Summary: As Forks' police chief, Charlie was used to being in charge. While he loved having Bella with him, he'd experienced a rude shock when he realized that a father can't truly be "in charge" of his teenage daughter. During the ups and downs of Bella's relationship with Edward, Charlie understood for the first time the true meaning of impotence. Rated T.
Disclaimer: All characters and recognizable story elements belong to Stephenie Meyer; no copyright infringement is intended. This story belongs to the author.
"I need to see your license, registration, and proof of insurance."
A shock of brown hair fell over the kid's eyes as he chanced a look at my face. Pale skin, freckles, blue-gray eyes. I was willing to bet the teenager was from Port Angeles; they always thought they could joy-ride out to the sticks without consequences. At least this one had the sense to be a bit nervous instead of a cocky son of a bitch. I'd had to threaten the last kid I'd stopped with resisting arrest before he finally showed some respect.
My hunch was confirmed with a glance at his license – yep, Port Angeles, all right. I took a deep breath and gave him my standard speed-kills-watch-it-on-my-streets speech, followed by his ticket.
He glanced up at me and then back to the steering wheel. "No, sir."
"All right, then. Just take it easy. I'd hate to have to watch them scrape you off the asphalt when you round a curve too fast and smack right into a logging truck. This little compact will not win."
He swallowed. "I guess not."
"Okay, you're free to go."
I walked back to my cruiser and watched him drive away.
Back at the station, I finished up the paperwork from the day's traffic stops and checked on a tricky situation we were monitoring. One of the teachers at the middle school was having trouble with her ex, and he was threatening to violate the restraining order. Unfortunately, we didn't have the resources for a 24-hour watch, but we were checking in with her regularly and doing some extra patrols around the school and her home. Reassured that she was fine and had seen nothing suspicious that day, I was ready to clock out. I gave a few final instructions and left one of my deputies in charge for the night.
As I drove home, I felt the reins of control slip from my fingers. At work, I was in charge: my deputies followed my direction, and everyone else pretty much did the same. The rare few who didn't suffered the consequences. At home, though...at home, I was in charge of nothing. I wasn't stupid enough to think that my "grounding" Bella was successful for any reason other than she felt guilty about her little trip and went along with it. Even there, she had set some of the rules.
Rules like Edward got to stay until nine p.m. I grunted at the sight of his car in our driveway behind Bella's truck. He was always careful to leave the space for my cruiser vacant, and he was almost too respectful in general. When I was feeling angry, he seemed to be mocking me, but at other times, I saw it as a sign that he also felt guilty—for being the cause of my worry and, even more, the cause of Bella's pain. I smelled dinner as I went inside and found them in the kitchen, Bella cooking while Edward worked on what looked like a stack of college applications. Bella's position at the stove sent my mind back to a few months earlier, during some of the worst part of the early winter.
Me walking into the kitchen. Bella just putting dinner on the table. Thin as a rail, white as a sheet, dark shadows under her eyes. No life in her at all. Answering direct questions but otherwise silent.
I'd tried everything I could think of—letting her go back to live with Renee, spending more time with her, giving her time alone, suggesting time with friends, even considering a hospital admission at one point...
How was I able to help the whole town but not my own broken daughter?
I suppressed a shudder at the memories and glanced up to see that Edward had dropped the pen and was gripping the edge of the table. As if aware of my eyes on him, he glanced up with a forced smile and picked up the pen. What the hell was that about?
Before I could ask, Bella distracted me by saying that dinner was ready. Edward cleared the papers off the table and we sat. As usual, the table was mostly silent, broken only by the two of them exchanging comments about something that happened at school that day. I surveyed him between bites. Just where the hell in L.A. were they anyway? I must have run dozens of searches for a Dr. Carlisle Cullen—first in L.A., then Southern California, and finally all of California—and turned up empty. I couldn't justify any more resources on a personal matter, but...just another dead end. Another way I couldn't help Bella.
As always, the memories were disturbing, and I shoved abruptly back from the table, chair legs scraping on the linoleum. "That was great, Bells. Thanks. I'm gonna catch up on spring training." Nope, I'm not going far, kids. Just in the next room. So don't try anything.
Bella smiled—a real smile, the one that was absent for six months. "Sure, sure. We'll clean up, and then Edward's going to torture me with another application." A mock groan escaped her, and she and Edward chuckled as I grabbed a beer from the fridge and left the room.
"Sure, sure." The familiar phrase reminded me of Jacob. Haven't seen him around here since Edward got back. Guess that's not too surprising, but I wish he'd take her calls.
Flashes of the first time I came home to some hint of life in her face and movements came to me. She had actually talked without prompting, saying how much she'd enjoyed spending time with Jake. I had been and was still grateful for his friendship, especially since I couldn't seem to help her myself. Maybe she'd needed a friend more than a father? Or maybe I hadn't been such a great father...a month or so out of the year for sixteen years? Why would I have any particular influence on her? I sighed and shoved that thought from me. It was water under the bridge, and I could do absolutely nothing about it now.
I opened my beer and forced myself to focus on the sports news. This period between Superbowl Sunday and Opening Day was always a little boring; basketball just didn't interest me that much, although hockey could be fun.
A basketball game had been on TV when I got home that night a few weeks ago. Bella nowhere to be found, and Jake tells me she left with Alice—but no explanation, not even where the hell she'd gone. Those three days would forever be burned into my memory as three of the worst days of my life. Waiting. Where could she be? Waiting. Why doesn't she call? Waiting. What's happening to her? Sleepless nights. More waiting.
Then, finally, a phone call with news—not from Bella, but from Carlisle—telling me that Bella was with them and they'd bring her home as soon as possible. Like she'd been on a sleepover, for crying out loud!
And then seeing her, in his arms... I'd tried to take her from the bastard who'd left her, but Bella wouldn't let him go...She'd wanted him.
I'd kicked him out as soon as I could and went back up to watch her. She's home, she's safe. Finally, I could breathe. After half an hour, I finally went to bed myself.
The next morning, I'd gone in ready to lay down the law, and she'd promptly taken the initiative, laying down terms for her own punishment—including her ultimatum about Edward. I could have fought harder, and I still tried my best to limit her time with him...but I'd been struck by the differences in her, after just those few days: despite her exhaustion, she had more life and color in her face, more energy in her voice and motions than she'd had in six months—Bella was back...because of him.
I still felt useless. I hadn't been the one to help Bella when she was hurting, I hadn't been able to bring that life back, and I couldn't get rid of Edward now without hurting Bella—the one thing I couldn't bear to do. I heaved a sigh and tried to take in the discussion about the Mariners' chances in the coming season.
Singing from kitchen startled me—a male voice, must be that kid—and what the hell was he singing? How to Handle a Woman? They'd mentioned something about the school drama club doing Camelot, but since when did he sing showtunes? Maybe I needed to worry more about this relationship than I'd thought.
"'Simply love her, merely love her, love her, love her.'"
A wry smile twisted my lips. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up—seems to be all I can do.
Promptly at nine o'clock, I got up and walked back in the kitchen. "Time's up. Time for him to go."
I glanced at Edward to find him looking at me searchingly. A little unsettled by the intensity of his stare, I nevertheless gestured toward the door. "Come on, you know the drill."
He nodded but then asked, "Sir, could I just have one more minute with Bella? I forgot to mention something—it won't take long, I promise."
I started to say no—what else was I going to say?—when Bella caught my eye, pleading silently.
I huffed. "One minute! And I'll be timing it." I returned to the living room but didn't bother to sit. No way are they stretching this out past one minute...
After thirty seconds, I heard Bella say, "What? But that's—" followed by whispering. Just as my watch showed fifty-eight seconds, they appeared in the doorway, Edward shouldering his backpack.
I sat back down in my recliner as Bella walked him to the door. They exchanged a circumspect kiss, and then, as always, he addressed me. "Goodnight, sir. Thank you for letting me spend the evening with you and Bella." Yep. Respectful to the max. Too bad that didn't keep you from breaking my girl's heart...
I heard Bella's movements in the kitchen, then she came out and sat on the arm of my chair. I looked up in surprise to see a confusing expression on her face. It seemed to hold a strange mixture of love, affection, sympathy, exasperation, and guilt.
She gazed back at me for a moment before speaking. "Dad, I'm so sorry for what I've put you through. I wasn't thinking of how you'd feel; I just focused on me and Edward. And that's not fair after all you've done for me. You've always been there for me—when I was so out of it last fall, all the nightmares, the zombie fog..." Her voice trailed off and she sniffed as her eyes filled. "Even last year, when I hurt you so much, leaving for Phoenix, I knew I could count on you and that you were there for me. I can't even tell you how much that means to me. I know we don't talk about this stuff much, but I wanted you to know because I'm not sure you do." She sniffled some more as a few tears escaped and ran down her cheeks. "You're the best dad ever, and I love you so much." The last words emerged brokenly as she started to cry in earnest, and I felt a lump in my own throat, my own eyes getting a little misty.
I had no idea what to say, so I just opened my arms. She almost fell into them and we hugged each other for a while. Her face was buried in my neck, and I hid my tears in her hair. When I thought my voice would be steady, I said, "I love you, too, baby. I'm always there for you, Bells, always." Despite my best efforts, my tears came through a bit. Trying to lighten the moment, I added, "No matter what jerk you take up with."
She gave a watery chuckle and lifted her head. "Not a jerk." She sniffed.
"Humph." We rose from the chair, and I ran my hand down her hair before patting her back. "It's getting late—on up to bed. I'll lock up and get the lights."
"Okay. Night, Dad." She moved toward the stairs.
I watched her take the first few steps. "Night, Bells. Love you."
She turned back to me and smiled. "You, too, Daddy."
I grinned at the word. She hadn't called me that since she was five.
I thought about her words as I checked the doors and turned off the TV and lights. Maybe I'm not exactly impotent and helpless. For some reason, I recalled a knickknack Renee had hung in the kitchen while she was pregnant with Bella; it wasn't there anymore, so she must have taken it with her when she'd left. Something about giving children two things—roots and wings. I chuckled. Well, Renee's sure the flighty one. I guess I took care of the roots.
A/N: This takes place during New Moon's epilogue, during the time between the Cullens' return to Forks and Jacob's telling Charlie about the motorcycles, although Charlie is remembering times throughout the book.