"Get the hell out of my house!" he roared, turning on Edward and pointing a shaking finger at the door.
"Dad!" I screamed, jumping to my feet.
He glared at me and held a hand out, palm forward, halting me. "I need to talk to you right now, and I don't need an audience." He scowled at Edward. "You! Out!"
Edward rose to his feet, but it wasn't fast enough for Charlie. He grabbed Edward by the elbow and hustled him towards the door. "If you're still here when I get back I'll talk to you later," Charlie said darkly. Edward let Charlie throw him out, and turned to give me a reassuring look over his shoulder before Charlie shut the door on him. I was seething inside as I watched him return.
"This had better be good," I growled through my teeth, low and furious as he stalked back to the living room.
"You're pregnant, aren't you?" he shouted, pointing that accusing finger at me, the veins almost ready to pop out of his head.
"NO!" I screeched, horrified. "We've never done anything like that!" I knew that was the first conclusion people were going to jump to.
"Then why does he want to get married so young?" Charlie was so livid there were flecks of spittle on his lips.
"You heard him, he's just old-fashioned that way! Geez, anybody else would be happy if their daughter wanted to get married before going off to school with a guy. Would you rather I just shack up with him?"
"NO! Aaargh!" Charlie's frustrated cry echoed off the ceiling as he threw his hands in the air.
With some effort, he controlled his voice and blew out a long breath with a hiss. "It's not just that, Bella." He collapsed onto the couch, laced his fingers together and looked at them, the veins on the side of his head still bulging. "Think about it. You've only had one boyfriend. One! From what Renee tells me you didn't even date when you were in Phoenix. And you're telling me you have enough experience to tell he's the one?"
"I know how I feel, and I know how he feels."
"But you two have broken up twice!" My father held two quivering fingers up at me. "And the last time he left you. In fact, when he did, you seemed to get along just fine with Jacob. That should tell you something. He's not the only one, Bells."
I was confused for a moment. Twice? Oh, I'd forgotten about the sham breakup when we were running from James. I didn't see the need to correct him about that one. Charlie also didn't know how right he was about Jacob, but I'd already made this decision.
I sat down in the loveseat across from him, hoping to strike an equally reasonable attitude. I hated to bring up unpleasant memories but didn't know how else to convince him. "Dad, you know how I was when Edward left, right?"
Charlie grimaced. "How can I forget?"
We hadn't really talked about that episode, just swept it under the rug. I didn't like to think about it and Charlie was probably relieved when I had gotten over it. "I guess it must have been hard to watch, and I'm sorry about that," I said. "I know you like Jacob more than Edward, but let's be honest. Even when Edward was gone and I was with Jacob, I wasn't okay. I still wanted Edward, and I only got better when he came back."
Charlie's frown deepened. "Bella, think about what you just said. Can't you see how unhealthy that is? You're saying you can't live without him. Even if he never leaves you again, nobody lives forever. What are you gonna do if you outlive him?"
So agitated that I almost blurted out the impossibility of that ever happening, I had to stop myself for a second and pretend I was in a relationship with a normal boy.
"Dad, it was one thing when I thought he didn't want me anymore," I replied, hiding a wince at the painful memories. "It's another thing if we've been together, and he's taken away from me. At least we'll have had our time together. And it wasn't like I was suicidal when he left me. I was getting better."
Charlie snorted. "Not suicidal but not really alive. And that's right. You were getting better because you were with Jacob. Suddenly Edward comes back and you forget all that Jake did for you?"
I wanted to scream; it was so unfair of him to use that. "Of course I didn't forget! But I don't love him like I love Edward! It just isn't the same thing. What do you want me to do? Break up with Edward and marry Jacob just because you like him better?"
Charlie sputtered for a while. It was obvious that was exactly what he was thinking. I looked away to hide my frustration and my gaze fell on the curtains and pictures my mom had hung so many years ago – a woman's touch my father had never taken down. "Come to think of it, why didn't you marry somebody else after mom left you?"
"It's not the same situation." Charlie started to flush again. "I was busy with my parents and my job. And this is about you, not about me."
I ignored his last comment. "So if you think about it, I've actually had more relationships than you have."
"I've still seen more of life than you have, Bella," Charlie growled. "I see more life happening on the job than you ever will. And I was married for a few years and we had you, didn't we?"
"But as far as relationships are concerned, you know even less than I do," I insisted.
Charlie's scowl darkened. "I dated other people before your mother. I know that you haven't seen enough of life at eighteen to decide who you're going to marry after dating one person for less than two years."
"Like you did?" My voice rose a little. I didn't like his double-standard. "How old were you when you married Mom?"
"I was in my twenties. Your mother was nineteen," he admitted.
I pounced on that point. "So I'm a year younger than Mom. Why is it so bad for me when that's exactly what you and Mom did?"
"Because maybe your mom was too young when we got married, did you ever think about that?" Charlie clenched his fingers in his frustration. "Maybe if she'd been a little more mature she wouldn't have suddenly decided to take off with you. I'm sure your mother has talked to you about getting married too young. Look how far that got us."
"Are you saying you regret marrying Mom in the first place?"
"No! Not at all!" Charlie cried out. "I'm just trying to keep you from making our mistakes! We're not together anymore. Do you call that a good thing for a family?"
If I were being honest, I would have to admit his point. Even though most of my life it was just me and my mom and that was all I knew, there were times when I wished he was around. "No, but that was your life. I wasn't making any judgments."
"Oh, fer chrissakes!" Charlie dropped his face into his hands and shook his head.
We lapsed into uncomfortable silence, not sure what else we might say to convince the other. I realized I really was hoping for his blessing. We could get married without it, but if I was going to walk away from my human life, I didn't want to cheat him out of walking me down the aisle. That happy occasion would let us end on a high note and as long as he knew I was happy, I would be better able to handle that last farewell. I wasn't thrilled about the idea of disregarding him, but if he wasn't going to come around, I would still follow my chosen path.
"You know Dad, I was really hoping we wouldn't have to go through it this way," I said in a weary voice. "But you do know that I'm legally an adult, right?"
After a moment he spoke grudgingly, his voice muffled by his hands. "Yeah, I know."
"So technically, I don't need to ask your permission. But I was hoping you'd at least try to understand what I'm going through, and maybe trust my judgment as an adult."
Charlie didn't say anything for a long time, just sat there with his hands on his face. The only movement was his breathing, which was still a little fast from his agitated state. Finally, when he put his hands down and sat up I was surprised to see him looking sadly at me.
"Do you remember learning how to ride a bike, Bella?" he asked abruptly.
I grimaced. Riding a bike was another of those things the coordination-challenged should leave to others. "Of course I do. You ran behind me for days, holding me up by the bike seat. You had to stop when you threw your back out."
Charlie nodded. "I'd have kept going if not for that. Maybe you'd have enjoyed it more. My point is, I'm always going to want to run beside you. Keep you from falling. Not the kind of thing you just give up one day."
Like a candle was blown out, the anger evaporated and I could feel myself getting a little teary. He really did care about me, and I loved him so much I didn't know how I was going to be able to say goodbye later. Trying to compose myself, I pushed that thought to the back of my mind.
Just then, Charlie sat up straighter. "Is Edward still out there? I need to talk to the two of you now."
I hurried to the door, certain that Edward would not have left. He was there almost before I opened the door, having waited on the porch steps, listening to Charlie's tirade. As he came in he gave me a look of confidence that I didn't feel.
"Sit down there, Edward," Charlie pointed to the loveseat. Taking my place next to Edward, I noticed that Charlie didn't apologize for throwing him out but that didn't seem important just now.
"I had a feeling this day might come," Charlie muttered. "Guess I kinda hoped other things might work out."
Edward and I glanced at each other, both of us knowing exactly what Charlie had been hoping for.
Charlie looked Edward in the eyes, using his Chief Swan glare. "You hurt my little girl, Edward. When you left her, she was like the walking dead. You tore her up and I haven't forgotten that."
I squeezed Edward's hand as the pain I knew he would feel showed in his eyes. "Yes, sir. I know that, sir, and I still haven't forgiven myself for that".
"She started doing crazy stuff," Charlie went on as if Edward hadn't spoken. "Riding motorcycles, jumping off cliffs and I'm sure that's only the stuff I know about. She was always responsible. And you changed that."
"Dad –" I started. Charlie held up his hand, cutting me off.
"I thought she'd be better off with Jacob. He put back together what you tore apart. Maybe he doesn't have all the things that you and your family have, but he has a good heart. I know he'd never walk out on Bella.
"Bella had other friends before you, too. But after you came along it was like the Cult of Edward. You and your family were the only ones she would spend time with. Do you have any problem with her having friends?"
"Not at all," Edward said. "From the very first I've wanted our relationship to be Bella's choice. If she chose to leave me I would respect that. If she chose to be with me, then I would be the happiest man in the world. So of course I have no problem with the friends she chooses."
Charlie sat quietly for a moment before speaking to Edward again. "You're younger than I was when I married Renee. Day might come when you wake up and realize being married to Bella wasn't what you thought it would be. What then? Will you take off again?"
Edward held Charlie's gaze for a moment, then looked at me, choosing his words. "Chief Swan, I'll be honest with you. I left Bella because I thought I was bad for her. And I found the time I spent away from her was very... educational. Plain and simple, I was wrong. Every reason I had for leaving her was wrong, and the only thing that mattered was to come back and beg her forgiveness.
"I'm terribly, horribly sorry that I hurt Bella. Believe me, if I could go back in time and stop myself from leaving, I would. Since that isn't possible, all I can give you is my pledge. I will never turn away from her. If she wants to leave me, then that is her choice. But I will never willingly leave her again."
Charlie pursed his lips, absorbing Edward's words for a moment. "After everything you put her through, she still wants to be with you." Charlie leaned back and sighed. "I suppose Bella's mom and I didn't give her a good example to follow – getting married so soon out of high school. Too young to know who we were or what we wanted out of life. By the time we grew up and found we wanted different things, Bella was two.
He turned to me. "What about you, Bells? You're both only eighteen. People do a lot of growing up by the time they finish college. You sure you'll feel the same in five years? I mean, can you trust him? He left you once, what makes you think he won't do it again?"
For a father who didn't do emotional scenes, these were some huge speeches for Charlie. I shouldn't have been surprised at how deeply he felt about this. I pulled Edward's hand into my lap and covered it with my other hand. This was something I had thought about before.
"Dad, when someone breaks your trust, there's only one way to regain it. Time. All you can do is watch to make sure they're keeping your trust and even before that, you have to forgive them enough to give them that time to show you.
"I...we both went through a lot in the last year, Dad. We both know that we don't want to live without each other. I love Edward, and I know he loves me. I guess it depends if you trust me enough to make a decision like this."
Charlie didn't say anything. He just looked at me, the only movement his index finger tapping slowly on the side of his knee. Finally he spoke. "My point with the bike riding story was: no matter how old you get, I'm still going to be your father. There will never be a time when I won't worry about you or want to protect you in some way.
"At the same time, the whole point of learning how to ride a bike is for you to be able to do it by yourself. Sooner or later, I'm going to have to let you go, and trust you to handle things by yourself.
"I just didn't think it'd be this soon." Charlie leaned back on the couch and put a hand back on his face. He sighed, suddenly looking years older as his brow furrowed and he spoke in a resigned tone. "You always were mature for your age, taking care of your mother, taking care of me." He put his hand down and I was shocked to see a hint of moisture in his eyes. "Yes, I trust you, Bells."
"Thanks, Dad," was all I could manage.
Charlie cleared his throat a couple times before addressing Edward, his face determined, but no longer openly hostile. "I'll be honest with you, Edward. I'm suspicious by nature; it comes with the job. Not something I can turn on and off for you. But for Bella's sake, I'll try to curb my first instincts."
"Thank you, Charlie," Edward said softly. "I swear I'll do my best to make her happy."
Begrudgingly, Charlie held his hand out to Edward, and they shook. "Well, I guess that's all I could ask for. You take care of my little girl, you hear?"
Charlie suddenly smirked, and he burst out laughing, breaking the emotion in the room.
"What's so funny?" I demanded.
"Your mom!" he said, still laughing. "You get to tell her! That one's all yours, Bella!"
I cringed at the thought. Ballistic was a mild term compared to how my mother would react. "Gee, thanks Dad."
I didn't wait long to call Renee. I figured why prolong the agony? Even so, I still dragged my feet over to the phone like a dead man walking. What was the worst she could do? Scream at me. Call me an idiot. Refuse to come to the wedding, I supposed. I braced myself and dialed.
"Hi, Mom," I said after she picked up.
"Hi, sweetie! How're you doing?" she bubbled. She always seemed to bubble these days. My announcement would be sure to burst that bubble.
"Pretty good. Umm, Mom, I've got some news to tell you."
"What is it? Is it good news?"
"I guess that depends." I paused for a second to collect my thoughts. "Mom, you and Dad were pretty young when you got married, right?"
There was a pause, and I could hear her take a breath. "You and Edward are getting married, aren't you?" Her tone, while accusing, at least wasn't the explosion I'd expected.
"Um, yeah, we are." I spoke the words quietly, almost cringing away from the phone.
"Did you tell your father?" The steely tone in her voice was not something I heard very often.
"Yeah, we just got finished telling him." I twisted my fingers together, waiting for the blast.
"Well, I did have a feeling this was coming," she muttered. "What did your father say?"
"He kinda gave Edward and me the third degree."
"He would." I hadn't heard this tone of voice from her since the sex talk she had given me when I was ten. "Bella, I won't argue with you about how you and Edward feel – I could see that for myself – but I'd like to make sure you've thought things through."
"In what way?"
"Do you know why I always went on about not getting married early? At the time, I thought that was the next big adventure and that's all that I wanted. All I needed was Charlie, and the world would be wonderful.
"But that's not realistic. I don't know if it's even healthy. If you expect all of your happiness to come from one person or one thing, there's a good chance you'll be disappointed one day."
"Mom, Edward and I –"
"Love each other, yes I know. For now." The silence on the phone spoke to her gathering her thoughts.
"You scared me, Bella, when Edward left you." She enunciated every syllable, more serious than I'd ever heard before. "Your father called me to come bring you home. And when I got there, it was like you weren't in your body anymore." I winced at the thought of who I was then.
"For as long as I've known you, you've been a quiet, thoughtful girl with a spark of life that's never far from the surface. All of that was gone. You were a shell. Breathing, walking, sometimes talking. But not alive."
I glanced at Edward. Based on the agonized expression on his face his sensitive hearing was picking up both sides of the conversation, and I realized I should have made this call in private to spare him the unpleasant reminders. Instead I motioned for him to come to me, wound my arm around his waist and stretched up to kiss his cheek, willing him to sense that he was forgiven.
"I don't ever want to see that again. So I want you to make sure that he's not the only thing in your life that makes you happy."
"He's not the only thing in my life, Mom," I argued.
"Maybe not the only thing, but definitely the biggest thing. What I'm trying to get at is, I want you to make sure you know what you want out of life, and look at all the things that make you happy."
"Um, where do you want me to look?" I wondered if this was coming from one of the self-improvement classes she sometimes took.
"Where to look, where to look," she muttered to herself. "Well, the Cullens are quite well off, aren't they? So just being married and having babies is an option. Would that be enough for you?"
"Eww! Mom, I'm only eighteen!" The thought horrified me. "Why would I want to have babies already?"
"Good, because I'm way too young to be a grandma. So if settling down and having kids isn't enough, you should have some idea of what you want to do. I've told you how proud we are of you getting into Dartmouth, haven't I?"
"Yeah, both you and Charlie have," I admitted. I wasn't able to generate much enthusiasm for that achievement, since I still wasn't sure I'd gotten in on my own merits.
"This is an amazing opportunity. Have you declared a major?"
I had no idea but threw something out there. "I'm undeclared right now, but I was thinking of majoring in English literature."
"Are you thinking of being a teacher?"
"Or maybe a writer."
"Hmm, I suppose that could be okay, too. But you know it helps to have some broader life experiences to be a writer."
That would be interesting. Writing about my life as the wife of a vampire and becoming one myself. The Volturi would be only too happy to set me straight if I exposed us. "It's just an idea right now, Mom. I was a little stressed out senior year to concentrate much on it," I muttered. Even after I had come out of my stupor, the death threat from Victoria and her army had kept me from thinking too far into the future.
"That's true. Well, now that you have some time you should think about it. I'm okay with just about anything you decide to do, but you need to make sure it's something that fulfills you. Not just a career but other things. Think about it now so you're not in a constant mid-life crisis like me."
"Okay, Mom, I'll try," I mumbled. Although I wondered if she would feel the same way if she knew exactly what I wanted to become after Edward and I were married.
"You've been telling me to be more responsible since you were ten," she went on. Here's one thing that I know about, so I'm telling you. You've got to have something in mind beyond marriage." Then a long sigh hissed through the phone. "If I hadn't seen you and Edward together for myself, then I'd say you were out of your mind and should wait a few years."
Fortunately, she seemed to have said her piece. "I always did say you were born middle-aged. But adults make mistakes too. Take some time to live a little. I just want to make sure you don't miss out on things that you'll regret later."
I stifled a snort. "I don't think there's much chance of that, Mom. Edward is determined I don't miss out on life experiences."
"Good! So have you set a date?" she asked. I breathed a mental sigh of relief that the lecture was over and hadn't been as bad as I'd feared.
"Not yet. It depends on how fast Alice can pull a wedding together. Soo, you're okay with this?"
"Yes. I'm still not happy that you're making me into a mother-in-law before I'm 40 but that's just me."
The conversation moved on to bridesmaids, dresses and other wedding details so the storm was definitely over. As usual though, Renee was somehow able to put her finger on the truth. I hadn't thought of anything beyond getting married to Edward and becoming a vampire. I knew that would make me happy. Would it always be enough?