A/N: This last chapter has two povs with the first part from Tanya, then the final portion from Lily, the Daddy’s Girl we’ve grown to love.
Also, Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there but especially, Emmett. It’s no coincidence I am posting the final chapter on this day. I have enjoyed sharing your story and the special relationship you have with Lily. It is a bond like no other. You’ve been a wonderful father to her and will continue to be in the future. —ghostreader24 xx
Age tracker for this chapter: Emmett (55), Tanya (51), Lily (24)
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m just here having fun.
C23 – Happy 2nd Anniversary, Em
“Do you think I should wear a tie? What about my suit? Should I keep on what I wore to work today or go for something more casual?” Em rambles, staring at his reflection in the mirror.
“I don’t know why you’re asking me. You always dress casually for your meetings.”
“But tonight is different.”
I walk over and stand behind him, wrapping my arms around his waist. “No one will care about what you’re wearing. They will be focused on what you’re saying.”
He lets out a deep sigh and turns around facing me. “I know. I’ve been practicing all afternoon.”
“You and I both know the best words aren’t rehearsed. They come from the heart.” I pat his chest.
“This makes me nervous.” His eyes are filled with uncertainty.
“You speak in business meetings all the time.”
Em shakes his head. “But not about something so personal. My mistakes and failures.”
“You will be among friends. I’ll be there and so will Lily,” I reassure.
“I think that makes me even more nervous. Lily will think—”
“That you’re still the greatest guy in the world, like I do.” I smile and hope to divert his attention to a different subject. “How is she doing since Laurent left for Paris?”
“I don’t know. She really won’t talk about the breakup. I’ve been involved with buying out his share of the business. Aro handled everything, and I wrote the check, expediting Laurent’s departure, but other than that, I have no idea.”
“I would imagine she’s still hurting. I can’t believe he was cheating on her with someone back in Paris. I wonder for how long? It’s heartbreaking.”
Em shrugs. “It’s between them—their relationship is their business.”
“Hmmm. I’m not sure what to think of my non-meddling husband. That’s not like you,” I tease, walking around to my side of the bed.
“I’m staying out of it. I don’t want to make Lily feel bad or say, ‘I told you so.’ Laurent wasn’t happy and neither was Lily. It only shows you can’t outrun your problems no matter where you live. The fact that he’s returning to his family, and whoever else, is telling. The stress of starting a new business was too much and the new start didn’t mean a thing when everything fell apart between them.”
“I’m sad for Lily, but you’re right. She will bounce back and we’ll be here for her. It’s their business, but maybe we should focus on our business.” I remove a wrapped rectangular box from under my side of the bed and hold it out for him to take. “Happy anniversary, Em.”
He looks surprised by the wrapped package in my hand. “Oh, we’re exchanging gifts now? I thought we would wait until after the meeting.”
“Let’s do it now. We have time, and I’m sure you will be ready to focus on other things after the meeting, like unwinding.” I wink.
He always requires time to decompress afterward, and it usually involves us both naked, if we get that far. Sometimes, we barely get through the front door because he desperately needs a reconnection between us.
“Hold on.” He walks into the closet and retrieves a large, square box, then holds it out for me. “Happy anniversary, Tan. You go first.”
I set his gift on the bed, unwrap the box, and open it to find a cotton pillow featuring the state of Alaska.
My brow furrows in confusion. “I get the cotton part, but Alaska?”
“There’s more. Open the envelope.” He points. “It’s still in the box.”
I find the envelope, slide my finger under the edge of the flap, opening it easily, and remove the papers from inside.
I scan each one, looking over arrangements for accommodations and travel. My excitement builds for an adventure of a lifetime with my husband. I glance up from the papers. “We’re going to Alaska?”
“Yeah, four days and three nights in the Denali National Park. We’ll take a helicopter to get there, since Sheldon Chalet is only accessible by air. There’s a private chef and two other staff members that stay there too, but otherwise, it will be just the two of us. We can tour the area by air and hike the glaciers. We’ll be able to see the Northern Lights. They say the star viewing and meteor showers are unreal. There’s a sauna for working up a sweat, if we aren’t already breathless—”
“Em!” I swat his arm with the papers.
He gets a sneaky grin on his face. “What? It’s at 6000 feet, so it’s difficult to breathe. Altitude sickness is a real thing. What were you thinking?”
I chuckle. “You know what I was thinking.”
“With the temperatures in the single digits, we can find a way to stay warm. I have plenty of good ideas for that. Don’t worry.” He winks.
I fold the papers and slide them back into the envelope. “My grandparents—” I start.
Em smiles. “—were from Alaska. I listen even though you may believe otherwise.”
“I think Jasper calls it selective hearing.”
“He does, but I thought you would like to visit a piece of your heritage and see what it was like for them living there in the middle of nowhere.”
I think back to another time long ago. “I remember visiting them only once when I was young, but it was summer.”
“And now you’ll get to go back.” He wraps his arms around me, planting a kiss on my waiting lips.
“Em, it’s perfect and sweet and incredibly thoughtful. I’m excited.”
I reach down, grab his gift, and offer it to him. “Okay, it’s your turn.”
“Hmmm.” He tears off the paper and opens the box lid, revealing its contents. “A hat?”
“Not just any hat. A Seahawks hat. It’s cotton twill. There’s also a football.” I wave toward the box and grin as he locates the football customized with my handwriting. “Go ahead, read it.”
Em smirks. “‘You’re a catch because you—make me laugh, like to cuddle, are my best friend, love me, trust me, and improve my life in ways I never knew possible.'”
“Too cheesy?” I ask, scrunching up my face, hoping I didn’t go overboard.
“No. I like cheese, and I’m glad you’ve come around to the cuddle camp. Thank you for your sweet words.” He puckers his lips, and I leave a quick peck.
“There’s more in the box.” I point.
He unfolds a piece of paper I’d tucked inside with all the information. “Season tickets for the Seahawks?”
“Yes, but I’m going to the opener with you, then you can take Lily, Edward, or whoever you want the rest of the season. I’ll go again if you want me there, but I know how much you love football. You played growing up, right?” I wrap my arms around his shoulders as his find my waist, pulling me close.
“Yes, I did and I love it. There’s nothing like seeing a game in person. Thank you. It’s perfect.”
I smile. “We were both on the same page with the whole cotton second anniversary thing, but I think you probably spent too much for four days of seclusion on a glacier in Alaska.”
“You’re worth it. You should consider it an extension of our honeymoon in Bora Bora, which started before we were married,” he reminds me.
“The past two years have been amazing. Asking you to marry me was the best decision I ever made.” I smile.
“And accepting was the best decision I ever made.”
After a series of short kisses, I know I need to keep us on track. “You need to get changed for your meeting. We don’t want to be late. Is Lily going to meet us there?”
“I believe so. She had things to wrap up before closing.” Em heads for the closet, choosing to exchange his work clothes for something more casual.
Happy 55th Birthday, Dad
I’m running behind schedule and let out a sigh of relief when the meeting location comes into view. I pull open the door and walk inside, noticing a grouping of chairs full of people gathered nearby, but it’s the profile of a familiar face, sitting with his head down in the back row that gets my attention.
He looks as good as I remember. I try not to stare, but it’s impossible. I haven’t seen him in six years, but he’s one you don’t forget easily. His dirty blond hair is longer than I remember, but that doesn’t stop my fingers from remembering its softness. He’s got a thick growth of scruff along his angled jaw, which I recall felt incredible against my skin. He’s wearing a tight gray T-shirt, which stretches over his perfectly chiseled muscles and worn jeans with black boots. His leather jacket is draped over one leg, and for a moment, I wonder if it is filled with his delicious scent I remember.
His hands keep fiddling with a lighter as he listens to the speaker at the front of the room, making announcements, then introducing my dad.
They say you never forget your first, and that is definitely how I would describe Riley—unforgettable.
I had no idea he would be here this evening, and if he notices me, I’m hoping he will stick around long enough for me to say hello at the end of the meeting. I’m a little concerned with his reasons for being here, but reaching out for help is always a step in the right direction.
With a heavy heart, I spot Tanya and slip into the empty seat next to her, as Dad moves to the front of the room.
“Sorry, I’m late,” I whisper.
Tanya lowers her voice and pats my knee. “Hi, Lily. You haven’t missed anything.”
Dad scans the group gathered at the Unity on Union Bookstore and gives me a small smile when he sees I’m sitting next to Tanya.
He clears his throat. “Hello, my name is Emmett. I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hello, Emmett,” the small crowd murmurs.
“It’s been forty-four months, three weeks, and five days since my last drink, but who’s counting.”
He smiles as everyone chuckles.
“They tell you it will get easier, but for me it doesn’t. Every day is a conscious effort to stay sober. I’m not here because I had a bad weekend. I’m a career drinker.
“I love drinking. I’m good at it and it’s something I’ve been doing for most of my life. I had my first drink in middle school when my brother and I swiped one of our dad’s beers and shared it undetected in our backyard.
“I went to my first kegger in high school and learned that due to my size, I could handle more beer than my peers and drank everyone under the table. I’ve always been competitive and was repeatedly praised for my drinking abilities. My size also made purchasing alcohol easier. You probably won’t believe it, but I knew a guy who knew a guy, and that guy made my first fake ID. With the ability to purchase, I was invited to every weekend party. Girls were everywhere and more than willing to try new things—ideas I had only heard about, but was now regularly practicing.
“In college, I was educated on hard liquor, learning my way around jello shots, mixed drinks, and became skillful at beer pong. It was then I began binge drinking and taking alcohol more seriously. Alcohol was easy and fun. It eased the nerves and helped to relieve the stress from school. My fraternity brothers became lifelong friends. We moved from tailgate parties to Fridays at a local bar, and never missed the opportunity to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day to the fullest or Spring Break until we blacked out.
“Besides alcohol, I dabbled in party drugs, as marijuana, ecstasy, and cocaine were easy to come by in my circle of friends. But they never held my attention like a bottle of whisky.
“As we graduated from college and found jobs in our chosen professions, I stayed connected with my fraternity brothers, and for us, the party never stopped. We enjoyed business lunches laced with alcohol, then moved on to mandated cocktail parties or hotel bars when we were traveling for work. There were plenty of beers on the golf course and nights out with shots and the guys.
“We were young, single, and successful. Money was pouring into our bank accounts and we took vacations together, spending excessively on alcohol, drugs, and women. You can buy anything with enough money, and we did.”
He glances in my direction, then pauses, taking a deep breath before he continues.
“For years, this was the norm, until one day, it caught up with me and I became a single dad overnight. It was a struggle for years—being a father, hiding my drinking to be a better role model, and juggling the women. I went through over a decade of therapy, battling my demons and sorting out my issues. It was never a waste of time, as some may say. I redeemed myself with my family and sustained many long-term relationships until the breakup of one, which was more than I could take.
“With that loss, I had a new battle on my hands—depression. My therapist suggested medication, but I was tired of talking and stopped meeting regularly. I wanted to be the life of the party again and feel good. I knew exactly how to do it.
“I survived navigating the low spots efficiently. I would drink anytime or anywhere and often by myself. I built up a tolerance, which required more alcohol to chase the euphoria I was after. When I wasn’t drinking, I was tired and irritable. I knew better than anyone I wasn’t an alcoholic and would argue with those who tried to label me or help.”
His eyes find Tanya, and I look over to see her small smile. She dabs her eyes and gives a subtle nod, urging him to continue.
“I found myself behind bars, but that did little to change my ways. It was after a car accident I went into treatment at the prompting of an incredible woman and friend who stuck by me when she should have left.
“I’m not at the end of this process, but I’m ready to give back, and the first step is by sharing my story. I’ve been where you are right now. I understand what is running through your head. Trust me, it’s better to be sitting here in a meeting wishing for a drink than sitting in a bar wishing to be sober.
“For years, I’ve been trying to find my way, making steps toward rebuilding the man I am—one with a quiet mind and a loving heart. A man full of defects and shortcomings that all add up to being human.
“We’re all human. We make mistakes. I learned a long time ago that no one is perfect. While second chances can be a wonderful thing, sometimes it takes longer. I know it did for me. I’ve lost track of what number I’m on by now. Don’t give up on the possibility of a better life—one full of hope.
“I’m thankful for so many people who continue to help me down this long road—this group of friends here tonight, my therapist, and my family, but especially my daughter, Lily. She has always been my motivator to be a better man, and without her, I don’t think I would have made it this far in life. I need to thank Harry, my sponsor, who has been invaluable on my road to recovery. And of course, Tanya, my wife, for never giving up on me.
Everyone claps as Dad and Harry shake hands then hug briefly, patting each other on the back.
Harry smiles, then looks over the group. “We will take a short break and allow everyone a chance to grab another cup of coffee or a snack. Maybe get up and stretch your legs, then we’ll have our final speaker of the evening.”
I watch Dad make his way to where we are sitting, accepting “congratulations” from multiple attendees.
Tanya shoots up out of her chair, offering a hug and a kiss. “You were wonderful.”
“Not too much?”
“No. Not at all.”
He clears his throat. “I almost lost it there toward the end.”
I grin, giving him my own hug. “Congratulations, Dad. I’m so proud of you.”
“Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
“Mr. Cullen?” His voice is raspy and as sexy as I remember.
“Hey, Riley. You know I told you to call me Emmett.” Dad reaches out and shakes his hand.
“Right, Emmett.” His eyes glance over to me for a moment.
“Did you pick up your 90 day chip tonight?”
“Yes, sir. I did.”
“Congratulations.” Dad pats Riley on the shoulder.
“Thank you. And also, thank you for what you said tonight. I can identify with the part you said about second chances. It really hit home with me.”
“One day at a time, Riley. It’s all we can do.”
“Why don’t we go grab some coffee?” Tanya suggests.
Dad looks around at our group. “Sounds good. Do you want anything, Lily?”
“No. I’m fine. Thanks, Dad.”
I watch Dad and Tanya move toward the refreshment table easily, striking up conversation with other attendees. There’s an awkward pause before he speaks.
“Lily,” he whispers in greeting, but with only brief eye contact.
“Hello, Riley. It’s been a while.”
He nods as a sad smile rests on his face. “Yeah. A lot can happen in six years.”
“I had no idea you would be here tonight.” I reveal. Although, I guess he wouldn’t since I know they don’t share anything outside meetings.
He’s nervous and lacking the too-cool vibe I always get from him. “I’m not exactly proud that we’re seeing each other again for the first time at an AA meeting of all places. I’ve had some rough patches. I asked your dad not to mention it. Even though, I know he wouldn’t unless I asked. But I, uh, didn’t think you would show if you knew I was here.”
“Why in the world would you think something like that?”
He shrugs. “You left—”
“To attend school and now I’m back.”
He scratches his head, looking around the room behind me. “For how long?”
“I have no plans to be anywhere else. I have a café of my own. You should stop by, but by the looks of you, I doubt you eat a lot of French pastries.” I take my time, glancing over his more muscular frame than I remember.
“I’ve always been a sucker for something sweet—you included.” Something in his eyes sparks him to life.
Maybe he has fond memories of our time together like I do. I can’t keep the blush from overtaking my face. His words could always turn me into mush, leaving me speechless.
Riley clears his throat. “You’re… uh, single? Your dad said—”
“I’m single. Can we leave it at that? I could really use a friend after the last two months.”
Riley nods. “I can be a friend, but I should warn you, it won’t stop me wanting more. Lily, I always wanted more with you. Would you like to go somewhere? We can catch up.”
I wave my hand toward the empty chairs. “Don’t you want to stay for the rest of the meeting?”
“I already listened to the speaker I wanted to hear tonight. I’ll be back next week for more.” He slides on his leather jacket, ready to depart.
“Let me say goodbye to Dad then we’ll go. Don’t leave without me.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t.”
I’m positive we have matching smiles at the thought of spending more time together. I nod then walk over to where Dad and Tanya are talking with another couple.
“Sorry to bother, but I need to wish you both happy anniversary.” I hug Tanya.
“Thank you, sweetheart. He loved the season tickets.”
“And you’re going to Alaska! I’m jealous. Dad showed me the pictures.”
She grins. “I know. I’m excited.”
“And a happy birthday to you, Dad.”
“Thanks, Lily. I appreciate you coming tonight. It means a lot.”
“Anything for you. I’m going to go.”
Dad’s eyes look past my shoulder. “Riley?”
“Yeah, we’re going to catch up. It’s been years. Lots to discuss.”
“I get it. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He leans down and kisses my cheek.
“See you later, Lily.” Tanya smiles and wraps her hand around Dad’s arm.
Riley nods at Dad and Tanya then follows me out the door.
“Where’s your bike?” I look around not finding any motorcycles parked nearby.
“Uh, probably one of those things we should talk about. I’ve had the Charger for two years. It’s, uh, warmer, safer and you don’t need helmets. Seat belts are a good thing. Where should we go?”
He follows me to the passenger side, but I lean back against the closed door as we figure out our destination for this evening.
“My place? It’s nearby,” I suggest.
He moves closer until there’s only about six inches of space between our bodies. “I’m positive I don’t have enough willpower only to be a friend if we go to your place.”
“How about your shop? I’m thinking about a new tattoo.” I grin, eager to put him some place he will feel comfortable.
He closes the distance between us and smirks. “Oh, yeah?”
“Maybe the Eiffel Tower or something to remember my time in Paris.”
Riley’s hands find my waist. “I’m sure we can come up with something, but the shop is closed for the night. It would also be just the two of us. As much as I would like you in my chair, I think we need something more public.”
“I missed dinner. What about some place that stays open late?” I stare into his sparkling eyes, dancing with desire.
His focus moves from my eyes to my lips. “I can’t help it, Lily. I want to kiss you, but I need to do this right this time. I can’t be a rebound or a one-time thing,” he whispers, pressing his body against mine, lighting a fire in me from head to toe. “Tell me to stop.”
He pauses, waiting for me to say something, but there’s no way I’m uttering a peep. His soft lips barely touch mine in a kiss far too timid for my taste. I weave my fingers through his soft hair and pull his face closer, leaving no hesitancy in my kiss when our lips meet again and again. When we break apart, we’re both panting trying to catch our breath.
Riley leans his forehead against mine. “I haven’t… I haven’t exactly been an angel while you’ve been gone.”
“We didn’t make each other any promises. I knew and so did you.” My fingers hold on to his belt loops, keeping him from moving away.
“I know, but now I’m thinking we should have. God, you smell good.” A grin breaks out across his handsome face.
“It’s probably the sugar.” I giggle. “I’m covered in it from baking all day.”
Riley groans then releases my waist, backing up to open the passenger door. “No wonder you’re driving me crazy. Let’s go get you something to eat. And talk. We need to do a lot of talking.”
I slide into the seat, and he shuts the door, hurrying around to the driver’s side. He starts up the car, and the Charger roars to life.
“And when we’re all talked out?” I wonder.
“I hope we’ll be able to be more than friends. But Lily, I will not rush you into anything. I don’t want you to go from making one mistake to another with me. No regrets.”
I shake my head. “Laurent wasn’t a mistake. I loved him. He was good to me until he wasn’t. I’m not over it, but I did nothing wrong. A part of me will always love him. I doubt it will go away. But, I don’t think I’m ready just yet to jump into something new or revisit something old. And Riley, you’ve never been a mistake or a regret.”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way.” He smiles and reaches over to take my hand, placing a kiss on the back. He laces our fingers together, which he keeps on his thigh while he maneuvers through our neighborhood with a clear destination in mind. And I’m more than happy to be along for the ride.
A/N: The End.
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