Charlie Swan struggled to open the front door as he shuffled his keys and the pizza box he was carrying. He fumbled for the light switch and waited for his eyes to adjust to the brightness of the lamp in the living room. And the blinking message light in the kitchen next to his phone.
He didn't get many messages.
When he was on duty, he had his radio to keep him in touch with the station. He didn't carry a cell phone. Didn't really need one.
His heart skipped a beat as he thought about what kind of message could be waiting – after all, he had just gotten back from a nightmarish accident.
Shuddering at the thought of what he'd witnessed earlier that night, he stumbled into the kitchen and hit the button on the machine.
The voice he heard made him sag into a chair in relief.
"Char…Dad? Can you call me when you get home? Mom, well…maybe I should just wait to talk to you later. Bye."
Of course he was a little worried, but hearing Bella's voice after…well, after the night he'd had, was a welcome relief. Whatever was going on, he could handle it, he was sure.
His job as Chief of Police in Forks wasn't horribly busy, and it was rare that he had to respond to anything violent. It was usually a quiet job.
But there were things about his job that ate at him. Like the accident he had responded to tonight.
The teenage boy from Port Angeles had merely been looking for some fun on his bullet bike. He was probably speeding. Unfortunately, he hadn't seen the black ice as he turned a corner, and the bike had lost control, slamming into the trees at the side of the road.
A passerby had called for help.
Charlie had been closest.
The woman who called was a mess when Charlie arrived. Dave, his deputy, arrived just after Charlie, and he ushered her into the back of his cruiser, where she had sat, crying and shaking uncontrollably. Dave spoke quietly to her, asking about where she was going and trying to redirect her thoughts until the EMTs arrived and could check her for shock.
Charlie had immediately gone to the boy, who was struggling to breathe. He'd assessed his injuries, noting the horrific gash on the boy's bare head, the blood matting his brown hair, and the uneven dilation of his pupils. When he reached his fingers behind the boy, testing his neck and head for trauma, he'd discovered a deep indentation in the back of the skull.
The young man was unresponsive. His brown eyes never focused, and he never spoke.
The Chief had sat, holding the boy's hand, talking quietly to him about nothing in particular, until his eyes looked toward the sky as he took a deep, shuddering breath. And then didn't.
Silence had fallen around Charlie at that moment. The kind he hated.
There was nothing he could do for the boy.
The paramedic who arrived just after the boy's last breath, assessed him.
"Massive head injury. Surprised he wasn't dead on impact. Can you call his family and have them meet us at the hospital? We'll have the doctor explain it there."
A solemn nod was all that Charlie could muster as he pulled the boy's cell phone out of his pocket, hoping it wasn't too damaged to find an ICE number.
The trip to the ER and the agonizing hour that he waited until the boy's parents arrived finished his night. He watched through the window of the waiting room as the newest doctor on staff, Dr. Cullen, explained their son's injuries, and the horrible outcome of the accident. He saw the mother fall to her knees, gasping for breath as her husband wrapped his arms around her, cocooning her with his body. Dr. Cullen comforted them both.
Any noise in this part of the hospital was subdued. Inside the room, there were undoubtedly sounds of grief. But the hallway didn't reflect the picture he saw when he looked through that window. It was almost too quiet where he stood.
He had finally dragged himself away. There was nothing he could have done for their son, and there was no reason to try to explain to them how he had cried as he drove to the hospital, thinking of another teen with dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes.
The thought of going home after the events of the evening had been…depressing. But go home he did. As usual. To a dark, empty house. Nobody to talk to about the trauma he'd seen. About the worry it caused him.
But this time when he got home, there had been something to look forward to.
Shaking off thoughts of the tragedy he'd been a witness to, he picked up the old phone in his kitchen. He wished he could carry it into the living room so that he could sink into his favorite chair while he talked, but the cord wasn't long enough. One of these days he'd get a cordless phone like everyone else, but for now this one served its purpose well enough.
He dialed. And waited. And looked at the clock, realizing that it would be nearly eleven in Phoenix.
Just as he moved to hang up the receiver, his favorite voice answered.
"Hey, Bells. I got your message. What's up?"
"I was talking to Mom earlier tonight, and she kinda wants to travel with Phil, but she's worried about leaving me home alone, and, well…" She hesitated.
Charlie could hear a sigh on the other end of the line.
"Dad, can I come and live with you for a while? I could finish high school in Forks, and Mom can travel with Phil. I won't fly up until after Christmas. I can start the new semester there."
He was speechless.
Bella hadn't wanted to set foot in Forks for years. Why would she want to move there? Was Renee influencing her decision?
"Are you sure, Bells? You haven't even wanted to visit Forks for a while. Won't the rain be too much?"
Her voice sounded slightly hurt when she answered.
"So you don't want me to come?"
"Of course I want you to come. I just want to make sure it's what you want to do. Is it really what you want?"
She didn't hesitate to answer. In fact, it sounded like she had probably rehearsed this speech a few times.
"It's only fair that I spend a little time with you before I head off to college. And besides, I'll graduate in a year and a half. You won't have to deal with me for too long. I won't be much of a burden for you. And I cook."
Charlie had laughed a little at her last comment, and he realized that her move was most likely meant to benefit her mother. He tried to come up with the words to tell her just how much it would mean to him to have her live there for a while.
The best he could do was, "Just name the date and time and I'll be at the airport waiting."
"I'll call you next week with details. Let me tell Mom that you said yes. Thanks, Dad."
"Any time, Bells."
And she hung up.
He sat in the living room for nearly an hour after the call.
There was so much he didn't know about living with his daughter. He had one bathroom. His friends had told him how difficult it was to live in a house with teenage girls. Would she be upset that she didn't have her own space? Would he be expected to buy her makeup and toiletries? Would she hate the fact that the only phone in the house was attached to the base in the kitchen?
After grabbing a piece of cold pizza and wandering back to the living room to eat it, Charlie headed upstairs and started to clear a few shelves for Bella's things. He opened the door to her bedroom for the first time in ages. It still looked like it was ready for a visit from a seven year old. Crayon drawings were tacked to the wall above the bed, and an old pink doll quilt was folded over the rocking chair in the corner.
A glance at his watch told him that it was getting really late, and he had a fishing date in the morning, so he climbed into his bed, a smile on his face.
Maybe his house wouldn't be so quiet anymore.
Charlie sighed as he looked up at the grey sky that pressed down on the landscape around him. The air was heavy with moisture, but no rain had fallen yet. The sun hadn't been up long enough to burn off any of the fog that surrounded him.
This was the kind of day that Charlie loved.
It was quiet, besides the rushing of the Moclips River as it moved past him. But he knew the tranquility was loaded, that at any moment a bird could fly out of the surrounding trees, a deer could step out for a drink, a squirrel could scamper up to its home. The sounds of nature reminded him that although it was nearly silent, he wasn't alone. Charlie craved this kind of quiet, needed it to cope.
The crunch of gravel under car tires caught his attention. It had to be Billy and Harry.
As much as he wanted to tell his friends about Bella's call, he didn't know how to bring it up. So he waited while they got the small boat off of Harry's trailer, and while he and Harry helped Billy out of his chair and into the boat, and while they pushed off into the water. He didn't say anything as they baited their hooks and cast them into the current of the river.
They had been fishing for an hour before Billy finally broke the silence.
"What's up with you Charlie?"
Surprised, Charlie uttered, "Huh?"
"You've been holding that hook for the last ten minutes. Something wrong with the bait?"
Harry laughed loudly and Billy scolded him.
"You'll scare off the fish."
Charlie chuckled and baited his hook, casting it out into the water as Billy jerked his pole back, tempting the fish that was teasing his line.
They were quiet after that, each man in his own world, when he finally decided to tell them.
"Bella called last night."
"Is she okay?" Harry asked, a look of concern on his face.
"She's fine," Charlie began. "Sounds like she'll be moving up here for a while."
His friends looked shocked.
"Renee is coming back to Forks?" Billy asked.
"So it's just Bella?" Harry asked. "She's going to live with you?"
"That should be something," Billy said, smiling at his friend. "I'm glad."
The three men continued to fish but Charlie could see that Billy was smirking. A few times it seemed like he was ready to say something, but he'd just shake his head and chuckle. Harry would snort quietly each time it happened.
Out of the blue, Harry said, "Teenage girls aren't easy. You may want to talk to Sue."
Charlie nodded again. "Good idea," he said as he popped the top of a beer.
They fished until the sun was high in the afternoon sky. Even though they tossed back most of what they caught – with the necessary size jokes each time - the cooler slowly filled with trout.
"Well, I think we should call it a day," Harry finally said. "Sue'll be expecting me home soon."
"Jake will be out with his friends. I should probably round him up," Billy said as he stretched his back.
When they had secured the boat on the trailer and stowed all of their fishing equipment, Harry clapped Charlie on the back.
"It's about time that child came home."
Charlie couldn't have agreed more.
Billy was buckling his seatbelt when he added, "You've got a lot to do. She'll need to be registered for school, and she'll need some 'girl things' in your house. Good luck with that." He chuckled as he looked at Charlie's serious face. "You might also want to get her something to drive. I know that you love the cruiser, but a teenage girl…"
"A car?" Charlie choked out.
"Better yet, a big red truck."
Billy smiled as he said, "Jacob will never drive it. He's working on the Rabbit, and I think he's going to get it running before he even has a license. I can't drive the truck any more. And you know you'd love to put her in a truck that's more like a tank."
Charlie nodded. "I'll call you later to talk price."
"Sounds like a plan."
When Harry's car was no longer in sight, Charlie climbed back into the cruiser and started the engine.
His drive back into town was quiet, and left him with too much time to think. He had no clue what he was doing. How did you register a child for school? Was he ready to hand truck keys over to her? No…but…
Pulling into the parking lot of the diner, he made a decision.
Charlie was going to ask for help.
He watched a sleek black Mercedes drive past as he walked inside. Dr. Cullen's car.
For a moment, he considered stopping by the hospital tomorrow to talk to him. That man would know the answers to Charlie's questions. He had five teens. And they had moved recently.
But he wasn't comfortable enough with Carlisle to ask him about all of that.
The bell above the door chimed when he opened it, and one of his favorite waitresses looked up and waved at him. The diner was noisy, a welcome break to his normal routine.
Lily had three kids, her oldest was a freshman.
'Here goes nothing,' he thought as he approached Lily with his questions.
"The usual, Chief?" she asked as she approached the table.
He thought for a moment before nodding. Then he swallowed and plunged in.
She stopped, order pad in hand, and turned around.
"My Bella's coming home," he said.
Several of the people seated close to him stopped talking and turned their attention to him.
"That's great news, Charlie."
"Well, I'm not sure how to get her registered for school, and –"
A voice behind him cut him off.
"Call Shelly Cope. She'll help you get it all worked out."
It was some guy named Banner. Charlie knew he was one of the teachers from the school.
"Thanks," Charlie said. He could feel his cheeks heating up.
Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea. Talking in the diner would only lead to gossip in town.
Lily smiled at him and turned to get the coffee pot, filling his cup quickly before heading to the kitchen.
Charlie picked up the newspaper that the previous occupant of the booth had left, and buried himself in its pages, trying to ignore the whispering around him.
'I wonder why she's not staying with her mom.'
'I hope she's not in trouble.'
'Do you think she's going to stay for a while?'
He choked down his dinner, feeling mad at himself for his careless announcement. Once he had finished and paid, he headed home, happy to be out of the noise of the diner, but reluctant to step back into the total silence of his own world.
"Make sure you have some new towels, Charlie. I know you live like a bachelor, but she's going to need your house to feel like a home," Sue said.
"New towels," Charlie said, adding it to the list in front of him. The phone slipped off of his shoulder, and he scrambled to catch it.
"I think she'll let you know what she needs. Let her get used to the house."
"Should I…you know, update her bedroom a little. It still looks like a little kid's room."
Sue laughed, and Charlie heard her mumble 'men' before she answered.
"It's not a bad idea. You could wait and let her pick out her things. But I'm sure she wouldn't mind coming home to a room that's ready for her."
He folded up the list and tucked it into the pocket of the jeans he was wearing for his trip to Port Angeles. They weren't comfortable to him – he was too used to his uniform – but he didn't think he should spend the day shopping in the Port with a gun on his hip.
"Thanks, Sue. Harry was right. You're a lifesaver."
"We're both happy that she's coming home, Charlie. You let us know when we can invite both of you over for dinner. I think Leah will be willing to stick around long enough to meet her. Might even invite Sam to meet her. And Seth, well he's Seth. You know he'll be friendly."
"I do." There were so many questions that Charlie wanted to ask Sue about parenting a teen, but as usual, he didn't voice them. "Guess I'd better do some shopping."
"Talk to you soon," she said, and he heard the click of the phone hanging up.
Just over a month later, Charlie drove to Port Angeles in his cruiser.
Bella's flight would be landing soon.
She was coming home.
The windows were rolled up and he didn't have the radio on. He could barely hear the sound of the planes flying overhead. It was quiet.
That morning, he'd folded the fluffy new towels he'd purchased, and put them in his linen closet. The new purple comforter had replaced the old Strawberry Shortcake blanket on Bella's bed. It wasn't much, he knew, but it was an offering. So was the old Chevy that sat on the street in front of his house.
He wondered if he should even present her with the truck today.
But this was Bella. She'd never asked for much, and he was hopeful that she would accept his 'Welcome Home' gifts.
He wasn't usually a nervous man, but today his mouth felt dry and his hands were sweaty.
Burying the worry, he parked the cruiser and made his way into the airport, noting that her flight was supposed to arrive at any moment.
He stood at the window of the small airport, watching the plane taxi to a stop near the building. The passengers descended the stairs a few minutes later, and he gasped as he looked at the form of his daughter. She'd changed so much in the last year.
'Boys,' he thought with a grimace. 'I'm gonna need my shotgun.'
This was so new to him. He really wanted to be a good dad – especially when he was doing it full time, and to be able to tell Bella how important she was to him, but worried that he would fail miserably. Like he'd failed Renee.
But in his heart, Charlie celebrated having his only child moving back home. He hoped that he wouldn't be dealing with the unforgiving silence much longer.
This story was my entry into the Pre-Twilight Canon Tour contest. I won 2nd place – Holy Crap!
Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed and voted there. I was thrilled.
Huge thanks to Solar Eclipses for running the contest. She is phenomenal. Such a well run contest.
I had a fabulous pre-reader and content beta in Malianani, and the best beta ever in Giselle-lx. I am a lucky girl. Thank you both!
I hope you have enjoyed my take on Charlie.