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 (52), Lily (21), Tanya (48), Beth (40), Laurent (32)
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m just here having fun.
C20 – Happy 21st Birthday, Lily
“Emmett.” Beth leans in to kiss my cheek. “This place is gorgeous. Our suite is breathtaking.”
“Hey, you like it?” I pause, looking around at our accommodations at the Four Seasons Hotel for the weekend. It’s nice and what I expect from the Four Seasons Hotels I’ve stayed at in other countries.
“Like it? I love it. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed at any place this nice and probably never will. Thank you for inviting us along.”
“George.” I nod, offering my hand.
“Emmett.” Beth’s husband gives me a firm handshake then looks around. “This is quite the hotel.”
“First time to Paris?”
“It’s Tanya’s first time too. I told Lily we wouldn’t miss her graduation for the world.”
George grins. “And here we all are. Where’s your better half?”
“Tanya should be along shortly. She is finishing getting ready. I wanted to come down and wait for Lily, as she said they were about ten minutes away.”
“I’m excited to meet Laurent,” Beth adds.
“Well, that makes one of us.”
“Oh, Emmett. He seems like a wonderful man, and Lily is quite taken with him. They have so much in common.”
I roll my eyes at her optimism. “There’s a reason for the saying opposites attract. How wonderful can he be with a name like Laurent? And if I hear the words ‘Laurent says’ one more time I’m going to lose it. I doubt he’s good enough for her.”
A welcome voice joins our group. “Hello, everyone. You aren’t harping on Laurent again, are you, Emmett?”
“Tanya, you look lovely.” Beth gives her a hug.
Tanya pulls away, admiring Beth’s dress. “As do you.” Then turns, holding out her hand to George. “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. Do we want to wait in the bar?” George suggests, pointing in that direction.
“Or out here in the lobby?” Tanya offers, waving her hand toward an empty couch and chairs, facing the main entry door, as she knows how anxious I am to see Lily.
Before we can settle into the chairs, there’s a squeal followed by, “Daddy!”
I look in the direction of the front entrance to see Lily grinning from ear-to-ear and moving as fast as possible in too high-heeled shoes toward our direction.
I open my arms and sweep her up into a huge hug, spinning her around. “Lily, it’s been too long.”
“Dad, don’t be ridiculous. We talk all the time, just moments ago in fact.”
Setting her back on the ground, a movement over her shoulder causes my eyes to narrow and focus on Lily’s boyfriend, Laurent.
George chuckles from beside me at my instant change in demeanor. George is a big guy and together I hope we give off the “don’t fuck with Lily or us vibe.”
He’s the first to break ranks and extends his hand—traitor. “Hi, I’m George Miller, Lily’s step-dad.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Laurent Dubois.” Laurent pauses then focuses on me. “And you are Lily’s father. I have heard so much about you. May I call you, Emmett?”
He’s leaner than I thought he would be and about five inches shorter—around Edward’s height. I stand a little taller hoping the bulk of my size and height will make a lasting impression. “I am, and it’s Mr. Cullen.”
“Daddy! Ignore him, Laurent. He’s always such a joker.” Lily links her arm with Laurent’s. “Are we ready for dinner?”
I don’t point out I wasn’t joking, but smile and nod toward Le Cinq. “After you.”
Our meal is top-notch—full of haute cuisine and impeccable service. Tanya and Beth ooh and ah over every plate placed in front of them while Lily takes time to explain what she knows about each dish after three years of culinary training.
During her first two years at Le Cordon Bleu, she took classes from October through June. Eager to finish her classes early and conclude her training, Lily took her final year of classes from July through March without a summer break, which is why we’re here to attend her graduation and celebrate her success. It also is close to her birthday, which I love sharing with her, as we never seem to get enough time alone.
There’s plenty of polite conversation during our meal, but the entire time, I’m on edge. I glance around the table while sipping my club soda with lime and try to figure out what I’m missing, as I listen in on everyone’s conversations. I’m no closer to loosening the knot in my stomach, when Lily taps her knife on the side of her glass to get our attention.
“Okay, everyone. I have an exciting announcement,” she starts. “But first, thank you for being here to celebrate my graduation together. It’s a birthday present I could never imagine in my wildest dreams. Thank you, Dad, for making it all possible.”
I give her a nod, then she continues.
“Now, for my good news… I’ve been offered a position immediately after graduation.”
Oh, God. Please let it be Seattle. Or even New York. Somewhere closer.
“What kind of position, and where, Lily?” Beth asks excitedly.
Lily grins; looking back at Laurent who gives her an encouraging nod and wraps his arm around the back of her seat.
“Pastry chef for Chez Dubois, here in Paris. Can you believe it?” She beams.
My heart breaks a little more at the location. Paris. I’m never getting my girl back.
“That name sounds familiar,” Tanya wonders aloud from beside me.
“It should. It’s Laurent’s. His family offered me the position at their restaurant, well, bistro. The place is small and cozy. We should all go visit while you’re here. I already fit in with everyone and my French is getting better every day,” Lily gushes.
“Laurent owns the restaurant?” I ask, realizing he’s the reason Lily isn’t coming back home.
“His family does.”
“Laurent, I didn’t know you were a chef?” George questions.
That’s news to me too.
Laurent clears his throat. “No, I’m not. I run the business side of the restaurant and two other bakeries we have in the city.”
“Dad, you have to take Aunt Bella some of their macarons. She will love them,” Lily assures.
Beth raises her glass. “Congratulations, Lily. I hope you will be very happy there. To Lily, everyone.”
“To Lily.” We repeat the toast and clink glasses as everyone offers their congratulations at the news.
Beth, Tanya, and Lily return to discussing sights to see during our short visit here, while George asks Laurent about the history of his family’s restaurant.
I smile when it’s expected and nod when I should, but all I can think about is escaping this table. The pull to the bar is so great right now, I’m not sure I can stop myself if I set one foot past the doorway.
“Are we finished eating?” Beth looks around at our empty plates. “How about we wind down and visit a little more at Le Bar?”
Tanya nods. “We can have dessert and coffee in the lounge area there. It looked comfy with those leather seats. What do you think, Emmett?”
I give her a quick kiss, then whisper, “Thank you for steering it in the right direction. I’ll make the arrangements.” I wave over our server, telling her of our intentions. She happily accommodates our small group, asking for a few minutes before we move locations.
It looks like I will get a chance to test my eight months of sobriety, which in the past has been challenging at every turn. Thankfully, I won’t be alone. As if she can read my mind, Tanya’s hand slides into mine, giving a gentle squeeze of support, while I contemplate this crazy past year.
When I was released from the hospital, I lived for three months at a place called The Haven. Aro and Tanya made the arrangements, keeping me within the state of Washington, which was a stipulation from the court. With the successful completion of the program, all charges against me due to the accident were dropped. My insurance covered the damage to the other vehicle, and I hurt no one other than myself. I got lucky, but the truth is, Aro is a superb lawyer.
It took two weeks to get through detox then another month before I moved into a different housing area. There, I transitioned gradually toward reentering society and the temptations of regular daily life. I could come and go, which was great when I could finally have my leg and arm casts removed, but I had my doubts about how I would handle everything when I was thrust back into my old life and around my old friends. I wished I could say everything was smooth sailing, but it was only a month back home when I fell off the wagon and into a bottle of whisky, while trying to drown my sorrows.
I’d never been so mad at a wedding invitation in my life, and it wasn’t even addressed to me, but to Lily. I saw the return address and opened it, anyway. Rachel was getting married to some guy named Isaac, and she wanted Lily to attend the wedding in Florida. I was devastated and couldn’t believe I was the last to know, finding out only by accident.
All of those times when she told me getting married wasn’t important were lies. I knew it deep in my gut. She wanted to get married, but not to me. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t the one for her—the right one, and it was a knockout punch. Irina was right. We never stood a chance.
I have no idea where I got the bottle, but when I woke up, I was in my bed fully clothed with Tanya and nursing a horrible hangover. She took care of me and has been by my side ever since.
When I made it six months sober, we celebrated with some of the most amazing sex I can ever remember having. Maybe it was because it had been so long, but I was happy to find everything in proper working order since my accident. Things are great between us, but she’s given me a new incentive for being sober a year—she plans to move in with me.
While I’m excited at the possibility, I’m also worried that something like Lily’s news will derail me. I know fucking up is always a possibility. It only took a wedding invitation last time. Every day is a new challenge, but I keep trying, which my sponsor, Harry, tells me is most important.
“We’re ready for you now, Mr. Cullen,” our server informs me.
“We’ll be in with your special dessert in a few moments.” She smiles then points us in the direction of the bar.
Lily perks up. “Special dessert? I heard that, Dad.”
“We’ll see what they’ve come up with for a new pastry chef’s birthday from Le Cordon Bleu.” I wink.
“The pressure they must be under in the kitchen,” Lily teases.
“You would know.”
As everyone files out of the restaurant and toward the bar, Lily hangs back to walk with me.
“How are you doing, Dad? Your limp is better since I was home during the holidays.”
“Unless I overdo it, then there’s a pain in my hip, which makes it more pronounced. The doctor said I will always have it. But as for drinking, I’m taking it one day at a time. I feel guilty, as I should be buying you your first drink, since you’re a legal drinker now, but I’m sorry, that’s really not possible.”
I think back to the kegger we had for my twenty-first birthday and shake my head, knowing that it wasn’t my first taste of alcohol, as I had been drinking in high school too.
“Dad, I’ve been legal for a long time here in Europe, but don’t worry, it’s not really my thing unless I need to use something as an ingredient for work.” She pauses at the entrance of the bar, glancing over at the selection of tempting bottles along the wall. “Remember, we’re only having coffee. You’ve got this.”
“I know, but it’s still there. It isn’t like my desire goes away and certain things trigger me.”
My mouth waters at the thought of two fingers of whisky and the possibility of a Macallan has me licking my lips, when I spy a bottle. The woodsy, spicy scent. The bitterness and the sweet.
Lily grabs my arm, stopping me from following after our group. “Dad, is it my fault? Me being in Paris or was it because I told you about Rachel?”
“You told me about Rachel?” I crinkle my brow in confusion, thinking I only learned of Rachel’s wedding after I left rehab and returned home to find the invitation in my mailbox.
“Yes, don’t you remember? It was during our conversation before your accident. You said it was fine when we were talking on the phone and that you hoped she was happy. Then things got a little weird, and you said you had to go.”
“Uh, I’m not sure.” I try to think back, wondering if my conversation with Lily on her birthday last year was the catalyst that caused me to have the accident.
She waits as I try to recall anything, but I’m not coming up with the answer.
“I don’t know, Lily. Everything is just blank, but I don’t want you thinking for a second you’re the reason for my issues. Trust me. I had lots of issues long before you came along. If anything you saved me and helped to keep me on the straight and narrow.”
“And now you have Tanya.”
“I’m glad you aren’t alone. Do you love her?”
I look over where Tanya is laughing and talking with Beth, George, and Laurent.
“I have no idea. I’m fighting a lot of battles and I know it’s easier with her than without her.”
“I think she loves you. Has she said it?”
Lily sighs. “Don’t freak out, okay?”
“I’ll try not.”
“I love Laurent. He tells me every morning…” She pauses, waiting expectantly for me to connect the dots. “…and every night.”
I shake my head then shrug. “And? I think I’m missing the punchline.”
“We’re living together. I should have told you long before now, but there was never a right time. You were in treatment and recovering from your injuries then trying to get back into your normal routine at home and work. I should have told you when I was home for the holidays, but I didn’t want you to worry about me.”
“For how long?” I wonder.
“Almost a year.”
“Wow. That means you were living together almost right after you met? I don’t feel good about that, Lily.” I think I need to sit down as the pain in my hip has spread to my heart. I move over toward two empty chairs along the wall.
Lily follows me, taking a seat next to mine. “Dad, I know you don’t believe in it, but I do. Aunt Bella told me a long time ago it was a possibility. For years, I was skeptical and felt no connection other than crushes that faded quickly with the guys I dated. But when I saw Laurent, it was love at first sight. I’ve been head over heels ever since. And I knew you wouldn’t like it, but I wanted to come clean.”
“How old is he?”
Lily is slow to answer. “I’m twenty-one. The age difference shouldn’t matter.”
“Lily.” I warn. “I know exactly how old you are. How old is he?”
“Grandpa was nine years older than Grandma. Uncle Jasper is eight years older than Aunt Alice. They didn’t let the age difference stop them from loving each other.”
I counter. “I’m twelve years older than your mother and twenty years older than Rachel. How did those relationships work out?”
“You and Mom didn’t have a relationship. So, it doesn’t count.”
“Oh, it counts.” I sigh, as I’ve already had enough of the rehashing of my failed relationships. We don’t need to dig any deeper.
“Daddy, why can’t you be happy for me? I’m a grown woman who is happy and in love. I’ve spent the last three years learning everything possible to perfect my skills and launch my career. There were nights when I fell asleep with chocolate under my nails and flour in my hair. There were days when I doubted myself and wondered if I would ever be good enough. There were moments when I was speaking in French and couldn’t come up with whatever stupid word I needed, nearly bringing me to tears under the pressure of my instructors. I thought about quitting and coming home more times than I can count, but I stuck it out. And now, I’m here getting ready to cross the finish line in order to start my career alongside a man who treats me like a queen. What more could you want?”
“For you to be in Seattle?”
She chuckles. “You never give up.”
“It’s because I love you.”
“And I love you, but I want you to be happy too. Maybe there’s hope for you and Tanya. I have a birthday wish and so do you.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in those anymore.”
“Oh, Dad. I believe in a lot of things these days. Love will do that to you, but more than anything, I believe in you.”
“Thanks, I need all the help I can get.” I glance over at our group and see that Lily’s sweet surprise has arrived. “Let’s go join the others and have birthday cake.”
“Sounds like a perfect way to finish our evening. I hope it’s chocolate.”
“Of course you do. It’s like it runs through your veins,” I tease, then kiss my beautiful daughter and wish her another happy birthday.