A/N: 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’ll Carry You Home,” Trisha Yearwood
“When you can’t walk and there’s chains ’round your soul
The burden’s too heavy and you’ve run out of road
And you’re pray out loud
As you stumble through the rain and snow
I’ll walk out and find you. I’ll carry you home”
(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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After my shower, I’m unable to fall into a deep sleep, tossing and turning all night. Eventually, I kick off the covers, wishing I were in my own bed or an even better option—Edward’s. I’m about to doze off when the shutting of the front door jars me awake unexpectedly. A check of my phone reveals it’s after midnight when Dad returns, but he isn’t alone. The sound of a woman’s muffled laughter and hushed whispers mix with their heavy footfalls on the stairs before fading behind the closing of his bedroom door.
Moments later, I make a mental note to ask him in the morning to fix his squeaking bed. It seems I missed the point where my father turned into a ladies’ man. A bad feeling settles in my stomach when I realize that’s probably not Sue in there with him if she’s at work.
What have I done?
With a heavy sigh, I shake my head. I’m too old to be in this college roommate type of situation again. I thought I left those days behind me years ago. A week here is definitely too long. Next time, I’ll limit my visit only to a few days. I scrub my hands over my face, then plug my ears to see if that makes a difference. It doesn’t. I consider flying home on Friday instead of Sunday, while moving to a new plan and opening one of my music apps. After selecting an easy listening playlist and adjusting the volume higher, the music drowns out the obvious noises escaping his room.
My eyes eventually drift closed for what feels like only an hour, but it’s been much longer when my alarm wails without fail. Its blaring reminder is unwelcome this early, but I need to get the turkey in the oven, if there’s any hope of eating by two. My eyes are drawn to my closed door and hear only the peaceful hum of the heater at this hour. I don’t think my father’s a one-night stand type of guy, so we’re probably at eight for Thanksgiving with a side of tension thanks to me.
With a groan, I leave my warm bed, shuffle down stairs in my pajamas, and start a pot of coffee while the oven preheats. The coffee pot wins, beating the oven by about ten minutes. After sliding the turkey in the oven, I’m savoring my first cup when I hear movement upstairs. With the start of the shower, I slip back upstairs and into my room, changing into a wine-colored blouse paired with a pair of jeans for the day. I grab my toiletries bag, finish getting ready in the downstairs half bathroom, and return to the kitchen to top off my cup of coffee. I’m reading the latest news headlines from around the world on my tablet, when my father strolls into the kitchen freshly showered and makes a beeline for the coffee.
I watch him closely when he joins me at the kitchen table, sitting heavily in one of the chairs.
“Morning,” he rasps over the soft creaking of the chair when he shifts. He blows on the mug before taking a tentative sip. “Mmmm. That’s good. How is your coffee so much better than mine?”
“Secret ingredient.” I smile, savoring the aroma from my cup. “I’ll never tell.”
There’s no secret ingredient. It’s coffee and water, but he’s been less than truthful with me, and it puts us in an interesting position today. I want answers, and I’m not above toying with him a little. His eyes glance toward the pies on the table.
“You baked pies?” he asks hopefully. “How about a slice for breakfast?
Oh, Dad. You’re too easy. I expected more from one of Forks’ finest—the Chief no less.
“No. I didn’t, but I believe they’re your favorites.” I emphasize, because I know his favorite isn’t on this table.
Dad mulls over my words for a moment. “There’s nothing wrong with liking different types of pie,” he defends half-heartedly, but we both know he isn’t talking about pie here.
My impatience is brimming, and I lower my voice but fail to tamp down my building anger. “What is going on with you?”
When we hear footsteps overhead, I can see a bit of panic settling in his eyes.
“That isn’t Sue, is it?”
“I’ve wanted to tell you, but . . .” His apologetic eyes fill with a touch of sincerity. “Bella, I can—”
“Oh, I’m sure you can explain, probably over a slice of your favorite pumpkin pie that Sue dropped off for you yesterday. Or maybe you would prefer your favorite pecan pie that Mrs.—Shelly brought here when she couldn’t find you at the station.” I can hear his overnight guest’s footfalls descending the steps and whisper-yell my last words hurriedly. “Or maybe we should save them when everyone is here at two, because I stupidly invited them to join us today.”
“You, what?” His eyes widen with disbelief.
“Good morning. Is there coffee?” A familiar voice fills the room.
“Mom?” I turn my head, blinking several times, not believing what I’m seeing.
This is all wrong. It has to be some sort of dream. My mother is married and living on the other side of the country. She has no business being here with my father like—oh my goodness. It was my mother upstairs last night. Clearly, my father isn’t the only one who has been keeping secrets. And she told me she was going away for Thanksgiving. Apparently, away is Forks.
My mother flutters around the kitchen in the dress shirt I recall him wearing yesterday, as if she doesn’t have a care in the world, pouring her own cup of coffee. My eyes shift harshly toward my father who is now avoiding any eye contact.
“Mom, what are you doing here?”
“Well, that’s not the greeting I had hoped for. Isn’t it obvious? I’m spending Thanksgiving with my two favorite people.”
My eyes shift between my parents. I mean how in the world did my father become one of her favorite people? What. The. Fuck? My mother shrugs while Dad stares intently at his coffee mug, his thumb running back and forth along the handle.
“Oh, God. You’ve got to clue me in on this shit.”
That gets his attention. “Bella.”
“No. No. No.” I wave my finger at him. “You don’t get to correct me. We’re way past that and in too deep because both of you failed to share whatever this—” I wave my hand between them. “—is with me. Mom, what about Phil? Are you even divorced?”
There’s an awkward pause, and her eyes find my father’s seeking reassurance.
“Not yet,” she whispers so softly I can barely hear her words, but I do.
My head swings back to my father, and I’m waiting for answers, but he’s keeping tight-lipped about whatever is going on between them. I never would have thought him to be the kind of man to get involved with a married woman. It isn’t who he is. He has a girlfriend. Or used to. And I invited her to Thanksgiving.
“Does Sue know?”
“Not-not exactly,” he mumbles.
Even worse. Sue is still on the hook. She’s bringing him pie for crying out loud.
“What about Mrs.—I mean Shelly?”
He only shrugs.
“Who’s Shelly?” My mother asks mindlessly while opening and closing the kitchen cabinets. “Bella, do we have everything to make a pie?”
How can she focus on making a pie right now?
“I want to make one for your father. You know . . .” Her gaze catches his, and she smiles at him lovingly. “His favorite—cherry.”
She actually remembers.
It’s my favorite too and a tradition we started when I was living here during high school. We continued when I came home on weekends and holidays during college. I always make one when I visit, but when two pies showed up unexpectedly yesterday, I abandoned my plans to bake one last night. My scatter-brained mother can barely remember my birthday or other important events, but for some reason she remembers this.
“Don’t you two still like eating pie for breakfast on Thanksgiving with your coffee?” she asks, holding a jar of my favorite cherry pie filling in her hand.
“Mom, I don’t think there’s room in the oven with the turkey.”
“We’ll squeeze it in there.” She smiles, not deterred in the slightest, and opens the refrigerator, continuing her search. “Did you buy any pie dough? Or is it in the freezer?”
Of course, I did. There’s no stopping her when she fixates on an idea, and I know I need to jump in and help. However, I can’t handle her walking around here half-naked, especially since there is little doubt what the two of them were doing last night after they got home.
“How about you put on some pants, if you’re going to bake,” I suggest, wanting her out of the room and needing some answers from my father without her present.
“Oh, okay.” She spins around, leaning close and kissing my father on the lips. “Can you bring in my suitcases?”
He nods, giving her a slight smile. “Sure.”
“I’ll be right back,” she promises. “Don’t start that pie without me, Bella.”
I do my best to reflect her excitement at baking a pie together this morning. “Okay, Mom.”
She’s all smiles disappearing up the stairs. My father makes no move to retrieve her things from his vehicle. Each tick of the wall clock overwhelms the silence growing between us. We’re sitting here in some sort of stalemate until I stand, grabbing the coffee pot and refilling our mugs. I don’t know where to begin, but I need answers. After sliding the glass pot back in place with a clink, I return to my chair, ready to sort this out.
We both start, but if he’s ready to talk, I’m willing to let him go first.
“Please, go ahead.”
“They’re separated.” He sighs, rubs his hand over his forehead, and pauses for a moment. “Phil, he left her.”
I’m stunned and start to speak, but stop, processing this latest bombshell, then start again. “Why didn’t she tell me?”
He shrugs. “She called me at the station back in May—about six months ago.”
“Six months? This has been going on for six months?”
He shrugs, but continues to explain. “We started talking more frequently—daily, and I don’t know. She came for a few visits, and I-I—”
“Bella, it doesn’t matter. You know . . . you know I’ve always loved your mother.”
I shake my head, fully aware this path will only lead to heartbreak for him. “It wasn’t enough in the past. What makes you think loving her will be enough this time?”
“Things are different. She—” He stops and considers his next words carefully.
“She what?” I prompt. There’s something else he isn’t saying. I can feel it. How can he be so certain anything is different now? “Dad?”
“Her divorce should be finalized by the end of the year. And . . .”
I eye him suspiciously. “And?”
“And she’s moving here. To live with me. She brought the last of her things this trip. I’m going to retire at the end of December, and take care of her. She . . .”
Confusion overtakes my thoughts, as nothing he’s saying makes sense.
Take care of her?
Why would he need to take care of her?
As if my mother’s appearance this morning isn’t overwhelming enough or the reveal of their monthslong affair, he shares he’s also retiring so nonchalantly? I’m speechless until my father starts describing my mother in ways I never imagined. Not by her characteristics, but by her symptoms.
“The headaches—they’ve been more frequent.”
I nod slowly, recalling her complaining of those for a while, and feel a tightening in my chest when he continues.
“You’re familiar with her memory loss, but it’s more serious than what we suspected. Some days are better than others.”
My heart rate speeds up, because she’s always been disorganized and never focusing on any one thing. Forgetful. It’s who she is. It’s her personality. A free spirit. I miss some of what he says over the pounding in my ears, and I attempt to connect the dots. A sense of dread fills me from head to toe at the magnitude of where our conversation is leading.
“She’s had trouble sleeping and didn’t tell you about the seizure in September.”
“Seizure?” I say alarmed, blinking away the tears I can feel threatening to fall. “I don’t understand. Why didn’t she tell me?”
“I think it scared her.”
His description sounds nothing like the woman who left the kitchen only moments ago. Her eyes sparkling with love and happiness at spending Thanksgiving with us. But someone who’s fighting for her life.
“We got a second opinion last month with a doctor in Seattle.” He stops, swallowing with great difficulty, and his eyes fill with tears. “The doctor . . .”
I use my thumb to brush away my own tears threatening to fall. “Dad, you’re scaring me. The doctor said what?”
“Bella, you should know I’m not going to abandon her. Married or not,” he says resolutely between sniffs as his face crumbles. “Even after all these years, you may not understand it, but I’m choosing to support her in every way I can. I’m choosing her.”
Of course. There’s no stopping the tears flowing from either of us with his words. And I’m overwhelmed by my father’s love. A love for my mother I underestimated how deep and true. He’s harbored it for years. Decades.
“I understand.” I manage to utter despite the tightness in my throat.
He releases a deep breath that it feels like we were both holding. “She wanted today to be the three of us and surprise you.”
I reach out, covering his hand with mine. “I’m sorry I screwed that up. I can call and cancel.”
He shakes his head. “No. It’s okay, but I haven’t told anyone. I asked for some time and distance these past months. So, Billy and Sue don’t know. I’d like to keep this between us. You may find that difficult to do.”
“Dad, I think having the support of your best friend is important, and that includes Sue—she’s a nurse. They’re your friends. I believe they would both want to be there for you in whatever way they can. But, please, tell me. What did the doctors find?”
“They want to operate,” he whispers. “Her chances are better if they do. It’s . . .” He chokes on the words and closes his eyes.
And I can’t stop the torrent of tears before he continues.