Coloring Books and Coffee Beans

by Mackenzie L.

Charlie Swan reflects on the joy his daughter Bella has brought him both in childhood and as a teenager who returns after many years spend apart. Bittersweet father/daughter one-shot from Charlie's perspective.

*The Twilight Saga belongs to Stephenie Meyer

She asked him why he smelled like coffee.

That was her first question.

Her voice was like a sparkle on a pond. Small, clipped, precocious.

He peered down into her four-year-old chocolate-syrup stare with a smile and answered, "Because I'm always drinking it, Bells."

"I want to smell like coffee, too," she declared with the air of a very tiny queen.

Bella was too young and too hyper to feed off of caffeine the way her father did, so he let her carry around a little pouch of coffee beans instead. She stuffed them into her purple Oshkosh corduroy jumper and buttoned the tiny plastic buttons to protect her aromatic treasures.

Jacob asked her how she had gotten her dad to let her drink the stuff.

Charlie watched her play in the mud with her young friend from the smeary kitchen window. The windows were all smeared with Bella's bitty fingerprints. It baffled him the way children always had to touch the glass on windows when they wanted to take a peek outside. Maybe they felt like they were touching what they saw.

Bella toddled over to the porch with her rain boots caked in dirt and slosh.

Swish clop. Swish clop.

"Daddy, look what I made for you!"

In her outstretched palms she presented a mud pie.

One day, he knew, his Bella would be a fantastic cook.

He tried to clean her up as best he could. But no matter how many times he had her stand before the mirror, and no matter how closely he checked to make sure there was not a speck of dirt on her clothes, she still managed to stain something in the house after he let her step off the doormat.

And even when she left, she was still all over the house.

Her tiny toothbrush in his sink. Her hair at the bottom of the bathtub. Her socks in his laundry basket. Her coloring books on the carpet in the den.

Charlie saved those coloring books – every one of them. He'd be damned if anyone knew, but a cop could never admit to being such a sentimental fool.

She used purple crayons the most. Those were her favorite. She never colored inside the lines, and that made him proud because he never could stay inside those lines either. She was just like him. She was his baby girl.

But even babies must grow up.

And one day his Bella returned to him, covered from head to foot in maturity. Her brown hair longer than he'd ever remembered it being before – she was a regular brunette Rapunzel compared to the four-year-old Betty Boop he'd known before.

Charlie did not know what to say to this new Bella.

"You'll like it here in Forks. The small town grows on you after a while. Just give it a chance, and you'll see."

He did not know what to do with this new Bella.

She couldn't fit into those plastic purple rain boots anymore. She couldn't scribble with her crayons on the den floor anymore. She couldn't make him mud pies, but she did make him dinner.

She was a fantastic cook.

She could take care of him well.

And sometimes when he saw her smile, he was reminded of that baby Bella waltzing through the front door with her boots caked in mud and her hair soaked from the rain.

Sometimes when she turned her chin to look up at him, he saw the eyes of his four-year-old angel; he saw the familiar curve of youth on the underside of her jaw. The way she tucked her hair behind her ear. The way she bit her lip when she was thinking of things to say.

Charlie felt part of himself in her still. Even though she looked like... this strange and sometimes scary hybrid of his baby daughter and an "almost-woman."

The way she hauled her backpack over one shoulder when she walked out the door in the morning – it was so like the way he used to carry his own. A burden that had to be done.

She was quiet but conscientious. Considerate, but nonintrusive. She was kind and observant but oh so hard to coax from her little gray shell.

He wanted his baby Bella back.

Would he find her if he searched long enough? Was there a proud and precocious four-year-old buried beneath this long-haired, small-breasted, gangly-legged teenage girl?

Would she be content to ride an hour in the truck to watch him fish like she used to? Would she squeal at the hilarity of seeing her father struggle to pull the line from the water, on the edge of the dock in suspense to see if this time he had something?

Would she snatch that plastic pouch of coffee beans from him as if it were gold and keep it hidden in her pocket everywhere she went?

Would she humor him in running through the mud puddles in plastic purple boots, and smile cheekily at him from the shower of rain, drenched from head to toe?

Would he listen to his stomach growl all night long if it meant her coming through the door with only a mud pie for his dinner?

He would.

Because he didn't really feel like he knew her. This girl who ate granola bars for breakfast, and wore jeans that were too tight, and spent ninety percent of her day in her bedroom alone.

He did know a girl who begged to go to the diner each morning, and wore lilac Oshkosh overalls, and spent ninety percent of her day in the rain.

Maybe baby Bella was still there. Maybe she was just waiting for the perfect rainstorm before she came out to play.

But even if she didn't, he would always love her anyway.