A Christmas Fic in two parts
Crawling backwards on the plywood floor, Bella dragged the large plastic bin, labeled TS-220, across the garage loft. Six inches from the ladder a splinter stabbed her knee, through the denim of her favorite skinny jeans.
"Bella," came Charlie's voice from the foot of the ladder, "No cursing while we're honoring the birth of Baby Jesus."
"I wasn't cursing. I said Fudge it."
Charlie reached up as she passed the bin down to him. "I know what you meant."
Bella sat on the edge of the platform and slowly pulled out the shard of wood. "I'm bleeding."
"That's the last one, right?" Charlie answered himself as he left the garage carrying the container.
"I'm fine up here, Dad. No worries. Happy Baby Jesus has all three hundred Toy Soldiers, cause two hundred ninety nine wouldn't do the job." Ignoring the hole in her jeans for the moment, Bella climbed down the ladder.
Walking past the empty containers stacked over her head on both sides of the garage, she emerged to see Jacob Black in the Forks fire department's cherry picker backing up to Mrs. Cope's fifty foot tall pine tree. He waved and smiled his ultra white grin at her. She was never impressed with his chemically enhanced teeth or his cheesy pick up lines; the same could not be said for most of her former high school classmates. He was good looking, but he knew it; he didn't walk, he swaggered. Every time he tried to lure her in with one of his innuendo laden lines, she felt a little nauseous. Sure he was helping her Dad with decorations, but so was the assistant deputy Mark, who moonlighted as an electrician, and the head dispatcher Tyler, who was still programming the music for the display. They didn't feel the need to leer at Bella whenever she walked by.
The back-up beeping of the truck stopped. "Hey Bella, you're the star of my dreams baby!" Jake, wearing his too tight Forks Fire Department tee shirt, held out the wooden star as he raised himself in the bucket to the top of the tree. Shaking her head, she ignored him for the thousandth time.
Bella had heard that in some towns people putting up crazy Christmas displays were hauled into court by other people trying to stop the excess. Not here. Charlie's neighbors loved the lights, and when the collection overflowed the Swan yard, they volunteered their own homes. Mrs. Cope's yard had the life sized Nativity including four camels, a dozen sheep, three (live) goats, two cows, and a stable you could walk through. Mr. Banner and the Brandons to the left hosted scenes from 'The Night Before Christmas', with a Santa and a team of reindeer that took off from the lawn to the roof every ten minutes. The Swan front yard was the North Pole with Santa's workshop, a ride-on train, Candyland and a carousel with the never seen in nature combination of polar bears and penguins. Starting October first every year, Charlie began the set up, bringing the larger items from the various barns they were stored in across Callum county. The garage had been taken over long ago, filled with boxes and crates carefully marked with Charlie's code. Each weekend Charlie's crew of volunteers worked to create the craziness that had overtaken Bella's home. The toy soldiers were almost the last things to be put out, but Bella couldn't stay to watch the last decorations put into place.
"Char—Dad. I'm meeting my partner to work on our final project."
Charlie looked up from the junction box he and Mark were wrapping. Every connection needed to be watertight against the Fork's weather. "Now why can't that boy meet you here?"
"He lives in Port Angeles. It's easier to meet at the school." Bella didn't need to share the crazy that was her home this time of year. Sure, some people thought it was great, but there were just as many people who thought only lunatics spent thousands of hours and dollars on a Christmas display. This was the kind of thing you needed to introduce to someone slowly, preferably staring in February when everything had been packed away, and after a couple of months of building a relationship, gently break the news about the little family obsession. Bella hoped by August, if this boy was still around, he would like her enough not to run screaming when the blueprints for the coming display were tacked up around the kitchen.
Rubbing her knee, she decided to ignore the hole in her jeans, and headed down the street to her truck. Of course, there was no room to park in front of her house, let alone the driveway. As she walked over the lawn, picking carefully through the grid of extension cords and miles of strung lights, the familiar gentle whirring of the fans that kept the gang of snowpeople inflated surrounded her. The sound was now as much part of the holiday as the incessant glow of the lights outside her bedroom window, despite the blackout shades. Climbing into the red heap, she looked back as Charlie limped across the lawn to tend to the blowup archway.
She didn't grow up like this, with the wackiest house in town. She barely remembered those early years in Forks. The few pictures she had were of a little girl in some version of a red or green dress, in front of an average sized Christmas tree. Then she and her mother took off, ping ponged across a few states, finally landing in Arizona.
Eight years ago, she and Renee were enjoying their typically atypical Christmas Eve. The large potted cactus had been moved inside, draped ironically with red-chili pepper lights. Her mother wanted nothing to do with tradition, making a point of mocking the mall Christmas decorations as being only for people who were slaves to cultural stereotypes. Renee tried so hard to be on-trend in her studied non-conformity. Back then Bella wouldn't have minded a little old school Christmas cheer.
She remembered like it was yesterday, the Christmas Eve everything changed. Bella was putting the enchiladas in the oven while Renee was mixing margaritas. The phone rang.
"That had better not be Phil calling to cancel." Renee swished her skirt and she crossed the kitchen to the phone on the wall. "I was planning on giving him a very special Christmas present."
At twelve, Bella hadn't understood exactly what Renee was planning for her new boyfriend, but she didn't like the sound of it.
"Feliz Navidad!," Renee chirped as she picked up the line. Another annoying thing; Renee pretending that she spoke Spanish, when in fact she knew a handful of phrases that mostly involved ordering food.
Setting the oven timer Bella turned to see her mother pale, leaning against the wall. "Oh my God, oh, okay, okay, I just need to get a pen..."
Bella found a sharpie by the sink and put it into Renee's outstretched hand. Ignoring the paper Bella held out to her, her mother started writing on the wall. Harborview Hospital, Seattle.
"Yes, we'll be there as soon as possible, yes, we're coming." Renee hung up the phone, turning to Bella. "Pack a small bag, we're going to Seattle." Her mother darted around the kitchen like a madwoman, turning off the stove, dumping the margaritas in the sink and then running down the hall.
"What happened? What's going on?" Bella followed her mother. She didn't think Renee knew anyone in Seattle; her mother wanted nothing to do with 'the soggiest, dreariest place on this planet', as she'd stated many times.
Renee was already in her room stuffing underwear into a backpack. "Bella, I said to go pack."
Crossing her arms Bella dropped to the bed. "Not 'til you tell me what's going on."
Instead of yelling, Renee took a deep breath and wrapped an arm around Bella's shoulder. "It's bad. Char-your dad has been in an accident with a logging truck. As soon as they get him out, they're air lifting him to Seattle, to the trauma center."
Before Bella could take in the information, the doorbell rang.
"Good," Renee said, "Phil can drive us to the airport."
That night Bella must have heard the word 'miracle' a hundred times. At the airport in Phoenix there were two seats left on a direct flight to Seattle, leaving in minutes. A Seattle police department squad car was waiting for them when they arrived and whisked them to the hospital. The head trauma surgeon was on call as a favor to a friend, and was waiting for the chopper to land. The storm had cleared, allowing the helicopter to get there in record time.
The inebriated driver of the log truck had been killed, but Charlie's squad car had slid next to some boulders, so the falling logs formed a lean-to over the vehicle. His right leg had been crushed, trapping him in the car as the rescue teams worked to extract him from the tremendous log fortress. A construction crane had been en-route to Forks; the accompanying crew helped dismantle the logs in what an officer described as 'a giant game of pick-up sticks'.
Less than five hours from the phone call Bella was holding her father's hand on one side of the gurney, Renee on the other, as they carted him into surgery.
In the waiting room, Renee sat with her hands over her face, Bella leaning into her side. For the first time in her memory she could hear her mother whispering prayers. One by one, members of the Fork's police department, fire department and first aid squad arrived, until the room was filled with uniforms and heavy weather gear.
A woman in scrubs walked in with a clipboard. "Family of Charles Swan?"
Renee jumped up. "That's my husband!"
Bella couldn't remember her mother ever calling Charlie that. It was mostly 'your father' or 'that Charlie' or 'my ex.' She didn't have long to consider Renee's words as they were escorted into a small room. The doctor explained that Charlie had significant blood loss, eleven pins in his leg, but he would live. She and Renee began sobbing in relief.
Two weeks later they were back in Phoenix, packing up their rental house. Charlie and Renee had remarried the night before in the hospital chapel. Renee said she promised God that if he let Charlie live, she'd show the world her appreciation. And for the newly re-minted Renee Swan, that meant Christmas decorations that seemed to multiply exponentially every year.
And as for Bella's sane, predictable, practical father? The miracle for him that night was that the woman he'd loved all his life, came back to him to stay. He threw himself into Renee's new crazy, organizing extension cords and town permits as needed to make her pledge come true.
It was hard to find a parking spot large enough for her beast on a normal day, but with finals approaching, the Peninsula College library parking lot was packed with last minute scholars. After driving up and down the lot, Bella resigned herself to the overflow lot, which was more like a muddy field, open only on busy days like this. Finding a space, Bella gathered her back pack and picked her way across the soggy grass, avoiding the puddles. Watching her feet, she didn't notice the Jeep barreling across the field until it nearly sideswiped her. The vehicle didn't hit her, but the wave of mud it left in it's wake soaked her from the thighs down.
"SLOW DOWN," she yelled after the Jeep, which didn't even brake. Great, serves me right for trying to look cute. She'd worn flats instead of her usual work boots. Her partner was just so…so perfect. He held up his end of the research, had a great sense of humor, and agreed to meet every week for the last month, even though most of their work could have been done online. And he was cute, so cute. Bella thought just maybe he was a little interested in her as well.
She dripped through the lobby to the small bathroom near the library entrance. After ten paper towels her jeans looked wet with some odd kind of wash, instead of caked in mud. Folding paper towels to fit into the bottom of her shoes, she now felt unpleasantly moist, instead of soaking. I suppose this is an improvement. At least I'm not leaving a trail.
Exiting the elevator on the third floor, Bella was amazed at the number of students filling the place; every chair was taken and students sat on the floor and on the windowsills. In the back corner, standing by their table in faded jeans a green flannel shirt and work boots, was Edward. She was so happy to see him she didn't realize that their table was already fully occupied. He smiled up at her.
Surely that smile was more than a 'great she's here and we can finally finish this project' smile, right? She'd forgotten to move, watching him cross the floor to her. His strides were long, smooth, and graceful, even with those big boots on his feet. In seconds he was in front of her.
Oh, right. She was supposed to speak.
"Uh, looks kinda crowded, huh?" Brilliant, Bella. Could you state the obvious some more, maybe say something about the rain, like it didn't rain six days a week.
"I checked the whole library. Every table is taken." Edward shrugged his shoulders. "I thought if I stood menacingly enough, the group at our table would take the hint and leave. No such luck."
Bella smiled, looking at his shaggy red hair. It was a mess, but clean and soft looking. She wanted to touch it…oh, she should say something, right? That's why he was looking at her with his eyebrows raised, waiting for some kind of response. Good Bella, he doesn't have to meet your wacko parents, you're doing a fine job of chasing him off yourself.
"There's a diner not far from here, we could try there. It's the Fairmont Diner." Bella stammered, "On Fairmont. You could follow—"
"I know where it is." Edward was already moving towards the elevator. "I overheard someone say it's really crowded too." Edward pressed the button for the lobby with those long fingers. His hands were so nice, not too soft, they looked manly, like he knew how to work. His hands were really a marvel, just wide enough—
"Bella," he said loudly. She guessed this wasn't the first time he'd said it. "Can we finish this at your house?"
a/n: Second half by Monday.