down, but I couldn't. It reminded me of everything that was important. I couldn't buy her the best toys and clothes. Her ponytails were never even and she knew more about sports then any other girl her age, but, for so long, she was my whole world, and I was hers.
I blinked back the tears and took a deep breath. All I had ever wanted for her was coming to bear now. Not the grandeur. Not the notoriety and the photographers that seemed to want a piece of her, simply the fact that she was loved. All the stupidity that Carlisle had unleashed proved that. Emmett, Edward, Alice and Esme had all proved themselves to be loving and protective of my baby girl. As for Carlisle himself, I could have taken him down and buried the body if I had thought I would get away with it.
I approached the door and lifted my hand to knock.
"Knock, knock," I called, opening the door a crack. "Is everyone decent?"
"Come on in, Charlie," Alice called. I opened the door and, like magnets, my eyes were drawn straight to Baby Girl. She was radiant. The white gown fit her like a glove and tears sprung to my eyes. She was always beautiful, the most beautiful girl in the entire world. In her wedding dress, she was breathtaking.
"Daddy," she almost whispered, bringing my eyes to meet hers. The dark brown pools that I had fallen in love with when she was born were glimmering. She was happy, truly happy.
"Baby Girl," I said, my voice breaking slightly. I walked further into the room, to hold her. I grasped her hands and looked proudly at the grown woman in front of me. It seemed like yesterday that we were in the same position…. Only she had no front teeth and an old tablecloth for a veil.
"Do I look okay, Daddy?" she asked, nibbling on her bottom lip.
"You look so beautiful," I said, struggling to keep my composure. All the same I felt my eyes begin to water.
"Thank you, Daddy," she said, brushing her lips against my cheek, before bringing her hand up to brush an escaped tear from under my eye.
"This is everything I wanted for you," I said, looking at my baby girl as she radiated happiness from every pore. "Not the money or any of that. I only wanted you to marry someone who could see you for the incredible person you are and loves you like I do. And he does, Baby Girl. Emmett is everything I could have asked for you."
"I love you, Daddy," she said throwing herself into my arms. I held her tight to me and let a few tears trickle down my cheeks. I may be a tough cop on the outside, but this was my baby girl. I pressed a kiss to her cheek and pulled back to look at her again, before hugging her gently again.
"I love you, Baby Girl," I said, softly into her ear. "Now and always. No matter how old you get, you'll always be my baby girl."
When I let her go finally, I took a tissue from her hand and dabbed her cheeks softly, before wiping my own. Those darn traitorous tears.
"That was beautiful you guys," Jake sobbed, tears streaking down his own cheeks. "I just... I just..."
"Come on, Jake," Esme cooed to him. "Let's check that everything is ready outside." Jake nodded and sniffled as he took the tissue that she offered before following her out of the room. Alice came and fussed with Bella's dress and straightened my tie some more before declaring us ready.
"I'm going to check on everything outside," she said. "Jake will be here with your flowers and then it's time." Then she flitted out of the room and I couldn't help but smile at the over exuberant little sprite.
"You really do look stunning, Baby Girl."
"Thank you, Daddy," she said smiling happily.
"Are you ready to do this?" I teased. "We could always make a run for it."
"Daddy," she giggled, her eyes glittering with joy.
"I just wanted to remind you that I would always be here for you. No matter what."
"I know," she said. "I've always known."
I smiled at her and finally noticed a photographer in the corner snapping pictures. I wondered how long he had been there, since I hadn't seen him before. Granted my entire focus had been on my baby girl, but I almost felt stupid for not noticing him.
"I love you, Baby Girl," I said to her again, feeling like I couldn't say it enough.
"I love you too, Daddy," she said, hugging me again.
Jake returned to the room with a large bouquet of flowers and placed them in Bella's hand before bustling us both out of the room and down the hall.
"Oh, Baby Girl," he sighed. "This is better than I ever dreamed. The flowers. The dress. Those shoes. You've made me so happy."
She laughed indulgently at Jake as she clutched her hand around my elbow. Before I knew it we were standing in the shadows of the Cullen library. Jake had kissed her cheek and made his way to the front to take his place. The music started and the doors opened.
"Don't let me fall," she said, as she clutched my arm.
"Never," I promised her as I brought my other hand across my body to hold hers.
We had practiced this walk a hundred times it seemed, but with Bella in her gown, and myself in my dress uniform, it seemed bigger. The easiest part was looking at my son-in-law as his eyes focused solely on my baby girl. The complete love and adoration he felt for her were written there for all to see. I knew this was meant to be. I held Baby Girl's hand in place and continued to walk at the measured pace that Alice had set and before long, it was my time to place her tiny hand in his giant one. I took a deep breath and said, "I am trusting you to take care of her and love her always."
"Until my very last breath," he swore. The truth of his words echoing through the air for all to hear. His eyes, which until this point had been glued to Baby Girl, finally spared me a glance, as he shook my hand. I stepped back as he returned his gaze to his bride, my baby girl.
I remained standing as Pastor Weber stepped to the front. When Alice had said that they needed someone to officiate the wedding, I suggested him. He had known Baby Girl for most of her life, and, since his daughter Angela was Baby Girl's best female friend, he seemed the most logical choice. Baby Girl had been thrilled with the idea and the Cullens didn't seem to have anyone else in mind. So he had come down from Forks to perform the ceremony.
"Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" he asked, looking right at me.
"I do," I said, my voice cracking. Baby Girl looked at me and smiled softly. There were tears in her eyes but the happiness on her face shone through. I smiled at them both before sitting down between Billy and Sue. I took Sue's hand in mine and rubbed my thumb over her knuckles as I prepared for the rest of the service.
Watching Baby Girl and her husband smiling at each other as they prepared to renew their vows made my heart swell with pride. They both radiated love and joy. And Jake….
Jake. The boy I once hoped would be the man she married. Jake, her best friend and confidant from the time they were in diapers. Her partner in crime and the first person I trusted to protect her, when I couldn't. He had looked out for her for almost as many years as I had. I remembered the first time he promised he would look out for her.
*** Flashback ***
"Uncle Charlie!" Jake yelled barreling out of his front door. "Baby Girl!"
My nickname for her had proven to be infectious because both Billy and Jake called her Baby Girl more often than using her name. Baby Girl was so good-natured that she never complained, though I would catch an eye roll occasionally, especially at Jake.
"Hi Jakey," I said to the little ball of energy as he jumped off the stairs in a hurry to get to us. Baby Girl ran over to meet him and listened to him as he started going on a mile a minute about his latest craze. "They are mices and then Brain wants to take over the world."
"It sounds funny, Jakey," Bella said, placating him. Cartoons were never her thing, although she tried to watch them with Jake. "I can't wait to watch with you in the morning time."
I went to the back of the cruiser to unload her bag. She was spending the weekend with Billy and Jake while I went to a training certification session for work. She went up the stairs to greet Billy, who had just appeared on the porch, with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"I'll take her bag," Jake said appearing at my side. The kid was huge for five so I handed Bella's tiny bag to him and he ran off towards the house with it.
"Thanks again, Billy," I said to my friend.
"Anytime," he said with a smile. "Really, I mean it. She keeps him out of trouble."
We shared a laugh before I bent down to talk to my little girl. This was the first time I was ever leaving her for more than one night and I was apprehensive about it, so I imagined she must be too.
"You be good," I told her, knowing that she always was.
"I will, Daddy," she said, wrapping her arms around me and tucking her head into the crook of my neck.
"Listen to Uncle Billy," I said,
"Uh huh," she said, nodding her little head against me.
"Don't worry so much, Uncle Charlie," Jake said, stepping out on the porch again. "I'll look after her and protect her from all the bad stuff." I smiled at the little tough guy as I hugged my girl a little tighter for a few moments.
"I know you will, Buddy," I said to Jake, knowing he was more likely to lead her into the bad stuff than anything else. His heart was in the right place; he was just a little wild.
"Did you pack your Barbies?" Jake asked as I finally put Baby Girl down.
"Just two," she answered, showing him two fingers.
"Did you bring the one with the brown hair?" he asked. "She's my favorite."
"You only like her because she has the sparkly dress," Bella said before turning to give me one last kiss on the cheek. I picked her up and tickled her neck with my moustache before putting her down and letting her run into the house.
"The station knows how to reach me if you have any trouble," I said to Billy.
"Have a good time," he responded, shaking his head. We both knew Bella would be just fine and that I was just being a ninny. "We'll see you in a few days."
True to his word, Jake had always looked out for Bella in his own way. Usually it involved trying to get her to lighten up, but I knew he always had her best interest at heart. I couldn't have asked for a better friend or protector for her. I was brought from my musing as Pastor Weber began the ceremony.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to share in the joy and love of the young couple before us; Emmett and Isabella. I will share the bible passage they have chosen for today. It is from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
I watched as Baby Girl and Emmett held hands and pledged to love, honor and obey each other. My baby girl. I loved her with every fiber of my being. So did Emmett. I could see it. I could feel it. Watching the two of them exchanging vows felt somehow like you were invading a private moment. They stared at each other so intently and with so much love that you almost felt you should look away. Only I couldn't. She was my baby girl and this was her moment.
I had been there many times to celebrate her; awards ceremonies and graduations. She was never happy to be center stage. In fact I know that Jacob had to bribe her to even attend most of them. Yet here she stood, all eyes on her, and she glowed. Love looked good on her.
I looked at all the people I cared for that came to support Baby Girl today. Sue; my love, my savior, my future. Billy; my best friend, my partner in crime, my brother in every way that counts. Diane, Mark, Trish, Mrs. Weber, Angela and Ben. They had all been important parts of Baby Girl's life, and the only ones I felt that I wanted to invite today. Even Trish, who was completely star struck by anything remotely celebrity, seemed to forget she was at the Cullen compound surrounded by the very people who fueled her obsession. She simply marveled at Baby Girl and her husband.
Then there were her new friends. They were sitting in the rows behind us. Under a dozen people total, but each one specially invited by Baby Girl. There was Sandy, the wife of the security guard who had been shot, the nurses that worked on her floor, a few lab technicians, a security guard, and a surgical resident. It was so Baby Girl. She could have invited other doctors and hospital administrators, but she never had cared for title or rank. She saw people for who they were inside.
It seemed that one second I had placed her hand in Emmett's and the next it was over.
"I now pronounce you man and wife… Again. Emmett, you may kiss your bride," Pastor Weber said, smiling widely.
Emmett cradled Baby Girl's face in his massive hands, as though she was made of the most delicate glass, and placed a sweet kiss on her lips. Baby Girl would have none of that, and threw her arms around his neck, returning the kiss with gusto. Everyone clapped and awwed at the newlyweds. When they finally pulled away, Baby Girl's cheeks were stained pink, and they were both grinning from ear to ear.
"I am pleased to present, Mr. and Mrs. Emmett Cullen," Pastor Weber said, causing us all to cheer. Emmett and Baby Girl made their way back down the aisle as everyone clapped. Jake and Edward followed, both grinning widely. Alice dashed after them, probably to make sure her plans went off without a hitch, and the rest of the Cullens followed Alice. Followed by most of the other wedding attendees. I stayed where I was, not certain of the procedures from here.
Everyone from Forks stayed close to me, likely just as overwhelmed by the throng as I was.
"He's a lucky man Charlie," Pastor Weber said stepping over to me and shaking my hand.
"That he is," I agreed. "Thank you for officiating here today."
"I wouldn't have missed it," he said. "It's nice to see her so happy."
"It is," I agreed.
"Charlie," Alice called, moving towards us. "You need to come and stand with us over here."
"Duty calls," I said, smiling at Sue as I went to join Alice.
The next twenty minutes were spent being introduced to various people. Some of them were friends of Baby Girl's, some were Emmett's friends, and some were family friends of the Cullen's. All of them seemed genuinely happy for them. I watched as the people from Forks began mingling with everyone. Alice, Edward, Esme and Jake all flitted about making sure everyone was getting to know each other.
"Penny for your thoughts Chief," Sue said, appearing at my side.
"I'm just happy for her," I said, truthfully.
"She looks beautiful," she said, looking across the room towards where Baby Girl and Emmett stood greeting their guests. "And happy too."
"She does," I said, smiling at her. "Come on. It's time I introduced the two of you."
Sue fixed her hair quickly and grasped my hand as if it were a lifeline as we walked across to join Baby Girl and her husband.
"Charlie," Emmett greeted warmly as we approached, "And you must be Sue. Nice to meet you."
"You too," Sue said, nervousness still evident in her voice.
"Hi Daddy," Baby Girl said as she smiled up at me. Then she winked at me and turned to greet Sue. "It is so nice to finally meet you," she said warmly.
"You too, Bella," Sue said, relaxing a little more. "You look lovely."
"Thank you," Baby Girl said, laughing happily. "I feel like a princess."
"You certainly look the part," Sue said.
The awkwardness that I had assumed would fill these moments was gone in a flash and we stood there talking for quite a while before Alice intruded to drag us away for pictures.
"I'll wait here with Billy and Diane," Sue said, pulling away.
"No way," Alice said, grabbing Sue's hand. "I'm sure we'll need you for a pose or two. After all you are practically family."
Sue looked shocked for a few minutes, but as Alice led her across to the wedding party, her smile came back full force. I looked over to Billy and Diane, who were standing with Jake. They were all smiles too. I don't know why Billy and I had waited for so long to introduce the ladies to the kids. It seemed so daunting for all those years, but I should have known that Baby Girl and Jake would have been okay.
"Hurry Charlie," Alice said, returning to grab my hand and pull me along.
The next thirty minutes was filled with pictures.
First it was just Baby Girl and Emmett. Then Jake and Edward joined in. I even posed for a picture with the happy couple, first by myself, then with Sue, at Baby Girl's insistence. I smiled like a fool. Baby Girl was happy and I had both my best girls in my life together for the first time. In fact, not even Carlisle could wipe the grin from my face. Well, not for long at least.
Watching Baby Girl and Emmett made my heart swell. She was happy, truly, deliriously happy. So was he. And, if my girl was happy, so was I.
When it was time for Carlisle and Esme to pose with the bride and groom, he stepped up tentatively. Edward, Emmett, Alice and Esme all gave him warning glares, and he got their message loud and clear. The man looked like he was walking on eggshells. The uncertainty showed in his every movement and every facial expression. I couldn't imagine that this was a position Carlisle Cullen was often in and I almost felt bad for him. Almost.
"Just a few more pictures before I sneak off with the bride and groom for a few minutes," the photographer said. "I just need the bride and groom and both of their parents for this one."
"Sue," Baby Girl called. "Make sure you get in this one."
"Oh," Sue said, blushing. "I don't want to impose."
"You are not imposing," Baby Girl said. "Anyone who makes my dad happy belongs here."
"Thank you," Sue said, smiling happily at Baby Girl, before standing next to me happily. Carlisle and Esme stepped up as well. I noticed that Emmett pulled Baby Girl closer whenever his father was near. Carlisle's words had obviously still not been forgotten. I smiled even more.
The photographer snapped a few more pictures before he gave us a chance to rest while he fiddled with his camera. Baby Girl and Emmett were lost in their own world, so I pulled Sue to my side.
"Thank you for being here with me today," I said to her.
"There's no place I'd rather be, Chief," she said, smiling happily at me.
"Charlie," Carlisle said to me, breaking me away from Sue.
"Carlisle," I said in return. There was no friendliness or warmth in my tone.
"Thank you for allowing me to be here today. I know I didn't deserve it," he said.
"That was Bella's choice," I said.
"But you could have made it more difficult. I appreciate it," he said.
I merely grunted in return. I was so caught up in my little verbal exchange with Carlisle I didn't even realize that I had neglected to introduce him to Sue. Not that he deserved it.
"I'm sorry for intruding," he said to Sue.
"You're Carlisle, Emmett's father," she said.
"I am," he said.
"I'm Sue Clearwater," she said.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," he said.
"I wish I could say the same," Sue said.
Carlisle hung his head. "I will spend the rest of my life making up for it."
"So you should," Sue said, turning towards me.
"I'm sorry," Carlisle said hanging his head and turning towards Esme.
"Carlisle," I called to him, wondering why I couldn't keep my mouth shut. I think Baby Girl's kind heart had rubbed off on me after all these years. I really wanted to be able to understand what had driven Carlisle to attack Baby Girl.
"Yes?" he said turning to face me. His face seemed resigned, maybe like he expected me to attack him again.
"Can we take a little walk?" I asked him.
"If you wish," he said, letting out a big sigh.
I squeezed Sue's hand before letting it go and following Carlisle into the gardens.
"Still wanting to kick my ass?" Carlisle asked, turning towards me when we were a fair distance from everyone.
"Yup," I said, smiling at him.
"I won't stop you," he said.
"I won't do it," I said. "I want to but I won't."
"Why not?" he asked seeming genuinely confused.-
"We'll be sharing grandkids one day and when I tell them that violence isn't the answer, I don't want to have to think about the beat down I gave their other grandpa."
"Papa," he said.
"Papa?" I asked.
"I think I'd like to be Papa," he said.
"Bouncing the grandkids on your knee?" I asked.
"If Emmett lets me anywhere near them," he said.
"You really fucked up," I said with a sigh.
"I did," he agreed. "And no matter what I do I can't fix it."
"Baby Girl seems to have forgiven you," I said.
"And she's the one who has the most reason to hate me," he said.
"True," I said agreeing with him. "But she's a good judge of character. And if she thinks you're okay… well, I'm doing my best to see things her way."
"I don't know how I went so wrong with her," he said with a sigh, sinking down to a stone bench. "I thought I had forgotten…. That I had gotten past my own personal betrayal. Then Emmett… He was so lost without her."
"Whoever the woman was that trampled your heart really did a number on you," I said, looking at him.
"I was in love with her," he said, looking up at me. He didn't look like a corporate giant at this point. He looked like a man who was down on his luck and needing some small straw to hold on to.
"What happened?" I asked.
He filled me in on his first wife and her lies and deception.
"So she wasn't pregnant?" I asked at the end.
"You know," he said, shaking his head. "I don't even know to tell the truth. I mean my lawyers followed up afterwards so I assume she wasn't."
"So, you never saw her again after that?" I asked him. "Never heard what happened to her?"
"Nope," he said.
"And you can live like that?" I asked, knowing that when Renee left I was really a shell of a man for a long time. It had taken a long time for me to get over what had happened, and in the end it took knowing what she had become to accept that she was never coming back for me, or for Bella.
He was quiet for a long time, seeming to ponder what I had asked. "I love Esme," he said, not really answering the question.
"As I love Sue," I said to him. "Still doesn't mean that you can't have any feelings about your first love. About the betrayal that helped make you who you are today."
"I don't love Elizabeth anymore… Though I often wonder…"
"I believe you," I replied. "Renee was my first love. I thought she was my forever…"
"And now she's in prison," he stated.
"Where she belongs," I said. "Look, I know you had Baby Girl investigated and you know all about her good for nothing excuse for an egg donor."
"Egg donor?" he asked, a small smirk on his face.
"Renee was never a mother to Baby Girl. I was so happy to have a family that I never saw that until it was too late."
"How so?" he asked.
"I loved everything about being her dad," I said, looking across the garden to where Baby Girl and Emmett were still standing with the photographer. They were smiling and joyous… and obviously completely head over heels in love. "But we never had that."
Carlisle looked at them and smiled softly. "I don't know how I didn't see that before," he said. Their love seemed to just radiate off of them.
"Renee was never that happy. She always wanted more. She admitted to me once during an argument that her surprise pregnancy had been planned. She thought being a mom was what it would take for her to be happy. She was wrong. Pregnancy was miserable for her. She hated everything about it. And when Baby Girl was born… the smiles and coos, they didn't warm her to the core as they did for me. She simply pulled away more."
"And then she just left?" he asked.
"Pretty much," I said. "I had gotten a babysitter for Baby Girl. Renee had wanted a little time to herself and so I worked something out with a neighbor to watch Baby Girl once a week. By the time she left, Baby Girl was with the neighbor more than she was at home. One night I got home and Renee was gone, along with anything of value in the house and the entire amount in our bank accounts."
"Woah!" Carlisle said.
"I have never been more scared in my life," I told him.
"Scared?" he asked.
"All things considered, I loved Renee, and seeing the evidence that she had gone was heartbreaking. But my baby girl… I thought she had taken her too. I was terrified that I would never see my baby girl again," I admitted.
"Where was Bella?" Carlisle asked.
"The phone rang not long after the realization that she could have taken Baby Girl with her. It was the sitter calling to tell me that Renee hadn't picked her up yet. I begged her not to let Renee take her if she showed up and I hopped in the cruiser. Renee didn't even try to pick her up, thankfully, and from that day on it was just me and Baby Girl."
"But you followed Renee?" he asked.
"Not right away," I said. "She sent divorce papers from California about a month after she left, giving me full custody of Baby Girl as well as everything that she hadn't taken. I signed them and sent them back, not even caring about where. I was so angry."
"I know the feeling," Carlisle snorted.
"Then, a few months after the papers were filed, I arrested a small time drug dealer. He had plenty of pictures of Renee in various unsavory states. He thought he could use them as his ticket to freedom. He was wrong."
"That had to be hard," he said.
"It took me a long time to even look at another woman," I admitted. "I buried myself in work, my friends, and being a good dad to my girl."
"But…" Carlisle said.
"But shortly after Baby Girl started school Renee contacted me. She wanted money. I certainly didn't have any to give her. She fed me some sad story about being down on her luck and making a bad choice to leave me and Bella behind. I told her that I knew about the drugs."
"And?" he asked.
"And she started in saying her dealer had threatened her. She left to protect Bella and myself. I wanted to believe her so I told her I would look into remortgaging the house to help her out."
"You were going to do that?" he asked, astounded.
"I loved her. Before I did anything though I looked into her records. Drugs, prostitution, theft… The more I looked the more I knew that I couldn't let her back into Baby Girl's life. When she called the next time I told her I couldn't remortgage but that I would help get her into rehab in Seattle. She agreed and I made the call. She never showed up. I checked into her every year or so after that, to keep tabs on her. She had married within weeks of our divorce and then again four more times before she ended up in prison this time. But understanding that she never felt for me what I felt for her was big. It helped me move on and to build a strong relationship with Sue."
"I never looked for Elizabeth. I guess in a lot of ways I was scared what I would find. It was easy to make her the villain, to blame her for all the wrongs in my life while accepting total credit for all the positives. I think that was why it was so easy to blame Isabella for everything. I had judged her before I even met her."
"I know," I growled.
"Then when I met her… I was so certain that she was just like Elizabeth that I couldn't even see what was right in front of me. She is a smart, beautiful, intelligent young woman and I will be forever grateful that she managed to see through my bullshit and love my son."
"Emmett is a good man," I conceded. "He sees her for who she is, when she can't always do that herself."
"He loves her. I've never seen him like this. It's like his whole world revolves around her," Carlisle said, looking over at Emmett and Bella as they hammed it up for the photographer.
"Likewise for her," I said, looking at my baby girl. "She has never smiled like that."
"So what now?" Carlisle asked, sighing.
"I'm going to try not to hold a grudge," I admitted. "Try being the optimal word here. I love her more than anything in the world."
"I can see that," he said.
"If you fuck up again there is nowhere I won't go to hunt you down," I said.
"For Baby Girl," I said, offering Carlisle my hand.
"Thank you," he said, shaking my hand.
We started walking back towards where we had left the rest of the family. Esme looked up hopefully as Carlisle returned to her side and kissed her temple. "Did you two have a nice talk?" she asked.
"We did," I said, moving to Sue's side and putting my arm around her.
"I don't see any bruises," Jake said, looking at Carlisle.
"None to see, Jakey–boy," I said, squeezing Sue slightly.
"You are too much like Baby Girl," he growled before turning to Carlisle. "I am still not swayed by you Mr. Bigshot."
"Then I'll just have to prove myself," Carlisle said to him.
"Hhmpf," Jake responded crossing his arms.
"Oh heck no!" Alice said, before dashing across the lawn. "Emmett Cullen! You get back here! You guys can't do that until after the reception."
Somehow she managed to stop the bride and groom from making their escape across the garden and dragged them back to the tent that was set up for the reception. Inside, people were mingling while enjoying some appetizers. A waiter appeared at my side to ask if Sue or I wanted any drinks. "Suzy?" I asked her.
"White wine please," she said.
"I'm guessing you don't have any Vitamin R," I said, sadly.
"Yes sir we do," the waited replied. "Requested specifically by the bride."
"She knows her dad," Sue laughed.
"That she does," I said happily before nodding to the waiter.
We mingled for a few more minutes before a slightly frazzled looking Alice arrived by our sides. "Everyone needs to take their seats," she said. "If I leave those two alone for long they'll never make it in here."
Jake went up to the podium and asked everyone to take their seats. I was thrilled to see that the Forks contingent were all seated together, another thing I was certain that Baby Girl would have insisted upon. Once everyone was seated, Jake spoke again, "Put you hands together and welcome the bride and groom, Isabella and Emmett Cullen!"
Everyone cheered as Baby Girl and her hubby entered the tent with Alice right on their heels. They both looked a little flushed and I knew that Alice hadn't been joking when she said that she couldn't leave them alone for long. Emmett guided Baby Girl towards the head table stopping to say hi to a few people along the way.
There was a magnificent meal and toasts. Jake and Edward, instead of doing a best man, and man of honor speech, decided to toast them together.
"I've known Bella since I was in diapers, and I have loved her just as long. She has always been my best friend, my sister, my partner in crime, and my biggest cheerleader. She has gotten me out of more jams then I want to remember. She was my champion when the whole world seemed to be against me. But there was always a part of her that was missing," Jake said in starting, smiling at Baby Girl.
"Emmett has been there for me all my life," Edward said as soon as Jake paused. "He is my big brother, my tormentor, and my protector. He got me into more jams than I want to remember, but when the punishments were handed out, and they were, he took the blame more often than not. He reminded me to have fun when I was too serious. Seriously, without him I would have been a complete nerd. But he was also incomplete."
"The two of them together just fit," Jake said.
"And neither of us could be any happier," Edward added. "To the bride and groom." Everyone held up their glasses to salute the bride and groom, before the customary clinking of the glasses began, and Emmett obliged by placing a kiss on Baby Girl's lips.
"And now," Edward said. "I have been informed that it is time for the bride and groom's first dance."
Emmett guided Baby Girl to the dance floor and pulled her into his arms as music filled the air. I don't know what the song was but I watched as he twirled her around the floor. She laughed and smiled at him the whole time. Then it was time for me to dance with her.
I pulled her into my arms as the first strains of the music came on and tears instantly filled my eyes. Jake was going to get it, the little shit. Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are filled the tent. "I love you, Baby Girl," I said, my voice already choking on the tears that I wasn't going to be able to hide. This was the song that I used to rock her to as a baby.
Bella's cries woke me and I peeled my eyes open. It was 1:04 am and I'd only been asleep for twenty minutes. It had been one of my longest days on the job as there had been two major accidents. Renee had told me months ago that she couldn't get up with the baby at night because it was too hard and since she had her all day, the nights were mine. I pulled my aching body out of bed and walked next door to pick Bella up.
"Shhhh, Baby Girl," I cooed to her. "Daddy has you."
I pulled her into my arms and cradled her tight. She quieted right away and I made my way downstairs to make her a bottle. Once I got it started, I moved to the living room to change her diaper and bundle her up in her blanket again. She was already seven weeks old and the time had flown by. I bounced her until the bottle was ready and then sat in my armchair to feed her. She guzzled the bottle down like a champ and burped as soon as I started patting. We had the routine down pat. But tonight she was wide awake staring at me with her big brown eyes.
"You are supposed to be sleeping," I said to her. She smiled up at me, showing me her gums that were still colored white from her formula. My heart stopped as I took in that little smile. She was such a perfect baby, and suddenly it didn't matter that I had just worked a 15-hour shift, I was in heaven.
"Maybe we should do a little rocking," I said to her. "What do you think?" She smiled her toothless smile again and I moved off my chair and over to the small stereo system. "Hmmm," I said to her. "What should we listen to?"
Billy Joel was the first tape I found and I put it in. His smooth voice was soon flowing. Just the Way You Are.
Before I knew it, she was out like alight in my arms, and every night after that, until she was too old to rock, I rocked her to that song.
I pulled her tight against me and felt her sniffle.
"Hey now," I whispered. "No tears. This is a happy day."
"I know," she sniffled. "I can't help it."
"Remember when Jake played this for me when you were 16 and he wrecked your car?" I asked her quietly. She giggled slightly and thanked me.
Bella's car wasn't in the driveway, but all the lights were on in the house.
"Baby Girl?" I called as I opened the door.
The music switched on in the living room and Billy Joel's voice filled the room.
"Where are you, Baby Girl?" I asked, walking into the living room. There was a beer on the coffee table waiting for me and I could smell meatloaf in the oven.
"Baby Girl?" I asked again.
"Hi, Daddy," she said sheepishly, tripping her way out of the kitchen.
"What's up?" I asked her.
"I thought you might like a beer. I made meatloaf…." She said quickly.
"Baby Girl?" I growled a little bit, knowing she was leaving something out.
"Um… well… aaaa… ummm… I need to check on the meatloaf," she said as she dashed out of the room.
I followed her into the kitchen where I saw her partner in crime, who was avoiding my gaze completely.
"You have to tell him, Baby Girl," Jake whispered plaintively. "He won't kill you."
"Tell him what?" I growled.
"There was an accident today," Baby Girl said softly.
"What kind of accident?" I asked.
"Um, my car is kind of totaled," she said slowly.
"Totaled?" I asked in horror. "How? Are you sure? Why didn't I hear anything about it? Are you hurt?" I quickly checked her over turning her all around looking for bruises.
"It's just the car, Daddy," Bella said, looking over at Jake in a perturbed manner.
"What happened?" I demanded.
"Jake borrowed my car to take something over to Sam's house. He forgot it was a standard, so he left it out of gear and didn't put the brake on," Bella said.
"Are you certain it is totaled?" I asked. "Dents can be pounded out. What did it hit? A tree?"
"Actually, funny story, it almost hit a tree. Well it almost hit about twenty trees, but it missed them all," Jake said, looking rather green.
"So what did it hit?" I asked.
"You know Sam lives up on the cliffs right?" Jake asked me.
"So it hit a rock?" I asked.
"More than one," Jake responded.
"Did you inspect it to see if it was drivable?" I asked.
"Funny thing about that," Jake said, wiping sweat from his brow.
"Jake," I growled.
"Please Baby Girl," Jake begged turning to her.
"Fine," she said, looking angrily at him. "The rocks it hit were at the bottom of a 50 foot cliff."
"It went off a cliff?" I demanded. I was so angry that I was certain steam was spouting from my ears. Jake was always so careless and now he did something monumental. I could only imagine what would have happened if Baby Girl had been in the car with him.
"I'm really sorry," Jake yelled. "I already told my dad about it and he said he would use the money he was going to spend on my car to get Baby Girl's replaced."
"Please Baby Girl," Jake said to her. "You have to do it. I don't want to die!"
Baby Girl sighed before turning to look at me. "Daddy," she said softly. "I love you. Please don't hurt Jakey. He didn't mean it and he's going to replace it."
I was putty in her hands, and Jake sighed in relief as I wrapped my arms around my little girl.
"So…" he said. "Since Baby Girl doesn't have a car right now, do you think you could give me a ride home after dinner?"
"Sure," I grumbled. "But you're sitting in the back."
As the music ended I kissed her cheek softly. "I love you Baby Girl," I told her.
"I love you too Daddy," she said, kissing my cheek.
The rest of the party was a blast. The Cullens certainly know how to throw a party! Everything was perfect. Finally, the night ended when Alice finally relented to Emmett and Baby Girl's constant attempts to escape and we all made a line from the tent to a waiting limo with our hands full of flower petals.
The newlyweds ran the gauntlet, laughing happily as the flowers rained over them. When she got to the end of the line, where I was standing she stopped and threw her arms around me one last time before climbing into the limo with her husband. I sighed contentedly as I watched the limo drive off down the driveway with Sue on one side and Jake on the other.
"So…" Jake said after the limo was out of sight. "When are you going to make an honest woman out of Miss Sue, here?"