His daughter’s boyfriend has never so much as accepted the offer of a glass of water during his visits, so he is surprised when the doctor not only accepts the bottle of Rainier, but immediately lifts it to his lips and takes a long, hearty swig.

But then, Charlie thinks, this mess they’re meeting about would cause anyone to drink.

This was Renee’s idea. When she got done crying, and he got done swearing, and they both had made their peace with the fact that Bella had, somehow, for the second time, returned to Forks after running off with that boy. And he asked what he should do about punishment. And after rounds and rounds of talking, with nothing really coming of it, she’d said, “Maybe you should just talk to Edward’s parents.” Like it was the most logical thing in the world. And so now the doctor is here, sitting across the table in a too-small kitchen in the middle of the afternoon.

Every piece of furniture in the house is secondhand. There’s a set of curtains Renee picked out in the kitchen, yellow with red cherries. He thinks maybe the background once was white. But Charlie likes the house, and he likes the secondhand furniture and the curtains that are old enough to vote. He bought it back when Renee was pregnant with Bella, when they were starting a life, when they were high school sweethearts in love and everything seemed it would be perfect. And when everything crashed and his dreams went to hell, he kept the house. It’s a house that is down-to-earth, just like him.

Dr. Cullen, in his pressed shirt and silk tie and shiny leather shoes, is anything but.

“So,” Charlie says, and the doctor nods.


He’s just as surly as Edward. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise.

“Bella will need to stay at home,” Charlie says. “Edward may visit. From seven to nine.” He sounds surer of this than he is. He’s never laid down any sort of law. Well, in his home at any rate, and this thought makes him chuckle a little bit.

Dr. Cullen nods. “That seems entirely fair.”

“And Edward?”

The doctor shrugs. “Esme and I…don’t usually ground him. At least not in so many words.”

Of course. Because people who are hippie enough to adopt five children probably also subscribe to all those other lovey-dovey parenting styles. Dr. Cullen probably walked around with Edward in one of those baby wrapper things.

He takes a deep breath. “Do you know where they went?”

“Oregon is about what I’ve managed to get.”

This is the extent of what Charlie has managed to get, as well.

“And Edward ran away?” This is what the sister told him. Alice. He likes her. She’s cute and bubbly but in a way that Charlie finds endearing instead of annoying. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

Dr. Cullen winces, lifts the bottle to his lips, and nods.

It’s the wince that catches Charlie up short. He recognizes it. It was the same wince that crossed his face every time he talked anyone about Bella in the fall. He remembers the way that she looked—totally normal, at least physically, but it was as though a light had gone out. She dragged herself from school, to home, and back to school. But during that time, his daughter had been gone. It’s these frightening three days, when Bella was physically gone, that have been the most present she’s been all year.

And there’s something about the doctor’s face, the way he now twirls the beer bottle back and forth between his palms as he stares at the linoleum table. Something that makes Charlie realize that maybe Edward was just as gone.

He had been ready to rip the kid’s entrails out, if he admits it. He guts fish, gutting a skinny seventeen-year-old couldn’t be that much more difficult. But he couldn’t keep the anger fresh, not when Bella begged for him, and clung to his shirt and cried.

And as much as Charlie didn’t want to admit it, he wasn’t going to be able to keep them apart.

“She loves him,” Charlie says.

The doctor nods. “He loves her.”

And that’s the problem, Charlie thinks. Because he and Renee had been in love. And their families had hated it, too. Told them that it wouldn’t last; that no one married and stayed in Forks, that love at seventeen—it didn’t last.

“Renee and I ran away,” he says thoughtfully, and when he looks up, the doctor’s eyes are boring into him. They’re such an odd color—if the doctor were any younger, Charlie would think it was some sort of fad with contact lenses. But this must be the right color, because contact lenses don’t seem to be Dr. Cullen’s style. He’s looking at Charlie with an intensity that is unsettling. After a long moment, he leans back in his chair, and takes a deep breath.

“I am worried that Edward will make the same mistakes I did, too,” Dr. Cullen says quietly.

Charlie frowns. Dr. Cullen does not strike him as the kind of man who makes mistakes.

“You really trust he can make the right decisions?”

The doctor barks a laugh. “Most of the time? I don’t trust he can put his underwear on with the fly in the front.”

This is news to Charlie. Those kids, with those cars, and all that freedom—they seem like they have every ounce of their parents’ confidence.

“But you know,” the doctor continues, “there’s a fine line between guiding and stifling and I’m trying very hard to be on the right side of it.” He takes another swig. “Generally.”

Charlie nods. “Generally,” he repeats.

And like that, the mood has shifted. It’s no longer a war table, where they’re coming to hash out the battlefield. Suddenly, they’re just two fathers, of two teens. Teens who do stupid things. Teens who run away to Oregon, who fall in love, who may or may not make all the same screwed-up mistakes that they themselves made, no matter how hard either of them works to stop them.

He looks at Dr. Cullen, who is still twirling the bottle. “Does it get any easier?” he asks.

The other man looks up. “I’m sorry?”

“Edward is your youngest. Does it get any easier?”

The doctor’s mouth opens as though he’s going to say something, but then he doesn’t. Instead, he stares at the table. Finally he shrugs and says, “No. It never gets any easier. And I always feel as though I’m somehow getting it badly wrong.”

That makes two of them, Charlie thinks. He remembers the way Bella just moved through those months, the shell of herself. The way she barely came back, to hang out with the Black boy, but even then, how everything had been slightly off kilter. And then these three days, with his heart ripped out, calling every tiny local sheriff’s office from here to San Diego, only to have no news until she walked back through the front door.

But she did walk back through that door.

“They came back,” he says slowly. “So we must have gotten something right.”

A tiny smile cracks the doctor’s face. “So we must have.”

“Well, then.” Charlie raises his beer. “To getting something right.” He smiles at the Doctor. “And may this godforsaken eternity of our kids giving us heart attacks someday come to an end.”

Dr. Cullen seems surprised, and then shakes his head, chuckling as he raises his bottle. “Charlie Swan,” he says with a wry smile, “you have no idea how long I’ve been hoping for that.”

He clinks the neck of his beer against Charlie’s, and together, they drink.


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