A/N: Fucking finally! Yes, those were my thoughts, too! I'm a complete fail when it comes to updating, there's no way in denying it.
A big thank you to everybody who left a red and left a review and put the story on alert/to favs. It means a lot!
Disclaimer: Everything, except for the plot and little Josie, belongs to S.M.
So are all the typos and other mistakes in this unbeta'd version. ;D
My head was killing me.
My brain must have swollen up to trice its regular size, slamming against my skull from the inside; the dull, steady pounding made it hard for me to focus. I had already tried massaging my temples, but it was fruitless. So was pinching the skin on my arms to avert the pain from my head to another part of my body.
When I was unable to pacify myself, how the hell was I supposed to calm the fuming, pacing and saliva-spitting bull with the dark eyes and bushy brows that was my father?
"Don't you dare try making a fool out of me, Isabella Marie!"
"Make a fool out of you? How? This has nothing to do with you!" This man was infuriating.
"It has everything to do with, since it's my family we are talking about after all. You must be out of your mind if you think I'm going to allow this leech to weasel his way back into our lives."
My chances were slim to nil—just like all the countless times before—but I had to try. That was, after all, everything I was able to do at that point. "Dad," I sighed out in frustration, "for the last time now, the only reason I allow for Edward to be around is Josie. Period. Nothing more, nothing less."
He gave me that look that told me he thought I was full of bullshit, that I was hiding something from him. It was the same one he had given me several times back then when Edward and I were still an item. Like this one time when he caught sight of that enormous hickey Edward had left on my neck. So when I told him I had had an encounter with a curling-iron I in reality never possessed, he gave me that exact same look. I only learned that he never believed a word I said about the hickey-incident a few days later when he declared that, with the exception of Jake, boys weren't aloud in the house anymore without him being around, too. I followed that rule for about a week before Edward accompanied me home after school again.
Admittedly, he had a reason back then to not trust me in everything I said and did because, well, I did sneak around, stretched the truth from time to time, omitted info here, lied a little there. That's just what teenagers do, though. Well, maybe not all of them, but compared to classmates from both, Forks High and Masen's, I was a freaking saint. I never experimented with drugs, rarely drank, was always home ten minutes before my actual curfew and spent more time studying than I could have had.
Was that what he thought it was, what I was supposedly hiding from him? "You think we're back together, don't you?" I got my answer when his hands tightened into fists. "That is the most idiotic notion I ever came across! I mean, the fact that I can't stand being alone in a room with Edward for longer than two minutes without going mad aside... There is just no way... This is ridiculous! Do you think me that stupid and pathetic to jump right back into his arms just because he showed up at my doorstep? That's just -wow."
He scoffed and picked up pacing along the length of the black sofa, which was occupied by a mute Sue, over to the window at the far end of the room and back again. All the while muttering to himself.
Hurt by all the things my father didn't say, I stood alone leaning against the opposite wall, hands crossed over my chest, trying to hold myself together. Victoria had dragged James straight into the bathroom when we entered their apartment. She claimed that it was to fuss over his battle wounds, but I knew it was mostly to give us some space.
"Why is it so hard for you to trust me on this?" I hardly recognized the shaky voice as my own.
That stopped his pacing. "Trust you? After you lied to, and kept something as big as this from me for weeks, months maybe?" By the time he ended that sentence, he had crossed the room and stood right in front of me. The disappointment in both his voice and words was just another razor blade for me to swallow down.
"If you would just listen—really listen—and let me explain-"
"You lied to me! What's there more to explain?" He spat.
"I didn't lie, though, Dad. I kept things from you, yes. And big things at that, but only because I wanted to tell you face to face. Because I wanted to avoid a scene like the one downstairs at all costs." The way he shook his head from side to side told me I was about get cut off again. It was infuriating.
"Tell me then, honestly, had I called the day the Cullens showed up on my doorstep, and given you an in-depth report, would you have sat back uninvolved while I tried to wrap my mind around that shit-turn of events? Or would you have blown everything out of proportion, driven up here and acted all irrationally?"
"I never acted irrationally in my life!" The denial in his voice was just as astounding as the shade of red that colored his cheeks and neck. He threw his hands up in disbelieve only to place them back on his hips right away.
It was my turn to huff incredulously. "Really? So, you find nothing wrong in spitting out curse-words and threads in front of a five-year-old? You think it totally sane and acceptable to get into a fight in front of your granddaughter with her...father?" I cringed a bit at the last word.
One hand moved to the back of his neck. "I never meant to... and just because it slipped my mind there for a second that she-. He is not her father!"
I knew fully well that Edward was Josie's father – and so did he and everybody else around, but that was not was he meant. That it took more than merely having a child to become a parent. Prime example to this assumption: Renee, the woman who had given birth to me, and then left on a whim when she decided she wanted more of this live than being a small-town housewife without any regard to the people she'd leave behind. I was only eight years old back then.
"I know, Dad. We also knew all along that the day Josie asked about her father would come at one point or the other, though. Sooner or later she would have wanted to know who her father was and what happened to him, and I would have told her. The edited version, of course, but I would have told her nonetheless."
"So she knows what he is?"
"No, of course not." I was back to massaging my temples. "It's only been a couple of weeks and with everything happening at once there was just no way. I mean, I'm still trying to come to terms with everything that happened here, and there is still much more to work through. Besides, I'm not even sure how this is all supposed to work out myself. Anything. To be honest, I'm lost and confused and you would know this had you listened to me!" It was only when I felt a drop land on the skin on my wrist, that I realized I was crying yet again.
Charlie's eyes softened; the hardness and anger almost completely vanished, and it was the first time that day that I saw my father standing before me. My dad. The only constant in my life, who I had disappointed and fought with more within the last hour than in the last ten years combined. But despite me being probably just as disappointed and upset with him than he was with me, when he lifted his rough hand up to softly stroke the length of my hair once—just once—the need to feel the comfort of his arms was overwhelming.
"Tell me, I'm listening now." My face was buried in Charlie's chest before he had the chance to finish his sentence, and when he wrapped his arms round me, I just couldn't keep it in any longer. I sobbed.
Charles Swan was known for a lot of things; he was the chief of police in the small town of Forks, whose wife ditched him only a few years after their daughter had been born, leaving him heartbroken and as a single-parent. There was also that granddaughter he adored but only infrequently saw since she lived out-of-state. He liked his little routines, like the cold beer after work, eating at the diner every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, going fishing with his old buddies every second Saturday, and calling his daughter at least once a week in the early evening—preferably on Sundays. Back in Forks, his hometown, he was loved and respected by them all; even though he declined invitations to dinner and joint gatherings as much as he could without coming off as rude or his profession allowed, he was considered the epitome of good people. All these things could be attested by any citizen in town.
Then there were the little things only known to his friends and family, like the fact that he never, ever would be caught wearing white socks, or eating sea fruit. He hated musicals with a passion, and the only songs he would be caught singing along to lowly were all by Johnny Cash. He vehemently denied having a sweet tooth, though he was caught sneaking candies into his mouth more often than Josie or Jake.
Though he loved with all of his heart, he was more reserved displaying his affection. I knew he loved me, there was no doubt about it; and despite me never being able to follow the path we both had planned for my life because life interfered, he was proud of me. He had told me that often enough. And his hugs were rare and special. They were real hugs and there was nothing half-assed about them; they were neither one-armed nor loose. Instead, they were tight and engulfing, pleasant and comforting. They made you feel secure. And precious. Charlie holding me in his arms has always made me feel so precious. It's been that way when I was just a little girl that got teased by the neighbor's kids, even more so when he came to visit after I had given birth to my beautiful daughter, and almost just as much when I broke down in James' and Victoria's apartment.
It took me while to calm my nerves and all the while, those strong arms never loosened their hold on me. When I was finally all out of snot and tears, he led us over to the empty sofa and it was only then that I realized that Sue must have had left the apartment at some point during my breakdown. After he reassured me that he would listen—all calmly and rational—I told him in detail about everything that had transpired since we had last talked on the phone the day Emmett opened the doors that granted the bloodsuckers entrance.
True to his word, Charlie didn't speak up once while I ranted on about the Cullen-Swan-reunion, though he did chuckle when I told him about attacking Emmett after his role in all this drama had been revealed. I continued with Rosalie's persistence and eventually, when everything else had been told, the hard part. Edward.
Claiming that my dad was all forthcoming and understanding that time around would have been a blatant lie, but at least least there were no more temper tantrums.
"I just don't understand how you can be so nonchalant about him being around, Bells. How can you be so forgiving? If Renee had shown up out of the blue to... " He rubbed a hand over his face in a manner that indicated exhaustion and frustration.
"Nonchalant and forgiving. Nonchalant and forgiving?" It was my turn to find an outlet for my own frustration- slapping my hands down on the top of my thighs. "How can you even... seriously? I'm not... to think that-" taking a deep breath, I tried to stop my rambling and order the mazy knot of wayward thoughts in my head. "I most definitely haven't forgiven anything either one of them did to me, least of all Edward. I tolerate his presence because it makes the little one happy, and that's all there is to it."
"I don't like it, kiddo, not one bit."
"Neither do I, trust me. If there was anything I could do... . But then I see the two of them together and it's just so right. He adores her, dad, and she him. I've never seen anything like it before, they had this instant connection; no shyness or reluctance at all, they just interacted as if they had known each other all her life." The sigh that escaped my lips turned into a chuckle as I remembered the day Edward and Josie first met. "She fell asleep in his arms, Dad. Not long after they met she was snuggled into his chest, sleeping. She draws him pictures and asks about him all the time; it's like I'm chopped liver whenever he is around. Baby girl loves him and he her. I can't take that away from her, I just can't."
I hesitated for a moment but then added. "I can't take it away from him either, Charlie. He has the right to know her, too. It's only fair that-"
"I could care less about fairness when it comes to that family. Seeing you hurting so badly once was more than I can take. You have no idea how hard it possibility of him or them causing you pain once again... and you are all grown-up now, Bells. If the little one is really that attached already and whatever you and Cullen agreed on won't work out, she will be left devastated. I don't ever want to see one of my baby girls heartbroken again."
"I know, Dad. Neither do I. I just don't know what else to do."
It took another hour before I finally dragged my sore and tired body downstairs. Charlie and I had talked some more but without making any real progress in finding a solution that would make any more sense than the one I was already living by.
Shortly before Charlie had left to join Sue, Jake and Leah in the hotel they were all staying during their stay, I demanded a promise that there was never going to be a repeat performance of the hallway brawl in any way, shape or form. He gave me his word, claiming that as long as he and Edward were never to cross paths again, the latter didn't even exist where he was concerned. As long as Edward knew what was good for him, that was—the Chief's words not mine.
That statement wasn't comforting at all.
I was trying to figure out how to put a sleeping Josie into her pj's without waking her up, when I first heard the rattle of keys and then the click of a door being closed.
I'm not going to lie, I barely recognized Bella when she slowly stepped into the room; she looked so tired and lifeless, much older than she actually was and just... empty. Drained even. The paleness of her face, the bags under her eyes, the furrowed brows, her posture... She looked nothing like the woman who sat at the dining table earlier that joked with her friends and devoured ice-cream.
It was all wrong.
"Hey," she rasped out without meeting my eyes, instead she looked at the little, sleeping form on the bed.
"Hey." The silence that followed my reply was heavy. There were so many things that needed to be said and they hung heavily over our heads, filling the room, the whole apartment—after the day we had even more so then before. "I don't know how..." I waved the pj bottoms in my hand towards Josie.
With merely a nod of her head, Bella walked over to me, took the piece of clothing and went to work. Josie was changed and safely tucked back under her blanket in less than five minutes, the toy bunny clutched tightly in her small arms. The two plush monstrosities had been moved over to the rocker by me when I first laid her down in bed, for I feared they could suffocate her in her sleep.
I stood to the side as Bella caressed little Josie's face. There was so much love and adoration in every of her movements, the way she brushed dark hair out of her little face and stroked her cheek, in the way she whispered into her ear how much she loved her and how sorry she was the birthday party got ruined, and then in the she kissed her forehead. It made me feel like the intruder that I was.
"Mommy loves you. So much." It was then, hearing those words, that the pulling on my heartstrings got unbearable. It was suffocating and my only chance of breathing freely again was leaving the room, maybe even the apartment building. Or better yet, all of Oregon.
It was just too much. It was never meant to be like that...
I made it all the way to the door, when that exhausted, raspy voice that sounded nothing like the girl I used to know, stopped me. "You are leaving?"
"Yes. I-I think it's time." I spoke to the wall for I feared facing her exhausted figure would make breathing even harder.
"Oh." Why did she have to sound do damn disappointed? I expected her to be glad to finally be alone. To be rid of us all. Of me. "I thought... maybe you could stay. The night." Oh.
The cracking sound my neck made when my head whipped around quickly to finally look at her was audible. There she stood, looking small and timid, fiddling with the sleeve of her cardigan, looking at a spot somewhere behind me. "Why would you want that?"
"It's just that... Josie was upset enough as it is. Should she wake up in the middle of the night and you are gone... I know it's selfish, but I'm so exhausted I just don't think I could handle another temper tantrum today-"
"Okay." The words left my mouth without my actual consent. It was just another one of those incidents where my body acted without contacting my brain first. But from the way that she asked me, so insecure with a hint of desperation in her voice, and another look into er blood-shot eyes, I knew she really needed me to stay. Honestly, it wasn't that she asked for something that I wasn't willing to do, watching over my girl, being there for her should she need me, surely wasn't some kind of penalty for me. I still had way too much time and even more things to make up for, why not start right there.
"Okay? Are you sure?"
Nodding my head, I hung my jacket back on the coatrack. "It's the least I can do."
There was no reply and when I turned back around to face her, she was nowhere in sight. There was some rummaging nearby that I took as a good sign that she didn't just left me standing in her living room like an idiot while simply went to bed. Just as I was about to follow the noise, Bella re-emerged carrying linen, pillows and a blanket. She thrust everything into my arms and then went over to the sofa.
I told Bella it wasn't necessary of her to prepare that makeshift bed for me, since I just as well could have done that myself—and because it made me uncomfortable to watch her doing that for me—but she pretended not to hear me. In fact, it wasn't until the bed was fully made that she acknowledged my presence again by telling me that she would leave a spare toothbrush and fresh towels in the bathroom for me.
She might as well could have just went straight to bed after I agreed to stay, for I felt like and idiot, anyway. I told her I was fine, though, and then accepted the remote for the TV when she handed it to me.
When there was nothing more left for her to fuzz over, the both of us just stood awkwardly opposite each other, both unsure of what to do, both trying to look anywhere but at the other; she fidgeting with the sleeves of her cardigan again, me rubbing the back of my neck.
Eventually, she wished me a good night and disappeared into the bathroom. I took my shoes and sweater off, emptied the pockets of my jeans and...felt completely out of place. Awkward and out of place—two attributes to describe my presence in the Swan apartment whenever my baby girl wasn't around. Another item to add to the never ending list of things I needed to work on, that I needed to change. Seemed to me like the next year would be a busy one.
"If you want anything to drink or eat, the fridge is yours." Bella's voice almost made me jump.
"Thanks. I'm sure I'll be fine." I tried to give her a light, reassuring smile to make her look less like the weight of the world rested on her shoulders, but then I realized that in our own small world, full of drama and hurt, she did carry the biggest part of the load. So much so, that it almost brought her to her knees.
Another nod and she left for her bedroom. The moment her back was turned to me I realized how much I needed for her to stand a little straighter, to carry less of that weight -even if it was just for a moment. Without any regard as to whether she wanted it or a chance to disappear in her room, I quickly walked up behind and wrapped her in my arms. Her back was to my chest, my head leaned against hers; we were so close. She went rigid from being taken by surprise or by my close proximity -probably both. I see why such a move would catch her off guard, but there was just something I had to say, one of the many things I should have said years ago.
I moved my head so that my mouth was closer to her ear."It's going to be alright. Somehow...somehow we are going to make this work. We are going to be alright." After a little squeeze, I unwrapped my arms again and stepped back. One loud exhale, a look over her shoulder and then the door closed. I remained standing helplessly where I was for another moment before I went into the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth -with a kid sized toothbrush in green with yellow stars on it.
I couldn't tell you how much had passed—time I spent alone with my rampaging thoughts—laying on that fold-out sofa and not really watching TV just switching mindlessly through the channels, before I noticed something small and unbearably cute in my peripheral vision. A little to the side with one hand rubbing her tired eyes and her bunny-friend in the other, stood my baby girl.
"Bad dream?" All I got was a shrug. "Come here."
No sooner had I lifted a corner of the blanket a bit had she crawled in next to me, snuggled to my side she was out like a light in no time. It felt good.
It was little things like that, the idea that sometimes needed me a bit, that I could make things better for her as much as she made things better for me, that made me realize what I needed to do to start working through the mess we all created. The start.
Where I needed to go.
I know the chapter was really short. I split the chapter so that you guys wouldn't have to go even longer (again. I know, I feel terrible, too) without an update.
And the emotions and thoughts are still all over the place! But as it was said once again in this chapter -hardly any time has passed! Wih so much stuff going on all the time, working through the mess and making decisions takes time.
Tell me your thoughts -I would love to hear them!
There are still a few reviews for the last chapter I haven't replied to yet. I will get to those tomorrow the latest.