A/N: Thank yous to NKubie, AnakinSmom and princeselisa for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for beta-ing. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Stand By You,” Rachel Platten
(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) /\ \
I stir slightly, snuggling deeper under my layers of warm bedding and tugging them over my head. My eyes open briefly at the sound of two rapid buzzes from where my phone vibrates on the nightstand. Pushing the covers back to reveal my face, I blink slowly. My teenage bedroom is still dark, so it must be early. I don’t hear my parents either—only the occasional creak of the roof or branch against my window as the wind blows. It rained lightly all day yesterday and overnight, but today is forecasted to be overcast.
It’s the kind of day I love—an easy Saturday with nothing pressing and waking without an alarm. Maybe I’ll make pancakes this morning. My fantasies drift to a lazy breakfast in bed with Edward when my phone vibrates twice again. Sparking my curiosity at the identity of the sender at this hour, I suspect I already know. Reluctantly stretching beyond the cozy warmth of my bed, I grasp my phone as the screen lights up with my movements. I’m thrilled when I see it’s him.
Good morning, beautiful. X
During this two-week trip to Forks, the frequency of Edward’s texts is on the rise. There’s always a message in the morning, then one at night with random short texts during the day. It’s sweet that my day begins and ends with him, putting me in a perpetual good mood despite being apart or the looming reason for this trip. I don’t think I’ve ever been with anyone who put this kind of effort into my relationships in the past. It’s probably second nature for him to reach out constantly with all the traveling he does. Regardless, I appreciate his effort.
I grin when a photo arrives of him smiling next to Shadow who is sitting on a concrete wall outside and staring off in the distance. The location makes sense when the next photo he sends is of Scout and Duke, exploring his backyard and pond area past his pool.
Good morning, handsome. xx
Sorry, if you were sleeping.
It’s early there, right?
You’re not sorry.
And you know exactly what time it is here.
I know, but I like waking you up.
Especially, when you’re in my bed. 😉
You look great for someone who probably hasn’t had enough sleep.
I’m tired and sore this morning.
It’s been a while since I’ve played in back-to-back games.
Inside and at the top of Shadow’s cat tree.
She likes it and refused to join us.
We just got back from a long walk.
Are you still in bed?
Yes. It’s snuggle weather today.
Can I have a pic?
I’ve sent him a few since arriving, but none while in bed or when I wasn’t fully dressed and right now, I’m only wearing his oversized T-shirt with a pair of underwear.
For only you?
Hang on. It’s still dark here.
I push off my comforter, reach out, and turn on the lamp on the nightstand, bathing the room with soft light. As my eyes adjust, I run a hand through my wild hair, then snap a quick photo. One photo turns into two, then another and another until I finally get one that I decide is as good as it’s going to get, considering the subject is a bleary-eyed, sleep-rumpled mess.
Without an immediate response after I send the photo, I conclude he’s probably busy with his furry crew and getting ready to leave for his morning skate. So, I drop my phone next to me on the bed and close my eyes until I hear it buzz twice. There’s no keeping my smile from widening at his text.
Doc, how am I supposed to focus on ANYTHING
other than you or that photo for the rest of the day?
Is it a keeper?
You’re a keeper.
And thank you for my new favorite.
I’ve got to go, but I’ll call later tonight.
I can’t wait. xx
Me either. X
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
As the credits for the movie begin, the back door opens and closes abruptly. Dad stomps toward the kitchen sink, turning on the faucet and washing his hands. When he found out we were watching another movie, he decided to escape to the garage. I’m not sure what he’s been doing out there, because his fishing gear can’t possibly need that much maintenance when it hasn’t been used recently. I suspect he’s growing restless with retirement already. And he hasn’t been far from Mom since I’ve arrived.
His hovering isn’t something I’ve ever experienced before, so it’s an adjustment for all of us. Mom keeps suggesting updates they could make around the house, but I think that could be her form of a diversion to help take his mind off her surgery and eventually her recovery.
“What did you think?” Mom smiles, folding the blanket draped across her legs.
“I can see why Edward likes this one. It’s a great story. Maybe not if you’re Russian.” I chuckle. “But those were tense times between our countries.”
I don’t say it, but at the beginning when the starting goalie mentions losing his mother and playing for her, I wondered if I was going to be able to keep it together for the rest of the movie. Thankfully, I did.
“Well, most of the hockey stuff went over my head.” She shrugs. “What should we do next? Cookies?”
“I’ll go find the recipe.” She stands, grabs our empty hot chocolate mugs, and disappears into the kitchen.
I sit up, checking my phone, finding another text from Leah. After our girls’ night on Thursday, she was leaning toward leaving the state after Christmas for her final week of vacation. She purchased her plane ticket to Dallas this morning, since she’s taking me up on my previous offer and returning with me after Mom’s surgery. I haven’t mentioned it to Edward yet, but I hope including her with the events surrounding his game, like the after party, won’t be a problem. He’s always such an inclusive guy, that I can’t imagine it being an issue.
What’s the weather like in Dallas?
This time of year, the temperatures are similar to here.
Except with more sunshine.
While Leah types her response, I overhear my parents’ conversation in the kitchen.
“Movie over?” Dad asks.
I’m finished with Christmas shopping.
But I decided to brave the crowds for new vacation clothes. 😉
Will I need a bikini?
You said Edward has a hot tub, right?
Yes, and a pool.
I’m positive he won’t mind us using either.
“Uh . . . Billy called.”
The mention of Billy gets my attention. Billy and Sue attended Dad’s retirement party last week, but I’m more surprised at the blossoming friendship between Sue and Mom.
“Yeah. He invited me over to watch the game today, but I don’t know.”
“You should go,” Mom encourages.
“You’re sure?” Dad asks.
I can’t believe he’s considering leaving the house without Mom, but it’s obvious to us, he needs time away.
And a dress for the party?
What are you wearing to the hockey game?
“Charlie, we’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. Go, enjoy your time with Billy. Bella’s here and we’re going to make cookies.”
“The cherry ones?”
I return my focus to Leah and type out my reply.
Yes, a dress for the after party.
I’m wearing jeans and a hockey jersey to the game.
I’ll ask Edward about getting you one to wear too.
I’m excited for the trip.
It will be so much fun—you may never want to leave. 😉
Now there’s a thought!
Off to shop.
I tune back into my parents’ conversation as Dad continues with his reassurances.
“I’ll have my phone on me, if you need anything. I can pick up dinner on my way back after the game. I don’t know. A pizza or something.”
“There’s no rush. Bella mentioned making soup later, which sounds wonderful. So, that will be waiting when you return.”
“Okay. Don’t forget your medication.”
They’re quiet for a moment, then I hear the unmistakable sounds of kissing until he appears in the doorway.
“Bella, I’m going out to Billy’s.”
“Call me if—”
“Dad, go. Enjoy yourself.”
He nods. “It will only be a few hours.”
“We’ll be here. Don’t forget, Edward’s calling later and I want you to be here to say hello.”
“Right. The game could run long. You never know.” He smirks, but we both know he’ll be watching the clock until it’s time for his return home.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
The doorbell rings, getting our attention, as I pull the last batch of cookies from the oven. “Were you expecting anyone?” I ask, looking toward the living room.
“No. I’ll go see who it is.” Mom wipes her fingers on a towel from where she’s coating the warm cookies in powdered sugar.
I listen as Mom greets our unexpected guest, recognizing the voice immediately. After sliding the waiting cornbread into the hot oven, I set the timer as Mom returns to the kitchen with her arm wrapped around Sue.
Mom grins. “Bella, look who’s here.”
My smile widens. “Hey, Sue.”
“Hi, Bella. It smells wonderful in here.”
“Have a seat. We’re finishing up baking cookies. Help yourself. There’s plenty.” I wave toward the pile of cooled cookies. “Let us know what you think.”
“Did you just finish your shift at the hospital?” Mom asks.
“Yes. I’m tired, but I wanted to stop by before going home to sleep until my next shift.”
“Can you stay for a little while?” Mom looks hopefully at Sue.
“I can get you something to drink?” I offer. “We have wine or I can start a fresh pot of coffee?”
“I’ll stay.” Sue smiles, shrugging off her jacket and draping it over the back of a chair. “How about a glass of wine?”
“Great. I’ll join you.” I grab two glasses and reach for my bottle from last night. “Is white okay?”
“That will be fine.” Sue hums her delight over her first cookie, reaching for another. “These are delicious.”
“Mom, how about a cup of tea?” I grin, as they settle into the chairs around our kitchen table.
“Does it matter which one?” I wonder, looking over the variety of tins.
“No. I’ve had the chamomile and green teas, but maybe the peppermint this evening?” she suggests. “It sounds festive.”
I nod, filling her early Christmas present with water. I couldn’t resist, knowing she’s been struggling with sleeping and understandable anxiety.
Mom shifts in her seat toward Sue and explains, “Bella bought me an electric kettle with a wonderful assortment of teas recently. Have you ever had one? It heats the water so quickly.”
“No, but that sounds like a fantastic gift.”
“The soup is almost ready,” I share, filling Sue’s wine glass. “You’re welcome to stay for dinner too. It’s a new recipe: lemon lentil, with onions, carrots, corn, and red lentils.”
I’ve been cooking nonstop while I’ve been here, scouring the internet for new recipes and filling Dad’s freezer with comfort food I think Mom will be able to eat during her recovery.
“Bella, you’re a dear. Thank you. Soup sounds perfect. Is Charlie here?”
Mom shakes her head. “No. He went to Billy’s to watch the game.”
“That’s good. Real good.” Sue shares an understanding smile. “He hasn’t said it outright, but I know Billy has missed him.”
“I understand I’m the reason and I’m sorry for that. Charlie won’t let me out of his sight. Thank goodness Bella’s here to babysit me or he never would have gone today.”
“You know it’s true.”
“He’ll be back later,” I clarify. “Or I’ll track him down.”
Mom’s eyes light up. “That’s right. We’re meeting Bella’s new guy over the phone this evening.”
“He works for Jacob?” Sue asks.
Knowing that version probably came from Billy or Jacob, I chuckle at the absurdity. “It’s the other way around. Jacob is Edward’s agent.”
“Oh. And he plays football?”
“No, ice hockey.”
“Ah. Sorry. My brain is exhausted, but I only half-listen to Billy or Jacob when they get started talking about sports. Leah’s excited for her trip with you to Dallas. She needs a break from work. They are running her ragged at the office, but she swears they sell homes year-round and the holidays are no exception. I think she said she was shopping today after her morning showings. She has an open house tomorrow.”
I nod. “Leah texted earlier. I’m excited to show her around the city. I love it there and can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Sue reaches for her purse on the floor. “Renée, I brought you something—a gift.”
I take a seat across from them, sipping from my wine glass, as Sue sets the small wrapped box in front of Mom.
“You didn’t need to do this, Sue.”
“I know I didn’t, but this just seemed . . . right. Open it.”
When Mom finally unwraps and opens the box, I can see it’s a silver necklace. Her eyes well with unshed tears as Sue explains the meaning behind her gift.
“It’s a Native American healing hand pendant. I hope it will bring you peace—spiritually, emotionally, and physically.” She reaches for Mom’s hand, lacing their fingers together and speaking her next words softly. “May the stars carry your sadness away, may the flowers fill your heart with beauty, may hope forever wipe away your tears, and above all, may silence make you strong.”
“Thank you,” Mom whispers between sniffs, reaching out and wrapping herself around Sue in a tight embrace.
My throat tightens with the heartfelt sentiment, and I wipe away my own tears. “That’s beautiful, Sue.”
“It’s a Native American blessing and just felt right to share. I know these next days won’t be easy, but I’m here for you.” She smiles at Mom, then her eyes shift to mine. “Both of you. Whatever you need. Promise you’ll keep me updated, Bella?”
I nod. “I will.”
Mom releases a deep sigh. “At this rate, we should keep a box of tissues in here. Excuse me. I’m going to run to the bathroom for a moment.”
“Okay.” Once Mom’s out of the room, I reach across the table, covering Sue’s hand with mine. “I don’t know what to say. Thank you for being here, but especially for befriending my mother. It can’t be easy.”
Sue tilts her head, hesitating slightly before lowering her voice. “Bella, before you were born, Billy’s wife Sarah and I were close friends with your mother.”
“You were?” I release her hand, standing to stir the soup and finish Mom’s tea.
“Yes. Did you know Sarah and I were at your birth?”
“No.” I shake my head, completely unaware of this news. “Mom never mentioned it.”
“Charlie was a wreck, leading up to your arrival, and when your mother’s water broke . . . well, Billy and Harry guided him safely to the waiting room.” She chuckles.
“That doesn’t seem like him.” I set Mom’s tea at her spot and return to my seat while it steeps.
“He’s a very calm and controlled man with only two exceptions—your mother and you. You’re probably seeing a different side to him lately.”
I nod, running my thumb along the curve of my glass as she confirms my suspicions. “It’s like he’s unraveling slowly without work, he seems . . .”
“Lost. Restless. It will be an adjustment, but back then, he wasn’t the only one hurt when Renée left with you. Sarah and I lost her too. The three of us—we became really close because our husbands are, I’m sorry, were best friends. But nothing could keep her here. It wasn’t easy for your father, but together we supported one another and tried to accept that we may not always understand the paths before us.
“After Billy and Sarah were in the car accident, we learned what true loss felt like. Her death was devastating. I tried my best to help Billy with Rebecca, Rachel, and Jacob over the years, but nothing can replace a spouse or a mother. When Harry died unexpectedly six years later, I . . . I really understood the gravity of a broken heart. I’d give anything to have him back, and I’m positive Billy feels the same way about Sarah, but for us, that’s impossible.
“Your father . . . has been given a second chance. And I have my friend back too. For how long? We don’t know, but I won’t take a single one of those days for granted. My feelings for Charlie were always that of companionship—something we both needed. I want you to know I’ll be here for them and so will Billy, especially when you’re not. We don’t take your mother’s return lightly. I don’t care how long it took. She’s home now. We’ve got this, Bella. We’re together again and no matter what, we’ll see it through.”
“Oh, Sue.” I nod, drying my tears as the timer for the oven beeps. She has no idea how much her words mean to me. I stand, moving around the table and wrapping her in a hug. “Thank you.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
“How do I look?” Mom asks, fluffing her hair from where she sits beside me on the couch.
My heart fills with undeniable happiness at having her here when I’m moments away from introducing both my parents to Edward.
“I think that’s a stretch. I probably look like I’ve been crying. That’s not a great first impression.”
We shared a few more tears with Sue over bowls of warm soup and buttery slices of cornbread earlier. When Dad arrived, Sue left after a round of hugs, and promised to check in with us during her breaks at the hospital. I have to admit, knowing she’s nearby makes me feel better when Mom’s cleared to come home.
“Mom, Edward won’t notice.”
“He may not, but I do. Maybe we should swing the couch around and move it in front of the Christmas tree. Would that look better? Or we could move the tree. Charlie, will you—”
“I’m not moving the couch. Or the tree. I don’t understand all this fuss. It’s only a phone call, right?”
“You wouldn’t. And it wouldn’t hurt for you to comb your hair.”
His brow furrows. “What’s wrong with my hair?”
I shake my head and mouth the word “nothing.”
“I combed it this morning,” he mumbles, returning his attention to our local newspaper.
“Should our clothes coordinate? I could go change,” Mom frets.
“Mom, it will be just fine. No one needs to change anything. Edward and his family are always welcoming, casual, and comfortable.” My phone vibrates in my hand.
Hey, beautiful. X
Ready for my call?
“It’s him. Are we ready?” I ask as my fingers hover over my phone eager to reply.
Dad rolls his eyes from where he’s sitting in his recliner, refolding his newspaper loudly. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Charlie,” Mom warns.
He shrugs, removing his glasses. “It’s not like he’s actually here. Doesn’t that say something about him?”
I’m quick to defend Edward. “It says he has a busy schedule and his life is full of responsibilities. You need to adapt and go with the flow. Just because he’s not here, doesn’t mean his intentions aren’t genuine. He wants to meet you both and if this is the way we need to handle it for now, so be it. When was the last time, I suggested something like this with anyone I’ve been dating?”
Dad shares a worried look with Mom, but her smile widens as her earlier concerns over impressing Edward fade until she’s about to burst with excitement.
“Oh, Bella. I’m so happy for you.”
“Exactly. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He’s important or I wouldn’t suggest an introduction this soon. Especially, if I didn’t feel . . .” I’m not admitting anything to my parents before him. I search for the right words, trying not to say what’s on the tip of my tongue. “. . . confident in how our relationship is progressing.”
I type, barely sending my text before my phone vibrates with his incoming video call. I accept his call and his handsome face fills the screen. He’s sitting on the couch in his great room, wearing a button down, and it looks as if he’s taken extra time to style his hair neatly.
“Hello, gorgeous.” Edward flashes my favorite crooked grin briefly that always turns me to mush.
I can tell he’s a little nervous when he consciously stops himself from running his hand through his hair. He’s covered up almost all of his tattoos, but with his movements, I get a slight glimpse of the ones peeking beyond the cuff of his dress shirt near his watch.
“Hey, you’re looking mighty fine yourself.”
Mom giggles from beside me and whispers loudly to Dad, “They’re adorable.”
Edward hears her clearly, because his smile widens. “Is that your mom?”
I tilt the phone, leaning close and including us together in the frame. “Yes. Mom, this is my boyfriend, Edward. Edward, this is my mom, Renée—”
For a moment, I’m not sure if I should say Dwyer, which is her name legally. At least until the divorce is finalized, which should be soon. But before I can add her last name, she jumps into the conversation.
“Hello, Edward. It’s lovely to meet you.”
“Mom, just hold the phone,” I whisper, making the handoff with only a slight bobble.
“Hi, Renée. I feel the same way. Is it okay if I call you Renée or would you prefer something else?”
She smiles. “Renée is fine.”
“Great. Bella always speaks highly of her parents and family is important to me. So, I was eager to accept her offer last night to meet you. It’s probably not the most ideal way, but I don’t have a lot of extra time during the regular season. When I do, Doc and family take priority.”
“Doc?” Mom frowns, glancing in my direction.
“It’s what he calls me,” I share softly.
With her smile back firmly in place, she asks, “Oh, and what do you call him?”
“Edward. Although, he’s the Spider to his teammates. They all have nicknames.”
“I see.” Mom returns her focus to Edward. “Bella said you’re spending Christmas with your family in Aspen?”
“Yes, it’s a tradition started years ago by my mother and her sister. We could probably all stay in Texas, but they always want a snowy Christmas and they tend to get their way.” He chuckles.
“I bet it’s beautiful there.”
“It is. I’m looking forward to sharing it with Doc at some point in the future. Does it snow in Forks?”
Mom laughs. “I have no idea. Christmas in Texas, where it’s warm and sunny, would be my preference. It’s what I’ve known, living in Florida for years, then Arizona before that. We’ve had mostly rain here this month. Charlie?”
He crosses his arms over his chest, responding out of Edward’s view. “It varies from year to year. We can have snow in November, but normally in January and February when the temperatures drop.”
“And that was my dad. Hang on. I’ll take it, Mom.” With my phone in hand, I scoot closer to the recliner and tilt it to include Dad on the screen. “Dad, this is my boyfriend, Edward. Edward, this is my father, Charlie.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Charlie, or should I call you Chief?”
“Charlie is fine. My days as Chief are behind me now.”
“How are you enjoying retirement?”
“It’s . . . different, but the company couldn’t be better.” His gaze finds Mom’s, giving her a wink.
“Bella mentioned you like to fish. Do you stick to a favorite spot locally?”
“Yeah. Typically, I go with a buddy of mine, but I haven’t been for a while. We fish for steelhead. It’s similar to salmon.”
“Have you ever been ice fishing?”
“No. I can’t say I have.”
“We’re originally from Michigan and my dad loves to fish year-round. During the winter months, he always takes a trip up north and goes ice fishing for walleye. He has a saying that walleye fishing is awesome, but walleye eating is better.” Edward grins. “I think it’s directly related to the amount of beer involved.”
Dad chuckles. “Sounds about right.”
“How is your furry crew?” I ask, returning to sit next to Mom and tilting the screen to include her. “Everyone getting along? I showed my parents photos of Scout and Shadow recently.”
He turns his phone to show us Scout and Shadow curled together on one side of him, then Duke chewing on a bone in his dog bed I recognize from Rose’s home.
“Only minor issues. Sassy went missing for a while, but we found her outside by the pool this afternoon. I’m not sure how she slipped out without us noticing, but Vera will be staying here until I return.”
“Vera?” Mom asks.
“That’s his pet nanny. She takes care of his pets when he’s traveling, and this time that includes his sister Rose’s family pets while everyone is in Aspen.”
Edward clears his throat, getting our attention. “Renée and Charlie, it’s been a pleasure meeting you tonight and . . . I understand the next few days will be challenging for everyone. I want you to know Bella is dear to me and my family. We’ll keep you in our thoughts and prayers, hoping for the best outcome possible in the days to come.”
Mom smiles sweetly. “Thank you, Edward.”
“As much as I would love for this conversation to continue, I have an early bedtime with our game tomorrow.”
“Who are you playing?” I ask. “You probably told me, but I can’t remember.”
“Calgary. Ben’s starting, but you know me.”
I smile. “Always ready.”
“That’s right. Good night, everyone.”
“Good night, Edward,” Mom and Dad say simultaneously.
“Sweet dreams, Doc. I miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
“Only . . . let me check—” He disappears from view for a moment, then returns with the numbers. “8 days, 6 hours, 18 minutes, and some change, but who’s counting?”
“I know who.”
“I do too.”
“Give all my furry friends a hug from me.”
“I will. Enjoy the rest of your night, Doc.”
“Good night, Edward.”
Even though our call ends and my phone darkens, the connection between us feels as solid as ever. I wish I were crawling into bed with him right now, with Scout and Shadow snuggling next to me. Taking a moment to bask in the success of this first meeting, my eyes shift between my parents and wonder about their first impressions.
“So . . . what do you think of Edward, now that you’ve met him?”
Dad’s mustache twitches slightly. “He has some sort of countdown going?”
“Yeah. It’s until we’re back in Dallas and able to see each other again,” I explain.
My mother’s smile beams brightly as she wraps an arm around me and I lean into her embrace. “That’s incredibly romantic. It felt like we were intruding.”
My father shrugs. “He seems okay, I guess.”
“He didn’t say that he actually fished, just that his father did.”
“So, that’s your only criteria?”
“Not at all, but did the last guy fish?”
“Then this Edward, he’s a . . . a marginal improvement.”
“Marginal? You’re tough. And I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t use your connections at the station to dig into Edward or his family’s background. They’re good people.”
“You’re too late.” He smirks while Mom giggles from beside me.
A/N: Since edits for Off the Grid are taking more of my time than I anticipated, I’m going to adjust the posting schedule for Spiderward to every two weeks.