The soles of Bella's Chucks squeaked as she walked down the hall toward the room where the MRI would be done. She could hear the wheels of the bed rubbing the tiles as they rolled and the gentle bursts of oxygen that sustained Charlie's life. His heart wasn't beating at its normal pace, and that frightened her. The monitors in the rooms she passed beeped and clicked. The noise was almost overwhelming; all she wanted was peace and quiet so that she could focus on her father.
This was not the way she had expected to spend Christmas Eve.
Charlie was supposed to be at the Cullens' house tonight, giving Renesmee her Christmas gifts, watching with delight as she opened them. He should have been able to listen to Edward play the piano while Alice and Rosalie sang. They had decided to entertain him this year.
He should have been safe.
She looked at Charlie's ashen face again. The color was wrong, as if the blood wasn't flowing to the small veins in his skin. His breathing wasn't right, either. Even with the assistance of the oxygen, his chest was not moving enough, his breathing was too shallow. She could almost smell the blood that they feared was building in his head.
The hospital was too filled with the smell of blood. It was disquieting and it altered her ability to distinguish what was going on inside of Charlie. The scent was thick and fresh in some rooms, stale and dead in others. Strangely, it didn't cause so much as a tickle in her throat. Not now. Not with Charlie fighting for his life.
The nurse stopped her at the door to the MRI room. "I'm sorry. You can't go in with him. Would you like to sit in the waiting room?"
Bella knew she could stand forever in the hallway. She could be a statue, patient and tireless. But that would raise questions. She nodded in response, and the nurse directed her down the hall to a door on her left.
She dialed Edward's number again as she walked. He hadn't picked up the first twenty times she'd called; maybe twenty-one would be the charm. But still, no answer.
Her fingers quickly dialed Carlisle's number. If Edward didn't answer, maybe Carlisle would – this time.
"Bella?" His voice sounded concerned. "I just got back to the car and saw the missed calls. Edward should be here in a few minutes. Is something wrong?"
Relief flooded her system. "Carlisle, I need your help."
"Is Nessie okay?" he asked.
"She's fine. It's Charlie..." She couldn't finish her thought.
"Bella, tell me what happened."
She struggled for a moment, and then the words tumbled out.
"He was in an accident early this morning. He worked a graveyard shift so that he could spend Christmas Eve with us. One of the logging trucks flipped. Charlie was driving in the other direction. He couldn't react in time. He only made it part of the way off of the road. The truck hit the back of his cruiser and sent him into a ravine." A strange sound escaped her throat.
"What is his condition? What have they told you?" Carlisle was in doctor mode now.
Bella related Charlie's multiple injuries. "His arm was broken by the airbag. His body is cut and bruised. The seatbelt cut into his neck slightly, and left a mark across his entire chest. But, the biggest issue is that when his car rolled, Charlie's head had hit the side window more than once. He has a serious head injury and he hasn't woken up yet. Nobody will tell me what's his condition is."
She paused for a moment and then finished her thought. "He needs you, Carlisle. They can't help him like you can."
"We'll be there right away," Carlisle said and she heard Edward's worried voice in the background.
Carlisle explained the situation and she could hear the car start. Edward took the phone from Carlisle. "We're coming. Jasper and Emmett will have to run home, but they'll forgive us. Are you okay?"
Was she? She didn't know. Her own trips to the emergency room had been a pain, but other than a few stitches and casts, she'd usually walked away unscathed. This was different. This could be permanent.
In the three years since she had changed, she had watched Charlie aging. She could see the crow's feet gently expanding on his skin. She watched as, day by day, another gray appeared here and there. He was mortal, and one day he would die. She thought she had accepted that.
But she hadn't thought it would be so soon.
"I think so. Please hurry, Edward. I need you here."
"I'll be there as soon as I can. I promise."
"I know," she said and ended the call.
"Bella?" someone asked from the doorway. She knew the voice.
Turning, she said, "Mike, what are you doing here?" She took in his green scrubs and the box in his hand.
"I work here. I'm a phlebotomist. Helps pay for college, you know?"
"The question is, what are you doing here? Is everything okay?" he asked. She realized that he hadn't seen her in nearly three years. He was eyeing her, looking first at her face, then her hands and back to her face.
"It's Charlie," she said, and Mike looked over his shoulder, searching for her father. "He's in MRI right now."
Mike nodded. "What happened?"
"He was in an accident today." She knew that if she started to explain further, she would be too upset to finish, and she couldn't cry, not in the normal, human way.
Mike hesitated before walking toward her. "Is there anything I can do to help you?"
Bella shook her head.
"Where's Edward?" His question seemed like an accusation.
Edward had been hunting with the other Cullen men, but she couldn't tell Mike that. "He went with Carlisle to Port Angeles to pick up a last-minute gift. He's on his way back right now."
"How's Alaska? Is college good there?" He was still the same Mike, acting interested in her, but he kept his distance and he kept looking at her eyes.
She realized, too late, that she hadn't put her contacts in before she left the house. Her eyes were golden, like the rest of the Cullens. He was probably wondering what she had done to make her eyes look like theirs.
Her phone buzzed, breaking into her line of thought. She looked at the screen. Esme was calling.
"Just a minute, Mike," she said, turning her back on him.
She could hear Mike shuffling as if unsure if he should stay or go.
"You need to talk to Nessie. She wants to come to the hospital to see her grandpa. She's insisting," Esme said.
Bella could still hear Mike's breathing behind her. He couldn't see Renesmee. He would get suspicious. "I don't think that's a good idea, Esme. Charlie is in bad shape right now. It might scare her." It might also scare the people from Forks if they saw the daughter she and Edward had 'adopted'. She was supposed to be three, but she looked like she was ten, at least.
Esme seemed to sense that there was more to it. "I'll see what I can do to keep her entertained here. Jake called his father. Billy should be at the hospital soon."
"Good," Bella said. "Billy has been his best friend for as long as I can remember. Maybe it'll be good for Charlie."
"He's bringing Sue. She didn't think she could drive herself."
"I should have picked her up on the way to the hospital, but I was in such a hurry," Bella explained.
Sue was busy cooking for the wolfpack that morning. She wanted to make sure that Jake's pack would be well fed at the Cullens' party.
"She understands. She said she was happy you were there with him."
"Edward and Carlisle are on their way." It was all she could think of at the moment.
Esme's gentle voice answered, "I know, honey. They called me to tell me they would be at the hospital with you."
They talked for another minute before ending the call. When Bella turned, Mike was still hovering in the doorway.
"Well, I hope your dad will be okay, Bella. It's good to see you." He hesitated for a moment, his feet shuffling with indecision. "I'd…better get back to work, then."
"Thanks, Mike." Bella heard the approaching footsteps and her attention turned to the hallway beyond where Mike stood. The nurse who had sent her to the waiting room was signaling her.
"They are taking your father to the ICU, Mrs. Cullen. You can follow him up, if you'd like."
"What did they see on the MRI?" Bella asked.
"I'm sorry. I don't have the results for you. The radiologist needs to take a look at them and then they'll give you the results."
Bella nodded, trying to hide her frustration. If Carlisle were here, she would already know what was going on with Charlie. Mike stepped out of the way as Bella followed the nurse to the ICU. Sue and Billy met them in the hallway on the way to the room. Sue opened her arms for Bella and she stepped into her embrace.
"I'm sorry I didn't come to get you, Sue," she said.
Sue just shook her head. "You got here for him. I'm glad you did."
"You're his wife, Sue. I should have gotten you first."
"I'm here now, that's what matters."
Bella reached for Sue's hand and they followed the nurse to the elevator, walking together, unified in their grief. She could hear the wheels of Billy's chair as he followed them. She knew he was hurting and worried, too, but he was letting them have their moment.
The elevator opened as they approached and they stepped inside, allowing Billy room to follow them in. As they turned around, Billy reached up and took Sue's hand.
The day dragged on as they waited for any change. Carlisle was busy talking to the specialists and Edward had left the ICU to make a few phone calls. He was going to check in with Esme. Bella had worried to him that Nessie would be upset that her family wasn't together for Christmas and he offered to talk to Esme about how they could handle things this year.
Billy had gone back to the reservation, taking word on Charlie's condition to all those who were waiting to hear.
Charlie's deputies had stopped by, and Sue had met with each of them in the waiting room outside of the ICU. She thought it was best if they didn't visit him until later. Bella agreed.
And now, Sue was sleeping in the chair in the small room where Charlie lay, unconscious. She could have gone into the waiting room, where there were comfortable couches, but she refused.
Bella stood by his side, holding Charlie's hand in her own. She watched the screen of the monitor that was attached to him and thought about the words that Carlisle had said earlier -
"There is a brain injury. We don't know how serious it is yet. There is a pretty significant amount of blood building up inside of his skull and it if doesn't dissipate, we'll have to perform surgery to help him. The next twenty-four hours are crucial. On the bright side, he is breathing on his own, the oxygen is only there to assist him." Carlisle had pulled her in for a hug before leaving to look at the results of the MRI again.
The clock on the wall said it was after eleven. Christmas Day was fast approaching.
Bella stared at Charlie and thought back to all of the Christmas Days that she missed with him. She had mostly refused to visit him during her winter breaks, and he had never complained. But every Christmas morning, without fail, he would call. She never spent much time on the phone with him; neither of them was very wordy. But she could count on that call. As she had gotten older, his gifts had been cards that contained money, because he didn't know what to get her.
Guilt flooded her. She had robbed Charlie of so many things by staying away from Forks as long as she did. She had never appreciated his quiet, genuine love for her. And now, she had chosen a path that would eventually separate them again. Her father was lying in a hospital bed, near death, and she might never be able to express to him what he truly meant to her.
She reached behind her and grabbed the chair that sat near the wall, moving it near the bed.
"Cha…Dad, it's Bella. I'm here." She stroked the back of his hand with her fingers. "I love you. I don't know if you can hear me, but I want you to know that I do."
Charlie didn't move. The oxygen flowed and his chest rose and fell in time with it. The beeps of the heart monitor were uneven and she knew that his body was not working correctly.
"I thought that I could deal with losing the people I love, Dad, but I can't. I didn't expect it to happen so soon. And I never could have imagined that you would be so accepting of my new life. You are a wonderful grandfather to Nessie, even though we can't really explain why she's growing so fast or why she knows so much. You don't question, you just love her. She needs you. Please don't leave her. Don't leave me. I need you."
Her voice was barely over a whisper, but she could hear the change in Sue's breathing. She was awake now.
"He knows you love him, Bella," Sue whispered, reaching for Charlie's hand. "He doesn't understand everything about you and the Cullens, but he knows that you'll outlive him. He adores your daughter. I have to admit that I adore her, too."
"Thank you, Sue. I know it can't be easy for you to spend so much time with us."
Sue just shook her head. "It doesn't matter. I know you won't harm my people, now."
They talked quietly over Charlie, learning to understand one another.
"I need to call Edward and see when he's coming back," Bella finally said. She had been watching Sue as she glanced at Charlie and then back at her. "Besides, I think you should have a little time with him."
She walked down the hall aimlessly. Edward had already told her that he'd be back around midnight, but she wanted to call and see if he could return sooner. She needed his strength. Besides, Sue needed a little privacy, a chance to talk to Charlie without her in the room, so she'd made the excuse of the call.
This was a part of the hospital that she wasn't familiar with. She moved through the hallway silently, listening to the quiet conversations that took place in the rooms she passed. The air of desperation that filled the halls on Christmas Eve was almost palpable.
Her feet stopped before her mind really registered where she was. The doors labeled 'Chapel' stood before her. Bella hesitated, thinking about how Edward had claimed they had no souls.
Would God hear her if she prayed? She hadn't taken any human lives, but she had chosen to be immortal, to toss away her humanity so that she could be with Edward forever. She contemplated her situation for a while before deciding that it wouldn't hurt to try.
The carpet in the chapel was an industrial grade, and there were only a couple of pews, which were worn from the many people who had entered here to ask for God's help during their trials. There were candles on the altar and floral arrangements. The room smelled of tears and sweat, mixed with the smell of the flowers.
Bella walked slowly to the front of the room, dropping to her knees when she reached the altar.
"God," she whispered, "Charlie is a good man. He has worked hard all of his life to protect other people. He loves me and my family, even though he doesn't understand what I've become. He doesn't question things, he just accepts them."
She was motionless for a while. "Maybe I don't deserve to ask anything of you, but I need to anyway. I want you to help him, please."
Her head bowed low and she knew that if tears could form in her eyes, they would be streaming down her cheeks.
The sound of familiar footsteps and the door to the chapel opening alerted Bella to Carlisle's presence. She had been ignoring the sounds of the hospital until now.
"Bella, do you believe that God will hear you?"
She turned to look at her father-in-law. His face was earnest and his eyes were curious. She knew he believed in God, and still had a relationship with him, even though the rest of the Cullens weren't sure where they stood on the issue of deity.
"I don't know, Carlisle, but I had to try. Charlie needs more help than anyone here can give him."
Carlisle walked to the altar and knelt with her. "I think God is listening to you, Bella. He knows how much you love your father. Now, we just need to pray for a miracle."
He bowed his head and she listened to him speak to God as if he were speaking to a friend. A peaceful feeling flooded her body. Carlisle had enough faith for both of them.
Sue was asleep again when Bella went back to Charlie's room. Carlisle had made sure that they had access to the ICU round the clock. He'd left her at the door to the chapel and said he was going to look at Charlie's x-rays again. She knew he wanted to help her father, and it made her love him more than she already did.
Sue's head was close to Charlie, her hands clasped around one of his. A wadded up tissue was on the bed near her hands. She walked silently to the other side of the bed, taking his hand in hers again, and sat in the hard plastic chair. Her voice was quiet as she talked to him, watching the clock constantly.
The accident had occurred at four the previous morning. Charlie was nearing the critical twenty-four hour mark. Would he wake before then? Was his brain damaged so much that he would never wake up again? Had Carlisle told her everything about his condition?
Three o'clock rolled around, and Charlie still hadn't moved. His hands were motionless, his breathing still too shallow. Thoughts of changing him made their way into her mind. She could save him when doctors couldn't. But would he want that? Surely it would make his relationship with Sue more difficult than it already was. And would he really want to live on a diet of blood?
"I could fix you, Dad. What should I do?" she asked.
She heard Edward's quiet footsteps before she saw him. He had been with Carlisle, looking at the MRI and x-rays again, trying to figure out what they could do for Charlie.
"You have to let his life play out as it's supposed to, Bella." He knelt next to her, taking her face in his hands and whispered to her, "He doesn't want to be like us. He ignores it for our sakes, for Nessie. But this wouldn't be his choice. And what about Sue?" He motioned toward her sleeping form. "You know this isn't something you can decide for him. You made an educated choice. He can't do that right now."
She nodded and leaned into him for support. "I don't know if I can lose him now. It's selfish, I know. But if I changed him, I wouldn't have to lose him – ever. You're right, though, it wouldn't be fair to Sue. She loves him and it would be such a conflict."
Edward didn't move. He stayed by her side, motionless, watching the second hand of the clock with her. She felt the gentle pressure of his hand squeezing hers.
At three-thirty, she heard Edward's gasp. "Bella, look," he whispered.
The finger on Charlie's hand moved slightly, the first motion she had seen from her father.
"Do you think…" she started to ask, but was unable to continue. Hope blossomed for a moment, but when he didn't move again, it floundered.
"Dad," she said quietly, "are you waking up? Can you move your finger again?"
Sue's head lifted from the bed, her eyes meeting Bella's over his still frame. "Did something happen?" she asked.
Bella hesitated to nod. She didn't want to get Sue's hopes up if the movement was nothing more than a reflex.
"Bella?" Sue asked, pleading with her eyes.
"His finger moved, but just a little."
She heard Edward's movement as he stood and walked to the door. "Can you page Dr. Cullen, please?" he asked the nurse at the desk.
Sue slid her chair closer to Charlie's bed, reaching up to his face and caressing his cheek. "Charlie, can you hear me?"
Bella felt the desperation of the motion, understood her desire for him to move again, to respond to her. She thought about the prayers she had said earlier, and the way that Carlisle had prayed for him, and felt a sense of peace again.
"Sue, I prayed for him earlier. So did Carlisle." Sue looked surprised.
"You prayed?" she whispered.
Bella nodded. "Regardless of my choices, Charlie is a good man. He deserves a Christmas miracle."
"Thank you," Sue said and tears started to stream down her cheeks again.
Bella could hear Carlisle's footsteps as he came through the doors to the ICU. She knew he was waiting for any word from them, trying not to hover in the room.
"What happened?" he asked as he entered.
Edward told him about the small movement in Charlie's finger. Carlisle tried to look positive, but Bella could see the stillness in his face. He examined Charlie and brought another chair into the room so that Edward could sit with Bella, keeping up the charade that they were tired.
Four o'clock approached and Bella became more anxious. Edward rubbed her hand, obviously concerned about her. They were both worried that one of them should be home with Renesmee when she awoke on Christmas morning, and Bella knew that he would have to leave soon. They discussed what they would do so quietly that nobody would know that they were even speaking.
Nessie would never be allowed into the ICU, but she wanted to see her grandfather. Edward said he struggled to get her to sleep the night before – not because of the presents she would be getting, but because she was determined to visit Charlie.
Edward finally conceded that he should go home to check on her and spend a little time with her when she woke up. "Give her a kiss for me," Bella said as he kissed her goodbye and then walked out of the room.
Four o'clock passed with no new signs of life. Five o'clock….nothing. Six o'clock rolled around and Sue stirred again, opening her eyes to look at Charlie's face. She squeezed his hand and talked quietly to him. Bella tried to ignore the words of love and affection that she spoke, knowing that they were not meant for her ears, but Charlie's.
At six-thirty, Carlisle came into the room again.
"I think we need to run more tests and see what's going on. I don't like that he hasn't regained consciousness."
Bella shuddered at the thought the he may never wake up. She needed to talk to Edward, needed his comfort.
"When will you be taking him for the tests?" she asked.
Carlisle looked at Charlie's chart, even though Bella knew he didn't need to do it. "I can order a CAT scan. They'll be here to get him as soon as possible."
She nodded, processing what was coming. "I need to call Edward. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Carlisle stayed with Sue until Bella returned from making her call.
"Carlisle, would it be possible to allow Renesmee to talk to Charlie? She really wants to be here, but I know we can't bring her. She won't open any gifts, and she is refusing to eat until she at least gets to tell him that she loves him."
Carlisle smiled at the mention of his granddaughter. "We're really not supposed to use cell phones in here, but you can use the wall phone."
Bella sighed in relief. "Thank you," she said as she dialed. Carlisle closed the door to the room.
When Edward answered, she explained what they were going to do and pressed the speaker button.
Renesmee's clear, high pitched voice rang out through the room.
"Grandpa?" she asked.
"Grandpa Charlie can't talk right now, Nessie. You need to talk to him," Bella said.
"Okay," she replied. "Grandpa Charlie, Daddy says that you got hurt yesterday in a car accident. He says that you are unconscious and that they are very worried about you."
She hesitated for a moment before she continued.
"I've decided that I don't want anything for myself for Christmas, Grandpa. I just want you to get better. Momma said you need to wake up."
Bella was sniffling as she stood by the bed, shaking with the sobs she was trying to conceal.
"Grandpa, will you wake up for me? Will you be my Christmas wish this year?"
Carlisle turned away, unable to watch the scene before him. Sue was crying, her head nestled on Charlie's chest. Bella was falling apart.
"I love you, Grandpa Charlie. I miss you." Nessie's voice broke at that point. She couldn't speak anymore and Edward took the phone from her.
"I'll be there soon, Bella. Nessie won't let anyone here open gifts or celebrate until we know that Charlie is going to be okay. She insists that her Christmas wish for Charlie to wake up is going to come true. She even prayed with Esme."
Bella ended the call and wrapped her arms around Sue to try to comfort her.
"He loves that little girl so much, Bella. It kills me to hear her begging him to wake up."
Sue cried with Bella, finally allowing her stress and fear to get the best of her for a while.
"I've lost one husband. I don't think I can do that again. Please, God…" she said between sobs.
"You won't have to right now," Carlisle said. Bella had forgotten he was still in the room. "Look."
Bella turned to see where Carlisle was pointing.
Charlie's hand was moving, reaching for something. Sue quickly grabbed it and wrapped it in her own hands. "Charlie, can you hear me?" she asked.
Bella moved to the other side of the bed and took his other hand. "Dad?"
Charlie's fingers moved in her hand and she realized he was trying to squeeze.
"Carlisle, did you see that?"
Carlisle was at Bella's side, checking Charlie's eyes and noting his vitals.
"He's waking up," he whispered.
They talked to him, encouraging him to try to open his eyes. It seemed like an eternity before they opened, rolled back and closed again. He was fighting to come back to them.
Charlie's lips moved and he coughed as he tried to speak. He looked to his right, trying to focus on Sue.
"Sue," he finally managed. She leaned over and kissed him, her tears falling on his face.
Charlie turned to the left. "Bells," he whispered.
"Dad." Her throat felt constricted and she couldn't say more.
Charlie turned his head, looking from side to side, searching the room.
"What's wrong, Charlie?" Carlisle asked.
"Where's…Nessie?" he said. "I heard her."
Bella sobbed. "She's at home, waiting for you so that she can open her Christmas presents. But she's already got her Christmas wish."
Edward walked into the room at that moment, his daughter's hand in his.
"Grandpa!" she squealed when she spotted Charlie looking at her.
"I snuck her in," Edward whispered to Bella as he wrapped his arms around her.
Charlie smiled weakly and Nessie climbed onto the chair next to the bed so that she could kiss his cheek.
Bella could hear his heart returning to its normal beat, his breathing getting stronger. She turned to Carlisle to see if he agreed. He simply smiled at her and nodded.
"Christmas is a time for miracles," Carlisle said. "I think we've just seen ours."
Merry Christmas! I hope your holidays are wonderful and full of good things.
To all of you who have read any of my writing, thank you! You make me smile.
Huge thanks to branson101 for pre-reading and giving me her opinion, to GinnyW for her medical input (although I did take a little poetic license in the name of fiction), to bookishqua for playing beta and for her wonderful input, and to Giselle-lx for jumping in to play beta and giving me her help and her insight. I am blessed to have such wonderful friends.