Renee smiled absently as she helped Bella pull her bags out of the trunk of their small car. She studied her daughter, trying to remember every detail of this moment. She wouldn't be seeing Bella again for quite some time.
"Are you sure you don't want me to go in with you? I could carry your luggage to the security line." She tossed her keys from one hand to the other as she waited for Bella to reply, watching as she gnawed on her lip, a habit she had tried to break her of over the years.
"No, Mom. I can handle this. I don't want you to have to pay to park, and Phil will be waiting for you when you get home." Bella took a deep breath and a familiar crease appeared between her eyebrows. Her body shuddered a little when she finally exhaled.
"Bella, you don't have to do this," Renee said, wanting to mean it, but selfishly hoping that Bella wouldn't change her mind.
"I want to go," Bella said flatly.
Renee could see that Bella was lying; she'd always been able to read her. But this was one time she wouldn't call her on it. She wanted Bella to be with Charlie so that she would be free to travel with Phil. Bella was old enough to stay home alone, but Charlie would have a fit if that happened. So she'd been secretly thrilled when Bella suggested the move to Forks.
Renee said the only thing she could think of in that moment. "Tell Charlie I said hello."
Bella's face fell slightly. "I will."
In an attempt to lighten Bella's suddenly dark mood, Renee smiled and said, "I'll see you soon. You can come home whenever you want – I'll come right back as soon as you need me." The lie slipped easily from her tongue. As a newlywed, she craved this little bit of freedom, but she couldn't tell Bella that.
Bella seemed to know what she was thinking. "Don't worry about me. It'll be great." She smiled grimly and after a moment's hesitation, she added, "I love you, Mom."
Renee threw her arms around Bella, squeezing her tightly for a minute before letting her go.
"I love you, too, Baby. I hope you know that." Bella nodded, turned to pick up her bags, and walked into the terminal without looking back.
Renee stood at the curb, watching as her only child disappeared into the airport. A stunning thought struck her as she moved to get back into her car. 'I'm sending my daughter away, and I'm happy about it.'
She was driving away from the airport on Sky Harbor Boulevard when her actions truly hit her and the tears began to flow. "I'm a horrible mother," she said aloud. "I didn't even walk her into the building. She must think I don't care at all."
It took her a moment to find a safe spot so she could pull to the side of the road. The airplanes roared to the right of her car as they took off and landed. She needed to try to pull herself together before she went home to Phil and she wanted to say another quiet good-bye as Bella's flight flew overhead, though she couldn't be sure which one it was.
It was the least she could do; she was failing her daughter…again.
Renee sat on the hood of her car, watching the airplanes taking off, remembering the darkest days of her life. The feelings they stirred in her heart brought a deluge of memories; memories of Charlie, of her brief stint at the University of Washington, of the rain in Forks…of her last days as a terrible wife.
She remembered huddling in their stained and torn recliner, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, staring blankly at the television. The squeals of delight that filled the room each time Charlie blew raspberries on four-month old Bella's tummy went unnoticed by her. She was oblivious when Charlie spread the blanket on the floor and changed Bella's diaper, didn't budge as he walked past her, waving Bella's small hand as he helped her say goodnight to her mommy. She sat lifeless and still when he returned to the room alone, having placed little Bella in her crib for the night.
"You okay, Renee?" he asked. She could feel his eyes on her and she squirmed uncomfortably.
Her only response was a slight shake of her head.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" He sounded concerned and unsure.
Again, she shook her head and went back to listening to the rain pounding on the windows and the roof. That sound was becoming the rhythm of her personal theme music. Pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat…fail-ure, bad-mom, quit-ter, drop-out. On and on it went, never ending, pounding out the story of her unsuccessful life, thus far.
She had never hated a sound as much as she hated the sound of the relentless rain. It taunted her - a constant reminder of the prison that Forks had become. She was boxed in by the forest and the grey clouds that never cleared the sky. The classes she had signed up for in the spring seemed far away, out of reach. The dull, lifeless walls of this house were a cage.
Her mouth clenched shut, fighting the screams that she longed to let loose. Her hands clutched the blanket, pulling it tighter around her shoulders as she shivered.
"Are you getting sick?" Charlie's voice was grating on her already frayed nerves. "Should I call the doctor?"
That was it. His concern about her health was the last straw.
"You know what's wrong!" she screamed. Her fingers clawed at the blanket and her face, scratching her cheeks. "I can't stand it here - the rain, the forest, your job! I can't take it anymore! We need to leave! Now."
"Renee, we've talked about this. My parents need me right now. There's no way my mother can care for my father. He's too sick and she's too weak." He was pleading with her to understand.
"Someone else can help them."
"You know there's nobody else, Ren. You know I can't leave them like that."
"You care more about them than you do about your wife, your daughter." Her voice shook with anger and self pity.
Charlie shook his head sadly. "You know that's not true. I love you and Bella more than anything. But, I'm their son; I can't desert them like that."
"You are a liar," she spat at him. "You told me that we'd be happy together, that if we had this baby we'd be the perfect family. You didn't tell me that we'd be stuck in Forks, that we'd live in a dingy little house, taking care of your parents. We don't even have enough money to paint the walls of this cave. And I never knew that you intended to work here – to take over for the Chief when he retires."
"I told you that I was getting my degree to work in law enforcement. You knew that when we were dating. I promised to take care of you and our baby. I'm trying, Ren. I'm really trying."
Her next words were hateful and full of venom. "You aren't trying hard enough. You know I don't want to stay here, but you won't ask your friends to help your parents so we can leave."
"But, Renee…" Charlie stood to approach her and she curled up more tightly in the chair, waving her hands at him to prevent him from comforting her as she began to sob uncontrollably, again.
This wasn't the first time she'd broken down. In fact, it was becoming a regular occurrence. The words were familiar. She'd been saying the same thing for weeks now. She couldn't understand why Charlie didn't see her point. Her face felt hot and she knew it was scarlet.
"Renee, I'll call Dr. Gerandy. He said you might have some baby blues." He was whispering, afraid to incite her.
"Baby blues! What does he know about baby blues? Has he ever been pregnant? Has he ever had to deal with a screaming baby in the middle of the night? And you…you have no idea how I feel! You won't listen because you don't want to hear it." She was breathing hard after her tirade. Charlie backed off knowing that to approach her at this point would be dangerous.
"Okay, Renee. I won't call." He sounded beaten.
"Just leave me alone," she snarled.
Charlie nodded, his eyes wet with the tears of frustration and hopelessness that she knew he would never spill in front of her. He backed out of the room and she could hear him as he slowly marched up the stairs, opening the door to Bella's bedroom. She knew she would find him standing there, watching their sleeping baby, when she decided to go upstairs.
Maybe tonight she wouldn't make it up the stairs. Maybe, just maybe, she would stay in her chair all night, away from his steady breathing, away from Bella's hungry cries in the middle of the night. Perhaps she should just quietly pack her belongings and slip from the house, leaving Charlie and Bella to deal with the rain without her. The Chevette parked in the driveway would be good enough to get her away from Forks.
She had no idea where she would go, but the idea of driving away was so appealing that she started to plan what to pack. For a moment, the darkness lifted and she could breathe again. But, the moment was short-lived. She could hear her mother's voice chastising her.
"You got yourself into this mess, Renee. You need to follow through. There's a child to think of now. Be responsible."
She growled at the imagined reminder and pulled the blanket over her head, letting loose a new wave of tears. Her wailing echoed off of the walls of the sparsely decorated living room. Charlie's feet shuffled upstairs and she knew he was thinking about coming back down. He wouldn't. He avoided this kind of confrontation at all costs, not knowing how to deal with her emotional outbursts.
She hated Charlie right now. And loved him. And she loved Bella and despised her at the same time. She didn't know how she felt anymore. She was a mess, and she knew it.
Her legs were stiff as she unfolded them from the chair. There was only one person who could help her sort out the feelings she was having, could help her understand what she needed to do, and it was nearly her bedtime.
She walked quietly into the kitchen, trying to keep her intentions from Charlie. He didn't like expensive long distance bills, but she didn't care at the moment. She dialed and listened as the phone rang several times, praying all the while that the phone would be answered.
"Hello?" the tired voice at the other end said.
"Mom, I need you." She started to cry.
The calming voice she had always counted on came through the phone line. "Neenee, you need to calm down and tell me what's wrong."
"I want to leave. Can I come there? I need to get away from this horrible place."
"Tell me what happened."
Renee spent the next half hour telling her mother how she was feeling and how angry she was with Charlie.
"You can come here, baby, but you can't leave Bella behind. She's your baby. Charlie has enough to do. His parents need a lot of help. Maybe when you feel better, you can go home."
"But, Bella needs a father." Renee whined, trying to justify leaving her baby.
"You got along just fine without your father. She will, too."
And that decided it. She would pack in the morning, after Charlie left for work. When he got home, she would tell him what she was planning. She hoped that he would see the light, that he would turn over the care of his parents to his lifelong friends. Billy and Sarah Black would help them. Harry and Sue Clearwater would pitch in. They were settled here, a part of the Quileute Reservation. Charlie belonged with her and Bella, not here, in this festering, wet hell-hole.
She walked silently up the stairs, headed for her bed, determined to ignore Charlie as she walked past him in the hall. His shadowy form was hovering over a sleeping Bella.
"Renee?" His voice was quiet and gentle.
She stopped, but refused to look at him. "What, Charlie?"
"I know you are, Charlie, but what difference does it make?" Shrugging, she started moving again, heading straight into the bedroom and crawling under the covers with her back to his side of the bed.
The bed moved when he climbed in a few minutes later, and she cringed. Her entire body flinched when he touched her shoulder. He pulled his hand back and turned away from her. She never heard his breathing steady, or the quiet snores that usually punctuated the night. She knew he didn't sleep at all.
In the morning, after Charlie had climbed into his cruiser and driven down the street, she put her plan into action. She packed her belongings and Bella's. She loaded them into her car, stuffing the hatch as full as she could get it. The crib would have to stay, as would the high chair.
But, honestly, she expected Charlie to cave, to put a For-Sale sign in the yard and make the arrangements that she had suggested to take care of his parents. He could always get a job in Riverside. They could stay with her mother until they were on their feet. Her plan would work and she would be out of the rain, out of the oppressive four walls of their small home, free to spend time outside.
It didn't work out that way.
When Charlie got home, he noticed the over-stuffed car and got angry.
"What are you doing?" he yelled as he stormed into the house. It was a tone she had never heard from him. "What has gotten into you?"
"I'm going to my mother's house. She said I can stay there. With Bella." She stiffened her spine, standing up to him.
"You can't leave right now. We can't afford a trip to California."
"Who said it was just a trip?" she challenged, waving their sole credit card in front of his face.
"What are you saying, Renee?" He stood looking down at her, his chest heaving.
She paused for a moment, not really sure how to make Charlie see what she needed him to do. "I'm not going to live in Forks, Charlie. I can't do it. I've tried, but I'm not happy here."
Charlie's face fell slightly. "But, Renee, I'm in Forks. Our home is here."
He wasn't getting it. "Leave Forks. Come with me to Riverside. My mom says we can live with her while you find a job. It's our chance to get away from here."
Renee watched as Charlie sighed. "I can't leave Forks, Ren. I need to be here. You know that. It isn't just about what I want. Stay here with me, please. If I mean anything to you, you'll stay." His voice was soft, he was pleading with her and it hurt. But, she couldn't allow him to make her stay.
"If I mean anything to you, you'll come with me." She drew the line in the sand.
"I can't leave my parents. They need me. I can't just abandon them," he pleaded. "Stay, please. I need you to stay."
With each word, she grew angrier. He wasn't willing to leave for her. He had firmly planted himself on the opposite side.
"Fine. I see where you stand," she huffed, scared of the words that were forming in her mind. "Just let me go, Charlie. It didn't work out, okay? I really, really hate Forks."
His face registered his shock.
"You're really leaving me?" He paused and she could tell he was afraid to ask the next question. "Is it Forks you hate, or is it me?"
For the first time since she'd known Charlie, he allowed the tears that were building to fall in front of her.
"I'm not happy here. You can't make me happy here." Her words were laced with acid.
"I…don't make you happy?" Charlie's voice was reduced to barely a whisper.
She shook her head in response. "No. Marrying you was a mistake."
And that was when Charlie broke. The big, strong man in front of her crumbled. He staggered back against the wall of the living room, slumping to the floor, his head in his hands. He had believed everything she said. She knew that he wouldn't follow her now, no matter how badly she wanted it.
The last words he said to her before she walked out the door were, "You're taking Bella away from me, too? Please…don't…"
One final look at his face tore at her heart, but she couldn't stop what she had set in motion. He was in a heap, tears flowing down his face, watching her walk away with his daughter.
She had cried all the way to Riverside, driving through the night, stopping only to take care of Bella's needs. It had been one of the longest days of her life, and the pain was just beginning. She couldn't remember eating during that time, though she was sure her mother made her. Sleep had evaded her for months. Nothing was right, but she didn't know how to repair the mess she had made. Charlie didn't call, and barely spoke when she called him.
The memories uncovered a pain she thought she had buried. She reached up and wiped the tears from her face with the backs of her hands. Her emotions were just as raw now as they had been seventeen years ago.
The sound of a siren blast behind her made her jump. She turned to see a police officer approaching the hood of the car where she sat.
"Ma'am, I'm sorry, but you can't park here unless you have an emergency. Is there something I can help you with?" He grew concerned as he saw her tear-streaked face.
"I'm so sorry, Officer. I was just watching for my daughter's flight to take off. She's going to live with her father." She hiccupped a little with the sob that escaped.
He looked her over, weighing her words. "That can't be easy, ma'am, but I can't allow you to sit here any longer. It's not safe. Why don't you go home and give her a call when she arrives at her dad's?"
Renee wiped the rest of her tears and sniffled loudly. "You're right. I'll go home now. I'm really sorry."
She climbed into her car and headed to a home that would be too quiet without Bella there. Not that Bella made much noise… She prayed that Phil would be there so that she wouldn't be alone with her memories. She needed him right now, needed the comforting distraction that he could provide.
Thankfully, Phil met her at the door. "Are you okay, Baby?"
She walked into his open arms and shook her head. "I'm a terrible person."
Phil pulled her into the house and made her sit on the sofa. "What on Earth has you thinking that?"
She sputtered a few times as she started to talk, "I…wanted…Bella to go. I wanted a break. I'll miss her, but I wasn't sad that she was leaving. I'm a horrible mother." She buried her head in his chest and wept while he held her, rubbing her back.
"You aren't a horrible mother, Renee. You've been a single mother for a lot of years. It won't hurt for Bella to spend a few months with Charlie. I think he'll enjoy the time with her. She might find out a lot of things about her dad that she's never known."
She cried harder.
"What's wrong now, Renee? What did I say?" Phil pulled her back so he could look at her face.
She blew her nose and wiped at her eyes before speaking. "I've never told her the good things about Charlie. She doesn't really know how we met at U-Dub. She doesn't know that I was pregnant when we flew to Las Vegas and got married. What if he tells her how awful I was before I left? I told her what I said, but I didn't tell her what it did to him. What if he tells her all the things I haven't?"
Phil moved his hands to cradle her face. "Bella loves you. There's nothing that Charlie can say that will change that. Besides, I have a feeling he would never say anything negative about you. He's not like that."
"But, I broke his heart, Phil. I left him sitting on the floor, crying. I knew he was broken. I could see it. And it didn't stop me. I drove away from him. I packed his baby into the car and took her away. I destroyed him."
He made her look at him, "That was a long time ago, Renee. He won't hurt Bella by telling her the details of your split. Charlie is a good man, you don't need to worry."
"But, that doesn't make me a better person. I was actually excited to see my daughter head into the airport to fly away from me for God only knows how long. I wasn't even sad at first. How can a mother feel that way?"
"Do you miss her?"
"Will you stay in touch with her?"
"Uh huh." She blew her nose again.
"Do you want her to go away forever? To never see her again?" His face was very serious as he asked her these questions.
"Of course not!" She sat up straight. "I love Bella. I want to see her again, soon."
"Then, I think you'll be fine." He reached for her and kissed her forehead. "It's okay to need a little break. Besides, Charlie is looking forward to spending time with her. He's missed out on so much. Let him enjoy her for a while."
"I don't want her to think I don't care. I've done everything I can to be a good mother to her, but I know she's been disappointed at times." Her eyes filled with fresh tears. "She knows that I'm a failure."
"You are not a failure, Renee. Stop thinking like that. E-mail her. Send something right now that tells her you are interested in her life in Forks." He waved toward the computer.
She shook her head. "I need to calm down first. I'll start packing for Florida and then I'll e-mail her." She smiled a little. "Should we have lunch?"
Phil laughed out loud. "Pizza or Chinese take-out?"
"Chinese," she said as she stood and walked to their bedroom.
Later, after she had packed nearly everything she needed and had eaten a small serving of Chinese food, she sat down at the computer to compose a message.
Write me as soon as you get in. Tell me how your flight was. Is it raining? I miss you already. I'm almost finished packing for Florida, but I can't find my pink blouse. Do you know where I put it? Phil says hi.
Phil leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Feel better?"
"I'm starting to…but, a little distraction would help." She turned her head and kissed him and he pulled her up to embrace her.
They were moving toward the bedroom when the phone rang. She thought about ignoring it, but because it might be Bella, she answered.
The voice on the other end startled her.
"Renee?" Charlie asked.
"Charlie? What are you doing? I thought you were picking Bella up at the airport." She was confused and a little alarmed.
"Don't worry. I'm at the airport, waiting." He sighed loudly on the other end.
Phil mouthed "Is everything okay?" and Renee shrugged.
"Is everything okay?" she asked Charlie.
Charlie stuttered a little. "I…I just…wanted to talk to you before Bella arrives. Is that all right?"
"Sure, Charlie. We can talk." She looked at Phil, shrugging again. He nodded and leaned against the wall.
Charlie was quiet. She could barely hear him breathing on the other end of the line. Finally, after what seemed like hours, he spoke again.
"Thank you, Renee."
She gasped in surprise. "For what?"
"For sending Bella to stay with me. For letting me have this time with my daughter before she's completely grown. I can't tell you what it means to me." She heard a catch in his voice. "I've missed so much of her life, so many important moments with her."
Renee felt guilt washing over her. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean…"
"It's not your fault, Ren. I know that. I didn't understand it for a long time, but I get it now. I should have followed you. If only I had followed you."
"What I didn't wasn't fair to you, Charlie. I knew you couldn't leave." She wanted to go on, but couldn't make herself say the words. Phil watched her struggling and walked over to her, taking her hand.
Charlie took a deep breath, exhaling loudly. "That's all history now. Don't worry about it. I didn't mean to have a conversation about that."
"I've never had the chance to tell you how sorry I was. I was too proud and too angry, and then it was too late for it to make a difference." Silent tears fell down her face.
"I knew. You don't have to apologize. Besides, you are letting her come here to finish high school. I know what a sacrifice that is for you." Renee recognized Charlie's reluctance to discuss anything dealing with emotion, especially his own.
"You deserve to spend time with her. But you should know, I was okay with her moving to Forks, Charlie, but it was her idea, not mine."
She could almost hear him shrug. "I realize that, Ren. But I also know that she wouldn't do anything that you didn't want her to do. Bella loves you more than anything. She would never leave you if she didn't think you'd be all right with it."
Her voice shook. "I hope she knows that letting her move doesn't mean that I don't love her, too."
The warmth in Charlie's voice as he replied made her smile. "Bella is a smart young woman. I think she knows how much you love her."
"I don't want her to hate me." Phil squeezed her hand.
"That won't happen. I won't let it." The Chief of Police was talking now. She chuckled through her tears.
"Thanks, Charlie. That means a lot to me."
His voice changed, getting softer. "I hope you know I'll be calling a lot. I don't know what to do with a teen-aged daughter."
Renee laughed out loud at that. "You're in luck. Bella is no ordinary teenager. I don't think you'll need much help, in fact, you might learn a thing or two from her."
The sound of Charlie's laughter rang through the phone. "I'm sure I will."
"It's good to hear you laugh. You used to do that a lot."
He didn't make a sound for a full minute. "I will again."
The realization that Charlie was still mourning the loss of his family hit Renee. "You should. You deserve to have everything you've ever wanted."
"Um, thanks." He obviously didn't know what to say, and when Renee thought about it, she knew that what he'd always wanted was his family, together. That was never going to happen now.
She started to reply, but was cut off by his hurried words. "They just announced her flight. She's here. I'm going to meet her. I'll talk to you later, Renee."
"Sure, talk to you later. Tell her hello for me." She heard the click before she finished her sentence.
"Bella just got there." She turned to wrap her arms around Phil. "I hope I did the right thing."
He kissed the top of her head. "I know you did. Charlie seems grateful, too."
She nodded, moving her head against his cotton shirt, and then looking up at him.
"I'm all for distraction, Renee, but can I ask you a question first?" Her heart sunk. He wanted to talk about her life with Charlie, she could tell. She had avoided this topic most of the time that they had been together.
She sighed before answering. "Sure. I'll answer a question."
He looked into her eyes, squeezing her more tightly as he prepared to ask his question. "Do you regret leaving him?"
"I used to think about it all the time. I tried to stay busy so that I wouldn't. I finished my degree, I moved, I dated, I ran away from it time and time again."
"And now I have you." She reached up and kissed him. "I'm happy, Phil. I'm ready to stop regretting the past."
"Is Charlie ready to forget the past?" He pulled back a little, waiting for her reaction.
She broke their embrace and reached for Phil's hand. "I think he is. Now, I'm ready for some distraction," she said as she walked past Bella's last high school picture on her way to their bedroom.
//// xxxxx ////////
It was great writing for the Canon Fodder Contest. I hope you all read and enjoyed the stories. There were so many amazing moments from the series.
Huge thanks to Belli486 and farkle1. Belli486 played beta for me, and farkle1 was a pre-reader.