A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Wonder Woman,” Kacey Musgraves
(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’ll open the gate.” Suddenly, wide-awake, it takes two attempts before I input the correct sequence of numbers. “That should be it.”
“It’s opening,” Esme says. “Thank you, Bella.”
“See you soon.”
Scout follows as I walk to the front entry door and watch through the side window for the headlights of her car. Once she pulls into the driveway, I turn and walk across the entry, kitchen, then down the hallway with Scout still hot on my trail.
Opening the door for her, Esme steps into the light, and I’m shocked at the sight of her tear-stained face. While she doesn’t typically wear makeup, what’s there is smudged and her red eyes find mine.
After closing the door, I open my arms for a hug that she accepts immediately. Her body shudders as she sobs against me.
“It’s okay,” I whisper. “You’ll be okay.”
She pulls away, swiping at the tears that continue to fall. “I’m sorry—I woke you, didn’t I?”
“Hey, there’s nothing to be sorry about. Come in. Edward won’t be home for a while. I need to check my messages. I must have fallen asleep after the game. I always nap until he gets home.”
“Oh—I forgot he’s still gone.” Esme sniffs back her tears while her trembling hand tucks a wayward strand of hair hanging in her face behind an ear. “Did-did he start?”
“Yes, but they lost in overtime. They departed later than normal and it’s a long flight,” I explain, then lower my voice, wanting to shift our discussion back to her. “Do. . . do you need a doctor?”
She shakes her head and her entire body slumps with resignation. “No. Just a place to stay. I-I don’t know for how long. I didn’t bring anything with me.”
“That’s okay. Not a problem. I’m positive I have everything you could need until we get a chance to pack a bag of your things. You’re always welcome here for as long as you want or need.” I grab the box of tissues from the half bath, handing them to her.
“Thank you. I didn’t know where else to go. Carlisle came home and I-I—” she stutters, blinking rapidly.
“It’s okay.” I nod, wrapping my arm around her. “Edward told me. I know a little of what’s going on.”
Her voice is so small that I can barely hear her. “I couldn’t stay there any longer.”
“You made the right decision.” I guide her down the hallway, leading her to the couch.
“My . . .” She swallows hard. “I think my marriage is o-over.” Her voice breaks on the last word.
“Oh, Esme. I’m sorry.” I glance at her left hand, noticing for the first time her wedding ring is missing.
“I tried . . . so many times to make it work—salvage what was left.”
At my nod, we settle into the couch. “I’m sure you did.”
“I don’t want to abandon him. He’s not thinking clearly,” she defends. “And . . . I don’t know what to believe anymore.”
I would disagree. I believe he knows exactly what he’s doing. But I doubt she understands how far he’s willing to go to manipulate Edward, Rose, and her. I can only imagine the lies he’s been feeding to her for God knows how long.
“I understand.” I give her my best reassuring smile. “Maybe we can figure out a way to help him—help you both.”
Esme stares at her empty hands before shaking her head minutely. Tears form in her eyes once more and her voice wobbles. “I don’t think he loves me anymore. I’ve never felt so alone in my life.” Her face crumples with the weight of that realization.
“Hey, you’re not alone. I understand it isn’t the same, but you have us,” I reiterate my unwavering support, then consider reinforcements. “Should I call Rose?”
She shrugs her indifference, dabbing her eyes with a new tissue, which draws my attention to the light shadowy circles that don’t have anything to do with her makeup. I wonder if she’s been having trouble sleeping.
“I didn’t want to go there and wake or upset the kids.”
I nod. “Let’s call her.”
Grabbing my phone from the coffee table, I find Rose’s number, tap the speaker button so Esme can hear our conversation, then wait for it to connect.
“Hello?” Rose’s voice is rough with sleep.
“Hey, it’s Bella.” I pause, giving her a moment.
“Bella?” she repeats. It doesn’t take long before I hear the concern in her voice. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Your mother is here. Alone. I think she would love it if you were here too,” I explain.
“Okay.” Rose lowers her voice. “Em, wake up. I’m going to Edward and Bella’s.”
“What’s wrong?” I hear Em ask.
“It’s Mom. She’s there. Who knows what the fuck Dad did now.”
I glance at Esme briefly, as she listens to Rose’s conversation, staring at her hands while fidgeting with the crumpled tissue.
“Hopefully, I’ll be back before the kids need to get ready for school, but if I’m not—”
“I’ve got them. Go,” Em encourages. “Stay as long as you need.”
Rose’s voice returns to normal. “I’ll be on my way soon, Bella.”
“All right. Drive safe.”
“I will. Bye.”
After ending our call, I return my focus to Esme. “Can I get you anything? Maybe some tea? We have a few that will help you sleep. Or a frozen peanut butter cup? There is ice cream too,” I offer with a smile. “Those always work for me.”
“Maybe just some water. I may need the tea for sleeping or something stronger. I’m going to—” She waves toward the bathroom.
“Sure. Take your time. I’ll get your water.”
Once I hear the door close, I open the messages app on my phone, wanting to give Edward a heads-up. When he arrives, he will see their vehicles in the driveway since I suspect Rose will spend the night too. I don’t want him to panic, thinking there’s anything wrong with me.
I scan our brief messages from earlier, then type out a new one.
Hey, I want to let you know
that your mom is here.
She arrived a little while ago.
She said your dad came home,
and she couldn’t stay there.
Clearly, it’s been a rough night.
I called Rose and she’s on the way.
After pressing send, I wait for his response, which arrives in seconds. While I’m surprised at his reply, it’s one of the first things I thought about too.
Is she hurt?
Not physically that I could see.
I asked if she needed a doctor
and she said no.
Don’t let her leave.
We’re still hours away.
We don’t have morning skate.
So, I’ll be home by the time you
and Rose need to leave for work.
Around five or six.
I doubt Rose will go to work.
Is there anything else
I should do?
Call her sister?
I don’t have her number.
No. Don’t contact Aunt Cin.
And tell Rose not to either.
She’ll overreact and that’s
the last thing Mom or Dad needs.
Overreact? Even though I haven’t met his aunt, he hasn’t seen how shaken his mother is. Maybe it’s time for a heavy dose of overreaction, but I’ll trust his judgment in this situation . . . for now.
While it isn’t ever easy, I continue to stand my ground with Carlisle. After Edward’s last interaction with him, I’m proud that he did too. Maybe Esme finally reached her limit, and her attempt didn’t go well.
Thank you for being there.
I’ll be on my way as soon as we land.
Try to get some sleep.
I love you. X
Sleep may not be possible with his mother here. Esme looks as if she could use a friend, and that’s not necessarily her adult children. Maybe I’m removed enough while still involved that she would feel comfortable confiding in me.
I love you too. xx
When Esme emerges from the bathroom, she accepts the glass of ice water I set on the kitchen island. I pretend not to notice as she fishes a pill out of her purse, taking it quickly. While I’m not her doctor, I am concerned about whatever that was, and I hope she isn’t mixing pills with anything she shouldn’t.
I smile, unsure what else to suggest, but I notice in the kitchen light she’s thinner than I remember seeing her. Perhaps, she’s been hiding weight loss under layers of clothes.
“Esme, what else can I do? Are you hungry? Can I fix you some toast or something?” I offer.
Her tired eyes meet mine and she shakes her head. “Thank you, but I’m not hungry.”
“How about a warm bath or shower? I have extra pajamas; you’re welcome to use them,” I suggest.
Sliding onto one of the stools at the island, she nods, giving me a slight smile. “Maybe later.”
“Okay. Well, I think I’m going to make myself a little toast.”
Am I hungry? Not really. But I need something to do while we wait for Rose to arrive. I open the refrigerator door, reaching for the whole grain and seed bread Edward eats. Taking out two slices, I slide them into the toaster, knowing I’m going to counter their healthiness. Edward fixes toast with mashed avocado and diced hard-boiled eggs regularly.
While I’m not opposed to his savory combination, I need something sweet. After locating my favorite hazelnut chocolate spread, I glance through the kitchen cabinet, looking for peanut butter. We only have the kind without any sugar. It’s an Edward staple and I’m still getting used to it. Looking around, I grab a banana and some strawberries to slice.
Esme nods. “You’re eating for two. I remember those days.”
I smile, knowing the change in subject will lighten the mood, if only temporarily. “Rose teases me that stretch pants will be my best friends soon. What was your favorite part about being pregnant?”
Her eyes brighten at the question or maybe it’s relief at the distraction. “That’s easy—feeling the babies move. My late husband would get so excited. It was when our connection to the twins began to grow by leaps and bounds. He wanted to be actively involved with everything, which was different from his father’s bystander days, as he referred to them. Ed always made me feel like a queen, but he was exceptionally doting during my pregnancy.”
“Edward has been excited since that first test.”
“That sounds familiar.” She grins, lost in her own memories.
I know addressing whatever happened with Carlisle this evening will help, even if it’s only to vent, but we should probably wait for Rose to get into that discussion. Until she gets here, I would love any insight into Esme’s happier times with him and find some explanation as to when things changed. From what I can piece together, she was married to Ed for nearly ten years, but she’s been with Carlisle for over twenty—more than double the time. There has to be some sort of good there to stay with someone for that long.
“What . . . what made you decide to remarry?” I wonder.
Edward only shared the barest of details from a young boy’s perspective when Carlisle came into their lives. Esme was probably close to my age at the time and her recollections undoubtedly will be different.
Esme’s smile fades slightly. “Carlisle knew Edward first and was . . . protective of him. Edward was such a tall, skinny kid in comparison to his peers. It took a little while for him to grow into his body and feel comfortable. He didn’t like standing out, but physically, he did. Sometimes his teammates would make comments about Edward not having a father and that . . . broke my heart. He had one—Ed was one of the best.”
“Carlisle was living nearby?” I ask, curious about his proximity to them.
“He traveled around the state and beyond, scouting youth hockey players. He had a list of players, checking on their development and potential to move on to more competitive levels of hockey. I believe he saw Edward for the first time in Traverse City at a hockey tournament.”
I nod, recalling Edward sharing similar details, then grab a cutting board and knife before slicing my fruit selections.
“I would pick up Edward from the rink and Carlisle would often be there, showering him with praise after his practices or games—going over what he did right and where he could improve. Carlisle was charming, handsome, and everyone knew him wherever he went. As we grew closer, I found myself arriving a little earlier to Edward’s practices or games and dressing a little nicer in hopes I would see him. Whenever he was there, we sat together, sharing stories over cups of hot chocolate that would turn into grabbing slices of pizza from the concession stand. Eventually, he asked me out on a date.” Esme shrugs.
“He was single? No kids?” I ask.
“That’s right. With the travel demands of his job, he believed he was destined to be a life-long bachelor; especially since he had never met the right woman who would understand his commitment to the sport he loved.”
“But that changed with you?”
Esme sips from her glass. “To an extent. It wasn’t . . . our relationship couldn’t hold a candle to what I felt with Ed. I wouldn’t say there were instant sparks between us or anything like that. It was a growing friendship, but something sparked inside of me. Carlisle made me feel desired and alive again, when I was simply an exhausted single mom of two active kids. Trust me, not a lot of available men were giving me a second look back then. I felt invisible for so long, just trying to get through every day of every week while going through the motions, and Carlisle saw me.”
I’m sure his attention was flattering, but at the time, she would have been vulnerable. “Getting involved with him—it wasn’t too soon?”
“I don’t know. Maybe? He was . . . comforting in all the right ways, and I needed that. I thought it would help the kids too. Carlisle was already close with Edward. So I had high hopes with Rose,” she explains.
“That sounds reasonable.” The pop of the toaster grabs my attention and I slide the two pieces onto a plate. After slicing them diagonally with an intent to share, I reach for the hazelnut chocolate spread and wait for Esme to continue.
“After Ed’s death, Rose was . . . withdrawn from everything.” Esme releases a steady breath before recalling those memories. “She didn’t want to play hockey any longer and that broke Edward’s heart. He felt abandoned and alone. Her quietness scared me. Rose was never quiet. Her teachers at school voiced their concerns. When she wouldn’t open up to me, I found a therapist to help with processing her grief. It seemed as if she wasn’t making any progress, until Carlisle volunteered to bring Edward home from practice one night and stayed for dinner.”
Knowing Rose the way I do, I smile. “I can only imagine what’s coming.”
“Right? She can be a . . . Edward always claims she is like a hurricane at times. Even though she’s my daughter, he knows her best. When she’s calm or quiet, it’s not because the storm has passed. It’s because you’re smack dab in the eye of her storm.”
I chuckle at the accurate analogy while Esme continues.
“That night, she listened to Carlisle advocating for Edward to try out for a travel hockey team, and promised that if he made it, then he would volunteer to coach his team. He said Edward had the potential to play professionally one day. I had no idea what travel hockey meant at the time or the dedication required, but the idea thrilled Edward. He was dazzled by how Carlisle saw his future. So, I shared my encouragement, feeling better knowing that if Edward made the team, he would have Carlisle in his corner.”
I look up from my toast, then reach for the peanut butter. “Rose felt . . . left out or left behind?”
“Yes, but it was short-lived in a sense.” Esme nods her head. “That conversation . . . it broke open the floodgates. Rose was no longer quiet or withdrawn, adamantly refusing to accept Carlisle into our family. She vowed he was tearing our family apart and stated he would never ever be her father. I had never seen such fire from her since Ed’s death. She stormed away from the table in tears, ending any conversation with the slam of the back door.”
“Hurricane Rose.” I smile, making swirls of the peanut butter with the chocolate spread. “Damn, this looks good. I’m hungrier than I thought.”
Esme chuckles. “At the time, we were all stunned. Edward looked at me hopefully, wanting to go after her, and I agreed easily, knowing she was probably in the treehouse Ed had built for them. It was her refuge. I don’t know what was said between them, but hours later, Carlisle had left, and I found them sitting at the kitchen table.”
“Rose waited for him to leave,” I conclude. “And . . . Edward had her back.”
She nods. “With an open cookie jar, they were trying to find out who could eat the most chocolate chip cookies—always so competitive. Edward had somehow found a way to put a smile back on Rose’s face. That spring she started playing soccer, and it became a new passion for her. I did everything I could to support both of them.”
“Maybe as twins, it was about them finding their identities no longer together, but apart from each other,” I suggest. “Even though Carlisle was the catalyst, it was probably for the best.”
“Yes, but you should have seen my color-coded calendar, trying not to miss a single event. I was perpetually frazzled,” she confides with another chuckle.
“I can imagine.” I grin, adding the sliced fruit to the toast. “I’m a little concerned that could be our future.”
“You’ll find your own way.” Esme smiles reassuringly. “Carlisle . . . Rose softened toward him, but it took time. She made him work for her acceptance. After we married in a courthouse ceremony, he adopted them not long after that. It was a great day. Edward was already calling him ‘Dad,’ but it was the first time Rose used the term.”
“That’s a huge moment,” I agree, feeling myself tear up at the thought.
Esme continues. “In order for Carlisle to be home more often, he took a new job with USA Hockey in the establishment of their junior development program. We moved from Marquette to a new home in Ann Arbor. There were so many tears over leaving the tree house, and it was a setback for Rose, not speaking to Carlisle for weeks once our home sold. She wanted to dismantle it and take it with us. Can you imagine?”
I nod my understanding, reaching for two smaller plates in the cabinet. “Edward has fond memories of it too.”
Her eyes fill with tears for a moment, then she blinks them away. “We finally found a compromise, removing only the board with our carved initials and the year it was built. Rose probably still has it. After giving the board to her, Carlisle replaced it with a new one, which ended her silent treatment.”
“What a beautiful compromise.” I smile, setting the plates and toast near her. After grabbing a bottle of coconut water from the refrigerator, I slide onto the stool beside her. “Help yourself.”
Her eyes find mine and my heart warms instantly when Esme reaches for one, setting it on a smaller plate before she continues.
“It was wild for me to live in Ann Arbor with the kids and my new husband since it was where Ed had attended and graduated from college. I mean, we lived in Marquette with memories of him everywhere. But in our new home—some days, while the kids were at school, I found myself roaming the university campus where he would have attended his engineering and other classes.” Esme looks over at me and her voice is soft. “I never told anyone I did that.”
“How did it feel?”
She considers my question for a moment. “Satisfying. It was as if I could relish another part of him—one that still exists.”
“Did Carlisle know that Ed went to college there?”
“No. I never shared that with him.” Esme is lost in her memories and takes a bite of toast. After finishing her bite, she looks over at me. “This is delicious.”
“Thanks.” I look down at my empty plate realizing I finished my piece in record time, then open my coconut water for a sip.
Esme sighs. “As the kids grew, we settled into family life, but I could feel the dynamics between Edward and Carlisle changing. Carlisle became more . . . controlling and demanding over Edward’s development, vowing that he knew what was best—we needed to trust him. So, I did without an ounce of hesitation.”
“It was his job. I can understand him wanting to help Edward. Maybe also to prove that he could do it,” I conclude. “Like his own case study. Edward was a measure of his success.”
“Looking back, that’s probably true. I remember that Carlisle called in every favor you could imagine. He reached out to everyone in his network. There were those who specialized in goaltending, and Edward saw doctors about eye training. Carlisle incorporated yoga, nutrition, sports psychology, and injury management into Edward’s routines. Weight trainers would work with Edward to build muscle while improving his stamina. Carlisle sourced the best equipment, doing everything possible to give Edward any conceivable advantage.”
“It sounds . . . expensive,” I deduce, “even with favors from those in the sport.”
Esme nods. “You have no idea. Each year, we were barreling toward the draft. Scouts came to games, watching Edward play, and we held our breath each time, wondering what they were thinking. Some were encouraging, others weren’t. As a former scout, Carlisle was always confident, despite the fact that we were overextended financially. He knew what they were looking for and claimed the money would fix itself once Edward was drafted.”
“That’s a big investment. Not that Edward isn’t worth it, but wow.” I marvel at the level of commitment—from Carlisle, Esme, and Edward.
She smiles. “We traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina for Edward’s draft. It was nerve-racking, but Edward was the picture of cool confidence, sitting between us in his suit. I was so proud of him. He looked so mature and handsome, reminding me of Ed. We never talked about backup plans—what Edward would do if he wasn’t drafted. They both never doubted it would happen.”
“It’s a lot of pressure.” I shake my head, imagining the financial and emotional strain on all of them, but especially Edward.
“Absolutely. Once we were there, listening to the names being called, it was daunting. Thousands of hopeful players from around the globe who dedicated their lives to the sport were all in the same place with the same dream. Of those drafted, only about half ever make it to the league. There were nine rounds over two days. I can’t begin to tell you my relief in the seventh round when Minnesota selected him. It was pure joy and elation—the realization of a dream. Ultimately, Edward did the grind, but they got there together. I have to wonder: if it weren’t for Carlisle, where would Edward be?”
I smile, suspecting the answer. “He may not have played professionally, but he would have found his place somewhere in the sport. That passion runs through his veins.”
“You may have never met,” Esme suggests, taking another bite.
“True. But exactly in the way you met Ed, I like to believe that Edward and I would have found our way to one another eventually. My connection with Rose could have been the key regardless of whether or not Edward played hockey professionally.”
“I suppose that’s true.” She nods. “So, to answer your original question, why did I choose to remarry? I married Carlisle for me, as much as I did for the kids, but especially Edward.”
“What happened after the draft?” I ask, snagging my second piece of toast.
“Edward chose to play for Northern Michigan while waiting for his professional debut, and Rose decided to move to Austin to attend college.” Esme pauses for a moment. “It was tough, suddenly becoming empty nesters. Without the kids around, Carlisle and I struggled with who we were without them living with us. The house was . . . eerily quiet. It was as if all the life had just evaporated. We attended Edward’s games when we could, but we were in Southeast Michigan, while he was in Northern Michigan. It was a seven-hour drive. And Carlisle’s job changed. He worked more—traveled out-of-state regularly. I saw him less and less. It was . . . lonely.”
I reach out, cover her hand with mine, and give it a reassuring squeeze to continue. In everything she shared, love was never the dominating factor in her marriage to Carlisle, which confirms more of my suspicions.
Her eyes remain focused on the plate with her next reveal. “I was jealous of Edward being back in Marquette, and Rose was finding her own way—in Texas of all places. I was thankful she was close to my sister, Cin, if she ever needed anything. And for the first time in a long time, I was lost. They didn’t need me. Carlisle dealt with their absence in his own way, or I should say, Edward’s absence. He was hell-bent on keeping Edward in the league and expanding his network in getting him on the next team with the best possibility for winning the Cup. It was a new goal.”
“Is that when Jacob entered the picture?”
“Yeah, around then. Jacob was his new best friend. I didn’t really care because he was Edward’s agent and deemed necessary by my husband. With Jacob’s arrival, I wasn’t a part of Carlisle’s plans, which left me feeling more isolated and alone. I was back to feeling invisible. So, I continued substitute teaching for our local school district. It was something I did while the kids were growing up that allowed flexibility with their schedules and what I needed at that time.”
“Did that help?” I wonder.
“A little. When Carlisle was home, we argued more, and . . . I started noticing large amounts of money would go missing. I had no idea what to do. I could feel my marriage crumbling and voiced my concerns. Carlisle was defensive, claiming to have everything under control. He questioned my trust and loyalty. I was shocked and began to wonder what was happening when he wasn’t home. What wasn’t he telling me? I never believed Carlisle was the type to cheat on me or lie, but what else could it be? I finally pieced together that he was gambling. And losing more than winning.”
“What a wakeup call.” I shake my head.
She releases a steady breath. “I remember going through the mail and there was a foreclosure notice for our home. Carlisle had stopped paying our bills. I couldn’t believe my eyes. We were going to lose our home. It was a shock, even though Carlisle claimed it was an accounting error. He promised he would sort it out, but it made me doubt he had everything under control.”
“Did you reach out to anyone? Like Edward?”
“Not at that point. Then one day, I was going through my jewelry box, looking for a diamond necklace I wanted to wear to work. It was part of a set with diamond studs that Carlisle had given me for Christmas one year. As I searched, I realized those weren’t the only things I couldn’t find. My engagement ring from Ed . . . the box where I kept it was missing. It was one of the last pieces I had of him.”
My heart sinks. “Oh, Esme.”
She nods. “Carlisle later admitted to pawning them during one of his trips. Although at the time, I knew. I just knew what had happened. They were gone—it was gone and I was heartbroken. I packed a bag, drove to the airport, and bought a one-way ticket to Houston. My sister picked me up at the airport. When I explained through my tears to Cin what happened, she was livid, ready to put a bullet between his eyes with zero concern for the consequences.”
“Damn.” It paints an interesting picture of Edward’s aunt. “But, you took him back?”
“Carlisle showed up at my sister’s home, begging—wanting me back. He made promises that things would change and I believed him. I wanted to believe him. What else could I do? I was hopeful that we could turn our marriage around. Our wedding vows didn’t say for better or better. They said for better or worse. Unfortunately, we were going through the worse part. And still are.”
I sigh. “I admire your loyalty. What a test of it, but how do you trust him again?”
“Rose suggested that a new start in a new state would be good for us. It was a clean slate. With Edward’s help financially, we moved to Texas to be near Rose and her growing family. I was . . . needed again, involved with her kids, and it felt good.” Esme smiles.
“You were hopeful.”
“I was, but it was fleeting. When I found out he squandered thirty-thousand dollars that Rose gave him, I was sick, realizing nothing had changed. It was all lies. I called a locksmith and changed the locks to our home immediately. After that, he agreed to counseling. We went as a couple and individually. I thought we were making great strides.” Esme shakes her head and blows out a breath.
“Gambling is such a cruel addiction. He’s constantly chasing a high that never comes, and when it does, it’s typically too little, too late. The doctor believes boredom since retiring and depression are at the root of Carlisle’s issues. He suggested medication to help, but Carlisle refused. A residential treatment center could be our next option. I know he’s spiraling, and I just don’t know how long I can keep doing this . . . I’m so tired.”
I reach out, give her a side hug, and pull away as Scout barks, running toward the sound of the opening door that leads to the carport.
When an exhausted looking Rose emerges from the hallway, she makes a beeline for her mother, embracing her in a tight hug. “Are you okay?” She leans away and her eyes pass over her mother’s appearance, scrutinizing every detail.
Esme nods, glancing at me. “I will be.”
I finish my coconut water, grab my empty plate, then slide from the stool. “Rose, can I get you anything? Tea? Something to eat? I made toast.”
She reaches for the last piece. “Tea is fine.”
“Tell me what happened,” Rose demands.
“Carlisle thinks I don’t care anymore, but I do. All I wanted was for him to be home, and once he arrived, I couldn’t wait to leave. Maybe I’m the problem.”
“That’s not true,” Rose states adamantly.
“While he was away, he . . . he cleaned out our joint account,” Esme reveals.
“I had to approve it. I did, thinking what if he’s in trouble and needs the money. I called his phone, left messages, and waited for an explanation that never came. I’m enabling his gambling. I am part of the problem. There’s no denying it.” Esme shakes her head.
“Before Carlisle left for this last trip, are you aware of what happened between him and Edward?” I ask curiously.
“What do you mean?” She looks at me with a puzzled look.
“We found out that Carlisle is working with Jacob to undermine our relationship. Jacob tried to use one of Edward’s exes, Heidi, against him. It isn’t surprising since I believe that was why he arrived at the Winter Classic with Tanya. Only that one didn’t go the way he hoped,” I explain. “When Heidi wouldn’t comply with their wishes and warned Edward about their intentions, Carlisle took it upon himself to take matters into his own hands.”
“What did he do?” Rose asks bitterly.
“Carlisle went to Edward’s practice—his place of work—and in a very calculating move afterward, questioned if Edward was the father of our baby, loud enough for everyone within earshot to hear.”
Esme gasps. “Why would he do that?”
“Carlisle sees me as the biggest threat. With my new practice, there’s no way I’m leaving Dallas. He wants to orchestrate a breakup and Edward to leave Dallas for a starting position in Calgary. You said yourself that you always trusted Carlisle with Edward’s career from an early age. He made it to the league with his help and Carlisle is still as determined as ever with a single goal in mind. He isn’t going to let anyone stand between Edward and winning the Cup. And that puts a huge target on my back,” I reveal my conclusions.
When their eyes widen with alarm, Esme attempts to reassure me. “Bella, Carlisle would never hurt you.”
“He already has. Or he’s tried. Verbally, at least. With every attempt, he hurts Edward more than anyone. And that hurts me too.” With a shrug, at least I realize whom I’m dealing with, and my eyes shift between them. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Carlisle has been receiving a kickback of some sort over the years from Jacob, for every new contract Edward has signed. The amount of pushback in regards to this latest one with Calgary seems unusual. With Edward’s thoughts of retiring, I suppose that could be the reason for a final push with a new team from both of them.”
Rose’s brow furrows with confusion. “Wait. Jake is giving him money?”
“That’s my best guess.” I shrug. “Just enough to keep him on the hook whenever Jacob wants something, taking advantage of your dad’s vulnerability. And it’s my understanding that the confrontation with Carlisle got physical, at least on Edward’s part. Afterward, he warned Carlisle to stay away from both of us.”
Esme stares off to the side, unfocused on anything in particular before her gaze returns to me. “I begged him to tell me the truth about one thing—anything and he finally did. Of course, it’s typical of him for it to be something like that. I saw the bruises and refused to believe Edward would do such a thing.”
I release a heavy sigh. “Unfortunately, Edward doesn’t have cause to terminate Jacob’s contract immediately, but he’s been put on a ninety-day notice. If either of you know anything, please don’t hold back because I’m ready for Jacob to be out of our lives for good, especially for Carlisle’s sake.”
“But Dad . . .” Rose shakes her head.
“He needs help,” I state without hesitation. “We shouldn’t be supporting his gambling addiction in any way, but I am concerned about what he will do if his sources of money dry up, considering his past. Desperate people, do desperate things.”