“Goodbye, Bella.” He whispered, before closing his eyes again. His hand began to lose its grip on mine, and I held it tightly to me like it could somehow stop him from leaving me. Bella has always known this day would come, but that hasn't prepared her any better for it. Can she handle saying a final goodbye to someone so important in her human life, whilst she lives on forever? And why is Edward absent in her hour of need?
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It took him less time than I thought it would for him to talk. As if on cue, the Forks rain began to drizzle and darken the sky outside. I leant back against the door, my face carefully blank as I took in his huddled form. The nurse had been right- he looked like the wind could pick him up and blow him away. His brow was furrowed as he looked at me, his mouth slackened in surprise. I watched and waited, ready to explain.
“Damn,” He growled. He closed his eyes, leant back against the pillow and gave a sigh.
I blinked, stunned. That was one reaction I hadn’t expected. Running and screaming maybe- disappointment, no.
“I c-can go if you want, Dad.” I stammered, but stayed still. I could hardly believe that after all this time, he could still hold a grudge.
Charlie opened his eyes quickly, moving his hands shaking to point at the wicker chair next to the bed. “No, no stay. You might as well, whilst you’re here.”
I bit my lip and tried to cover up my hurt expression. I hurried across the room and sat down next to him, waiting warily for him to explode at me for what had happened so long ago. Had my departure really poisoned him so much that he couldn’t let go, he couldn’t forgive and spend his last day with me?
“I can’t believe I’m dead.” Charlie muttered. His voice had a wheezy edge to it that he seemed to have accumulated with age. I suddenly realised what he had thought when I walked into the room- this really was Italy all over again.
“You’re not dead,” I reassured him with a half smile. I put my frozen hands in his. “See? I’m real.”
His brow furrowed again before he grabbed my hands as tight as he could. I could barely tell he was trying to them there by force- the strength of his grip was pitifully weak. Even for a human. He rubbed my hands, either trying to warm them up or trying to prove that I wasn’t really there.
“I’m hallucinating then. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.” Charlie replied stubbornly. The loose skin under his chin wobbled as he spoke. It was amazing, and sad, to see the likeness to my old Grampa Swan. Charlie’s looks had faded, leaving him only the twinkling eyes and a few extra bags on top of the crow’s feet he’d had already when I moved in with him. I had missed him growing old, and the shock of the change really hit me now I was up so close up. It hurt so bad to see him like this. I wanted him to jump up from the bed, yelling that it was all just a joke. He was Charlie- he couldn’t leave me. Still, the force keeping him attached to his body seemed to be fading. Every few words, he needed to catch his breath. He kept leaning back on the pillow and closing his eyes.
“You’re not hallucinating Dad. I’m here. Do you really think I’d miss this, now, for anything?” I wondered aloud. The hurt crept into my voice at the end as it broke. I didn’t want to say what ‘this’ was. We both knew how little time there was left.
“You missed everything else.” He retorted harshly, his eyes flashing as he turned to look at me.
I bowed my head. What could I say to that? I’d missed so much and I could never repay him, or Renée, for the hurt I’d caused. I told myself again it was for the best. Myself found it to be a lame answer.
“I had to, Dad. It was for the best. Please, let’s not fight.” I pleaded, trying to convince him to believe me… without any good reasons. What could I tell him now that he would ever believe?
“For the best?” He wheezed, getting worked up. “Running away with that-”
“His name is Edward, dad. We don’t have to talk about him.” I replied quietly.
Charlie gave me a searching look, shuffling uncomfortably on his pillows.
“Is he here?” He asked gruffly, unsure of my reply.
“No, Dad.” I tried to smile, but it didn’t quite reach my face. “I asked him not to. I didn’t think you’d want him here now.”
“I want whatever makes you happy.” He promised me, shaking my hands where they were entwined with his so I was forced to look into his eyes. I could tell Charlie was slightly mollified by the gesture, whatever he said.
We stayed like this for a moment. The rain’s pitter-patter that had been filling the silence was wearing off now; streaks of sunlight were breaking through the cloud. I got up to pull up the blind a bit- Charlie seemed to be soaking up the darkness like a sponge. I couldn’t lose him yet. I couldn’t lose him at all. How would I ever be able to continue living after this?
“I still think you’re a dream.” He said conversationally. Charlie wasn’t looking at me, he was staring out of the window. Probably trying to see if I would have disappeared by the time he turned back around. “How else would you still look… still be… so young?”
If I could have blushed, I would have. That was one thing I had forgotten about, and undoubtedly the real reason why he had thought I was just part of his imagination. He was bound to have noticed that I didn’t look any different from the day I walked out of the door. All those years down at the station had paid off. And I thought he was just playing rummy.
I stood still, my fingers still holding the blind. I twisted it slowly, trying to think of the best way to say what I needed to. It didn’t seem to fit in this place, with my dad and the boring hospital furniture. It sounded like madness, even to me. Still, that didn’t make it any less true.
“The Cullens don’t… age, Dad.” I began, thinking that this was the best place to start.
“What do you mean, Bells?” Charlie answered slowly. His eyes were quiet, wondering if I was just plain crazy. It seemed like he was giving me the benefit of the doubt by not saying anything else, just waiting to hear the rest. But how much of the rest could he take?“Have you looked at my eyes, Dad?” I said, trying a different tack. Surely he was bound to notice some of the differences- I had been pale before, but how I was now… it went beyond that. My facial features were much more defined, with thicker lips and eyelashes. My teeth where brighter than the forty watt bulb illuminating the gloomy hospital room. I had lost a little weight, I hadn’t fallen over once since I’d walked in the room- all little mementos from the transformation. I still shivered at the memory of the pain, but it didn’t feel so bad now I was here. The pain of looking at my Dad, of seeing him like this and wondering which words would be his last… This felt impossibly, sickeningly worse.
“You got contacts, honey?” He asked, trying and failing to see what this had to do with our current conversation.
I sighed. It had seemed so much easier when Edward had told me. I had a sudden memory of the meadow, and decided to try something. I ran at full speed back to the chair and sat down. For a second, Charlie thought I had disappeared. His already wrinkled face managed to crumple into more thick, skin coloured lines. His breathing deepened and his hands shook, grasping at each other as they tried to help him come to terms with what he had seen. The sudden change in him was terrifying. Had I given him some sort of seizure?
I coughed twice, which made him jump. His ancient neck spun round to face me at a snail’s pace. Or so it seemed, compared to how I had just travelled. Charlie stopped and stared straight into my butterscotch eyes, trying to work out what he had just seen. He still shook slightly, and I kicked myself for doing something that could have… had such a bad effect on him. His health wasn’t in the best condition and I was pushing him as far as he could go. I still couldn’t get use to this idea of Charlie being so helpless- I couldn’t bear it. These were his last moment- I had to tell him the truth. By the time the Volturi got here to kill him, he would be gone anyway.
Charlie reached for my hand again, and I responded automatically. I stared out of the window, trying to figure out something that would make him see… How could I ever tell him what I did? Who I was?It seemed like fate was going to do it for me.
“Bella, honey,” He muttered, now unable to take his eyes off the crescent shaped mark on the back of my hand. The indents where James’ venom coated teeth had gouged into my hand were clearly visible. “What are you?”
After all this time changed, I still couldn’t say the word. Vampire- it seemed so childish, like I was the joke of some thirteen year-old’s sleepover as opposed to an ancient mythical. I opened my mouth a few times, trying to think of the best way to do this. I just ended up shutting it again. I got up and walked around to the other side of the bed, at human speed so as not to scare him again.
“Bella?” He asked again, with a little more force. He moved his head so he could follow my progress, without looking away from me for a second. In case I vanished again, presumably.“Dad.” I smiled carefully. I tried to copy Edward, focusing all the strength out of my burning amber eyes and channelling it across to him. Be strong, Charlie.
With that final thought, I stepped into the bright autumn sun that was streaming though the window.***