Along Came a Spider/C35

A/N: Thank yous to NKubieAnakinSmom, princeselisa, and EdwardsFirstKiss for pre-reading and Midnight Cougar for beta-ing. xx

Song inspiration for this chapter: “The Good Ones,” Gabby Barrett

(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 35

Edward is a breath of fresh air.

One I desperately needed.

Since his arrival, an overwhelming sense of relief has filled me, or maybe it’s simply the lightness that happens when I’m near him.

And love.

There’s so much love.

It’s amazing the difference one person can make.

The unrushed time we spend together walking through my former campus puts a perpetual smile on my face. He’s inquisitive and patient, listening as I share stories about friends I haven’t thought about in years. I recall late nights spent at nearby bars and my favorite live music venues scattered throughout the area. It all feels like another lifetime.

He sparks something deep inside of me, and it brings back memories of my early college days and who I was during that time. I miss that fun side of myself—the young, naïve woman I used to be. I know I can let myself get too serious at times. Maybe it’s simply maturing over the years and accepting the responsibilities life throws at us with our demanding careers or family obligations, forcing us to leave those light-hearted days behind.

Whenever I become quiet and lost in my thoughts, Edward always finds a way to make me laugh with his own experiences that may or may not relate. It’s fun, and I enjoy every moment as we make new memories together while sharing pieces of our past. There is no shortage of photos accumulating on his phone. He never lets an opportunity pass to take another of us wound tightly around each other.

Secretly, I love his dedication to capturing our moments together.

And not-so-secretly I love him.

Those words I fretted over saying fall easily from my lips with every look. When he focuses his gorgeous eyes on me, or gives me that crooked grin I can’t resist, before he steals another kiss; it’s what makes me love him more every day. I could remain engulfed in the comforting warmth of his arms forever.

The draw I feel to him is . . . undeniably magnetic, and we always find some way to remain physically connected.

Currently with our fingers linked, I’m following him around the hospital’s small gift shop. He’s carefully considering the limited supply of fresh floral arrangements before we go upstairs to visit my mother.

“Is she allergic to anything?” he asks, turning away from the refrigerated case. His eyes scan a nearby table half-full with other options, including various types of houseplants and succulents.

“No.”

“When was the last time you received flowers?” His gaze locks with mine, waiting for my answer.

I glance away for a moment, because I think he means someone I was dating. When I fail to reply immediately, he squeezes my fingers lightly with encouragement that he can handle whatever my answer could be. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the last time I received them from anyone who wasn’t family or close friends. Rather than admit that, I share the most recent occurrence.

“Probably the last flowers I received were from Al and Garrett. They sent them to the office for my birthday in September.”

His brows furrow while shaking his head minutely, either not liking my answer or his selections. I can’t tell which.

He waves his hand toward the table. “What about a plant or maybe an orchid? Something that will last longer than a week.”

“Those are all great.” I shrug. “She will love whatever you select. There are no bad choices here.”

“All right.” Edward grins, glancing toward the waiting cashier whose eyes have followed us around the tiny shop. Or I should say, not us, but him. “Let’s pay.”

Her smile brightens as we approach. “Ready?”

“Yeah.” He nods to the arrangements behind us. “I’m going with the large white orchid and also the red roses.”

My breath catches at his decision to purchase two arrangements, but I suspect Edward the gift giver, holding his Christmas gift bags for my parents, is in full-effect.

“Those are wonderful choices. Let me grab the tags from each, then you can take them with you.”

“Great. Thanks.”

I lower my voice, once she leaves us alone. “What are you doing?”

“Doc, I’m not giving your mother flowers before you.” He releases my hand, wrapping his arm around me.

“Edward.” I tilt my head, looking up at him.

“And I’m definitely not waiting for your birthday.” He bends lower to kiss me. “Consider these your Christmas roses.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“What kind of boyfriend would I be, if I didn’t give you flowers? I’ll tell you. A shitty one, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s not my style.”

I lift onto my toes, leaving a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you.”

Edward smiles before turning his head to peck my lips. “Do you need a snack or anything to drink?”

“No. I’m fine. We’ll probably eat somewhere after visiting with Mom. I can wait until then.”

“Okay, I need a little something.” He grabs two protein bars and a package of almonds from a nearby shelf, setting them on the counter. “I’m going to grab a drink too. Are you sure you aren’t thirsty? We’ve been doing a lot of walking.”

“I’ll just share whatever you get. Is that okay?”

“Always.” Edward nods before leaving my side briefly. He walks to the refrigerated drinks and selects something quickly. “Hey, look at this.”

I glance at the bottle in his hand, recognizing the brand instantly from my copy of his calendar. “Is it your coconut water?”

“It is.” He sets the bottle on the counter. “You need to try it.”

“If you say so.”

He winks. “I say so.”

After the cashier returns, Edward pays for everything, pocketing his items and grabbing his water. We return to the refrigerated case of cut flowers where he removes the vase of roses, handing the beautiful arrangement to me.

“I love you.” His crooked grin is back as he leans close to plant another kiss on my smiling lips. “Now, we know exactly the last time you received flowers and especially from whom—which is the part I like best.”

I chuckle. “Of course you do.”

He balances the gift bags, Mom’s new orchid, and his coconut water in one arm before reaching for my hand. “Do you want Kevin to keep those in the car for you? I would carry them, but I want to hold your hand too.”

“No. It’s fine. I have them. They’re so beautiful that I’d like to show them to Mom, if that’s okay.”

“Absolutely. I’ll carry them when we leave,” he promises with another kiss. “Let’s find a place to sit for a moment.”

“Okay.”

We locate a bench near the windows overlooking a small courtyard. After checking my phone, I read a short text from my father, leading me to ask a volunteer at the nearby information desk for the easiest way to find Mom’s new room. It doesn’t take long for Edward’s snacks to disappear, and he’s pleased when I compliment his coconut water after a few sips. Once he’s ready, we make our way to the elevators and ride in silence up to Mom’s room. Standing in front of her closed door, I’m about to knock when he makes an unexpected suggestion.

“Maybe I should stay out here. I’ve kept you from visiting today. I can go down the hall in the waiting room we passed—give you some time alone with her first.”

“Not a chance. Dad said she has her own room. So, it should just be them inside and possibly a nurse checking on her. Let me make sure she’s ready for us.” I knock on the door, opening it and finding her upright in bed with Dad at her side. “Hey, Mom. Are you up for a couple of visitors?”

“Bella. Yes. Come in.” She smiles, waving me forward. “Is Edward with you?”

“He is.” I reach for his hand, lacing our fingers together and urging him inside with me. “Come on. It’s fine.”

Dad stands from where he’s sitting.

“Charlie. Good to see you again.” Edward releases my hand to shake Dad’s, then turns his attention to Mom, walking around to the other side of her bed. “Hello, Renée. Merry Christmas.”

“Hi, Edward. Merry Christmas to you both.” Her gaze flits to me for a moment, then back to him. “Wow. Bella, you weren’t kidding about his size.”

Edward chuckles. “Is it okay if I give you a hug?”

“More than okay. My apologies. They removed my bandage earlier.” She goes to touch her hair, but stops herself when she brushes her fingers near her incision. “My nurse promised to help me with taking a shower later. I must look like a mess.”

“Not at all.” He smiles reassuringly, leans over, and embraces her carefully with one arm. “I hope you like orchids.”

“I do, and those are lovely. Thank you.”

“Great. I’ll set them with the others. I have Christmas gifts for you and Charlie too.”

“That’s sweet.”

“Who are the other flowers from?” I wonder, my eyes scanning the floral arrangements on a table near the window of her room.

“Uh . . .” She looks at Dad for a moment, as if struggling to recall, but he nods his encouragement. “Your father said Pastor Isaac was here while I was in surgery and left the large poinsettia on behalf of the congregation. The others are from Sue and Edward’s family. And I think your friends . . .”

“Al and Garrett?”

“Those are the ones. A nursing assistant brought them in not long ago. I couldn’t have them in the ICU, and they were holding them for me.”

“Well, they are all beautiful. What do you think of the roses Edward gave me? Aren’t they gorgeous?”

“Yes, they are.” Mom smiles at him.

“Doc, how about I set those over here for now,” Edward suggests.

“That would be great.” After handing off my roses, I move closer, looking over Mom’s physical appearance and noticing a variety of subtle changes. “So, how are you feeling? It looks like the swelling and bruising around your eyes is less today.”

“They say I’m improving. I’m still exhausted, and my head is sore, but I feel better than yesterday. My nurse says my incision looks good, and I need to celebrate the little victories no matter how small.” Her eyes find Dad’s again. “But, I’m ready to be home.”

“I think that’s a great sign.” I smile. “Are you on solid food yet?”

“Not exactly. I’m still on a soft diet. I felt a little nauseous this morning, but she said that’s a side effect of my medication.”

The necklace Mom is wearing catches my eye, because she hasn’t worn any jewelry while she’s been here. I recognize it as the one Sue gave her, but the pendant on the silver chain isn’t the only thing that gets my attention. Attempting to keep my expression neutral, I notice two rings added behind the healing hand pendant. They aren’t her diamond engagement and wedding rings I know Phil gave her years ago. I haven’t seen those since visiting her in Florida earlier this year.

These rings are simple silver bands. I must stare at them for a little too long, because her smile fades slightly. Her hand finds them almost instinctively before I glance toward Dad who is watching me carefully. There’s an awkward pause between the three of us as worry settles into my stomach with an uneasy feeling. I wonder what my father has done here, because obviously something is up.

“Um . . .” I shake my head, not sure what to say. Her divorce isn’t finalized yet and won’t be for another two weeks. Since neither seems willing to take the initiative, filling in the blanks of what they aren’t saying, my mind is racing at the possibilities of what this could mean. He’s what? Proposed marriage or some sort of other arrangement? “Dad . . .?”

“Bella don’t.”

Al’s advice to stay out of their reconciliation passes through my thoughts, but I’m not sure I can at this point. Before I have a chance to say anything else, I feel the gentle touch of Edward’s hand against my back between my shoulders, then moving lower to the small of my waist. Leaving his hand there, I relax slightly at his touch while he breaks the building tension between us by changing the subject.

“Renée, I have something else for you.” He holds out two handmade cards for her. “My niece and cousin created get well cards that I was trusted to deliver.”

Her smile returns. “Awww. These are adorable. Thank you. How old are they?”

“Katie is my niece, she’s six, and Charlotte is seven. Here, let me show you pictures of them.”

After Edward removes his phone from his pocket, he shares photos of the girls, then moves on to other pictures of the rest of his family.

“Dad,” I whisper, getting his attention and jerking my chin toward the door.

His eyes fill with resignation, and he nods his head.

I set my hand on Edward’s shoulder and grin. “You should show her our pictures from today. Mom toured the campus with me years ago when I was still in high school and also visited me while I was there. She may recognize some of the places from back then.”

“Okay. I will.”

“Dad and I are going to step outside for a moment.”

“No problem. We’ll be here.” Edward smiles, pulling a nearby chair closer to Mom’s bed and returning his attention to his phone cradled in her hands. “This is my twin sister, Rose. You probably know that she works for Doc, and this is her husband . . .”

Mom doesn’t respond, but I feel her eyes on us as Dad follows me out of the room. We walk silently down the hallway, passing the nurses’ station, until I find the empty waiting room Edward and I passed earlier. Turning around, I raise my hands in the air briefly in frustration before letting them fall to my sides.

“You know I’m going to need more than that. I need an explanation. Don’t what?”

“Don’t question what I’m doing. Just . . .” He shakes his head. “. . . accept it. Can you do that for me?”

“Dad, you know I question everything.” I point toward the doorway behind him. “Especially why my mother now has two wedding bands on her necklace. What did you do?”

He sits heavily onto a nearby chair, scrubbing his hands over his face before explaining. “I gave her hope and reassurance. Something to look forward to. She needs something . . . I don’t know, tangible—a reminder that I’m not going anywhere. That I’m committed to her and always have been. Maybe I need that too. Regardless of what we find out in the coming days, I want to make it clear that spending the rest of our lives together is the future I see for us.”

Taking the seat beside him, I release a deep sigh. “You don’t need to be married to do that.”

“Bella, it’s something I can do, something I can control. Every time we talk to that damn doctor, I watch the spark inside her dim a little more. I see the worry in her eyes, knowing that after all this, the tumor still remains. If it isn’t eliminated, it’s a very real possibility that it could grow back—faster this time, and all her issues will return. Maybe worse.” We’re both quiet for a moment as I consider the likelihood of his reasoning. His voice is soft when he continues. “I’ve only ever wanted the best for her, even when she didn’t believe that was me.”

“Oh, Dad.”

“Please don’t question it.”

“So, you proposed?” I wonder.

“No, I made her a promise that I will propose whenever she’s ready.”

“What if she’s never ready or . . .” I hate saying it out loud and taking a chance of upsetting him, but the reality is there. “Or she leaves again?”

“Then she’ll break my heart twice, but that’s a risk I’m willing to accept. Life—love—isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s full of difficult choices, and we’re all responsible for the ones we make. This one is on me. I’m well aware of our history, and the roles each of us played in it.

“We were happy once upon a time, especially having you, then she became depressed, begging me to leave Forks. I don’t think I took that seriously enough at the time, and I couldn’t leave my parents—your grandparents—when their health was deteriorating. You probably don’t remember them, but I was all they had. We were young. I refused to leave and she refused to stay.”

“Stubborn. You were both stubborn.” I bump my shoulder against his and chuckle. “I never stood a chance.”

“You’re not stubborn. You’re more tenacious—never giving up until you find the best solution for everyone involved, no matter how long it takes.”

“That sounds like you too.”

He cracks a small smile. “You’re probably right.”

“Probably?”

“Okay, you’re right.”

“There. That wasn’t so hard to admit,” I tease.

“But . . . there isn’t anything keeping us there now. I’m retired, and even though you didn’t state it directly when I asked . . . my instincts say you aren’t interested in returning. I know she would prefer a warmer, sunny climate. Maybe we could leave the rainy days behind us and get a fresh start someplace else, like say . . . Texas or something.”

I’m stunned briefly, but that morphs into excitement about what he could be hinting at. “Or Dallas?”

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.”

My growing smile soon mirrors his because I’m confident I’m the sole source of his knowledge. “Wow. I didn’t realize that’s why you were asking.”

“This would be a second chance for me to choose differently from what I did all those years ago. Maybe with a better result for us. I haven’t brought up the idea of a move to her yet. So, this stays between the two of us.”

“Understood.”

“She needs time to heal, and I can be patient, but I just need her to . . . I don’t know.”

“Choose you?”

“Yeah, choose me. Those are our rings from before. She left hers behind when she took you and left. I kept them and always hoped . . . there could be a chance one day for us to fix what went wrong back then.”

“You know that I want you to be happy no matter where you live, right?” I ask reassuringly.

His head bobs in agreement. “I will hate leaving Billy and Sue, but if this is what she needs to be happy in the future, I’m okay with moving. I suppose I can fish anywhere. Dallas’s football team isn’t half-bad. I’ve seen more than a few games, and maybe I’ll check out their hockey team some time. I’ve heard good things about it too, especially one of their goaltenders.”

“Oh, Dad.” I throw my arms around him, embracing him in a tight hug. “I love you so much.”

After patting my back lightly, he pulls away smiling. “Love you too, kid.”

“I’m not a kid anymore.”

“I know, but you’ll always be my kid. Let’s go check on your mom and Edward before she starts worrying about what we’re talking about.”

“It’s probably too late for that.”

As we stand, Dad laughs. “You’re right, but I’ll come up with something when she asks me later.”

We walk down the hallway, pausing outside of Mom’s room when I notice the door is ajar and wonder if her nurse stopped by. Hearing Edward’s gentle voice, I realize it’s only them and don’t want to interrupt their conversation, holding up my hand for Dad to wait before entering.

“Renée, let me give you my take on those numbers, or any numbers for that matter these experts are sharing with you.

“In the years before I was drafted, a scout told my parents that our family had a better chance of winning the lottery than me ever playing professional hockey. The odds of winning the lottery are about one in three hundred million. Over fifteen years later, I’m still playing.” They share a chuckle before he continues. “And since meeting your daughter, every day I feel like I’ve won the lottery.”

Gah.

Even when we aren’t in the same room, his loving words make my heart flutter. I glance at my father who hasn’t missed a word either. He nods with a look of approval while the hint of a smile tugs at the corners of his lips.

“So, if your doctor tells you that in the worst case scenario, you no longer have the thirty-five percent chance you thought you did prior to your surgery, and it’s now a four percent chance, well, I would take that any day. Those are better odds than I have ever had. You can be the four percent. There are plenty of treatment options to remove the remaining portion of the tumor, including other doctors who may see your case differently. Your doctor has her opinion, but it’s not the final one—that’s yours in how you choose to proceed, which is the only one that counts.

“Charlie and Bella—”

“They want what’s best for you and so do I. You’ve probably heard this before, but remember, this is only one chapter of your life, not the whole story.”

They’re quiet for a moment, and I wonder if we should enter when I hear Mom again.

“She’s so different with you. There’s a vibrancy about her I haven’t seen in . . . maybe ever. I doubt she’s said it, but I can see clearly that she loves you.”

“I know.”

“Bella told you?”

“Yeah, recently.”

Mom releases a gentle sigh. “Promise me you won’t break her heart.”

“I can promise you that’s not a possibility.”

“Good. Welcome to the family.”

“Thank you. And I’m counting on you to be with us every step of the way.”

Her voice is softer when she speaks after a short pause. “I can be the four percent, if I need to be.”

“That’s right. You can.” His voice is warm and tender, brimming with reassurance. “Whenever you’re able to travel, I would love for you and Charlie to visit us in Dallas. I have plenty of room at my home, but if you feel more comfortable at Doc’s place, I understand that too.”

“That’s extremely generous.”

“Isn’t that what we do for our family?”

And just like that, I fall even more in love with him, and I’m unable to stay away any longer, pushing open the door to her room.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

While Kevin drives us to the airport, I release a heavy sigh, leaning my head against Edward’s shoulder. He squeezes my hand nestled in his, then turns his head to press another reassuring kiss against the top of my head. His calm confidence fills the small space as we ride through the city in silence. I can faintly hear the soft music playing over my heart pounding loudly in my ears at his impending departure.

This has been undoubtedly the fastest two days of my life. And two of the best.

I don’t want him to go, but I know there is no other choice. Our time together is diminishing at a rapid rate. We lingered in our hotel suite for as long as possible, and now, we’re down to minutes. Maybe twenty or so with the light traffic this afternoon. I’ve barely slept, trying to make every hour together count, and exhaustion is starting to settle in. I may be a little hungover from our fun last night and this morning too.

Letting my eyes close, I recall my favorite moments since his unexpected arrival—most of them spent in bed wrapped around each other. The overwhelming joy at seeing him in the hotel lobby on Christmas Eve surpasses everything, but I can’t discount the kindness he extended to my parents while he has been here either.

The Christmas gifts he gave them were generous and thoughtful. While I sat on Edward’s lap at his prompting with the limited seating in Mom’s room, we watched as she oohed and aahed over his gift of pampering. It included a classic silk pajama set with matching slippers and spa essentials bath set. When she vowed to be out of her hospital gown before bedtime last night, Dad claimed with a wiggle of his eyebrows that he wouldn’t return to the hotel until late, and we all shared a laugh.

Dad’s gift from Edward was an assortment of fishing themed items, including a waterproof hat, a multi-pocketed vest, coated fishing gloves, and a spice set specifically for fish. But Dad was most excited about the electric fish descaler, which is a time consuming task I know he labors over after every fishing trip.

Dad turned down our offer to have dinner together at a nearby restaurant, not wanting to leave Mom out, and under the pretense of making a call, Edward decided to give us some time alone. While I suspected he was calling his family, I worried about the length of his absence, checking the time on my phone frequently while sitting with my parents.

When Edward reappeared almost an hour later, he was carrying bags filled with meals from a nearby restaurant at the same time Mom’s evening meal arrived. After Mom’s nurse stopped by to do a quick check on her, she slid another chair into the room for me to use. With a departing wink, she left us to enjoy an unconventional Christmas dinner together, gathered around Mom’s hospital bed.

Edward shared how with Kevin’s help, he found us the incredible meal from one of the few nearby restaurants open on Christmas Day. Everything was delicious from the pear salad and lobster bisque to the prime rib with potatoes and broccolini. With her tray table scooted close, Mom claimed she wasn’t jealous one bit, enjoying the usual suspects: soup, plain yogurt, gelatin, fruit juice, and tea, which were easy on her stomach.

After our meal, Edward and I left the hospital with plans for the rest of our evening according to him—a date, but he wouldn’t tell me where we were going. I was clueless when we arrived at T-Mobile Park until I saw the signs for Enchant Christmas. It was another suggestion from Kevin, and after he dropped us off at the VIP entrance, we quickly became engulfed in holiday spirit.

Within moments of our arrival, I was sipping a delicious red cocktail from a flashing lightbulb, while Edward opted for a glass of mulled wine. As Christmas tunes played, we roamed through the Christmas Market where vendors sold everything Christmas you could imagine, including ugly Christmas sweaters, tree ornaments, crafts, and a variety of local foods. The infield of the stadium was filled with holiday magic, including millions of Christmas lights and decor everywhere.

The ice skating trail was packed with people. So, Edward suggested we pass on that one when he saw the condition of the ice too. Instead, we attempted completing the scavenger hunt throughout the lighted maze, but after a second round of drinks, it was definitely more challenging for me. I was content to let Edward guide us as he snapped pictures constantly. Standing in the middle of the illuminated white tree forest felt like being in a Christmas movie, and we couldn’t stop laughing when a little boy passing us told his father that he wished they lived there.

I think we ended up spending three or four hours there before returning to the hotel and—

“Kevin?”

I open my eyes at the soft sound of Edward’s voice, breaking the silence and pulling me from my thoughts.

“Yes?” His gaze shifts to the rearview mirror meeting Edward’s.

“Could you find somewhere private to park, then give us a few minutes?”

“No problem.”

My throat tightens, and I feel tears threatening to fall when I look beyond the tinted windows, recognizing that we’ve arrived at the airport. Kevin pulls into the cell phone parking lot near the terminal and selects a spot away from the other waiting vehicles.

“No rush, Edward. It’s less than five minutes from here,” he says, then exits the car, leaning inside for a moment. “Message me when you’re ready to go.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

Fuck.

Time’s up.

“Hey. Come here,” Edward requests softly.

I move willingly when he pulls me to straddle his lap, then brushes away the tears that escape with his thumbs while cupping my face gently.

“Don’t cry.”

I shake my head slightly. “I’m sorry. I’m not very good at this. Maybe coming with you to the airport was a bad idea.”

“Spending more time together is never a bad idea.” He pecks my lips, settling his hands at my waist. “I’ll take you whatever way I can get you, even with tears. This will get easier with time.”

“I doubt it.”

“We managed nine days apart.”

“That wasn’t easy. I get it now. You were right. It’s tough.”

Edward grins. “And we stole two.”

I nod and kiss his lips. “The best two.”

“The remaining three should be a piece of cake.”

“Right, cake.”

“But you like cake, especially chocolate.” He chuckles, kissing my lips once more. “I’ll let you know when I get home. My flight is nonstop. So, I should be back later tonight around ten or eleven, but that’s still early for you, and I will see you in three days.”

“Three.” I nod between sniffs, recalling his schedule he explained earlier. “You have practice tomorrow, a game with Colorado in Dallas on Saturday, then you’re flying to Phoenix afterward for your game on Sunday.”

“Then I’ll be coming home to you.”

“And I’ll be there waiting,” I promise.

“I’m looking forward to that.” He smiles, wiggling his eyebrows. “I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’m hoping for another post game celebration like we had before you left.”

The slight smile tugging at my lips widens at the thought. “Me too, but I’m thinking after three days, a celebration will be happening regardless of the outcome of your game.”

“It’s like you can read my mind.” Edward presses his lips to mine for another kiss. “You’re going to watch my Top Shelf Talk this evening? I sent you the link in case you can’t get it to stream on the television in the suite.”

“Yes, I’ll watch it tonight after we return from visiting Mom at the hospital. I think I’ll just order room service later.”

“I can’t wait to hear what you think.” He squeezes my hips lightly. “I know this trip hasn’t been under the best circumstances, but I’ve loved being here with you.”

“I’m going to miss you,” I whisper, blinking away more tears threatening to fall.

“I’ll fucking miss you too.” His eyes search mine. “I love you, Doc.”

“I love you too. Thank you for being here. It meant everything to me.”

He nods, pulling me into a tight hug. “I wish I could stay longer.”

“Me too,” I say, melting into his embrace.

/ /\ (oo) /\ \

After passing through security, Edward sends a picture of him waiting at the gate for his flight to depart. I save the handsome photo to my growing collection, but he also tags me on his latest Instagram post. Opening the app, I can’t keep the smile from my face while looking through the photos of us from last night in the middle of the Christmas maze when a new text arrives, but not from him.

HOLY SMOKES!
THESE NEW PHOTOS . . . GORGEOUS!

Before I can respond, a line of fire emojis appears with another text from Al.

HAVE YOU WATCHED THE VERY
MERRY CULLEN CHRISTMAS SPECIAL?

Are you talking about Edward’s game day hockey thing?

YES!

It’s not a Christmas special. Lol
It was only recorded prior to the holidays.
His house just happened to be decorated.
And why are you shouting?

BECAUSE I’M EASILY EXCITABLE!
You haven’t watched it, have you?

No, not yet.
I just left him at the airport to return to Dallas.
His driver is taking me back to the hospital.
I’m going to watch his video at the hotel later tonight.
We’ve been a little busy the past two days. 😉

I’LL BET YOU HAVE!
The photos of you two on his previous post were great!
Wasn’t that where you did your undergrad?

Yeah.

Plus his caption . . . “Intelligence is incredibly sexy.”
Damn! I can hear hearts breaking everywhere.
That man clearly loves you.

I told him.

WHAT?

That I love him. I said it first.

BRAVO! I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!
And he OBVIOUSLY said it back . . .

He did.
And he was simply amazing with my parents.

I’m so happy for you.
I knew he would be.
How’s your mom?

She is improving every day and will be discharged tomorrow.
So, I’ll be back in Forks by the evening.

That’s wonderful news!

Thank you for sending her flowers.
Leah and I will be flying to Dallas Sunday evening.

Leah? Your friend?

Yeah. You will love her.
We’re staying with Edward next week.
Maybe we can all do something there while she’s visiting.
You know, a barbecue or wine night.
Or a barbecue with plenty of wine!

That would be fun!
You can count on Gare and me.
And I’m DYING for a tour of Edward’s house in person.
It looks gorgeous from what I saw in the video.
I’m also excited for another hockey game.
Especially sitting with all the WAGS this time!

I’m a little nervous, but at least I know a few.
So, it should be okay.
And I’ll have Leah.
And you two. 

PSHHH . . . Don’t fret.
I understand that you’re the new one, but you’re amazing.
They will be lucky to be YOUR friend.
Call me later and we’ll watch his show together.
I don’t care what time it is.

But you’ve already watched it?!
Why would you want to watch it again?

Trust me.
We should watch this together.

Okay, I’ll text you later when I’m ready.

Perfect. It’s a date. 😉 

ILY! I need to go.
We’re arriving at the hospital.

ILY2! TTYS!