This was my contribution for Fics For Nashville, a piece from Charlie's perspective. Thanks to lislar and shoefreak37 for their help.
~ O ~
Charlie Swan was what most people would consider a simple man, content to spend his weekdays working hard as a small town Chief of Police, his weekends relaxing on the lake with his fishing pole and a six-pack of Vitamin R. He'd always been a bit of a loner, preferring quiet solitude and uninterrupted time to think. The men he fished with on the weekends were the same ones he'd camped and fished with as a boy.
Charlie's life had been a linear progression with only one giant and glaring bump in the road.
Renee had blown into his life like a hurricane, turning everything in her path upside down. She was several years younger than Charlie, but that hadn't stopped him from being intimidated by her. He'd always been shy, especially around women, and he wasn't sure how to deal with Renee's bold and brash nature. She was fiery and flighty—everything he was not. Though the differences between them were vast, he was entranced.
Before long, he realized that he was completely head over heels in love with her. Unsure of how to deal with his feelings, he did the only thing that made sense: he asked her to marry him. He'd thought that the day she said yes would always be one of the best days of his life, but he had been wrong. That moment would soon be eclipsed by the birth of his daughter.
Their marriage was already on shaky ground when Bella made her entrance into the world on that hazy September morning. She was a tiny reminder of when things had been right between them, a shining beacon with a tuft of brown hair and eyes to match. He loved her instantly, more than he'd ever loved anyone in his life.
If the ground was considered shaky upon Bella's birth, it erupted into a full-blown earthquake afterwards. Renee constantly whined and complained, lamenting that Forks was too small, too rainy, too green. Charlie did what he could to appease her, but it seemed as if nothing could soothe Renee's wandering spirit.
He vividly remembered the night he'd come home to find the house empty, a short note hastily taped to the refrigerator. He'd gotten called out after the late night news, to respond to a fatal crash on the outskirts of town. It had been raining for days, making the roads slick and treacherous; the driver had taken a curve too fast, colliding head-on with a family in a mini-van.
Charlie had returned home with the intention of holding his daughter close, of telling his wife he loved her, because he did, in spite of it all. The image of the mangled and twisted bodies flashed in his mind, making him thankful that his family was asleep, safely ensconced in their beds at home. But he wouldn't get any rest that night, wouldn't get the chance to hug his daughter once more and tell her that he loved her because Renee was gone. Like a thief in the night, she'd taken from him the only thing that really mattered: his baby girl.
He spent the first few days in a trance, numb to the pain. Part of him wanted to be angry, to find Renee and make her pay for breaking his heart. Another part of him was broken and confused, saddened that he wasn't able to make his marriage work. Charlie worked diligently in the days that followed, picking up extra shifts and spending as much time at the station as possible. Before long, his heightened emotions subsided and he felt nothing.
When the divorce papers finally came, he hesitantly signed them. He no longer cared that his marriage was over, that Renee was gone; he only worried about his shy, doe-eyed daughter. Charlie desperately wanted to fight, to challenge Renee for custody, but what did he have to offer a little girl? Dinners at the diner, evening spent in front of the TV watching baseball, and weekends with a fishing pole in hand? These weren't the things a little girl needed; she needed her mother.
Reluctantly, Charlie let go, content to only see his daughter for two weeks each summer. He tried to stay as close as possible, even with the distance between them, sending cards and gifts, calling each week. As the years passed, the divide seemed to grow and as Bella grew into a beautiful young woman, he still called and sent gifts, but the visits were long since forgotten.
Sometimes he thought Bella sounded sad on the phone, but when he would ask, she would brush off his concerns. That didn't stop him from worrying and he often wondered if he should suggest that she come live with him, but he didn't want to upset her, to make her think he was trying to steal her away from Renee. She was no longer a little girl, but teenage girls probably needed their mothers, too.
Of course, he had Sue in his life now, a kind and loving woman with two grown children of her own. She was patient and caring, the type of woman he should have been with all along. He'd known her for years, but as the wife of his old fishing buddy, Harry. Sue had been depressed when Harry had suddenly passed away, content to stay inside her little house in La Push, the depression taking over. Charlie knew what it was like to feel alone, so he'd taken it upon himself to make sure she knew there were people out there that cared about her. It was a slow progression, but eventually their friendship grew into something more.
~ O ~
It was a cold and rainy day in November when the secretary at the police station buzzed Charlie to let him know he had a call waiting. He wasn't expecting the voice on the other end: a frazzled and overwhelmed Renee.
He listened intently as she spoke, her frantic words coming out in a jumbled mess. Bella was planning to visit for the Thanksgiving holiday, but Renee was suggesting extending that visit indefinitely. Though Charlie loved the idea of Bella living with him full-time, he thought that should be Bella's decision to make. From the way Renee spoke, he got the distinct impression that the conversation had nothing to do with Bella's wishes, but that Renee was simply trying to get rid of her.
Annoyed with his ex-wife, Charlie requested to speak with Bella, wanting to make sure that she was okay with the change in plans. Renee refused, her tone changing from frantic to angry. She yelled at Charlie for being an absent father, for not taking more of an interest in his daughter's life. Her words cut him like a knife. Then, she dropped the bomb on him: Bella was on drugs.
Charlie could hear Renee sniffling through the phone as she told him how Bella had gotten involved with an older boy, how she'd become sullen and withdrawn, and how Renee had found a stash of pills in her room. Charlie blanched at this information, not able to comprehend that his sweet, shy daughter had developed a drug habit. Surely she knew better than this?
Despite his disbelief, Renee was able to convince him that she could no longer deal with the situation, that Bella needed a strong, firm person to deal with her problems. Renee claimed that she'd tried, but that her efforts were in vain. Unsure of what to do, Charlie agreed to take Bella in. Though the situation wasn't ideal, he was excited at the prospect of having his little girl home once more.
Before her arrival, he researched teen drug use, looking up statistics and treatment programs in his downtime at the station. He wasn't sure what sort of shape Bella was in at this point, how far she'd fallen, but he knew he would do whatever he could to help her get back on track.
Initially, he had planned to immediately send her to a juvenile treatment program in Seattle, hoping that after completing the program, she could come to Forks and get her life back on track. He lost all resolve to stick to this plan, however, when he met her at the airport. He wasn't expecting those sad brown eyes, the sullen and depressed look upon her face. Charlie had been expected to find a strung-out young woman with shaking hands and bloodshot eyes. Not knowing what to do, he brought her home, reassured by the smiles, tears, and hugs that were exchanged in the terminal.
Once they returned to Forks, he felt more confident in his decision, though he still wasn't sure how to deal with the situation at hand. Deciding a rigid set of rules might be the only way to get his wayward daughter back on the straight and narrow, he restricted her privileges and made Sue promise to keep an eye on her.
As the days wore on, Charlie began to doubt the things that Renee has said. The pieces of the puzzle just didn't seem to fit. There was something wrong, but he couldn't seem to figure out just what that something was. Sue was convinced that Bella was never on drugs, that Renee was just a lying and deceitful woman, but Charlie wanted to be sure before making any rash decisions.
~ O ~
The day before Thanksgiving, Charlie arrived home to the smell of his favorite food—beef stroganoff—wafting through the house. He wondered why Sue would go through the trouble of making this meal the day before a holiday, quickly doing a mental catalog of anniversaries and birthdays, trying to be sure he hadn't forgotten something important. He took of his gun and jacket, hanging them in on the hook in the foyer.
Charlie felt the tension in the air as soon as he entered the kitchen. Sue had a look on her face that begged for understanding, while Bella's appeared to be riddled with nerves, her hands shaking as she moved about, helping Sue put the finishing touches on the meal. He immediately began to worry, wondering if something had happened while he was at work. Has Sue found pills in Bella's room? Or caught her actually taking them?
Pushing his worry aside, he sat at the table, knowing things would be revealed to him when the pair was ready to share. Dinner was tense and silent, the sounds of forks scraping across plates filling the room. Charlie noticed that Bella didn't really eat, content to push her food around on her plate. He also saw the meaningful glances that passed between her and Sue.
Once dinner was over, the group moved into the living room. Charlie would normally fire up the television and immerse himself in whatever sporting event he would find, but tonight seemed different; sports could wait. He sank down in his old recliner and waited, hoping someone would speak up soon.
He watched Bella and Sue closely, noticing their clasped hands and the gentle way Sue rubbed Bella's back in comfort. Since Bella had arrived, she'd grown very close to Sue, a relationship that caused mixed emotions in Charlie. He would admit to feeling a bit jealous that his daughter was able to so quickly connect to his girlfriend, confiding in her things she couldn't or wouldn't share with him. But the more he watched them together, the more he was thankful for Sue's presence in both their lives. She was a wonderful woman, one that he hoped to someday make his wife. He smiled as he thought of the engagement ring he had hidden away upstairs. Now certainly wasn't the time, but eventually he would ask; he just hoped that she said yes.
"Char—Dad, there's something I need to tell you. I-I've never…I'm not on drugs. I don't know why Renee told you that," Bella said, staring down at her feet.
Charlie exhaled a giant sigh of relief, happy to know that drugs weren't the issue, but wondering what could have happened to cause Bella to quiver with nervousness. He also couldn't understand why Renee would tell him such horrible lies about their daughter. Renee had always been a little irrational; maybe she was just confused.
"But there is something…something I need to tell you. I'm—"
He heard Bella suck in a giant gulp of air, her mouth opening and closing like a fish, as if the words just wouldn't come out. Her shoulders began to shake as tears rolled down her face. Bella grasped Sue's hand tightly, shaking her head back and forth. Charlie looked at the two, confusion written all over his face.
With unshed tears in her eyes, Sue uttered the words that nearly cut him in two. "Charlie, she's pregnant."
Charlie watched closely as Bella squeezed her eyes shut tightly and curved her shoulders inward, as if she wanted to curl into a little ball. He thought back to his conversation with Renee and his first inclination that she just wanted to get rid of Bella—and her baby.
"Did your mother know about this?" Charlie asked with a slight quiver in his voice.
"Yes," Bella whispered.
Unable to control the rage brewing inside of him, Charlie stalked out of the room and into the kitchen, pacing back and forth across the worn tile floor. Why did Renee do this? Of course, he knew asking that question would be fruitless; he knew why. Renee was the most self-serving and greedy woman he'd ever met.
Without thinking, he grabbed the old rotary dial phone hanging on the kitchen wall, dialing the number quickly, his fingers catching in the tiny holes. He held his breath as it began to ring, a tirade on the tip of his tongue.
"Hello," Renee answered, her chipper, airy voice floating through the line.
"Renee," Charlie started, anger bubbling to the surface. "Why did you lie to me? She's pregnant. Pregnant!"
"Oh, Charlie, calm down. There's really no reason to overreact."
"Overreact? You think I'm overreacting?" He nearly snorted over the absurdity of her statement. "You sent our pregnant, teenage daughter here, told me she was on drugs, and you don't think I should be upset?"
"I tried to make her get rid of it, but she wouldn't. And the father's family didn't want her around. So I had to send her to you, Charlie. It was the only way to make our agreement work."
"What do you mean the father's family didn't want her around? She's your child, Renee. You're her mother; you're supposed to take care of her."
"Just like you've taken care of her all these years? Really, Charlie? Don't blame me for your shortcomings as a father. I did what was best for her and the baby. James' family needed her out of the picture and I made that happen."
"God damn it, Renee!" Charlie yelled, slamming the phone down onto the receiver, the sound echoing throughout the house. He should have known better than to try to get answers from Renee. Of course she'd done the selfish thing here, putting out her own daughter because some family wanted her to. What kind of mother was she? What had Bella been through all these years?
Hoping to learn more about what had happened from Bella, Charlie came stalking into the living room. His face was flushed red and the vein in his forehead was protruding and pulsing with anger. Bella cowered and turned herself towards Sue, snapping Charlie out of his red haze. Realizing that he'd scared her, his face softened.
"Oh, Bella," he said as he took a seat on the couch. "I'm so sorry, baby girl. But why didn't you say something sooner? You could have told me. You can tell me anything."
"I was scared," she whispered.
Tentatively, Charlie reached out the grasp her tiny, shaking hand. As he gave it a gentle squeeze, she looked up at him, seeing tenderness in his eyes. Bella's lip began to quiver and Charlie reached out, pulling her forward and hugging her to his side.
Bella clung to him, soaking his shirt with her tears. Holding his fragile daughter in his arms, Charlie felt like such a failure. For all these years, he had assumed she was better off with Renee. What young girl didn't need her mother? But seeing her now, seeing the obvious pain in her eyes, he knew he'd made a terrible mistake. He just hoped the damage wasn't irreparable.
Glancing over at Sue, he saw the tears flowing down her cheeks as well. He moved to grab her hand, seeing the hope and love in her eyes. As they held his crying daughter between them, he knew they would have to work through this sordid mess—together.
Late that night, lying in bed with Sue, the dam of emotions Charlie had been holding back finally broke. Sue held him tightly, smoothing his hair and whispering to him that everything would be okay, that they'd figure it all out as a family. For the first time since he was eight and his grandfather died, Charlie Swan cried.
A/N: I hope this gives you some insight into Charlie's past with Renee, his relationship with Bella, and his overall character. Reviews are greatly appreciated. I have more outtakes planned for this story, including two for my FGB team. No idea when these will be posted, but it will likely be after blossom is complete. Thanks!