September 1993

Renee is shouting - fists clenched, cheeks red and
Throat raw from emotion; says her life's purpose
Is regret and that things have to change.
Charlie cannot bring himself to speak; instead something
Grows inside him swelling white-hot threatening to
Burst and all he can do is stare numbly at his wife's face and
Vacantly compare her expression to the one on their wedding day
All twisted and grotty; when through the tears she'd whispered,
"I can't wait to go on an adventure with you" and he'd kissed her
And wondered if he wasn't dreaming. Meanwhile back in the real
World Renee Swan (nee Higginbotham) is asking how he can expect
To carry on a relationship when he'll never communicate; when all
He'll do is stare in stony silence at a damp patch on the wall instead
Of being present. Chest heaving and face flushed Renee asks what he
Thinks of himself.

"Isabella is asleep," he says; he doesn't quite know how to translate
The depths of his feelings; doesn't know how to communicate
'I love you' and 'I need you' and 'I am afraid' into mere words because
Words are never enough; have never been enough.

Renee stops fighting; unclenches her fists and finds herself too
Exhausted to try anymore. Turns around in the doorway and
Stands defeated. "I want a divorce."

Charlie considers himself a man of action, but in this
Moment all he can do is stare at that growing damp patch on
The wall and think about the curve of her mouth when he kissed her
And she'd promised to take him places; doesn't hear the sound
Of his wife's footsteps on the stairs as she walks away.

The feeling that has been growing in him all evening deflates
Like a balloon and leaves him breathless.


April 2006

Bella is different from the girl he used to take fishing on the
Weekends all those years ago. These days she keeps to herself and
Rarely smiles; lives her life in a grey daze like she's half-sleeping
That turns Charlie's stomach into knots. So when she comes home
From school one afternoon and asks about the Cullens he's more than
A little surprised; more than a little afraid. Looks into her eyes and for
The first time since she moved back sees a spark there; a question;
Something moving in that once-vacant expression.

Fear is the feeling of the evening because Charlie has seen – okay, not seen -
But definitely felt something amiss about those Cullen kids-who-are-not-kids (not
Like his Isabella, anyway); reminiscent of beady-eyed crows waiting on
Telephone wires for scraps of meat or picking at road-kill. The uneasy feeling grows when he
Sees colour return to his Isabella's cheeks and realises that he's seen this same
Expression on Renee's face all those summers ago against a fading twilight sky.

He stops to consider how bizarre it is to see traces of his old life (his old self)
In his daughter; ruefully decides that it's better that she takes after Renee in looks
Because (let's face it) he'd make a pretty ugly girl.

Well, he thinks, at least she's got my chin.


March 2004

Charlie can't see beyond the windows because it's raining so hard; a
Thick sheet of grey-cold and damp trapping the patrons of Ed's Diner in
A bubble outside of time – or so it would seem - with the old juke crackling
In the corner and dusty football memorabilia on the walls. Charlie hasn't
Known this place to change in the twenty three years he's been coming (Hey! says Eddie,
The plumbing's new!); a source of solace to a man to whom the world moves too fast.

Charlie has spent the past nine hours playing bus-boy to the FBI tracking
A five-man serial killer from Seattle; resents that they treat him like he's stupid because
No one knows this town like someone who's lived here all their lives and
Wishes that they'd just listen sometimes; feels something strong and uneasy
All the way down to his bones and recognises it as foreboding.

"What did they want, Charlie?" asks Maurie (a waitress, forty-three; only ever
Called Maureen by her mother). Eddie's flipping pancakes on the grill
Paying no mind to the fact that it's six (insists a man should have his fill of
Breakfast whenever he feels like and this is America after all); stands
Unusually subdued over steaming batter, almost-burnt.
Perhaps it's just the rain, thinks Charlie; rain puts a man in a quiet mood
So much so that no one stops to question him and no one ever thinks it strange.

Charlie can't get those pictures out of his head – the ones from the investigation
All gored up something awful and he tries to imagine that those people -
The dead people – are people he loves like his Isabella or Eddie from the diner
And Billy all bloody and broken. "Completely mutilated," was the FBI guy's
Clinical assessment, and Charlie wonders if he's a father too; wonders if the job
Makes it hard for him to go back to his baby every night; if he crawls into bed
With his wife and lets her hold him because it's so terrible, so terrible.

Things like this don't happen in a town like Forks. The last time
Charlie looked into a murder was on a Law and Order
Marathon on TV – shifts uneasily in his seat and thinks he
Might be unqualified. Still he flips through his blue notebook, creased and frayed;
Goes through the M.O and wonders if he's met anyone who fits the profile -
But Forks is a small town and he'd've caught on by now if there was something
Worth catching on to; smoke and ashes from the ghost of a fire.

"Gotta get to the clinic," says Maurie, clutching her back. "I think it's
Busted bad." The rain comes down heavy like a million stamping
Feet; an Indian monsoon. Charlie half expects to be blown away, diner and all.
"They've a new Doctor," she continues, "A beautiful sonofabitch if I ever
saw one. Named 'Cullen'. Carlisle Cullen. Ain't that a beautiful name? Like an
Island or royalty or somethin', y'know? Like he's somethin' special – not one of us."

Charlie is not interested. All he can think about is the angle of
A dead man's neck and the plum bruises on a dead girl's thigh
And the way Isabella looked three summers ago when
He told her to come live with him and she'd said 'no'.
"He's moved here with his whole family," explains Maurie, one
Hand fitting napkins into a holder and the other one
Clutching the small of her back; "Bought the big house
In the woods. Haven't seen his kids yet, though. Heard they
Had the chickenpox."

Charlie is busy digging a hole into his piece of pie
But manages to tear himself away. "Issat so?" he says weakly,
Mind flitting between here and a crime scene four hours away;
Imagines he sees death in the red of his cherry filling and tries
Not to vomit fingers-over-mouth to catch the spill; Maurie's still
Talking like the world isn't a sick place where good kids die everyday.
Instead she says, "They're all homeschooled – way ahead of our lot.
Don't reckon we've got much to do with them for now, but we'll see about
The spring – blooming magnolia can lure just about anything."

"Still, it's mighty strange," she says, thoughtful silence while
The glaring fluorescents highlight the bags beaneath her
eyes - "mighty strange the way they never seem to leave their house.
They've been here for a month come Tuesday and I've never
Seen them out- not once. Heck, they could be dead for all we know -
Alone up in those woods and buried in snow."

Charlie's lost his appetite; slides off his stool gut clenching and
Breathless like he's run a mile. Clutches the counter white-knuckled
And complexion turning to chalk; thinks he can walk to the door but
He's not sure; feels Maurie's eyes burning holes into his back; hears
Whispers dogging his tracks like they're out for blood.

"Hey, you don't seem right, Charlie - you ought'er put away your
Noteooks; stop by the clinic and let that nice doctor take a look."


June 1981

Billy is different these days. Back when they were
Kids he and Charlie used to be inseparable;
Now he's with those boys from the reserve and he's
Got no time for games (at least, that's what he says) -
Charlie doesn't tell him how he heard those chilling
Howls three nights ago and slipped into the woods;
How he stumbled in the shadows and might've seen
Something else entirely; something no-good. Of course
Charlie knows it's speculation – it was dark and he's been
Wrong before - still he misses his best friend and hates that
He's so white and thin and not like all the other boys,
Broad and brown and wild; hates the colour of his skin
And wishes he could just fit in for once.

But wishes belong in fairy tales and
Charlie knows they have no place here.


March 2007

Isabella has stopped eating. Dinnertime has become
A charade and Charlie's not sure who she thinks she's
Fooling; thinks she may have an eating disorder or
One of those other teenage afflictions (puberty?).

He wishes (not for the first time) that Renee was around;
Watches the cast shadows on his daughter's hollow cheeks and
Wonders if she's grown paler. Her eyes have sunk into their
Sockets and almost seem too big for her face; exaggerated features
Tell-tale aggravated malnutrition or heartache – he's not too sure which -
But all the same he's bought steak three times this week because
He suspects she might be anemic.

Charlie wishes he knew how to talk to his daughter but
The words stumble on his tongue and all he can ask
Is "How have things been?" and wonder if her wrists could
Snap from a high-five (people still do that, right?); asks her if she's
Still seeing that Cullen boy and is filled with dread at the sight of her
Tired smile and the admission that they're planning on going
To the movies tomorrow.

Charlie doesn't trust a man who deals in secrecy;
Wonders if the reason he thinks as much is because that
Boy has never set foot in his house* (he knows it's more than
That; knows it's something intuitive that passed between them when they
Met; knows that for all his awkwardness his intense distrust was
Emphatically communicated the first time he looked into
That boy's eyes and saw something feral there). Charlie wants to tell
Isabella to leave that Cullen kid alone; that he's dangerous and that he
Has a killer's eyes. Charlie wants to tell her to stay away and to stay safe
But he remembers how Renee felt stifled and doesn't want to drive
His girl away too; not when she's the only thing that ties him to the present
And the only reason he wakes up in the morning anymore.

The room is silent but for the tense clatter of cutlery. Charlie wonders
When he turned into a spectator of his own life and why he feels so
Helpless; wishes that he could protect his daughter forever but knows
That there's no fighting some things – like love (or the stubborn streak that
Seems to run through the Higginbotham women). Instead, he tells his
Daughter to be sure to stay safe and keep some pepper spray in her pocket;
Allows her to roll her eyes in exasperation because she lifts her fork to her
Mouth for the first time that night and takes a bite of meat.


May 1986

They meet a couple of college girls on the beach at La Push
And decide to help them build a bonfire on the sand. The air
Is cooler now that the sky is fast-fading twilight; inky blue
Seeping between the clouds; winking stars like diamonds against
The firmament and if Charlie believed in magic he'd think that this was it.

Billy and the boys from the reserve laugh rambunctiously dodging
Driftwood sparks and playful jabs like puppies but Charlie can't seem
To muster up the same enthusiasm. Instead he wades ankle-deep
Into to ocean; lets the wind blow away the noise and closes his eyes; breathes
Deep and memorises the smell of salt into every inch of his skin;
Tells himself that one day he'll leave this place behind.

"What are you thinking about?"

Charlie hadn't heard the girl come up behind him and snaps back into reality
With a jolt. She'd spent the better part of the day swimming and challenging
The other boys to ridiculous contests (I bet I can stand on my hands
Longer than you!
) but now she seems more subdued and almost like an
Entirely different person. He allows himself to watch her for a moment and decides
That he likes the honest way she looks into his eyes sans hesitation or concealed intent.

"I was thinking about possibility," he says.

"The ocean'll do that to you, won't it?"

Yes, he supposes, it might. He's never really considered
Metaphor before, but looking into this girl's eyes (straight; unwavering;
Brown-gold flickering against The light; beautiful) Charlie thinks
He sees something that he has unknowingly been waiting for his whole life.

"I'm Charlie," he says, arm extended through the shell he
Lives behind; hand soon clasped in hers bound by a smile
And the magic of the twilight sky receding with the sun.

"Renee."


NOTES

* Seeing as vampires traditionally can't step into your house unless you invite them in.