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 That,” Tenille Arts
(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) /\ \
“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.
“. . . a brain tumor.”
He barely utters the last two words, as if speaking them any louder will give them every advantage in this fight my mother is battling.
I’m stunned, shaking my head with denial as those two words—two words I never expected him to say—keep rolling around in my head on repeat.
“It can’t be. This must be some kind of mistake.”
“It’s not, Bella. I wish it were, but it’s not. They did CT and MRI scans.”
“She’s on medication to control the seizures, but her doctor believes surgery will help eliminate the headaches, nausea, and blurred vision. They want to remove as much of the tumor as possible and perform a biopsy on the cell tissue. Then we’ll-we’ll know . . .”
“If it’s cancerous,” I whisper the daunting possibility.
Reassuring my father and me that everything is going to be all right is something I should do at this moment, but I’m not sure of anything. And the look on his face clearly reflects the growing concerns that are undoubtedly mounting on mine. What if she isn’t okay? What if surgery isn’t enough? What if she needs more—more of what? I don’t know. Radiation? Chemotherapy? What if after doing everything the experts suggest we do—
“The past six months haven’t been easy for her. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us. The highs have been high and the lows have been . . . painful—brutal at times. I hate hearing her suffer, especially from a distance. But after meeting with the neurologist in Seattle, she has hope again. I’m going to do everything I can to keep that alive.”
We sit in silence as I attempt to process these new details. The scraping of his chair against the floor tile pulls me from my overwhelming thoughts.
“I should go get the rest of her things.”
Dad stands to leave, but I jump up from my spot, wrapping my arms around him in a tight hug.
“Thank you,” I say sincerely. “For telling me. And being here for her. Us.”
He pats my back softly.
I sniff away my remaining tears. “I think I could use some fresh air.”
“Okay. But don’t go far. Despite what you may think, I know very little about pie making—only eating, and your mother will appreciate your help over mine.”
I smile through my tears. “I won’t be gone long.”
With my father’s departure from the kitchen, I dump the rest of my coffee in the sink and rinse my mug. Grabbing my coat from the hook by the back door, I jam my feet into my boots and exit through the squeaky old door, pulling it closed behind me. The brisk morning air is a welcome reprieve. I fasten the last few buttons of my coat and breathe deeply, as the weight of my father’s words weighs heavily on me. With the colder temperatures, the lure of a walk around his neighborhood or a short hike into the woods behind his home fades. So, I sit on the edge of the back porch, leaning against a stack of firewood, and the emotional fatigue settles in. My mind systematically sorts through an impossible number of what ifs, highlighting the possibility that something like this could be genetic.
It isn’t long before I hear my parents’ muffled voices in the kitchen. I have no idea how I’m going to look at my mother without breaking down in tears for what she’s going through. She’s been putting up a good front for months, keeping so many details from me. Any thoughts I had of cutting my visit short last night evaporate in an instant. Sliding my phone from my pocket, a brief search fails to produce any better options for my return flight, giving me more time here, before I’m needed at work on Monday.
New tears flow at the thought of losing her. When my muffled sobs subside, I’m filled with too many questions that I understand my father may or may not have the answers to. I don’t blame him for not wanting to discuss this today. But maybe the three of us can talk tomorrow. They have some sort of plan in place, and I’m determined to be included now that I know.
I want to be here for the surgery, and if it’s before the end of the year, I’ll use my remaining vacation to do so. The back door opens loudly, getting my attention, and my mother’s head appears through the crack.
“Bella?” She grins when she spots me.
I turn away, drying my tears with the cuff of my sleeve. “I’ll be right there.”
I stand, forcing a smile on my lips, but hers fades slightly when she realizes I’ve been crying.
“Yeah. I’m fine. All good here,” I say, hoping it sounds more convincing than I feel.
“You’re not. Your father told you, didn’t he?”
I rush forward, wrapping her in a tight hug, and a new round of tears flow with ease. She’s the first to lean away. Her concerned eyes find mine as I brush away the last of my tears.
“I don’t know what to say.” She gives me a hopeful smile. “I wish I could tell you I’m going to be okay, but I haven’t been okay for a while.”
Finally. A small sliver of honesty. This isn’t like any of the times during my childhood when basic first aid or a mother’s hug and kiss could make everything okay. Our roles are reversed, and I have no idea how to help other than being by her side.
“When is your surgery? I want to be here.”
“The Monday before Christmas. I think it’s the twenty-third. They had a cancellation and offered me the spot or I would have to wait until after the New Year. They don’t know how long I’ll stay at the hospital. It could be anywhere from two to five days after the surgery. I could be home in time for Christmas.”
She’s always so optimistic.
“Okay. I’ll be here. I can fly in the week before so we can spend some time together.”
“You don’t have to do that. I’m sure you have your own patients to see that week.”
“I have plenty of vacation days left. Someone can cover for me. They owe me for the numerous times I’ve covered for them.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
My mother isn’t the best cook, but she lovingly prepares the pie under my guidance, while I work on the prep for the other sides to accompany our meal later. As Mom and I move harmoniously about my father’s tiny kitchen, I catch myself watching her, looking for anything I’ve been missing these past six months. She seems happier than I remember or maybe it’s just her living in the moment. Or maybe it’s my father’s presence in her life.
While he isn’t known to share his feelings as he did this morning, I know he never stopped loving her after their divorce decades ago. When I feel my eyes swelling with tears threatening to fall, I’m thankful for the distraction of figuring out how we’re going to fit the pie in the oven with the turkey at my mother’s prompting.
Over an hour later, the three of us are sharing slices of warm cherry pie with scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream and a fresh pot of coffee for breakfast. At times, I feel like a third wheel when my parents act like a couple of teenagers, sharing inside jokes and secret smiles they think I don’t notice when I get up to refill my coffee.
I don’t have many memories of the three of us when my parents were married, but despite the circumstances that have brought us together for this Thanksgiving, I’m determined to make every moment count. That is until my mother turns the tables and I realize I’ve been so caught up in my own life in Dallas that I’m also guilty of not sharing the latest details of these past few months.
“So, Bella. Are you still dating your lawyer friend?” she asks nonchalantly, joining me next to the sink. “And what can I do to help?”
After gathering the vegetables I need for the wild rice pilaf, I set them on the countertop and give her a hesitant smile. “You can help with prepping these. I don’t have a recipe, but I’m thinking we can’t go wrong with a chopped onion, some grated carrot, and diced pepper.”
“Are you avoiding my first question?”
Her smile widens and she bumps her shoulder with mine. “Does that mean it’s getting serious?”
I shake my head as I locate the dried cranberries and wild rice blend in the cabinet. “Jason is still in the picture, but only as my lawyer. He’s helping me with some work-related things.”
“Oh. So, you’re not dating?”
“I’m not dating Jason.”
Before I can share any details about my budding new relationship with Edward, my father offers his two cents from behind us as he finishes his second slice of pie.
“Billy’s son is single.”
“Charlie, maybe Bella isn’t ready to date someone new,” my mother counters his weak attempt at matchmaking.
“Jacob lives in Los Angeles, but he travels occasionally for work.” He shrugs. “Maybe he goes to Dallas.”
“What does he do for a living?” my mother asks.
“I think Billy said he’s part of a sports marketing agency or something. Since he’ll be here later, Bella can ask him. Maybe the two of you will hit it off.” He raises his eyebrows in question.
I don’t remember much about Billy’s son when I was living here, but I do remember him being a brat of a little brother when I hung out with his sisters during one of the few visits I ever made to La Push with my dad.
“I’m actually dating someone new.”
While I can see my father check out of the conversation almost immediately, my mother lights up, ready for the details of my latest dating news.
“Oh? Tell me all about it.”
“Yeah.” I shrug, struggling to downplay the excitement bubbling inside of me at any thought of Edward. “We’re still getting to know each other.”
And recently, in all the best ways.
“What’s his name?”
“Edward Cullen. He’s the brother of a friend of mine. Do you remember me mentioning our receptionist Rose McCarty?”
“He’s her twin brother.”
My father squeezes between us, leaving his dirty dishes in the sink, and announces his departure. “I’ll leave you two to the girl talk and see if there’s a football game on yet.”
“So, what does he do?” my mother asks.
“He’s a hockey player.”
One word stops my father’s departure, pulling him back into the conversation instantly. “Hockey?”
“Yeah. Ice hockey.”
His brows furrow. “Like a coach?”
“No, a player. He’s the backup goaltender for the team in Dallas.”
“A professional athlete?” He chuckles, as if he doesn’t believe me. “What could you possibly have in common?”
My mother is quick to come to my defense. “Charlie, I’m sure they have a lot of things in common.”
Her eyes shift to mine, and I do my best to share what I can and defend our blossoming relationship.
“I don’t know. We’re both career driven, and as I said, it’s new. We’re still getting to know each other. We met at Rose’s pumpkin carving party a week before Halloween. He had a dental emergency, and I came to his aid. We’ve gone on a couple of dates, and I went to my first hockey game last week.”
My father crosses his arms over his chest. “Is he any good?”
“What? It’s a valid question. I’m not familiar with hockey. Does the league have a minimum salary?” He points a finger toward me. “You probably make more money than he does.”
I shake my head at that absurd thought. “Trust me. I do not. Edward is doing just fine for himself. He’s approaching the end of his playing career, but doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.”
“The end? How old is this guy?”
“A year older than me—thirty-four. He’s been playing most of his life.”
“Did he go to college?”
“Yes.” I leave out the tiny tidbit that it was only for a year, and I’m thankful Dad doesn’t ask if Edward graduated.
My mother smiles. “I bet he’s handsome. Do you have any pictures?”
“I have a few.” I wipe my hands, remove my phone from my pocket, and open my photo app for her to look through the photos he sent yesterday.
“Oh, my, Bella. He isn’t just handsome, he’s divine.”
At my mother’s approval, Dad huffs, leaving the kitchen.
“And look how he’s looking at you in this one.”
She turns my phone for me to see the one she’s talking about, but I already know which one it is. The flutters in my stomach are back, because that’s what I feel every time I look at that photo too.
“Bella, are you blushing?” She chuckles. “I think this relationship may be more serious than you’re admitting.”
“It’s . . .”
“New,” we say simultaneously, and laugh together at one of my repetitive descriptors.
“Yes. I got that, but tell me, when was the last time you felt like this about anyone.”
I shrug. “I don’t know if I ever have and that worries me. I don’t want to get my hopes up only to have them dashed in a month. I can’t ever seem to get past the two-month mark without letting the warning signs take over.”
“And what are the warning signs with Edward?”
“His job, especially the travel with it, and not seeing each other for long periods of time. He’s at a point where he’s taking it a season at a time, and I don’t believe even he knows what his life will look like when he’s no longer playing. The possibility of another move always seems to be lurking along the horizon. He’s ending his career while mine feels like I’m just getting started. I’ve been in school forever and finally feel like I’m hitting my stride with more confidence than ever at work. I proposed taking a more substantial role in our dental practice to Sam before I left, and I know it’s the right move for my future.”
“Bella, that’s exciting! I hope it works out. Are you concerned Edward won’t support the new responsibilities of your job?”
“No. He’s been helpful leading up to my meeting with Sam and offering advice. I doubt my workload will change, but my stake in the practice will, including my income for the better. The thing about our careers is, well, you know I’m extremely private and careful about what I put out on social media. I always consider how whatever I share will reflect on myself and our dental practice. But Edward, he shares every aspect of his life so easily. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to that type of attention—strangers knowing intimate details of my life without actually knowing me.”
“He’s probably been comfortable being in the spotlight for most of his life. Maybe with time it will get easier for you.”
I shrug. “We’re so different. Maybe Dad’s right. We don’t have a lot in common, but I respect so many things about him. His work ethic rivals my own, but in different ways. He’s extremely regimented, keeping a strict diet and exercise routine. Mom, I never workout, and he’s a professional athlete. Exercising doesn’t even hit my radar for New Year’s resolutions each year, and it’s something he does religiously every single day. I ate pie for breakfast without a single regret and probably will again tomorrow. Edward would never do something like that, and his meals are like case studies in nutritional science.”
My mother only chuckles, knowing my love for having dessert first, and I continue.
“He has these unbelievable nerves of steel. I watched him play or, I should say, work last Saturday, and it was amazing. With all the stress or pressure of what’s swirling around him—the gameplay, his teammates, and the crowd, he’s incredibly controlled and confident. He has these routines on ice that he does constantly to stay focused. It’s really intense.
“Off the ice, he’s kind to everyone, generous beyond reason, and thoughtful in ways you would never expect. There’s an underlying sincerity and charming ease with everything he does. It’s as if I’m unwrapping all these layers of who he is, and each one is more exciting than the last. He makes me feel as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. I only hope he’s feeling the same.”
“I’m sure he is. Maybe your father and I will get a chance to meet him,” she suggests.
“Maybe.” There’s no keeping the smile from my face as I consider the possibility. I can’t remember the last boyfriend I introduced to either of them in person. It was probably in high school, but only in passing before a date.
Maybe someday soon that could change and I’ll introduce them to Edward.