"You gonna stand Billy and my mom up, Charlie? C'mon. Bella and Nessie'll be here tomorrow. Let's get some grub, eh?"
It had been clear in Charlie's eyes that he hadn't trusted Seth's assessment, but he'd let Seth lead the way out. The doubt was still there as he paused now. The clouds were thinning, the rain gone. The sun might even make an appearance just in time to set.
"Jake says you guys were going to take off on me," he muttered to me now.
"I didn't want to do that if there was any way at all around it. That's why we're still here."
"He said you could stay for a while, but only if I'm tough enough, and if I can keep my mouth shut."
"Yes... but I can't promise that we'll never leave, Dad. It's pretty complicated___"
"Need to know," he reminded me.
"You'll visit, though, if you have to go?"
"I promise, Dad. Now that you know/usf enough, I think this can work. I'll keep as close as you want."
He chewed on his lip for half a second, then leaned slowly toward me with his arms cautiously extended. I shifted Renesmee - napping now - to my left arm, locked my teeth, held my breath, and wrapped my right arm very lightly around his warm, soft waist.
"Keep real close, Bells," he mumbled. "Real close."
"Love you, Dad," I whispered through my teeth.
He shivered and pulled away. I dropped my arm.
"Love you, too, kid. Whatever else has changed, that hasn't." He touched one finger to Renesmee's pink cheek. "She sure looks a lot like you."
I kept my expression casual, though I felt anything but. "More like Edward, I think." I hesitated, and then added, "She has your curls."
Charlie started, then snorted. "Huh. Guess she does. Huh. Grandpa." He shook his head doubtfully. "Do I ever get to hold her?"
I blinked in shock and then composed myself. After considering for a half second and judging Renesmee's appearance - she looked completely out - I decided that I might as well push my luck to the limit, since things were going so well today___
"Here," I said, holding her out to him. He automatically made an awkward cradle with his arms, and I tucked Renesmee into it. His skin wasn't quite as hot as hers, but it made my throat tickle to feel the warmth flowing under the thin membrane. Where my white skin brushed him it left goose bumps. I wasn't sure if this was a reaction to my new temperature or totally psychological.
Charlie grunted quietly as he felt her weight. "She's... sturdy."
I frowned. She felt feather-light to me. Maybe my measure was off.
"Sturdy is good," Charlie said, seeing my expression. Then he muttered to himself, "She'll need to be tough, surrounded by all this craziness." He bounced his arms gently, swaying a little from side to side. "Prettiest baby I ever saw, including you, kid. Sorry, but it's true."
"I know it is."
"Pretty baby," he said again, but it was closer to a coo this time.
I could see it in his face - I could watch it growing there. Charlie was just as helpless against her magic as the rest of us. Two seconds in his arms, and already she owned him.
"Can I come back tomorrow?"
"Sure, Dad. Of course. We'll be here."
"You'd better be," he said sternly, but his face was soft, still gazing at Renesmee. "See you tomorrow, Nessie."
"Not you, too!"
"Her name is Renesmee. Like Renee and Esme, put together. No variations." I struggled to calm myself without the deep breath this time. "Do you want to hear her middle name?"
"Carlie. With a C. Like Carlisle and Charlie put together."
Charlie's eye-creasing grin lit up his face, taking me off guard. "Thanks, Bells."
"Thank you, Dad. So much has changed so quickly. My head hasn't stopped spinning. If I didn't have you now, I don't know how I'd keep my grip on - on reality." I'd been about to say my grip on who I was. That was probably more than he needed.
Charlie's stomach growled.
"Go eat, Dad. We will be here." I remembered how it felt, that first uncomfortable immersion in fantasy - the sensation that everything would disappear in the light of the rising sun.
Charlie nodded and then reluctantly returned Renesmee to me. He glanced past me into the house; his eyes were a little wild for a minute as he stared around the big bright room. Everyone was still there, besides Jacob, who I could hear raiding the refrigerator in the kitchen; Alice was lounging on the bottom step of the staircase with Jasper's head in her lap; Carlisle had his head bent over a fat book in his lap; Esme was humming to herself, sketching on a notepad, while Rosalie and Emmett laid out the foundation for a monumental house of cards under the stairs; Edward had drifted to his piano and was playing very softly to himself. There was no evidence that the day was coming to a close, that it might be time to eat or shift activities in preparation for evening. Something intangible had changed in the atmosphere. The Cullens weren't trying as hard as they usually did - the human charade had slipped ever so slightly, enough for Charlie to feel the difference.
He shuddered, shook his head, and sighed. "See you tomorrow, Bella." He frowned and then added, "I mean, it's not like you don't look... good. I'll get used to it."
Charlie nodded and walked thoughtfully toward his car. I watched him drive away; it wasn't until I heard his tires hit the freeway that I realized I'd done it. I'd actually made it through the whole day without hurting Charlie. All by myself. I must have a superpower!