“No,” Bill said, walking up to Charlie, hand held out against him approaching. “Go back, we’ve got this.” He was shaking his head.
Charlie’s face folded in perplexity, eyebrows slanted. “I’m on call. What’re you doing here?”
Bill swallowed, and looked back at the wreck, and then back at Charlie. “Where’s Bella, Charlie?” he asked softly.
“At home. Why?” Charlie asked, but then, he saw, and he didn’t need an answer.
He knew the car. Knew the license plate.
Bill’s hand stopped him again, this time pressed to him. He could feel the buttons pushing into his skin. “You don’t need to see it, Charlie. Come on.”
Charlie nodded automatically, understanding, but not moving.
“Carol,” Bill said, “you give him a ride back?”
There were other words, but Charlie wasn’t grasping all of them. He had a vague sense he should protest—drive himself, but didn’t, just sat in the front of the cruiser. He listened to the sounds, his mind a whirr with how he would explain this to Bella.
He’d sat in the office, marking the responder notes with the tip of his pencil, pressing it down, putting little holes in the top of the carbon paper.
When Bill had returned, notification papers in hand, Charlie had just shook his head. “Leave it,” he said, “It won’t spoil with waiting.”
Bill had nodded, but looked at his watch.
“After lunch,” Charlie said, seeing it, mumbling, “after her midwife appointment.” He didn’t add that she usually ate better before those appointments, spurred to the extra care, knowing they’d press the point. He wanted to offer her this small thing. This last meal, and few hours of peace, before they smashed it with their news.
Bill had followed Charlie home, letting him pull in first, and go inside.
“Hey Dad, what brings you home so early?” Bella asked, trying to push herself up from the couch.
Charlie didn’t say anything, but smiled something that could have passed for a frown, putting a hand on her shoulder to keep her from standing up.
Bill followed by this point, Bella noticing him with the soft click of the door.
“Hey Bella,” he said, coming to sit across from her.
She looked at Charlie beside her, and Bill across from her. They were momentarily, and most disturbingly quiet.
Then Bill cleared his throat. “Got some bad news, Bella, I’m sorry.”
She froze. She knew exactly what was coming.
She just didn’t know who.
Charlie had taken her hand into his own, squeezing it tightly.
“Jacob Black was killed in a car accident this morning,” Bill finished.
Bella said nothing. Made no noise. Her throat contracted, trying to swallow, but couldn’t, not quite. She instead asked, with as much of a voice as she could, “does Billy...does Billy know?”
Bill nodded. They’d gone there first, he and Carol. Spared Charlie that, at least.
She was trying to just breathe now.
In, and out, she told herself. Just breathe.
She couldn’t let the grief take hold just yet. No. So she kept breathing, one hand on the swell of her abdomen, feeling the soft movement of the baby shifting inside her.
Bill looked at Charlie, his eyebrows up. Charlie nodded, and Bill stood. “I’m sorry, Bella,” he said, and turned to go, his exit as quiet as his entrance.
“Help me up, please,” she said. Charlie gave her his arm, and she shifted herself, leveraging her weight against his. She slipped on her sandals, the only shoes that still fit, and her coat.
“Bella,” Charlie said, “where’re you going?”
“For a walk,” she said, her voice shaking. She held up her hand to him, when he started to move towards her. “No,” she said, “I need some time alone.”
It was reminiscent of the morning’s horror, and Charlie caught himself. Keep it together , he hold himself. She’s gonna need you soon enough .
She shuffled herself outside, walking carefully down the stairs. Pregnancy, and advanced pregnancy, had made her coordination worse, if that was possible, and she instinctively moved slower, trying to spare the baby any unnecessary falls.
She followed the trail into the woods, finding herself breathy sooner than normal, turning into the bark of a giant cedar, hands caressing its spicy scent. Then she let the tears begin. She was far enough from the house that she knew Charlie wouldn't hear her. Not that he would fault her for it, no, but she wanted this to at least be private.
The tears became something else though, and gurgling up with the grief was a vitriolic anger.
He had left her.
Just like he had left her.
Her rational mind, squeezed aside by her emotions, rallied, told her that he hadn’t left. Hadn’t chosen anything. Wouldn’t have.
The feelings were louder, though. He was gone. Just like he was. This was enough for angry condemnation, and a safe evasion of the worst parts of the grief.
It helped to smash the heel of her hand into the minute curls of the tree’s integument. She must have stood there a long time, thrashing at the bark, because the snap of twigs told her Charlie had approached.
“Come on,” he said softly, “come inside. It’s getting cold.”
She’d let him put his arm around her, holding her up, walking her back along the path to the house.
The twilight had come, and gone, and night had made its presence known, in so many more ways than one.