A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Invisible,” Hunter Hayes
(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) /\ \
Wednesday night at American Airlines Center, I watch as Stefan leads everyone through the tunnel and out onto the ice for warmups. He takes the first lap around our end of the ice on his own, as part of tradition for his official league debut. I remember mine in Minnesota, and there’s nothing quite like it—to know that the culmination of all the hard work, sacrifice, and patience is paying off finally. With Ben as a healthy scratch, I’ll be on the bench in backup tonight, and I’m the last one to step onto the ice.
This game against Arizona is part of our “Hockey is for Everyone” planned nights. We’re wearing special pride warmup jerseys with rainbow tape on our sticks. Everything will be autographed and auctioned off after the game to raise money for the charity we’re highlighting tonight, the “You Can Play Project,” which encourages LGBTQ+ participation in sports.
At our morning skate, the organizers of tonight’s event announced that we will be giving a matching donation of whatever is raised tonight. They showed us the special Pride scarf giveaway for the first ten-thousand fans, which is cool, and I’m a little disappointed they won’t let me snag my own. The concession stands are selling a multi-colored popcorn and a frozen rainbow drink while other drinks will be served in a “Love Wins” souvenir cup. It’s a big night, and the support behind it is at every level of our organization.
I’m all about fostering the love of hockey in everyone. As allies, we will always continue to combat the hate that our friends and their community battle on a daily basis by creating safe spaces of equality and inclusivity—on and off the ice. It’s also about visibility, and no one is more visible than Stefan tonight. I hope that those around the league and the younger players will be encouraged to pursue their passion for this sport by his example.
Once I shared with Bella that Stefan would be making his debut on this special night, she was immediately on the phone with Al and Garrett, inviting them to attend. They’re in one of our larger suites, as their guest list expanded quickly with plenty of people who have never been to a hockey game before tonight’s. With Al involved, there was talk about putting together gift bags and finding a unique Instagram worthy wall for photos. I’m sure it’s quite the celebration up in their suite, and I have no doubt they’re rocking those scarves as well.
As I’m scanning for Bella in the mix of people I see standing near the seats overlooking the ice, I hear someone yell, “Spider!” Once I realize it’s coming from the other side of the ice where Arizona is warming up, there’s no containing my chuckle at my fellow backup goaltender near the center ice line. I skate over to where Sean Smith finishes a few stretches and kneel next to him.
“Hey, Smitty. How are you doing?”
“You know me. I can’t believe they’re still paying me to be here.” Sean is a few years older than me, hoping to squeeze out another season or two in the league before retiring. “I mean, what else am I going to do? Hockey is in my blood.”
“Right? How did we get so lucky?”
He smiles. “How’s life in Dallas?”
I grin, wishing I could share that I’m going to be a dad, but tell him my other news instead. “Great. I got engaged recently.”
I nod. “She’s a dentist.”
“And before you ask, we met exactly how you suspect we did.”
“Who knocked out your teeth?”
“My nephew while we were playing in my sister’s driveway,” I reply to more of his hearty laughter.
“After all these years behind the mask? That’s great.” He shakes his head. “Congratulations on your engagement. I’m happy for you.”
“Is your locker room buzzing going into the trade deadline? Only a few days left, but speculation is heating up.”
“Not really. I think we’re all trying to tune out any distractions.”
“You’re safe, right?” he asks.
“Yeah. I’m not going anywhere. Vegas expressed some interest back in November after a game with Chicago, but I passed and they went after Liam instead.”
I don’t say a word about Vancouver or Calgary since they haven’t made any moves to add any new goaltenders once I removed my name from any discussion surrounding those teams. Sean would probably be a good fit for either team being originally from Western Canada.
“How about you?” I ask curiously.
“There are rumblings. I don’t have one of those fancy clauses like you. I suppose we’ll see how everything shakes out. I gotta go where they send me. My wife and kids like Arizona.” He shrugs and nods toward Stefan. “You’ve got a rookie in net tonight?”
“It’s his debut.”
“He looks good. Where have you been hiding him?”
I chuckle. “Austin. Everyone is hopeful he could be the future here.”
“Big Ben is a healthy scratch tonight?”
“Well, good luck.”
“You too. If you get moved, let’s hope it’s for a contender.”
“Always. I’m looking forward to watching your rookie. I saw his numbers—six-five, two-twenty. He’s a big guy. Nice and fluid with that size. And an impressive save percentage hovering around nine-three-four the past few years.”
“That was college. You know life in this league is different. Hopefully, once he gets that first save, he’ll settle into tonight’s game.”
“I’m sure he will. Later, Spider. Or should I say, Coach yet? Your rookie will probably like having you in his ear tonight.”
“Not yet.” I grin. “I think they want to see how he performs without anything from me. See ya, Smitty.”
Once the puck drops with the game underway, I watch from my spot on the bench, as Stefan makes his first save, and release a breath of relief. He is tested early and often, but it’s while we’re on a power play when Vladdy breaks through first, scoring within seconds of being on the advantage.
After returning to even strength, Tyler steals the puck, carries it into the zone, but shoots and misses, rebounding with a loud clang off the post. James is there in the middle of the crowded crease and sneaks the puck past their goaltender for his three-hundredth goal. Our bench and the entire arena go crazy realizing its significance, but everyone’s excitement fades when the play goes under review. We’re all disappointed once the ref announces that we were offside, removing his goal from the scoreboard. James isn’t deterred, declaring with complete confidence that he’ll get it back.
With Stefan making clean stops, he doesn’t allow any rebounds while Arizona continues their onslaught, hoping to reveal his weak spots with the placement of every puck. I’m not sure what type of support he’s used to from the bench in Austin, but I share my reassurances occasionally, as I always do with Ben during the television timeouts. Stefan is responsive to any insight I provide, and his confidence grows as the game continues.
We’re still ahead one-zero in the second period when James hits Arizona’s captain while going for the puck. He gets called for boarding on the hit. The penalty is assessed as intentional, which warrants a five-minute major rather than the typical two-minute minor. Coach is livid, screaming his displeasure at the call. I don’t hear the exact wording, but James also gives the ref an earful, which triggers an additional ten-minute game misconduct.
Without James, our penalty kill units struggle, blocking shots until Stefan loses sight of the puck. With two of their players in front of him, the puck sails past into the upper left corner to tie the game one-one. Thankfully, we drain the rest of the clock ending their advantage.
At even strength, a stray puck flies into our bench. Without a second thought, I reflexively position my glove, catching it from where I’m sitting to the laughter of everyone around me. I toss it over the glass to a young fan.
Vladdy teases, “Spider can’t let Sly have the spotlight for one night.”
“It’s not my fault pucks find me,” I counter. “And don’t you have goals to score?”
At the sound of the whistle stopping play, Vladdy hops over the boards for a shift change and grins. “Yeah, I do.”
When Arizona is called for a hooking penalty, we return to the power play. Shifting the puck quickly around the ice, we create the perfect opportunity and Vladdy elevates the puck past their goaltender, putting us ahead two-one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long when Stefan moves too far outside of the crease to challenge an attacking shooter. A deflected rebound leaves him scrambling and unable to keep the puck out of the net with Arizona tying the game at the end of the second period two-two.
James returns to the game in the third period, and I watch as Vladdy carries the puck into the zone, slowing down the tempo. We maintain control, passing the puck while looking for opportunities for other shots. Vladdy passes the puck to Demir, standing at our blue line, and he fires a slap shot, which rockets past their goaltender. Music blasts and everyone celebrates his goal, putting us up three-two.
With two and a half minutes remaining in the third period, Arizona pulls their goaltender, sending an extra attacker onto the ice. Stefan maintains his composure under constant pressure, making saves as time runs out and the final horn blows. He raises his arms in victory, and we exit the bench, ready to congratulate him on his first win. It’s no surprise that Stefan is the first star of the game followed by Vladdy, then Arizona’s goaltender.
Once we’re gathered in the locker room, I overhear one of our assistant coaches explain that with St. Louis’s loss in regulation tonight and our win, we are even with them in the standings. I’m removing the last of my pads when everyone quiets and Coach enters the room.
“Nice job tonight, especially both power play units. Not much else to say other than the future of Texas hockey looks bright. Congratulations, Sly, on your first win. Enjoy this moment. They don’t get any easier from here, but you did great.”
“Thanks, Coach.” Stefan grins.
“Make sure you stick around for a few photos. Thirty-nine saves on forty-one shots is exceptional.” He pauses, turning toward our goaltending coach. “What’s his save percentage for tonight?”
Coach nods his approval. “We’ll expect more of that in the future. The media would like to speak with Sly, Cap, and Vladdy tonight. Finish your workouts; I’ll see you all on the ice in the morning. Good night and get some rest. We’ve got more work to do.”
Everyone shuffles out of the locker room, as Coach waves reporters inside.
Stefan moves closer and whispers, “Spider, will you stay?”
Looking at his hopeful expression, I nod. “Sure.”
The reporters gather around James first with cell phones extended and a television camera recording while I sit between Stefan and Vladdy.
“James, how does this win tonight compare with others?” someone asks.
He runs a hand through his sweaty hair. “It’s always nice to get a win. Each one is different.”
“What about the call on your hit?”
“Obviously, I disagreed with the call.” Everyone laughs, and James continues. “The hit probably looked worse than it actually was. We were both going for the puck and he turned toward the boards. He finished the game. So, clearly he was able to play.”
Another reporter questions, “Are you happy with how your team is playing at this point in the schedule?”
James uses the towel around his neck to wipe his face before answering. “There are always things we can improve. We have two important games coming up before we’re on the road again. It’s nice to be home, but we can’t ever get too comfortable.”
“Do you prepare any differently for St. Louis?”
“No.” James shakes his head. “At the beginning of the season, we knew they would be here this time of year. Our remaining games are against a lot of teams who are in the playoff hunt or fighting for a wild card spot. They bring a different energy to the ice. When you look at the standings, there are also other teams who are already out of the picture and looking toward rebuilding with the deadline approaching. But we’re fighting for a spot too. Nothing is guaranteed. We’ll go after every two points we can bank between now and then, hoping it’s enough.”
At his mention, I’m not surprised when someone pounces on the subject. “Any worries going into the trade deadline?”
He releases a deep breath. “We aren’t immune from the discussions around the league, but we leave that to the folks upstairs. My job every time we step on the ice is to win with whoever is out there. We’re happy we could get this one for Sly tonight. He’s ready to step into this league and we’ll do our job in front of him, putting goals on the scoreboard.”
Our team photographer encourages James to stand with Stefan, who is holding a game puck marked with his first win.
After a one-armed hug and congratulations, James turns to him, “Sly, they’re all yours.” With a pat to his back, James exits the locker room for his post-game workout.
Stefan blows out a heavy breath, waiting for their questions.
“How was your first game?” one of the reporters asks.
With a hesitant smile, Stefan replies, “I was busy. Um . . . especially in the first period. I think half of their shots happened then.”
“What did you see on the two goals that slipped past you?”
“Uh . . . the first one, I didn’t see.” He chuckles nervously. “The replay showed a wrist shot with a double screen. Spider says if you can’t see it, you can’t stop it. He’s right. I lost track of the puck. The second goal . . . I was too far outside of the crease. My mistake. The puck was deflected, then they pounced on the rebound.”
“It’s gotta be easier having a veteran like Edward on the bench,” someone suggests.
His eyes find mine for a moment and I nod encouragingly.
“Yeah. Spider brings a wealth of knowledge and talent to the ice every game. Everyone in this league respects him. He even made a save from where he sat on the bench tonight.”
I shake my head as everyone laughs.
“It felt great knowing he was there. I don’t see him wanting to hang up his skates, but if he did as a player, he could be one of the most sought-after goaltending coaches in the league. He’s a great communicator, making suggestions during our breaks that may not have registered in the moment. Spider sees things that others miss.”
Vladdy nudges me at the thought, knowing his agreement while Stefan continues.
“My thanks to Spider and Big Ben, plus the other guys on the team. Everyone has been incredibly supportive. I represent what this night means to so many unique voices. Making this game as my debut is something I won’t forget. I did my best and hope to contribute more in the future.”
Vladdy stands, and the reporters gather around him, while I motion for Stefan to follow me off to the side.
He looks relieved that their questions are over and whispers, “How did I do?”
“Great.” I wave Ben over to join us from where he’s waiting nearby. “Let’s get some photos of your first win.”
As Ben and I pose for shots with Stefan, I listen to the reporters asking Vladdy about the game. He doesn’t do a lot of media with worries that his English isn’t good enough, but I know that just isn’t the case.
“Vladdy, what did this team do right tonight?” one of the reporters asks.
“Uh . . . once we got through half of first period, we controlled the game. Our penalty kill did good with Cap’s major. We struggled with it in the past. It’s big job without him, but nice to have good night,” Vladdy confirms.
“Were you impressed with Stefan’s debut?”
He nods. “Sly is the future. Hockey is for everyone, but tonight, not Coyotes.”
I can’t keep from laughing at his comment, which grabs his attention.
“Spider, what?” Vladdy grins. “I said it wrong?”
“No, that’s perfect,” I confirm, mirroring his expression.
Vladdy’s smile widens, then he listens patiently to another question.
“Any comment on other teams pulling away from their scheduled Pride nights? Some players, including your fellow Russians from around the league, are refusing to wear special warmup jerseys due to religious beliefs or values.”
“Jesus would wear Pride jersey,” Vladdy states, then shakes his head. “They won’t wear warmup jerseys, but they will work on Sabbath? Makes no sense. It is simple decision for me. I choose to include.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
With the arrival of Thursday afternoon, I’m on my way to Lone Star Dental to pick up Bella after dropping her off at work this morning. The meeting with her parents and the cancer survivor is rescheduled for next week due a last minute conflict. I had practice this morning, then my own “meeting” to pick up this beauty. Gliding my fingers over the steering wheel in appreciation, there’s no denying it drives like a dream, and I hope she loves it.
After pulling into the parking lot of her office, I leave the SUV idling and slide from the driver’s side. Bella texted she would be waiting by the door, and she steps outside when she notices my arrival. I smile, meeting her on the passenger side.
Bella approaches with a questioning look. “Hey.”
“Hello, beautiful.” I leave a soft kiss on her lips and grin. “Eager?”
“A little.” She waves toward the large vehicle. “What is this?”
“A surprise. We’re trying out something new today. Since my truck and the Spider are two-seaters, they won’t work once Pumpkin arrives. We need something else.”
“Right,” she says skeptically. “And this is . . .?”
“A Bentley Bentayga.”
“A Bentley.” Her eyes narrow. “How much is it?”
“We’re not going to focus on that right now. It’s powerful and fun to drive. I think you’re going to like it. Probably love it,” I answer carefully, avoiding her question.
“Edward, how much?” she presses.
“It’s on the higher end. They start at two-hundred . . . thousand,” I disclose reluctantly.
Her eyes widen. “Um, excuse me? Is that dollars?”
“Holy shit.” Bella gasps, shaking her head. “I’m not driving a two-hundred thousand dollar vehicle.”
“It’s actually more with the options, but I need to know that you and Pumpkin are safe.”
“This is crazy.”
“Crazy good. You’ll see,” I promise.
“Is a bodyguard included for that price?” she asks cheekily.
“Yes, but his availability is subject to the NHL’s calendar.” I wink, opening the rear passenger door. “There’s a car seat. Carmen reassured me it’s the safest infant carrier available. Check it out.”
Bella eyes me suspiciously while fighting a smile before glancing inside at the rear facing car seat. One of the guys at the dealership gave me a tutorial and installed it behind the driver’s side seat when I had no idea how to do it. I wanted her to see it in place, hoping it would ease her into this idea.
“Go ahead. Sit. Try it out,” I encourage, taking her messenger bag and purse from her hands.
Once she does, I recall a few of the selling points I learned from the salesman and experienced on the drive here.
“There’s extra leg room in the front seats, which I need. This one has the seat comfort package, which includes massaging and temperature sensing. Press that button,” I request.
At the start of gentle vibrations, Bella closes her eyes and her whole body visibly relaxes. There’s no keeping the smile off my face. She likes it.
“The headrest monitors are for movies or cartoons—whatever Pumpkin likes. It’s practically a limousine version of an SUV with every comfort you could imagine.”
Her eyes open and Bella traces the edge of the car seat lightly. “This is amazing, but the price tag is too much. It’s at least three times the cost of my parents’ home in Forks. And probably four or five times the cost of my car that they’re using now.”
I hate to play this card, but I’m going to use everything at my disposal.
“If your mom begins treatment in Houston, won’t you want to drive there on weekends?” This would be the perfect vehicle to keep you comfortable while you travel. If I’m available, I’ll drive us and you can rest,” I offer.
Her fingers trail over the buttery leather seats. “Well, I’ll admit it’s nice and feels incredible on my back, but you know how I feel about unnecessary extravagances.”
“And you know how I feel about making sure that you’re comfortable during and after your pregnancy. I always want to know that you’re safe. You deserve the best I can give you. I’m physically limited with what I can do for Pumpkin or you, but I can do this. Please, allow yourself to indulge in this luxury. We’ve worked hard to be able to afford a vehicle like this one.”
“Do I need to remind you that I’m still working on being able to afford something like this and not there yet? I doubt this would ever be a choice for me even if I could afford it. It’s just unreasonable to spend that kind of money on a car.”
“It’s an SUV. They’re more expensive,” I admit.
“An SUV then.”
I don’t like her worrying that her income alone is lacking in any way and remind her that we’re in this together, pooling our resources.
“This is about us and what our growing family needs.”
“And you selected this SUV without any input from me,” Bella states accusingly.
“Because I knew you wouldn’t consider it based on price alone. I’m trying to eliminate your stress or worries over decisions like this one. I can do that for you.”
Her eyes travel around the interior cautiously. “How long do we have before we need to make a decision?”
After contacting Adam, he made all the arrangements and I signed the papers today. So, this one is ours, but at this price, if there’s something Bella doesn’t like about it, I’m positive we can exchange it for a different one.
“As long as we need,” I answer, but I know I’ll have to come clean that we own it eventually.
I smile at her concession because she’s never an easy sell. “Ready for a test drive?”
“Yeah. We should get going so we aren’t late for our appointment.”
“Do you want to drive or move to the front passenger seat? You can stay in that spot, if you’re too comfy to move.”
She grins. “I think I’ll stay here. You can be my chauffeur.”
“With pleasure.” At my nod, I reach out, buckling her seatbelt, then pause to kiss her delicately. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Closing her door, I return to the driver’s seat, stowing her messenger bag and purse in the front passenger seat. I tap on the screen with the preprogrammed address for her doctor’s office that I had the salesman show me how to do and follow the turn-by-turn directions.
Bella visibly sinks into the seats and her eyes remain closed the entire trip. I keep an eye on her in the rear view mirror, and the smile on her face never disappears. Once we arrive, she doesn’t move, and I realize she’s asleep. After shutting off the engine, I grab her purse, reach between the seats, and squeeze her leg lightly.
“Hey, we’re here.”
Her eyes open at my prompting and she chuckles realizing what happened.
“I fell asleep?”
“Yeah. Are you ready to go inside?”
She nods, then stretches. “This was too good or maybe I’m just exhausted.”
I grin, knowing it’s probably a bit of both.
Exiting the vehicle, we walk inside hand-in-hand. This will be my first visit to an OBGYN, so I’m not sure what to expect. Once the office door closes behind me and Bella moves to the counter to check-in, everyone—every woman and child—pauses what they’re doing to watch us.
Maybe I didn’t think this through.
Scanning the room quickly while Bella speaks with the receptionist, I don’t see any looks of recognition, only curiosity. If anyone does realize who I am, there will be no keeping the news about our visit here contained. I should have at least worn a baseball cap or requested access through a different entrance.
After she’s checked-in, I guide Bella to a corner with a few empty chairs to wait, but I can still feel everyone’s eyes on us.
“Don’t you have forms to complete or anything?” I ask. “I’m your emergency contact, right?”
“Yes, you are, and I did it online to save time.” She lowers her voice, “I can’t wait to use the restroom. I’m noticing that’s becoming a reoccurring necessity—more frequent trips.”
I nod since I recall the app said that could be a new change. “Then you should go.”
“The receptionist said it wouldn’t be a long wait, and they will need a sample. I’ll be fine. I think they’ll take a blood sample too.” Bella scrunches her face. “My stomach has been off today.”
“Yeah. I couldn’t finish my lunch and stuck with the crackers Rose picked up for me, but I’m going to need something more substantial once we get home.”
Removing my phone from my pocket, I open the pregnancy app to review the expectations for our first visit, but I’m distracted by the updated fun facts.
“Hey . . .” I lean closer, tilting my phone screen toward her.
“Did you know Pumpkin is the size of a sweet pea now?” I whisper.
Bella grins. “No, I did not.”
“Pumpkin will double in size by next week,” I add, scrolling through the latest information. “It also says that Pumpkin is about to get cuter, like me.”
Her grin widens. “That’s possible?”
“I know, right?” Closing the app, I pocket my phone when it fails to hold my attention. “Are you nervous?”
“No. Should I be?”
“I don’t know how you’re so calm. I’m nervous,” I admit.
“You don’t look it.”
I shrug. “This is new for me.”
“Us,” she corrects.
“Okay, us. I’ve never been to a doctor like this.”
“Everything should be straightforward today. They are going to confirm what we already know,” Bella reassures.
“Still. It’s important. They’re all important, and it’s the first one.”
“Hey, you’re not missing a thing. I scheduled it so you could be here. We know that won’t always be possible with your travel.”
I sigh. “I want to be at all of them.”
Bella nods and slips her hand into mine, lacing our fingers together. Her touch puts me at ease instantly.
“You’re going to be a great dad. Do you have your questions ready?”
I shake my head. “I didn’t write anything down, if that’s what you’re asking. I was hoping that your questions are my questions. Or they would remind me of anything I want to know.”
“You’re cheating on your homework?” she teases.
Before I can answer, the door next to the check-in area opens and a woman scans the room. “Bella Swan?”
Bella holds up her hand. “That’s me.”
We stand, then follow her to a nurse’s station where the woman records Bella’s weight and hands her a cup for a urine sample. Once Bella disappears behind the restroom door, the woman focuses on me.
“First time dad?”
“Is it that obvious? Do I look petrified? Because that’s how I feel,” I joke.
“Not at all. Come with me. Bella will join you shortly,” she says, leading me down the hallway to an office, then waves toward the empty chairs on the opposite side of the desk. “Go ahead and have a seat.”
“Dr. Leone will be in soon.”
After sitting, I glance around the room with its standard office furnishings. Stacks of papers and medical journals fill every inch of space on the large desktop while a computer is angled off to the side. The bookshelves behind the desk pique my curiosity and I stand, moving closer to view the framed photos nestled between books. I conclude that the older woman in most of the family photos must be Bella’s doctor. She has a warm smile with dark black hair, brown eyes, and an olive-colored complexion.
The framed certificates on the wall nearby grab my attention next. “Renata Leone. Yale University School of Medicine,” I read aloud. “I think that’s in New Haven, Connecticut. I wonder what brought her to Dallas.”
“I fell in love.” A voice interrupts my musings with the answer. “And you’re right. It is located there.” I turn and notice the woman from the photos in the doorway. She offers me her hand. “Hello, I’m Dr. Leone.”
“Edward Cullen, Bella’s fiancé,” I state proudly while shaking her hand.
“It’s lovely to meet you. Please have a seat.” She waves toward the empty chair.
Dr. Leone settles into the rolling chair behind her desk. “I stopped by the nurse’s station to double-check Bella’s test results and congratulations are in order.”
“Thanks. My part here is easy,” I downplay.
“Being here is important. Don’t underestimate your presence. Unfortunately, not all women have supportive partners.” She shakes her head. “Before Bella joins us, I wanted to give us an opportunity to visit a little and for you to ask any questions without her present. Let me reassure you that there are no wrong questions here. Bella has been my patient since moving to Dallas, and it’s been a joy getting to know her. What do you do, Edward?”
“I’m a professional athlete—a hockey goaltender for the Stars.”
She nods, but her expression remains neutral without an ounce of recognition. “And a first time dad?”
“What was your reaction upon finding out she is pregnant?” Dr. Leone smiles.
Before I respond, I pause, a little surprised that she isn’t taking any notes with the new information I’m sharing, but remains focused on me.
“Thrilled. Excited. Nervous.”
“You wanted a child with Bella?” She tilts her head in question, waiting for my answer.
“Absolutely. She stopped taking her birth control pills and we were in agreement to start trying, hoping it wouldn’t take long for her to become pregnant.”
“That’s wonderful. Tell me. What have you been doing to support her since then?”
“Since we both have busy schedules, I wanted to give us some idea of when to expect Pumpkin’s arrival.”
Her brow furrows. “Pumpkin?”
“It’s what we’ve been calling him or her once we found out we would probably be having an October baby,” I explain.
“Ah . . . Zucca.”
“Zucca?” Now, I’m the one confused.
“I’m Italian and that’s the word for Pumpkin.” She chuckles. “Don’t mind me. We’ll stick with your version.”
I grin. “I like Zucca too.”
“When Pumpkin is a little further along, we’ll find out how accurate you are. What else?” she prompts.
“I downloaded an app that keeps track of Bella’s weekly changes. It keeps me involved while I’m away during our road trips. I’ve been encouraging her to exercise more often, but that’s been met with resistance.”
Dr. Leone nods. “Walks, swimming, and yoga will be good for her. I would recommend focusing on those and doing them together.”
“We have a dog and cat that I walk regularly. Bella tags along sometimes or walks them when I’m not home. Yoga is part of my regular routine, which I’ve tried to get her to do together, and we have a pool.”
“You mentioned a cat?” Her eyebrows lift in question.
“Yeah,” I confirm.
“No litter box cleaning for Bella. They can harbor a parasite that causes birth defects. Also, household cleaners could cause nausea and some are harmful to a developing fetus.”
“We have a cleaning service that visits our home weekly,” I share.
“You mentioned a pool, which is fine, but no hot tubs or saunas for her if you have one.”
“Healthy eating is probably second nature for you,” she speculates accurately.
“It is,” I agree. “Bella has been eating whatever I do, but she does have a sweet tooth, which is funny since she’s a dentist.”
“True. I recommend helping her to curb that because a diet high in sugar can lead to complications. There are better options out there.” Dr. Leone smiles. “A childbirth class would also be good for eliminating worries or questions you may have surrounding the arrival of your baby.”
“My biggest fear is missing the birth or something happening to either of them while I’m away,” I confide.
“While I’m aware of Bella’s age and history, we’ll do everything we can for her here. As a healthcare professional, I understand she puts in a full workweek and may need to cut back on her hours, as her pregnancy progresses. It’s also important for her environment to be peaceful and relaxing. Prior to birth, babies can sense stress. Have you shared your news with anyone yet?”
“Bella did accidentally,” I reveal. “Our families and close friends know. I told a few of my teammates, but we’re going to wait a couple of months before announcing it to anyone else.”
“Everyone was happy and supportive?”
At her question, I deflate slightly, wondering how she is able to pinpoint one of our issues so quickly.
“Yeah.” I hesitate, then correct, “Well, almost everyone—my dad wasn’t happy.”
“Why is that?” Dr. Leon prompts.
“Because Bella and Pumpkin affect the decisions I make about my career. He’s been . . .”
“Displaced?” she suggests.
“Yeah. My relationship with him is in a rocky place right now, which makes everything more challenging than it should be. He hasn’t been accepting of Bella or finding out about Pumpkin. That tension—I don’t want it to affect either of us, but I’m afraid there’s no avoiding it.”
“How has Bella handled that?”
“She’s been a fucking saint.”
Dr. Leone grins.
“Sorry. I need to work on my swearing before the baby gets here.” I chuckle uncomfortably and continue. “Bella sees my dad clearly for who he is. Despite anything he may say or do, she has my back.”
“And you have her back?”
“Of course,” I state. “I’m hopeful that time will prove him wrong, and he will eventually accept their permanent spot in my life, but for now, all we can do is minimize contact.”
“It’s a good idea in theory, but not always possible,” she concludes. There’s a knock on the door, getting our attention. “Come in.”
Once it opens, Bella steps inside and her eyes find mine. “Hey. Miss me?”
“Always.” I smile, feeling lighter already by simply being in her presence, but talking with her doctor has helped too.
“It’s great to see you again, Bella.”
Dr. Leone stands, and I watch as they embrace.
“You too. Were you surprised that I’m here for an obstetrics appointment?”
“Not really. It takes a lot to surprise me these days. Congratulations. I was getting to know your fiancé. We’ll move into an exam room next, but as you know, I like answering your questions or concerns in here.”
Taking the seat next to me, Bella reaches out, sliding her hand in mine. “So, what have I missed?”