Hello again. I'm somewhat sheepishly re-posting my stories. My decision to remove them seemed like a good one at the time, however, it turns out it was a bit pointless. I'm re-posting them since a lot of people keep asking me about them. I lost all my lovely reviews which is a bit sad, but I had fun reading them at the time... all 9000+ of them, there was some good reading in that. lol
All chapters were Beta'd by my American friend Courtney and were pre-read by my English friend Mel. Both ladies played a major part in making the story far better than it would've been if I hadn't had their assistance. I'm forever grateful.
For anyone who hasn't read this story before, I hope you enjoy it.
"No, Dad. Seriously, you don't have to take any time off. My flight lands at one and if I rent a car I'll be there just as your shift ends anyway." I sigh into the airport payphone. We already had this conversation last night when I called to tell him my flight details, but, Charlie being Charlie, it looks like we're going to have it all over again.
I'm already irritated because I've left my cell phone at home, which necessitates standing in the middle of a busy corridor to make the call by payphone. I balance the receiver between my ear and my shoulder as I rummage my pockets in the hope of finding more change.
"Bella, I'd prefer to come pick you up than have you drive from Seattle alone."
I grit my teeth a little and roll my eyes. I hear a frustrated sigh behind me, and I turn and glare at the douche looming over me wearing an expression that I'm sure he thinks is enough to get me off the phone.
It really annoys me that, despite the fact that I'll be flying from Florida to Seattle alone, Charlie still thinks I'm incapable of then driving from Seattle to Forks. I can't help the snark evident in my voice when I speak again. "I'm all grown up Dad. I'm twenty-eight years old and more than able to get from Seattle to Forks without any major incidents."
I can tell he still imagines me to be that young girl who scurried out of Forks with her tail between her legs ten years ago. He's seen me only once in that time, and that was when he came down to Phoenix to visit me a year after I left. He never visited again. I think Renee and Phil were too much for him, and there was no way I could come to see him in Forks. Until now.
He called me last weekend and insisted that I had to come, and in the back of my mind I probably already knew why, especially since he'd insisted that I come alone. His voice had been even quieter than normal, his words even more stilted, and I could hear the regret when he practically begged me to come.
"How much is renting a car gonna cost?" He sighs, changing tactics. "It seems like a whole lot of expense when I can just take the day off and come get you."
I am getting tired of this now. "Listen, Dad, it's a six hour round trip for you. I'm renting a car. It'll make this so much easier, so just let me do this, and I'll see you when I get to Forks!"
Finally he relents and offers to pay for the car rental, and rather than get caught up in another marathon argument, I tell him we'll talk about it when I see him. I hang up and ignore the loud groan from King Douche behind me when I pick the receiver back up and, take the number out of my purse to call the rental company. I make the arrangements to pick up a car at Sea-Tac, and then I head back to the departure lounge and wait for my flight to be called.
Sitting alone in the departure lounge surrounded by strangers, my mind starts to wander to the reason he has summoned me back to Forks. But I can't face it yet, so I push the depressing thoughts to the back of my mind. That's another reason why I won't let him pick me up; I don't want our first meeting to be in an airport terminal. I want to be in the privacy of his home when he breaks my heart.
My flight gets called, and as I hand over my ticket to the attendant, she beams at me and tells me to have a pleasant journey. I can't help but think it would be a more pleasant prospect if I was travelling into the bowels of hell rather than to Forks, Washington.
Travelling alone isn't as boring as I thought it would be. The cheesy in-flight movies keep my mind off things for the most part, and the young man beside me sleeps for most of the journey. He barely acknowledged me when I sat down and that pleased me. I was in no mood for making small talk with a perfect stranger for several hours.
It seems the gods are with me when I get off the plane; my bags are among the first to come riding along the carousel and that in turn means there is only a short line at the rental desk because most people are still waiting for their bags. By the time I get the keys and my instructions for where to find the car, the line is three times as long as it was when I got there. I can't keep the smirk off my face as I walk past it, and see King Douche right at the end.
It has just gone past four o'clock when I arrive in Forks. I glance at the sign as I drive past it and try to work out how many of the 3120 people who live here will still know me. The day I left I would imagine that almost all of them over the age of about fourteen would have heard of me, or at least, about me. By now I'll be old news, and I'll probably be nothing more than that girl they once thought they knew something about.
I pass the diner where Charlie used to take me every Thursday religiously, and we'd eat the same thing and have the same conversation every time. It was our thing, our father-daughter ritual, and practically the only time we spent alone in each other's company that lasted longer than thirty minutes.
Driving through the town, it strikes me that nothing much has changed. Everything looks the same and it even feels the same, though the backdrop of slate-grey skies and lush, green trees is a far cry from the sun-soaked beauty of Florida, and might take a little getting used to again.
Everything looks familiar and it's like Forks has been in some kind of frozen time warp while the rest of the world moved on. Of course, if I stayed away from anyplace for ten years, I'd probably go back and find most of it unchanged. But I'm sure that if I'd stayed in Forks, I would have stayed exactly the same too.
The heavens have opened, and rain is lashing down on to the mostly empty streets. Only a few people have braved the elements, and are scurrying along as if running will help them dodge the raindrops. I'm glad, because it means there is less chance that I'll see or be seen by anyone who recognises me. I don't want anyone to know I'm back in town, although, knowing Forks, I doubt that that is even possible.
I turn into the driveway, and he's out on the porch before I even switch the engine off. Thanks to the dark clouds hanging in the sky, the light is too dim for me to see him properly, and I briefly wonder if he's smiling. I grab my bag and hurry through the rain while he holds the door open for me.
"Jeez," I huff, shaking the rain from my hood. "The shitty weather hasn't improved, I see."
"Language!" he scolds, but there is a hint of mirth in his tone. He helps me peel my wet jacket off and hangs it up for me while I prop my bag against the wall.
I turn to face him at last and the sight of him knocks the wind out of my sails. He's so gaunt! His skin is sallow and loose on his too thin face. It sags in on his hollow cheeks and is craggy at his jaw line, not tight and smooth with just a hint of stubble like I remember. His hair is mostly dark grey now, still thick and cut in the same style, but that only accentuates the thinness of his face even more.
His eyes are the worst, and not because of the deep lines etched into the delicate skin surrounding them. No, it's the unmistakable look of resignation in them that is the worst thing for me to look at. This man before me is like a bad charcoal sketch of the memory I've held in my mind's eye for almost ten years.
Every month –when I talked with him on the phone– I pictured him with thick, dark hair, a bushy, brown moustache, and still with that cynical glint in his eyes. I pictured him at least twenty pounds heavier, with rugged good looks and darker, slightly weather-beaten skin.
I swallow thickly as I take it all in, and he watches me, waiting, but doesn't say a word.
"Tell me." My voice is barely a croak.
He takes my arm and gently leads me into the front room before sitting me down. He paces across the room. I can feel his tension as I look up at him, and his eyes are troubled now. He looks like he's warring with his conscience. Like he's trying to choose the right words from a list of thousands he's gone over in his head already.
He sits down beside me, and I feel the heat of his body when it occurs to me that my blood had chilled as soon as I looked at him, and I'm afraid of what he's going to tell me. I can't stand to look at his face any longer, but when my eyes trail lower, I see that his neck is too thin for his shirt collar, and that seems so much worse, so I look away from him completely.
"I didn't want to tell you on the phone," he begins quietly. His bony fingers curl around my hands which are clamped together on my lap. "I couldn't come all the way out to Florida, so this was the only way. I'm sorry I had to ask you to come."
It's what I've known all along, but wouldn't let myself dwell on in the hope that it wasn't true.
I feel him shift beside me, and he separates my hands, taking the left one between his. He was never a tactile father, so that little action strikes fear into my heart. This is bad. His breathing is deep and calm but, judging by the way he is gripping my hand, I guess that it is not without great effort.
"I have cancer, Bella."
My eyes squeeze tight of their own accord, as if, when they close, it will make everything go away. But it only makes it worse; I am assailed with images of hospitals and doctors and... coffins.
"I was diagnosed a couple of months ago," he continues quietly, "It's pancreatic cancer and two weeks ago I got the news that it's spread and it's- it's, well, there's nothing they can do."
I suck in a sharp breath. My initial thought is that he has known this for months and didn't tell me, but then a more pressing thought presents itself, and I look up into his dark troubled eyes. "How long?"
"Three to six months apparently," he snorts bitterly. "I mean, what am I meant to do if I get to three months, start ticking the days off on the calendar?"
I gape at him through my tears. "I knew it would be something like this, as soon as you called and asked me to come, I knew, but I hoped... God I hoped–" I'm babbling, too many thoughts are scrambling around my brain at once. "Are they sure there's nothing they can do? What about chemo? There's all sorts of new drugs. They talk about them in the newspapers all the time. Can't they at least–?"
He grips my shoulders and turns me to face him, his mouth set in a grim, determined line, his craggy jaw taunting me. "Bella, it's spread to other organs, chemo will only delay it, it won't give me a better quality of life, it'll only delay the inevitable. I don't want that, I don't–"
"Come to Florida with me," I insist, desperately interrupting him. "I'll look after you, it'll be different there."
"Florida won't cure me!"
"But if you get the chemo, it could buy you years, you could come and live with me and Jacob."
"Bella, listen to me," he tilts my chin up, so my eyes meet his. "It's too late for that, it won't buy me years, it's already advanced too far for that. I've reconciled myself with this; I just want things to be as normal as possible for as long as possible. I'm gonna keep on working as long as I can and I'm still gonna go fishing, and drink beer, and watch the games. That's me, Bella, that's who I am, and that's who I'm gonna stay." His eyes bore into mine as if he's willing me to understand, and I can see the absolute truth in them. "It's what I want," he insists.
Hot tears slide down my cheeks as I nod. "Will you let me do one thing?" I ask, and he regards me for a long moment. I can see he's wary but eventually he nods his head slightly. "I'm going to go back to Florida the day after tomorrow and take care of a few things, and then Jacob and I are gonna come here and stay with you."
His eyes widen. "What about your apartment and your job and Jacob's–"
"None of that matters," I say, cutting him off. "The job's shitty anyway and Mom can look after the apartment for me."
He starts to shake his head.
"Please," I beg. "I can't go back there and let you go through this alone."
He blows out a harsh breath and rubs his hands down his face before he finally relents. "I have money," he says, stroking his moustache thoughtfully. "An insurance policy I had through work paid out, seeing as it's terminal," his eyes flick apologetically to mine. "I'll pay your rent and for the flights for you and Jacob, and after... well, the house will be yours, you can sell it and buy yourself a place in Florida."
"I don't care about that!" I sob.
"I do, Bella, It's a comfort to me, knowing that I can at least give you some security. So if you really want to stay here with me, then I don't want you to be worrying about money."
"So, you'll let us come?"
He nods, and then hauls me into his arms. I feel his bony cheek pressed to the top of my head, as I fight against the sob bubbling in my throat. I revel in the feel of his arms around me and know that I really want these last few months with him. I couldn't go back to Florida knowing he is here, going through this alone.
He pulls back and gently brushes away my tears with his thumb. "What about the Cullens?"
I stiffen slightly even though I knew he'd ask this. "I don't care about the Cullens anymore."
A cynical smile touches his lips. "You cared enough to hide from them for ten years."
At one time I would have argued with him about that. I would have denied that I'd been hiding, but it was the truth. It seemed such a waste now, all those years of staying away, of missing out on time with Charlie.
"I can handle the Cullens," I insist, with greater conviction than I'm feeling.
Coming back here and avoiding them for a few days is one thing, but actually living here, and knowing I will have to face them soon is a whole different ball game. But Charlie needs me, and I'm not about to let them get in the way of that.
"I don't doubt that," he sighs. "But Edward's–"
"Dad, I don't want to talk about Edward Cullen."
It has always been an unspoken agreement between Charlie and I that we don't talk about the Cullens. He tried once, a few months after I left, but I made it clear then that I would never want to know anything about Edward's life. It hurt too much.
"Well, if you're gonna be living here you're gonna hear most of it anyways, so maybe you best hear it from me."
I know he's right. Things have changed, but the pain of hearing Charlie's news mixed with the pain I feel whenever I allow myself to think of Edward is more than I can stand. I pull my hands free, and sweep my hair back off my face. "Not tonight though, please?"
He nods and his lips flatten into a thin line. He's not happy about it but he seems to understand.
In nine years we've never talked about Edward, but it has always been there, the weight of everything we weren't saying was always heavy in the gaps between what we were saying. What's a couple of more days avoiding the issue?
He stands up. "Go take your things up to your room, and I'll make us something to eat."
"You'll cook?" I smirk, trying desperately to inject some humour into my voice, but, judging by Charlie's sombre expression, failing miserably.
He shifts slightly from foot to foot, like maybe he's about to reveal some terrible, dark secret. "I might have something in the fridge that Sue Clearwater sent over," he rubs the back of his neck self-consciously and glances at me sheepishly. "Since Harry died she, uh, she always has extra so she likes to send Seth or Leah over with it." He jerks his thumb towards the kitchen. "I'll just go warm it up."
The slight touch of pink staining his cheeks suggests that maybe there might have been more to it than simply relieving Sue of her excess food, but that thought only reminds me of everything he can never have, so I turn away from it and head upstairs.
Grabbing my bag, I take the stairs two at a time, only just managing to keep it together until the door is closed behind me. I see nothing of the furniture, the walls or the bed even, I have no idea if he has kept it the same, because I can't see through my tears as I slide to the floor, and let some of my grief out.
My body convulses from the force of my sobs, and eventually they become so loud that I have to clamp my arm across my mouth in an effort to stifle them. So many emotions are coursing through me: sadness that this dreadful thing has happened to my father, guilt that I left him here to face the mess I made and regret that I let it keep me from him for all this time. I've been selfish and cruel, and not just to Charlie.
It takes no small effort to gather my wits again and force myself to calm down. He doesn't need my pity. He needs me to be strong, and if his way of coping with this is by carrying on regardless, then I have to find the strength to do that too. I wipe my eyes with my sleeve and stand up slowly. While my panic recedes I take in my surroundings.
The room is exactly how I left it. My posters of the musicians, actors and sportsmen I thought were hot during my awkward teenage years, still adorn the walls. The cork board above my desk still holds all the silly mementoes and photographs I had held so dear, and my purple dream-catcher still hangs from the headboard above the bed.
The bed is the only thing that reveals the lack of occupancy; it has been stripped, probably long ago, and is as bare and empty as I feel.
I lay my bag on it and move to the desk, looking at the collage of memories on the cork board above it. I finger through the Post-it notes put there to remind me to do things that I can't remember if I got round to doing or not. I lift over-lapping pieces of paper, and, when my eyes fall on the picture of me and Alice, I let them drop again because I can't bear to look at it.
That smiling face of hers is not the image I have recalled any time I have thought about her in the last decade. No, the picture my brain has held of Alice is of the last time she spoke to me. It recalls the image of her tear-filled eyes, and the utter misery my actions caused her, that was etched into every detail of her beautiful face. Hurt and disappointment had hardened her pretty features, and it cut like a knife that I had caused it.
I turn away from the board and move to the heavy chest by my bed. Opening the drawers I see that there are still a few items of clothing I had left behind, and it doesn't surprise me that Charlie never bothered to get rid of them. Being a pack rat, Charlie still has things in his closet that are older than I am, and it would never occur to him that a twenty-eight year old woman would have no use for an eighteen year old girl's clothes.
I pull my damp jeans off and change into a pair of grey sweats. My top is still dry so I leave it on and pull a sweater over it. I brace myself before opening the door, and my nostrils are immediately filled with the delicious smell of garlic and herbs wafting up from the kitchen. My stomach growls briefly but then the thought of eating kicks in, and I lose my appetite completely.
I stop and check in the hall mirror that my face shows no signs of my crying fit, before I make my way down to rejoin Charlie.
I recognise the pictures and plates on the walls as being the same ones that have always been there, probably even since Renee lived here. I can't recall what colour the walls used to be but the flat pea green seems familiar even though it looks relatively fresh. Time seems to have stood still here too.
He is pouring sauce over spaghetti when I enter the kitchen.
He glances up, and his eyes are just a little bit livelier than they were earlier. He offers me a tight smile, which I return, and then he nods down at the food. "It's some kind of pasta sauce, there's no meat in it," he turns and places the pan back on the stove. "You are still vegetarian, right?"
I nod and then, realising he still has his back to me, I say "Yes."
I retrieve a couple of glasses from above the sink and fill them with water from the container in the fridge. Charlie puts cutlery on the table, and my heart swells a little at the familiarity of our actions as we move around the kitchen in silence. Just like old times.
It appears neither of us is particularly hungry and we talk more than we eat. Charlie explains to me the treatments he's had so far, as well as the medication he is taking now to control his pain. At one point he gets up and opens a drawer, and shows me the worryingly large collection of pharmacy bottles contained within.
He admits that there is a question over whether he will be allowed to work much longer due to insurance issues, but he has been looking into ways to get round this by way of a disclaimer. The more he talks, the more I can understand his desire to behave as if he doesn't have cancer. He is not ignoring the cancer; he is accepting it, but not allowing it to rob him of his way of life too soon.
I scrape our uneaten meal into the trash and wash up as Charlie lines up his pill bottles on the table. He systematically goes through them, opening the lids, and shaking out the pills, before swallowing an alarming amount in one go. He chases them down with water and then wipes his mouth. "Christ, I'm taking pills for the pain, pills for the tiredness, even pills to counteract the effect of other pills."
I place my hand on his shoulder and squeeze it gently. "I wish there was one to make it all go away."
"You and me both Bells, you and me both."
I'm not sure about a posting schedule. The story is already written obviously but I'm now a single parent of two teenagers, I work and I'm doing a degree (I also like to read a lot and hope to start writing again soon too) so I will post regularly but it can be quite time consuming up loading the chapters and posting them so I will probably just post a few chapters at a time when I have some spare time. I will be posting my other stories too, so we'll see how it goes.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
Thank you for reading