The Swan and the Free Bird

Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight—I don't. I also don't know anything about psychotherapy beyond what I've seen in movies and what I've found on Google.

Entry for the Canon Tour Pre-Twilight Contest.

Thank you to my wonderful betas—JennyGeorge1 and WolvesCanEatMe

Been divorced sixteen years and still haven't moved on-that's pretty much where I am now. Sue sends Charlie to therapy. Pre-Twilight.

May 2004

I'm sat in the metal and leather chair and I don't really know why I'm here—well, that's actually wrong. I'm here because Sue asked me to come. That's it—she asked and now I'm sitting here. You don't argue with Sue Clearwater.

Tapping my fingers on the metal armrest, I freeze when the secretary glares.

Oh, right. I give a nervous smile and fold my arms.

The oak door on the opposite wall opens. A middle-aged woman in a rumpled suit walks through and smiles. Her eyes drop below my neck level and I suddenly feel self-conscious.

"Charles Swan?"

I wonder if I should have worn something other than my police uniform, but to be honest I haven't thought about it until now. Other than one set of smart pants, an old-fashioned brown shirt, and a blazer that Renee bought me before she left, I don't own a suit or anything formal. Very little point in owning something that I'm not going to use—when I'm not at work I'm either fishing at La Push, eating at the diner, or in front of the TV.

"Um, yeah. That's me."

She smiles patiently as I get to my feet. Dr. Emilie Schmidt motions for me to enter her office, but I pause.

"Ladies first."

She smiles. "Thank you. I can add 'gentleman' to your notes. Here I was thinking that the age of chivalry was dead."

Is this part of the assessment? I ask myself. Or was she just being social?

"I'm an old-fashioned guy."

"Well, it's nice to see some old-fashioned manners for a change. Some women get offended, but I have to admit that I like to have doors opened and chairs pulled out for me. Just so long as I'm not chained to the kitchen sink."

I try to smile back, but I get the feeling it comes across more like wind. Her words make me think about Renee. Almost everything makes me think of my ex-wife and my absent daughter.

"Please, take a seat..."

I head over to the couch and hesitate. How do I sit on one of these things? Do I lie down, or does that come later?

Dr. Schmidt sees my awkwardness. "Just however is comfortable for you. Am I right in guessing that this is new to you?"

"Yup." I park myself on the couch and hold myself stiffly; making eye contact with the good doctor, I see that she's smiling. Guess that figures—she's being paid for this...and then some.

My shrink sits on a nearby chair and folds her hands on the notepad in front of her. "Please, make yourself comfortable."

I take that as meaning "lie your ass down" and so I grudgingly comply.

"What can I do for you..." She quickly glances down at her note pad. "Chief Swan."

"Please, call me Charlie. Urrr...my friend asked me to come."

"Your friend?"

"Not like that. No—definitely not like that. She's my friend's wife. She just thought I might...you know, get something out of this."

"Uh-huh. And what did she think you might get out of it?"

"Well, I don't really know...I guess she thinks I'm a little repressed. She thinks I have trouble relating to people." I scratch the back of my head. "She thinks that I could use a little help to move on from..." I pause and give a palms up gesture. "From my ex-wife."

Dr. Schmidt's blinks—with my trained senses, I don't miss it. I wonder whether that was the wrong thing to say, or whether she was just stunned at how hard it was to pry it out of me. Why do I think this is a test? Not as if she's going to say that I'm crazy, or is she?

"And what do you think, Charlie?"

"Err...what do I think?" I take a moment to decide. "I guess there's no harm in trying." Though my bank account disagrees—I had to hold off on that new rod I wanted for this. All because Harry's wife has got the art of nagging down to a fine art. Damn, she's good.

"Hmm. So, tell me a little about your ex-wife. Where did you meet?"

"I met Renee on the beach down at La Push. Summer nineteen-eighty-six it was—I was twenty-two and she was eighteen. I was visiting some friends down on the rez, and she was there on a road trip with her girlfriends from California."

"I see. So not a local girl? Tell me more about her." Dr. Schmidt scribbles something on her pad.

"She was pretty—really pretty. We got talking, and she seemed to like me as much as I liked her. She had this crazy laugh..." For a moment, I tune out, but then I remember where I am. "We hit it off really well but then, after a few days, she had to take off."

Dr. Schmidt gives me another noise of encouragement.

"She said she'd come back soon, but I didn't really think she would. I missed her like crazy." Some things never change, I admit to myself. "I've never been the writing type but I sent this girl at least fifty letters. Anyway—she did come back, and when she did, I told her that I never wanted to let her go again."

I look up at the doctor and get another smile for my efforts, so I guess that I'm doing okay so far.

"Didn't take me long to propose. Renee is a bit of a free spirit. It's a bit like trying to hold onto the wind." My moustache twitches. "That's why I got her up that aisle and married her before she could get away."

"So, would you say it was a whirlwind romance?"

"Yeah, something like that. Renee hit me like a tornado." After waiting a few moments, I realize that's the end of Dr. Schmidt's questions for now, and it's up to me to get talking again. "We moved into a house down the street from my parents. I had to stay close because Mom had Alzheimer's and Dad had arthritis—"

"You cared for your parents?"

"They both passed away more than ten years ago, but at the time, yeah. We hadn't been living there for long before Renee told me we had a baby on the way. I just felt like everything was as good as it could get, you know?"

Dr. Schmidt nods her head. I'm surprised at how much I'm saying—the words keep spilling out of me. Maybe the shrink is doing something for her money.

"About halfway through Renee's pregnancy, Mom got a lot worse and Dad just couldn't cope on his own, so I spent half of my time living between the two houses. I don't know whether it was because I wasn't there enough, or whether it was just because reality set in, but Renee told me she wasn't happy. She wanted to move away to somewhere sunnier, but how could I do that? I couldn't ship Mom and Dad off to an old folk's home, and for a while, I thought she saw that.

"We had a little girl, Bella. It was hard at first, what with a new baby—the nappies, the sleepless nights, and trying to help Mom and Dad, but I thought we were okay. I thought we were getting through it—things had to get better with time, right?

"One night, I'd been to my parents straight from work, and when I finally got home about eleven, I found suitcases in the hall. Renee was standing in the kitchen with Bella, and they were both crying. She said that she'd had enough of the rain—it was draining her. She felt trapped by my parents, and that she saw so little of me that she might as well be on her own. She was leaving that night, and if I really loved her, I'd follow her."

The scene is preserved perfectly in my mind. I can even remember that the blanket Bella was wrapped in matched the yellow color that Renee had painted the cupboard doors to remind her of sunshine. My breath catches as I remember the argument we'd had that night.

"I wanted to up and leave with her, I really did, but I tried to make her see that I couldn't just leave Mom and Dad. Things got a little heated, and we were yelling at each other. She told me that I was a ball and chain holding her back. She didn't want to be stuck here anymore, following the same routine every day, and then she walked out.

"I didn't hear from her for a week, and I was going out of my mind. I rang all of her friends and family that I had numbers for. When she finally returned my calls, she'd turned up at her Mom's in California. She said that I knew where to find her if I wanted her and our daughter. That broke me. I ended up talking it through with my Dad, and he told me to go, so I got in my car and drove. I had to stop for gas in Portland, but when I rang up to check on Mom and Dad, Mom answered and couldn't tell me where Dad was.

"I had to turn around and go straight home—that was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. When I got there, Dad had fallen over and broken a hip. Then and there, I knew that I couldn't be what Renee wanted me to be. I spoke to her on the phone and told her that I was going to let her go. Almost killed me when she didn't seem to give a damn. Made me wonder if she'd ever cared about me.

"She brought Bella up to Forks between Christmas and New Year, but wouldn't stay in our house or my parent's house. She stayed in the Motel instead. As if it wasn't bad enough to watch them both go, just before she left she gave me the divorce papers."

I can vaguely hear Dr. Schmidt rustling her papers, but my head is in another time and place.

"I didn't contest it, and I gave her everything she'd asked for—the only thing I made sure I got was time with Bella. In the beginning, Renee would come up and stay in the same motel, mostly keeping out of the way while I got some daddy/daughter time, and then once Bella was a little older, she'd drop her off and go. I'd be in pieces for a week after they'd gone. Some days, I don't know how I even made it into work.

"Bella was about four and half when Dad died, and then it was just me and Mom. I tried to ease her into moving in with me, but she kept saying that she wanted to be home whenever I took her out of the house. She used to ask me where Dad was over and over again."

I remember it like it was yesterday. Especially the time when she'd wandered into the street in her nightdress in the middle of the night, shouting for me, and damn near got run over. Then there was the time I went into her bedroom to wake her up in the morning, and found her lying there, hugging the pillow on Dad's side of the bed. By the color of her skin, I knew she was gone before I'd even checked for a pulse.

"She died six months after Dad. I felt a bit like a fish out of water once they were gone. I'd always been a bit of a loner, my close friends live out of town and I didn't get the chance to visit once Mom and Dad got ill, but once Mom died, that's when I started feeling really lonely."

"I threw myself into my job and did really well—got a few promotions and sorted out all my money worries. Once I had free time to myself, I started spending my time fishing with my friends in La Push again. I guess part of the reason is that La Push always reminds me of her…when we first met.

"Took Bella with me most of the times she came to stay, but I remember sitting on the beach once with Billy, Harry, and their families. She'd been wading in the sea and came running up to me, asking for a towel. She said, 'Daddy, I don't like the cold. I only want to play in the sunshine.' Bella reminded me so much of Renee that it took my breath away."

I take a second to run my hand through my hair.

"After that, I'd go visit Bella in Riverside, and then Phoenix when Renee moved. When Bella was older, I decided that it was best for me to take her away on vacation when school was out. Renee was always friendly enough, but I never felt welcome. Not really. I guess I was always that ball and chain…and it always hurt to see her."

I realize that I'm subconsciously stroking my moustache, so I stop and look at the doctor.

"And that's pretty much where I am now. Been divorced sixteen years and still haven't moved on."

Dr. Schmidt shifts in her chair and re-crosses her legs.

"Well, I can see how that could have affected you, Charlie. My next question is...do you want to move on?"

I wonder if it's a trick question. "Yeah, I guess."

"You don't sound very sure about that." Dr. Schmidt smiles as she speaks. It takes me a while to respond.

"I'm just a little worried about it happening all over again if I met someone else. After all, I'm the same guy now that I was back then. I don't care for my parents anymore, but even I have to admit that I'm pretty stuck in my ways. It's not that I haven't tried dating, it's just...I don't know...it hasn't felt right."

"Charlie, you're a man with a lot to offer a woman. You stayed behind to care for your mother and father—not many men would have done that. You have a good job, your own home, and forty isn't as old as you might think."

Feeling a little uncomfortable with the praise, I focus on my shoes.

"Not every relationship is going to work out the same way as your marriage." Dr. Schmidt taps her pen against her chin. "The way I see it, you're a home bird, Charlie. Unfortunately, you fell for another breed—let's call Renee a free bird, like the song. You did nothing wrong—all you wanted to do is care for your parents, your wife, and your daughter. You didn't fail at anything—Renee just needed something different from life."

"Yeah."

"I'm guessing that you have a lot of trouble talking to women in general, am I right?"

I can't contain my humorless laugh. "Dead on."

"Do you socialize with many women, Charlie? Platonically."

"Just my friends' wives. I see a lot of them when I go round—they just treat me like part of the family. There's Sue, the one who forced me to come here, and Sarah until she passed away. There's one of the waitresses at the diner…"

Technically, the latter wasn't platonic. We'd dated a few times, and I think she'd built up the mystery behind the enigmatic Police Chief image I'd cultivated. It turned out that the reality wasn't as sexy as she'd thought. We were still on good terms—useful, seeing as she served me dinner almost every night, and occasionally she'd prefer payment in kind rather than my customary tip. Hopeless bachelor that I was, that was an offer that couldn't be refused. It was simple—no questions asked.

"I think you're scared to let someone in, Charlie. You're scared of getting hurt again. Think of it as riding a bike—sometimes you fall, but you have to get back on. You've left it for a long time, and sometimes that can make the fear harder to overcome. But if you start to slowly open yourself up and widen your circle, there's no reason why you can't get back on that bike."

Nodding, I say nothing. I get her bike analogy, but all this talk of widening circles and becoming a social butterfly just isn't me.

"What about your daughter? Do you still see her often?"

"Bella, yeah, I still see her in the holidays. We spent some time in Colorado during Spring Break."

"And I guess summer is coming up quick."

"Uh-huh." I try my hardest not to let my feelings escape as I think about the coming months, but the look of interest on Dr. Schmidt's face tells me that I haven't succeeded. "I don't think I'll be seeing a lot of Bella during Summer Vacation. You see, she's pretty caught up organizing her mother's wedding."

"Oh...Renee is getting married again. How do you feel about that?"

"Not great." I feel the familiar churning in my stomach that I get whenever I think about it.

"I understand that it's painful, Charlie, but it might help to talk about it. This is what I do." Dr. Schmidt gives me a sympathetic look.

Taking a deep breath, I get my biggest concern off my chest. "It just seems so sudden. I know it's not my place, but I just worry in case she's jumping into it again—like we did. Heck, the guy's not even thirty yet."

"So, Renee is marrying a younger man?"

"Yeah. I guess he's a lot more suited to her—he's a ball player, minor leagues, and he moves around a lot." He's so much younger than me in age and attitude. I inhale through my nose. "I don't want to see Bella go on the road. She's lived in too many different places already for a girl her age, and she's about to start her final two years of high school. My daughter, she's a lot like me. She could do with the stability—the routine."

"Seems to me like you're just the man to give her that." Dr. Schmidt beams in my direction. "I'm afraid that's all we've got time for today, but I hope I've given you a few things to think about."

Considering how apprehensive I'd been when I'd first walked in, I feel suddenly cut off in my prime. Oh, well—I remind myself about the size of the bill. The next cash cow is probably sitting out there in the waiting area already.

"Thanks. Really appreciated."

I sit up and look down at the couch; I'd not realized just how comfortable it would be. I could do with one of these in front of the TV.

"It would be nice to see you again soon for another chat, Charlie."

I bet it would. Trying not to grumble over the new rod I put off buying so I could come here, I give her a nod and she sees me out of her office.

My mind is spinning as I digest what I've talked about while I exit the building. When I get back to the street, I climb inside my patrol car and sit there for a few moments. Before I head off to the diner to order the same thing I eat every Thursday night, I pick up my cell.

Thanks to Dr. Emilie Schmidt, I'm feeling rebellious, and to hell with my usual routine. I don't usually make this call until I'm back home.

I listen to the dial tone, and then grin as she picks up. "Hey, Dad."

"Hey, Bells."

I wonder whether my daughter has changed her mind about only liking the sun over the past twelve years.