Title: Lately

Characters: Charlie/Bella

Disclaimer: Characters belong to SM.

Lyric prompt that you were given: Helio Sequence, "Lately I don't think of you at all, or wonder what you're up to, or how you're getting on. I never think of calling you or how things could've been, or wonder where you sleep at night or whose arms you wake in."

Tasting the salt in the air, I floated on the gently swaying tide, my friend at my back, my daughter on the seat across from me. I cast the line again, still not catching anything, but happy just to be. The blue-green water made a beautiful backdrop to her brown hair, which curled in a tail over her shoulder. She held her own rod a little unsteadily, like she hoped nothing would bite. She turned at the cry of a heron flying near the shore.

I tensed, watching Bella shift her weight. Sitting in the boat was fine, but she would probably fall out if she moved too much. She sighed quietly, settling in place again. I tried to relax. She wasn't that clumsy. Billy chuckled behind me and I glared at him over my shoulder. He understood my paranoia, or with two daughters, he should.

"Dad? How much longer do you think we'll fish?" Bella asked. Her face turned up to look at me from under the brim of her ball cap. She still had a scratch on her chin from the tumble she took at the tidal pools yesterday. Only with me three days and she'd already fallen half a dozen times with marks to show for it. Three days down, ten to go. I hoped they'd go slowly.

"Well, I wasn't planning on turning in this soon, but they don't seem to be biting, do they?" I smiled at her, loving every minute I got to spend with her, wishing they wouldn't end. We'd come out early, but had only been on the water a few hours. It wasn't even be noon yet. Was she hungry?

"No, and I was thinking that I might go to the beach today. To the park?" There were some rickety old swings and a slide, but not much of a park at First Beach. Still, it was something. I supposed fishing all day wasn't that interesting, even to a ten year-old.

"That's a good idea, Bella," Billy said, smiling at her. "I'll bet Rachel and Rebecca will join you."

His girls were only a year older than Bella. I'd hoped they'd hit it off, but as it happened, they merely tolerated each other for my sake and Billy's. Bella's smile, although weak, seemed to strengthen. She looked so much like her mother when she smiled. I remembered when Renee would catch my eye like that when she wanted me to meet her after class. That wasn't something I should think about. I was allowed to remember and long for Renee and Bella, but I should never pine for the days before Bella.

"Let's head in." I elbowed Billy, who started up the outboard motor again.

"You don't have to rush, Dad," Bella said as I reeled in my line. She was watching my face, probably for signs of disappointment. She wouldn't find any. I could fish with Billy any weekend, any day. It wasn't every day I got to spend with my daughter, though I wished to God I could.

I smiled, seeing through to her meaning. "I don't mind, Bella. I understand you'd rather be doing something else. You just need to give me more ideas of what you would rather be doing, okay?"

Tucking her hair behind her ear, I stroked her cheek. I hadn't been ten in a very long time, and I had never been a girl. I gave her arm a squeeze. She was so quiet, so unassuming; she just tailed along with whatever I suggested.

"I'll try," she murmured. "There's not a lot to do here," she all but whispered.

That hurt. It was a reminder that my home wasn't good enough. Forks was the reason Renee had left, or at least the reason she had given me. I understood that small towns weren't for everyone, but you didn't really need anything we didn't have. The kids who lived here seemed happy enough.

"We'll think of something. How would you like to go to Port Angeles for a day? Do something in the city?" Didn't girls like to shop? And there was an art gallery... There had to be something that interested her.

She nodded as Billy turned us towards the shore. "Maybe. Sure."

Fiddling with my rod, I tried to convince myself she meant that. She didn't want to be here. She wasn't going to stay with me anymore than Renee had. Bella was going to ask to not come to Forks anymore, to not visit me.

I wasn't letting her go. Renee left me, but I wouldn't let Bella walk out of my life. We could do something else for vacations, but we would do something. I needed her. I couldn't imagine never seeing her again. She was my baby.

She was looking over her shoulder as we skimmed over the water. We were approaching the shore littered with driftwood, which looked like beached skeletons. The trees made a wall of misty green behind that, the rain clouds obscuring their tops. It was a sight I loved, my home. When she turned back to me, she frowned. "Is something wrong, Dad?"

Fighting to unclench my jaw, I answered slowly. "Not really. How's your Mom doing? We haven't talked about her since you got here." This was always the worst part, and I usually tried to get it out of the way early. Bella couldn't go weeks without talking about or to her mother. Usually, if I got the news early, the phone calls were easier to endure, and Renee never really came up again. Also, being Renee, some of the stories were often downright funny.

Bella's smile, so much like Renee's, warmed. "She's good. She's on a health food kick so I've been eating a lot of rice cakes." I shook my head, remembering Renee's obsessions with the latest fads. Obviously she hadn't changed. "And she's seeing a new guy." Bella shrugged. "He's okay, I guess. He's not going to stay though."

The first time Bella mentioned Renee dating, I had flown into a rage. Most of it came from the fact that Renee was bringing strange men home, into the house where my little girl lived and slept. Men I didn't know. A small part of it was jealousy. Thinking of her waking in another man's arms. I had no one, had never found anyone, and wouldn't have anyone. It also meant Renee really didn't love me.

The rage had been quiet, but Bella could see it in my eyes, my clenched fists. She'd calmed me by pointing out that if she didn't like a guy Renee brought home, Bella never saw him again. If Bella decided that he was not good, Renee respected that and didn't stay with him. It seemed she liked this one though, at least a little.

It still stung, knowing Renee was living, moving on while I wasn't, but less this year. I had moved on to being jealous of her situation, not the men who shared her life.

I patted her knee, thinking she needed some sort of reassurance and not sure why. "What makes you say that?"

"Mom's not going to keep him. She's just not... steady enough for that."

Did it bother her that her mother was so flighty? That she never seemed to settle down? She looked up at me with those eyes that seemed to belong to an adult, not a child.

"She needs someone to look after her, not date her."

I closed my eyes for a moment, remembering when that was me, when I would remind her she needed to fill the tank, dropped her off because she forgot when and where her appointment was. I looked after her too well, apparently. I didn't give her enough freedom, and she flew away. Well, that was how I explained it to myself. She flew away from the cage of Forks.

"I'm sorry, Dad. We don't have to talk about Mom." She squeezed my hand before rising and making her way carefully onto the dock Billy had pulled up to. I knew she took care of her mom, or they took care of each other, and I could feel that she was trying to make this easier for me. She really shouldn't have to do that, for either of us. In this case, it was doubly unnecessary.

Taking her hand once I was beside her, I said, "Actually, it's not as bad as it used to be."

"Really?" Bella asked, sceptically.

I smiled at her and squeezed her hand again. "Really. Time heals everything. If it weren't for you, I'd never even think of calling your mom. Probably wouldn't think of her much at all." Bella stared at me for a minute before getting into the car. She saw right through me.

It was only half-true. If I didn't have to call Renee to talk to Bella, she wouldn't come to mind as often. If I was honest though, I did still love Renee, and that small part of me knew I'd still take her back.

Bella and Renee? Back in the house? Being family again? Just the image had my heart in a vise. I wanted that more than anything. I wanted my little girl all the time. Having Renee back in my life would be gravy, making it even better.

When was the last time I imagined what might have been? How long since I had imagined walking with Renee to take Bella to her first day of school? Or holding Renee's hand through one of Bella's dance recitals? A long time. I didn't think about her as much, which was good, because it still hurt like hell when I did.

"Dad?" Bella asked, bringing my attention back to the road. Not the gravel of the reservation, not the highway, the road. I'd been on autopilot, and we were back at the house instead of the beach. I almost put my head on the wheel as I took the car out of gear.

"You should have said something," I muttered. "You were going to play on the beach." Do you need to give a speech when you accept the award for worst father?

"It's okay. There's a nice playground at the school. I'll play there." It wasn't far from the house, either. It was definitely in better shape than the equipment at First Beach. The odds were good she'd find kids there to play with. I hoped she'd find lots of kids, make a new friend, give her a reason to come more often. Anything.


I turned to look at her, and she unfastened her seatbelt, wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek. Neither of us was a hugger or showed our emotions much, but I squeezed her tightly. She was here, now. I still had my little girl. I didn't want to let go, but knew that would only worry her more, needlessly. There wasn't anything wrong, not in this moment. Maybe in ten days...

"I'm okay, Bells, just daydreaming."

"I love you," she murmured. How did she know that was what I needed? I took it, gratefully.

"I love you, too. More than anything."

With one more squeeze, I forced a smile onto my face. It wasn't as difficult as I expected. After all, I did have her. "Now go play. I'll be right behind you."

"Okay!" She jumped out of the car and tripped, ripping the knee out of her jeans. She didn't yell, or cry, or even curse that I could hear. I wouldn't have blamed her if she had. Instead, I chuckled and came around to help her up. At least, I'd always have Bella.

Sitting in the car, watching her play, I left the radio on. Sure enough, it was playing my song.

"Lately I don't think of you at all,

or wonder what you're up to, or how you're getting on.

I never think of calling you or how things could've been,

or wonder where you sleep at night or whose arms you wake in."

A/N: Left the lyric in for the contest, but betas (thank you Edwardsfavoritebrunette and McGee42!) pointed out it's a bit extraneous at the end. Likely it will be removed when posted on my profile.