A/N: Thank yous to my contest team which includes my daughter, NKubie, and Midnight Cougar. Did you notice the ASCII art spiders with each chapter and/or scene break? I loved their addition to the one shot, and now I’m obsessed with spiders. And Spiderward.
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Whatcha Wanna Do About It,” Madeline Merlo
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
After selecting a pumpkin, I take the spot next to Alice on the diagonal from Edward, put on an apron, and grab some candy corn from one of the dishes on the table. I stare at my pumpkin, waiting for inspiration to strike while Alice asks Edward about his upcoming schedule. He confirms they are halfway through a four game stint at home before noticing me.
“A dentist who eats candy? I’m shocked. Or is that good for business?” Edward teases.
“There’s nothing wrong with a little job security; that’s a sound business model,” I counter playfully. “I always tell my patients they don’t have to brush all of their teeth, only the ones they want to keep.”
His gorgeous smile widens at my words. “I bet you’re the house everyone avoids on Halloween because you hand out apples, toothbrushes, and stickers.”
I smirk, locating a scoring tool. “You’re forgetting floss too.”
Alice snorts as she cleans away the rough edges of her Tinkerbell design and adds small holes in various sizes for pixie dust.
“I’m the only hockey player here who can say these are all mine,” he brags, pointing at his teeth.
I glance toward his teammates, all busy with other conversations. Rose sets a glass of sangria next to me, refills a few other glasses, then takes the spot on Alice’s other side.
“How’s everyone doing?” She grabs a few black, orange, and white M&M’s from a bowl and tosses them in her mouth. “What are we talking about?”
“Teeth.” Irina huffs and rolls her eyes. She places a battery-powered tea light inside her pumpkin. “All done. Edward, what do you think?”
She turns it enough that I can see it’s a winking text symbol using a semicolon and a right parenthesis—so obvious. I try not to roll my eyes, but Alice catches me, elbowing my side. Edward barely glances her way, but tosses out, “Looks great.” Irina sits a little taller at his compliment while sipping from her glass and watching him carve his pumpkin.
“Edward loves Halloween,” Rose shares. “He always creates the most amazing jack-o’-lanterns.”
He looks up for a moment, smiling at her praise. “You love it too.”
“True, but I’m not the one with Halloween tattoos like you. He has an amazing one, of a hockey goal, but it has a spider web instead of a regular net with a spider hanging from the crossbar.”
“Rose, did you ever play hockey?” Alice asks.
“Yes, Edward and I played on the same hockey and soccer teams since we were four years old, but when we were ten, he was asked to play hockey for a travel team and I lost interest. It wasn’t the same without him.”
“She was taller, faster, and better than most of the boys.”
“Mom hoped I would try figure skating after that, but it wasn’t for me.” Rose shrugs. “I would hit pucks in the driveway for hours with Edward after he arrived home from practice, but I stuck with soccer after that.”
“Her team was state champs all four years in high school,” he shares proudly.
It’s easy to see the special connection they have with plenty of cherished memories from growing up together. I’m a little jealous, as I had no siblings.
“Edward, did you always play goalie?” Angela wonders.
“Yeah. I tried other positions, but always felt most comfortable there.”
She nods. “How did you get the nickname Spider?”
Rose grins, pausing from carving her vampire pumpkin. “Oh—can I tell this one?”
“Sure.” He smirks, returning his attention to his pumpkin.
I’m curious what he’s creating, but refocus on completing mine while learning about his moniker.
“When we were younger, a coach described Edward as gangly off the ice. He was the typical awkward kid, always taller than everyone in school and thin. Kids would tease him relentlessly, but he never let it bother him. His long arms and legs paid off when he was on the ice and in goal, because he was like a spider with incredible reflexes and puck tracking like no other.”
After listening to Rose’s explanation, I glance in his direction, catching his eye, and he wiggles his eyebrows with a lopsided grin.
“Did you dress up like Spider-man for Halloween?” I ask jokingly.
His grin widens. “Every year.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
My first jack-o’-lantern is too classic—round shape, predictable grin, and triangle-shaped eyes and nose. Alice claims it’s perfect, but I still select a new pumpkin. Maybe I’ll carve an all-teeth style this time.
And I’m not in any hurry to leave the picnic tables with Edward still here working on his pumpkin. Others are finished and playing lawn games or sitting on the deck around the fire, Emmett started recently. Thank goodness that includes Irina, who is busy flirting with James, and he’s eating up her attention.
Edward pauses carving, silences his phone’s incoming call, and looks over apologetically.
“Sorry. My agent won’t leave me alone today.”
“He’s pushing for another move.”
“To another team. A couple expressed interest lately, and well, I don’t know. I thought Dallas would be my last team before I retire. I love being near family again, and nights like this with Rose and her family have me second-guessing everything.”
“What do you mean?”
“Bella, Rose could have played soccer professionally. She was an Olympic-level athlete but changed her mind after she met Em. Looking around at everything they have built together, I’m jealous—of their marriage, the kids, house, and stability too. I’ve sacrificed over and over for my career, moving to new teams every couple of years in pursuit of something I may never achieve.”
“The Cup—the ultimate goal of every hockey player. I’m realizing that despite my successful career, I’m running out of time. Plus, Jake is pressuring me for a decision about retirement.”
I nod, a little surprised by his candor since we just met, but something about his sincerity invites me to open up too.
“It’s not exactly the same, and don’t say anything to Rose, but I’m thinking about changing, as you would say, teams too.”
I shrug. “I found out another associate who was hired after me is making more money even though he’s working fewer hours. I’m not all about the money. I love my job and my patients, but I can’t let it slide. Paul spends more time on the golf course than in the office, asking me to cover for him and leaving me to wonder why he was ever hired.”
“It does. I’ve been there for almost six years, and I’m not sure about my next move. It’s Sam’s practice, but if I’m not offered a partnership or able to negotiate a stake in ownership soon, then I’m going to look elsewhere.”
Edward nods. “If you’re meeting or exceeding expectations, then don’t be afraid to speak up. A little confidence goes a long way and may get you exactly what you want. Did you have a contract when you joined the practice?”
“No, which I’m realizing was a mistake.”
Katie and Charlotte return excitedly to finish their pumpkins, and we shift our focus to our own creations. With Katie at Edward’s side, he listens patiently to stories about the “stupid” boys in her class at school while she sprinkles glitter generously into her unicorn’s multi-colored yarn mane. I can’t keep the grin off my face when I notice the sparkles everywhere, including Edward’s shirt and his tattoos. Charlotte is busy next to me creating swirls and dots of gold glitter glue all over her blue Cinderella pumpkin, then she attaches gold butterflies to the surface.
It’s taking forever to remove the insides of my bigger second pumpkin before I can start carving, but my smile widens after the girls leave for dinner and the new arrivals join us. I stand, exchanging hugs with Garrett and Alistair as they take the girls’ vacated spots with pumpkins and sangria.
“Bella, how’s work?” Garrett pockets his tie, adds an apron over his work clothes, and sits next to me.
“Great. The practice is growing by leaps and bounds.”
“That’s fantastic.” Garrett looks across the table at his husband, lowering his voice. “I really should have changed.”
“We were already late, Gare. Did you see the cake Rose made? Chocolate cake with layers of orange buttercream in between and a white icing spider web piped over it? You love chocolate. I’m stealing that idea and making it next week. No one will eat the cupcakes I brought.” He frets, barely taking a breath. “She’s so creative. And the bouquet of sunflowers with skulls in the center? It’s like creepy Halloween chic. I need to make another trip to the Halloween and craft stores.”
“Because the skeletons climbing all over our house and the ghost you made from chicken wire aren’t creepy enough?” Garrett leans closer as if confiding a secret. “I nearly piss myself every time I pull into the driveway after work. She’s too realistic.”
I snort and interrupt their playful banter I can never get enough of, while Al settles next to Edward with two pumpkins.
“Do you both know Edward? He’s Rose’s twin brother.”
“No, I don’t believe we’ve met.” Garrett reaches across the table, shaking Edward’s hand.
Al, always ready to gossip, smiles and cups his mouth, “For good reason, I’m certain.”
“I’m Garrett and this is my husband, Al. We’re Rose’s neighbors from down the street.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Edward’s a professional hockey player,” I say.
Knowing they will turn into fanboys with that tidbit, I can’t wait to see how Edward responds to their adoration.
Garrett leans into my side. “That explains the man candy we saw while crossing the yard. Sweet Jesus. Bella, I’m here for you, if you need it. Point me in the right direction and I can be your wingman.”
I sneak a glance toward Edward as he continues carving, realizing already what Garrett hasn’t. He’ll figure it out. He’s great at reading people.
Al turns to Edward. “We love hockey and watch it all the time.”
“On mute,” Garrett adds, wiggling his eyebrows. “What is with the hair? The flow is incredible. Maybe I should grow mine longer or try a beard.”
“Darling, you hate using hair products.” Al’s voice catches and he crouches in place. “Oh, God, Gare. The stripper’s here. Don’t look. Let’s hope she doesn’t corner you again. Why does Rose have to be friends with everyone?”
I snicker, following his line of sight. “Irina’s a professional cheerleader, Al, not a stripper.”
“You could have fooled me. She’s practically nude when I see her and is always asking Gare to help with odd chores. Last time he was over at her house, she grabbed his ass. I mean, I can understand because it’s so great.”
“Aww, thanks, hun.” Garrett grins at the compliment while cutting into his pumpkin.
“It’s true. But I can see through her games a mile away. He’s a married man—” Al stops abruptly, holding up the empty containers. “Where is all the glitter? Has Katie been here?”
I nod, pointing toward the pumpkins drying at the end of the table. “And Charlotte.”
“Well, those are just perfect. Like mother, like daughter.” He huffs. “Okay, change of plans. I need paint—black, and this purple will do. Oh, she didn’t use all the silver glitter. Thank goodness.”
“So, Edward, what position do you play?” Garrett asks.
“Gare, what kind of question is that? Of course, we know he plays . . .”
Edward smiles, supplying the answer when it’s clear neither one has a clue. “Goalie.”
Al nods. “Right. That’s what I was going to say. Goalie. You look like a goalie.”
Garrett raises a challenging eyebrow. “Al, what does a goalie look like?”
“Well, obviously Edward with all his . . . teeth. Right, Bella? But you could have had work done. I can’t tell.” He squints, trying to see in Edward’s mouth.
“They’re mine,” Edward confirms. “No missing teeth or work.”
“He’s the Spider,” I add.
“Ohhhhh!” Garrett and Al say simultaneously, but it’s obvious they’re clueless by the looks on their faces.
“What does that mean?” Garrett whispers.
“It’s a nickname.”
Al chuckles. “Of course it is, and that sounds very manly.”
“Spider-manly,” I suggest, getting Edward’s attention. He gives me a heart-stopping smile that may turn me into mush.
“Spider-manly? Okay, is that some kind of inside . . . ohhhhh.” Al pauses, painting one of his pumpkins, looks back and forth between us, then narrows his eyes, putting together I’m interested in Edward.
We share a brief silent exchange, then Al shifts his attention to Garrett, cluing him in with a spousal look. Garrett gives Al a subtle nod, not missing a beat.
“You know, Edward . . .” Garrett starts.
He looks up from his pumpkin and trains those gorgeous green eyes on Garrett. It makes my stomach flutter with excitement, so I’m not surprised when Garrett stumbles a bit.
“Bella is one of the best . . . dentists I know. Or maybe I should say people or person, because we love Bella. She’s easy to talk to . . .”
“Trustworthy,” Al adds, tossing it back to Garrett.
“Passionate about her career and . . . other things.” My wingman is crumbling, and I’m a little concerned about what other things he means.
But Al makes the save. “She’s dedicated—always training on the latest equipment and learning new techniques.”
“Some people can be touchy about going to the dentist, but she puts me at ease, and I never miss an appointment. Al doesn’t either.”
“That’s right. Not a one.”
Edward’s focus shifts to me, and a smile tugs at the corner of his perfect lips. “Sounds like her patients are in expert hands.”
“Absolutely,” Garrett agrees, as Edward’s nephews bound toward the table.
“Uncle Edward! Uncle Edward! You promised you would play hockey with us.”
“I’ll be there soon.”
“Okay, we’ll go move the net!” They cheer, racing toward the front yard.
Edward wipes away the pumpkin from his hands with a paper towel and passes it over his design. He places a light inside, turning his jack-o’-lantern around for us to see the intricate spider web and spider. “What do you think?”
“Wow!” I gasp.
“Amazing,” Garrett marvels.
“That’s incredible, Edward. Is there anything you and Rose can’t do?” Al asks.
His smile dims slightly, and considering our earlier conversation, I worry Al has unknowingly upset him. Edward’s eyes find mine. “I should go eat and catch up with the boys. Nice meeting you all.”
“You too, Edward,” Garrett says while Al and I wave.
When he’s out of earshot, Al lowers his voice. “I’m so sorry, Bella. Did we screw that up for you?”
“Not at all. Every man is interested in a woman who sounds as warm as a carefully crafted resume, defined only by her career.”
Garrett cringes visibly. “Oh, God. We did that, and he heard all that talk about me being your wingman. I’m an idiot. I didn’t realize you were interested in him until Al gave me the look.”
“It’s fine. We were discussing our careers before you got here.” I wave off his concern, knowing it is unrealistic to believe I have a shot with Edward—even though it felt like we were connecting.
Al reaches over and squeezes my hand. “For what it’s worth, it looked like his pumpkin was finished long before we sat down. I think he’s interested, Bella.”
“Thanks, Al.” I smile, looking between my two good friends and knowing their hearts are in the right place.
While the paint on Al’s pumpkins dry, Garrett and I continue carving. The three of us sip sangria and nibble on too much Halloween candy while dishing about their neighbors and creating memorable jack-o’-lanterns. Garrett’s Cheshire Cat becomes one of my favorites, while Al’s double pumpkin creation leaves me grinning like a Cheshire Cat. The pumpkin he painted black includes the outline of a silver, glitter-edged, purple filled wine glass, while the other purple pumpkin says, “More Boos Please.”
A cool evening breeze arrives with the sunset, and as the twinkling stars emerge, we join Rose on the deck around the fire. We’re all ready for chili, a spider web layered dip, and other themed nibbles. Al nearly levitates from his spot when Rose chooses one of his floating ghost cupcakes, praising his creativity nonstop.