Disclaimer: Any characters, settings, and recognizable plotlines that are part of the Twilight series belong to the author, Stephenie Meyer. The rest also belongs to her in a way because this is fanfiction. Life sucks like that.
Note: My sister and solareclipses are both better than nachos. And I love nachos. Oh, and molte grazie to SqueakyZorro for being a wonder-mom and helping me with Little B's characterization. I know nothing of the ways of the small people.
Thank you also to burntcore, kimmydonn, and McGee42 for hosting the Strictly Charlie Contest, in which this OS won 2nd in the public vote and 3rd in the judge's choice. :)
An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man's entire existence. —Honoré de Balzac, "Scenes de la vie Parisienne," La Maison Nucingen, 1838
. . . . .
"Okay, so we have juice, chips, cookies, paper, and crayons. Anything else?" He hated having to do this, having to bribe her with junk food and promises of trips to the movies and time spent together later. He got so little time with her as it was.
But Rawlings' wife was in the hospital again, and it wasn't as if there was a slew of back-up to call in, so he was here, pushing paperwork. Unfortunately, that meant Bella was stuck in the station too.
She bit her lip, and he could almost hear her saying it. It's fine, Daddy. But it wasn't. Nothing was.
"What? What's missing?"
"Tell me. I'm sure we can wrangle it up."
"I don't think so."
"It's just I'm kinda old for crayons."
Crayons had an age-limit on them? So what did he have her do now? She'd already read all of the children's books he could find and cut up the magazines that morning.
"Right. So, uh, do you want some pens?"
She shot him a look. Pens would clearly not suffice.
"Well, what do you want then?"
"Do you have any markers?"
He thought of the fat, black felt-tips in his desk drawer with "Permanent" stamped on their barrels. Then he looked at her flawless baby skin. "No, sorry, hun."
She sighed. "Fine. Colored pencils then."
"Uh, right. I'll just go look . . ."
Miracle of miracles, the supply room did yield one pack of colored pencils, and Bella deemed them of an acceptable brand. She settled into color, and Charlie settled into watch. The paperwork could wait.
She started to blush, though, no doubt because she could feel his trained gaze, and so he turned his eyes to the pile of forms in front of him.
He looked up, and Bella instantly looked down, coloring furiously, scratch, scratch, scratch against the paper. Charlie looked away again and saw her peeking at him in his peripherals. She was a miniature Renée in appearance, for sure, but she was without a doubt his daughter.
"I should call Mom tonight. It's her birthday."
He knew that. It was still on the calendar that hung on his refrigerator; he penciled it in every year.
"Sure thing. Just remind me when we get home."
"Do you think she's lonely without me there?"
"I'm sure she misses you, but she'll be fine." If he knew Renée, she would have already made plans to be out and drunk and maybe on the prowl for a man. He'd have to be sure to have Bella call pretty early, or they might miss her.
"I think she'll be lonely," Bella announced, "but I left her a letter to read today. So that should help."
"Hmm," he agreed, and scrawled his signature across another line.
"What did you get her?"
He signed another few documents, ink flowing over paper. What was he supposed to say? "Your mom and I don't get each other gifts anymore."
"Because you don't live together?"
"But you send me gifts for my birthday when I'm living with Mom."
"You're always my daughter, though. No matter where you live."
She thought about this for a second. "But Mom's not your wife anymore?"
The conversation seemed over; there was more flowing ink and scratch, scratch, scratch.
Charlie had heard his child frame this question in response to what seemed like a million scenarios, but he'd never feared it like he did now. Why? His mother had asked him that. Renée's father had, too. It was no trouble lying to them, but this, this was his baby Bells.
"Why isn't she your wife anymore?"
"We got divorced." It was true. It wasn't an answer.
"Yes, but why?"
"Bells . . ."
"Mom said it's because she didn't like Forks, but if you loved her, why wouldn't you just move? Like how Ariel became a human for Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid and stopped living in the sea because she loved him. You'd like Phoenix, Daddy."
"Well, uh . . ."
"Unless you didn't love Mom."
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
"Is that it? You didn't love her?"
He tried. He rolled the false words around on his tongue and tried to say them, but he couldn't. "No, that's not it."
That would have been too easy.
. . . . .
"Hello, sir. You have a collect call from—" Renée's too-chipper voice supplied her name. "Will you accept the charges?"
He wanted to tell the operator that no, he wouldn't. He would wait right here for his wife to finish her temper tantrum and shuffle home.
But he'd take the call for Bella—anything to hear her voice.
"Put her on."
"One moment please."
Neither of them bothered with standard greetings.
"Put my daughter on the phone now."
He'd known she was leaving—Renée had been asking him to set her free for months—but he'd never been so winded as when he'd woken up to not just an empty bed, but an empty house. Renée could run all over the damn country, play whatever games she needed to, and return home when she was good and ready. Charlie could deal with that.
He could not deal with her involving his baby girl.
"We need to talk."
"Yes, we do. Now go get Bells."
"I think that if you'll just listen, you'll see that—"
"Renée, put her on the damn phone before I call in the car that's registered under my name as stolen."
He'd play her games after.
"Daddy! I have McDonald's!"
"Is that right? Yuck."
She giggled. His heart near-stopped. "No, it's yummy."
"I'll bet it's not as good as the burgers Miss Cindy makes at the diner."
"Hmm. No," she conceded, "but Miss Cindy doesn't have toys."
"Well, that's true, but she does have pie and ice cream."
"Ooh, yeah! Mommy, I want ice cream," she told Renée, and Charlie smiled, honestly a bit pleased that he was causing problems for his wife.
He listened to daughter and mother argue back and forth for a minute before interrupting. "Bells? Are you and Mommy having fun on your vacation?"
"Vacation" was a good word. It let Bella know this situation wasn't permanent. He hoped she reiterated the sentiment to Renée.
"We're gonna see the ocean, and I'm gonna get a fishy."
"Yeah? What color?"
"Where are you going to keep that?"
"In my room."
"I don't think so."
"Mommy said! In my new room."
There was no near about it this time; Charlie's heart stopped dead in his chest. She'd told Bella—said that they weren't coming back, that there was need for a new room.
"Hun, I need to talk to your mom again now, but I want you to have lots of fun and make sure to color me a picture of the ocean, okay?"
"Love you, Bells." When had he last told her that? He didn't think it could have been that long ago, but no specific instance came to mind.
No matter. He was telling her now.
"Love you, Daddy."
Renée was on the line immediately, seemingly having been waiting for the end of his conversation with their daughter. "Can we talk now?"
"New room? You told her that she was getting a new room?"
She sighed. "Charlie, I told you. This just isn't working out."
"And I asked you: what isn't? What the hell is it you want?"
"More. I need more from life than just motherhood and being some small town wife."
Did she hear herself? He'd tried to see it from the point of view she cited, tried viewing her as a trapped small town house wife.
The problem was that she wasn't. Not really.
"You say things like that, and then you take our daughter with you? Jesus Christ, Renée. Give me a little bit of credit. You're the one who wanted to get married, be a family. You're the one who called her an adventure."
And she'd been right. Bella was every bit of miracle and wonder Charlie would ever need. The pyramids might be spectacular and The Great Wall of China grand, but they were someone else's adventure; their daughter was the one they got to participate in.
Traveling the world, seeing the sights, "really living" as Renée called it: all of it could wait.
"She is. I love her; you know that."
"Just not me anymore?" He tried to make it casual; Renée would be emotional enough for both of them.
True to form, she was already starting to sniffle. "You know that's not it. I could never stop caring about you."
Caring, always caring. Never loving. He was used to it by now.
"So we're good, our daughter's great, but you need to pick up and head to—where the hell are you?"
"Oh, Christ. Renée, come home."
Please, oh please. He didn't say it. He hoped he didn't need to.
"I can't do that."
"Then at least bring Bella back. Go, do what you need to do, but don't drag her around with you. Let her be here, and you come back when you're ready. I'll understand, and I'll explain to her. I'll—"
. . . . .
Charlie scrawled his signature across the final dotted line and handed the paperwork back to the smiling woman.
"We'll take good care of your daughter, Mr. Swan," she told him.
"You'd better." He tried to add a grin, a wink, anything to soften the grunted words, but the effort was beyond him. It always was always too difficult at this point, when he pretty much had to sign Bella back over to her mother. He hoped the airline attendant understood to some extent; she was a stand-in for a lot of things.
A lot of things he hated.
She would help Bella board that plane, she'd deliver her to Renée, and he'd be here. Alone. The bachelor.
He patted his daughter on the shoulder, debating whether or not to kneel down and hug her goodbye. He ultimately decided against it. People were watching; it would be awkward.
Besides, he was the bachelor again. His four weeks were up and if he hugged her . . . Was it cliché to say he might not let her go?
"Remind your mom to call me when you land in Phoenix."
"Bells . . ."
He only nodded in reply, not sure what was left to say. She's been so quiet since asking about his and Renée's marriage a few days before. He'd evaded then, sure that a seven-year-old girl would move on to something else if ignored long enough. It just went to show how little he knew about his own daughter.
Well, what the hell was he supposed to say?
They'd been perfect. Sure, they'd married too young and believed a little too much in I Got You Babe love and how far it could take them, but he would never love someone like he did Renée, and they didn't want for anything. And Bella? There weren't words for that kind of adoration. They'd been his family.
He'd tried everything to make Renée reconsider the abortion. He'd said he'd get another job. They'd move somewhere sunnier. He'd hire a full-time nanny, and Renée could be as uninvolved as she god damn wanted.
She'd asked where the money would come from, and he remembered being surprised that she should focus on logistics—it wasn't like his wife at all—but he reassured her everything he promised could be brought about.
When he'd hung up the phone that night, it was with every confidence that he'd talked her down. Renée just hadn't been thinking.
He'd been ecstatic when she'd called and told him to join them in California. At first.
I want you here, but there's a condition, she'd said.
Anything, I'll give you anything.
I can't have this baby.
We talked about this. I thought—
Charlie, I already took care of it.
"Took care of it." As if the extermination of their child was just another stepping stone in their life, something needed for them to move on.
So what did he tell Bella? That he was too drunk to come to her, too busy drowning his grief in beer after beer and, on the nights when the yellow paint of the cabinets mocked him with the too-chipper disposition he swore he didn't miss, a bottle of Jack? He couldn't explain to a little girl that, when Renée used to drive her to Forks for the yearly visit, he'd look at the two women of his life and no longer see a family, but just remnants of one. Something, someone, was missing.
He just hadn't been able to bring himself to be part of their new life. He couldn't act like the old one never existed.
It was pathetic, he knew, the amount of time he spent staring at his own lawn and imagining teaching a son to swing a bat. He could see Bella and a younger sister drawing with chalk on the sidewalk out front. Renée crawled into bed with the children each night and read them both a bedtime story.
Sometimes the ghosts became too much, and then he escaped to the diner, to La Push, to work even. He couldn't actually live in his house, just exist in it. So it became a museum.
Charlie Swan wasn't a bachelor, but a widow.
And he couldn't tell her that.
"All right, Bells. It's time." He nodded toward the airline attendant who was waiting to escort his daughter through Sea-Tac security.
Bella latched on to knees, hugging his legs tightly to her little self. "Love you, Dad."
Then she was gone, and he couldn't remember whether or not he'd told her he loved her too.