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New Moon: Charlie's version

Summary:
I'm clearing out my Twilight Fan Fic folder on my computer so here is a project I started and got bored of :p Charlie's version of New Moon. When Sam Uley found her in the forest I was so relieved that she wasn’t lost or alone, searching for home, terrified of the night. I was so grateful that she was alive, that no obvious harm had come to her. But it was the start of something worse. She had woken up alive, perhaps slightly comprehensive, but determined that morning. When I next saw her she seemed bewildered, confused by the presence of such a large audience. I put it down to her not realising she had been missed. It’ll blow over with a good nights sleep, I had thought to myself.When she had awoken next, her voice lacked natural emotion. No screams. Silence.


Notes:


1. Chapter 1

Rating 0/5   Word Count 5274   Review this Chapter

I watch her carefully as she enters the kitchen. Hoping. Dreaming of the day she’ll get over him.

I bow my head in grief when I see today has not granted me my desperate need. Bella’s face is devoid of emotion, of thoughts and awareness for another day. The grief pulls at my heart. This is not normal. Even after Renee left, taking my baby away with her, I wasn’t like this. Every summer when Bella walked away from me and into her mother’s waiting arms at the end of our two weeks I was never left as... as empty as Bella is now. Did she know something I didn’t? Surely if one of the Cullen’s had passed away I would of heard of it?

A rush of hatred and loathing floods to my fists and causes them to clench reflexively. I wish he would come back to see what he had done to my daughter. I wish he would come back so I could throw him out; yell at him; fight him; kill him; just so I could do something to help her. I want to punish him for making me so helpless. I am her father, and I am in charge of protecting her until she’s old enough to fend for herself, but I stand here, in my own kitchen, in my own house, watching my only daughter sitting in front of me, physically wasting away, her personality rotting away in front of my eyes and there is nothing for me to do.

Do I ground her? What for? She cleans, she cooks, she does her homework and her grades have improved due to the spare time. And what would grounding do? What would it prevent her from doing? She never does anything, never goes anywhere or talks to anyone. Where were those kids she knew? Angela, Jessica and Mike had long since abandoned trying to include her. I’m ashamed to admit the part of me that wishes I could do the same, leave her, walk away and escape the powerlessness I feel now. But she needs me to try. She needs me to do what I can, even when that is nothing.

I sit in front of her with my toast and coffee but avoid looking at her. “Raining again today, Bells,” I say out loud, looking out the window. “There was a nice day last week but it still felt a little chilly. But what’s to expect, heh? It is November.” I don’t expect an answer. Every morning I follow this same nonsense, for my own benefit if anything. Even in a world where you can do nothing, you want to feel like you’re doing something. I swallow and stand, taking my plate to the sink.

I slip the bullets into my pistol and hang it on my belt. I can’t predict the day her routine will change and the trigger will slip against her head. I need to protect her as well as I can, even when it appears she’s past suicidal. I shrug my police jacket on and step out of the house. “I’ll see you later, Bells,” I call to the empty house. I shut the front door and climb into the cruiser.

As I drive away I let a couple of tears escape my eye and drop onto the wheel.

I wake with a start and run to Bella’s bedroom ready to attack an invader, but as I throw open her door, I see she’s screaming in her sleep.

“Bella! Bella! Bella! Wake up, honey! Everything’s alright!” I hush, and her screams gradually morph into stifled shrieks and sobs in turn as I squeeze her tight in my arms. “Shhh,” I whisper, stroking her hair, tears of my own escaping my lids for her pain and suffering. “It’s ok, now, Bella. Shh, now...”

Her tremors rock my own body and I sit with her for half an hour, rocking us both in her bed. I kiss her goodnight, tuck her back in and climb into my own bed. Every time she wakes, she wakes screaming. After four or five weeks, I accept my uselessness and try to nod back off as Bella cries herself to sleep for the second or third time each night.

The first night was the worst. There was no screaming, no sobbing. I remember the horrific changes in her too clearly...

I looked up as I shrugged on my jacket and retrieved my loaded gun as Bella plodded into the kitchen, stumbling clumsily into the table as she rubbed her eyes tiredly. Her hair was ruffled as though she had been tossing and turning for the majority of the night. Usually she appeared better groomed in the morning, why I had no idea. It’s not like that Edward Cullen would see her before she left for school.

“Good night sleep?” I asked jokingly as I unlocked the door, my hand resting on the handle.

“Not really,” she mumbled as she poured out her cereal, yawning. I chuckled to myself and shut the door behind me. Today felt good, even if Bella seemed a little distracted this morning. After she had spent her day with the Cullen boy she’d be radiant as always, I smirked to myself as I climbed clumsily into the cruiser and set off to an ordinary, uneventful day at work.

That night when I arrived home, I noted her old rusty red truck was parked outside the house but there seemed to be no sign of life coming from the house. I frowned. Perhaps she was doing homework in the back whilst dinner was cooking, but even then she usually turned the outside light on for me.

The front door was unlocked. Strange, I thought to myself. Perhaps she had nipped out for a minute before I pulled up. She probably didn’t intend being long, so left the door open so she wouldn’t have to bother with the key. It seemed I would have to remind her of security precautions, I was Chief of Police after all and folks need me to show an example: it wouldn’t look too good if the Chief of Police was burgled because he left his front door unlocked...

“Bells?” I called as I shut the door behind me, locking it. My voice echoed through the empty house as I hung up my gun and coat. I took another step forward, flicking on some of the lights. “Bella?”

I peered into the living room, up the stairs and finally the kitchen. The house seemed undisturbed from this morning except for the phone pad and pen which had moved from the worktop onto the kitchen table. I walked forward confidently, picking up the top sheet and reading it quickly.

Gone for a walk with Edward, up the path. Back soon, B.

I sighed, glancing up at the clock. Of course she’d be with Edward. When weren’t they together? I just hoped she’d be back before it got too dark, but then again she was a legal adult now and could probably take care of herself. I stuck the note in the back pocket of my trousers, rubbing my hands together in anticipation of dinner, her scribbled note already out of my mind.

My hunger satisfied by leftover chicken and frozen chips, I glanced out the window and up at the clock again. It was getting late and there had still been no whisper of her. Outside, the sky was black, devoid of a moon. I grunted to myself. Probably a new moon or something. I pulled Bella’s note out again, reading it carefully, but no new information struck me. I had been home for almost two hours now. Where was she? Concern began to trickle into my heart.

“Bella?” I started calling for her again. I began by searching downstairs, and steadily making my way upstairs. I checked down the side of her bed, in case she had rolled off and knocked herself unconscious. The bathroom was unlocked and vacant, the bath empty. Even my bedroom was empty, although I doubted she’d have retired there.

I was alone in the house. The clock told me I had been searching for some quarter of an hour. I glanced outside. In a few minutes it would be too dark for her to follow the path. She had been with him for over two hours, and the whole thing was starting to become ridiculous.

“Bella?” I called, as I leaned out of the front door, vainly exploring the trees for an outline of either teenager. I huffed as I slid my feet into my shoes and slipped my coat on and shuffled out into the dark. “Bella?” I marched up the path, shouting loudly, becoming more frustrated. “Isabella Marie Swan!” I yelled into the undergrowth that surrounded me. “Are you out here, Bells? It’s getting dark! Time to say goodnight to Edward and come home!” I stood still, waiting half-heartedly for a reply. I received none. Cursing, I retreated to the house and began to dial the Cullen’s household number.

The phone rang for what seemed like an age. I began to drum my fingers against the counter impatiently, waiting for somebody to pick up. I hung up and tried again, but I was only rewarded by the endless ringing for a second time. I shook my head as I hung up and dialled the hospital instead. Bella was going to be in trouble when she got home after all the hassle she was putting me through.

“Hello?” asked an educated male voice.

“Hi, this is Charlie Swan,” I said, gripping the back of the kitchen chair heatedly. “Is this Dr. Cullen?”

“Oh, hello Chief Swan! I’m afraid it’s Dr. Gerandy speaking. I presume you haven’t heard about Dr. Cullen yet...”

“What do you mean?” I asked curiously. Could this be the reason of Bella’s absence? Dr. Cullen was hurt? I must have voiced the tail end of my thoughts as Dr. Gerandy hastened to correct to me.

“Oh no, no, no!” said the doctor quickly. “Hardly. He’s taken a job up in Los Angeles. It’s a much bigger hospital than here...” There was some urgent murmuring in the background. “Yes, yes tell them I’ll be there immediately. I’m sorry Chief Swan but I have to leave for an emergency operation. Would you like to speak to anyone else?”

“No,” I said, anger draining out of my system like water down a plug. “No, that’s all.” Dr. Gerandy hung up, leaving my heart weighted with worry. Where was she?

I began to dart about the house, searching desperately, shouting out as panic began to take hold. The search began to become ludicrous. I was searching behind the television, behind the curtains, under the stairs, in the airing cupboard, under duvets, in the laundry pile. She was nowhere to be found.

I ran downstairs, automatically creating a mental plan of action, developing a map of all known information. I pulled the note out from my pocket and read it again.

She had left with Edward. Edward was no longer in town and neither was the rest of his family. Her truck was still here, which meant she hadn’t driven away. Her last known destination was up the path, or at least in the kitchen where she’d left the note. She had left school at around four and I had arrived home at about six. None of the lights were on when I came back, which suggests Bella had left the house soon after arriving home from school because her intention was to be back soon- wait. Had she even attended school? Bella wasn’t one to skive, but to my knowledge the last time she’d been seen was in the kitchen this morning when I was leaving...

She wouldn’t elope with Edward Cullen would she? What if she had written that note this morning after I’d left and did a runner with Dr. Cullen and his family? Panic seized me, restricting my windpipe. I desperately dived for the phone, snatching it up as I smacked my knee on the table leg. I swore, clutching my knee, trying to dial one handed.

One ring. Two rings. Three rings-

“Hello, this is Andrew Weber speaking-”

“Hello,” I gushed. “I’m sorry to phone so late but is Angela in? This is Charlie Swan, Bella’s father and it’s a matter of urgency-”

“Charlie?” Andy Weber sounded taken aback. “What’s the matter?”

“Bella’s missing and I need to know if Bella attended school today.”

“Of course Charlie, I’ll get her right now,” I could hear him calling urgently away from the phone. A muffled bewildered voice answered his shouts and the phone was shoved nearer the voice.

“H-hello? Chief Swan?” A caring, tentative answer flowed gently down the line.

“Hello, Angela. Was Bella in school today?”

“Bella?”

“Yes.”

“Why is something wrong?” A sharp comment was made beside the phone. “Um, yeah she was-”

“Were any Cullens with her?”

“Yeah, Edward was but Alice was off ill today I think...”

“Did you see her drive home? Did she take her truck?”

“I don’t know... I didn’t see her in the parking lot. Mike Newton might of though-”

“Thank you, Angela,” I said, itching to hang up and pursue details further with the Newton kid. “That’s great.”

“Uhm, is it ok if my dad has a quick word?”

“Err, sure,” I answered, wondering what he would want.

“Charlie?”

“Yes, Andy?”

“Are you sending out a search party?”

I considered this for a moment. “Yes I think I will once I find out some more information.”

“Then count me in. I’ll make my way down to yours now. I’ll bring a couple of neighbours to help too.”

“Thank you, Andy,” I sighed in appreciation. “That’d be great.” I hung up and dialled the Newton’s.

“Hello, Mr Newton?”

“Nah, it’s Mike. Who’s calling?”

“Hi, Mike, it’s Chief Swan. Can I ask you some questions quickly please?”

“Sure,” said the confused lad on the other end. “What can I help you with Officer?”

“Bella’s missing and Angela said you could tell me if she drove to school this morning...?”

“Bella’s missing?!”

“Yes, so if you could-”

“Sure,” he said, still slightly surprised. “Er, she came in her truck and Cullen was waiting for her in the lot.”

“How’d she get home?”

“In her truck I think. Cullen took something off her - it looked like an envelope or something – and then he went in his car and she went in hers.”

“Alright, thanks, Mike,” I exhaled loudly again, rubbing my hand over my face and through my hair.

“Wait!” he yelled. “Can I do anything to help?”

I paused, thinking. I needed all the help I could get. “We’re sending out a search party. If your dad and perhaps any neighbours could come down to mine-”

“We’ll be there!” cried Mike in enthusiasm. “Dad, we’ve got to-” And then he hung up.

So Bella had definitely been to school and must’ve come home as her truck was here, which implies she wrote the note then. But even then, we had a void of the past four hours where all we had to go on was “Gone for a walk with Edward, up the path. Back soon, B.” I retrieved the note from my back pocket and scanned it again for any hidden information as I made one last phone call.

“Billy?”

“Charlie? What’s with the late hour?”

“I- it’s- I’ve-”

“Charlie?”

I stifled a sob, dropping onto the kitchen chair, hiding my face with the available hand. “She’s missing. I-”

“Who’s missing?”

“Bella.”

“What?” Billy’s gruff tone rose in disbelief. “Bella’s missing? How’d you know?”

“She- she left a note. It says “Gone for a walk with Edward, up the path. Back soon, B.” And I think it was written when she’s come home from school ‘cause no lights were on when I came home-” A tensed silence echoed into my ear, but I babbled on regardless. “And I’ve looked everywhere and she’s definitely not in the house nor driven anywhere and it’s been four hours and I have no idea where she is!”

Silence continued as I sniffled, wiping away the terrified tears on my cuff. “She’s all I have, Billy. All I have to show I had a life once...”

“It’s going to be ok, Charlie,” said Billy finally, clearing his throat. “Better not tell the kid. He’ll be up to yours in five seconds flat and won’t go home until he knows for sure Bella is going to be one-hundred per cent perfect.” The joke washed over. It didn’t mean anything. The worry and panic was too much for me to acknowledge the attempt to be humorous. Billy sighed and continued in his brusque tone, sounding slightly distracted. “There are some good lads up here, Charlie. Do you want me to send them down to you?”

“I don’t know, would they know Forks all that well coming from La Push?”

“Sure,” reassured Billy. “They know the forests better than we do. I’ll send Sam, Paul and Jared up right now. They’ll be down in five.”

“Thanks, Billy.”

“Don’t worry Charlie. We’ll find her.” Billy spoke with such authority and confidence, it was difficult to doubt his words were true.

A muffled knock at the door announced the arrival of Andy Weber and his homemade search party. “I’ve got to go, Billy,” I said, eyes fixed on the door. “The first half of the search party’s here. I’ll phone if we find her-”

When we find her,” corrected Billy. “I’ll get on the phone to Sam now.”

“Thanks again,” I said before I hung up and all but ran to answer the door. A group of around five men and Andy were waiting, already analyzing their surroundings.

“Right,” I said in my Chief of Police tone. “We’ll wait for the others to arrive. We have the Newton’s and their neighbours and also a few lads from up La Push on their way.” I reeled off all known information of Bella’s day, when another knock sounded against the wood. As I walked over to the door I appointed the first group to asking the nearby residents if they had seen anything.

I opened the door and was surprised to see three tall, burly, barefoot young men in shorts waiting for me. They were arranged in an arrow formation, the man in the middle obviously the leader. The leader of the group outstretched his hand and shook my own. Putting my hand into his fist was like putting my hand into a sauna.

“Hello, Charlie,” he said in a deep, calming growl. “I am Sam Uley and this is Jared and Paul.” Each lad nodded as his name was mentioned. “Billy phoned and said your daughter was missing?”

“Y-yes,” I replied, taken back by their swift arrival but ignoring it. “Billy said you knew the forests better than us-” The three men smiled simultaneously, as though sharing a private joke. “-so if you could search there while we investigate in other areas.” I showed them Bella’s last school photo and they nodded and sauntered smoothly into the trees and disappeared from view.

An hour or so later, men were calling out all over town but no one had seen anything. I was often patted on the shoulder, being reassured that we would find her eventually. Dr. Gerandy had joined the search so he could tend to Bella if she was injured in any way. I tried not to think of the possibilities. Bears, thugs, men. I shuddered. Knowing Bella she would have ran from suspicious sounds, smacked into a tree and knocked herself unconscious. I pulled the note from my pocket again, reading the words even though they were carved into the inside of my brain. Gone for a walk with Edward, up the path. Back soon, B.

Where was she? Where has she been? Who was she with? Was she alone or with Edward? Were they both in danger? Was she messing around, not realising the time? Did she know where she was? Has Edward led her off the track and gotten them lost? Four people had already traced the track down from both ends and they’d found nothing to prove they had been there. I was going insane with distress and suffering. Was Bella suffering? Was she conscious? Should we report to the State? Would we ever find her? Gone for a walk with Edward, up the path. Back soon, B.

“I’ve got her!” I looked across the yard from where I had been searching a different grouping of trees, shoving the letter back into my pocket. The volunteers who were gathered at the edge of the forest discussing new tactics fell silent. As I began to run towards the group, the talk increased in volume.

“Is she hurt?” I cried as Sam Uley exited the trees with Bella’s limp frame in his arms. Had she fainted? Was she... dead? My only child, lost forever...

“No,” said Sam in his serene voice. “I don’t think she’s hurt. She just keeps saying “He’s gone.”” Everyone looked at her but she seemed unaware of the attention. The only response she gave was biting her lip self-consciously, presumably due to something Sam had said. She was alive!

“Bella, honey, are you alright?” I gushed moving closer.

“Charlie?” I looked at her, so defenceless in Sam’s arms, and automatically reached out to take her. She sounded so broken, like a child who had lost everything at once.

“I’m right here, baby,” I murmured comfortingly, taking Bella off Sam and staggering under her weight. Sam had held her like she didn’t weigh more than a pillow. Guess it was time to visit the gym.

“Maybe I should keep hold of her,” proposed Sam friendlily, reaching his arms out in a peaceful offer.

“I’ve got her,” I gasped, forcing myself to stagger to the house. Everyone walked with us, shining their torches on the path ahead. A couple of the neighbours peered through the curtains and nodded gratefully, acknowledging Bella’s reappearance.

“We’re almost home,” I muttered, for my sake as much as Bella’s. “We’re almost home now, honey.” I glanced down at her face again. Her eyes were closed. She looked as though she could be sleeping, but the way her eyebrows knitted together suggested she was suffering from nightmares rather than dreaming of pleasant things. I wondered if Edward was with Bella when Sam found her. Had Sam suggested he join his family as they prepared immediate departure for LA?

Sam Uley unlocked the door and held it open to allow Bella and I entry first, his arm outstretched as an obvious precaution to catch my daughter if my strength buckled. Irritation coursed through me before I recalled that, without him, Bella may still be absent from my grasp. I went straight to the coach and lay her down gently causing her frown to deepen.

“Dad,” she protested pathetically. “I’m all wet.”

“That doesn’t matter,” I growled, turning to Mac who worked part-time down at the station as Dr. Gerandy approached her to examine her condition. “Blankets are in the cupboard at the top of the stairs.”

“Bella?” he asked, waiting for her cooperation before beginning his analysis. Everyone waited as she blinked slowly.

“Dr. Gerandy?”

“That’s right, dear. Are you hurt, Bella?”

She didn’t answer, her expression perplexed as though she was puzzled by the question. My heart sank. What had happened out there? Had she been drugged? Did she have concussion? The doctor raised one of his grey eyebrows as everybody waited.

“I’m not hurt,” she murmured weakly. Dr. Gerandy pressed his hand gently to her forehead, and counted her pulse from the inside of her wrist. When he looked up, he finally asked the question everyone wanted to know the answer to.

“What happened to you?” Bella seemed to tense, her face showing signs of panic.

“Did you get lost in the woods?” the doctor prompted. She looked about the faces of those present. The silence was filled by the rest of the search party talking quietly amongst themselves outside. I leaned in, trying to hear her quiet whispers over the low growls of the men.

“Yes. I got lost.” She was lying. Edward Cullen had probably dumped her there, who knew what he had done with her. I should have put my foot down when she went disappeared back to Phoenix in the spring. I was going to arrest him under suspicion of abduction and rape if I ever got a whiff of him. Dr. Gerandy nodded as he pressed gently on Bella’s glands under her jaw.

“Do you feel tired?” Bella nodded, closing her eyes trying to back up her answer. I watched her as the doctor rose to his feet.

He stepped towards me and turned back to look at her for a moment. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her, just exhaustion. Let her sleep it off, and I’ll come check on her tomorrow,” he said quietly, glancing at his worn watch. “Well, later today actually.”

I walked him to the door, cautious of Bella overhearing our conversation. “Is it true? Did they leave?” I murmured, wondering if there was a possibility I would be able to catch him and lock him up without delay.

“Dr. Cullen asked us not to say anything. The offer was very sudden; they had to choose immediately. Carlisle didn’t want to make a big production out of leaving.”

I cursed Carlisle’s decision. I wanted to find out exactly what had happened in the wood and with him and his family leaving the state, it would made things almost impossible. “A little warning would have been nice.”

“Yes, well,” muttered Dr. Gerandy uneasily. “In this situation, some warning might have been called for.”

I heard the quilt rustle gently in the living room. Had she heard? I sighed, murmuring my thanks as the doctor patted me on the shoulder and left.

One by one, people began to drift back to their homes. I thanked each one personally, shaking their hands gratefully as they stepped out into the dark hours of the early morning. I threw myself at the phone whenever it rang, trying to answer it before it could wake Bella. The majority of Washington seemed to be awake, in knowledge of the night’s events, worried for my daughter.

When the last few departed, I touched Bella’s icy brow and layered another blanket onto her. Finally I settled into the armchair with my quilt from upstairs, to keep an eye on Bella as she slept restlessly, tossing and whimpering Edward’s name almost constantly, except for when she woke.

I was dozing gently when the shrill tones of the phone screeched through the silence again. I staggered drunkenly to my feet, dashing to catch it before it woke Bella. I had presumed everyone had either phoned already or had been informed of Bella’s safety by somebody else, else I wouldn’t have retired yet.

“Yeah,” I yawned, rubbing my aching eyes.

“Chief Swan? It’s Mrs Stanley. I can see a fire from my upstairs window.”

I straightened up, becoming Chief of Police, in control of my life where nothing went wrong and my daughter didn’t disappear for hours on end before returning home with the lame excuse of being lost, trying to protect her boyfriend who had undoubtedly abandoned her for dead amongst the rotting leaves.

“Where?” I asked formally.

“Out on the cliffs; just out of the La Push border.”

“You’re sure it’s outside the reservation?”

“Yes.”

Her report staggered me. “But what could be burning down there?” Was someone trying to cover evidence to a more serious crime? Who would be holding an innocent bonfire at four a.m.? “Look, I’ll call down there and check it out.”

I hung up and dialled Billy. He answered with a tone of gruff fatigue.

“Hey, Billy, it’s Charlie – sorry I’m calling so early-”

“Charlie! Is she still missing?”

“No, she’s fine. She’s sleeping.”

“I’m glad you found her, Charlie, hope she’s better soon.”

“Thanks, but that’s not why I called. I just got a call from Mrs. Stanley, and she says that from her second-story window she can see fires on the sea cliff, but I didn’t really-”

“Oh, it’s just Sam and the lads celebrating, Charlie.”

“Oh! And why are they doing that?”

“The news has arrived that the Cullen’s have left Forks.”

“Uh huh. Really?” Irritation flared with my lack of sleep and Bella’s recent disappearance. Why would they celebrate the thing that almost cost me my only daughter?

Billy sounded uncomfortable on the other line. “I’m sorry, Charlie.”

“Well don’t apologize to me.”

“I’ll go talk to them, see if they can be reasoned with.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just make sure the flames don’t spread.”

“We always celebrate with bonfires on the cliffs,” Billy tried to explain the reservations traditions, but I interrupted him.

“I know, I know, I’m surprised they got them lit at all in this weather.” I hesitated. Even though I disapproved of Billy’s superstitions, without him we could still be outside searching for her. “Thanks for sending Sam and the other boys up,” I mumbled bitterly. “You were right - they do know the forest better than we do. It was Sam who found her, so I owe you one.”

“No problem, Charlie, I’d do the same again for you and Bells.”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to you later.” I hung up, traipsing back to my makeshift bed for the night. “Stupid superstitious bugger,” I muttered darkly. ““Blood drinkers” my ass.”

“What’s wrong?” I ran to Bella, surprised to find her awake.

“I’m sorry I woke you, honey,” I murmured.

“Is something burning?”

“It’s nothing, just some bonfires out on the cliffs.”

“Bonfires?”

I frowned, trying to give her the essentials only. “Some of the kids from the reservation being rowdy.”

“Merry Christmas, Bells,” I smile cheerily. Bella forces a smile back, but it’s more of an empty grimace. I hand her a couple of wrapped gifts and she opens them mechanically. Her face is void of emotion as she places the unwrapped presents aside and reaches for the next box. This drags on for what feels like a lifetime. I open my gifts making jovial comments out loud as I go, to fill the silence.

“Oh Bells, would you look at this? These hooks’ll get the fish easy won’t they? Off Harry and Sue Clearwater – how kind.”

“Ha, your mother has a sense of humour, Bella. Would you look at these wellies? For the rain, according to the card; I suppose she’s enjoying the weather in Jacksonville, heh?”

“Billy knows us well, Bell; “A hundred ways to serve fish”. Perhaps we could try a couple of these when we’ve finished the leftover turkey...”

Occasionally, Bella looks up grimacing, nodding in agreement to keep the silence. When there are no presents left unwrapped, Bella sets about folding each scrap of Christmas paper into perfect concise cubes. When she finishes that, she scrounges the carpet for tiny pieces that are easier and quicker to clear with the vacuum cleaner. I watch her sadly, before I stand and excuse myself from the room.