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: “Somebody Like You,” Keith Urban
(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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When I arrive at my sister’s home with Scout, Shadow, and a bag filled with four bottles of wine plus Maggie’s unbaked brie, the delicious smells of Thanksgiving dinner wafting through the air meet me at the front door. Scout is a little timid at the loud voices and laughter carrying from the kitchen, but I urge him along, finding the kids in the den.
The boys glance my way and say, “Hey.” Eric is playing a video game, and Austin is staring at his phone, but Katie abandons whatever she’s creating at a craft desk near the fireplace with Duke sitting nearby.
“Uncle Edward!” She hurries to the doorway, throwing her arms around my waist for a brief hug. “You brought Scout and Shadow? I told Duke all about meeting them yesterday. Did you miss me Scout?”
He licks her cheek, prompting her giggles. Shadow practically leaps into her arms as I unclip the leash from Scout’s collar.
“Can they hang out with you today?” I ask, folding Scout’s leash and tucking it in my pocket.
“Yes!” She jumps up and down excitedly. “Scout, come meet Duke. He’s your cousin.”
His eyes fill with uncertainty about her plans.
“It’s okay, buddy. Come on. I’ll go with you.” I rub behind his ears and walk toward Duke who perks up at the sight of Scout following me.
The two are relaxed, wagging their tails occasionally and sniffing one another in greeting. Katie sets Shadow on the desk where she’s working, but continues stroking her head.
“I’m glad you brought them. They would have been lonely without us. Family is supposed to be together.”
Eric pauses his game. “Uncle Edward, do you want to play with us?” he asks.
“What game is this?” I point toward the television.
“Grandma McCarty brought it for us. It’s called Downhill. Have you heard of it?”
I shake my head, glancing at Austin who explains further.
“It’s mountain bike racing, but we could all play something together, if you want?” Austin suggests.
“Maybe after I say hello to everyone. Is your mom in the kitchen?”
Katie nods. “Your friends are too. They just got here. One of them gave me a box of licorice from Finland.” She hands me a box sitting on the desk, then lowers her voice. “Mama says I’m not supposed to say it out loud, but it tastes horrible. I had to spit it in the trash, and eat one of Grandma Cullen’s cookies to get the taste out of my mouth. You can have it, or I’ll give it to Grandpa McCarty. He said he loves licorice. Blech.”
I chuckle at the disgusted face she’s making. “Let’s give it to Grandpa then.”
“He’s with Daddy, Uncle Felix, and Grandpa Cullen downstairs. They’re watching football.”
“Okay, I’ll be back.”
Rose always invites neighbors and friends to stop by during the day, treating the holiday like an informal happy hour, then serves a traditional Thanksgiving feast later in the evening for anyone who stays. Shadow stays with Katie, but Scout follows me into the kitchen where everyone is standing around the island full of nibbles to tide everyone over while the turkey roasts.
Demir must have been the latest arrival as James and Ben are giving him trouble over not dressing nicer. I catch the end of his defense while they fill small plates from the variety of selections. I notice they’re dressed similarly to me in a button-down dress shirt and slacks, but Demir’s wearing a polo style shirt with jeans.
His grin widens at their teasing. “In Finland, we have a saying, ‘Vain rumat ne vaatteilla koreilee.’ It means only ugly people need to dress up.”
Ben points a baby carrot at him. “I’m not from Texas, but I think the appropriate saying to that is ‘Bless your heart.'”
Lucy can’t stop her own chuckles, grinning from ear to ear at their playful banter.
My sister adds her reassurance. “Oh, Demir, ignore them. You dress up all the time for games. We’re always casual here, and thanks for the vodka.”
“You’re welcome. It’s from my country—created under the midnight sun.”
“Sounds interesting. I can’t wait to try it.”
“Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.”
“Edward!” At the sound of my voice, Mom pauses her sweet potato prep, turning around and wiping her hands on her apron. She closes the distance between us to share a hug.
James grins. “There he is.”
“We thought you got lost.” Ben smirks, popping a grape in his mouth.
“Is this Scout?” Mom asks, bending lower and rubbing Scout, who licks her hand anytime she pauses.
“This is him. Shadow is with Katie.”
“Awww, Edward. He’s the sweetest.” Mom looks up at me before returning her attention to Scout. “Welcome to the family, Scout. Thank you for the kisses.”
I hold out the bag for Rose to take. “I would have been here earlier, but I had to stop at home.”
“Yes!” she says, unpacking the wine bottles, noticing I included her favorites. But she pauses when she gets to the last wrapped item in the bag. “What is this?”
“I know how much you love Brie. So, I couldn’t resist.” I wink.
Rose’s eyes narrow at my words. James snorts, as he knows all about the demise of my relationship with Bree. I shared the details one night when we were on the road and he was dealing with a difficult breakup.
I nod toward her hand. “It needs to be baked. Maggie included instructions for you.”
“Edward, it’s wonderful to see you again.” Lucy abandons cleaning Brussel sprouts at the sink. She rounds the island, giving me a hug with more strength than you would expect. “Who doesn’t love a delicious brie? Rose lets pop that in the upper oven, but brush it with a little egg wash first. We’ll have it ready in no time at all. We’ve got extra crackers, don’t we?”
My sister’s lips twitch, taking her orders and mumbling, “We do.”
“Are you hungry?” Lucy asks, focusing back on me and squeezing my side. “You’re looking a little lean. Let me get you a plate, and I’ll fill it with all my favorites.”
My stomach flips at what those could be. I always need to be careful what I eat, especially a night before a game. Even though I’m not the starter for tomorrow night, I always prep as though I could be called upon to step in at any moment. From past experience, I know that nothing good comes from an angry stomach when I’m fully dressed in my fifty pounds of hockey gear. There’s no easy way out of all those buckles and laces.
“Nothing fried,” I say, hoping to deter her from certain selections. When I see her going for the shrimp cocktail sauce, I add, “Or spicy.”
She looks over her shoulder and raises a challenging eyebrow.
I’m relieved when she presents me with a small plate of all things I recognize. It includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, olives, shrimp, and a couple mini caprese skewers that my mother always brings, knowing I love them. I’m worried about the final scoop of mixed nuts she included as I can see some sort of spice on them.
“This will get you started,” Lucy reassures.
“Lucy, where can I find a woman like you?” James asks between bites. “I must be looking in all the wrong places.”
Ben nods toward the food. “I’ve never had a woman cook like this for me.”
“Aren’t you boys the sweetest?”
“Your husband is a lucky man,” Demir adds. “My country has a wife-carrying competition every year. It’s an obstacle course with sand, water, and fences, but is based on a tale of wife stealing from the 1800s. I bet together, we could win.”
Lucy bursts with laughter at the idea. “I’m too heavy and old for something like that.”
“What do you win?” my sister asks.
“The wife’s weight in beer.”
“Oh, goodness. Don’t let Em hear about that. We’ll be on a plane to Finland next summer.”
“You would love it there. We have no crime, the cleanest air and water, and everyone loves the beautiful views of the Northern Lights.”
“You know, speaking of beautiful views.” James smirks, glancing at me. “The last time we were here, I was playing wingman for Edward.”
Rose’s eyes find mine as she brushes the outside of the brie with an egg wash. “What’s he talking about?”
Before I can explain, James continues. “When we carved pumpkins, I took one for the team with your neighbor, Irina. Twice. First, for Edward with Doc, then for Tyler with Lauren a week later. I think I’ve finally recovered from that double date. You both owe me big time.”
My sister slides the pastry wrapped brie into the hot oven. “Lauren Mallory? As in Irina’s Lauren?”
“Who’s Lauren?” Mom asks.
“She and Irina cheer together,” Rose clarifies, wiping her hands on a towel. “They’ll probably be on television during today’s broadcast of the Dallas and Buffalo game.”
“Well, no more cheerleaders for me. It seems like a good idea, but it never is.” James shakes his head. “Maybe Doc knows someone decent and she can set me up.”
I shrug, as I haven’t met any of Bella’s friends. The ones I do know include my sister and her gay neighbors. Both no-gos for James.
“I think I would like an Irina. How much does she weigh?” Demir deadpans, sending the room into a round of laughter.
James chuckles. “Fin, you probably would, and the only correct answer is the minimum for your contest.”
“That’s not much beer.” He shakes his head while no one can stop laughing at his directness.
“Sorry, Demir, to be the one to break it to you, but Irina has moved on to bigger fish. You would need to own the team at this point to have a chance. The last time she was here for coffee, she told me she’s dating some telecommunications executive worth millions upon millions.” Rose rolls her eyes.
The doorbell rings, and moments later, my sister returns to the kitchen with her latest guests—her neighbor, Angela, and her college roommate, Jessica.
“Does everyone remember Jess and Angela?”
“Hey, Edward.” Jess smirks before introducing herself to Fin.
Oh, I know Jess. Rose doesn’t realize how well I know Jess, as those trips to Austin when they were in college at the University of Texas weren’t only about visiting my sister. But that was years ago.
The kitchen gets louder with hellos and introductions at the new arrivals. The wine flows freely while everyone mixes and mingles. After finishing my small plate of food, I take out my phone, snapping photos with everyone before refilling my plate. The football crew emerges from downstairs, like bears coming out of hibernation and declaring Detroit ahead at halftime.
Em peeks in the oven, immediately recognizing what’s baking. “Who brought brie?”
“Edward,” my sister says. “It’s probably ready.”
His laugh is louder than his mother’s is. “Nice. Glad you’re here, man. With Brie,” he says, patting my shoulder.
Yeah. He knows about my relationship with Bree too. And he’s more than familiar with his wife’s dislike of her.
I glance at my side and realize Scout is missing. I’m about to go looking for him when Katie squeezes past her grandfather, holding a piece of tattered paper.
“Where’s Scout?” I wonder.
She points behind her down the hallway toward the den. “He’s snuggled with Shadow on the couch between Eric and Austin.”
“Mama, can I do my poem for Uncle Edward now? You said I could after he got here.”
I assist Katie as she climbs onto one of the kitchen island stools, sitting on her knees.
Rose shrugs. “Sure.”
“You’re going to love this.” Katie holds out the paper, containing a handwritten poem for me to see. “Look, my teacher drew a happy face and wrote ‘excellent’ with two exclamation points.”
I nod and smile at her first grade scrawl. “It’s loud in here. Should we go somewhere else?”
“No, I want everyone to hear it.” She turns, tapping on her father’s arm and waving her paper at him. “Daddy, can you whistle? I’m ready.”
Emmett whistles, quieting the packed kitchen. “Can I get everyone’s attention? Katie has a poem she would like to share with you today.”
She clears her throat. “My—“
“Katie, wait,” Rose interrupts. “Before you start, you should explain what you were asked to do.”
“Oh, okay. This week, my teacher asked us to pick someone who we were most thankful for and write a poem about them.” She looks up at me beaming. “I picked Uncle Edward.”
“Katie, I’m hurt.” Felix, Em’s younger brother, holds his chest, feigning heartbreak.
“I’ll write you one next. I promise.”
He winks. “Okay.”
“My Uncle Edward.“
She pauses, glancing around the room with everyone focused on her until her eyes find mine. I nod encouragingly for her to continue.
“He waits waits waits on his skates skates skates, until someone shoots the puck, and my uncle Edward doesn’t duck.
He catches the puck and holds it tight. Everything is all right.
My uncle Edward is really glad, but the other team is kinda sad.
He wants to win a big cup, and he’s never ever giving up.
He’s the best goalie, and he loves guacamole.
He’s lots of fun, and he’s number one.
I love my uncle Edward.“
A chorus of “awww’s,” echo around the room with a small round of applause. Katie stands on the stool, then leaps into my arms for a hug, wrapping herself around me.
“Katie, I love it and you.” I kiss her cheek, then she hugs me tightly.
Over her shoulder, I don’t miss Mom and Rose dabbing their eyes and returning their focus on the dishes they’re prepping for dinner later. For years, I missed out on family events like this one, which makes being here today even more special. I can’t deny all of my relationships have strengthened as a direct result of me living in Dallas. I’m honored to be the person Katie’s most grateful for, but I’m also filled with gratitude for everyone here, which includes my teammates, friends, and family.
I lower my voice. “Don’t tell the boys, but you’re my favorite.”
She giggles, holding out the poem for me to take. “You can keep it on your refrigerator, if you want.”
“I’ll do that, but you hold it while we take a picture together.”
I snap several selfies of the two of us and slip my phone back into my pocket. I’m about to release Katie to set her on the floor, but she whispers in my ear.
“You know what would make this day better?”
I know instantly it’s not a what but who.
“If Dr. Bella was here.”
It’s as if she can read my mind.
“Next year, Katie,” I promise, hoping it’s one I can keep.