A/N: My apologies for the late posting today. We live in the middle of the woods, and our internet connection is sketchy at the best of times. Today, while “fixing” it, my hubby managed to wipe out our WiFi for hours, but we’re finally back up and running again. Thank yous to NKubie, LizziePaige, and Honeymoon Edward, for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for betaing. They’re all amazing, and I’m so grateful for their help. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “I Choose You,” Sara Bareilles
“My whole heart
Will be yours forever
This is a beautiful start
To a lifelong love letter
Tell the world that we finally got it all right
I choose you
I will become yours and you will become mine
I choose you
I choose you”
(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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Since arriving in Forks late Sunday night, I’ve been able to unplug for a few days. With my father working, I’ve welcomed the unexpected time to myself. After finishing an ebook on my tablet, I drive around town a little, enjoying the opportunity to reflect on my time here years ago. I lived in Forks during my last year and a half of high school, and everything looks the same as it did then.
I pull into the high school parking lot and stare at the dark brick building. It’s where I spent most of my time either in the library or with my favorite biology teacher. I’m not ashamed to admit I had a huge crush on him. I was thrilled when he selected me as a teacher’s assistant for his human biology class my last year. He had one of those smiles that would melt any young girl’s heart, including mine.
After leaving the high school, I drive past Dr. Gerandy’s office where I did my first job shadow. I knew then I wanted to be some kind of health care provider, eventually settling on dentistry during college. I pass the local diner where I shared French fries and chocolate milkshakes with my girlfriends, while we gossiped about the latest high school dramas. But the bowling alley, not far away, is where I embarrassed myself only once, landing my ball in another lane. I did meet Riley when I went to retrieve it. My sweet memories of him probably don’t do him justice. We dated for a while, but it didn’t last more than a few months, as most romances do at that age.
Any friends I made during high school left Forks after graduation as I did. I wasn’t close with those who stayed, leaving my father as my only tie to this area. I don’t want to say I’m growing bored during my stay this trip, but well, I am.
Or maybe I simply wish I were somewhere else.
Like at home.
With a heavy sigh, I take my father’s suggestion from yesterday when he was probably sensing my unrest, and drive to First Beach near La Push. My walk along the shore is brief due to the cold. I find a small piece of driftwood shaped like a heart, bringing a smile to my face. I slide it in my coat pocket before hurrying to my rental car and turning on the heat full blast.
Upon my return, I do a little prep for the small Thanksgiving feast I’m planning for the two of us. As I peel potatoes, I keep wondering when I’m going to hear from Sam. His silence is driving me crazy, as I continue to second-guess my entire proposal. I called Jason yesterday. I was curious if Sam may have reached out to him for any clarification about the terms, since his information was included on all of the documents. Unfortunately, Jason hasn’t heard from Sam either. It’s a mental game at this point. My inner voice does its best to ease my nerves and convince me that Sam is simply busy with Emily and the kids over the holiday break. Maybe he hasn’t had time to look over my offer and make a decision.
It’s another reminder of my own guilt at not visiting my father more than twice a year. While we talk on the phone almost every other week, I’m feeling more of a disconnect between us. It’s as if something’s going on with him, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on why just yet. I know it wouldn’t hurt for me to make a greater effort while I’m here. Maybe we can do something more than only sharing meals between his shifts at the police station, but I have no idea what. I’m not into fishing, but he hasn’t mentioned going in months. I could sit through a football game or two with him as a possibility.
At the thought of watching any sports game, my ambling thoughts drift to Edward. It isn’t the first time I find myself wishing he were here. He would undoubtedly dwarf my father’s small kitchen, not to mention the issues with sleeping on the full-sized bed in my high school bedroom. There’s no containing my smile when I recall how we spent our time together after his game on Saturday, but the doorbell pulls me from those sexy daydreams.
After wiping my hands on a towel, I’m surprised when I open the door to find the Forks High School administrative secretary, standing on our porch and holding what I suspect is a foil-covered pie.
“Bella! You’re here! And so grown up.”
She seems as stunned by my appearance as I am hers.
“Hi. Would you like to come inside?”
“No. No. I’m only stopping by. And please call me Shelly.”
Yeah, that won’t be easy to switch as she’ll always be Mrs. Cope to me. She raises the pie in her hands higher suddenly, as if needing a reason to justify her visit.
“I wanted to drop this off for your father. He wasn’t at the station.” Her face flushes slightly, but maybe it’s the cold. “Just a little something I wanted to share.”
“My dad isn’t home. He went to Seattle today.”
“Oh. Well, this is his favorite—pecan. He mentioned that it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without one. Can you make sure he gets it, and he knows it’s from me?”
I don’t know what’s going on here, but my father’s favorite pie isn’t pecan.
“I’ll be sure to tell him when he returns,” I agree, taking the still-warm pie from her hands.
There’s an awkward pause, but I dig a little deeper, trying to understand what’s prompted her visit or why the sudden interest in my father. Maybe it isn’t sudden and I’m the one out of the loop. “Are you still working at the high school?”
“No. I retired last year. Are you still in . . .?”
“Your father said that you are a doctor?”
“Dentist,” I correct.
“That’s right, dentist. You have a lovely smile.”
I chuckle to myself. “Thanks.”
Before I can ask any other questions, she shuffles backward and looks toward her car, idling in the driveway.
“Well, it is good to see you again. I know your father is happy to have you home.”
Yet, he isn’t here. And she is. Odd. It’s all odd. Something isn’t adding up.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” I call after her.
She waves and shouts, “You too, Bella.”
After Mrs. Cope’s departure, I set the pecan pie on our small kitchen table and finish peeling potatoes, leaving them to sit covered in water until I boil them tomorrow. My phone vibrates on the counter, and I rush to wash my hands, hoping it’s Sam to put me out of this crazy job limbo.
Glancing at the lock screen, I find another text from Edward with attached images. He sent photos of the two of us earlier I saved to my phone, but these are of him looking as handsome as ever with Katie, Eric, and Austin. I sigh, wishing I could reach out and run my fingers through his messy hair. It’s getting longer, and I know firsthand the feel of that sexy stubble I can see along his jaw.
New additions to the Cullen family. 😉
Katie is holding a gray cat I don’t recognize and standing next to a crouching Edward who has his arm wrapped around her. In front of them, Eric and Austin are kneeling on each side of a large white dog with areas of light brown coloring on its face. I can’t imagine Rose adding another dog and cat to her crew, so I can only conclude Edward is the one adopting these two. While I’m looking at the pictures and tapping each one to add hearts, he sends three more texts.
K’s holding Shadow.
The boys are with Scout.
I can’t wait for you to meet them. X
Where are you?
I can only imagine the craziness that’s transpired with his visit if anyone has figured out who he is. Who am I kidding? Of course, they all know who he is. And if they didn’t have any idea before, they do now. Edward has a way about him and charms everyone he meets. My phone starts vibrating in my hand with his call that I happily accept.
“Hey, is this a bad time?”
The sound of his voice curls around me like a cozy, warm blanket on a snowy, winter day.
“Not at all. Aren’t you in the middle of a pet adoption?”
“Sort of. I just finished the paperwork for Shadow and Scout. The kids are playing with them in one of the rooms, but I wondered if it would be okay if I called you later tonight? I took the kids out to eat and to give Rose a break, then we stopped by here. I need to return them to Rose’s, then get Shadow and Scout settled at home.”
“Sounds like a busy evening for you.”
“But I always have time for you.”
He turns my heart to mush easily with his sweet words.
“Well, I’m on my own today. Dad went to Seattle and won’t be back until late. So, my evening is wide open.”
Edward lowers his voice. “I miss you.”
I smile and return the sentiment easily. “I miss you, too.”
“I’ve got to go, but I’ll call you later tonight.”
“Okay. Tell the kids I said hello.”
“I will. I’ll talk to you soon.”
After Edward ends the call, I abandon my Thanksgiving prep, pushing everything else until tomorrow morning, and reach for the bottle of wine I stashed in the cabinet above the refrigerator. It’s almost out of my grasp, but as my fingers wrap around the neck of the bottle, the doorbell rings again.
“What the fuck?” I wonder, glancing at the clock. “Who could that be?”
Leaving the bottle on the countertop, I walk toward the front door, but looking out the front window, I recognize the car in the driveway and hurry to open it. My father hasn’t mentioned his girlfriend for months.
“Hi, Sue,” I say in a rush.
“Hello, Bella.” She hesitates, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Is your dad home?”
“No. He won’t be home until late tonight. Did you want to come inside?” I thumb behind me.
She shakes her head and holds out what looks like another foil-covered pie.
“I’m going into the hospital for my shift this evening, and I wanted to drop this pie off for your father. It’s his favorite—pumpkin.”
Pumpkin is not my father’s favorite pie either. I’m puzzled why she wouldn’t bring it for Thanksgiving dinner, or now that I think about it, why my father didn’t mention her joining us.
“Oh, do you have other plans for tomorrow?”
“Um, I’m not sure. Billy mentioned stopping by his home.”
At his name, I’m even more curious why my father’s best friend won’t be here too. They always watch football together on holidays like this one. Knowing I’ll easily have enough food for the four of us, I don’t hesitate inviting the two of them.
“You should join us and bring Billy as well.”
She gives me a hopeful smile. “I think his son will be here tomorrow.”
Okay five people. That’s still doable, I think.
“And my kids, Leah and Seth.”
Seven adults. No leftovers, but they’re overrated anyway.
“No problem.” I wave off her concern. “The more the merrier, right?”
Sue’s smile widens with my words. “Thanks, Bella. I’ll let everyone know our change of plans.”
“See you around two?”
“We’ll be here.” She nods, waving once she returns to her car.
With Sue’s departure, I return to the kitchen, setting her pie next to the one from Mrs. Cope, and open the freezer. With our expanding guest list, in one conversation, from two to seven, I browse my father’s selections. His freezer’s contents aren’t organized or neatly labeled, leaving me to guess about everything except for the overwhelming amount of steelhead trout.
Running out of options, I grab three large packages of fish and place them in the refrigerator with the turkey to finish thawing overnight. I also look through my father’s kitchen cabinets for any other possibilities and locate a jar of rice that I’m confident I can add as another side dish to our growing menu.
After opening my bottle of wine, I pour myself a glass and turn on the television to keep me company. I flip through the channels, settling on the news and returning my attention to my phone. Or more specifically, my latest photos from Edward. I check his Instagram account and he’s shared photos of the latest members of the Cullen family, including photos with a variety of SPCA employees huddled closely next to him. My phone buzzes with a text from Al.
Did you see your sexy spider’s fam is growing?
LOL I did.
His new additions are adorable.
We’re all trying to keep up with Rose, even her brother.
I saw Em working on their Christmas lights today.
Gare told me we’re waiting until Dec. 1st.
But I have big plans this year!
We need to do a wine night once you’re home.
With televised hockey hunks.
A thousand times YES!
I fly back on Sunday.
Work late on Tuesday.
How about Thursday?
I think there’s a game that night.
I’ll ask Gare and let you know.
He has a work thing this week.
I’m through my second glass of wine and I’ve devoured my leftover Chinese food when Edward finally texts. It’s late with the time zone difference, and I suspect he’s way past his bedtime.
Can we video chat?
I want to see you too.
I barely press send before my phone vibrates with an incoming video call. With a single button press, he fills my screen, putting a smile on my face.
“Hey, handsome,” I hum at the sight of him while turning down the volume on the remote for the television.
His grin widens, as if he already knows I’m two glasses deep.
Dear Heavens, I wish he were here.
“Hello, beautiful. I wish I was there too.”
I grin. “How’s life as a new dad?”
“Fantastic.” He turns his phone, showing me where Scout and Shadow are curled up next to each other sleeping on his bed. He strokes each of their nuzzled heads gently, then returns to my view. “These two make it easy. They’re best friends.”
“That was quick.”
“Not really. They came to the shelter together but were in different rooms. After we looked through all of the available dogs, we picked a handful to meet, but from that group, Scout was the one who picked me. He came over to sit beside me, then rested his chin on my thigh. He wouldn’t leave my side and was so great with the kids, Bella, that I knew my decision immediately.”
He nods, but the phone jostles for a moment, and he shoves another pillow behind his back. “The facilities manager was in tears at my decision. When I asked why, she explained their situation. She hoped they would go to the same home. So, I asked her to bring in Shadow, and when she did, it was amazing. Scout perked up recognizing Shadow instantly. She climbed onto his back, settling at his neck and resting her head on top of his. He stood and started wagging his tail. He wouldn’t stop following me with her on board. They were ready to go home.”
“You’re going to love them. Now we’re here and missing you.”
The sight of him lounging on his bed leaves me wishing I were there snuggled between all of them.
“Lucky ducks. Your bed is so comfy. I’m jealous. Between that bed and your wine fridge you’ve created my utopia.”
Not to mention it includes the sexiest goalie on the planet.
“He’s here too,” Edward says with my favorite crooked grin, reminding me that my every thought seems to be flowing from my mouth this evening. “How’s everything there?”
I release a deep sigh, glancing around my father’s bachelor-ish home with its well-worn furnishings and plaid decor. “It’s okay. I’ve been on my own for the past few days. It’s been good to have that time to chill and just have time to think about everything happening with my job. But there’s something going on with my dad and his girlfriend. And his best friend. I can’t figure it out. He didn’t invite them to join us for Thanksgiving, which is a little unusual.”
“Hmmm,” is his only reply as he listens.
“Sue, his girlfriend, showed up with a pie, but so did this other lady who I remember from high school. Both conversations were awkward, but after talking with Sue, our Thanksgiving has grown from two to seven. Billy’s son and Sue’s kids will be here too. They’re all adults now. I barely remember Billy’s son from when we were younger, but I’ve met Sue’s kids a few times. I hope that by inviting them I haven’t unknowingly created a problem.”
“I’m sure it will all be fine.”
“I hope so.”
Edward clears his throat, and as his face grows serious, I wait for his next words.
“Bella . . .”
“Uh-oh. This can’t be good if you’re using Bella instead of Doc. Have I somehow lost my nickname status?”
He gives me a slight grin. “Trust me. You haven’t, but I want to close this loop with you.”
“I want you to know that I told Jake this evening that my decision is a no on the Vegas deal. I don’t need to wait until Friday to give my answer. So, it’s going to Liam now.” He chuckles lightly. “What a bombshell Thanksgiving for him, huh?”
“I can’t imagine. Well, maybe I can.” I’d hoped Edward would turn down the deal for my own selfish reasons, knowing if he were to move, any chance of us making it would gradually fade away. I was a little concerned he waited this long, but I’m relieved this one is over. My thoughts shift, and I wonder if there are any repercussions of him shutting down the trade, because there was probably money to be made for his agent. “How did your agent take hearing your decision?”
“He wasn’t happy and thinks I’m making a huge mistake.”
Figures. I’m probably right about the money or some bonus. He was pushing too hard for there not to be something in it for him.
“Do you think Liam has a trade clause in his contract like you?”
“So, he doesn’t have a choice.”
“It’s the nature of our business, Bella. Trades happen all the time and players typically don’t have much input. Liam is five years younger than me with a wife and two kids. It will be a great move for him and his career. Vegas is getting one of the best backup goaltenders, putting them in a competitive position.”
“But he’s not the best backup.”
“You’re biased.” His grin widens. “If I was there right now, I would kiss the hell out of you for that comment.”
“Oh, I’m biased all right, and I would let you.” I lick my lips, recalling how serious he takes kissing, and glance at the fish clock on the wall. “Isn’t it past your bedtime?”
“It is. I have a morning skate tomorrow.”
“On Thanksgiving?” I ask, surprised he isn’t taking the day off like everyone else.
Edward’s head bobs slightly, then he runs a hand through his hair. I’ve learned it’s something he does whenever he’s nervous to share his justification for whatever he’s about to say. He shouldn’t feel like he needs to do that with me or anyone. I have nothing but respect for his work ethic. Unfortunately, I suspect he may have needed to defend his level of commitment to his job in the past, and even then, it wasn’t enough, which feeds his insecurities.
“One of my old coaches always said it’s the difference between winners and losers. Winners do things losers don’t want to do.”
“Well, I only know a winner. So, your former coach must be right.”
“Oh, Doc. I can’t wait until you’re back here.”
“I’ll be there before you know it. I should let you get to sleep. Enjoy your Thanksgiving tomorrow.”
I release a deep sigh. “It feels a little like the calm before the storm looming here.”
“Let’s hope it blows over quickly then. Bonne nuit.”
“Uh . . .”
He said good something, but I haven’t heard it enough to recognize the word. The sound of his light chuckles leaves me dreaming of being curled against his side while he whispers to me in French all night.
“Good night, Doc.”
“Good night, Edward.”
Reluctantly pressing the button to end our call, I stare at the home screen of my phone, already missing him, and ponder my next decision for only a moment.
With a few simple touches, I add a short caption to my new Instagram post. My finger trembles, hovering over the word “Share.” But before I do, I glance over the final options on the screen and tag “ecullen35” with the photo. Despite my heart feeling as if it may beat out of my chest, I gather every ounce of courage and fearlessly press “Share.”
There’s no turning back now.
A/N: How about Hockeyward becoming a new dad? Lol Any ideas as to what’s going on with Charlie? We also found out this chapter that Edward is staying in Dallas . . . for now. Time to focus on winning the Cup . . . and Bella’s heart. Thanks for reading. xx
Now for some news about the next chapter: Remember how I said we are alternating POVs each chapter? Well, chapter length is getting away from me as I write this story. It all started when the contest entry word limit was 12k, and poor Sassy was edited out multiple times. I argued there is no way Rose or Em would be able to tell Katie “no” when she turned on her adorable charms. So, Sassy does indeed have nine lives, and while editing the one shot, we spent a few. LOL I was thrilled she was included in the final version. When I was packing as much into this chapter as I could, I found that there wasn’t enough room for everything. Rather than omit anything in this or entire upcoming chapters, I’ve decided to stick with a POV for two chapters now instead of only one. So, we’ll have another Bella POV next week before switching to Edward’s POV for two.
Also, it’s that time of year again to celebrate and vote for your favorite completed fics from 2020 at TwiFanfictionRecs.com. I’m always honored to be included with so many talented writers. I have three stories on the list: If You Give a Firefighter a Christmas Cookie, Behind Closed Doors, and If You Give a Postal Worker a Love Note. I hope you’ll check out the amazing list and catch up on all the completed fanfics you may have missed reading this past year. You can vote daily for your favorites here until February 26th, 2021.