Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight.
Pre-read by Shika and Jonesn.. Much love, ladies.
All mistakes are my own.
Chapter Twenty-seven: Family Dynamics
Only a handful of days have passed since Charlie Swan arrived and blew up my life with his baby daddy bombshell news. Bella still hasn't mentioned the man and neither have I. Truth be told, I'm too nervous to bring him up again. Not a word has been said about him since the night we looked at apartments online, the same night I asked if she wanted to talk. Her head has been in the clouds ever since. She walks from class to class, books clutched against her chest, fingers fumbling when I take them from her hands and hold them for her. Sometimes she offers me an apologetic smile. Sometimes she doesn't even notice. And tonight … tonight she's holed up in her bedroom.
A white strip of light glowing under her door tells me she's on her computer. I tap at the door and listen for a muffled reply, but all I hear is silence. Worried, I push the door open a crack and glance inside.
She's sitting at her desk peering at the screen. Earbuds are in her ears, country music audible all the way across the room. I cross the distance between us and place my hands on her shoulder. She yelps and slams the laptop shut, whirling around with eyes wide and her mouth parted open. The earbuds fall from her ears with the sudden motion.
"You scared the crap out of me. I nearly shit myself," she mutters, blushing for whatever reason. She side-eyes the laptop, a strange expression on her face.
I frown and narrow my eyes, reaching for the laptop. She doesn't stop me, so I flip it open. The glowing screen demands a password and she glares at me, turning in her seat and typing it in. When the blog she was pursuing pops open, so does my mouth.
"Anal prep guide," I say, my shock transforming into smugness. "You getting prepped for some anal? Am I invited?"
"This isn't funny," she replies, jabbing my belly with her index finger. "You should read this. Wait, maybe you shouldn't. I'm freaking traumatized from what I read on this blog."
I stoop down eye level with the laptop and read aloud.
"Use dark sheets," I say, "for potential messiness and stains. What the fuck …"
"Shit dick." Bella whispers the words, her face humorously serious. "The dark sheets are in case of shit dick. And anal leakage."
"Okay, don't ever use the words "anal leakage" or "shit dick" in a casual conversation with me again." I chuckle.
Bella purses her lips. "Keep reading."
"Douche your anal cavity, but be careful not to over-douche. Over-douching can dry the anal cavity. Do the number two before doing the do." I wince. "Fuck my life."
"No, fuck my life." Bella raises an eyebrow. "Did you read the part about relaxation? How in the hell does one become relaxed beforehand? You have a large piece of metal pierced through your cock. That's gonna be inside my ass. Don't get me wrong. That piercing feels nice in my cooch, but my ass?"
"Hey, what's this about butt plugs?" I grin at the words and say them again just to hear them. "Butt plugs."
"Says butt plugs help with preparation." Bella shakes her head. "When I think of butt and preparation, I automatically think of Preparation H. Oh, my God. Does anal sex cause hemorrhoids? I'm too young for hemorrhoids, Edward!"
The panicked look in her eyes forces me to shut the laptop. "I've already told you we don't have to do this." I take her hands and lie through my teeth. "I'm not even really into it anymore."
Bella squints her eyes, shooting me an inquisitive stare. "You're not?"
I shrug and say nothing. Bella takes a deep breath and opens the laptop once more. Her fingers fly against the keys. She pauses and taps the screen.
"Fantasyland," she says. "Just outside of Seattle. This is where we'll get the butt plug. There's no way I'm ordering one online. Imagine Mama or Carlisle's face if one of them happens to open my package."
"I'd like to open your package," I say, wagging my eyebrows and leering.
"Are you talking about my ass again?"
I grin. "Maybe. So when do you plan on driving to Seattle for the elusive plugger of butts?"
"Saturday. We can look at some apartments while we're in town. Sound good?"
Sex shops and browsing for a future home, a home for just me and Bella with no nosy, snooping parents anywhere around?
Saturday arrives and so does Bella's friend, Angie. She slams her car door and saunters up the drive, a suitcase-sized, pink purse hanging from her shoulder. Crossing my arms over my chest, I frown at her from where I'm standing at the top of the drive.
"What are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you, too," she says, slamming her bag against me as she walks by. "I'm here for moral support."
Angie pauses near the door and twirls around, shoving her dark shades from her eyes and perching them on her forehead. Dark mascara lines her eyes, the thick makeup giving her a catlike appearance.
"Maybe I should specify more clearly. I'm here for anal support." Her face perks up, a smile replacing her glare. "Anal support. Ha!"
She cackles at her words and turns on her heel. My face flames like a fifteen-year-old kid who got caught looking at porn. Luckily she doesn't notice. She disappears inside as I hear a familiar roar of an engine in the distance.
Emmett drives down my road, radio blasting. He pulls in the drive and parks his car behind Angie's, grinning at me through the open window. "Ready for practice?"
"Practice?" I ask. "Shit, band practice is today, right? Man, I completely forgot. Bella and I are riding out to Seattle to look at some bu— um, apartments today. Hate to cancel on you, but …"
Em cuts the engine and steps out of the car. The vehicle shifts from his weight. "Hey, no worries. I was actually thinking about heading that way myself. Mind if I hitch a ride?"
I open my mouth to tell him hell yes, I mind, but I'm interrupted by the slam of the door behind me and Bella's chipper voice.
"We don't mind." She strolls past me, grinning, her arm hooked through Angie's. "The more the merrier, right Angie?" She nudges her friend whose face is now as red as I imagine mine was earlier.
"Yeah, fine. Whatever." Angie rolls her eyes, but I catch her bashful smile under Em's gaze. The two girls practically run to Angie's car, their heads tilted closely together. Whispering and giggling, they climb into Angie's ride. The Jersey girl settles herself behind the driver's seat, her shades covering her eyes. Bella curls a finger and smiles suggestively from the backseat, beckoning me beside her.
"Angie's not wearing her glasses anymore," Em says.
Em blinks a couple of times and shakes his head, laughing uncomfortably. "That Angie girl. She's not wearing her glasses anymore. Must have gotten contacts."
"She had glasses before?" I ask, honestly not remembering. Angie is good people, especially when it comes to Bella, but I've never paid her appearance much attention.
Em shrugs and shoves his hands deep in his pockets. If I didn't know any better, I'd think …
"Holy shit," I say, snickering. "You've got the hots for Bella's friend, huh?"
"What? Hell no," he mutters, not meeting my eyes. "Even if I did, it's not like she'd ever give me a chance."
"What the hell are you babbling about?" I ignore Bella's impatient gesturing and turn to my friend. "Why do you say that?"
"She's smart." Em blows out a breath. "She's in all the gifted classes. And I'm … I'm not so smart."
"You're the most intelligent person I know. You're always giving me good advice. What's up with the sudden insecurity?"
"We should go," he says, fumbling with his cell phone. "Long drive to Seattle. I'll text Jasper and let him know that practice is canceled today."
Bewildered by his insecurity and change in conversation, I watch him text Jasper and walk to the car. He climbs in beside Angie, never glancing her way. She smiles then frowns, her lips pressed into a hard line. The horn blows and she's glaring at me, like I'm the one giving her the cold shoulder.
Em loosens up after an hour on the road. By the time we arrive at Fantasyland, he's all smiles and chatting amicably with Angie, his hands gesturing with every word he says. Angie listens in rapt attention, filling in the gaps in conversation with tales of her own. By the time we arrive in Seattle the two are the best of friends, exchanging secret smiles and speaking in tones too low for us to hear from the backseat.
Bella elbows me once we're walking behind the couple in the Fantasyland parking lot. "Who woulda thought, huh?"
She nods her head at Angie and Em.
"I thought she was dating—"
"Nah," she replies, rolling her eyes. "They decided they were better off as friends. You think her and Em will, you know, hook up?"
I shrug, a smile on my face, just relieved that the two are getting along. Bella's friend will be spending a lot of time at our future apartment, I assume, and Em and I have spent our free time together since we were kids. A friendly relationship between the two helps alleviate some of life's uncertainties that lie ahead.
Uncertainty reminds me of Charlie Swan, which is uncomfortable considering I'm walking into a building full of anal beads and dildos. If not for thoughts of my girlfriend's father, my dick would be straining against my jeans, considering Bella is holding an eight-inch plastic dong in her hand.
Who am I kidding? Even thoughts of her father can't dissuade my cock from hardening as she waves the dildo dangerously close to her face.
"It's so flexible," she says, stroking the flesh-colored appendage. "Yet firm."
"Jesus Christ," I mutter, glancing behind me and adjusting myself. "You're asking for it, huh?"
"Asking for what?" There's a sultry smile on her face and if public sex was legal I'd already have her bent over, taking her from behind.
"Asking for this." I cup myself and groan at the friction of my hand against the swell in my jeans. "Let's ditch Em and Angie. Find some place to stay tonight. We passed a dozen different hotels on the way here."
"Like Carlisle and Mama are gonna be okay with that idea." She places the dildo back on the shelf and strolls down the aisle. I follow her like a lost puppy. When she stops in her tracks, staring at something on the shelf, I place my hands on her hips and press myself against her, showing her how she affects me.
"This is it," she whispers, paying no attention to my erection digging into the small of her back. "The holy grail of butt plugs."
Sitting on the shelf is a package containing an assortment of strange looking peach-colored devices. One is shaped like a Christmas tree, another like a small penis. Bella picks up a package as a tall woman rounds the aisle. A name badge is clipped to her shirt, announcing that she is in fact employed at this fine establishment o'butt plugs. Bunches of burgundy-dyed hair are piled on her head. Tattoos riddle her arms and neck. Earrings climb the lobe of her ears all the way up the shells. What looks like a sixteen gauge piercing juts through the tip of her nose.
"Nice rhino piercing," I say, nodding in appreciation, momentarily forgetting that I'm hunching my girlfriend while she's holding a butt plug.
"Nice … everything," she replies, giving me an appreciative nod of her own.
Bella raises an eyebrow and shoves the package dangerously close to her face. "Can you explain the anal stretching process?"
Something inside me dies with her words, possibly what little of my innocence is left.
"Anal stretching." I groan and palm my face, my erection shriveling away. "What is it with you and these words?"
The pierced and tatted sex store worker gives me an amused smile, takes the package from Bella, and explains more than I need to know about butt plugs. By the time Bella is thoroughly satisfied with the copious amounts of information Candy, I shit you not, gives her, I've got my cheeks clenched and I'm second-guessing what I not-so-secretly want my girlfriend to allow me to do.
Candy eventually leaves us to our anal devices. Someone snickers behind me. I mentally prep myself to berate whomever is making fun of my girl holding her butt plug. But when I turn around Angie is standing behind us. Em is in the background, his face uncharacteristically red and tears streaming down his cheeks. Angie has a stoic expression on her face. My eyes widen at the device strapped to her face, jiggling with the jerk of her head.
With one hand on her jutted-out hip, she cocks her head to the side and gives me and Bella an inquisitive glance. "Does this strap-on chin dildo make my face look fat?"
We finally make it home after an exhausting day at the sex store and apartment hunting. Em and Angie were cozy during our search, surprisingly in both businesses. Em isn't the kind of guy who is down for a random fling or hook up, so his interest in Angie is genuine, which is what I told Angie before she pulled out of my driveway with a big grin on her face.
"The last apartment we looked at was the one," Bella says. "I'm telling ya."
"Nah. That one was a dump."
Bella groans and throws up her hands. "Ugh, I can't with you. Every time I like an apartment you find some reason to shoot it down."
I yawn and stretch, throwing my arm behind her on the couch. "Our schedules are gonna be different. There will be times you're at the apartment alone. I just wanna make sure we're living in a safe area, okay?"
Bella grumbles below her breath and crosses her arms over her chest. Some dumb reality show about a naked guy surviving on an island is playing on the television, but my mind is a thousand miles away. I idly toy with her hair, winding a strand around one finger before releasing it. A car door slams outside and I glance at the clock, wondering who could be in our driveway. Carlisle and Esme are normally home by now, considering it's nearing suppertime, but Carlisle called earlier to say he'd miss our family mealtime tonight because he's dealing with an irate customer at the car lot. Esme left a message on the machine explaining that she's dealing with a surprise inspection from the Health Department at work.
The doorbell rings and I stand, stretching one last time before lumbering to the door. Without glancing through the peephole, I swing open the door, frozen as I gaze at the man standing on the stoop.
"I shoulda called," he says, shaking his head and cursing himself below his breath, "but I gotta head out of town tomorrow and thought I'd stop by one last time. Just in case … just in case …"
"In case she wants to see you?" I ask.
Charlie Swan nods, shifting on his feet. "I took vacation time and it's running out soon. My wife and kids miss me."
Kids? Bella has brother or sisters? Or possibly both?
"Wait here," I say and he nods.
I shut the door and rest my forehead against it, taking a deep breath. The guy has been calling and asking to meet her since he arrived in town, but Bella has evaded him each time. Today could be no different, but I feel bad for the guy, for the sadness evident in his eyes, the downtrodden way he stands with his shoulders hunched. The fear of losing her to this man and his family is intense, keeping me awake at night. Fantasies of him sweeping her away to introduce him to his life plays in my mind on a nightly basis. Images of Bella smiling and laughing with her father and new family, never returning home plagues me whenever my mind grows quiet. Still, I can't be that guy, that possessive, insecure guy.
She's half-asleep when I return to the den. The naked guy on the island has been replaced with a naked woman on the island. I poke Bella's arm and she stirs, batting her sleep-laden eyes up at me in confusion.
"Charlie Swan is here."
That wakes her up.
"He's here? Like, now?"
"Yeah. He's standing outside. Says he's going home tomorrow. Something about running out of vacation time and his wife and kids miss him." I study her face, gauging her reaction to my last words. She stares at me in surprise, biting her bottom lip.
"I have siblings?" A stir of excitement creeps into her voice.
"Apparently." Unable to contain my smile, I grin and shrug. "One Bella Platt is a handful. I can't imagine two, or three. Hell, maybe even four." Taking a deep breath, I add, "Guess you'll never know unless you give the guy a chance, you know?"
The excitement fades from her eyes. She gives me a timid nod and takes a ragged breath. "Do you think I should call Esme first? You know, before I talk to him?"
"Fuck if I know," I say, trying and failing to put myself in her position. "Whatever decision you make, I'm behind you, one hundred percent."
"I think I'll call her first," she says, picking up her phone from the coffee table. She scrolls through her contacts and places the call, speaking lowly into the phone, even leaving the room for a few minutes. When she returns, her eyes are wide and alive, questions and confusion, excitement and a need for understanding swimming in their dark depths. "Can you send him in?"
"Yeah, you want me to stay with you while the two of you talk?"
"Hell, yes," Bella gives a nervous laugh and jerks her thumb in the direction of the dining room. "I'll be there."
Charlie is waiting where I left him, a guarded look on his face, as if he thinks he's about to get shot down again. Instead of speaking, I shove the door completely open and jerk my head back, motioning him inside. He cleans his boots on the mat and follows me inside the foyer, taking in his surroundings.
"Come on in," I say. "She's waiting in the dining room."
Charlie nods, unspeaking, following me with his hands deep in his pockets. He pauses near the entryway of the dining room, his eyes locked on his daughter's.
And she is his daughter.
There's no denying the matching chocolate of their eyes, the shape of their face, the timid, half-quirk of their lips. I plop down beside my girl and rest my hand on her knee, squeezing it in encouragement. Charlie joins us at the table, the scrape of the chair against the floor sounding louder than normal in the quiet room. The three of us say nothing for a few seconds, each of them clearing their throats, waiting on the other to speak. Bella goes first.
"Where have you been?" she says.
I smile. Blunt as always.
"Oh, uh." Charlie scratches the back of his neck, his cheeks reddening. "Today? Well, this morning—"
Bella snorts, but there's no humor to her laughter. "No, not today. Where have you been for the last eighteen years? Where were you when my mother died, when her roommate adopted me because there was no one else?"
Silence envelopes us. Charlie clears his throat and leans forward, his elbows on the table.
"Where was I when your mother died?" Charlie frowns, his face thoughtful. "Probably in Fort Benning, Georgia. That's where the Army sent me after I completed my basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Although I'm not really sure, considering your mother never told me she was pregnant."
Bella raises her eyebrows, her lips parted in surprise, but says nothing. Charlie continues.
"Don't be surprised. Renee never told them about us. She never told anyone about us. Renee's parents were staunchly religious people." Charlie runs his fingers through his hair, his lips quirking. "I was some punk kid who signed up for the Army because I was too dumb to get into college. And Renee … Renee had it all. Brains, beauty, grace. She was going places in life. And me? I was going nowhere and fast."
"Okay," Bella says. "I guess I can understand why she kept you a secret from them, but why did she keep me a secret from you? Why didn't she tell you about me? And why would she keep you a secret from Esme? Esme has always told me that Renee took the identity of my father to the grave with her. I get that you were bad news, but still."
Charlie shifts in his seat, his faraway smile drifting away. Discomfort worries his forehead, lining his tan skin. He mumbles something below his breath and I raise my eyebrows, catching his words.
"Repeat that," she says, planting her elbows on the table and leaning forward. "What did you say?"
Charlie clears his throat. "I was married. When I met your mother. I was already married. Still am, in fact."
"Holy shit," I mutter.
"Holy shit," Bella whispers.
Charlie frowns, but says nothing. I dare him with my eyes to say anything about our language, or the fact that my arm is resting casually on the back of Bella's chair. He's been silently analyzing every move I make. Each time my body turns toward hers and vice versa, he side-eyes me, dissecting the complicated relationship Bella and I have forged together.
Well, fuck him.
"I loved your mother," Charlie says, his voice coming out in a sudden rush of words. "We met during a rocky time in my marriage. Renee was the good, Christian girl and I was in and out of jail for petty crimes all the time. Until I signed up for the Army, no one had much faith in me. But Renee, well, she had the faith of a mustard seed. She quoted that, you see, whenever I told her she should leave me alone, that I was no good for her. She'd say, 'Charlie, all you need to move a mountain is the faith of a mustard seed.' Guess her parents religion rubbed off on her, you know?"
"I know," Bella says, but her voice is doubtful. "Actually, I don't know. I never knew my grandparents. I was only two when they passed and I have no memory of them. I don't even have a memory of Renee. Do you know anything about Renee's passing?"
"I read her obituary," Charlie says. "But only just a few short weeks ago. We broke things off a few months before I was transferred. After that, I moved to Fort Jackson. When I left for Georgia I left everything behind: her, the memories. I started over fresh, changed my life not only for myself, but for my wife. I assumed she moved on with her life, met some guy who could give her his all. I'm working as a recruiter in South Carolina now. All those old memories came rushing back.
Charlie swallows, his eyes distant. "I decided to look her up, find out what happened to that vivacious girl I once loved. Wanted to let her know that I did the right thing, that I told my wife about her shortly after moving to Georgia over eighteen years ago. When I started searching for her, well, that's when I found out her passing. There were no details of her death, but I noticed the obituary stated she died along with her parents. That and the fact that she left a child behind. Can you tell me what exactly happened to Renee?"
Bella sighs. "It was a freak accident. Renee left me with Esme for the day to help my grandmother around the house. My grandfather had a stroke a few months prior and it was taking all of my grandmother's time and energy to care for him. Anyway, when Renee pulled up to her parents' house she noticed smoke pouring from the kitchen window. She went inside and never came out.
"Investigators determined that my grandfather had attempted to cook while my grandmother was asleep on the couch. The stroke damaged his brain, and he wasn't in his right mind. He still thought he was independent with things including cooking, according to what Esme has always told me. The investigators found his body on the floor near his wheelchair. My grandmother wasn't far away, and my mother … Renee's body was on the floor beside her mother's."
Tears flowed freely from both of their eyes. Charlie reached across the table, hesitant in his movements, offering his hand. Bella timidly took it and he clasped his thick fingers around her thin ones, squeezing.
"My wife forgave me for my indiscretions a long time ago," he says. "She's a wonderful woman and she's excited at the prospect of meeting you someday, but only if that's something you feel comfortable doing."
"That's weird." Bella laughs. "My biological mother was "the other woman." I'm not sure how to ever begin to process this, or the fact that your wife stuck by your side and wants to meet me."
Charlie takes a deep breath. It comes out in a laugh and a whoosh of air. "She's supportive of me, and our kids. You have a brother and a sister. They're excited, especially Beth, my daughter. She's always wanted a sister, you see, especially growing up with a big brother always picking on her."
"A sister," Bella whispers, shaking her head in disbelief. "And a brother?"
"And a brother. Taylor is his name. Aggravating little shit." Charlie perks up, releasing Bella's hand. He removes a cell phone from the breast pocket of his shirt and taps at the screen. The screen lights up, along with his face. He hands her the phone.
"That's Beth," he says, pointing at a photo of a smaller, younger version of Bella. "And this is Taylor." The guy standing beside Beth is tall, with thick arms and a broad smile. He looks older, possibly in his early twenties. I do the math and my chest tightens with the truth. This kid was born before Bella.
"This is too much." Bella bunches her brow and licks her lips. "I don't know. I don't know what to think or feel. I'm … I'm pissed at you for so many reasons. And I'm confused and hurt. But most of all I'm happy."
"Happy," he says, a hopeful smile on his face.
"Yeah, I'm happy. I'm happy because you're here and you're real, and maybe you haven't always been perfect, but who is? No one." Bella glances at me, a secret smile on her face. "Family dynamics are sometimes strange and non-traditional and flawed, but still, they're just that. Family dynamics. You're my family, Charlie. You're my family."
Reviews equal lurve/hate/whatever. Thanks for all the (anal) support! I mean, support in general! lolololol anal support. *snickers*