Disclaimer: All characters and locations are the property of Stephenie Meyer. I own nothing related to Twilight, other than some well-worn copies of the books and some scratched DVDs. No copyright infringement is intended. Please note, for the conversations that were held in Breaking Dawn, I have used the same dialogue, as this is a retelling from Charlie's POV. No plagiarism is intended.
Thank you to my lovely writing team: my beta, Jenny Cullen, and my pre-reader, EternallyCullen!
This one-shot was originally written for the Fandom of Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's fundraiser. For those of you who donated, thank you so much for supporting such a worthwhile cause!
Need to Know
I opened my eyes to see muted gray light filtering through my bedroom curtains. Almost all of my days here in Forks had been cloudy and dreary, so I didn't think much about the weather. The minute my eyes flew open, my thoughts were on Bella. The Cullens kept telling me she was sick – had picked up some rare, tropical virus on the honeymoon – but I was beginning to doubt their story. I had always liked the Cullens, except during the time that Edward had taken off and left my baby girl a walking zombie, but they had always seemed a bit…odd…to me.
Something just wasn't right.
And right now, my intuition was telling me that they were lying to me about my Bella, but I was having trouble reconciling the Dr. Cullen I had known the last few years with the Carlisle who was lying to me now. He had always been open and honest with me, so I didn't understand what had changed.
I groaned and threw the covers back, heading into the bathroom to shower and shave for the day.
For the first seventeen years of her life, Bella had lived with Renee, only coming to Forks for a few weeks a year. Then, several years ago, she'd made the decision that she didn't want to even visit Forks, so I had met her in California for our yearly father-daughter bonding time. I knew that I was boring, but I would never understand the aversion to Forks. I've lived here all my life, and it's always had everything I ever wanted. I snorted. People just didn't know how to enjoy small town life anymore.
I opened the medicine cabinet for my razor, and one of Bella's make-up thingies fell into the sink. I felt a fist clench at my heart. For the last several years, I had been afraid that I was going to lose her forever, but then she had called me out of the blue and asked if she could come live with me while Renee and Phil traveled for his baseball team. I had immediately said yes. This was my last chance for redemption.
I thought I had screwed it all up by continuing my own routine of working, eating at the diner, watching ballgames, and fishing, but she had assured me that she enjoyed being alone and that she didn't want me to change for her. That was when I realized that she did indeed love me and accepted me for who I was. That was the good news about her move to Forks.
The bad news had been…Edward "Bella thinks he walks on water" Cullen.
Renee had told me that Bella had not been very interested in boys in Phoenix. I had naively thought that would carry over here and that she would wait until at least college before dating; yeah, yeah, I know – every dad's delusion. But noooo. The youngest Cullen had caught her eye immediately, and they had become too serious, too fast.
As a father, it was hard for me to watch my baby girl with a…boyfriend. I could still almost choke on the word, and now he was her…husband. Ugh. Too much teasing at their reception was a constant reminder of exactly what Edward would be doing to my daughter later that night. Blech.
And he had swept her off into the sunset to a place where I had no idea where she was, and then, she was no longer my baby girl. She's suddenly a grown woman and a wife, and she will forever look to Edward to take care of her and not me.
I sniffed and continued to shave my face. Damn allergies. I'm not sure why, but they only acted up when I thought of Bella. I wasn't crying; I didn't cry. It was nothing but allergies.
Once I'd wiped my face off and brushed my teeth, I headed downstairs to my tiny kitchen to fry up some bacon and eggs. This was really all I knew how to cook. Bacon and eggs for breakfast and then either the diner or pizza delivery for dinner. Boy, I was also gonna miss Bella's cooking. I had never eaten as well as I had during the year or so that Bella lived with me.
And now, if Dr. Cullen couldn't figure out what to do with her, she was going to die. My eyes filled up again and smarted. Maybe I needed a Benadryl.
I had talked to her briefly the day before, and all I knew was that she sounded awful. The doc finally took the phone away from her to tell me what was going on. I was already halfway out the door when he told me I couldn't come see her. That I wasn't allowed. What the hell was this crap? I was her father, dammit – and the Chief of Police. I didn't care if she was quarantined or not and didn't care if I got sick. This was my daughter he was talking about.
I had planned to go fishing today, but my heart just wasn't in it. I didn't think this had ever happened before. Huh. Possibly a sign of the apocalypse. I plopped down in my favorite chair and turned the television on, flipping to SportsCenter. I couldn't concentrate on it, though.
I decided to call the Cullen house and demand to speak to my daughter. If they refused, well, then, I might just be tempted to jump in the cruiser and storm the place, S.W.A.T. style. I picked up the phone and dialed, my hands shaking.
"Hello?" Carlisle answered the phone.
"Dr. Cullen, it's Chief Swan. I'd like to speak to Bella," I said firmly, waiting for his response. I was not going to be deterred this time.
Carlisle hesitated. "Um…okay, Charlie. Hold on."
I was dumbfounded. I guessed they knew I meant business. I could be intimidating when I wanted to be.
I waited patiently and then sagged with relief when Bella came onto the line. She sounded horrible, but she was still my daughter.
"Hey, Bells. It's me. How are you? I've been so worried, and the Cullens wouldn't let me talk to you or come visit you."
She cleared her throat. "Yeah, I've been pretty sick." Her voice was weak and raspy, and she did sound as if she'd been very ill.
"That's what I heard. So, how're feeling now?" I asked, trying to keep a calm exterior.
"I'm better, Dad. Really. Getting better every day."
I didn't buy it. "Good. If you're better, then I'll stop by to see you today."
She gasped. "N-No, Dad. I might still be contagious, and I don't want you to catch anything."
"No, Dad. I'm serious. Don't come by. Once it's all clear, I'll let you know. I gotta go; it's time for my medicine. And Dad… I love you," she said.
It took me a few seconds to form the words. "I love you, too, Bells. Always will."
She immediately disconnected. I didn't know how long I stared at the phone in my hand, willing her to get well. She was my life. I hadn't realized how dull my existence had been before she had returned to me. God, I silently prayed, please don't take her away from me. She's all I've got.
Slam! I slammed the phone receiver back into the cradle. Why didn't they answer the damn phone? I knew they were there. I had called earlier and spoken with Esme, who'd told me Bella was too ill to talk to me on the phone, that she was still contagious so I couldn't visit, but not to worry.
After stewing over the short conversation with the matriarch of the Cullen family, I had called again. And again. And again.
I was tempted to jump in the cruiser and speed hell bent for leather to the Cullen house. Hell, I'd even turn on the roof lights and siren to make it an official visit. They couldn't deny the Chief of Police entrance. Well, yeah, technically, I guess they could. Unless I had a search warrant.
I wondered if Judge Payne would sign the paperwork…
I just had a feeling that I was being jerked around.
Instead of storming their house, I jumped in the cruiser and headed to La Push to visit Billy Black and Sue Clearwater. They also seemed to know more than they were admitting to. Since Plan A wasn't working, maybe it was time for Plan B.
I drove mechanically to La Push, barely remembering the drive through the thick forest. It was as if I had just poofed myself to Billy's little red house. I sat in the car for a few minutes, just gazing out into the mist.
Bella… I was so scared. She was my only daughter – my baby girl. Whenever she was sick as a small child, she wanted me – her daddy – to care for her. She loved Renee, but her mother would flutter over her, almost in a panic. Bella was more like me; she wanted quiet support in the background.
She was sick now, and she needed me.
I felt a small pang of uneasiness. What if she had replaced me with the Cullens? I had worried that when Renee married Phil that Bella would just replace me with him. That she wouldn't need me anymore, that Phil would step into my empty shoes and be her daddy.
And now, she had a new father and mother figure.
I guess she didn't need me anymore.
I felt a catch in my throat, and my eyes filled up again.
I ran up to the door, knocked, and then walked in. "Billy!"
The squeak of his wheelchair tires grabbed my attention, and he rolled into view. "Hey, Charlie. How're things? How's Bella?"
"I'm not sure. I've only gotten to talk to her once since she's been back. She tells me she's fine, but she sounded awful."
I wouldn't swear to it, but I thought he looked as if he knew what my answer would be before I said it. I knew that Billy and many of the Quileutes didn't like the Cullens. I had always chalked it up to stupid superstition. But now, I was beginning to agree with them. I wasn't liking the Cullens too much right now, either.
"Well, I'm sure the Cullens will take care of her…" He fiddled with his shirt cuff and wouldn't make eye contact.
"Right…" What the hell is going on?
I plunked myself down on their small couch while Billy turned the television on to the Mariners' game. Maybe this was what I needed to get my mind off of Bella for a bit.
"Jake here?" I asked during a commercial. Guy Rule Number One was that one only spoke during a commercial when watching sports.
Billy hesitated. "Uh, no. He's out…with some friends."
Yes, something was just not right.
We didn't talk much through the rest of the game, and I left around twilight. Billy didn't exactly push me out of the door, but I certainly felt as if he was in a hurry for me to leave for some reason.
I drove home, forcing myself to pay attention this time. Animals often crossed the road at dusk, and I didn't want to have an accident – especially in the cruiser.
I passed the evening without any excitement, finally giving up and going to bed early. Nothing held my attention. The house was just too quiet. I wanted – no, needed – Bella here. I missed the sound of the water running and dishes clinking in the kitchen as she puttered around, the slam of the dryer door while she did laundry, or the stairs creaking under her slight weight as she went up to her room. I laughed to myself. She had come up here to live with me, and she had been taking care of me ever since. Now, I was back on my own, and only now did I realize how dull my life had been before she'd moved to Forks.
I missed my daughter – desperately. I missed her quiet companionship. Even though we never had any long, in-depth conversations, we were comfortable just being with each other. It had been nice to come home from a long day at work and be greeted by her soft brown eyes and smile. It had also been nice to come home to a hot dinner. But it wasn't just the food I appreciated; it was the time she'd put into it. She was my teenage middle-aged kid – the constant caretaker.
As I dozed off, I determined that I was going to get some answers – one way or another.
Several days later, I was tossing a load of dirty clothes into the washer when I heard a knock at the door. Immediately thinking it might be Bella or one of the Cullens, I dashed to the door. To my surprise, it was Jacob Black. I opened the door.
"Hey, Jake. Everything okay with Billy?"
"Yeah, he's fine," he said. "Um, I wanted to ask you to take a walk with me."
"Huh?" That was not what I'd expected.
He pointed toward the woods with his head and started heading around the corner of the house, his hands stuffed into his pockets. "I need to talk to you about Bella. She's back in town."
Bella! If Jake had information about Bella, then I'd follow him through the gates of Hell itself. "Okay," I quickly agreed, trailing him into the thick, green forest right behind the house. "So, what do you know?" I asked, slightly miffed that Bella would call Jacob before me upon her return to Forks and wondering what he had to say that couldn't be said in the house.
Jacob grinned. "Well, Bella's back in town, and she's fine! She's not sick anymore, but things are a little…different."
Different? What the hell did that mean? Well, I was going to find out, so I started to walk back to the house to grab my keys.
"Charlie, wait a sec!" Jacob shouted, causing me to turn in exasperation.
"I gotta show you something before you go," he said.
Then…well…he started taking his clothes off.
"What the hell are you doing, Jacob?" I yelled, feeling like my eyes were going to pop out of my head. I mean, it wasn't every day that your best friend's son asked you to go for a walk in the woods and then started stripping to his skivvies.
"Hang on," he said distractedly. He was soon standing in front of me…naked. I wondered if I was dreaming.
And then, he turned into an animal. A fucking animal. I was staring at what looked like a wolf, except it was huge.
I had to be dreaming – or hallucinating. This could not be happening. It just wasn't possible…wasn't rational. The ground suddenly started moving, and I realized that I had stopped breathing and would soon be rendered unconscious. What the hell was going on here?
Suddenly, this…thing…morphed back into Jacob, and he nonchalantly put his clothes back on – as if he hadn't just changed into a furry, four-legged beast right in front of me. I had to force myself to pull air into my lungs before I passed out, although a knock on the head would explain what I'd just seen. Except the head trauma wouldn't have happened before the…thing…appeared. Oh, sweet Jesus…
"Wh-Wh…huh…um…J-Jake…" I stuttered.
"Charlie," he said, "you don't live in the world you thought you lived in. The good thing is that nothing's changed – except you know now. Things will keep going on like they always have, and you can go along pretending you don't believe any of this."
Oh, sure. I could just go right back to my ignorant – and normal – existence. But…what did this have to do with my daughter. "What's going on with Bella? This whole rare disease thing… She hasn't been sick, has she?"
He nodded, his expression calm considering that he had recently resembled a dog on steroids. "Yes, she's really been sick, but she's fine now."
"Just like that?" I wondered if my heart would ever return to a regular rhythm.
"Well…she did have to change a bit in order to get better," he hedged.
"What do you mean, 'change'?"
He grinned at me. "She just looks a lot more like Esme than Renee now."
I had a sudden, horrifying thought. "Does she turn into an…animal, now, too?"
Jake laughed. "Ha! She wishes she was this cool!"
I felt my face blanch.
"Charlie, I'm a werew–"
"No. Stop," I interrupted. I'd seen enough. "I don't want to know the specifics of…whatever the hell you are. Did Bella have any idea what she was getting into when she married him?" I took a deep breath. My voice was getting louder, and I didn't want to alert the neighbors of my nervous breakdown that was in progress. A straightjacket certainly wouldn't help my situation right now.
Jacob laughed again. "Yeah! She's known about all this ever since she moved to Forks."
I thought steam was probably coming out of my ears at this. "What?You mean to tell me that Bella lived under my roof for a year and knew all about this freaky shit? And she never said anything? And then, knowing about it, she still married that…that…thing?"
I gasped for breath, wondering if I was going to have a stroke. But then, I'd end up going to the hospital, and Dr. Cullen would probably come in to treat me… In all likelihood, that would be the final straw that would off me. No, I needed to delay any major medical issues until later, if possible.
"Okay," I said between gasping breaths, "I only want two things. I want to see my daughter…"
"Wait a bit, and let me get there ahead of you to give them a head's up that you're coming over."
"…and the other is that I don't want to know any more. Just tell me what I have to know, and that's it. Don't tell me anything else. And I'm gonna pretend like…that…didn't just happen and life is normal."
He grinned at me. "Oh, there is one more thing."
Oh, great… "What?" I asked guardedly.
"Well, Bella and Edward kinda inherited a new little mouth to feed, too. He had a distant relative that died and left this little girl an orphan, so she's living with them."
"Are they adopting this little girl?" I asked, finally hearing something pleasant.
Jacob nodded. "Yeah, I think so."
I felt a warm sensation filling my chest. "Like a daughter? As in, I'm gonna be like…a grandfather?"
He grinned. "Yep. Congrats, Gramps."
I smiled at that. How could a man be angry when he heard he was going to be a grandfather? "Wow…"
"Yeah, and Charlie, she's a special little girl. More special than all of us combined. I know you don't want to know about all of this, but if you can just ignore all of the strange stuff, you'll be amazed by her. She's the most wonderful and beautiful person in the entire world. And if you can deal with – or ignore – the strange parts, then they will all stick around for a while. But if you can't, it's okay. They'll go somewhere else."
I noticed how Jacob's eyes shined when he talked about this little girl. I could relate to that. I'm sure I had that same expression on my face whenever I would talk to anyone that would listen about Bella. And suddenly, I knew that I could deal with anything – except Bella leaving.
"I'll deal with it – as long as you don't force any more information on me," I said quickly.
"No problem," he replied. "I'm gonna take off. I'll see you at the Cullens'."
I nodded dumbly and retreated to the house. I stared around the living room, expecting some huge change, but all was as it had been. A car passed on the street. Two kids across the road started fighting over a toy. Life went on, regardless of the fact that my world had just been turned upside down.
But no matter what had occurred out in the woods, I had just heard that my daughter was alive – and well. And that was all that mattered to me. I took a deep, steadying breath and turned on my heel.
I was on my way to see these changes in Bella myself.
I turned into the Cullens' drive, feeling my heart rate spike. I was nervous, I could admit it. I was unsure of what I would encounter once I entered the house. The last time I'd been here had been for Bella and Edward's wedding. Had that only been two months ago? It seemed as if it had been years since I had last seen my daughter.
I arrived at the house and stared at it in silence. It looked harmless enough, but would they all poof into oversized dogs, too? If they did, I was sure I would drop dead of a heart attack right there. I took a deep breath and stepped out of the cruiser, slamming the door behind me. I walked up to the door and took a couple of more deep breaths – Lord, give me strength – and knocked.
I was greeted by Dr. Cullen.
"Hello, Charlie," he said, his face showing his guilt at having lied to me.
Good. At least he felt bad about it.
"Carlisle," I greeted, uncharacteristically using his first name. I wanted to show him that I was the authority figure here, not him. "Where's Bella?"
"Right here, Dad," someone said. They were out of my line of vision, but it sure didn't sound like Bella.
I looked around the room blankly, trying to locate her. It took me a few moments to actually find her. My eyes widened.
Wh-What… is that…Bella? It can't be… It just can't… Oh, dear God! What happened to her? What is she? What the hell did they doto her?That's…my Bella…?
"Is that you, Bella?" I whispered. My throat was still constricted from the shock, the pain.
"Yep," she replied. "Hi, Dad." Her voice… it didn't sound like Bella's voice at all. What…?
I took a deep breath and spotted Jacob – aka Dog Boy.
"Hey, Charlie," he greeted me with a grin. "How're things?"
I glared at him, still pissed at him that he had just nonchalantly shown me his new magic trick in the woods. The memory made me shudder. My eyes were drawn back to Bella, sitting on the couch. I walked toward her, slowly, and sent a glare Edward's way. However, my eyes strayed back to Bella, like a magnet.
"Bella?" I whispered again, unable to believe any of this was real. I had to be dreaming; that would be the rational explanation.
"It's really me," she replied. Her voice was so…off. "I'm sorry, Dad."
"Are you okay?" I asked forcefully, wanting to know once and for all how she was and if she was out of immediate danger. I looked into her eyes, wanting to see the truth, and I shuddered at what I saw. Her beautiful brown eyes were gone. Instead, she was looking at me with eyes the color of a dark red clay…a muddy brown, tinted red. What the hell?
"Really and truly great. Healthy as a horse."
Her mention of animals sent a silent shudder through me again. "Jake told me this was…necessary. That you were dying." I could hear the disbelief in my voice.
She nodded. "Jacob was telling you the truth."
Suddenly, I felt as if I were instantly transported back in time to when she was a small child, scolding her for lying to me about something. "That makes one of you," I said accusingly. I was just so hurt that she would keep something as important as this – whatever this was – from me. I wondered if I had overstepped my boundaries when she cast an anxious glance at her lap. But what I saw surprised me.
It was a beautiful little girl. "Oh," I whispered. I had already forgotten what I had been angry at Bella about. "This is her. The orphan Jacob said you're adopting."
"My niece," Edward said from beside Bella, pulling me out of my reverie.
Niece? "I thought you'd lost your family," I said coldly, my anger returning tenfold and focusing on Edward. My son-in-law. The reason Bella was in…whatever mess she was in.
I had to give him credit, though. He never missed a beat. "I lost my parents. My older brother was adopted, like me. I never saw him after that. But the courts located me when he and his wife died in a car accident, leaving their only child without any other family."
My breath caught again as the child peeked out at me from behind Bella's hair and then hid her face. "She's…She's, well, she's a beauty."
Edward agreed with me.
But I had to speak my mind. "Kind of a big responsibility, though. You two are just getting started." To me, Bella was still just a kid herself.
Edward's fingers brushed across the little girl's cheek. "What else could we do? Would you have refused her?"
I shook my head, feeling uncomfortable and awkward at the heaviness of the subject. "Hmph. Well. Jake says you call her Nessie?" Strange name for a kid… Reminded me immediately of the Loch Ness Monster.
"No, we don't," Bella said sharply, surprising me. "Her name is Renesmee."
"How do you feel about this?" I asked, still worried about my only child. "Maybe Carlisle and Esme could—"
Bella interrupted me. "She's mine. I want her."
Since when did Bella get all maternal? If I remembered correctly, she had never even been able to keep a goldfish alive. Now she wanted to be responsible for a whole other person? "You gonna make me a grandpa so young?" I mean, really, I wasn't that old.
Edward smiled at me, and I wanted to smash his perfect face in. "Carlisle is a grandfather, too." Wow, wasn't he helpful?
I looked over at Carlisle and thought I felt my jaw drop. He was still standing by the door, and he looked nothing like a grandfather. The thought caused me to snort, and I laughed for the first time in a while. "I guess that does make me feel better. She is something to look at," I said quietly, my eyes going back to Nessie…er, Renesmee. She suddenly looked around Bella's hair, and I saw her full face. I gasped. She was the most beautiful child I'd ever seen. She looked as if she was a china doll.
A doll with brown eyes…Bella's eyes…my eyes.
Oh, my God. Wh-What was going on? I felt myself becoming lightheaded as I looked at this baby who looked exactly like Bella and Edward combined. But they were just married! Two months ago! Th-There was no way this was possible! It couldn't be! No!
Jake was suddenly at my ear, whispering, "Need to know, Charlie. It's okay. I promise."
Okay? How the hell were things ever going to be okay again? But I nodded dumbly. Suddenly, rage at Edward took over, and I stepped up and got in his face. "I don't want to know everything, but I'm done with the lies!" Bella had never been a liar – she was horrible at it. I knew that he was the reason she had been withholding the truth from me.
"I'm sorry," Edward apologized, "but you need to know the public story more than you need to know the truth. If you're going to be part of this secret, the public story is the one that counts. It's to protect Bella and Renesmee as well as the rest of us. Can you go along with the lies for them?"
Stupid bastard. He was basically telling me he'd lied to me for my own good! I huffed and then looked at Bella again. I imagined her leaving my life forever. I remembered how I had felt when I thought she was going to die from some rare, tropical disease. I sighed, silently relenting. "You might've given me some warning, kid," I said.
She looked at me with those strange, freaky eyes. "Would it really have made this any easier?"
I frowned at that thought and knew nothing could have made this any easier. I knelt down in front of her, trying to get a better look at my…granddaughter.
Nessie…er, Renesmee…smiled at me and reached a hand out.
"Whoa," I said, startled. "How old is she?" The kid had a mouthful of teeth!
Bella hesitated, but Edward answered. Of course. "Three months," he said. "Or, rather, she's the size of a three-month-old, more or less. She's younger in some ways, more mature in others."
The kid then waved at me, and all I could do was blink at her. My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth, it seemed. I felt an elbow in my side.
"Told you she was special, didn't I?"
I immediately remembered his furry explosion earlier and cringed away from him.
"Oh, c'mon, Charlie. I'm the same person I've always been. Just pretend this afternoon didn't happen."
Oh, yeah, sure. Why didn't I think of that? I felt the blood drain out of my face. "Just what is your part in all this, Jake? And how much does Billy know? And why are you here?" I stared at his face, trying to determine where he fit in this fucked up puzzle. And why was he looking at Nessie…er, Renesmee…like he'd just found the Hope diamond?
"Well," he started, "I could tell you all about it. Billy knows absolutely everything, but it involves a lot of stuff about werewo—"
"Ungh!" I shouted, pressing my palms over my ears. "Never mind." I knew I looked childish, but really, they should all just be grateful I wasn't foaming at the mouth at this point.
Jake grinned at me. "Everything's gonna be great, Charlie! Just try to not believe anything you see."
"Oh, God, surely there isn't more," I grumbled under my breath. I didn't think my mental stability could withstand anything else.
Suddenly, the big Cullen boy shouted, "Go Gators!"
I about jumped out of my skin. My nerves were beyond frazzled by now. I decided to focus on something I knew to regain some sense of balance in my universe. "Florida winning?" I asked.
I didn't hear what he said because of the buzzing in my ears. I wondered if I was actually going insane but decided to go along with the delusion. I took a gulp of air and collapsed into a chair. Football equaled normal in my world. "Well," I said with a deep sigh, "I guess we should see if they can hold onto the lead."
"You gonna stand Billy and my mom up, Charlie?" Seth asked, breaking into my thoughts. "C'mon. Bella and Nessie'll be here tomorrow. Let's go get some grub, eh?"
I looked up at him, still wondering why Seth Clearwater was here and surprised that the time had passed so quickly. I had sat at the Cullens' home through two entire football games, the after-game commentaries, and the news. I had been forced to face the unreality surrounding me, and I had stared at the television, oblivious to everything around me – except Bella and Nessie…er, Renesmee.
I stood up and stretched, following Seth to the door. I hoped he was right and that they would all still be here tomorrow. I recalled the time that the Cullens had just up and left town and felt a faint queasiness in my stomach. How easy it would be for them to do so again.
I stood at their door, preparing to leave. "I don't know how much we should tell Renee about this," I said to Bella. I didn't think my ex-wife would be able to handle all of this weirdness as well as I had. My stomach grumbled loudly, and I realized that I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast.
"I know. I don't want to freak her out. Better to protect her. This stuff isn't for the fainthearted," she said, nodding in agreement.
I smiled. "I would have tried to protect you, too, if I'd known how. But I guess you've never fit into the fainthearted category, have you?" I asked, wishing I could have spared her from whatever she had gotten herself into, yet knowing that she had jumped right in to it. She had always been quiet but strong and resilient. I sighed; she was more like me than either of us had known.
I patted my stomach as it grumbled again. I was suddenly surprised that they hadn't offered me any refreshment, especially since they seemed so refined. "I'll think of something," I said distractedly. "We've got time to discuss this, right?"
"Jake says you guys were going to take off on me," I said quietly, trying to keep the accusation out of my voice.
Bella looked up at me, and those strangely colored eyes focused on mine. "I didn't want to do that if there was any way at all around it. That's why we're still here."
"He said you could stay for a while, but only if I'm tough enough and if I can keep my mouth shut."
She nodded. "Yes…but I can't promise that we'll never leave, Dad. It's pretty complicated…"
I grimaced. "Need to know," I said to remind her.
"Right." Thank goodness she didn't tell me any more.
Suddenly, a scary thought entered my mind. "You'll visit, though, if you have to go?" I asked, almost desperately.
"I promise, Dad," she replied, trying to reassure me. "Now that you know just enough, I think this can work. I'll keep you as close as you want."
I stood still for a moment and then leaned toward her with my arms extended. I needed to feel my baby girl in my arms again – to convince myself that she was real. "Keep real close, Bells. Real close."
"Love you, Dad," she whispered.
A sudden urge to pull back almost overwhelmed me, and I shivered involuntarily. What the hell? This was my daughter! My own flesh and blood! So, why was I suddenly nervous about being this close? It was as if some subconscious instinct was trying to push me away.
"Love you, too, kid," I said, trying to cover up my uneasiness. "Whatever else has changed, that hasn't. She sure looks a lot like you," I said, touching Nessie's…er, Renesmee's cheek.
"More like Edward, I think," she said casually. "She has your curls."
That caught me by surprise. So, now we were back to admitting she was their…child? I think I preferred the adoption story, myself. "Huh," I replied gruffly to hide the emotions that were running wild. "Guess she does. Huh. Grandpa. Do I ever get to hold her?"
Bella didn't hesitate as she held her out to me. I wasn't sure if I had meant that I wanted to hold her right then, but I cradled my arms the best I could and held Nessie…er, Renesmee…close. "She's sturdy," I replied, trying to gloss over the fact that I had broken out in goose bumps where Bella had touched me. Her skin was ice cold.
I looked up into her face and saw her frown. Uh oh. "Sturdy is good," I said quickly, trying to recover. "She'll need to be tough, surrounded by all this craziness," I muttered under my breath. I swayed her back and forth while she slept. "Prettiest baby I ever saw, including you, kid. Sorry, but it's true," I told her, trying for a light note.
"I know it is," she agreed with me.
I swayed her again and gazed down into her perfect face, so soft and relaxed in sleep. "Pretty baby," I cooed. "Can I come back tomorrow?" I asked suddenly.
"Sure, Dad. Of course. We'll be here."
I kept gazing at Nessie…er, Renesmee…and said, "You'd better be." I tried to sound stern but wasn't sure if I pulled it off or not. "See you tomorrow, Nessie."
"Not you, too!" she wailed.
Bella looked at me sternly. "Her name is Renesmee. Like Renee and Esme, put together. No variations. Do you want to hear her middle name?"
"Sure," I said quickly, wanting to appease her. I'd been trying to get over calling her Nessie in my mind, but it looked as if I'd let it slip.
"Carlie. With a C. Like Carlisle and Charlie put together."
I was speechless for a moment and then felt a smile light up my whole face. Wow. I felt overcome. "Thanks, Bells."
She smiled at me. "Thank you, Dad. So much has changed so quickly. My head hasn't stopped spinning. If I didn't have you now, I don't know how I'd keep my grip on…on reality."
I looked down. Even after everything we'd been through today, I was still uncomfortable showing my emotions. My stomach grumbled again loudly, breaking the silence. I was suddenly starving.
"Go eat, Dad. We'll be here," she said, trying to reassure me. My entire world had just been upturned, so obviously, I needed all the reassurance I could get.
I nodded and slowly handed the baby over to Bella. I lifted my eyes to look around the room behind her, and I shuddered, still unsure of exactly what was going on here but not wanting to really know, either. I shook my head and let out a sigh. "See you tomorrow, Bella. I mean, it's not like you don't look…good. I'll get used to it." And I knew I would. It was the only way to keep my daughter – and granddaughter, I thought with a gulp – in my life.
"Thanks, Dad," she said.
I nodded in response and mechanically got into the cruiser, cranking the engine and turning on the lights. I slowly drove down the drive, glancing occasionally in my rearview mirror at the large house that was so brightly lit.
So, Billy knew. That must have meant that Sue knew, as well.
I suddenly laughed out loud, and it felt good. Like I was releasing all of the pent up tension from the last few days.
Boy, what a conversation this was going to be!