Complete Summary: Born to help her dying sister. Forced into adoption when she was not a match. Bella Swan grew up in an abusive home, spending most of her childhood thinking she was dying. Now life has given her a second chance. Can she manage to live by her own standards, or will her history define her future?
**This story will contain images and descriptions of abuse. If that is a trigger, or you prefer not to read about that, I understand. This is rated Mature for a reason**
I wish I had a valid excuse for the absurd length of time it took me to get this chapter out, but I don't. I hope you're still with me. And to all of the new readers since my last update, welcome!
Dread slithered down her spine and settled into Bella's stomach at the mere thought of more strangers. Between Charlie, everyone down at the police station, and yet another new school, it was almost impossible to entertain the idea of more awkward silences and stilted conversation.
"I was on the phone with my friend James earlier, and he and his wife want to meet you. They want you to meet their son. What do you say? You want to meet them?" She watched as the normally taciturn man lit up from the inside and even spoke with his hands, so overwhelmed by excitement.
The fear lurched up from Bella's stomach and paralyzed her tongue, causing her to only be able to shakily shrug her shoulders in indifference.
Looking at her hands to gather some courage, Bella shook her head before responding in a whisper, "Why do I have to meet anyone, like, ever again?"
Rubbing his eyebrows in disheartened exhaustion, Charlie responded, "Well, James is your biological father, but more importantly, he is and has been my best friend for years. I mean…" he paused and shrugged before continuing, "he's going to be around." Bella's quick intake of breath stopped Charlie from saying anything else.
"My biological father? Will my biological mother be there, too? Ch…Dad, I don't know if I can do this."
With an awkwardness found only in fathers around their teenage girls, Charlie reached around Bella's shoulders and pulled her into a one-armed hug.
"Bella, honey, your biological mother will not be there. She and Jimmy split up years ago. In fact, none of us even knew she was alive until your story made the national news. Remember when I went to your aunt's AA meeting?"
Bella nodded into the comforting shoulder of the obviously uncomfortable man.
"That was your biological mother, Renee's sister. So yes, you are adopted, and I can't imagine this will make you feel better, but Renee is your biological aunt. Jimmy and I met through our wives and we stayed in touch long after our respective marriages failed. When you eavesdropped on their conversation at the station, Victoria was telling Renee the truth. Jimmy wanted you to be with me. Everything just spiraled out of control when Renee lost her damn mind."
Tears flowed earnestly down Bella's face at both the horror that she was, in fact, related to Renee and because she had just gotten some reassurance that she had been loved and wanted, even if not by the woman that had kept her all of these years. Borrowing some of the unending strength that Charlie exuded, Bella finally spoke.
"You promise they aren't going to hurt me? I know you've said…but I just…I'm so… just so damn scared."
His mouth dropped at her quiet question, then as he registered the rest of her words, his heart broke. It was the same confession that accompanied every crippling panic attack, and sadness tore through him as he saw hopeless desolation swimming in his daughter's eyes. That sadness, however, quickly turned to rage as he realized he might never understand the depths of the trauma Bella suffered at the hands of his ex-wife.
With steely determination and a gentleness that belied his true feelings, he simply tried to reassure his daughter. "No, sweetie. As long as I'm around, I won't let anyone hurt you again."
Charlie gently placed his fingers under his daughter's chin, raising her face to look into his eyes. "Baby, I love you. James loves you. He, well, none of us suspected Renee would ever be so cruel. I think he just wants to see you with his own eyes, prove to himself you're safe and sound. And I think it's safe to say after the trial, we won't ever see Victoria again. He has a new wife, Tanya, and she's lovely. They have a little boy, Jacob, and he's excited to meet his 'La.' You don't have to stay in contact with them if you're uncomfortable, but please try today."
A small smile crossed her lips. "La?" she asked.
Letting out an almost embarrassed laugh, Charlie knew he had a small admission to make. "Yeah, we never stopped talking about you. Jacob knows I'm a daddy, too, but that my daughter wasn't with me. He was bound and determined to help us find you."
He watched as her wide eyes close. When they opened again, they clouded over with an unnamed emotion. Charlie hoped it was resolve and not the numbness he had seen time and time again in abuse victims, but he couldn't be sure. Charlie had every intention of helping her to see just how strong she had been and could feel again.
"I'll be there the whole time. No one is going to hurt you again." Charlie tried to sound encouraging, and he knew he succeeded in some measure when he watched Bella take a deep breath and nod. "They'll be here in about an hour, just to let you know."
"Okay. Do you mind if I go to my room until they get here?" She felt shame at the need to be alone, but she could already feel the pressure building behind her eyes and needed to get out of that room.
"Not at all, go." He smiled softly as he wandered into the living room, giving her some space.
His reasons for wanting her to meet these people seemed on the up and up, but Renee had never wanted her to meet anyone except new doctors and Eric, and even he was one of the only people she'd ever met twice. Even thinking his name made Bella shudder. Her breathing started quickening, walls started closing in on her, and black spots starting dancing in front of her eyes. Charlie's face appeared and then blurred. Trying to catch her breath, she began rocking back and forth in an effort to physically push air into and out of her lungs. It was the same feeling she had every time Renee told her they were going to the hospital again.
She cried out as hands grabbed her shoulders. These hands weren't hurting her, though. They felt soothing as they began to gently rub her back. Slowly the haze cleared as she focused on the fact that she felt safe in the arms of another person for the first time in years.
"There you are. Just keep breathing, honey. You're doing great, Bells. I'm so proud of you. So proud. Let me call Jimmy and have them come tomorrow. I don't want you to be so upset. I'm sorry."
"No, I'm okay. I'm probably going to freak out a little when they get here, anyway. I'll just make sure to take one of the pills the police psychiatrist gave me before they show up. Please, don't put them out. I've agreed. Can we just do this?"
As they walked out onto the stoop, Bella felt the familiar tremor of fear again. It only took a moment for her hands to start shaking and her breath become more ragged. She knew she needed to hold it together; the last thing Bella wanted was for Charlie to be even more worried about her. As discreetly as possible, she dug into her pocket for the little white pills that have been her savior since she left Renee's apartment. Trapping it under her tongue, she allowed the numbing sensation to spread throughout her body. Able to breathe again, she tried again to look forward. Succeeding, she was surprised to see the two adults in the driveway appear just as nervous as she felt. Maybe this won't turn out so bad after all.
As the handsome couple approached, Bella watched as James' face went from nervousness to disbelief to undisguised relief.
James' mouth formed a word and it looked like her name, but she couldn't hear the words. Bella watched as his face and body crumpled. Tears were streaming down James' cheeks. Bella was grateful as she watched Tanya soothe her husband's sobs, but surprised when Charlie jumped off the steps and trapped the couple in a huge hug. It wasn't until that moment that Bella realized the only other person not crying was peeking out from behind his mother's legs. Choosing to meet the child, rather than confront the distraught adults, she squatted down and crooked her finger to the little boy.
"Hey. You're Jacob, right?"
Without meaning to, Bella let an amused chuckle slip.
"Yeah, I'm Bella. Hi."
"Hi." Jacob smiled shyly before squealing out with laughter and singing while doing a funny little toddler dance. "Found you! Found you!"
Neither of them noticed they had become the center of attention during their brief interaction. Once the tension had been broken, the rest of the day was surprisingly pleasant for Bella. She thoroughly enjoyed hearing James and Charlie swap stories, and though trusting Tanya was difficult, it was obvious she was a devoted, loving mother. Jacob thrived under her attention and while it warmed Bella's heart to see, there was a part that of her, one she wished she could ignore, that was dangerously envious of the little boy.
The idea of the cozy apartment being home was getting easier for her to understand and enjoy. School was hard for her, but she blended into the crowd easily and only had problems when her face was flashed on the news, but even that was getting better. Plus, it made time fly. The trial date had been set shortly after Renee's arrest, and there weren't any new developments being released to the public. Not that Bella ever allowed herself to think about any of that while awake. She spent enough time dreaming about it at night.
She used denial as an armor to survive. She threw herself into housework and school. Her grades were better than they ever had been, although her attention span at anything was about ten minutes. When home, she made sure the dishes were always done, the laundry folded and put away, including perfectly pressed police uniforms and suits for Charlie. Hot breakfasts were served promptly, and hot dinners always waiting for Charlie as he walked in the door after work. After dinner, the dishes were immediately washed and put away, homework was done and she was in bed and quiet by ten o'clock every night. Every morning, she would deny the wet pillowcases were from tears, or the wrinkled sheets from tossing and turning instead of sleeping.
One night at supper, she watched determination steel Charlie's features. "Bells?" Charlie's eyes were wary, but his voice even more so.
"Yeah, Dad?" Her voice still cracked when calling him "dad;" it just felt so unnatural after years of never saying the word.
"How are you doing?"
Surprise made her eyebrows jump before she could school her features. "I'm fine."
"Are you? I mean, I'm proud of how well you're doing in school, and I love that you take such good care of me, but that's not your job, hun." Charlie had put his fork down, moving his hands under the table. By the movements of his arms, it was obvious he was wringing his hands.
"Of course, but what do you mean 'that's not my job'?" Her eyebrow puckered in confusion at the thought. She even used her fingers to make quotes, like some kind of dork. "I don't understand."
She heard Charlie mutter something under his breath, but she couldn't make out what he said. "Bella." He started to speak before thinking better of it. Rather, he got out of his chair and made his way to kneel by his daughter's side before starting again. "Bella. You are a kid. You're my kid, which means it's my job to take care of you, not the other way around. I don't know what Renee said to you, but you don't have to earn your keep. I just want you to do well in school and be happy."
"Happy?" No matter how hard she may have tried, the derisive snort escaped her nose as she said the word. "Yeah, okay. Happy. I'll try, Dad."
"You promise?" He grabbed her hands and held them in his warm ones. When she didn't answer, he ducked his head down to catch her eyes, forcing her large sad brown eyes to look into his worried matching ones.
When the lie and ensuing guilt caught in her throat, she forced them out with a quiet cough. "Yeah, I promise." She'd never wished more than that day to be a bad liar, but she lived with Renee for too long not to pick up a bad habit or two.
Over the next week, she let the laundry sit for more than a day and only cleaned the house twice. It felt strange to be praised for falling behind in the housework, but if it made Charlie happy, then she would continue in that strange routine. Neither of them expected to be comfortable, but it worked for the Swans. Bella imagined Charlie was in no way prepared to be a father, nor having a regular schedule. She noticed he did struggle at first to remember to be home for supper or to pick her up from school. However, after a couple of weeks, he seemed to become dependable in a way she had never encountered.
She sat at the dining room table with her algebra untouched in front of her, frustration nibbling away her concentration, forcing her to walk away from it. Hoping a snack would get her in the frame of mind to finish her homework, she made her way to the fridge. With a quick glance at the contents, Bella grabbed a coke and slammed the door shut. As her eyes swept over the calendar, the can fell to the floor.
It had been three months to the day since the tear-filled reunion of father and daughter. Twelve weeks since she took control of her own life. Ninety days of making a new life for herself, nights full of both nightmares of the past and dreams for the future. Memories suddenly flashed before her eyes.
After three days of hiding out in the station, Bella found herself riding in an unmarked police car with Charlie – going home. Home. The word seemed strange and stuck to her tongue like peanut butter. She never had a place she called home. It was always just "the apartment." She was too nervous to ask Charlie about his place, but realized she was just content to be with him – and out of that station! With a flourish, he gestured to the small apartment he called home since he moved to Phoenix. Bella felt terrible when he mistook her awe for discomfort and started trying to justify his home.
"I know it's not much, my house in Forks is bigger, though Phoenix has grown on me, I guess. I hope you can make it your own."
"I love it, Ch – Dad. It's great, really. I'm just, well, overwhelmed I guess." She shot her nervous father a watery smile and asked for a tour.
Charlie only let her sleep in that room one night before he redecorated and refurnished it. Not only that, but he asked her opinion and listened to her choices.
Bella watched as Charlie pulled the masking tape off of the newly painted walls. The buttery yellow color made her heart warm and pulled a smile from her reluctant lips. In the last few days, Charlie had made her feel more loved and cared for than Renee had in the last thirteen years. The walls looked beautiful with the new oak desk and matching bedroom set that now filled the room. She really didn't want him to spend that much money, but he looked so happy, so she kept her mouth shut and smiled.
Whatever she was thinking caused collected tears to fall over her eyelids, running quickly down her cheeks. Though she didn't really notice them, Charlie did. Unaware he had even come home, she was oblivious to him standing in the doorway, watching his daughter get so lost in her thoughts. He had no idea what she was thinking so hard about, but it was obvious the thoughts were starting to upset her. Walking over to her, he gently used his thumbs to wipe the tears off of Bella's face, causing her to finally notice him.
"Hi, Dad. I didn't know you were home. Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?"
Charlie frowned. Even after endless conversations, she still treated him as though she was a servant.
"No. I want you to tell me what's got you thinking so hard, what's got you crying, Kid. Please. Please talk to me, Bella."
He continued to stroke her cheeks with his thumbs, and the calming sensation allowed her to nod her head, even though she couldn't look Charlie in the eye.
With a huff, she turned her head away and focused on the fast-moving clouds in the sky.
"I was remembering, I guess. It's been three months – today." Looking at Charlie for the first time, she managed to make eye contact.
"Did you know that?" Charlie could only respond by shaking his head in the negative.
"Yeah, me either. I didn't realize it until I looked at the calendar."
"Are those happy tears?" He wasn't sure if they were, but he hoped they were.
"Yeah, but… well, I've been thinking, Dad. I think maybe therapy is a good idea. I know I have to face Renee at the trial," she gulped around that word before continuing. "And, I don't know if I can do it without help."
"And I'm tired of being broken." She murmured the last part as shame colored her face bright red.
Therapy. They had been home for a week when Charlie brought it up, and it was obvious the idea terrified Bella. Charlie had told her he wanted to make sure she felt "safe." Bella opened and closed her mouth repeatedly, but no sound ever came out, making her look like a fish out of water. Bella shook her head at him instead and simply refused. He shook his head, discouraged, but let the matter drop.
Bella knew he would revisit the issue, but she was glad for the reprieve. After the topic was officially closed, she ran to her room where she began to pace the floor as fast as the questions raced through her head.
Did Charlie think she was lying about what Renee did? Renee admitted all of the things she had done over the years at the police station. Why did he think Bella needed to rehash her life to a stranger? It wasn't like they would understand what she went through or how she felt about it, so what was the point? She shivered at the idea of some old man sitting behind a big desk with a notebook, scribbling the whole time Bella poured her heart out like some lunatic. The idea of "safe" was stupid. Was anyone ever really safe? If her own mother, albeit adoptive, could torture her the way Renee had done, who could ever claim to be free of danger?
"I've got the doctor's name in my desk at work. I'll call him tomorrow, okay?" Charlie let out a sigh, and Bella knew it was one of relief for her willingness
"It's a guy? You promise? I'm not really comfortable around women anymore."
"I promise. We'll get through this together. I think maybe we need some joint sessions. You're not the only person Renee's hurt." Bella was surprised at the bitterness lacing Charlie's words.