A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Freaking Me Out,” Ava Max
(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) /\ \
Over the sound of Scout’s soft snores from beside me, I stare up at the ceiling of my bedroom, narrowing my focus on the long thread of a cobweb swaying gently near the air vent. Spiders are everywhere, reminding me of him. I check the clock on my phone.
Three minutes since the last time I checked the time. I’m never going to get any sleep tonight. And I’m not going to get that cobweb. I’m going to leave it. I’ll get it tomorrow. Or later today. Maybe I should turn off the lamp on my nightstand, so I can’t see it. I turn on my side instead, unable to get comfortable, but my mind won’t stop overthinking.
When they were awake, Scout and Shadow were looking at me as if I was losing it. Maybe I am. This is what pushes me over the edge finally. Not Sam. Or anything to do with my departure from his practice. It was nearly impossible not to tip Edward off to my growing distress when we spoke earlier this evening.
I throw off the covers, wondering if Al and Garrett are asleep. Of course they’re asleep. I hate waking them up, but I’m freaking the fuck out. I shouldn’t have waited this long to call them. After removing my phone from the charger, I open my phone app, locating them in my contacts list. While I blow out a steady breath, my finger hovers over their number.
“Just call them. It will be fine. They’ll understand. They always do.”
My pep talk isn’t reassuring, but it’s enough for me to tap their number and wait for the call to connect.
“Bella?” The sound of Al’s sleepy voice alone brings almost instant relief.
“Hey. I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”
“No. Well, sort of. Okay, yes. Don’t tell anyone, but we couldn’t stay awake past nine-thirty tonight. How pathetic is that? What time is it? Oh, never mind us. What’s wrong?”
I sit up. “Uh . . . that’s why I’m calling.”
“Gare wake up.”
I hear Garrett mumble, “Who is it?”
“Is she hurt?” Garrett asks.
“Darling, where are you? Do we need to get dressed?” Al questions, moving on to another before I’ve had a chance to answer his first one. “Are you hurt? Tell me where you are and we’ll come pick you up.”
I lean backward, sink into my pillows, and pull the covers back over me. “No. I’m at home, and tell Garrett I’m not hurt. But I am freaking out.”
“Oh, thank goodness—not that you’re freaking out. Gare, she’s not hurt.” Al returns to questioning me. “Why are you freaking out? Oh my God. You’re pregnant! I knew it!”
“Bella’s pregnant?” Garrett repeats.
“Al! No. I’m not pregnant, but you’re sort of close.”
“False alarm, Gare. She’s not pregnant. Let me put you on speakerphone. This conversation will be so much easier that way.”
“Garrett, I’m so sorry to wake you. I know you both have to work tomorrow, or today, I guess, since it’s technically Monday morning. I’m going to be exhausted for my own meeting, but—”
“No apologies, Bella. What’s going on?” Garrett asks.
“I can’t sleep, and I’m freaking out a little. Or a lot.”
“About?” he prompts.
“So, Edward and I—” I start.
“Oh no! You had a fight,” Al interrupts and attempts to ease my concerns. “Bella, couples fight all the time. I get it. Sometimes it’s just the little things that push you over the edge. Gare drives me insane when he leaves dishes in the sink rather than putting them directly in the dishwasher. I mean, how difficult is it to complete such a simple task?”
“You were a little too ready with that one,” Garrett adds. “And for the record, sometimes my coffee cup needs to soak.”
“Then add water and soap to it.” Al lowers his voice, despite Garrett being beside him. “It’s not only his coffee cup.”
“Let’s try to keep our focus on Bella,” Garrett suggests.
“Of course. Darling, it was bound to happen and is perfectly normal. You’ll work through it, and everything will be fine. You’ll see,” Al reassures.
“No. No. We didn’t have a fight,” I correct.
Garrett clears his throat. “Then what is it?”
“Well, before Edward left for his road trip, we had some discussions about the future. And—”
“You’re getting married!” Al exclaims. “A wedding! We’re having a wedding!”
“Al!” Garrett chuckles. “Stop interrupting her or we’ll never find out.”
“I’m just excited. This is fantastic news!” Al gushes.
“No. I mean, we talked about a lot of things, including marriage and children, but there wasn’t any proposal of marriage. Edward did ask me about my future plans, and after I shared my thoughts on those, he mentioned having a one-year plan that includes both of those things . . . with me.”
Al gasps. “Bella—that’s . . . amazing, but in the same year is . . . optimistic? Some wedding venues have at least a one-year waiting list.”
I smile. “I’m thinking it is optimistic, but that’s Edward. While it’s great to be on the same page, the time frame is . . . I don’t know. It got me thinking when I went to pick up my prescription for next month.”
“Prescription?” Garrett asks.
Al whispers, “Birth control pills.”
“Should I even be taking them? I did a little research, and it can take months or even a year to conceive. That puts us way outside his one-year window for having kids. And-and am I ready for that? Am I ready to be a mother?” I blow out a breath.
“All day, I’ve been thinking about taking the first pill from my new pack tonight. I’ve been asking myself, am I really all in? Because by not taking it, I am, and that is just . . . a lot. I’ve been so regimented in taking them for years—half of my life. I never wanted to be in a position where I was a teen mom like my mother was. Or even during college. I always had plans for a career, and I’ve stuck with those. Taking this little pill is ingrained in my nightly routine—not taking it is . . . am I ready for that?
“Or-or what if—heaven forbid—I can’t get pregnant even after stopping them. What a cruel joke, right? All these years, and I didn’t need them. Or what if taking them for this long has somehow messed up my system? Would Edward still want me if I can’t have kids? I think I’ve read too much, because it’s all messing with my head.”
“Okay. Okay. I see what you mean by freaking out. Let’s back up for a minute. Whether you can get pregnant or not, there is zero doubt in my mind Edward wants to build a life with you. He loves you. I only see your relationship growing deeper, the longer you’re together. And there are a lot of options if you find out you can’t get pregnant. Before we go any further, let me ask you this—did you take your pill for Sunday night?” Al asks.
“Bella?” Garrett prompts when I don’t reply immediately.
I release a deep sigh. “No. I didn’t, but I still can—”
Al interrupts, “Stop right there. No buts. Did you talk with Edward about stopping your pills?”
“No. I thought it was something I needed to decide on my own before we talked. You know, really figure out if I’m ready for this. I think it would mean more to him—you know, show my commitment to us and our future together, if I made my decision independently. But then I got to thinking about a backup plan while I was at the pharmacy. So, I bought a new box of condoms in case he changes his mind at the idea of me getting pregnant right away. Because that’s possible too. What if he thinks he’s ready, but decides he really isn’t when I tell him I’ve stopped taking my pills? I don’t want him to feel trapped by my decision. We should have options. And what if this isn’t the right time for us? What if his one-year plan is too ambitious and not realistic? I just quit my job for heaven’s sake.”
“We both know you’ll get another one. It’s only a question of when.” Al’s voice is full of the reassurance I’ve been needing to hear. “I have every confidence you’ll juggle the new title of mother with ease, which will happen when the time is right.”
“Oh, Al.” I brush away a tear that’s threatening to escape. “It’s scary to think about, you know? I mean, this changes everything. There’s no going back. Like, are Edward and I really doing this?”
He’s quiet for a moment before he poses the question back at me, “Are you?”
I chuckle nervously and blow out another steady breath. “I think . . . I am.”
“Darling, I’m thrilled for you. This is a huge step, and it’s going to be great. Gare, we’re going to be uncles! Am I allowed to celebrate that?”
“Eventually,” Garrett adds. “No pressure, Bella.”
“Is it too soon to start planning your baby shower?” Al asks.
“Yes!” Garrett and I shout simultaneously before we all dissolve into a fit of laughter.
I know Al isn’t kidding and can hear his creative wheels turning.
“I have one more huge ask. And I know it will be exceptionally challenging for you, Al.”
“Anything, darling. We’re here for you.”
“Please don’t share this conversation with anyone, especially Rose. I need to talk with Edward, and I want to do that in-person, not through text or over a phone call, which means I have to wait until he returns from Colorado. Even if that conversation is a good one, I don’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on either of us going forward.”
“Our lips are sealed. We promise.”
“Thank you. I love you both. So much.”
“We love you too.”
Feeling a little more at peace with my decision, I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk through my feelings, and I wish Al and Garrett a good night. After turning off my lamp, my mind quiets with relief that the first step I’m taking into a new world of possibilities is the right one before I drift off to sleep.
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
After stepping into the small coffee shop near Jason’s office, I take a deep breath, welcoming the alluring smell of freshly ground coffee beans. The scent alone is enough to snap me out of my fog after last night’s struggles falling asleep. I shuffle forward slowly with the others in line, as the door chimes with every departure and new arrival. I’m almost at the counter when I hear my name being called from behind me.
I turn around, searching the faces briefly until my eyes recognize the last person I expected to see this morning. Of all the coffee shops in the area, I can’t believe I stumbled into hers.
Her smile widens. “I thought that was you.”
“Emily?” Stepping out of line, I wave everyone behind me forward, closing the distance between us. “This is a surprise.”
I’m floored when she holds out her arms and offers me a brief hug. “It’s great to see you.”
Without a word from Sam for the past week, I’m beyond curious and can’t resist gaining some insight into her world. “How are you and the kids?”
“Oh, they’re great. I just dropped them off at school. Now, I’m in need of a pick-me-up, before I get started with my errands for the day.”
“Right. I’m on my way to a meeting and in desperate need of a cup too.” I smile.
When she tucks a few dark strands behind her ear, my eyes are drawn to the diamond bracelet at her wrist, which seems a little out of place for running errands.
“That’s a lovely bracelet. Is it new?”
“Oh, thank you.” Emily grins, holding it out for me to see it better in the light. “It’s one of those ‘just because’ gifts from Sam. He surprised me with a dinner date last week, and this was dessert—chocolate diamonds. Who knew? Easier on the hips, and it’s so beautiful.”
Do I smell a guilt gift that I undoubtedly made purchasing possible? Fuck. Why is Sam allowed to taint chocolate in such a manner?
“I think I would prefer actual chocolate. Cheaper too.” I smile briefly.
“Oh, I know, but sometimes, he’s such a romantic.” She giggles.
Not the first word I would use to describe Sam, but okay. Her perspective is skewed as I suspected it could be. Maybe he is actually capable of feeling guilt.
Emily lowers her voice. “I’m so sorry to hear about your mother, Bella. Sam said you are stepping away from the practice for a while?”
That’s an interesting way to put it.
“Yes. I am.” More like, indefinitely, but I don’t share that with her since I’m unsure how much she knows. “How—How is Sam?”
She shrugs. “Oh, you know what a workaholic he is—busy as always—that practice is his life.”
I nod, because he’s busy, but not in the way she is being led to believe. “Right. Busy.”
“Of course, you will be missed. Sam said he would probably be gone more than normal, putting in extra hours, but Bella, take all the time you need. Your mother’s health is important, and we understand. Sam is even cutting back on golfing, if you can believe it.”
I suspect I know why, and it isn’t because he wants to spend that time working. His membership is currently suspended from Whispering Oaks and under review thanks to Tanya’s connections. She said the review is only a formality, before it will be made permanent. The latest “anonymous” complaint about his behavior with members of the staff was the final straw.
Emily shakes her head. “Yes. It’s a shame. I know how much Sam loves it, and he swears golfing is such a great stress reliever—that country club is like a second home to him.”
With the blanks she’s filling in, there’s no denying Sam is spinning a story—one that is so loosely grounded in the truth, Emily has no idea what he is actually doing.
“Well, I’ve never been a fan myself,” I share. “I’m not the country club type.”
“Me either.” She smiles. “Sam mentioned you have a new boyfriend? A professional athlete?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Congratulations, Bella. I hope you are always as happy as we are.”
I would never wish their relationship on anyone. Clearly, Sam is keeping her in the dark, but this isn’t the time or place for me to enlighten her to the truths about what I know.
“Maybe, the four of us can have dinner together one night,” Emily suggests. “And I can meet your new guy?”
I snort, because there’s no way in the world Sam would ever attend that dinner. “Well, my boyfriend travels often for work, but I would love it if we could grab lunch sometime. I don’t believe I have your number.”
Her smile widens. “Oh, sure that would be great. I had to change it recently, because I was getting too many calls from numbers I didn’t know. You know where someone keeps calling and hanging up once I answer. It wasn’t the typical telemarketer, so it was starting to freak me out. But I’m always available for some girl time.”
For a moment, I wonder if I know who was on the other end of those calls—the golf pro? Mary? Or even Sam, trying to mess with her head? I wouldn’t put anything past him.
Offering her my phone, I hold my breath for a moment, realizing it contains the video of him with his golf pro that has the ability to shatter her world into tiny little pieces. And Emily has no idea. It’s right in her hands. I watch her closely, hoping to keep my expression neutral and not give anything away while my heart rate accelerates at the thought. She saves the contact information, then taps the number before we hear her phone vibrating in her purse.
Emily grins, handing my phone to me. “Now, I have yours. Please keep me updated on your mother. If there is anything we can do, please don’t hesitate to call, Bella.”
As if that will ever happen considering the breakdown of my relationship with Sam, but there could be a point when I need Emily. So, I’m happy to have a way to reach her, outside of a subpoena, if necessary.
“That’s incredibly generous.” I notice the time, knowing I need to depart for my meeting, and unfortunately, it will be without coffee in hand. Maybe Deidre can help me out once I get there, because I can’t wait to share this conversation with Jason. “Emily, it’s been great seeing you, but I’m short on time. Before I go, there is something I want to ask.”
“Oh, sure.” She nods.
I tilt my head in question. “Did everything get resolved with Sam’s car? I think he had some issues with it . . . or something?”
“His car? Yeah. Sam said not to worry, but it’s been in the shop for the past week. He’s driving a loaner from the dealership. Hopefully, he’ll have it back soon. He loves that car and claims it’s his baby.” She chuckles. “Guys and their cars, right?”
As I suspected, he’s covering everything up about my departure. While I’m disappointed Emily has zero clue what is really going on here, I shouldn’t be surprised. This is further confirmation he’s continuing to feed her his lies. And that car isn’t the only baby in limbo at the moment.
“Right. I suppose that’s good news.” I smile as convincingly as possible while I grow more pissed at whatever game he’s playing. “I’m sorry, but I really need to go. It was great to see you again.”
“Take care, Bella, and I hope we’ll have that lunch soon.”
“You too, Emily. I promise, we will.”
/ /\ (oo) /\ \
I step out of the elevator, walk down the hallway, and push through the frosted glass doors into the reception area of Jason’s office. Deidre looks up from her computer, giving me a warm, comforting smile.
“Good morning, Dr. Swan.”
“Hi, Deidre. How are you today?”
“Well, we’ve made it to another Monday.” She laughs, brushing a few gray hairs away from her face. “It’s busy like always. I keep threatening Jason that one of these days, I’m going to retire, and he will have to face Mondays without me. At the very least, he could start interviewing replacements for me to train, but he always finds a way to keep me on the hook. Damn lawyers and their persuasive arguments.”
I grin. “But that’s what makes them so great, right?”
“True. It’s how we keep the lights on.” Deidre waves toward his open door. “Jason is waiting for you. Can I get you water, tea, or coffee?”
“Coffee would be great. I’ve struck out twice this morning. My machine at home decided today was the day to stop working. When I stopped to pick up a cup on my way here, I got side-tracked by someone else,” I explain.
She nods. “I’ll bring it right in. Cream and sugar?”
“Both would be great. Thank you.” I smile before stepping into Jason’s office.
“Good morning, Bella,” Jason says, looking up at me from where he sits behind his desk. “It’s great to see you. Have a seat.”
“Hey, Jason. I’m sorry I’m late. You are not going to believe who I ran into at a coffee shop near here this morning.” I settle into one of the leather chairs opposite him.
He chuckles. “I’m a little nervous by your use of the phrase ‘ran into’ given last week’s events.”
“Very funny. And no, I didn’t hit anyone with my car. Thanks for asking. It was Emily Uley—Sam’s wife.”
His eyebrows shoot up above his glasses, and he leans back in his chair. “Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah. After our conversation, I can confirm Emily has no clue about anything. I mean anything. She is under the misguided truth that I’m on some sort of sabbatical or family leave to take care of my mother, and Sam is stepping up to take over the workload. Of course, he’s painting himself as the hero here.”
“Knowing Sam, are you really surprised?” Jason asks.
I shrug. “I suppose not. According to her, he’s touting that he will be working longer hours, sacrificing his precious golf time, and surprising her with guilt gifts. I mean, really? He’s working longer hours? I don’t buy it for a minute. Sam is using me as an excuse. How can Emily not see what he’s doing?”
Jason thinks for a moment, then his eyes find mine. “If she has any suspicions, maybe she doesn’t want to believe them because of what that would mean for her and her children.”
Deidre knocks lightly on the office door with my coffee in hand. “Here you go, Dr. Swan.”
“Thank you.” Happily, I accept the offered cup, blow on the steaming beverage, and take a tentative sip. “This is great. You’re a saint.”
Deidre winks. “Did you hear that, Jason?”
“Yes, Dee. I heard.” He grins. “And I’m in complete agreement with Dr. Swan.”
She smiles at both of us before departing Jason’s office with a gentle closing of his door.
“It’s going to take my last nickel to keep her here, but worth every penny,” Jason confides with a smirk. “She’s threatening to leave me again with talk about retirement, but let’s get back to Sam’s wife.”
“Right. I want to clue Emily in so badly, but until we hear from him, I don’t want to play my hand too early. Oh, and get this—Emily said his car has been in the shop for the past week. She knows nothing about what is actually wrong with it. I’m just baffled why he’s sweeping everything under the rug. You and I both know he’s going to come at me with his repairs.”
“Sam probably will, and we’ll deal with it when that happens.” Jason shrugs. “We have a lot of ground to cover this morning as well as prepare you for your meeting tomorrow. You haven’t told anyone, right?”
“You’ll be happy to know I’ve kept my mouth shut.” I smile, then take another sip from my mug.
I hate keeping secrets, especially from Edward. We have so much to discuss once he returns, and not tackling him on the spot will take every ounce of my willpower. I also hope I have great news to share—that I’m joining a new practice.
“Good. Before we get started, how did your lunch on Friday go with Alice Whitlock?”