Along Came a Spider/C24

A/N: Thank yous to NKubie for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for betaing. They’re both amazing, and I’m so grateful for their help. xx

Song inspiration for this chapter: “Rainbow,” Kacey Musgraves

You hold tight to your umbrella
Well, darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow
Hangin’ over your head”

(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) /\ \

Chapter 24

Time is not on my side.

It goes either too quickly or too slowly.

My weekend with Edward was . . . one of the best I’ve had since . . . I can’t remember a better one in recent years, and Monday morning arrived too soon. I’m not any better at air hockey, but his office and hallway decorated with his hockey memorabilia looks incredible—his entire home does with all the Christmas decorations. With his recent additions, it’s starting to feel more like him with every visit. He’s doing his behind the scenes interview on Friday leading up to their home game against Las Vegas that night. After the game, he leaves with his team for Nashville.

My own impending departure is looming like a dark, threatening storm hovering on the horizon, and I’m getting ready to fly straight into it. Even though I’m trying my best to focus on everything here, I’m filled with constant worry that the unknowns may be more than I can handle. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been doing my best to control what’s within reach. I call or text my mother daily, because the thought that there could come a time in the near future that I can’t . . . well, that possibility isn’t one I’m ready to accept.

While I’m cherishing every moment I can spend with Mom, even from a distance, I’ve been arming myself with knowledge, hoping to get a better grasp on the reality of what we’re facing and our next steps if surgery isn’t enough. Our conversations are heartbreaking at times, especially when she gets quiet. I can sense her frustration at not remembering our shared memories as I do. I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately, especially after learning more about the road that brought Edward to Dallas.

My days in the office move at a snail’s pace, even with back-to-back patients, and I arrive home exhausted in the evenings. Currently, I’ve just finished a root canal with a little extra time before my next appointment, and I’m tapping into my emergency chocolate I keep in the bottom drawer of my desk. It’s the only thing helping to maintain my sanity since Paul’s in the office today. One more snide comment about my upcoming “vacation,” and I could reach my tipping point. At least he’s handling our increased new patient load, which is mostly routine checkups. I can’t keep the smile from my face with every remark about the overwhelming number filling his appointment log. It is one hundred percent my doing—with a little help from Rose.

Despite our busy schedules, I’m looking forward to spending the next two evenings with Edward. Tonight, we’re Christmas shopping, then tomorrow, we’ll be delivering those gifts when I finish with work. He doesn’t know what I have planned, but when I asked if he was available to spend both evenings together, he agreed without a second thought.

The fact that I will be away from him for two weeks makes me nauseous just thinking about it. The way I’m feeling can probably be attributed to starting my period two days ago, but it could be the egg salad I had for lunch. God, I love egg salad. Please don’t let it be that. Or maybe I have an incurable case of lovesickness—

A series of sharp knocks on my door pulls me from my wandering thoughts and a muffled voice gets my attention. “Dr. Swan?”

“Yes.”

Jane, one of our hygienists, opens my door. “I’m sorry to bother you, but we have a situation. Our patient in room one—” She lowers her voice. “—bit Dr. Lahote.”

Oh, shit.

It’s not a frequent incident, but it does happen occasionally.

“Is there blood?” I wonder.

“No, but Dr. Lahote was already losing patience with the boy and . . . could you take over? He’s a recently turned five-year old, named Diego, and he’s here with his mother, Maria. He wouldn’t open his mouth for Dr. Lahote.” She chuckles. “Well, except for the bite. His chart says he loves dinosaurs.”

I nod, knowing that’s how I’ll connect with him, since kids who love dinosaurs tend to know the difference between a carnivore and an herbivore before their ABCs. He could be simply role-playing with the bite, but hopefully, he’ll respond to me better than he did Paul.

“Who did he see previously or is he a new patient?”

“He saw Dr. Uley.”

“Were you able to do X-rays?”

Jane grins, and I know the answer instantly, because she is loved by not only our staff, but also all our patients, new or old. She’s been here since Sam started the practice, and one of his greatest assets.

“Diego knows me. I also cleaned and flossed his teeth without issue.”

And Paul couldn’t handle what should be a routine check.

Why am I not surprised?

“Did anything concern you with his X-rays?”

“No.”

“Okay. Get Dr. Lahote some ice and I’ll be right there.”

I toss my remaining unwrapped chocolates back in my desk drawer and exit my office, walking toward room one. I smile reassuringly as I enter, glancing briefly at the worried mother and squirming child in the chair.

“Good afternoon, Diego. I’m Dr. Bella. I just heard there was a T-Rex sighting today. Did you see him walk through this room?” I ask while washing my hands. “I was hoping to say hello.”

Diego’s eyes widen. “He didn’t come through here.”

“Hmmm, I guess I missed my chance to meet the king of the dinosaurs. Have you ever seen the teeth of a T-Rex?” I reach for a paper towel, drying my hands and leaning against the counter.

“No. Have you?”

“I have. They’re the size of bananas. If he loses one, do you know what happens?”

Diego shakes his head.

I take a seat on the rolling stool and move closer. “He regrows another one. It takes about two years. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for us, but it would be cool if it did.”

“Yeah!”

“That’s why it’s important for us to take good care of our teeth. Do you know how many teeth are in the mouth of a T-Rex?”

“Ummm . . .” He thinks for a moment. “I don’t know.”

“Sixty. Do you know how many you have?”

He shrugs, tapping on his teeth in an attempt to count, but resigns with a grin. “A bunch.”

I nod. “How about I look inside your mouth and count them for you?”

Diego watches me closely for a moment before he agrees with a touch of resignation in his voice. “Okay.”

I grab a couple cotton rolls from a drawer. “I’m going to put this little spacer between your molars while I count. Here you can hold one.”

He squeezes it a couple of times before handing it back to me.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to keep your mouth open for a long time, but this will help if your jaws need a little rest while I look around inside.” And prevent him from biting me, if it’s something he can’t control.

I’m unsure why he bit Paul, but I have my suspicions. Paul lacks two important traits for every dentist: empathy and patience. At some point, everyone experiences anxiety about their visit to the dentist, and it’s important to connect with each patient, putting them at ease before you begin.

“I’m going to tilt the chair backward, so I can see all your teeth.”

He nods, grasping onto the arm rests while it moves.

“Have you been to the nature and science museum?” I ask.

His mother shakes her head, and I flip on the light, pointing it toward his mouth.

“Unh-uh.”

“Well, you would love it. The fourth floor is full of dinosaur fossils, including a T-Rex. I know they have some wonderful programs. They even host sleepovers and birthday parties. There is a children’s museum on the ground floor where you can dig for fossils.” I reach for a disposable mask and turn to where Jane is hovering in the doorway. “Jane, can you check with Rose and see if we have any extra family passes?”

“Sure.”

“Thank you.” I return my attention to Diego who is gripping the arm rests a little tighter than I hoped at this point, but I have a plan for releasing some of the tension he’s holding. “Your first trip to the museum is on me.”

He gives me a slight smile.

“Now, I’m going to need you to hold your mouth open wide while I count your teeth. Do you know how to roar like a lion?”

Diego giggles. “Maybe.”

“Of course you do. Don’t be shy. Let me hear you.”

“Roarrrrr.”

“Well, that was good, but a T-Rex is louder than a lion. Can you give me a roar like a T-Rex? Really let it loose this time. Let’s see if you can rattle the windows.”

“RRROOOAAARRRRR!”

“Now, that’s one of the best I’ve ever heard. Give me a high-five.”

He smacks my hand and I turn toward the computer screen. After looking through his chart and digital X-rays, I find nothing concerning, put on my mask, and reach for a pair of gloves.

“You should have twenty teeth, but since they’re your first set we identify them with alphabet letters. Do you know your ABCs?”

“Yeah, those are easy.”

I hear a loud commotion in the waiting area followed by Rose’s laughter. I’m curious when the noise level doesn’t fade, but stay focused on Diego.

“Good. We’ll start on the upper right with A, and since it’s my first time checking them, I’ll get to see if you’ve lost any yet. I’m going to touch each tooth with my explorer, and we’ll use my special spacer too.” I place it between his upper and lower molars on the left side. “Here we go. A . . . B . . . C.” I reach for a mirror to look behind his front teeth. “D, E, F, G.” I return it to the tray and switch the cotton roll to the right side. “H . . . I . . . and . . . J. All ten look fantastic. Do you drink a lot of milk?”

He smiles. “My abuela says it will make my teeth strong.”

“She’s right. You’re doing so good I don’t think we need my spacer this time.” I leave it on the tray and grab the mirror. “Let’s open like a T-Rex again and I’ll check your bottom teeth.”

“Okay.”

“K . . . L . . . M. Almost done. N, O . . . P . . . Q, R. Just a little wider. Great. S . . . and . . . T.” I grin, rolling away and setting the tools on the tray. “Diego, I’m impressed. You have amazing teeth. You’re doing a great job with your toothbrush, but we’ll give you a new one to take home today. Are you brushing after every meal?”

“I try to remember, but sometimes I forget.”

I nod reassuringly while I flip off the light and raise the chair upright with the foot pedal. “That happens. Your two bottom teeth in the front are loose.”

“Are you going to pull them?” he asks nervously, glancing toward his mother.

I toss my mask and gloves into the trash. “No. I think we’ll let them wiggle out on their own, but if they give you any trouble, come see me again.”

“Anyone available to count my teeth?”

I grin at the sound of Edward’s familiar voice behind me and turn to find him filling the doorway.

“Hey, this is a surprise. I didn’t expect to see you until later.”

“I need my eight-week check, since you’ll be gone next week. Rose said she would work me into your remaining appointments for the day. I can hang out until you’re ready for me.”

“You can, huh?” I jut my chin toward the hallway. “You’re welcome to wait in my office.”

“Okay. And maybe you were right. I may have caused a bit of stir in the waiting room.”

“Anyone swoon?” I tease.

“Some guy wearing a white lab coat like yours and holding a bag of ice.” Edward winks, and I nearly burst out laughing at his dismissing assessment of the only person who could be Paul. His eyes shift to my patient. “Sorry to interrupt, bud. I know what it’s like to want all of Dr. Bella’s time.”

“It’s okay.”

Edward thumbs over his shoulder. “I’ll go try to stay out of trouble.”

My smile widens. “That’s a big job for you.”

“Which is why I’ll need your help.”

His crooked grin is back in full force, and I chuckle as we watch Edward disappear from view.

“Who was that?”

“Diego,” his mother warns.

I wave off her concern. “It’s fine. He’s my boyfriend. And patient.”

“He’s big.”

“That’s what drinking milk regularly and finishing all your vegetables will do. Any other questions for me?”

Diego smiles. “When can I come back?”

“I’ll see you in six months. Jane has your goody bag and family pass to the museum. I want to hear about your trip when you visit me next time.”

“Thanks, Dr. Bella. You’re nice,” he says, as I unclip the disposable dental bib from around his neck. Its removal reveals a T-Rex T-shirt, putting a smile on my face instantly.

“Why don’t you go pick out a couple of stickers while your mom schedules your next appointment?”

“Okay. Bye.” Diego slides from the chair and rushes out of the room.

His mother stands and gathers her things while I make a few quick notes in Diego’s chart.

“Thank you, Dr. Swan—for taking over. Diego hasn’t ever—”

“Hey, it’s my pleasure. Doctor and dentist appointments can be scary, especially with someone new. We have incidents like this happen on occasion. Please accept my apologies on behalf of Dr. Lahote that he wasn’t able to continue with your appointment.”

“Can I request you for next time?”

“Absolutely. Rose will take care of scheduling Diego’s next appointment at the front desk.”

Another of our hygienists, Corin, stops in the doorway of room one. “Dr. Swan, we’re ready for you in room three.”

“I’ll be right there. I need just a moment.”

I try not to sprint to my office, but knowing he’s waiting, it’s difficult maintaining my professional composure. As I turn the corner and enter the room, Edward is leaning against my desk. My eyes pass quickly over his pair of perfectly distressed jeans and hoodie that is undoubtedly filled with his heavenly scent.

“Hey.” I close the door behind me, walk straight into his open arms, and wrap mine around his shoulders.

“Hey.” He tightens his embrace, and I sag with relief at his comforting touch.

My lips find his for a quick peck, but I can’t resist another, then another, until neither of us can keep our tongues to ourselves and soft moans fill the room. I don’t want to cut this short, but I don’t have a choice. I pull my mouth from his to catch my breath, but he continues, trailing kisses along my jaw and down my neck.

“I have patients waiting.” I giggle when he touches a sensitive spot.

“I know. I’m in your queue—not my favorite spot of yours, but I’ll take what I can get.” He wiggles his eyebrows and leans close to brush his lips against mine once more. “How has your day been?”

“Not the greatest, but it’s getting better. It’s interesting how that always coincides with you.”

“That is interesting.” He leaves a kiss on my forehead and loosens his hold. “You better get going, so I can have you all to myself.”

“I can’t wait.”

“Me either.”

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

After working through my remaining scheduled patients, I complete Edward’s eight-week check. I’m pleased with how his teeth are healing and anticipate him making a full recovery. We’re the last to leave the office for the day, and he follows me in his truck to my townhouse. After parking in the driveway, he slides into the passenger seat of my car and fastens his seatbelt.

While my car idles at the curb, I hold out the envelope containing the two wish lists I printed last night. “Merry Christmas.”

He looks between the envelope and me curiously, taking it from my hand. “Thank you.”

“You haven’t even opened it yet.”

“I’m sure I’ll love whatever it is because it’s from you.” After placing a gentle kiss on my lips, he pulls open the envelope’s sealed flap, unfolds the two pieces of paper, and scans the pages. “Wish lists? Are we Christmas shopping?”

“Yes. You’re not the easiest person to buy for, and I know you’re involved with a variety of charities on your own and with the team. But this is something I thought we could do together. Maybe a new tradition. Plus, you seem to like shopping and giving gifts, especially to me.”

His grin widens as he listens to my explanation.

“So, we’re going to cram as many toys into my car and trunk as possible, then donate them tomorrow night to Children’s Medical Center. We’ll come back for your truck later and do the same at the pet store, then donate those items to the SPCA where you adopted Scout and Shadow.”

He tilts his head in question. “And what about afterward? Will you stay with me tonight?”

Knowing our time before I leave is limited, I’m eager to accept his offer. “Yes.”

“And tomorrow night?”

“I’ll stay over tomorrow night too, but I need to grab a few things when we return later. Maybe you can shuttle me back and forth to work both days?”

“Done.”

“And I’m picking up the tab for both shopping trips.”

“I can’t let you do that.” He shakes his head, folds the lists, and returns them inside the envelope.

“But it’s my gift for you. We’ll take a few photos while we’re at both places for you to share. I’m sure everyone will love if you were to sign a few things.”

“In that case, I have one request.” Edward laces our fingers together, taking a moment before he speaks. He watches his thumb as it rubs back and forth along mine. “Are you willing to be in the photos with me?”

I smile, agreeing without hesitation. “If that’s what you want, then my answer is yes.”

When his eyes shift to mine, they’re brimming with a mix of happiness and sincerity. “Doc, I’ve never had anyone give me a gift like this. I-I normally do these types of visits with my teammates.”

“Well, I’m definitely on your team. So, I think I qualify.” My smile dims with a touch of uncertainty that maybe this isn’t what he was expecting. “Do you like it? I realize it’s not a gift in the traditional sense, but with so many in need, and we’re both in positions to help, I thought—”

His mouth cuts short my explanation and his hand cups the back of my head, holding me in place. The intensity of his kisses leaves me breathless and slightly dazed when he pulls away.

“It’s perfect. I—” Edward pauses, and his eyes search mine for a moment before he speaks. “I think it’s an incredibly generous gift. Thank you.”

My head bobs slightly as relief washes over me. “You’re welcome. We should probably get going or we’re going to be here all night, if you keep kissing me like that.”

“Sounds like a challenge.” He winks.

I grin, licking my lips. “Maybe another time.”

“Later, then.” He pecks my lips once more, his hand finds its way to my leg, resting on my thigh. “If I’m going to sign stuff, I should pick up some boxes of team gear, like hats and beanies, at our offices after tomorrow’s morning skate, then we can pass out those too.”

“I’m sure you’ll leave a trail of new fans everywhere we go,” I tease, pulling away from my townhouse and driving toward our first stop of the evening. “I arranged for scheduled visits at each of the locations tomorrow. After looking over the toy wish list, I think we should focus on their highest need items for infants, toddlers, and teens.”

“Sounds like a great plan.”

“What was your favorite gift you received growing up? You know, like a favorite toy or game. Maybe we can include some of those items with our purchases.”

“Hmmm, my favorites. Well, my birthday is during the summer. So, I remember a lot of fun times on the water—boating, fishing, and swimming. Dad loves to fish. I had a Super Soaker party one year, which was great. Everyone was drenched right from the start. Mom wouldn’t let us in the house and we spent the entire day outside. It was a blast.”

I grin. “I bet that was fun. My dad loves to fish too.”

Edward nods. “Hockey gear was always a win, but Mom purchased replacements when I outgrew my old ones. Most of my friends would get a new hockey stick each year for Christmas and mini sticks were popular too. When we were young, my teammates would come over after games and play knee hockey using them. I got in trouble regularly for the chunks missing from my bedroom walls. Our games were probably a little more intense than they should have been.”

“I can’t picture Esme raising her voice to anyone, especially you.” I chuckle.

“What you don’t know about hockey moms is a lot.”

Our laughter continues before he returns to sharing his memories.

“One of my buddies got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas when they were new, and we played Mario Kart in four-player mode for hours. It was awesome. I’m not like some of the guys who grew up playing video games constantly. These days, someone will bring along a gaming system on our longer road trips, and the guys will gather in one of the rooms, playing until curfew. I’d rather have sleep and only play when I hang out with Austin and Eric. They love beating me.”

“Sounds like you’re a good uncle.”

“Hey, I do what I can.” He laughs. “I remember we had Nerf wars when I was a kid, blasting those little foam darts everywhere, and playing a lot of hacky sack. Some of the guys still play hacky sack or soccer as part of their warm up routine.”

“I never had any of those, but I do recall begging my mother for Moon Shoes one year. It ended in an emergency room visit and stitches.”

Edward grins. “Rose had a Tamagotchi. It drove Mom crazy because she wouldn’t do her chores, but she made time to care for it. She wanted a pet badly, and it was a compromise. I remember her having a massive Beanie Babies collection too. What about you? Tell me about your mother and life growing up in Phoenix.”

I shift in my seat, staring out the windshield and starting with the basics. “I lived with my mom until the last year and a half of high school. She was an unconventional parent and always treated me more like her best friend than daughter. Her heart has always been full of wanderlust, ready for the next adventure. So, we had more experiences together rather than gifts. She started a tradition of mother-daughter trips when I was young. The early ones were day hikes or trips to places like the botanical garden, a museum, or concert.”

As I recall those times together, a particular trip to a baseball game comes to mind and an uneasy feeling passes over me. Given my mom’s current situation, I wonder why she didn’t share any words of caution when I told her about dating Edward over Thanksgiving—especially when I revealed his profession. I was so busy explaining the red flags and caught up with my social media concerns, I failed to realize, in the moment, she’s been down this road before. Phil played minor league baseball when we met him. It was a short-lived career, but full of similar pitfalls I’m facing with Edward. No wonder Dad was less than impressed.

“Doc? Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Sorry. Um . . . neither of us was ever into sports, but one summer, we went to a baseball game together for something different. Someone had probably given her free tickets. I had no idea how much that game would change our lives.” I shrug, searching my memory for another explanation for why we went and coming up empty-handed. “Anyway, some of the players were hanging out, signing items before the game. On our way to our seats, we passed the table where they were, and one said hello. Before we got too far away, the same guy caught up with us, holding a signed handout for Mom to take. He claimed she dropped it, but we knew that wasn’t the case. When we took our seats, I noticed he included his phone number.

“Their relationship happened fast. It was a whirlwind of dates then marriage. She was head over heels in love, but miserable because they spent a majority of their time apart due to his traveling. I suggested the possibility of moving to Forks and living with my father so she could tag along with her new husband’s road trips. It took some convincing, but she agreed eventually. Phil never made it farther than the minor leagues and they settled in Florida. He’s been a high school baseball coach for years and also teaches. Mom was a substitute teacher for a while, then taught kindergarten. She’s great with little kids.”

Edward gives my thigh a gentle squeeze. “When I caught you in action earlier today, it seemed like you were winning over the newest member of the Dr. Bella fan club. Katie will probably disagree, but I think I should be president.” He winks when I glance in his direction, putting a smile on my face.

“Diego is sweet, and after he bit Paul, I had to diffuse the situation, leaving him with a positive experience. I always thought I was more like my father, but I suppose Mom and I are similar in that regard.” My smile fades slightly as I consider our differences. Pulling into the parking lot outside of the toy store, I let the car idle and stare at the illuminated sign before turning toward Edward. “She’s spontaneous while I love routine, thriving on my daily schedule of appointments. Mom has never worn a watch or been good with being on time for anything. Now that time is such a precious commodity, I’m grasping desperately onto our past and the fleeting moments of the present. Unfortunately, our memories are slipping beyond her reach. It’s a not so gentle reminder that the future isn’t guaranteed.”

He reaches for my hand and nestles it between both of his. “Bella, what’s wrong with your mom? I promise I won’t tell anyone. You can trust me.”

My throat tightens and my eyes well with tears at the harsh realities waiting for me in Washington. I brush away a tear that escapes, rolling down my cheek. I shake my head and release a deep breath.

“I know. It’s . . . she has a brain tumor and is scheduled for a craniotomy on the twenty-third. It’s serious. I’m . . . I’m scared—that we’re too late. All these years, we dismissed the symptoms, downplaying or attributing them to something else. Anything else. We didn’t know.”

Edward takes a moment before he responds, but when he does, his comforting voice is full of tenderness. “While it probably feels daunting right now, I have no doubt your mother is courageous and beautiful, like you. This diagnosis has already strengthened the love between your parents, giving them a second chance that maybe neither expected, but both need. The good news is she’ll have you by her side as well. While this new challenge may be difficult at times, it isn’t impossible.”

I chuckle sadly. “I wish I had your faith. My every other thought begins with what if and spirals from there. Knowledge is a slippery slope. Maybe I should stay off the internet.”

His thumb strokes my hand gently. “I would never minimize the enormity of what you’re feeling or your mother’s situation. If it were my mother, I have no doubt I would feel the same way. Faith isn’t easy, but life is full of choices in how you handle its challenges. What’s happening now feels beyond your control, but never underestimate a positive attitude. It’s important.

“My job is probably the best example. It is the most mentally demanding of any sport. I’m on the ice for the entire game—the full sixty minutes. I bear the brunt of criticism when the puck inevitably finds its way into the back of the net. Every decision I make must be instantaneous. Mistakes happen, but I don’t dwell on those, whether they are mine or my teammates. I think about the next shot and the next save I’m going to make. It’s not about your mental toughness when everything is going right, but when things go wrong.” He brings my hand to his lips, leaving a kiss on the back. “I think you underestimate yourself, because you are the strongest woman I’ve ever met. You’re patient and compassionate. I can’t imagine your mother having a greater advocate on her behalf than you.”

I want to believe so badly that everything is going to be okay. His sweet words are a heady combination, warming my heart.

“And you think I’m biased.”

“There’s zero doubt I’m your biggest fan, but, I’ll play your what if game with only one question you’re overlooking. What if . . . her surgery is a success?”

Do I dare say it?

“She’ll get better,” I whisper, holding onto that blossoming nugget of hope.

“Exactly.” He grins. “Then you’ll need to worry about something else, like planning your next mother-daughter trip.”

“We haven’t taken one in years. Looking back, I shouldn’t have let them subside—no matter how busy we were.”

“It sounds like you’re in a position now to correct that oversight.”

“You’re right. It would give both of us something to look forward to once this storm passes.”

“And it will pass, Doc. You only need time to ride it out.”

I nod, hoping we will have enough time to find the rainbows again, as we prepare to bear the current storm ahead.