A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “What I Have,” Kelsea Ballerini
(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.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
As I exit a patient room, I notice Rose waiting for me, which is a little unusual. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Uh . . . do you have a minute?”
“Of course.” I’m a little worried by her hesitant tone and lead her toward my office where we can talk in private.
Once she closes the door behind us, I wave for her to take the seat on the other side of my desk and plop heavily into my desk chair before asking, “Everything okay?”
Rose nods, looking down at the tablet computer in her hands. “You have a few messages.”
I’m not sure why she’s bringing these to my attention when there is probably a copy waiting for me on my computer, but since I’m leaving early today, maybe she wants to make sure I hear them.
“My brother called a little while ago. He wanted to let you know that he is leaving practice and on his way to your townhouse. He was also checking if you had left the office yet.”
I check the time. “Wow, it’s already after one. Is that right? I need to get going.”
She jerks her chin toward my untouched sandwich. “You didn’t eat lunch?”
“Maybe I can eat it on the way,” I suggest, then change my mind, open the wrapper, and take a bite.
Rose smiles, but it’s forced, and I can sense there’s something else she isn’t saying as she continues.
“Next one. Al called asking if you have your phone and wondering why his texts are going unanswered.”
“Obviously, I’ve been with patients all morning, which is a good thing.” I chuckle, reach for my purse and locate my phone.
“I told him you were busy, but I would let you know that he called,” she shares, eyeing me carefully.
“Okay, give me a minute to look through these.”
Scrolling through his messages, I don’t see anything for concern when they are mostly updates. The first text is not long after I left for work this morning.
We’re setting up the tent now.
Then we’ll be adding the lights next.
This is so exciting!
We all balked at dinner last week when Al suggested a tent for this easy, stand-in-front-of-a-judge wedding that is no longer in front of a judge. I was surprised when Garrett volunteered his services to marry my parents. I had no idea he is a legally ordained minister. Apparently, it’s something he applied for online years ago and has officiated the weddings of many of their friends.
With that revelation, we began discussing possible venues for the ceremony and Al convinced everyone he could transform the backyard of Edward’s—our home easily. He promised me the tent wouldn’t be too big and would protect us from any unexpected change in the weather. I’ll give him that one since it rained yesterday, but there are only a few clouds today for the wedding. His plan is to set up the tent in the lawn area beyond the pool. It will accommodate the ceremony, plus a table and chairs for dinner afterward.
Al’s vision is to create an “enchanted, romantic, secret garden” with pastel flowers, touches of lavender, greenery, vintage candelabras, and wooden furniture. After sending me numerous photos of wedding arches earlier this week, I had to shut him down when he offered to share the Pinterest board he was creating. But I sent him in another direction, suggesting he share it with my mother instead, and they’ve become the best of friends over creating this special event.
Since he had less than a week to pull their wedding ceremony together, I can only imagine what I’ll find once I arrive back home. According to Al, it’s possible to rent anything, which worries me a little.
I continue to read his history of texts.
Your father stayed at your townhouse last night?
How . . . traditional. 😉
Dad moved almost all of their things yesterday, leaving Mom’s last essentials at our house where she’s getting ready today. They will be spending their wedding night and living in the townhouse indefinitely, which makes me feel better knowing we have a solution for keeping them nearby.
Will he need any touch ups for photos?
Never mind. I’ll plan to do them anyway.
Starting on your mother’s hair and makeup.
Shadow won’t leave her lap.
We’ll have to make it work.
I forgot to ask—I have a little something
for Shadow and Scout to wear today.
Is that okay?
Do we really have a choice? I smile while looking through his remaining texts.
Florist is here.
Your mother just finished editing
one of my suggested wedding playlists.
(squee) This is happening!
And yes, the flowers are gorgeous.
A few photos arrived after those texts of an arrangement for the table in the tent, then my mother’s bouquet. And there’s a photo of an arch being draped with flowers. It looks as if Mom couldn’t resist some of Al’s ideas. I’m going to take Edward’s advice and continue to support whatever will make her happy, especially surrounding the events for today.
Cake just arrived.
Maggie is in the kitchen cooking.
Everything smells delicious.
I love Italian and this menu is . . .
I know the food will be fabulous. Maggie always delivers. She suggested leaning on her Italian heritage for our menu, tantalizing us with a variety of suggestions that sounded incredible. But what I’m really excited about is one of Al’s ideas that won me over on his whole plan—a gelato bar. He knows I’m forgoing alcohol and offered this as a respectable solution. It makes the ballooning price tag of this no-frills wedding a little more palatable.
Are you still at work?
Your dress is here waiting for you.
It’s now wrinkle free.
I’ll need to touch you up too.
Please don’t push my sanity to the last minute!
I’m calling Rose.
Don’t worry, I’ll be discreet.
I toss my phone back into my purse. I’ll see him soon. After another bite from my sandwich, followed by a sip of cold coffee, I return my focus to Rose. “Anything else?”
“Garrett called. He said to let you know the package has been secured and he will be arriving with it soon.” She raises a questioning eyebrow.
“Package? I have no idea what that means.” I shrug. It must be one of Al’s ideas I missed.
There’s an awkward silence that settles between us until Rose says my name softly, “Bella.”
I tilt my head in question. “What is it?”
“Tell me to butt out if it isn’t my business, but it seems as if something is going on. Al and Garrett never contact you at work. I know you’re taking off this afternoon, but that’s all I know. I thought I was your right-hand and one of your best friends. Have I done something to upset you?”
“Not at all.” I smile, then tease. “Remind me never to plan a surprise party for you.” My words do nothing to reassure her. So, I begin to explain once more. “My—”
“Are you and Edward eloping or something?” she interrupts, looking heartbroken at the thought.
“Oh, Rose. No. We’re not. It’s more of the something part of your question. My parents are getting married this afternoon at our home. They asked me not to tell anyone, but there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle with Al involved. Al and Garrett are helping me to pull off a small wedding that is blossoming into quite the event for only a handful of people. My parents wanted something simple at the courthouse, and I’m trying to respect their wishes, while giving them a wedding ceremony that is a little more memorable than that.”
At my explanation, her face fills with relief. “I see.”
Instantly, a surge of regret flows through me that I didn’t share the details of this event with her. I wonder if at this point an invite would be possible logistically.
“I also thought you and Emmett would be busy with the kids this afternoon and evening with their activities. It’s a weeknight,” I add, but it’s a flimsy excuse. “I understand it’s last minute, but you’re all welcome to attend.”
Five more people.
Added to the six we’ve built this wedding around.
I’m having Thanksgiving flashbacks when I invited everyone without discussing it with my father.
Why do I keep doing this?
If she says yes, Al’s going to freak the fuck out.
And I’ll admit, I’m freaking out a little bit, knowing he’s going to freak out.
“Really?” Her expression turns hopeful.
“Yes. My parents think the world of Katie and would love to have you all there. They enjoyed meeting Emmett and the boys at our Super Bowl party, but they’ll also understand if you can’t make it too,” I admit, wanting to give her an out if she needs one. “No worries.”
“Well, the boys don’t have games this evening, only practices after school. Katie has skating lessons, but it wouldn’t hurt for her to miss those.” Her smile brightens while she talks through their family calendar. “I’ll call Emmett and let him know our plans have changed for this evening. We’ll be there. What should we wear?”
Al, please forgive me.
“Think of whatever you would wear to an ‘enchanted, romantic, secret garden’ party and you’ll nail it.”
Maybe not-so-secret any longer, thanks to me.
She chuckles. “That sounds like Al. What time?”
“The ceremony is planned for five with dinner at sunset around six, but with so few people involved, we have flexibility.”
Or we did.
I reach for my phone to break the news to Al that the guest list is increasing and type out my response.
Add five to the guest list.
Rose and her family will be there.
“That’s not much time, but I’m sure we can swing it. We may need to divide and conquer, but I promise you we’ll be there—on time. What about Mom and Dad?”
There it is.
I knew we would get to them eventually.
I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with their inclusion, but I’ll continue to do the right thing for Edward, despite his dad’s disappointing behavior toward me.
I can be the bigger person—at least until my patience runs out.
“Like I said, the plan was to keep it small, but since I’m leaving the office later than expected, could you reach out to them?”
Rose brightens at being given this task. “Sure. No problem. Leave it to me. I’m positive they would love to be there.”
After the fiasco that was the parents’ dinner, let’s not hold our breath. They were a no-show for the Super Bowl party and I don’t anticipate them wanting to attend this family event. Speaking of breathing, my phone vibrates with a text from Al and it’s the gif of Sheldon from the television show The Big Bang Theory breathing repeatedly into a brown paper bag.
Adding Carlisle and Esme could push him over the edge.
So, I hold off and plan to deliver that information in person. Plus, I need to see what he’s done to the lawn area this morning and possibly offer suggestions on ways to accommodate more guests. We can always move some of the furniture in the dining room to the tent. Chairs for the ceremony can double for chairs at dinner. I think there’s a bench in the laundry room we can use too.
The menu is already fairly extensive, as I asked Maggie to add a few of my and Edward’s favorites, then bump up quantities after Mom and Dad made their selections from her ideas. I was hoping for leftovers, but we will be using those now.
“Can I do anything else?” Rose offers.
“I don’t believe so. I need to get home and see where we’re at with the plans, but if there’s something, I’ll let you know.”
“See you in a little while.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
Once I arrive at home, Al doesn’t allow me into the pool or lawn areas to see the tent or any of the decorations, claiming the big reveal will be for everyone at ceremony time. Plus, I’m late, according to him. I don’t understand how that’s possible when Dad and Edward aren’t here yet. Instead, he ushers me upstairs to the bedroom where Mom is hanging out and proceeds to touch up my hair and makeup before we are both directed to get dressed.
I change into my dress first. It’s a floor-length, dusty rose halter dress with layers of chiffon. Thankfully, it fits. I would not choose a halter dress, but it does make my chest look more . . . pronounced. It will undoubtedly meet Edward’s approval. With only my measurements in hand, Al sent me a photo of this dress, claiming it to be the one when he was shopping with Mom for her dress.
Mom’s wedding gown is an A-line silhouette with a short cap sleeve and a modest V-neck. I love the white lace and tulle overlay with floral and leaf embellishments. It’s perfect for a garden wedding and Mom is radiant wearing it. She’s the happiest I’ve seen her in the past few months. Dad asked for something bridal and Al definitely delivered.
With the photographer’s arrival, we’re taking a few candid photos together before hearing a knock on the bedroom door.
“I’ll get it,” I offer. Once I open the door, my favorite partner is standing on the other side in a light gray suit with a dusty rose tie that matches my dress. I step out into the hallway, closing the door behind me. “Hey, handsome.”
“Hello, beautiful.” Edward grins. He reaches out, laces our fingers together, and tugs me close before whispering in my ear, “You know, I don’t know much about weddings, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to look more beautiful than the bride.”
“Have you seen my mother yet?” I tease. “She’s got it going on.”
“No. Don’t tell your father, but I have a hunch, you’ll steal the show.” He wiggles his eyebrows suggestively before kissing my lips lightly.
“You better be careful or you’ll end up with pink lips.”
“I fail to see a problem with that,” he says, stealing another kiss.
“What are you doing up here?”
“I’m following Al’s timeline.” Of course, he is. Edward thrives on a schedule. “And I’m here to escort the bride.”
I gasp at that tidbit of news. “Edward—”
I had no idea he was planning on escorting Mom.
“Your mother asked me, and I agreed easily. But, I also have a surprise for her too.” He steps to the side of the hallway, revealing Sue Clearwater waiting patiently behind him in a light gray dress that almost matches his suit.
“Hello, Bella.” She smiles. “Surprise!”
I clutch my chest. “Oh, my goodness. Sue!” Reaching out, I embrace her in a tight hug. “Does Mom know?”
Sue shakes her head. “Billy is downstairs with your father.”
My breath catches. “Billy too?”
“Edward made it possible for us to be here today. He thought we shouldn’t miss out on this special day, and we both agreed, he’s right.” She nods toward the door. “I’m just going to slip inside and check on your mother.”
“Okay.” I’m flabbergasted by Sue’s arrival. It’s completely unexpected, but perfect to include my parents’ friends today.
With the opening of the door, I hear my mother gasp, “Sue!”
The lightness I feel in my chest at that one word—my mother recognizing her friend—is reassuring. Maybe this will all be okay and everything will work out as it should.
Once the door closes, I look up at Edward.
“Let’s give them a little time together.” He winks. “You can thank me later.”
Shaking my head slightly, I blink away any happy tears threatening to fall or face the wrath of Al’s touch ups. “You know, Sue and Billy should be the ones standing up for Mom and Dad. Not us.”
Edward nods. “I suggested that idea to your father. I’m not sure if it registered or not. He was a little surprised—stunned speechless at Billy’s arrival.”
I chuckle. “That’s a first. Al is going to shit a golden brick over more people. A wedding for six is now thirteen, possibly fifteen, if your parents show up. I realize it’s my fault, but—”
“Don’t worry. He knew about Sue and Billy,” Edward reveals. “Once I told him what I wanted to do, he tracked down Sue at the hospital for me. After discussing my plans with her, she gave me Billy’s number and I called him. Garrett picked them up from the airport today.”
Sue and Billy were the package.
And Garrett probably thought I already knew or he wouldn’t have left me with the message.
I’m a little surprised Edward didn’t reach out to Jacob to track down his father, but for whatever reason, he didn’t. Knowing Jacob, he probably couldn’t be bothered, which is why Al found Sue for him.
“While I’m glad they’re here, do we have enough of everything? Food? Cake? I can make a few calls. Although, I’m not positive where my phone is at the moment.”
I have no idea who I would call—possibly Rose, but maybe Al is already on it. He’s been missing for a little while, leaving us with the photographer earlier.
“Hey, don’t stress.” Edward smiles, brushing away a few stray hairs from my face. “We’ll make it work. I promise. Everyone who should be here, is. That’s the most important part.”
I wonder if that means his parents have arrived or they are a no-show again.
“Right. You’re right,” I agree.
At this point, I don’t want to know or stress about another thing. I just need to roll with it.
Edward removes his phone from his pocket, and at his request, we take a few selfies before he jerks his chin toward the closed door behind me. “Let’s see if the bride is ready because the groom is downstairs and eager to get started. I put ESPN’s SportsCenter on the television in the great room, but I suspect it will only distract him for so long.”
“You have no idea how long Dad and Billy can discuss sports. They’re probably in heaven with your setup.” I chuckle, then take a deep breath and release it slowly. “Okay. I’m ready. Let’s do this.”
After knocking on the door lightly, I step inside with Edward following behind me while Mom grins from ear-to-ear, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. I attempt to ignore the whirl and clicks from the camera as the photographer captures these candid moments unfolding before us, but it’s nearly impossible.
“Bella, did you know?” Mom asks.
I tilt my head toward Edward. “He kept me out of the loop on this one too.”
“Thank you, Edward.” Mom embraces him tightly. “Having Sue here is a wonderful surprise.”
“You’re welcome. You look beautiful, but I think something is missing.” He lifts a small gift bag that I somehow missed him carrying. “From your groom.”
At the flicker of recognition, her eyes fill with love. “Oh, Charlie.”
My dad isn’t a big gift giver, but he is undoubtedly under Edward’s influence here, which in my experience, isn’t a bad thing. Mom accepts the gift bag and removes a card that she reads to herself, then holds it to her chest.
“Of all the days in my life, I hope I never forget this one.”
She tucks the card back inside the bag, then removes a velvet square shaped box. Once she opens it, we all wait until she turns it around to show us a silver and pearl matching jewelry set, including a pair of earrings, bracelet, and necklace.
“Oh, Mom. You need to wear these today,” I encourage.
She smiles with tears in her eyes. “Okay. Can you help me?”
While Edward holds the box, I help Mom with her new wedding jewelry until we’ve exchanged each item for the ones given to her by my father.
With her beaming smile after looking into the full-length mirror, Edward asks, “Are you ready?”
Before she can answer, my eyes flit to Sue, then I repeat his earlier offer to Dad. “Mom, I’ll understand if you want Sue to take my place today.”
“Oh, Bella.” She reaches out, wrapping me in a hug. “No one will ever take your place. I want you next to me.”
Cue the waterworks.
“Mom.” I shake my head, no longer able to hold back my tears, and chuckle. “I’m going to need more tissues.”
Once Mom releases me, Edward passes me a tissue box.
Sue smiles, opening her purse and removing a small present tied with a bow. “Renée, I have something for you.”
“Sue, you didn’t have to bring anything. Just having you here is more than enough.”
“That’s Edward. This is from me to you. Open it.”
Once Mom removes the bow, she lifts the lid of a hinged box, revealing a delicate silver bracelet with a blue stone in the middle.
Mom gasps. “Sue, it’s beautiful. My something blue.”
“Turquoise is the stone of life,” she shares.
Sue could stop right there and that would be enough for me since I’m already fighting tears, but she continues.
“Native American warriors wore turquoise when they went into battle because it is believed to offer strength and protection from harm.”
Mom’s eyes shift to mine, shining with tears. I know she’s a warrior. She just doesn’t realize it yet, and the only way anyone finds out is to be tested, whether we want it or not.
I nod between sniffs. “What a lovely gift. I think you should wear it today on your other wrist.”
“Okay.” Mom removes the bracelet from the box, slides it over her wrist, hugging Sue once more. “Thank you so much.”
“Edward, what’s the hold up?” Al enters the room with a flourish, now wearing an all-dusty rose suit with a light gray tie and stops in his tracks once we turn toward him. “Why are you all crying? We don’t have crying in the schedule. Crying requires touch ups and I’ve already completed those. Edward!”
My handsome partner holds his hands up in surrender. “I just came to escort the bride.”
“Then why are your lips now wearing the same shade of pink as Bella’s?”
Edward’s eyes find mine, and instantly, we exchange knowing grins.
“You two are impossible! We don’t have time for this. I already sent everyone out to the tent. They’re waiting.” Al’s voice softens as he turns toward my mom, taking her hands. “Your groom is waiting. I hope you will look back on this day in years to come and remember how happy you feel in this moment.”
“Thank you, Al. For everything.”
“It’s been my pleasure. Sue, let’s go find your seat. We’re currently at standing room only, but fortunately, you have connections.” He winks, leaning close. “I saved you one.”
“Wonderful.” Sue gives Mom a final hug. “See you soon.”
“We’ll catch up at dinner,” Mom promises.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Al offers Sue the crook of his arm and they disappear through the doorway of the bedroom.
“I guess, I’m next.” I blow out a steady breath, trying to keep it together and not need any more tissues. I reach for her hand and give it a light squeeze. “Dad loves you more than you will ever imagine. He always has and he always will.”
Mom nods through watery eyes.
“I love you too.”
Edward smiles, handing me a smaller version of Mom’s bouquet from a nearby table. “We’ll be right behind you.”
“Okay,” I manage to squeak out with my emotions fluctuating rapidly. I’m thankful he’s here, supporting us both.
With my bouquet in hand, I depart the bedroom, clutch the rail of the entry staircase, and take a few deep breaths while making my way downstairs. As I pass through the kitchen, Maggie gives me a thumbs up and nods toward where Al is waiting at the door to the pool area in the great room.
He smiles as I approach. “You look breathtaking. Whoever selected that dress for you has excellent taste.”
“And you’re wearing the hell out of that suit,” I tease with a grin. “We must have the same fabulous stylist.”
He winks as I lift onto my toes, kiss his cheek, then reach out to hold his hand, wanting a moment with him since we’re alone. I hope I can get this out.
“You know, being an only child, I was always jealous of those who had siblings. I felt as if I was missing something, and you know what? I was right. I just didn’t realize it would take me moving to Texas to find you. We may not be related by blood, but you’re the brother I never had. I’m so grateful for you, Al. Your love. Your friendship. Your generosity. Thank you for all of your thoughtful touches in making this day a special one. I couldn’t do this without you.”
“No wonder you were all in tears upstairs. It’s you making everyone cry.” He chuckles, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Bella, from someone who’s struggled to fit in my whole life, even with my own family, you have no idea how much your words mean to me. You will always be my family. Thank you for making me a part of yours. Small brag—I think your mom may like me best.”
I grin at his teasing words, lightening the moment. When I notice Mom and Edward entering the kitchen, I blow out another steady breath. “I should go. I’m probably holding this up.”
“I hope everything meets your approval.”
“How can it not?” I reach up, cupping his stubbled cheek. “It was created by you.”