A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “History,” Lauren Alaina
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.
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I don’t feel good.
And I should.
It isn’t for lack of trying on Edward’s part.
I woke this morning to his teasing kisses before his tongue began leisurely exploring my body. Those gentle caresses and lingering tastes continued until I was tumbling over the edge into a blissful euphoria.
What a way to begin my day.
While I wished I could have stayed in bed since he didn’t have anywhere to be, I knew I couldn’t. With more patients on my schedule, today’s appointments are what I need, even though nothing feels right. I still feel off after my argument with Mom last night and I just can’t seem to shake that uneasy feeling.
Well, maybe I am doing one thing right, I concede, while staring at the new piece of artwork of Edward hanging on the wall across the room from my desk.
Who doesn’t want to stare at him all day?
I know I do.
After spinning in my chair, I remove another Edward-provided chocolate truffle from the Mexican donkey, piñata candy jar that sits on a shelf nearby. With a heavy sigh and a twist of the wrapper, I pop it in my mouth and savor the melting chocolate on my tongue.
The beep of my office phone grabs my attention before Rose’s voice fills the small space over the speaker.
“Your lawyer is holding on line two for you.”
I lift the handset, then tap the illuminated blinking button. “Hi, Jason.”
“Hello, Bella. My apologies for not touching base sooner, but I’ve been busy with several other cases since we last spoke,” he explains.
“No problem. I’ve been busy as well, and currently, between patients. Empire building doesn’t just happen overnight.” I chuckle. “How are you?”
“I’m good. And you? Is the new empire growing?”
“Some days are more challenging than others, but I suppose that’s to be expected.”
“I guess since you’re calling you must have some news? Oh, I meant to double-check, did you get the copies of my evaluations I emailed?” I ask.
“Yes, I did. Thank you for those. Actually, I have quite a few items to discuss with you.”
“Okay. Is it good that I’m already sitting down for this?”
“Probably.” He laughs with a deep warm tone to his voice. “I was driving to work this morning and imagine my surprise when I saw a billboard advertising Lone Star Dental.”
I sit upright. “You did? Rose said they promised it would go live this week. It should be on one of the digital ones.”
“Yes, I did and it is.”
“So, is there some sort of problem with it? Did they choose a bad photo of me or something?”
“No. It’s quite good—eye-catching, but it appears as if I’m not the only one to see it.”
“Obviously. It’s a billboard, Jason. It’s supposed to attract attention at least for the next month—that’s all I can afford for now.”
“Bella, let me cut to the chase. Sam saw it.”
I gasp. “How do you know?”
“Because I’m currently holding his bill or list of damages from his lawyer with a message that he is awaiting your payment by the end of the day.”
“He’s dreaming on that timeline. Does anything stick out on the list?” I wonder.
“Yes. A variety of things. I’ll send you a copy, but we can go through some of them now,” Jason offers.
“This should be good.”
“Try to contain your excitement,” he teases. “Pro lesson—interrupted—$200.”
“Is that what he’s calling it? He’s having an affair with one of the pros! As if I’m going to support or pay for him to go again. Just no. Next.”
“Golf cart repair—$1000.” Jason pauses before continuing. “Rental car, at $200 per day for fourteen days—$2800.”
“Jesus Christ, he’s spending that much per day on a rental? I’ve got a bridge to sell him.”
Jason chuckles. “There are various repairs to his BMW. I’m concerned that not all are related to your damages. The main ones are for six side panels and the trunk—$3600.”
“Worth every penny. No regrets there.”
“I wonder why he would need a diver?” I snort, already knowing the answer.
“Retrieval of golf clubs—$1500.”
“How did he know to look in the lake?”
“Good question. I don’t have the answer for certain, but I understand it’s a frustrating sport. So, hurling clubs into a nearby lake would probably seem like a common possibility for those who play,” Jason suggests.
“Well, I do find Sam frustrating. How would they know they were his? Never mind, they’re probably engraved or something.”
“Brace yourself for the next one. New golf clubs—$25,000.”
“Still believe it was worth it?” he asks.
“Fuck. I guess I’m going to die on this hill—yes.”
I groan. “He’s still cheating. I’m not paying for that. If he can’t win with twenty-five thousand dollar clubs, then he should quit playing. What an asshole. The problem isn’t the clubs.”
“Lawyers’ fees, at $400 per hour—ongoing.”
“I’m not paying for his lawyer.”
“But here’s the one you’ve been waiting for—The Joule Hotel penthouse suite at $10,000 per night—ongoing.”
“Motherfucker. I’m not paying for that either. If he thinks that I’m going to fund—”
“Bella, you’re missing it. Think. Why would he need a hotel room?” Jason prompts.
“I don’t know—hookers and blow? Nothing would surprise me at this point. Is there some way that we can force him to take a drug test? And then have his license to practice taken away?” I ask in all seriousness.
“I’m just going to say it—his wife kicked him out.”
Okay, maybe I’m beginning to feel a little better.
“How do you know that?”
“I have a guy. He got a tip from one of their neighbors and tracked Sam to the hotel,” Jason reveals.
“Well, my kudos to your guy. I haven’t checked. Am I still on his website?”
“As of . . . right now . . .” I hear a few keyboard clicks before Jason responds. “Yes, you are. He still hasn’t complied with our cease-and-desist request.”
“Rose! What are you doing here?” The sound of a familiar voice outside my office gets my attention and I recognize it immediately. “Where’s Bella?”
“Oh, shit.” I lower my voice. “Jason, I think Emily is here.”
“Put our call on speaker,” he advises. “I’ll record everything from my end.”
“I prefer thorough,” he counters.
“I’m glad you’re on my side.”
“Which is where I will always be.”
Just as I’m pressing the button and setting down the handset with Jason still on the line, Emily bursts through my door.
“Bella,” she says my name with disgust while drawing steady slow breaths.
Rose is following closely behind her, but I wave off her concern before she closes my office door, leaving us alone.
“Emily.” I stand, then gesture toward the seat across from my desk. “Would you like—”
“I want answers, and you’re going to give them to me. How long?” Her eyes dance wildly around my office, then she returns her focus to me. “How long have you known?”
It’s a fairly broad question. I’m going to need more specifics before I answer her question.
“Known what exactly?” I prompt.
She tilts her head in question, as if it should be obvious. “Sam’s cheating on me, isn’t he?”
“What makes you believe he’s cheating?”
It can’t only be the billboard that brought her here.
“Are you protecting him?” she accuses, then jabs her finger in my direction. “Or is it you?”
I hold up both hands with my palms toward her in surrender and reassure, “Not a chance. Ever. Not me.”
“If it’s not you, then who? Who is it, Bella? You know, don’t you? That’s why you’re here.” She waves her hands around before her eyes narrow. “How long have you been here? When did you leave his practice?”
I release a heavy sigh before returning to my desk chair. “Officially, about a month ago.”
“He’s been lying to me for the past month?” she shrieks.
“Fuck!” She sinks heavily with resignation into the chair on the other side of my desk. “It’s been longer than that. How long? Tell me, Bella. Please.”
“After he hired Jared, I found out a month ago, by pure coincidence, that . . . he’s been having an affair—”
“For how long?”
“Two years,” I reveal.
“What? How can that be?”
“They have . . . a child together.”
“What?” She shakes her head with disbelief. “He has a child with another woman?”
“I’m sorry, Emily. I had no idea.”
“When were you planning on telling me?” Emily demands.
“I wasn’t.” I shrug. “It isn’t my business. That’s between you and Sam. Every time we spoke, I didn’t know how much you knew. I only knew that I had to get out of that practice, and it’s taken me a month to get here. I’m starting over.”
“And Rose is helping you?”
“Yes, she is.” And maybe I can help her. “Emily, I have a video that you might be interested in viewing and keeping your own copy.”
It takes a moment for her to realize its contents. “Of Sam with her?”
“Yeah, but it isn’t what you’re imagining. She’s a golf pro.”
“At that fucking country club?” Emily snaps.
“Yes. He’s been lying to her too—telling her that he’s going to leave you,” I explain.
“I don’t give a shit about her. What kind of woman does this with a married man who already has kids?”
I shouldn’t be any more involved than I already am, but selfishly, I want to make sure her rage is directed at the right person.
“Why are you shifting your blame to the pro when it’s Sam who is making these choices? Sam is at fault here. He made those choices—lying and cheating to get what he wanted, completely aware of the consequences if you were ever to find out.”
“How could I miss this for two years? Two. Fucking. Years! He’s been laughing at me behind my back.”
“From what I understand, he would visit her on Tuesday nights when we kept evening hours,” I share.
“And he told me he was at the office. That lying son of a bitch.”
“Emily, Sam is a cheater. I’m in my own fight with him in every sense of the word. Our lawyers are involved now. It wasn’t a clean break. It’s messy, and some of that is my fault, but he’s been cheating me for years too, though not in the same way as what he’s doing to you.”
She stands from the chair with another demand. “I want the video. Is it on your phone? Send it to me.”
“My lawyer has it, along with everything we know about the woman and child,” I explain. “I’ll send you his number and you can contact him.”
Emily shakes her head. “I’m going to need a good divorce lawyer. Maybe he can recommend someone.”
“Probably, but you’re going to need the best, and my advice to you is never ever underestimate Sam. If you give him the opportunity, he’ll turn this around on you,” I warn.
“Oh, I won’t. I’m going to make him hurt, bleed him dry, then take every last cent,” she responds angrily.
While I can appreciate her emotions in this moment, at some point, she will still need to do what’s best for her children and herself—whatever that could be. Unfortunately, the reality is that her life will always include Sam.
“I’m sorry, Emily. There’s no easy way to receive this type of news.”
“Not as sorry as Sam’s going to be when I’m through with him,” she promises, departing my office as abruptly as she entered with a final slam of my door.
“Ho. Lee. Shit.” I laugh uncomfortably at what I just witnessed, but I suspected once Emily found out, she would come out swinging. Hopefully, she stays focused on Sam who created this situation. “Jason, did you get all of that?”
“Every word. She’s gone?” he asks.
“Yeah. Did I mess up telling her about the video?”
“No. It’s fine. I don’t believe we can use it or need it at this point, but it will benefit her. I’ll call in a favor from a divorce lawyer for her.”
“Thank you. So, where were we?” I release a steady breath. “Before we were interrupted, what else did you want to discuss?”
“Right.” I can hear him shuffling papers before he continues. “Uh . . . next is your evaluations.”
“Oh? What did you find?”
“As we suspected, the copies you provided me are different from what I was sent anonymously,” Jason reveals.
“Are you serious?” I ask incredulously.
“Deadly. Listen to this from your last one: Bella is punctual, arriving at the office before business hours and staying until the last patient is seen. She adheres to the daily schedule seamlessly. Bella offers suggestions toward upgrading equipment and proactively looks for opportunities to improve her skill set. She appeals to all patients and contributes substantially to the financial goals for the practice,” Jason reads.
“That all sounds familiar. What am I missing?”
He clears his throat. “This next part: Bella’s attendance recently has been below expectations due to personal issues. She is biased and favors some employees over others. Bella withholds information from fellow employees, refusing to delegate effectively and fairly among team members. She uses her seniority to discredit peers in the presence of impressionable patients and staff. Her future with the practice is questionable.“
“Motherfucker. I knew it. He’s holding my trip to be with my mother for her surgery against me. And I feel as if Paul helped craft that addition,” I suggest.
Jason chuckles. “It’s funny you mention him. Now for Paul’s latest evaluation: Paul has a knack for working outside of the box and is a creative thinker. He treats every member of our team equally and respectfully. Paul supports others in fulfilling their tasks and exudes exemplary behavior in all aspects of his work. When disagreeing with others, he always does so gracefully, which makes him well liked by all team members. With rising productivity levels, he will undoubtedly be a valued team member for years to come.“
“This is complete bullshit. Valued team member? By who? Definitely not me. Outside of the box? Paul? Try outside on the golf course. Not a single negative word against him. Figures.” Shaking my head, it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it still hurts to hear Paul getting such a glowing review when I’m the one who covered for him repeatedly without an ounce of gratitude on his part. “And I disagree with so many items in his evaluation. I don’t know where to start.”
“What?” My tone has more bite than it should toward Jason, but I’m pissed.
“It’s illegal to falsify a work evaluation, and we have six of them—all with what I suspect are recent modifications. Sam was looking to force you out and we have proof. We’re looking at when, not if, we file a lawsuit against him. We can sue for discrimination, libel, or defamation of character. I’ll request legal copies through discovery, but I would guess that Sam will want to settle because it sounds as if he will have his hands full with an expensive divorce soon.”
I don’t want to be tied up in a lawsuit, if it gets that far, but it seems as if it’s the only way to move forward.
“Jason, what about Sam’s bill?” I ask, concerned. “Some of those items are outrageous.”
“Mmmm . . .” He hums. “Give me a little time to work through it. I’ll let his lawyer know that we’ve discussed the list, and I’ll dig a little to figure out where we can negotiate. I’ll share a reminder about removing you from his website too. I don’t want to show my hand about filing a lawsuit too soon because I believe your damages will far exceed his.”
There’s a knock on my door before it opens. While I’m surprised to see her standing in the doorway, I know it’s time to end my call.
“Jason, I’ve-I’ve got to go.”
“I’ll be in touch,” he promises.
“Thank you.” Once I hang up the phone, I’m unsure what to say, not wanting to set her off again. “Come in.”
She shuts the door behind her gently—a sharp contrast from my previous visitor.
“Mom. What are you doing here?” I stand from my chair.
“Edward and your father dropped me off. I brought us lunch.” She smiles, holding up a reusable insulated lunch box. “But I want to apologize first. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for last night. What I said. I know you’re trying to help and I’m—I don’t know what I am. Mad. Angry. Questioning everything. Why is this happening to me? Why do I have this tumor? Why wasn’t the surgery enough? Why do I have to go through this?”
“You’re not alone,” I state softly, reminding her she isn’t the only one affected in this situation, but I doubt she hears me as she continues.
“What if I do all the treatments and I’m not me anymore? What if I’m unrecognizable? What if every time I look in the mirror, I only see the shell of a woman who ultimately loses the fight no matter what I do.” With tears in her eyes, her face crumbles as she asks with a touch of desperation, “Can’t you let me be happy? Maybe we can pretend for a little while that everything is normal? That nothing has changed. That I’m still capable of being your mother.”
“Oh, Mom.” Tears trail down my cheeks and I reach out, embracing her tightly before she pulls away. “You’ll always be my mother.”
“Bella, I need normal. Without it, I’m lost. I don’t think I can do this. I’m not strong like you. You can do anything, but I’m not you,” she cries.
I wrap her in my arms once again, swaying us slightly. “I’m sorry, Mom. I don’t want you to ever feel alone or as if this isn’t your decision.”
Once I release her from my hug, I offer a suggestion. “I think it would be helpful for all of us to talk with someone—maybe the other members from the clinical trial you would be joining or survivors and families in the same position as we are. There is no treatment more powerful than support. I feel as if I’m out of my depth here. I don’t know how to help any of us. I need someone to tell me what to do because I’m drowning too.”
She brushes away a few tears. “A support group?”
“Yes. I’ll find us one. I’ll reach out to the doctor we met. I’ll call Alice. Someone will point us in the right direction.”
Mom nods. “Okay. I’m okay with that.”
“And I just want to be clear. You’re staying?”
“Yes. We’re staying. I’m sorry I said that. We want to be here with you and Edward.”
“You and Dad are still getting married?”
It would crush Al to learn that his planning for their wedding was for naught, but if that’s what I need to tell him, I will.
“Yes.” She chuckles through her tears. “We are. Tomorrow afternoon.”
“Okay.” I grin, happy we’re all closer to being back on track. “What did you bring for lunch?”
“I have no idea.” She shrugs and laughs. “Edward packed it.”
“Then it’s probably something healthy. Thank goodness I have emergency chocolate, but I’ve been hitting it pretty hard this morning,” I reveal. “If only there was a pint of ice cream like we used to share when I was younger after a tough day at school.”
I wonder if she remembers those days. I wish I could forget some of those more tearful ones myself.
“You always did like chocolate,” Mom says wistfully.
“Yes, I did. And now, I’m the dentist with an insatiable sweet tooth. Cue the irony. What are Dad and Edward doing together?” I ask, curious.
“They wouldn’t tell me—guy stuff, but they promised to pick me up in an hour.” Mom holds out the bag for me to take.
When I open it, I find two pre-made turkey wraps, a pint of my favorite chocolate ice cream with pieces of peanut butter cups, and two spoons. I look at her in surprise before a few more tears threaten to escape.
She smiles. “He’s a keeper.”
I chuckle, handing her a spoon before removing the pint from the bag. “I know, Mom. I know.”