She could have simply jumped in through Bella's open bedroom window, but chose to use the girl's key and enter through the front door instead. She needed to see more than the bed, more than her human daughter's room, she needed to see everything. Part of her was furious, enraged beyond imagining, while another part was so consumed by worry and grief that she wasn't sure if she could make the phone call or not. She needed answers. No, Esme shook her head as she moved silently through the home. Bella needed the answers, but for herself? Esme's mothering heart demanded an explanation.
How could Renee not have seen the emotional pain her daughter was suffering? How could she have thought that hiding the truth about her divorce from Charlie was in any manner right? How could she . . . Esme growled as she ascended the stairs and entered Bella's bedroom. How could Renee have left her six year old daughter to be the responsible one? Breathing in deeply, Esme winced and frowned in worry. Even now, days after Carlisle had brought Bella home, the scent of the girl's tears and the sweet tang of her fear permeated the walls and bedding.
Sitting down on Bella's bed, she smoothed her hand over the rumpled blankets before lifting one of the pillows into her arms. Holding the pillow close seemed to bolster her resolve, the scent of her daughter's tears casting anger and sorrow upon her heart. Reaching into her pocket, Esme withdrew Bella's phone and opened her contacts. Scrolling through the names listed, she gave no thought to the time difference as she selected Renee's name and placed the call. It spoke volumes to Esme that Bella had saved her mother's name as 'Renee' where her own information had been saved as 'Mama Cullen'. Even Bella didn't see Renee as a mother, not truly anyway.
"Hello," came the groggy reply, and Esme took in a breath to speak.
"Renee, it's Esme Cullen," she introduced herself, and listened as the woman shifted in her bed.
"Esme? Is Bella alright?" she asked, and Esme had to remind herself to answer her calmly.
"She is getting better now," Esme answered, her tone soft and full of concern. "She's staying with my family for the time being."
"Where's Charlie?" Renee asked before shushing Phil as he spoke in muffled tones behind her.
"He's stuck at the lake, there's been some flooding, but that's not why I called. I know it's late and I understand that much of what I wish to talk with you about you may not want to discuss, but we need to," Esme said as bowed her head and pressed her nose against Bella's pillow.
"I don't understand," Renee said, her voice full alert and confused.
"Edward left Bella the way he did because he knew that we couldn't stay in Forks while Carlisle was gone," she continued the lie they had told the humans in town, "and there was no telling when we would return. Yes, his actions hurt Bella, but they reawakened a pain far darker, far deeper, than any of us knew."
"What are you talking about?" Renee asked, her voice guarded and suspicious.
"Do you know how many times over the past few days my husband and I have held your daughter while she has cried in her sleep and suffered nightmares of being taken away from Charlie?" Esme asked, her voice gentle even as the underlying accusation colored her tone.
"That's not any of your concern," Renee said almost sharply and Esme answered her immediately.
"It is every bit my concern," Esme said, a growl turning her words rough. "I have held your daughter while she has sobbed from memories turned nightmares. I have listened to her talk in her sleep, begging not to be taken away from her father and asking why she wasn't good enough. I called Charlie about it first, needing to understand what memory was affecting her so deeply and he told me that you believed it best to not tell Bella you were getting a divorce. Renee, she was so young!" Esme said, her tone demanding answers even as the volume of her voice was never lifted beyond a gentle calm.
"She's almost an adult," Renee said as though trying to deflect Esme from taking the conversation any further.
"That doesn't negate the fact that she was very deeply affected by what happened back then," Esme said only barely keeping from letting her emotions control her. "Do you have any idea how much pain your daughter has suffered in her life?" she asked. "I do," she spoke further before the woman could answer. "I know because I have been there to hold her and comfort her as she has sobbed and talked in her sleep, trapped in memories she can no longer escape."
"Did you call just to berate me?" Renee asked. Having always hated any mention of her parenting skills or rather lack thereof.
"I called for answers," Esme said, refusing to comfort the woman on the other end of the call. "Bella doesn't understand, she tries to, but she doesn't. You weren't there for her when she needed you the most. No one ever explained to her why she was taken away from Charlie and from what I've been able to piece together, no one ever tried. She was left to figure things out on her own."
"I was there!" Renee protested. "I was right there with her all the time."
"Not in the way she needed you to be," Esme told her, wanting the woman to understand the affect Bella's formative years had on her. "You never talked about the divorce with her. Did you know how much she was hurting after that?"
"Bringing this up now is pointless," Renee protested. "Talking about the bad things serves no purpose at all, aside from making them last longer. It's better to just forget them and move on."
"She was a child, Renee," Esme said and shook her head. "She was your child. Did you know that she was bullied? Or did you think that the incident with the spiders was all there ever was?"
"Who the hell told you about that?" Renee asked, her voice accusing as she tried to run away from the painful memories.
"Your daughter did," Esme said. "Did you know that Bella has never thought she was enough for anyone? Do you have any idea how she's seen herself?"
"That's your son's fault for leaving her as he did," Renee spat as she tried to cast the blame on someone else – anyone else.
"How Edward handled things was poorly done, I agree, but the pain and despair she suffered was not his fault alone," she replied, her voice low. "What happened with him only opened the door to memories she's spent a lifetime trying to bury. Renee," Esme released a heavy sigh as she held the pillow tighter. "My intention was not to attack you, I just need to understand how you never saw the pain your daughter was in."
"Bella is very much like her father. Neither one express emotion to any great extent, and if Bella was truly suffering she would have said something," Renee said even as her tone of voice displayed how little she actually believed her own words.
"You don't know your daughter at all, do you?" Esme asked, her voice quiet and disbelieving. "Bella doesn't speak up about what hurts her until it's too much for her to take. Her fears come out in her dreams, and her emotions? She may be a quiet girl, but her emotions have always been written in her eyes."
Esme closed her eyes as she listened to Renee protest the truth of her words and mourned all that Bella had lost. Her human daughter should have had a childhood filled with frivolity and wonder, instead her youth had been encumbered by responsibility and trauma. Renee was angry that her parenting was being called into question, her words harsh as she tried to defend the life she'd had with Bella and Esme shook her head. How could the woman not understand all the pain and torment her child had suffered? How could she not see that her refusal to discuss the things that hurt Bella only caused her more harm?
Lowering her phone when Renee ended the call, Esme knew that there was nothing more to say. She couldn't give Bella back the years she lost nor could she turn Renee into the mother she had so desperately needed. Tucking the phone into her pocket, she stood from the bed and set the pillow down. Bella was her daughter now, Esme reminded herself, and she would give her everything she needed. Turning toward the closet, she stilled and looked back to the desk behind her, frowning to see the side panel had been removed.
Stepping over to the desk, Esme looked inside the ancient computer and found the boxes of sleeping medicine Bella had been taking. It pained her to see the evidence of the girl's suffering. Her eyes narrowed as she saw something sticking out from the computer tower and she reached within to retrieve the piece of paper. Unfolding the page, she read over Bella's script, the usual flowing handwriting made messy by her exhaustion.
It doesn't work anymore. The sleeping meds used to keep me asleep, keep me from crying out, but Charlie's having to wake me up again. He isn't getting any sleep at all. I'm putting him in danger because I can't keep quiet at night. I'm scared of what might happen if he gets called out somewhere and is too tired because of me. He talked about sending me back to Florida to be with Renee. I can't go, I can't leave Forks. I can't let him become a memory. Maybe if I take both kinds, maybe that will keep me quiet.
Esme frowned deeply in concern and folded the note back up before slipping it into her pocket. Both kinds, she thought and looked at the boxes of pills sitting on the desk. There was Unisom and Advil PM. Would mixing the two have been harmful to Bella, she wondered. When had Charlie talked of sending her back to Renee? How long ago had that been? How long had Bella been trying to stay quiet so that her father could sleep? Sighing softly, she looked up from the desk and turned her eyes toward the window.
There was a scrap of something in the woods, something that looked familiar and Esme focused her eyes on it. Her vision changed from the normal immediate focus of her surroundings to the sharpened gaze of the predator and the scrap she had seen moments before became clear. It wasn't a scrap at all. The blue color was a flannel blanket and the white spot she had seen with it was a pillow. Bella had taken to sleeping in the woods at some point and Esme couldn't help the fear that twisted her heart. What would they have done if Victoria had found her one of the nights that she had spent outside? How would her family have survived if Bella had been killed?
Closing her eyes as she forced the thought away, Esme turned and stepped back to the bed. Picking up the bag she had brought with her, she moved to Bella's closet and began packing clothing for the girl. Taking shirts and jeans from the closet, she carefully folded the clothing before putting it into the bag and turned back to the closet, a soft smile bending her lips at the corners. Reaching up for the stuffed rabbit that sat on the high shelf, Esme studied the threadbare animal and wondered how long Bella had had it? Looking back into the closet, she pulled down the worn shoebox the stuffed animal had been sitting on and felt the delicate cardboard bend under her gentle grip.
Pictures spilled out onto the floor and Esme knelt down to retrieve them, smiling as she found a yellowed picture of Bella held in her father's lap. She couldn't have been much older than two or three, Esme thought as she stared at the photograph and traced the pad of her middle finger over the toddler's face. In this picture Bella was happy; her dark eyes were shining as a wide smile split her face into a seven-toothed grin. Renee must have been the one taking the picture; she thought and set the photo gently in the box.
She lifted the other photos one by one, turning over the ones that had fallen face-down and looking at them each before she tucked them back into the box. There was one that stood out among all the others, one that made Esme's heart ache with the desire to have been able to share the moment with her human daughter. Bella was young, five or six she estimated. The photo showed Bella lying sleeping on her father's chest as she held the rabbit tucked in one arm. Esme chuckled at the sight of the child's delicate face, her sooty lashes fanned over the curve of her cheek and her thumb stuck in her mouth. She looked so very peaceful and that photograph reminded her of the many times Carlisle had held Bella on his chest while she slept.
So this was the secret, Esme thought with a curve of her lips, her eyes hooded in an endearing smile. Bella was a daddy's girl. It was why she had hurt so very much when she had been separated from Charlie all those years ago, why the memory still hurt her now. It also explained why when in the throes of her nightmares, she would seem to calm whenever Carlisle spoke to her. The way she had taken comfort from lying on Carlisle's chest as she slept, the certainty from both Emmett and Jasper that Bella would only calm for her husband told her what Bella would not. Her human daughter had come to see Carlisle as a father, as her father, and the knowledge made her heart warm.
Was it selfish of her to want a copy made of the photograph she held? Looking up at the sound of someone entering through the window, she smiled when she caught sight of Alice. Her daughter smiled at her as she stepped around the bed and came to look at the picture she had seen previously in her vision. The tight bond she had once had with Charlie had suffered because of the divorce, the damage done irreparable, but she had been given a second chance with Carlisle.
Carlisle didn't shy away from the heavy subjects, didn't leave her to try and figure things out on her own. Instead he held her, talked with her and comforted her every moment that he could. He had no need for sleep, no need to lie back on a bed and do nothing, yet still he had held her wrapped in his arms while she slept. He let her lie on his chest, her fingers curled in his shirt as she held onto him and Esme felt her emotions overwhelm her as she thought of her husband and her daughter.
Bella had been lost for so long, emotionally left adrift without the stability of having someone care for her as she needed. The divorce between her parents had been an ending to not only their marriage, but also to Bella's childhood. Renee marrying to Phil almost two years ago now had been another kind of end for Bella, a time when she felt that she had to leave, if only to give her mother what she wanted. When Bella had moved to Forks she had stepped into their lives without ever realizing it and she found all that she had lost.
She couldn't help wondering how different it would have been for Bella, had she stayed in Forks with Charlie instead of being moved to Phoenix. Would she have grown up as Charlie's little girl? Would she have been able to stay the innocent daddy's girl that she was in the photograph? Looking up when Alice spoke to her, Esme nodded and stood from her seat on the floor. She couldn't relinquish the picture in her hand, couldn't place it back in the box to be hidden away. Somehow this photograph had merged with her heart and she felt inseparable from it.
Bella was her daughter now. She was Carlisle's daughter and Esme could see the tight bond developing between them already. Bella would be the one to turn Carlisle into a true father, wouldn't she? Her need of him was far different than any of her other children's, even Edward's. Smiling as Alice confirmed through her visions what her heart already knew to be true, Esme zipped up the bag on the bed, the box of photos tucked in inside. She smiled to see Alice carrying the threadbare rabbit in her arms and looked down at the photo she still held in her hand.
"I think that would perfect," Alice said as they dropped out of Bella's bedroom window and moved into the forest. "I'll work on the sketch tonight and see if I can get Carmen to turn it into a painting. They'll both love it."
Esme's smile grew as she looked at her daughter and then back down at the photograph. The thought she'd had in mind for the photograph had been plucked by Alice's visions and given life. The picture of young Bella sleeping on Charlie had merged in her mind with her memory of Bella sleeping on Carlisle's chest and she had thought of how beautiful it would be as a portrait. Alice had seen the same through her vision and smiled as she knew how very much Bella would treasure such a thing. There would be three portraits in all, three sketches. For Charlie it would the recreation of the photograph, for Carlisle it would be a memory immortalized in oils and for Bella . . . For Bella it would be the beauty of what once was, and the promise of all there was yet to be. To love and be loved was one of life's greatest gifts.
This epilogue was originally written, and first seen, as a submission for Fandom 4 LLS.