The Never Ever Happily Ever After Contest

Title: Lepidoptera
Pen Name:
Characters: Renée&Charlie
Word Count: 2368
Rating: T
Summary: lepidoptera: {from Greek lepidos "scale" + pteron "wing "} any of a large order of insects, including butterflies, that as adults have four wings covered with minute overlapping and often brightly colored scales. Brush the scales away and . . . Canon.

Disclaimer: The Twilightuniverse belongs to one Stephenie Meyer. Though I truly believe we should take Renée and all the other characters she didn't flesh out properly away from her (Oh, wait. That'd be . . . all of them).

Due to the nature of this contest, you may expect content such as character death, adultery, abuse, illegal activities including drug use and underage drinking, etc in many of the entries. Please read with care, and just move on if something isn't tickling your fancy. No hate.

Note: I can't say my betas' names for anonymity's sake, but just know I adore them. They're kind of like a secret ninja-betas for this. How awesome is that?

. . .

"Imagine what it would be like to hold a butterfly in your hands, something bejeweled and treasured, and to know that, despite your devotion, it is dying by degrees."
- Jodi Picoult, Harvesting the Heart

She thought about wearing black, and though few would believe it, her closet does contain one dress that would have been appropriate. It's colorless, characterless. It's just a black dress, so she's wearing something else.

Where once the idea seemed natural, now she's not so sure. Her outfit is all conspicuous clutter, satsuma orange overlapping stark tribal reds where the purple doesn't blotch, and she usually likes when people stare. She's used to it, but not like this. These people stare and see tainted flesh, not a dress.

She's reborn in Florida; she's Renée.

Here, she's only an ex. An ex-wife. An ex-mother. An ex-person almost. Her own mother's in her head, reminding her to walk tall, to never let small people upset her over small things, but her shoulders keep slouching. This community has power, and they know it. They always knew how to make her feel pathetic and not good enough.

She always knew how to fake it.

So she forces the smile and flutters from group to group, leaving indignant anger and dredged-up memories in her wake.

"Joshua Cheney! It's been so long. How's Susan?"

She died. Cancer.

He doesn't want Renée to say she's sorry; he wants her to be the monster who abandoned not just her family but also left her friend behind when she needed her most, and she can do that. She can be dumb and selfish for him—anything to make Susie's husband feel better. Susan was one of the few who urged Renée to go, who never judged her.

Her tilted head and wide, blinking eyes imitate innocence, and she can feel him laughing, trying not to let on that he knows she's acting. The timbre vibrates on her skin, almost under it. It's not hard to remember how that laugh used to be enough to warm her. That was before she required the southern sun.

He's moving toward her, and she feels the gravity, the steady. It was always constant with him, and ignoring it was futile. She'd been drawn in, and as the moth with the flame, she'd found that her own desires could engulf her. She could lose herself.

She still thinks she was lucky to escape with her life.

"Charlie." She smiles. He's the same, always the same. Even at Bella's wedding, he'd been exactly how he was when she'd met him, when she'd left. She was surprised and couldn't help but comment on how good he looked; it's easier to remember him as small-town nothing in her memories.

But he's never been that.

At first, he'd been enough, finally enough of a man, for her. Her father nodded his approval, and her mother shook her head; he could tame her. Renée didn't know why that was exciting, but it was. It said something to his power that a brush of his fingertips along her wrist or the gentlest incline of his head was enough to balm the crackling energy that exhausted her day-in-day-out.

What do you do with it all? he'd asked once as they lazed on a sunny afternoon, Charlie fishing and Renée just being. You wake up in the morning, and it's like you're buzzing with the need to move. Then I see you like this and have to wonder where all that energy went.

She'd stretched her feet a little further into his side of the small boat, her dimples showing when he made no comment about her encroaching on his space, and made a show of luxuriating just a bit more in the Forks sunshine. She'd shrugged then, deeming the thought required to answer the question not worth spoiling the lazy peace that hung between them.

Now she knows it's simple. It all went to him, always him. It gave him the will to smile wide, laugh deep, and dare to be more than happy, to be blessed. Emotions wore Charlie out, probably still do, but she'd had enough for the both of them. She was sure.

So God damn young and sure.

Renée's no longer so positive about anything. She was lucky to receive an email once a month from her daughter once she let her go, and now she's a stranger to Bella's life. She can't match faces to names of schoolmates. She doesn't know who went out of their way to be here today. She definitely doesn't understand what her baby-girl was doing driving down that winding, snowy road without guardrails at night.

And she doesn't have a clue who picked out Charlie's tie.

Someone did. It's silk, classic, purple—purple, for Christ's sake! A woman was involved.

Does she love him right?

Will you love me right? Her voice had trembled. It probably should have been romantic when he fell to one knee, but Renée had honed in on the crunch of bone meeting gravel and was having a hard time finding the ambiance.

There's no doubt.

For always? It was cruel to draw it out, she'd known, but she had only wanted him to love the baby; she needed his love for her. The proposal had needed to be for Renée.

If it wasn't, she'd been sure she wouldn't hesitate; she'd get the abortion. Her mother would have driven her, helped her hide it from Daddy. Her and Charlie would have waited until it could be about them.

She knew then and now: it was so, so wrong of her.

I don't understand the question, he'd said, and his lips twitched at the corners. They'd played out the same conversation so many times. Is there another answer than "for always?"

No, there was no other answer.

Charlie tugs at his tie in sharp, awkward jerks, and Renée's relieved to realize she has no urge to fix it for him or to smooth back the fly-away strands of his hair. She doesn't love him. She stopped.

She made herself stop.

"Renée," he responds, "glad you could make it." It's not a jibe, but more like praise. They've never been the type of people to dance around her nature—everything else, but never that.

She doesn't want to think of her Bella as dead, just gone. Isabella's just off with her rich pretty-boy, gallivanting around Europe and living it up as the young should.

Not dead. Not in the ground.

So sue her for not wanting to face this. They can just go ahead and call her immature.

She's still brusque with Charlie, on the defense. "Of course I'm here. Two years of her living up here didn't make me forget about her."

He just nods, holds a hand out. She wants him to argue with her. She has to be above everybody else, tell herself that their opinions don't matter, but his does. She can be offended.

She can cry.

But he's just standing there, palm up, waiting. He always knows.

"That suit looks good on you," she tells him, and he half-shrugs, and then grins wryly.

"Always the surprise."

"Can you blame me? My memories are of flannel and fishing gear. The silk's an interesting touch." Her focus narrows in on the scrap of violet again, and he's blushing. He looks like Bella.

It's interesting. A week ago, she would have said that Bella took her traits from Charlie, not the other way around, but God. All she can see is her daughter.

They were so alike, both a blessing on her life, something she was never quite sure she deserved. Renée is selfish—she doesn't have a problem admitting it—and they'd been selfless, multiple yangs to her one yin.

She had a lot of energy, but not enough for both of them.

You need to stop crying. The baby had begun to shriek more, louder, higher. When had she started referring to her daughter as "the baby" and not by her name? She didn't remember. Probably when she first began crying—Renée didn't remember how long ago that was either.

Please, please, please. Shhh. She was supposed to be the girl that liked havoc—why should the chaos of children bug her?—but babies were different. They got to be a mess, and she needed to be constant; the young expected schedules and order from their caregivers. She had tried and tried, but she was always falling short, falling out of step.

Bella, you have to cut it out now. Your daddy needs his sleep. Charlie had been working night shifts. It had been their plan to give Renée some time to herself when there was still something worth doing with her day, so Charlie had made sure his work day began after twilight. Before that, he was to be home, giving her the time off she desperately craved.

It hadn't worked out.

Not to say that Charlie didn't try, but there was always something. He'd watch the baby, sure, but had Renée washed his uniforms? No? Didn't she usually do that? The flowerbeds looked neglected; the neighbors were complaining. Had she handled the phone bill? He could take care of it if she wanted, but she'd always said it was no trouble before.

Isabella! Shut. Up. Now.

Before, before, before. Before it was just him, and she had gestures of adoration to spare.

She'd started to hate "the baby."

Renée still shudders. Maybe she doesn't have all the maternal instincts she should, but she's still human. She'd hated herself for hating her daughter.

That only made things worse.

I'm sorry! I just don't know. I don't know what to do! She'd done as all the books had instructed her. She'd cleaned the scrape on her daughter's knee with hydrogen peroxide, and she'd followed that with ointment and a colorful band-aid, but her baby had still cried. Renée hadn't made it better.

Charlie had found them both in tears, his wife near-hysterical. Calm down, hun. Bella's only upset because you are.

He hadn't been there, hadn't seen how utterly useless she had been. He just walked in and summarized, swooped in and saved the day.

He was, after all, the town hero.

And she'd been the villain. She was a tragedy of a mother, and everyone knew it. She couldn't cook a proper meal to save her life, all the other children could talk before Bella, most of the women were able to contribute to craft fairs and bake sales. Renée just cried.

Depression, his mother had said.

Stress, added the doctor.

Reality, her mother summarized.

There'd been nothing physically wrong with Renée. She'd just given everything she had to Charlie without a thought, and she didn't know how to ask for it back. Then she had to draw on her own stores to nurture Bella. She needed those reserves. She was selfish—is selfish.

That's why Phil works. He doesn't need her love, and she doesn't crave to give it to him. She had with Charlie; it had become vital that he know the extremes of her devotion, an addiction. The early days of their relationship found her peeling back layers of herself, rejoicing at each new discovery of how much she had to give. They'd plateaued eventually, found a comfortable amount of love for her to shed, but Bella needed more.

She had a lot of love, but just not enough for both of them.

The caskets are closed, and Charlie assured her over the phone last week that it's with good reason. He'd been to the coroner's office. You don't want to see her like that, Renée. She's not sure about that. It might haunt her, but it would make it real.

"You're sure?" she asks him again. "It's her?"

"No doubt." He's abrupt, gruff, and anyone else would pass it off as just his character. Charles Swan doesn't show emotion.

Except he does. Renée knows that, knows him. He cried right along with her at the wedding, even if he hid it well. "But how can you know?" she presses. "If the remains are truly that bad, she—"

"Renée." He's looking at her with pity. "Don't delude yourself."

Delude?

This from the man who helped her construct an elaborate life for Elvis because it's just too sad to think that he died so young? From the man who kept quiet about his father's death, has yet to this day to acknowledge it, since it was easier to pretend he'd never had one than to deal with it?

Charlie' never told her to put away her rose-colored glasses before. It's her defense mechanism. He didn't want her hurt, and he let her have it.

"Charlie, you're telling me everything?"

"Of course. All there is to tell."

Final. Curt.

Lies.

"What are you lying about?"

"What?"

"Lying, you're lying. There's something you're not telling me."

"I think you're just a bit distressed right now."

"Of course I am. You're hiding something."

"Renée—"

"You have to tell me. She was all I had, Charlie. I couldn't have you both, and I chose her. So I need to know. You have to tell me."

"Is everything all right here?" The hand that the woman places on Charlie's shoulder is thin, bony, and possessive.

Renée knows those hands knotted a purple tie earlier that day.

She's crying, near-hysteria, and useless all over again. She doesn't know anything about Bella's life, but she chose her daughter. She's supposed to know. Renée was supposed to pour everything into Isabella after it was just them and she could be the sole focus of her affections. That was what would happen when she left Charlie, she'd been sure.

So God damn young and sure.

She spent two years of her life frantic over the idea that there just wasn't enough of her to go around, and she knows she'll spend the next fifty wishing she'd just let them take it all.

The citizens of Forks watch the flighty woman-come-home sob over the casket of her only child and remind themselves they're not sympathetic. She's an ex-wife. An ex-mother. Just an ex.