Along Came a Spider 2/C32

A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

Chapter 32

I abandon my rolling suitcase and slide the bakery box onto the countertop. After draping my suit jacket over the back of one of the stools at the kitchen island, I step quietly toward the great room where I find Rose and Bella asleep on the couch. Shadow is nestled under a throw blanket with Rose, while Scout is snuggled along Bella’s legs. His eyes open at my approach. Petting his head gently, I glance around for Mom, then shift my attention to Bella.

She’s barefoot and wearing a pair of leggings with one of my hoodies. Sliding my hand along her leg until it’s resting on her knee, I lean closer, kissing her as she wakes. Her eyes open slightly and a soft smile spreads across her lips.

“Hey. You’re home,” Bella whispers.

“Hey.” I grin, kissing her once more. “Where’s Mom?”

“Upstairs. Probably asleep.” She reaches out cupping my jaw, rubbing her thumb along the scruff. Her smile falters, as if she can sense something I know is brimming just below the surface. “Are you okay?”

I shake my head, then jerk my chin toward the entry. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?”

“Bedroom. To talk,” I add.

“Talk?” She sees right through me, and her sleepy smile widens. “Missed me, huh? Has it been twenty-four hours?”

“Longer. Too long. Want a lift?” I offer, but impatiently, I don’t wait for her answer.

Sliding my arms underneath her body, I lift her easily in one smooth motion. Her slight squeak prompts Scout to sit up before I discourage him from following us.

“Stay,” I state loud enough without waking Rose.

Scout whines his disapproval at the command before lying back down. Bella shifts in my hold, then wraps an arm around my shoulders while her lips plant kisses along my jaw. Swiftly moving down the hallway toward our bedroom, I kick the door closed. Setting her on the floor next to the bed, I can’t remove her clothing fast enough.

After pulling my hoodie from her body, my eyes shift to her new tattoo, and I grow harder at the sight of my number next to my fingerprint in the shape of a heart. It’s healing nicely and the redness is fading similar to mine. Once I leave a delicate kiss near it, my eyes shift to hers, and they’re dancing with mischief because she knows—she fucking knows what her new tattoo does to me.

Bella grins. “I can’t believe I’m standing here topless and—”

I cut off her next words with a fiery kiss while guiding her backward until she is lying on our bed. After cupping her chest, I give her breasts a reverent squeeze before my hands drift lower. Hooking my fingers in the waistband of her leggings and underwear, I break away from her mouth briefly, dragging them from her body. Discarding them onto the floor, I know the sooner I’m buried inside of her the better. I unbuckle my belt and open my dress pants before shoving my underwear lower. My cock strains for her desperately.

Bella reaches out, stroking me a few times before I brush her hand away and crawl onto the bed, fitting myself between her legs. She unfastens the buttons of my dress shirt while I hover above her body, but her movements are too slow for me. Unable to wait any longer with desperation surging through my veins, I glide my dick back and forth through her increasing arousal. My eyes close at the feeling before I thrust inside her. At Bella’s gasp, my eyes open and I freeze in place.

Searching her face, I whisper, “Okay?”

Her chest heaves, and she smiles, pushing open my shirt victoriously. “Yes.”

Flush against her, I wiggle my arms free from my dress shirt, then clutch her hips. “I need to—”

“Fuck me.” She finishes my sentence, because apparently, that’s what we’re doing now. “Do you honestly think I don’t know that?”

Bella knows. Of course, she does. Sometimes I just need to fuck her. Having her like this, it clears my mind and rights everything in my world.

“Hold on tight,” I warn. “I’ll—”

“Take care of me later?” She arches an eyebrow in challenge.

“I forgot. You’re a mind reader,” I tease, ghosting my lips in the valley between her breasts, leaving a kiss there. Just when I think it’s impossible to love her more, I do. “I promise, I’ll take care of you forever.”

“How can I turn down a deal like that?” Her eyebrows lift and she smirks.

At the first roll of my hips, the smirk on her lips fades and her mouth falls open.

“Mmmm.” I hum at how incredible she feels.

With the increasing pounding of my hips, she holds onto me tighter. Her nails scratch along my back, sending a shiver through me. I can’t get enough of her addictive moans that echo throughout our bedroom until my diligent efforts prompt her body to still and I feel her tighten around me. My own movements become more determined, and with a final thrust, I release a low growl, tipping over the edge, losing myself inside of her.

While I attempt to catch my breath, I ask between kisses, “Are you okay?”

Bella smiles. “Yeah, you don’t need to worry about later.”

“I guess, I’m just that good.” I grin, then kiss the tip of her nose.

After shifting our positions, she nestles against my side and rests her hand on my chest. Wrapping my arm around her, I release a few deep breaths, tracing along her arm mindlessly, then leave a kiss on the top of her head.

“I love you. Thank you.”

She turns her face upward and presses another kiss against my lips. “I love you too. How do you feel now?”

“Much better.”

We settle into a comfortable silence while her fingers trace my tattoos, avoiding the new one. My eyes close and I fight off letting anyone else into my thoughts until I can no longer shut them out.

Clearing my throat, I ask, “Do you think Mom’s asleep?”

Bella pauses her movements. “Yeah. We talked for a while. She vented, which sometimes is all that’s needed—someone to listen. I-I don’t think she’s had anyone like that for a while, not even her sister. Maybe years? Then Esme went upstairs to soak in a hot bath. I gave her a pair of pajamas and suggested she rest in one of the bedrooms after she finished. Your mom looked as if she hadn’t slept in days. I made some tea earlier and that could have helped her relax a little.”

I nod. “I’ll check on her after you go to work. Have you been able to sleep?”

Bella shrugs. “A little. I napped. I’ll be fine. Were you able to sleep on the plane?”

“No. Actually, the opposite.” I release a heavy breath in frustration. “I’m so . . . mad and disappointed in him. Mom has been his biggest advocate. If she’s given up—”

“Hey, I don’t think she has, despite what she may say.” Bella’s voice softens. “She thinks he doesn’t love her anymore and that her marriage could be over.”

“What do you think?”

Bella bends her arm to support her head, weaving her fingers through her hair. “While love is a part of their marriage, it wasn’t built on love, but family, which is fascinating when that’s how you refer to people in your sport. You all found what you needed in each other. Your mom found a husband and companion. You and Rose found a dad. Carlisle found a wife and became a parent. Families give us a sense of belonging and yours contributed to your success. A lot like your hockey team working toward a common goal.”

My eyes shift to hers as I consider her words, knowing our marriage will be built on love, but that isn’t the case for everyone. “I never thought of it that way.”

Bella continues. “Your goal of getting into the league sustained you and your dad for your entire childhood. It was such a double-edged sword. Everything that Carlisle wanted for you to achieve is also the very same thing that took you away from him. It’s the danger of actually attaining a goal of that nature.”

I nod. “Be careful what you wish for?”

“Exactly.” She smiles. “When his experience with scouting and player development wasn’t needed for you any longer, Carlisle found himself scrambling to remain relevant in your life. Sure, he could continue to help other youth players, but your dad wanted to help you. Unfortunately, he found Jacob or probably Jacob found him.”

“I would guess the latter,” I conclude.

Bella’s head bobs with agreement. “Your absence left behind a gap in his life and he didn’t know what to do with that. So, he filled it with the rush that comes from gambling. From my experience, Carlisle has a very controlling personality, especially when it comes to you. He was probably confident that he could control his gambling at first and won more than lost, but now he’s so far from that. Carlisle has not only lost money, but also trust. He broke Esme’s trust first. He took advantage of Rose’s trust and her generosity. And now your relationship with him is hanging by a thread.”

I huff. “That’s a charitable assessment.”

“Then you stepped in and took over providing for everyone financially, which meant Carlisle no longer had to be accountable to anyone.”

“If I hadn’t—”

“I understand,” Bella reassures. “But he needs accountability. The three of you are the most important people in his life. You forgave him over and over without a single change in his behavior. Every time—despite what he says—Carlisle falls back into his old habits. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking. I don’t know how he can ever earn any of your trust back.”

“It’s certainly not by questioning the paternity of my child,” I quip.

She smiles. “I agree, but with the strain of your relationship prior to finding out, he has no idea Pumpkin was planned.”

I shake my head. “It shouldn’t matter. He should be happy that he’s going to be a grandfather again. End of story. He had no problem with Emmett and Rose’s kids. Why am I treated differently?”

“I think you know the answer to that.”

“Do I? Why do you think so?”

“Because he’s living vicariously through you. You’re living his dream—a dream he’s fostered in you. He values hockey above and beyond anything else. That includes your mother and your family.” Bella pauses, letting her words sink in for a moment.

“I’ve been living my dream too,” I admit.

“But your life is . . . evolving into more now, which includes not only hockey, but also Pumpkin and me. He had squashed those possibilities of ever taking root in your past by orchestrating constant instability in your personal life with Jacob’s help. He planted seeds of doubt in your relationships or your position with your teams at the time, making you more agreeable to move elsewhere.”

We’re quiet, and the hurt of Dad’s betrayal resurfaces again while I search through my memories of signs I missed throughout the years with Tanya, Bree, Heidi, and Chelsea. Did he or Jake or both manipulate the end of those relationships?

I’m lost in thought when Bella’s voice breaks through and her eyes find mine. “Your mom mentioned needing to go back over there this morning to get a few things.”

“Absolutely not,” I state unwaveringly. “We’ll buy whatever she needs.”

She sighs. “Edward. Your mom wants her things. I have no idea how long she will stay with us, but I told her she was welcome for as long as she needs.”

“Well, she’s not going without me then. And I don’t want you or Rose around him either. Maybe you’re right.”

Bella’s brow furrows. “About what?”

“I spent my time on the plane thinking about our options with Jake, and your mention of how Dad hasn’t been accountable makes me think I could have a plan to handle both.”

“Okay. Keep going,” she encourages.

“What if I sell their house and offer the money in a buyout to Jake to end our relationship immediately, on the contingency of him signing a post-contract, non-disclosure agreement? He only cares about money, and I don’t want him sabotaging me going forward. We part ways and neither says a thing about the other. If he did, then he would have to surrender the money. The sale of their home would be nearly the same amount he would have made if I had taken the Calgary or Vancouver deals.”

Bella frowns. “So, he wins again. Jacob shouldn’t get another dollar from you. How do you know that you haven’t been overlooked for sponsorship deals in the past because of him? Or other opportunities? What about that lost income?”

My eyes find hers. “I don’t know that’s the case. Trust me, I don’t want to do it, but I want to find the exit for him. And by selling the house, I’ll no longer support my parents, making both of them accountable. Then they will be living within their means without my involvement. Maybe they can find something like your townhouse or a condo nearby.”

“You’re going to end Esme’s stipend?” she asks with a touch of disbelief.

“I don’t want to do that, but if we’re talking about real change, I need to step back from their financial situation completely,” I conclude.

There’s the possibility that I could offer Mom the job of a live-in nanny for Pumpkin, but that’s a discussion for another time since I’m not sure how receptive Bella will be to the idea. I suspect it’s something we’ll need, if I continue to play and she returns to her practice after Pumpkin’s birth.

Bella tilts her head in question. “What about Rose and Emmett?”

“I’ve been thinking about them too. I could give them their house, but I’ll be responsible for gift taxes, and that doesn’t seem fair to my parents, considering how I plan to use the money from selling their house. Another option is to sell them the house, which is probably the best option, and one they’ll most likely accept. I should touch base with Adam and see what he thinks.”

“Seems reasonable. Will your parents be upset about moving?”

I shrug. “Mom mentioned that she would like something smaller. I don’t believe they are tied to the home emotionally. Maybe I can talk with her about down-sizing or pose its sale as a fresh start for them somewhere else.”

Bella smiles. “You’ve been thinking a lot.”

“My flight was long and I’ve been listening to my fiancée.” I shift to kiss her lips. “I trust her advice.”

“What about the house in Aspen?”

“We could get married there.”

She gasps at my suggestion. Probably not the direction Bella thought this conversation was going, and I’m not sure if it’s a good gasp or not. But I continue to pose my follow up questions.

“What if we set a date for the wedding? Maybe this summer?”

“Wow. I walked right into that one. I don’t . . .” she starts, then looks away. “I don’t want you to think I’m . . .”

I squeeze her against my side, prompting her to continue. “What?”

“You’ll probably think it’s silly.”

“Tell me,” I encourage.

“I don’t want to look pregnant in our wedding photos,” Bella reveals. “What if we wait until after Pumpkin is here?”

“So, not this summer when we know I’ll be off?” I clarify.

“No, not this summer. I’m sorry. I know that’s what you were probably hoping for, but it’s likely I’ll be showing by then.”

“Don’t apologize. We can wait.”

I try to hide my disappointment in the possibility of waiting almost a year and a half. There’s also a chance I could retire and not play next season, which would open up my schedule after Pumpkin is born. In that case, we could get married at the end of this year around the holidays. We might be able to do that anyway during our Christmas break. My family will be in Aspen and we could honeymoon there too, making the most of my time off.

“It isn’t because I don’t want to be married,” Bella adds. “But I don’t want to rush anything. I want us to enjoy the process of both our wedding and my pregnancy with Pumpkin’s development, just not at the same time. I’m positive there will be an adjustment once Pumpkin arrives too. I’m busy with work and my mom—”

“Hey, it’s okay. We’ll figure it out. I want you to know that I just need you.” I press a kiss against her forehead. “Anything else is a bonus.”

“You don’t want your teammates there?” Bella asks.

“It would be nice, but not necessary.”

She sighs. “I want my mom there. So, there’s a chance my ideal timeline could be a complete bust with how the next months shake out.”

“I want you to have whatever day you envision,” I promise.

“It’s not because I don’t want to be married to you,” Bella repeats reassuringly.

I grin. “I heard that part. We could elope.” Now. I don’t add that part out loud.

“Let’s keep that in our back pocket as Plan B, depending on my mother’s health.”

There’s scratching at our bedroom door, and I suspect Scout could be at his limit for being shut out.

“Someone is at the door. I think I know who.” Bella giggles. “Are you going to open it?”

I kiss her waiting puckered lips. “Fine. I’ll let him in.”

Reluctantly easing from our bed, I slide on my boxer briefs, walk across the room, then open the door to find both Scout and Shadow waiting.

“Get in here you two.”

Scout wags his tail with an I-told-you-so attitude that Bella wants him in here. He follows Shadow, jumping on the bed.

“Hey, sweeties,” Bella coos, petting them while I retake my spot. “I’m not sure what time it is, but I need to take my shower soon.”

“I’m not done cuddling. We all need at least thirty more minutes with you.”

She grins. “I think I can swing that.”


With our contented little family settled in place, I relish the happiness of us being here together. Unfortunately, the time ticks away too quickly, and Bella reluctantly emerges from under the covers, slipping into our bathroom. I consider joining her, but take Scout and Shadow for an early walk instead.

Once Bella is showered and ready for work, she meets me in the kitchen where I’m fixing her travel mug, and Rose is sitting across from me at the kitchen island.

“Good morning,” she says, leaving her messenger bag and purse on the counter.

With both hands clutching a coffee-filled mug, Rose returns Bella’s smile. “Morning.”

“How are you two doing?” Bella looks between us.

Rose shrugs, but my lack of sleep is starting to catch up with me.

“Tired,” I share.

“Understandable. Maybe you can get a nap this morning,” she suggests, then jerks her chin toward the bakery box. “What’s in there? I’m sensing goodness.”

“Doughnuts,” I answer, prompting her eyes to light up. “It was always Mom’s answer for a tough day when we were young. She would stop by Tim Horton’s and pick up Timbits for us.”

I glance at Rose who keeps staring at her mug, undoubtedly remembering some of those rough days growing up.

Bella’s eyebrows lift. “Timbits?”

“Doughnut holes. It’s your kind of place with doughnuts and coffee all-day.” I wink.

“I’m supposed to believe that you ate doughnut holes?” Bella teases.

“I was young and didn’t take nutrition seriously then, as I do now.” After a small shrug, I expand on the reason for its presence. “I stopped by a bakery that was open on the way home from the airport. They’re fresh and probably still warm.”

“Well, I promise you they won’t go to waste. I’ll do my part and eat yours. Pumpkin will approve.” Bella’s smile widens.

I watch as she opens the box, pops a doughnut hole into her mouth, then selects a chocolate doughnut.

“These aren’t the same as the ones from Tim Horton’s,” I hedge. “But . . .”

“I’m sure they’re close enough. Your mom will appreciate the sentiment.” Bella hums in satisfaction, finishing her mouthful before taking a bite. “Mmmm. These are great. What’s in my mug? Tea?”

“Yeah.” I add the lid, then slide it over to her. “Um, I plan to take Mom over to the house once she wakes up and is ready.”

“I’m going with you,” Rose states. “If he’s there, I have a few things to say.”

I nod, knowing I do too.

“Well, I’m off to work.” Bella reaches for her travel mug. “Don’t worry, Rose. We’ll be fine without you today. You’ve trained us well.”

“If you need anything, call me,” Rose offers.

Bella nods. “Good luck this morning.”

Rose shares a small smile. “Thanks.”

“I’ll walk you out.” I grab her purse and messenger bag, ready to follow her outside for a few moments alone.

“Okay.” Bella grins, then leans down to scratch behind Scout’s ears. “Have a good day, buddy. I’m certain there will be plenty of naps in your plans. I hope you find a great sunspot today.”

After she presses a kiss on the top of his head, he licks her cheek and follows as she stops to repeat her goodbye with Shadow, who is perched on the back of the couch in the great room. As she finishes her doughnut, I follow her down the hallway, out to the garage, and tuck Bella with her things into the Spider. Cupping her head gently, we share a few chocolate-flavored kisses before she starts the engine and I wish her a good day.

This morning’s trip to my parents’ home would be easier with her by my side. I’m hopeful any discussion with Dad to clear the air between us is a step in the right direction, especially since the time is overdue to make him aware of the changes I’m making.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

I watch as Mom enters her security code into the keypad and the garage door lifts slowly, revealing Dad’s car. Rose and I share a worried look before she starts toward the back door with Mom following behind her. Blowing out a heavy breath, I’m reluctant to follow them, second-guessing this decision, and wondering if it’s too soon for me to be here.

“Edward?” Rose prompts.

Fuck it. I’m in a better mental place than I was when I lost my cool at our practice rink. Maybe I can say today what I should have said then.

“Yeah. Right behind you,” I reassure, because I’m not letting them go in there to face him alone.

After stepping into the kitchen, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I’m surprised to find Dad sitting at the table with a coffee mug in front of him. There are faded marks and bruising on his face.

“Well, if it isn’t my family.” His condescending tone is already off-putting. “What a surprise.”

His gaze lands on me undoubtedly recalling my last threat not to come near or talk to me, but like Rose, I have a few things to say.

“So much for boundaries. I guess it is your house. Here to take another shot at me?” He goads, but I don’t respond.

“I want to get a few of my things,” Mom states.

“Right. And you two?”

“I want my money,” Rose says.

“We all want things. Unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want, do we Edward? Or are you the exception?” His eyes narrow when he spots the ring on my left hand. “What the fuck are you wearing?”

“An engagement ring. I’m engaged.” I shake my head with frustration. “This is pointless. Mom, just go get your stuff.”

“No.” Her eyes shift from Dad to us. “Let’s . . . we’re all here. Maybe we can talk this out. At least for you two.”

His attitude is pissing me off and his attention shifts to Rose.

“I don’t have your money. So, move on.”

I snort and mumble, “Obviously.”

“How about we take a seat?” Mom suggests, waving toward their small kitchen table.

Once we’re seated, Rose looks over at me, and I nod for her to continue, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

“I can’t move on until we settle this. I’ve let it go for too long,” Rose says. “The money wasn’t a gift. Em and I need it back.”

“Can you prove it wasn’t a gift? You can’t.” Dad crosses his arms across his chest. “I didn’t sign a thing.”

“You made me believe you were in trouble and that you would pay us back.” Rose points at him and her voice trembles. “I trusted you to do the right thing.”

“So what?” He brushes her off. “Are you going to sue me for it? I don’t think so. Move. On.”

The callousness of his tone adds to my growing anger.

“Don’t speak to her like that,” I demand.

“Carlisle,” Mom says with a soft warning.

He huffs. “Don’t Carlisle me. I don’t have her money. It’s gone.”

“Which is part of an ongoing problem,” Mom adds. “When are you going to realize that?”

“Is this your feeble attempt at an intervention?” His eyes shift around the table to each of us before landing on me.

“Far from it. We can’t help someone who doesn’t want it. I’m simply here to share that I’m making changes, which will affect each of you. I met with Adam and Steve recently. Bella is now my primary beneficiary and also my power of attorney,” I reveal.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” He points at me. “You’re a fucking idiot.”

“Carlisle!” Mom raises her voice.

Undeterred, he continues. “She’s going to bleed you dry. Mark my words.”

“I don’t think that holds much weight coming from you when I saved your ass too many times to count. You’re lucky you aren’t sitting in a jail cell,” I remind him.

“Edward!” Mom shifts her gaze to me, still choosing to be selective with her memories.

“What?” I shrug, knowing how I covered for him over the years in a variety of ways. “It’s true. And without me, you wouldn’t have a roof over your head. How sad is that? When is it going to stop? I’ll tell you—today. You want boundaries? I’ve got more for you. I’m selling this house.”

Dad’s eyes narrow at those words. “You ungrateful asshole. After everything we did for you—she put you up to this, didn’t she?”

“Not at all.” I jab my thumb toward my chest. “This is my idea.”

“Right.” He rolls his eyes in disbelief.

“I gave Jake his ninety-day notice, and if I can end his contract sooner, I will. Whatever arrangement you made with him all these years, don’t be surprised when it ends abruptly. I know that you have been working together, trying to split us up, and I have some bad news for you. Despite your best efforts, it isn’t going to work and it ends now.” I warn, “Leave. Us. Alone.”

Dad snorts, reaching for his coffee mug. “Thinking with your dick again, I see.”

“No, I’m not.” Fresh rage flows through me, and it’s taking every bit of control to resist the urge to fly across this table, connecting my fist with his face for that comment.

After a sip, he slams down his cup and huffs. “Forgive me for wanting to spare everyone heartbreak when this relationship goes wrong, like all the others. If you’re willing to turn your back on your family, then she must be some piece of pus—”



“Finish that sentence and there’s only one way this conversation will end,” I threaten, gripping the edge of the table while I wait for him to continue. James isn’t here to save him this time. When he finds an ounce of self-preservation by not responding, I state, “You. You were the problem in my relationships—your meddling. You’ve been doing it my entire career, haven’t you?”

He laughs.

He has the fucking nerve to laugh at me.

“Keep telling yourself that and maybe someday you’ll figure out the common factor of those failed relationships is the guy you see in the mirror every morning.”

“I’m warning you right now to butt the fuck out or this will be our last interaction. And just for clarification, Bella’s pregnancy was planned—planned. Did you hear that? Or do I need to repeat myself?”

“You’re such a fucking fool.” Dad shakes his head. “When are you going to learn?”

“Believe it or not, it’s possible for the all-knowing Carlisle Cullen to be wrong. And you’ve got this one so wrong. Bella isn’t some puck bunny, wanting my money or status. She couldn’t give a shit about either. I’m not being trapped into this relationship. Bella is a fucking dentist with her own practice. She went to school for more years than you can comprehend and doesn’t need me to support her financially.” Like you—I don’t say. “If anything, I’ll probably need her.”

“How much do you really know about her after, what, months?” he asks with a dismissive tone despite everything I’ve just said. “It’s too fast and you’re ignoring the warning signs. They’re all there.”

Shaking my head, I blow out a heavy breath. “I know enough. I’ll never forget that I’m the lucky one here. Bella is out of my league, not the other way around. She’s smarter than anyone in this room, especially me. I stop pucks for a living. That’s it. Any trained monkey can do what I do. Isn’t that what you always said? Always reminding me that I’m nothing special. I’m replaceable. I need to be better than everyone else because there’s always someone waiting to take my place.”

“Not everyone can do what you do,” Dad admits, but it’s far from a compliment.

“This isn’t about Bella or any ulterior motives. You’re using her as an excuse when this is really about you and me.” As my next words get caught in my throat, it takes everything I have to force them out. “I trusted you. Past tense. Let that sink in. I trusted you and you betrayed me. It’s incredibly sad how those who we love the most, know exactly how to hurt us the worst. I did everything you asked of me.”

“Edward,” Rose says softly.

Mom sniffles from the other side of me, brushing away the fresh tears rolling down her cheeks.

I look at the pathetic man across from me and shake my head. “Not anymore. I’m done defending my decisions to you. If you can’t accept them or care enough about my happiness by supporting us, then there’s nothing else to say here or in the future. I don’t have room in my life for your bullshit,” I declare, and wait for any response, but he only stares at the table. I nod my acceptance of his silence and where we stand, then shift my focus to Mom and Rose. “You two say or gather what you need. I’ll be outside waiting.”

Pushing away from the table, my chair scrapes loudly across the tile, and I exit through the back door, slamming it shut. After stepping out of the garage, I remove my phone from my pocket. I tap the screen, lean against Rose’s Suburban, and wait for the call to connect.