A/N: Thank you to Honeymoon Edward and LizziePaige for pre-reading, and Midnight Cougar for working your magic.
Age tracker for this chapter: Emmett (48), Lily (17), Beth (36)
Time for some answers. (clears throat) Maybe a tissue or two for this chapter.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m just here having fun.
C16 – Happy 17th Birthday, Lily
“Let’s start with Elizabeth. Tell me what you found.” Irina waits with her pen and notepad ready.
“Well, for starters, she went by Libby growing up, but now she’s using Beth. Over the years, she went by many variations of Elizabeth.”
I know we’re thinking the same thing with the names Lily and Libby being so similar.
“Is she in Wisconsin?”
“Yeah, but she’s lived other places too after leaving Las Vegas. There were years in Texas and Florida, then she was in Tennessee briefly. Now, she’s in Wisconsin.”
“With her parents?”
“No, they’re both deceased. I found their obituaries with some digging. Her mother, Lillian Delveaux formerly Anderson, came from a large family. She died of ovarian cancer.”
“Lily’s named after her grandmother. I would guess Beth and her mother were close. Did you tell Lily about the cancer?”
“Okay, what about Beth’s father?”
“Jules Delveaux was originally from Canada and played hockey for the University of Wisconsin where he met Beth’s mother. He turned pro then played professionally until he sustained career-ending injuries. Jules remained unemployed for years and became addicted to painkillers until he died of a drug overdose not long after Lillian passed away.”
Irina raises her eyebrows. “How old was Beth when they died?”
“Sixteen. She lived with an aunt on her mother’s side until she graduated high school, then went to live in Las Vegas.”
“Probably not long after that, she met you.”
I shrug. “I guess.”
“And Beth is living in Eau Claire?”
“Yeah, she’s married and living on a farm. Apparently, the farm’s been in her husband’s family for years. Maybe they knew each other when she was growing up there. I don’t know.”
“Did she have any other children?”
“Nope, and she was an only child herself—no siblings.”
“A farm is a far cry from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. Have you spoken with her?”
“Yeah, I called.”
“And how did the conversation go?”
“Uh, she was surprised to hear from me after seventeen years.”
“I told her that Lily would like to meet with her, as she has lots of questions I can’t answer.”
“How did she take that?”
“She was silent for a while, then said she would think about it. I told her to say the word and we would fly to her or I would pay for her to travel to Seattle.”
“Then what happened?”
“She thanked me for the offer and said she would get back to me. I have heard nothing since then.”
“And you told Lily about your conversation?”
“Yeah. She’s on pins and needles hoping her mother will call.”
“How are you feeling after talking with Beth again?”
“I don’t know. I guess that since we didn’t really have a relationship, I can only focus on how lonely and scared she must have been losing her parents then moving to a large city. I keep thinking about her being pregnant at eighteen, going through it alone, and hoping like hell I could prevent Lily from repeating those mistakes. I mean, Beth should have never taken that job or been in that hotel room with us. It wasn’t her. She was trying to survive. I had no idea at the time and was too busy drowning in every vice available that I didn’t care.”
“Speaking of loneliness, let’s touch on Rachel before your time is up. Have you heard anything?”
“And why is that?”
“Because she said she wouldn’t call again. It’s too painful for both of us when we can’t be together and haven’t for almost six months.”
“She’s staying in Jacksonville?”
“Yes. Despite a live-in nurse with round-the-clock care, she won’t abandon her parents like her sister has.”
“From what you’ve told me about Rachel, it sounds true to her character. She would sacrifice her own happiness out of loyalty to others. Is she staying in touch with Lily?”
“Yes, she is, which doesn’t make it any easier.”
“I realize you’re starting over—”
“I can’t imagine starting over at this point. I still love her.”
“You probably always will, and it sounds like she still loves you too.”
“She said long-distance relationships never work, and she wanted me to be free to pursue any opportunities that crossed my path. Like that will ever happen. Rachel was always too good for me, and I’m selfish for wanting to keep her here with me when she’s needed elsewhere.”
“Sometimes it’s okay to be a little selfish. You’ve come a long way with all of your relationships, Emmett, and made huge strides in your personal life. Three and a half years with Rachel is a success story. You should be proud.”
“Then why do I feel so empty inside?”
“Hello?” I answer my phone, putting it on speaker while I drive.
“Yes. It’s me.”
This is a surprise. “How are you?”
There’s a long pause, then Beth speaks again.
“I want to take you up on your offer. I would like to meet Lily.”
“Do you want us to fly to Wisconsin or—”
“No need. I’m here. In Seattle.”
“You’re in Seattle?”
“Yes, I’m staying at a hotel near the airport. It’s taken me a day to work up the courage to call you.”
The obvious falls from my lips. “Today’s Lily’s birthday.”
“I know. Do you still live at the same address?”
“Yes, but I was on my way to pick up Lily, then we were going to dinner together. It’s kind of a yearly tradition for the two of us.” I know what I have to do, what I need to do for Lily. “Would you like to join us?”
“I don’t want to impose.”
“You wouldn’t be. How about I pick you up after I get Lily?” I suggest.
“What if I meet you at the restaurant?”
“We can do that too. I have reservations for two at Canlis, but I can call and add you to our party.”
“Uh—that sounds expensive. I don’t want to be any trouble.” Beth’s voice shakes slightly.
“It’s not a problem. I’m a regular there.”
“The reservation is at 7:00 p.m.”
“I’ll call for a ride. Thank you, Emmett.”
“Don’t thank me yet. I’m not sure what you expect, but Lily has been hoping to meet you for years. Let’s say her expectations are high, but guarded. Plus, she has no idea you’re here. This will be a surprise. I hope a good one.”
“I don’t want to disappoint either of you any more than I already have. See you soon.”
“All right. Bye.”
I end the call and make the final turns home. As I sit in my vehicle, staring up at the house, I can’t imagine how this dinner will go, and now I’m having second thoughts about meeting so publicly. Before I walk through the front door, I call the restaurant and add to our party, then request the small, private dining room. Luckily, it’s available, and the restaurant has no trouble filling my request of an additional guest.
“Lily?” I shout after entering through the front door, setting my briefcase nearby. “Are you ready?”
“Almost!” I hear from the bathroom.
I contemplate the new bottle of whisky I know is hiding in the back of my cabinet above the refrigerator. It was a present to myself the night Rachel broke up with me. I had planned to get stinking drunk, but life has a way of changing your plans. It looks like today may be one of those days where I get another shot at it if I ever make it through this dinner.
“Okay, Dad. I’m ready. How do I look?”
Like a girl who is about to have her mind blown.
I try to focus on her new dress—pink, of course.
“You look beautiful, Lily.” And so much like your mother who you are about to meet for the first time in seventeen years.
What the fuck was I thinking?
Lily smiles, grabbing her phone and a small purse. “Well, let’s go!”
The twenty-minute drive from our home into the East Queen Anne neighborhood goes by too quickly, and I haven’t spilled the beans about our extra dinner guest during the entire trip. Lily is busy on her phone, humming along with a new song she wanted me to hear, when we finally pull in front of the restaurant, and I hand my keys to the valet after he helps Lily from the passenger seat.
We stroll through the welcoming doors of Canlis, and I look around for Beth but find her nowhere in sight. Either, she’s on her way or already waiting for us in the dining room.
“Lily,” I start before approaching the hostess stand, grabbing her elbow and guiding her off to the side. “You know how we normally celebrate your birthday just the two of us?”
“Um, well, I invited someone along to join us this evening.”
“Who? Is Rachel back?” she asks excitedly.
“Uh, no not Rachel. I know the two of you are still in touch, but she isn’t coming back to Seattle.”
“I know that’s what she said, Dad, but there’s always hope, right? I know how much you love each other and I want you to be happy.”
“There is hope, but I don’t think it applies in this case.”
“Well, if it isn’t Rachel, then who is it?”
I pause and look around, knowing this isn’t what she’s expecting.
“Dad? What’s wrong? You’re starting to worry me. Who is it? Who’s here?” she presses.
Lily stares at me in disbelief, but I continue.
“She called me this afternoon. She’s here in Seattle, and I invited her to join us. She said she would meet us here. So, either she’s on her way or she’s already in the private dining room I reserved. I’m sorry to spring this on you at the last minute, but I’ve been trying to get my head around it for the last few hours.”
“My m-mother… is here… in this restaurant? Waiting to have dinner with us?” She looks around at our fellow diners, searching for the unknown face of a woman she’s about to meet.
I try to swallow the lump in my throat as her eyes focus back on mine and fill with unshed tears.
“On my birthday?” she whispers.
“Yes. Are you okay?” I wrap her up in a hug.
“I’m not sure.” Lily pulls back and blinks away the tears.
This is too much. I knew it. I should have listened to my gut. “If you’re not ready, we can leave and eat someplace else or go back home. It’s up to you. I can tell Beth that you weren’t feeling well and we can do this another time or at the house.”
Lily starts shaking her head back and forth then straightens her posture full of resolve with her chin up. “No. I’m ready. Let’s go.”
I examine her face carefully, looking for any doubt or indecision on her part, and find none. “You’re sure?”
“Yes.” She gives me a hesitant smile. “I can do anything with you by my side, Dad. We’re a team. Always have been. Always will.”
“Oh, Lily. You’re so much stronger than I ever imagined you would be.”
“I can do this. We can do this. Us Cullens. We’re tough.”
“You’re right. We are.”
I approach the hostess, but before I can speak, she beats me to the punch.
“Mr. Cullen, we’re happy you could join us this evening. Your guest has already been seated. Are you ready?” She looks between Lily and me.
I reach down, holding Lily’s hand, giving it a little squeeze. “We’re ready.”
The hostess smiles and leads us to the private dining room. Lily follows behind her while I eye the bar, wondering if I’m making good decisions this evening or bad ones. I’m still on the fence.
At least Lily knows what’s waiting for her.
Maybe it’s time to use an emergency call to Irina. She would have something appropriate and supportive to help me navigate the next two hours. I have no idea how this will go, but Lily getting hurt is the last thing I want to happen.
When we enter the room, Beth pushes back her chair, standing next to the table. Her face is a mix of uncertainty and relief. She’s as gorgeous as I remember, showing very little skin in a conservative white blouse and a long black skirt.
We’re all staring at each other while the hostess waits for us to take our seats and one guy fills our water glasses on the table.
Unsure at how to greet one another now that we’re all finally in the same room together, I make a request, “Can you give us a minute?”
“Absolutely, Mr. Cullen. I’ll be back in ten. Take your time.” The hostess winks then exits the room.
“Hello, Beth.” I lean over, giving her a light hug.
“Hi, Emmett.” She pats my back. “Long time no see.”
“You could say that.” I step back and turn, clearing my throat. “This is Lily, our daughter. Lily—” I start.
Lily puts her hand over her mouth as tears stream down her cheeks.
“Hey, hey. Don’t cry.” I wrap my arm around her shoulders.
She sniffs and gasps, shaking her head. “I thought I could do this, Dad.”
“Maybe you should sit down, or how about a glass of water?”
“I’m not sitting down.” Lily turns toward Beth. “You’re my mom.”
Beth looks between Lily and me before holding out her hand. “Yes, I’m Beth Miller.”
Lily gasps again then throws her arms around Beth in a tight hug.
At first, Beth looks over at me in shock, then her eyes close as she wraps her arms around Lily.
“I can’t believe you’re here.” Lily pulls away to wipe her eyes. “Dad was right. He said you were beautiful. Can I call you ‘Mom’?”
I can tell Beth is unsure of how to respond. So, I try to save us all.
“How about we sit down before we get too deep too quick, okay?” I suggest.
Beth returns to her seat as Lily takes the one next to her and I sit next to Lily opposite of Beth.
“This is surreal.” Lily grabs her glass of water, taking a long, appreciative drink.
The hostess reappears in the doorway, and I nod for her to enter.
“Thank you for joining us. Your server this evening will be Alec. He will be right in with your drink, Mr. Cullen. Enjoy.”
I nod my understanding while Lily and Beth can’t take their eyes off each other.
Alec sets two fingers of whisky at my spot. “Macallan for you, sir. What can I get everyone else to drink this evening?”
I nudge Lily’s elbow.
“Oh sorry. I’ll have a Coke.”
I look over at Beth while I sip from my glass.
“An unsweetened iced tea for me.”
“I’ll have that for you shortly. Let me know if you have questions about the menu.”
At my nod, Alec slips from the room.
“Dad, you’re drinking?” Lily pokes my arm.
“I haven’t had the easiest of days. Leave me be. You can be my designated driver. Or your mother. Or maybe that hostess.” I look back toward the doorway. “She seems to know me better than I do myself.” My grin fades when I wonder if I’ve already gone there and can’t remember her.
This probably isn’t putting me in the best light with Beth. I have changed since our brief encounter. But she has no clue to my years of therapy with Irina.
I sigh, my appetite disappearing before we begin. “Let’s decide what we want to eat before Alec returns.”
Beth and Lily nod, then read over the menu while I stare out at the sunset, sipping my whisky and missing a particular redhead over three thousand miles away. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling, but I keep hoping it will wane and breathing will get easier without her.
As predicted, Alec returns in no time with their drinks, but thank goodness we’re all ready to order, which gives us more time alone—me with my whisky and Lily with her mother.
“Would it be okay if I held your hand?” Lily asks, holding out her hand toward Beth who laces their fingers together. “This doesn’t feel real, like maybe I’m dreaming?”
“Your father said you have questions for me.” Beth prompts, glancing in my direction.
Lily nods. “I don’t know where to start.”
Beth smiles. “Then maybe I should go first. I have a few things I would like for you to hear. I want to tell you how sorry I am that I haven’t been a part of your life. It is undoubtedly my biggest regret in all my years of living on this Earth.
“Since giving birth to you, a year hasn’t gone by where I didn’t wonder how you were growing and if you were thriving. For a while, I wondered about your first words or steps. Then the years passed, and I imagined what you were like—your interests, your friends, and your family. Whether you were a good student or an athlete? I knew no matter how you were changing, your father would see to it all your needs were met.
“Lily, I wasn’t ready to be a mother at nineteen, and I did the only thing I could think of doing. I had a little money and used it to track down your father, then I hired a lawyer to handle giving him full custody. I’m sure over the years sometimes you needed a mother, and I hope you had someone to guide you through those. But I couldn’t be that woman. I’m uncertain I can be that now, but I would like a chance to get to know you, and be your friend, if you’ll let me.”
Lily nods, dabbing her eyes with her napkin. “I’ve had a good life. A great life, thanks to Dad.”
I wink at Lily, then she continues.
“I’ve been in dance since I was little and I’m a straight-A student. This is my third year on the pom squad, but I dance in competitions throughout the year. We have a cat I named, Daisy. My aunts or grandmother were always there when I needed a mom. I think you should meet them.”
“I would love that.” Beth smiles at the idea.
“I have a lot of cousins and two uncles. My best friend’s name is Heidi, but I have other friends too. Dad bought me a Jeep last year for my birthday when I got my driver’s license. It’s black and pink. Maybe you can come back to the house after dinner and see it.”
Lily looks over at me to check that it’s okay she offered, and I nod my agreement.
Everything’s getting easier by the sip.
“I have a job at a bakery in our neighborhood. I work part-time during the school year then full-time during the summer. Do you have a job?” Lily asks.
“My husband and I live on a farm in Wisconsin. If it’s okay with your father, maybe you would like to come visit this summer? George, my husband, would like to meet you, and it’s difficult for us to get away at the same time when we have livestock that needs daily attention.”
“You never get a vacation?”
“It’s a quiet, simple life, which we both love.”
“How did you meet your husband?”
“Lily, that may be too personal.” I step in because I know Lily’s questions could turn and focus on how I met Beth, and I would like to head that off now.
“It’s fine, Emmett. We were high school sweethearts. I moved around for many years after I left Las Vegas where I met your father, but never felt settled until I moved back home where I grew up. We’ve been married for five years, and every day feels like a second chance at a life together. I’ve been very lucky to find him again.”
I feel a sudden pang of nausea with the phrase “high school sweethearts.” They are typically virgins who sometimes save themselves for each other until marriage, and two of us at this table know exactly how Beth lost her virginity. I suspect we took something in that Vegas hotel room that was meant or promised to someone else—her now husband.
No. This is on her too. We didn’t force her to do anything she wasn’t willing to do. She needed money and sold her virginity to the highest bidder, which was James.
But somehow, it feels like we took advantage of Beth and her situation.
My mind starts churning through the other possibilities of that weekend in Vegas. If James hadn’t used a condom, then Lily could have been his daughter or maybe one of the other guys after me.
And I wouldn’t have her. This thought alone sucks the life out of me and causes the lump in my throat to expand, making swallowing nearly impossible.
Fucking James. If it hadn’t been Beth, it would have been someone else. A different girl. Another Honey.
I finish the rest of my whisky and wonder if it’s too late to call Irina. My head is a fucking mess right now, but instead of stepping away from the table to make that call, I wave my empty glass at Alec for a refill when he pauses in the doorway.
It looks like tonight I’m going for numb and to see how long it takes to get there. It shouldn’t be much longer as I watch my daughter get to know her long-lost mother.