A Love Worth Defending

At Home with Chief Swan

Charlie Swan was a simple man. He worked hard, played on occasion, and considered a cold beer and a good game the ingredients of a perfect day. Though he wished some things were different, had parts of his personality he wished to change, he was a man with a life that made sense.

Until Bella moved back home.

No one could accuse him of being particularly paternal, but he was happy his only child chose to spend her remaining high school days with him. Sure, the reasons were more about liberating her flighty mother than deepening their relationship, but Charlie was grateful nonetheless. Bella added sparkle and spice to his predictable days, and most of the time he enjoyed the diversion.

Charlie did his best with the deck at Frank’s house, given that his deputy had no technical skill and was literally a few wrenches short of a tool set. After they set the anchoring posts in the ground, Frank’s wife appeared at the backdoor with an antiquing emergency. In love and enthusiastic, Frank declared them done for the day and said they’d continue the work next weekend.

Charlie planned to have a headache by then.

With a free day in front of him, Charlie popped in the Diner for a breakfast platter to go and planned to enjoy opening day of the college football season in his favorite chair and in peace.

He pulled into his driveway, surprised to find Bella’s truck there. She hadn’t mentioned Edward’s name in a few days, but he assumed they would celebrate her birthday in what he hoped was a chaste manner.

But when he opened the front door and heard his daughter stomping and rummaging upstairs, his mind flashed to her late-night exodus in April, and his heart clenched.

“Not again.”

“Bells?” He cleared his throat to hide his anxiety. “Is everything okay?”

The commotion upstairs came to a halt. “Dad?” The reply was muffled until she opened the door. “I thought you were at Frank’s today.”

“We finished early.” Charlie proceeded up the stairs. “What are you…”

“Could you give me a minute?” Bella held up a finger. “I’ll, uh… I’ll be right down to talk to you.”

Talk. The real four-letter word to any man.

“Sure thing,” Charlie replied. “I’ll be in the living room.”

“Great, thanks.”

She shut the door, and Charlie remained at the foot of the stairs long enough to feel foolish for worrying. For all he knew, Edward had a big surprise planned and she was working up the courage to ask Charlie’s permission to spend the weekend with the Cullens.

Yes, that had to be it.

The thought of Bella being anywhere but under his roof overnight made him uncomfortable, but Charlie forced himself to relax. The Cullens were respectable people, Bella was 18 now, and aside from that misunderstanding last spring, Edward had done nothing to hurt his daughter.

That in itself was noteworthy.

So he set his breakfast on the coffee table and decided to grant his daughter’s request. Even if he didn’t trust Edward as far as he could throw him—he was, after all, an able-bodied male interested in Bella—he trusted his daughter. And it was time he showed her how much. Satisfied, Charlie grabbed the remote and prepared to watch the Gators and Tigers square off.

The announcers were dissecting defenses in the SEC when Charlie’s cell phone rang in his pocket. He wasn’t expecting any calls, and he considered letting it go to voicemail. But a check of the Caller ID found him answering the phone with a smile.

“You’re just in time. Kickoff is about to start.”

“Is it?” Billy’s voice was subdued. “I thought it was next weekend.”

“Nope, it’s today. Now in fact.” Charlie sipped his coffee. “What’s wrong? You don’t sound well.”

Billy didn’t answer right away, and Charlie muted the television. “Are you having a flare up? Do you need me to grab you some…”

“No, nothing like that.” Billy sighed. “I just… sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing.”

“About what?”

“A lot of things. The tribe, my health, Jacob.”

Charlie sat up. “Did something happen with Jake?”

“No, thank goodness. But…” Billy hesitated. “Do you ever worry about Bella?”

“Bella?”

“You know, her choices, her future. Your responsibility to guide her in those areas?”

“Every father worth his salt worries about that. But Bella knows herself better than I do. She was practically a woman when she got here, so I can’t assume the right to dictate what she does, where she goes.”

“Who she dates,” Billy added.

Charlie grimaced. “Are you going to start that crap about the Cullens now?”

“No, I’ve had enough of that for one day.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing. I’ve had a morning full of rough conversations I didn’t want to have. I don’t need another one with you.”

“Fair enough. But as I said, Bella’s romantic decisions are hers alone and I respect them.”

“Even if you think she’s choosing wrong?”

“I will always think she’s choosing wrong because God hasn’t created a man good enough for her. But if she can live with her choice, then the best I can do is support and respect it, whatever it is.”

Bella’s heavy footfalls sounded on the stairs. “Speaking of my daughter, she just came in and wants to talk to me.”

“She’s home?”

“Yes.” Charlie chuckled. “I know Jake lives outdoors with his friends these days, but my daughter still comes home on occasion.”

Billy’s laugh was short and forced. “Does she seem…”

“Billy, I’ll catch up with you later, okay?” Bella stood at the threshold. “Come catch the late game if you want.”

“Right. I’ll let you know.”

“Good enough.” Charlie closed the phone and smiled up at his daughter. “That was Billy.”

The color drained from Bella’s cheeks. “What did he say?”

“Don’t worry.” Charlie smiled. “I cut him off before he started in on the Cullens.”

“Oh, good.” Bella relaxed and made her way to the couch. “That’s good to hear.”

“I assume that’s what you want to talk about,” Charlie said. “The Cullens?”

Bella hovered over the seat, gaping at her father. He looked between Bella and the cushion, a smirk about his lips. “You know, it’s more comfortable if your butt actually touches the seat.”

Bella blinked and sat down, her hands folded atop her denim-clad knees. “Um, yes. I do want to talk to you about the Cullens.”

“And your birthday, right?”

Bella’s eyes widened. “How’d you know?”

“I’ve been observant once or twice in my life.” Charlie pointed a thumb at his chest. “Chief of Police here.”

“Right.” Bella picked lint off her dark gray hoodie and cleared her throat. “Well, as you know, the Cullens threw me a birthday party the other day. I told them not to, but they’re big on birthdays and wanted to make it special for me, so…”

Charlie held up a hand. “You don’t have to say anything else. I know what this is about, and it’s fine.”

“It is?”

“Sure. The way things are with you and Edward right now, I expected this last night.”

“You did?”

“Do I really seem that clueless?”

“No.” Bella’s smile was awkward. “I just… wow. So you’re cool with this?”

“Cool as a fan.” Charlie grinned then became serious. “As long as there’s at least one parent present…”

“Yes, definitely.” Bella popped off the couch and gave him a big hug. “Thanks, Dad. You don’t know how much I need this right now.”

Charlie patted her back. “I don’t know what kind of warden you think I am, but it’s your birthday weekend. You should enjoy it however you can.”

Bella kissed his cheek and bounded up the stairs. Charlie shook his head and unmuted the television, hoping his waffles and sausage hadn’t gotten too cold.

One long offensive Gator drive later, Bella came downstairs with an overnight bag slung over her shoulders. She glanced at the clock on the wall. “I hope I’m not late.”

“I wouldn’t worry.” Charlie sipped his juice. “I’m sure they’ll wait for you.”

“I don’t think that’s how airports operate, but thank you for…”

Charlie spit out his juice. “Airport? You’re going to the airport?”

“Of course.” Bella opened the front door. “How else would I get to Florida?”

“Florida?” Charlie was on his feet and hard on her heels. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Dad.” Bella reached for the handle on the driver’s side. “The Cullens gave me round-trip tickets to see Mom for my birthday, and I’m going to use one.”

“Right now?

“No time like the present.” Bella jumped as her father grabbed her open door. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to figure out what you’re doing!”

“You just gave me permission to do what I’m doing.”

“I thought you were heading to the Cullens for a special birthday surprise!”

Bella’s bitter laugh surprised Charlie so much he released the door. “Hardly.”

Charlie paused. “So things with Edward aren’t…”

“This is not about Edward, Dad.” She sat in the driver’s seat. “This is about me missing mom and wanting to see her for my birthday. Is that too much to ask?”

Though her voice was calm, Charlie heard something else beneath it. Something she did not want to discuss. And as his earlier words to Billy echoed in his mind, Charlie closed the door and stepped back.

“Call me when you get there.”

Bella’s eyes lit up briefly, and she nodded as she stuck the key in the ignition. Charlie turned toward the house, college football the furthest thing from his mind.

“Hey, Dad?”

Charlie turned around. “Yeah?”

A dozen emotions played across Bella’s face before she settled on a small smile. “Thanks.”

“Anytime, Bells. Be careful.”

“I will.”

Bella backed out of the driveway and tapped the horn twice. With a brief wave, Charlie watched his daughter drive down the street and away from Forks for the second time this year.

And as he reentered the front door, he feared the second time would be her last.

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