“Charlie, is this really necessary?” I asked nervously. Charlie was speeding down the Cullens' long driveway at close to a hundred miles an hour, sirens shrieking madly – in other words, not at all how he normally drove. I was fairly sure he hadn't lifted his foot off the gas pedal since we'd left his house no more than five minutes before. I wasn't sure exactly how long it had been; I didn't dare look at my watch, as I had a feeling that trying to focus on the little clock face would probably make me feel ill.
“Necessary?” Charlie spluttered, turning sharply into another twist in the drive at breakneck speed. “Of course it's god damn necessary! They stole her Renee!”
“Hey, don't shout at her!” Phil protested from the back seat. He'd been incredibly accommodating, using up more of his vacation time when I decided to spring a surprise Christmas visit on Bella. We went to Charlie's house first to see if he wanted to come with us, and found Charlie yelling something about the Cullens and vampires and continually insisting that we had to 'go and get her back' right away. Unsure what else to do, we followed him out, climbed into his police cruiser and held on for dear life when he set off like a bat out of hell.
The Cullen’s front lawn was visible now, no more turns before the green expanse opened up, and Charlie, without slowing down, turned around and glared at Phil.
“Don't you tell me what to do!” he snapped angrily. “I don't care what you think, this is about my daughter, and-”
I cut Charlie off, because we were still racing along, and I could see something small and vaguely person shaped ahead of us – it was hard to tell because we were going so fast – which we were going to hit if he didn't stop.
“Charlie, look out!” I screeched, and he snapped his head around. His eyes widened and he stomped on the brake. The brakes squealed madly in protest, but we kept skidding across the muddy ground towards what I could now see was a little girl with bright red-brown hair. She seemed frozen in shock and fear, unable to move as the shrieking, wailing cruiser bore down on her.
A second later, the car stopped dead. I jerked forward at least an inch before my seatbelt snapped taut and forced me back into my seat.
Standing in front of the car, between us and the little girl, was Edward. His hand was on the front of the bonnet, as if he had stopped it, and his eyes burned with an almost inhuman anger as he glared at us. For a second, the tension sat thickly in the air, a strange silence settling though the siren screamed on. Then Edward turned, snatched up the girl and vanished into the house, moving so fast it was almost impossible to see him. The three of us were frozen for a moment more, before Charlie shoved his door open and got out, stalking towards the house without bothering to turn off the siren, though he slammed his door behind him angrily. Phil and I scrambled out after him, following him across the lawn.
“Charlie, I really think you should stop and think about this!” I called, but he just ignored me, stomping up the porch steps and pulling the door open without knocking. By the time we caught up to him, he was already yelling loudly at the gathered Cullens, hurling accusations and threats that were barely recognisable as English. The noise in the room was deafening; Charlie's shouting and the siren were mixed up with the very unexpected sound of crying babies – definitely more than one – coming from somewhere upstairs and the sobs of the little girl, who I could see curled up against Edward behind everyone else.
Over all the noise, a voice echoed from the upper floors. It was female, and it rang like a bell and sounded like singing, even as it shouted angrily.
“Will someone please turn that siren off!” the voice yelled.
“On it!” Emmett called back, and promptly vanished. The siren cut off abruptly, and Emmett was back in the same second, the front door swinging closed behind him. Charlie barely seemed to notice.
“Where is she?” he was yelling. “What have you done to her?”
“We haven't done anything.” Carlisle responded calmly, finally able to get a word in edge-ways. He held his hands up, almost in surrender, or to show he meant no harm. “We've done everything we can to take care of Bella.”
“Don't you lie to me.” Charlie growled, still glaring at the serene doctor. “I know what you are, what you do. Don't think you can pull the wool over my eyes.”
“You know nothing about us.” Rosalie hissed, stepping forward.
“Rose.” Carlisle cautioned her, and she stepped back again, still glowering.
Charlie began to rant and rave again, provoked by her aggressive response, but I was distracted by a tugging on my elbow. I looked down and was surprised to see the little girl looking up at me. While we had all been focused on Charlie, she had calmed herself down and crept around the edge of the room to reach where I was standing. She put a finger to her lips, warning me to be quiet, and then slipped her little hand into mine and began to lead me towards the stairs. I glanced back at Phil, who had spotted my movement and raised his eyebrow at me. I gave him what I hoped was a reassuring nod back, then turned to follow the girl.
She led me through the house, up two flights of stairs, which was
further than I’d been before; there were really only one or two
times I’d been in this house, and I’d only gone as far as Alice’s
room on the second floor.
“Are you alright?” I asked the little girl cautiously. She looked back at me and tilted her head, as if wondering what I meant. Her wide brown eyes were unnervingly familiar as they glittered in the low light.
“The car almost hit you.” I explained gently. “You didn't get hurt or frightened?”
She seemed to think about it for a moment, then shook her head.
“Daddy saved me.” she said in a high soprano voice, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world; it was like she couldn't imagine any situation where he wouldn't save her. Of course, I got hung up on 'Daddy'. She called Edward 'Daddy'?
We'd reached the top floor of the building by now, and the sound of the crying babies was louder. It was coming from the open door on one side of the corridor and was accompanied by a gentle voice shushing and murmuring soothing words. The little girl dropped my hand and went straight to the door, leaving me standing at the head of the stairs. As I cautiously approached, the voice inside began to sing softly, a song I recognised; I had sung it many times to Bella during her childhood, whenever she was upset or scared.
“When I am down and all my soul so weary,
When troubles come and my heart burdened be,
Then I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit a while with me.”
Tentatively, I peered into the room, which was very obviously a nursery; there was a crib on one side and a small bed on the other. In the middle of the room was a woman with her back to me. Her slender frame was wrapped in a plain white blouse and blue jeans, her long brown hair cascading down her back in waves. It was from her that the singing came.
“You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas,
I am strong when I am on your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.”
Her arms cradled something, presumably the babies, who had now stopped crying and settled into a soft whimpering only just audible over the singing. Sure enough, two tiny heads were visible over the woman's shoulders, each topped with the same odd reddish brown hair that Edward and the little girl had.
“You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas,
I am strong when I am on your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.
There is no life, no life without it's hungers,
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly,
But when you come, I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes I think I glimpse eternity.
You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas,
I am strong when I am on your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.
You raise me up to more than I can be.”
As the song drifted to a close, the woman walked over to a rocking chair in the corner and sat down, lowering the two tiny babies from her shoulders to her lap so that one was cradled in each of her arms as she rocked gently. I held back a gasp as I saw her face for the first time.
I could tell at once that she was unquestionably Bella, but I could also see that she was very different to the young lady I had seen driving off toward her honeymoon four months ago. Her already pale skin was now even paler, bone white and almost glowing... or perhaps it was shimmering. All her features had been smoothed out and perfected, her hair was thicker and minutely more red, and she was so beautiful that it took my breath away. Bella had always been a pretty girl, much prettier than she thought she was, but now...
She was stunning.
The only off note were her eyes. I couldn't see them clearly from this distance – she was looking away from me, down at the children in her arms – but they looked brighter, lighter than they had been. I hoped it was just the lighting in here that changed them.
The little girl had been standing just in front of me, inside the door while I lingered outside, but now she scampered forward and stood beside the rocking chair, her little hands on the arm as it tipped slightly back and forth. Bella smiled down at her, her face full of love and adoration, and leaned in to kiss her gently on the forehead. The little girl's hand came up and touched Bella’s cheek for half a second, then my daughter's head snapped up and she stared at me with a look that was part shock, part horror and part outright fear. Her previously relaxed shoulders tensed slightly, as if she were expecting to be scolded, and her small smile, when it returned, was tentative and nervous.
“Hi Mom.” she said in a whisper, her voice ringing as beautifully in speech as it had in song.
“Bella,” I breathed, shocked speechless. All of a sudden, Charlie's mad rambling began to make a little bit of sense. I didn't know if I quite believed his vampire theory, but something had definitely changed my daughter, and it was almost certainly linked to her new family.
Bella was stiff, looking very uncomfortable as she waited for my reaction. I was still trying to figure out exactly how I felt about my own revelations. Without really thinking about it, I drifted forwards, moving slowly across the room towards her. She didn't take her eyes off my face, but I saw her fingers flex slightly around the babies, and she was breathing slowly, evenly, and very deliberately, as if she were measuring each breath before she took it. I took a deep breath of my own and swallowed before I spoke.
“Have I gone crazy?” I wondered aloud, my voice very quiet and a little shaky. “Charlie seems to have lost his marbles, and I’m wondering if I have too. Then again, maybe all this talk of myths and monsters is freaking me out.” I realised that I was rambling, but I couldn't seem to stop myself. “I mean, he can't be right, can he? There's no such thing as vampires in real life, is there?”
I paused, and Bella was biting her lip as she looked away. She took another carefully measured breath and avoided my eyes.
“Is there?” I repeated in a whisper, dread settling in the pit of my stomach. Bella closed her eyes, and the breath she took sounded more like a sob.
“I'm sorry.” she choked out. “Oh Mom, I’m so sorry.”
I couldn't speak, didn't know what to say, just waited and watched as the little girl jumped to comfort my little girl, stroking her arm gently with one tiny hand. When Bella had collected herself somewhat, she looked up at me, the sadness and guilt in her face making me take another step forward and reach out a hand to offer my own comfort. Her next words stopped me in my tracks.
“He's right.” she whispered. “Charlie is absolutely right.”
My head spun. Charlie was right? But that meant that...
“You're a... a...” I couldn't get the word out; each time I tried my throat closed up and my vocal chords froze, refusing to make a sound.
Bella’s eyes locked with mine, and now that I was closer I could see what had changed in them: they were red, blazing brightly, the only colour in her white face. They were frightening, making me catch my breath and step back as my body instinctively recognised danger.
“Yes.” she said, voice hard, guarded, and still more beautiful than the most amazing choir in the world. “I'm a vampire. We all are.”
Silence descended for a moment, interrupted only by the muted, almost inaudible sound of Charlie still yelling downstairs. If I hadn't been so fixated on the bombshell Bella had just delivered, I might have wondered how he could keep going for so long without losing his voice.
Bella stood up, placing the two babies carefully on the rocking chair, where they sat up easily in their blankets and watched her intently. She came towards me slowly, carefully, as if she were approaching a frightened animal. I couldn't move as my instincts battled one another; self preservation screamed at me to run, while the mother in me insisted that this was my daughter, my little Isabella, and she would never try to hurt me. I was so caught up in my internal war, I didn't know how close she had gotten until her hand touched me, her fingers cold as ice against the back of my hand. I gasped and blinked, focusing in on her face. Her terrifying eyes were sad again, her face serious, and something in her expression made me feel like she was begging for my forgiveness for something she'd done.
“I know you're frightened.” she said calmly, softly. “But there's no need to be. We're not like others, we won't hurt you. I promise, no one in this house would ever wish to harm you.”
Something in me recognised the truth in her words, and I felt myself relax slightly. Bella smiled, though her eyes still looked a little worried.
“I'm still me.” she insisted. “I'm still the same person I used to be. I’m just a bit more durable and my diet has changed a little.” She smiled weakly again and shrugged, trying to seem flippant and unconcerned.
“You aren't exactly the same.” I said pointedly, nodding at the three children still watching us with nervous looks on their little faces. She followed the line of my eyes and her smile turned sheepish. I expected her to blush, but she didn't.
“I suppose not.” she conceded. “They have made a pretty big difference.”
“Are they yours?” I asked, sure that their resemblance to both her and Edward was not coincidental, but still confused as to how she could have three children in only as many months. Was that a vampire thing? Were they relatives of Edward’s who just happened to look like her?
Bella nodded, and now her smile was knowing, as if she had guessed what I was thinking of. “I know it seems impossible, but yes, they're ours. They grow much faster than other children of course.”
She paused for a moment, then held out one snow white hand.
“Do you want to come and meet them?” she asked gently, encouragingly, but still giving me the option to say no if I wanted to. But the three little ones had sparked my curiosity, presenting a mystery that I wouldn't be able to rest until I had found out the answers. So I took Bella’s hand, slightly shocked by the cold, but ignoring it as best I could, and let her lead me over to the rocking chair. I watched her face out of the corner of my eye, and saw on it again the wondering, adoring look that had been there before I interrupted her moment with her... her children. That was an odd concept to wrap my head around; my daughter was a mother. It seemed like only yesterday that she was the baby, so tiny and vulnerable in my arms, the only good thing to have come out of my silly, romantic decision to marry a man I barely knew, and my biggest motivation to correct my mistakes and make something of myself. To an outside observer, it might seem that Bella was now in exactly the same situation, but I knew better; she was always more like Charlie, much more thoughtful and careful than me, never one to rush into something that she wasn't comfortable with. I trusted her to make her own decisions, positive that she would do what she felt was best for herself, and the look on her face, first on the day of her wedding and again now, convinced me that I had not misplaced that trust.
I realised suddenly that her motherhood made me a grandmother, and had to suppress a slight shudder. That was almost as bad as mother-in-law, maybe worse. Not that I had any problems with Bella making a family of her own. I just didn't like feeling so old.
Three pairs of tiny eyes watched us as we approached, one wary, one frightened, and one – the larger of the two babies – openly hostile. Bella saw this too, and she let go of my hand, sinking to her knees in front of them, reaching out to touch the baby's tightly clenched fist with one finger.
“It's alright honey,” she said softly, soothing all three of them even as she focused on one. “She's safe.”
She glanced back at me, smiling indulgently.
“He's a little protective,” she explained. “He doesn't trust anyone until someone tells him who they are.”
I knelt down beside her and gave the children a soft, friendly smile, perfected over my years as a kindergarten teacher, both in Phoenix and in our previous home in California.
“Hi there,” I said quietly, using the tone that always calmed my more skittish students. “I'm Renee. It's nice to meet you.”
The tiny boy was still eyeing me suspiciously, and Bella chuckled, reaching out to smooth the wild mess of bronze hair that topped his head.
“Renee is my mommy,” she told him gently. “And that look you're giving her isn't very nice.”
Her tone was soft and kind, with a slight edge of warning and rebuff to it. The boy pursed his little lips for a moment, then dropped his angry expression completely and gave me a crooked smile that was a miniature replica of Edward’s. His eyes sparkled like two emeralds set into his face, and his tiny teeth – a full set of them – twinkled like pearls. Then he startled me again by opening his mouth and talking.
“'ike Nana!” he crowed triumphantly, and Bella laughed.
“Yes, like Nana.” she confirmed, leaning in to kiss his forehead. Then she looked at me, her expression a little dreamy and unmistakably happy.
“This little monkey is EJ.” she told me, and he gave me a little wave.
“This is Elizabeth,” Bella went on, lightly stroking the bronze waves on the head of the other baby. “She and EJ are twins.” Elizabeth blinked her own wide green eyes and smiled shyly.
“And this is Renesmee.” she finished, indicating the little girl who had brought me up here.
“I'm the oldest,” she proclaimed proudly, and I laughed a little.
“I'd guessed that.” I told her, and held out a hand for her to shake. She took it with a smile, and I gasped as I was assaulted with an image of myself and Bella – the old Bella, the way she was before she changed so drastically. The faces zoomed in and out, similarities and differences highlighted and compared in seconds. I was disoriented and confused, unsure where the pictures had come from and why.
A cold hand carefully worked its way between mine and Renesmee's, breaking our contact, and the images disappeared abruptly. I blinked a few times, dazed, and focused back in on the room around me. Bella was holding her daughter's hand, her eyes slightly unfocused for a moment before her features shifted into a mildly disapproving look.
“You really shouldn't do that without warning people first, Ness.” she said, and Renesmee grinned sheepishly.
“Sorry,” she said to me with an apologetic smile. “I didn't mean to scare you.”
“You did that?” I asked her disbelievingly. She nodded.
“Wow.” I mumbled, still a little befuddled. “How exactly does that work?”
Bella shrugged. “We don't know how. She's what we call talented, which means she has extra abilities beyond what is normal for our kind. Not everyone has a talent, but many do, and each one is different depending on the individual.”
The longer I sat here listening, the more interested I got in what I was being told. The fear I had felt was completely gone, the blank surprise was on it's way out, and I had a feeling that astonishment would be coming and going for the foreseeable future.
“Are you talented?” I asked curiously.
Bella smiled and shook her head. “Not me. Carlisle thought my
control might be something special – I’m far more calm and
rational than others my age – but Edward thinks it's just because I
knew what to expect and prepared myself beforehand.”
“What do you think?” I asked
She shrugged. “I don't really care. I’m glad of it today though.” Her smile turned sad. “I would hate myself forever if I ever hurt you or Phil or Charlie, even unintentionally.”
I gently put my hand over hers and squeezed.
“I'm glad too.” I said with a slightly awkward smile, then changed the subject. “And what about the others? Anyone extraordinary in the rest of the family?”
Bella nodded. “Quite a few actually. Jasper, Alice, Edward and the children all have clear definable talents. You've experienced Renesmee's; she can put her thoughts into other people's heads by touching them. The twins can have mental conversations with each other and anyone related to them when they have skin to skin contact. Come to think of it, it would probably work with you too.”
“We can try it out later.” I agreed. “And the others?”
“Jasper can feel and influence people's emotions. He's probably trying to calm Charlie down right now, although I have a feeling he's fighting a losing battle.” She smiled sadly and I squeezed her hand again. She squeezed mine back carefully and continued.
“Alice can see the future, things that are going to happen, or might happen.”
“That must be helpful.” I commented, and she nodded.
“It is, although it's limited to humans and vampires and affected by any change in people's decisions. Alice didn't remember her human life after she changed, so she's been relying on her visions for her whole life as far as she's concerned. They led her to Jasper, and then to Carlisle and the rest of the family, and we've all come to rely on them as much as she has. It doesn't work when people avoid making decisions, and that frustrates her. And Edward...”
She paused and bit her lip, as if she didn't want to tell me.
“Edward...” I prompted.
“Edward... hears people's thoughts.” she finally admitted. “In his head, he can hear the thoughts of everyone around him as clearly as he hears them talk. It works on just about everybody; the only exception we've found is me, and we have no idea why.”
I took a moment to process that.
“He... reads minds?” I clarified hesitantly, and Bella nodded nervously.
All the potentially embarrassing, awkward or judgmental things I’d ever thought in Edward’s presence rushed through my head in half a second, creating a horrifying patchwork that filled me with shame.
“Oh God,” I moaned, burying my face in my hands. “What on Earth must he think of me?”
Bella and EJ laughed, Renesmee giggled, and shy little Elizabeth smiled a bit wider. A moment later, she perked up even more, her eyes bright and excited, as if she had just realised something.
“Mama!” she squealed, bouncing a little in her seat. “'Nee 'ike 'Ne'mee!”
Bella smiled. “That's right honey. Renee does sound like Renesmee. Do you know why?”
Elizabeth shook her head, her little face curious.
Bella leaned in a little, like she was telling her a big secret. It was fascinating to watch how comfortable and natural she was when she interacted with the children, the way her voice changed ever so slightly and her language became a tiny bit more simple, without sounding condescending or turning into baby talk.
“Because,” she stage whispered. “Renesmee is named after Renee.”
I gasped a little, covering my mouth with my hand and trying not to cry.
“Really?” I asked, and Bella nodded, smiling.
“I was trying to come up with a name for her, and it just popped into my head.” she explained. “Renee and Esme put together – Renesmee. Edward likes it, and so does she.”
She grinned and tickled Renesmee lightly. She giggled, and it sounded like a little wind chime.
“Daddy says it's beautiful and unique, just like me!” she said, sounding almost proud.
I chuckled. “It certainly is.”
“I've just thought of something.” Bella said suddenly. “What are they supposed to call you? I’m assuming you don't like the idea of being Grandma.”
I shuddered and Elizabeth giggled.
“I know Mama!” she said happily. “We call Nee-Nee. Nee-Nee pwetty.”
I gave Bella a quizzical look; she seemed to understand the babies' jabbering, though I found it incomprehensible.
“She says they should call you Nee-Nee.” Bella translated with a smile. “She thinks it's pretty.”
“Yeah yeah!” Elizabeth butted in, much more animated than she had been when I arrived. “Pwetty!”
I smiled at her. “Well, if that's what you want to call me then I don't mind. It was very clever of you to think of it.”
She cooed happily and waved her little arms, almost smacking her brother in the face by accident.
“Lizbef!” he protested loudly, swatting at her still failing hand angrily.
“Ee-Day!” she shot back, imitating him, then grabbed him in a hug and giggled madly while he squirmed.
“This is what she's like normally.” Bella whispered to me while Renesmee tried to separate her squabbling siblings. “I wondered why she was being so shy and quiet earlier, because she's usually the opposite.”
I opened my mouth to ask a question – which one, I wasn't sure; I had hundreds floating around in my head – but Bella suddenly turned away, looking behind us towards the door with a frustrated, upset expression on her face. I glanced back, but there was no one at the door and nothing I could see that might have caught her attention.
Bella sighed. “He's off again.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Charlie.” she replied glumly. “I think Jasper managed to calm him down for a little while, but he's angry again now and he's shouting.”
“You can hear all the way downstairs?” I asked.
“I can hear all the way to the freeway.” she said with a little bit of a smile. “Enhanced senses are one of the perks of being a vampire.”
Her casual use of the word startled me a little, but I tried not to let it show, wanting to show her that I was accepting of the life that she had clearly chosen for herself. Unlike Charlie, I didn't think that this was something that had been done to her against her will. I knew my daughter; she wasn't one to let herself be forced into anything, and she always thought through every decision carefully before she made it. I was sure she had considered every possible consequence of this change she had made before agreeing to it.
Bella huffed angrily, presumably in reaction to something Charlie had said, and stood up. The children looked up at her, their fight forgotten, their expressions concerned and curious.
“I think it's time I had a word with my father.” Bella said, her voice low and a little bit frightening. She turned toward the door, and EJ gave a squawk of protest, reaching for her desperately. She turned back around and softened a little, leaning down to scoop him up.
“Don't worry little man,” she cooed gently, bouncing him slightly on her hip. “I won't leave you behind.”
She went to pick Elizabeth up with her other arm, but the little girl shook her head and reached for me.
“Nee-Nee,” she said, little fingers clenching and unclenching into fists. I looked to Bella, who gave me a reassuring nod and a smile, then I stood up and carefully lifted her into my arms. I hadn't held a baby since Bella was about two, but my mothering instincts were still there, and I found it almost no trouble at all to balance Elizabeth on my hip in the same way that Bella had with EJ. She was a little heavier than I would have expected for her size, but not so heavy that I couldn't hold her; I just had to use two hands. She curled calmly against me, putting her little head on my shoulder and shoving her thumb in her mouth. Bella seemed unaffected by EJ's weight, supporting him on only one arm – even though he had to be at least as heavy as Elizabeth – and holding her free hand out to Renesmee. She took it without hesitating, and they looked into each other's eyes for a moment. Bella nodded, and I wondered if it was an answer to some question that I couldn't hear.
“Let's go.” she said quietly, and led the way out of the room and down the stairs.
The closer we got to the ground floor, the louder and clearer Charlie's yelling became. By the time we reached the top of the final flight, even I could hear him clearly. Elizabeth, who had been getting more and more confident upstairs, had retreated back into herself again, clinging tighter to me than should be possible and whimpering softly. I’d turned my head and kissed her hair before I really knew what I was doing, but it felt so right that I didn't question it; it did seem to relax her a little bit.
Bella had paused at the top of the stairs, and I stopped next to her, both of us listening to the noise from the living room.
“I knew there was something wrong about you.” Charlie was saying loudly. “I should never have let you near my daughter to begin with.”
“That wouldn't have helped.” Edward answered, sounding much calmer than my furious ex-husband. “What could you have done, stopped her from going to school? There would always have been plenty of opportunities for us to meet and get to know each other.”
That riled Charlie up even more, although I was fairly sure that wasn't Edward’s intention, and his tirade got even louder.
“Bella would never have agreed to all of this if you hadn't manipulated her and tricked her into it. She deserves so much better than this! You were never good enough for her-”
“I KNOW!” Edward half roared, cutting him off, all trace of calm gone. “Don't you think I know that? Don't you think I’ve told her that a thousand times? I’ve torn myself apart since we met, half of me wishing she would stay and satisfy my need to have her near me, and half of me praying she would run from me and be safe. I have never manipulated her or forced her into anything. I have always made sure it was her choice to be with me.”
“You expect me to believe that?” Charlie retorted, and I heard Bella growl softly before making her way down the stairs. I followed slightly nervously as Charlie continued to rant and rave.
“How am I supposed to trust you, any of you, after all the times you've clearly lied to me, to Renee, even to Bella? Do you even care about her at all? Is she just some kind of tool for you, a way to make your little nest bigger and-”
“Enough!” Bella barked. Charlie spun around and stared at her, and I felt a wash of calm sweep over all of us; presumably Jasper taking advantage of Charlie's momentary distraction.
“That's enough, Charlie.” Bella said, her voice cold and emotionless again.
There was a tense moment where no one spoke. None of the Cullens – the vampires – so much as breathed, all frozen in absolute stillness. Everyone was staring at Bella and Charlie, who stared at each other in silent confrontation, Bella defensive and Charlie utterly astounded.
It was Bella who broke the silence.
“I think we need to take this outside.” she said, still speaking low in close to a monotone. “Edward, will you take EJ for me?”
Edward approached slowly, carefully, skirting around Charlie and eyeing Bella cautiously. EJ whimpered and clutched at her, and Bella shushed him gently, kissing his forehead before she handed him carefully to Edward. Her face, momentarily soft and tender, shifted back to the hard mask as she turned and stalked across the room. We all watched her go, and I jumped a little when she slammed the front door behind her.
“I'd follow her if I were you.” Alice murmured, clearly talking to Charlie. “Making her angry is not a good idea right now.”
Charlie stared at her dumbly for a moment, then nodded slowly and shuffled after Bella, still looking a little bit spaced out. I relaxed a little once he was gone, as did Phil, who crossed the room and put his arm around me. Elizabeth peered at him curiously and he eyed her, but didn't ask questions. Edward was gently bouncing the still discontented EJ in his arms, trying to calm his son's agitation, and Renesmee had wrapped her arms around his legs. I was desperately curious to know what was going on outside, but I didn't know if Bella would want to talk to her father in private, or what to do with the little girl in my arms if I did decide to go out.
“Go,” Edward said softly, and when I turned to him the look in his eyes was an odd mix of sadness, gratitude and anger. “She'll be glad of your support. Rosalie can take Elizabeth.”
Rosalie crossed the room, arms held out, and Elizabeth gave me one more tight squeeze before leaning toward her. I handed her over carefully, and she went calmly from one set of arms to the other, cuddling up against Rosalie contentedly, in stark contrast to her brother's unhappy whining.
“Bye bye Nee-Nee.” she said sweetly, giving me a little wave. I smiled and waved back.
“I'll be right back.” I promised, kissing Phil's cheek and following Bella and Charlie outside.
They didn't seem to have started talking yet when I quietly slipped through the door onto the porch. Bella had her back to Charlie, shoulders hunched as she stared off into the trees, and he stood about five feet behind her, between the house and the cruiser.
“What did he do to you Bella?” Charlie asked as I crossed the grass, speaking only just loud enough to be heard.
“He saved me.” she replied, and though she tried to keep her tone neutral, I could hear the defensiveness in it.
“Sure he did.” Charlie scoffed, clearly not believing her. “How did he convince you of that, huh? What mind games has he been playing on you?”
“None.” she said, her voice more insistent. “He did the only thing he could do, the only thing anyone could have done. I’d be dead without him.”
Charlie couldn't hold back his anger any more.
“Dammit Bella!” he burst out, not as loud as he had been inside, but very close. “Why do you keep defending him? After everything he's done, all the ways he's hurt you, you keep going back to him and acting as if he can do no wrong. He broke your heart Bella. He broke you. What's wrong with you that you can't see how much more you deserve?”
“Stop it!” Bella suddenly shrieked, whirling around and vanishing, only to reappear a fraction of a second later right in front of him, eyes blazing. “Stop making accusations and judgments when you don't understand!”
Charlie stepped back involuntarily, but Bella stepped with him, not allowing him to escape. I could see him shaking very slightly, the only sign he was showing of being frightened. Bella either didn't notice or didn't care and she kept bearing into him, her anger seeming to roll off of her in waves.
“I defend him because I love him.” she went on, speaking slowly and clearly, as if she were explaining something complicated to a small child, but still seething with barely restrained fury. “Because there is no one in the entire world that I love like I love him, and no one but him who loves me that way in return. Everything he does, he does for me, even the things that hurt me, because he wants me to be safe and happy. Sure, he makes mistakes and does stupid things sometimes, but so does everybody. You don't know him, you don't know me, you don't know anything about us, so stop pretending that you know what you're talking about!”
I had never seen Bella – or anyone else for that matter – so angry in my life. She wasn't the type to fly into a rage like this. She'd had the odd tantrum about coming to Forks when she was younger, but that was just childish stubbornness. She'd gone crazy when we'd tried to make her leave last September, but that was uncontrolled, wild, almost madness. Never had she shown this kind of single-minded, focused fury, and it was all the more frightening for its coherence. I almost felt sorry for Charlie; I certainly didn't want her to turn on me.
Her ire seemed to fade for a moment; she took a step back and a few deep breaths, but her crimson eyes still blazed with barely concealed anger.
“This is my life now.” she said, her voice deceptively calm. “I chose it, on my own, with no pressure or enticing from anyone. You can either accept that or you can get out of my life right now and don't come back.”
Charlie gaped at her. “Bells... you can't... you don't...”
“I mean it Charlie.” she half-growled fiercely, and they stared each other down in silence for a moment. I chanced a few steps closer, so that I could see Charlie's face more clearly; it was full of pain and anguish, and it was clear that though she'd only been with him for a very short time compared to the time she had been with me, the idea of losing her was incredibly painful for him. Bella’s face wavered, and she tried to hold the stern expression for a second longer before giving up completely. Her face dropped into a look identical to Charlie's.
“I don't want to cut you out of my life Dad.” she said softly, sadly. “I've done everything I can to make this easier for you. But the truth is, we could never really have seen each other again if this hadn't happened. This is dangerous for all of us.”
Charlie had recovered himself somewhat, and he frowned. “Dangerous? Bella, if he's been threatening you...”
“Oh for heaven's sake Charlie!” I exclaimed, and he jumped; I don't think he realised I was even there. “What exactly is your problem with Edward? What did he ever do to you, huh? Because from what I’ve seen, he's a polite, respectful young man who loves our daughter very much, who would probably die for her if he had to, and she feels exactly the same way about him. What is so wrong with that?”
He bristled, clearly unhappy that we were ganging up on him, and turned to face me fully. “And you've met him how many times? Only three, including the wedding, and I highly doubt he's been totally honest with you.”
Bella stepped in then, backing me up.
“If he or any of us have lied to you, it's only for your protection and ours.” she insisted. “There is a very good reason why all of this is a secret, why we can't tell anyone about what we are, why just knowing what you know now could lead to your death if the wrong people were made aware of it.”
There was no way I could doubt the serious expression on her face or the sincerity in her voice; Bella was an awful liar, and it was obvious that she was telling the truth now. Her words frightened me, and I felt myself begin to shake slightly.
“Oh really?” Charlie said, sounding very much like he didn't believe her for some reason I couldn't fathom. “Please enlighten us then. What is so dangerous that you felt you couldn't even tell your own parents the truth?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but a sharp cry cut her off, and we all turned to see Edward standing at the corner of the house, a frantic looking EJ straining out of his arms toward her.
Clearly, our conversation was over.