Father Knows Best
Edward stood immobile as his last two words hung in the air.
Bella’s eyes went from confused to incredulous to angry and back to confused.
Though if her clenched teeth were any indication, she had yet to remove the anger.
“What did you say?”
Edward palmed the back of his neck, swallowing hard. “I said…”
“I know what you said.” Bella erased the minimal space between them, eyes blazing. “What I meant was, what the bloody hell did you mean by what you just said?”
He opened his mouth to reply and shut it again, and to his surprise, Bella laughed. “Thinking before you speak. What a novel concept.”
His crooked smile was sheepish despite its sincerity. “I am trying to do better.”
“I am, Isabella.” At the sound of her full name, she faced him again. “I hope you come to believe that.”
They locked eyes, and every logical thought flew from Edward’s brain. His fingers itched with the urge to run his hands over her lines and curves, and he fisted them at his sides lest she break her hand trying to break his face.
Though her presence in Florida was a mystery, their arrival here was his fault entirely, a point he could never contend. The responsibility for finding the way out, then, also belonged to him.
Never had he shouldered a weight so heavy.
His mind flipped through a thousand memories of the past year: her smiles and sighs, hugs and happiness. With all they had recently endured, it boggled his brain that she ever wanted him. The first time he heard his name in her dreamy whisper… the way she looked when he sped to a stop in Port Angeles… the acceleration of her heartbeat after their first kiss…
Miracles all, challenging his questions about the meaning of life, love, and eternity.
He looked up to find her at the foot of the staircase, alerting him to how long he’d been daydreaming. The emotions pooling in her eyes a moment earlier were hidden beyond his detection, and all he saw was impatience.
With enough of that lingering anger to force him to speak.
“I went to the police station.”
“I don’t know.” He closed his eyes, leaning his head against the wall. “I was looking for you, though I already knew you were here.”
“In your room.” He waited for her to rail on him, continuing cautiously when she didn’t. “The music CD I made for your birthday was sticking out of the top-right drawer of your desk, which itself was not closed all the way.”
“I assumed the CD had been in the drawer with the other gifts. Its awkward position suggested it had been hastily removed and returned to its former location. That suggested the other items were also removed, and as your truck was missing, I assumed you’d taken at least one of the plane tickets and come here.”
She huffed. “That’s quite an assumption.”
He watched her, uncertain if she was impressed or irritated. “Maybe that’s why I went to the police station, to confirm it with your father.”
“Was this before or after you told Angela to call me?”
“After, but not for the reasons you might assume.”
“Oh, Edward.” She smiled. “When it comes to you, I never assume anything.”
Her biting tone stung, but he could not begrudge her. “After leaving your room, I returned to school. But the barrage of thoughts about your absence was too much to take. Angela, of course, was the only person concerned enough to inquire directly.”
“Did you tell her to call me hoping to confirm where I was?”
“No.” I held her eyes. “But I admit to listening to your conversation.”
She looked away, a faint blush kissing her face. “I assume you heard everything.”
“I did. But as they say, eavesdroppers often hear things they wish they hadn’t.”
Her eyes narrowed as they returned to him. “What do you mean?”
It was his turn to look away. “Edward?”
He sighed. “She said I looked lost without you.”
“And you hung up.”
Bella hugged her knees, shrugging slightly. “I didn’t know what to say to that.”
“I know. And that is entirely my fault.” She didn’t respond, and Edward cleared his throat. “After hearing that, there was no concentrating on anything but you. I had Esme call to say she needed me at home, and I drove to the police station.”
“I would have liked to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.”
Edward returned her half-smile. “You can be.”
Edward had driven around the police station twice before summoning the courage to go in. He and Charlie had a delicate truce since Bella’s return from Phoenix, but after the fiasco of last week, he had no idea what to expect. For all Edward knew, Bella told Charlie everything she could, and he was inside putting a bounty on Edward’s head.
But Chief Swan had too much respect for the law—and Edward’s adoptive father—to do such a thing.
Edward entered the police station, doubling down on his resolve not to rely on his gifts. As Charlie’s mind was muffled at best, they wouldn’t be much help anyway. But beyond that, Edward wanted to approach the situation as any normal, human suitor would approach his girlfriend’s father.
But as he reached the front desk, he realized he hadn’t invented a reason for his visit.
“Edward?” Chief Swan appeared on his left. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, sir.” His voice was too high, and he tried again. “I, uh… I wanted to talk to you.”
“All right. Let’s go to my office.”
Edward followed Charlie down the short hall, scrambling for a story that would pass muster. Charlie indicated the seat on the other side of his desk. “What can I do for you?”
“Um…” Edward looked out the window, praying for divine assistance. “It’s sort of complicated.”
“Not my first rodeo,” Charlie smiled. “I’m sure I can keep up.”
Edward’s laugh was forced. “Right.”
When another stretch of silence found Edward tugging at his over-starched collar, Charlie scooted forward. “Let me give you a head-start. I assume this is about Bella.”
“And has something to do with your botched plans for her birthday.”
“Yes.” Edward now wondered if Charlie were telepathic. “It has been all downhill from there.”
“She seemed none too thrilled when she returned from your house. Figured the bruised arm was just the start.”
“You don’t know the half,” Edward groaned into his hands.
“Okay, so you screwed up her birthday. You’re young, shouldn’t be the end of the world.”
“It certainly feels like it.”
“Hmmm.” Charlie came around the desk and took the seat across from Edward. “Did you speak to Bella this weekend?”
“But not since Saturday afternoon?”
“And may I assume you’ve been to school today?”
“And you’ve been by the house?”
“And now you’re here?”
Charlie studied him. “Do you know where she is?”
“I have an idea.” He flooded his mind with other things to avoid plucking the answer from Charlie’s head. “But I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Who says you have to do anything?”
“Isn’t that my duty? My responsibility as her…”The word mate almost slipped from his lips. “Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”
“This isn’t about duty or obligation, Edward. No healthy relationship can be. Trust me on that,” he muttered, thinking Edward couldn’t hear.
“But I cannot abide just sitting here. I have to go to her.”
“If that’s so, why are you here?”
Edward dropped his head into his hands, regretting every decision he’d made in the past six days. “I don’t know.”
“Listen. I don’t know what’s going on with you and Bella, and I’m content in the dark. But this is the second time she’s left town in the past six months. She said this time wasn’t about you, yet here you are, looking like someone kicked your dog with a steel-toe boot.” He released a long breath. “When you’re young, I know the first one feels like it’s supposed to last forever. But sometimes the first one is just the first one. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Edward’s head snapped up. “I do.”
“I love her, sir.”
“Love is more than a notion, son. It is selfless, forgiving, and courageous. Love means putting her needs above your own, no matter what the cost.”
Relief washed through Edward with such force he could have kissed Charlie. “That’s exactly what I have been trying to do! But she refuses to let me.”
Charlie’s thick brows furrowed. “I find that difficult to believe, that she would refuse the very things she asked for.”
“Her needs, Edward. What she’s asked you for. If you’re trying to put those things above everything you want, it’s hard to figure why she would run away from that.”
As Edward blinked in confusion, a slow, sad smile spread across Charlie’s face. “Ah. You thought putting her needs above yours meant doing what you thought was best for her.” Charlie cocked his head to one side. “Probably without her consent.”
Edward’s eyes widened, and Charlie chuckled. “I said I didn’t know what was going on, and I meant it. But I’ve been around awhile, and young men in love haven’t changed. They’re still arrogant, foolish, and inclined to behave like neanderthals.”
Edward ran anxious hands through his hair. “I just wanted her safe.”
“Safe?” The policeman tone returned as Charlie leaned forward in his chair. “Are you saying you’re unsafe for my daughter?”
Edward held up both hands. “No.”
Charlie crossed his arms. “Explain yourself.”
“I just… I don’t know how to do this.”
“How to trust someone whose mind I can’t read, whose every thought and decision confounds me,” he thought but said aloud, “How to be with someone like Bella. She’s so… fearless. Stubborn, strong, fearless.”
“You said that twice.”
“It bears repeating. And that’s the problem: I am terrified by things to which she gives little import. She tells me to relax because things always work themselves out, but the less she worries, the more I get concerned. Then I try to make things better, and she hates my decisions and resents me for them. And none of that does anything to…”
“Okay, okay.” Charlie held up his hands. “Let me ask you something: With everything you just said, everything you’re worried about… do you think you’re the best choice for Bella?”
Edward felt what little life remained drain from his body. “No.”
“All right. Does she?”
“Does Bella think you’re the best choice?”
Edward stared ahead. “I don’t understand what you’re asking.”
“And that right there is your problem.” Charlie shook his head. “Are you an honor roll student?”
“Am I an…yes, three years’ straight. Why?”
“Forget I asked.” Charlie patted Edward’s knee. “Listen, I don’t think Christ himself is good enough for Bella, and He died to save her. So I have no doubts you fall short in the perfection department.
“But this is not about what I think or even what you think. It’s about what Bella thinks, what she wants.” Charlie stared at him. “Do you love her?”
“More than life itself.” “Yes, sir. I do.”
Charlie leaned back with folded arms. “Then you need to accept her choice, whatever it is.”
“Even if I think she’s wrong?”
“Especially if you think she’s wrong.”
Edward threw up his hands. “What sense does that make?”
“This is love, boy. It ain’t supposed to make sense.” He clapped Edward on the shoulder and walked behind his desk. “People have to see errors in judgment on their own. I mean, imagine what would happen if Bella tried to convince you that you were wrong about something?”
Edward froze as a replay of Saturday’s trial scrolled across his mind. He catalogued her every argument, every nuance of her voice and movements, every moment she met his eyes, pleading with him to yield, and he slumped back into his chair. “Shit.”
“Sounds about right.” Charlie’s voice brought Edward up short, and the older man waved him off. “Don’t bother apologizing. I’ve heard far worse under better circumstances.”
Edward checked the wall clock above Charlie’s head and came to his feet. “I should get to the airport.”
“Your family know where you’re headed?”
“Yes, sir. My father trusts me to go and come right back.”
“So do I.” Charlie extended his hand. “I respect you for coming, Edward. A lesser man would not have.”
“Thank you for your time. And trust.”
Charlie held his gaze. “Don’t make me regret it. And do not leave her worse off than you found her. I have friends in Florida, and they owe me a few favors.”
Though Charlie smiled, Edward did not.
“I left the station, went to the airport, and flew here as soon as I could,” Edward finished.
The room fell silent, save the sounds of Bella’s heartbeat. Edward’s eyes were fixated on the floor, unable to summon the strength to watch Bella and recount his entire meeting with Charlie. He’d omitted nothing, feeling only the truth could set him free.
And as Bella inhaled to speak, he hoped he was right.