A/N: It’s time for wine night with my favorite couple. 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: “Hole In the Bottle,” Kelsea Ballerini
“I keep my cool, play by all the rules
I swear ten minutes ago that bottle was full
But I won’t cry about love gone wrong
‘Cause tears would water down this ruby red I’m sipping on”
(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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The doorbell ringing over the background chatter for tonight’s hockey game puts a huge smile on my face. I mute the television and hurry to welcome my guests for the evening, leaving my wine glass on the kitchen island.
I open the door wide, excited they’ve made it. “Hey! Come inside.”
“The party’s here.” Al kisses my cheek as he enters, holding a gift bag and a large covered plate. “Hello, darling. Is it time to wine down or up?”
Al is never one to shy away from bold colors or unusual prints. I feel underdressed since he’s wearing a velvety wine-colored suit with a pale pink button down, while I’m wearing Edward’s team hoodie from last night with a pair of black leggings. When I got home from work, it was my first choice when I saw he left it on my bed this morning.
I close the door behind them and shrug. “I’m game for either. It’s great to see you.”
“I love boyfriend chic.” Al’s eyes travel over my outfit with a knowing grin. “It looks great on you. I’ve been known to borrow from the other side of our closet a time or two.”
I give him a quick hug, standing back to marvel at his latest hair color change—platinum blonde. “So, do blondes have more fun?”
He nods toward his husband and wiggles his eyebrows above his thick black-framed glasses, “Ask, Gare. He’s been insatiable since I switched.”
Garrett blushes slightly. “I swear he hasn’t been drinking yet.”
“It’s lovely and very you, Al.”
He runs his fingers through it lightly. “One of the girls suggested it, and I figured, why not? So, when we had some time between clients at the salon, I took the plunge. I may never go back to my original salt and pepper. I think my George Clooney days are over.” Al chuckles, lifting the plate in his hand. “I’m dropping this off in the kitchen.”
“You know the way. Make yourself at home.” I watch as he disappears from view.
“Hi, Bella.” Garrett reaches out for a brief hug. “It smells great in here. Sorry we’re late. We made a quick stop at home after I picked Al up at work. Pardon my manners, but I’m starving.”
Garrett is always well dressed, and today is no different; I’m a bit envious of how he brings “smart casual” to life like no other. My favorite professor is wearing a mix of rich browns and touches of blue, layering a simple dress shirt with a knit tie, sweater vest, and tweed sport coat. He could be a cover model for Professor Monthly, if such a thing existed. It would sell out in no time at all.
“Me too. I had two cancelations this afternoon. So, I sent everyone home and left work early for a change. My time was well spent—I made brownies and put appetizers in the oven.”
“And hopefully, opened a bottle—if not, I brought you two of my favorite reds to share.” He grins, holding out a bag.
“Awww, you know I have an open door policy—show up with wine and I’ll open the door.” I laugh, accepting the bag happily and nodding toward the kitchen. “Come on. I have a glass of Cabernet with your name on it, but I’m sure we’ll have room for these as well. Let’s hit the cheese and crackers. They’re ready now.”
“You’re a saint.” He lowers his voice, reaching out and grabbing my elbow gently to stop me. “When you see the cookies Al made, realize he spent six hours creating them last night.”
“Got it.” I smile at Al’s dedication, knowing I will praise his creativity without question. “I’ll ooh and ahh in all the right places, but I’m sure they’re amazing.”
“Bella!” Al shrieks, spinning slowly with his arms stretched out in the middle of my living room. “Where is your Christmas tree? And your decorations?” He looks thoughtfully toward my entry and points, releasing an exasperated squeal. “You didn’t have a wreath on your front door either, did you?”
“I don’t think I’m putting up my tree this year.” I shrug, setting Garrett’s bottles of wine on the counter and waving him toward the waiting cheese board. “It’s a lot of work for just me. Help yourself.”
“Thanks,” he says, slipping off his sports jacket and draping it over the back of a barstool.
“I thought it was Edward and not the Grinch who stole your heart this year,” Al teases.
“I’m going back to Washington for Christmas. So I figured, why bother. Rose has our office decorated from top to bottom, and I’m there most of the time.”
“This is delicious, Bella.” Garrett settles into one of the spots at the island. “I could be here a while.”
“Isn’t it? Rose gave me the recipe.” I spread a creamy dollop of cheese on a cracker, pop it in my mouth, and grab wine glasses from the cabinet for them.
“That’s so sad, Bella,” Al whines, joining us at the island and reaching for a cracker. “What if . . . what if we help you put it up tonight?”
I uncork the bottle I opened earlier and fill their glasses. “You want to put up my Christmas tree?”
“Sure. It will be fun. Are your decorations in the garage? Gare—”
“Oh-no, Father Christmas—not everyone has the same child-like wonder about the holidays as you do. I’m siding with Bella. If she doesn’t want to put up her tree for whatever reason, I’m not going to help you push her to do so.”
Al tries another angle while slipping off his jacket and rolling up his long sleeves. “What if Edward comes over to visit—”
I hold up my hand to stop his new approach. “Unh-uh. He stayed over last night, and not once did he ask me about my lack of a Christmas tree or decorations.” My eyes shift to my kitchen island where I recall my welcome home from work, which was phenomenal.
Al gasps and raises both eyebrows. “He stayed over? Now, we’re getting somewhere. I’ll let your lack of Christmas spirit slide, if you have details to share.”
“Not much to tell,” I murmur, turning away to collect three plates for the hot appetizers and slide them onto the island.
“Doubtful, my dearest WAG.” He stresses the last word, leaving me curious as to what it could mean. “Did you see his latest Instagram post?”
I need to do a better job of keeping up with what Edward posts. It just isn’t something I think about regularly; my life doesn’t revolve around social media.
“You know, now that I think about it, this couch looks very familiar.” Al stares intently, then removes his phone from his pocket, tapping the screen.
“What’s a WAG?” I ask, as the timer beeps. After silencing it, I remove our food from the oven.
“It’s used for the wives and girlfriends of high-profile athletes. There are social media accounts that track them,” Garrett explains.
“I don’t like the sound of that. It sounds very . . . stalker-ish.”
“It’s primarily photos that are shared on social media accounts. You know, like couple photos, engagement announcements, wedding pictures, baby on the way, or family photos too. I found a variety of fan pictures of you from when we went to Edward’s game. I’ll locate them again in a minute and forward the links to you, but they had the audacity to crop us out of the picture when we’re FODS. The nerve. Aren’t they the least bit curious?” Al complains half-heartedly. “We could be serving some spicy dish on you two.”
“Al! We aren’t telling anyone anything, Bella,” Garrett reassures. “Promise.”
“He’s right. I’m only teasing. You can trust us.”
“What are FODS?” I wonder, tossing my oven mitt back in the drawer. “Those won’t take long to cool.”
“Friends of Dr. Swan.” Garrett rolls his eyes. “Al made it up.”
“I need a cheat sheet for this stuff.” I chuckle, sipping from my glass.
Al turns the screen of his phone to show me the latest picture Edward posted to his account. You can only see the lower half of his body, but there is a portion of his tattoos I recognize that disappear into the waistline of his jeans. Scout and Shadow are snuggled together between his legs on what is obviously my gray couch. They’re as adorable as ever, and this could be my favorite picture of them. I must have been in the bathroom when he took this photo because I’m missing. I spent most of the evening curled against his side, exchanging steamy kisses before bedtime while catching up on his Thanksgiving at Rose’s home.
“What does the caption say?” I ask, squinting but unable to read the tiny print.
“‘Nothing like being home’,” Al quotes without needing to turn his phone around to read it.
“I’m not in the photo,” I point out, returning to the cooktop and transferring our appetizers onto waiting serving dishes.
“Obviously, but you’re in the emojis he chose—a house, doctor, dog, cat, and heart. The doctor is clearly female with dark hair. Who else could he mean?”
Al tilts his head questioningly, waiting for any rebuttal, but I have none. There’s no keeping the smile from my face with the confirmation Edward sees me as part of his picture of what home looks like to him. He’s not even here, and the flutters he always stirs in my stomach are back in full force.
“That’s what I thought. This is getting serious, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Rose said there have been an unusual number of new patient requests for appointments coming through our website and requesting me specifically. Do you think . . .?”
“Yep,” they say simultaneously.
“It’s not like he’s at the office. I mean, most people hate going to the dentist.”
Garrett shakes his head. “But he could be, and for his fans, that possibility is enough.”
I release a deep sigh, grabbing another cracker. “What do I do? Anything? I’m swamped with my current workload, and today’s cancelations were an exception. Should I have Rose reply that I’m not accepting new patients and dump them on Paul, if they’re still interested?” I giggle at that thought. “Goodness, he would probably think they were all there to feed his ego. I would love to see his face when he finds out they’re there because of me. But we know it’s really Edward they’re hoping to see.”
“Is Paul still being an ass?” Garrett asks.
“Ass if, he’s capable of anything else.”
“Well, without a tree I’m sad you won’t need our gifts this year.” Al nudges the gift bag he brought toward me. “Merry Christmas. Maybe you can hang them somewhere in here.”
“You guys. You didn’t need to do this.”
They grin as I remove two Christmas ornaments from the gift bag. The first is a green globe-shaped ornament with snowflakes and Edward’s team logo.
“That one’s from me.” Garrett points toward the box and winks at his husband. “I’ve always been partial to balls.”
“Garrett!” I chuckle, unwrapping the other ornament, which is an intricate gold spider and web.
“I found it on the web.” Al smirks. “I’ve never been more thankful for everyone who feels compelled to decorate their trees for Halloween. It made my searching much easier.”
“They’re amazing. Thank you. I love them. Hell. Maybe we should get out my stuff.” I glance around my sleek living room filled with neutral grays and minimal accessories, thinking maybe a touch of holiday spirit wouldn’t hurt. I don’t have that much stuff. With the three of us, it would only take two hours tops. Maybe less. “Okay, let’s do it, but only if you agree to have another wine night after the holidays to help me put it all away.”
“Deal,” Garrett agrees without question.
Al walks around the island, giving me a side hug. “Girl, you had me at another wine night. I already had my eye on another suit that would be perfect. It’s more of a purple.”
“I love this color on you, but you both are undeniably the best dressed friends I have.” I motion toward the covered plate he brought. “So, what’s under here?”
“Are you ready for the unveiling?” he asks excitedly.
Al removes the covering with a flourish. “Ta-dah!” He reveals a plate of cookies artistically decorated to match our wine night, including bunches of purple grapes, wine bottles, and glasses with a variety of wines.
“These are amazing. They’re too beautiful to eat. Al, you are so talented. Can I take a photo?”
“Sure,” he says proudly.
“I’ll share them with Rose tomorrow.”
Al brightens at the idea and poses with his latest creations. We each select a wine glass cookie and take several selfies together, pretending to drink them. I can’t resist taking a bite of mine and leaving it on my appetizer plate.
“Mmmm. They’re delicious too. Let me get the rest of our food.”
“What are we having, Bella?” Garrett asks, waving toward the appetizers as I slide them onto the island.
“I may have had some help from Trader Joe’s. So, I can’t take credit for making anything other than following the recipe for the brownies.” Pointing toward each selection, I explain, “Rice and salmon bites, crispy vegetable pouches, Kung Pao shrimp rolls, and lemongrass wontons.”
“Mmmm, everything sounds delicious,” Garrett says, selecting a few of each.
Al reaches for a shrimp roll. “We love Trader Joe’s. I went the other day and loaded up on some of their seasonal items. Gare loves their English toffee. Have you tried their Jingle Jangle ice cream?”
“Bella, it’s delish. A few years ago they had this Jingle Jangle mix. It’s a delicious combination of so many things covered in chocolate—mini pretzels, caramel popcorn, broken Joe-Joe’s cookies—plus things like mini peanut butter cups. Dear sweet baby Jesus in heaven. It’s to die for. This year, they added it to pints of vanilla ice cream. It’s not to be missed.”
“I’ll check that out the next time I’m there. It’s always so crazy around the holidays or really anytime. I can never find a spot in the parking lot unless I go late. Let’s fill our plates, grab our wine glasses, and sit on the couch.” I glance toward the television screen and giggle. “Oh, it looks like they’ve started the game without us.”
Al’s eyes follow mine. “I’m sure we can catch up. Is your hunky spider playing tonight?”
I shake my head. “No. He’s on the bench. Ben’s the starter.”
“Who are they playing?”
“Winnipeg, I think.”
Once we’re all settled, Garrett asks, “So, what are you getting Edward for Christmas?”
“Uh . . . I haven’t thought about it, but now that you bring it up, I need to figure something out. He invited me to Aspen with his family. I think it’s an annual tradition.”
“Awww.” They say together at my invite.
“But I can’t go. So, we won’t be spending Christmas together, which is sad since he has the entire week off.”
“Do you think Edward will get you something?” Al asks, standing from his spot. “I’m going to grab us some napkins.”
“Oh, sorry. I forgot to bring them over. They’re on the counter next to the microwave.”
“Found them.” He waves a handful and walks back to where he was sitting on the couch.
“Thanks.” I grab one, wiping my hand and reaching for my wine glass. “Now that I think about it, yes. He probably will. Edward’s a gift giver. He’ll give me something simply because it’s . . . I don’t know—a Wednesday.”
“Well, maybe we can help figure out what you could give him,” Garrett suggests. “What’s the last thing he gave you?”
A fucking awesome trifecta of orgasms.
But I don’t think that’s what they’re talking about.
The two on the kitchen island were nothing in comparison with the one early this morning. I keep my eyes on my wine glass, doing my best to keep my expression neutral, tamping down the giddiness those memories bring.
It’s a nearly impossible task, because if I could, I would put that happy hour on repeat indefinitely.