A/N: Thank you to Honeymoon Edward, LizziePaige, and Midnight Cougar for working your magic.
Age tracker for this chapter: Emmett (37), Lily (6), Honey (25), Alice (40), Carlisle (72), Esme (63)
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m just here having fun.
C5 – Happy 6th Birthday, Lily
“Daddy! Look at all the tickets!” Her arms are overflowing with winning tickets as our time playing arcade games new and old ends.
This year Lily wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese for our father-daughter birthday date. I heard all the horror stories from Alice about this place as she handed me a bottle of hand sanitizer and said I would thank her later. But, I have my fingers crossed that neither one of us ends up sick. It’s hard not to have fun here, and by the look on Lily’s face, this place is a hit. I will be the first to admit feeling like a kid playing here, but there’s nothing like seeing the joy spread on my daughter’s face when she wins tickets from a game.
“Lily, you hit the jackpot. Let’s go sit down. Our food should be ready soon.”
“But we need to turn in my tickets.” She whines.
“We’ll do that after we eat, then you can pick something from the prize wall.”
“How many tickets do you think I have? A million?”
Her estimate is way off. “No, probably a couple of thousand.”
“That’s still a lot. Thank you, Daddy, for letting us come here. It’s the best. I love Whac-A-Mole.”
“I’m glad you’re having fun and you’re a pro at bopping those guys on the head.” I tap her own head playfully as she jumps up and down.
She pauses, climbing into our booth. “What was that game again that you got so many tickets?”
“Skee-Ball.” I slide into the spot across from her.
“That’s it. I couldn’t remember.” Lily empties her arms, pushing her winnings to the other end of the table.
My eyes look to my right and see a familiar face to go with the friendly voice. “Vic.” I stand and open my arms to give her a hug. “How are you? I haven’t seen you in forever.”
I’ve been trying to put more distance between James and myself over the past year, because now he is single and even more outrageous than when we were hanging out together. I heard from him briefly that he was divorcing Vic, but I suspected it was the other way around. He’d never talked about the divorce, but I didn’t want to slip up and give him any ammunition to use against her during their proceedings. From the look of her smiling face and sparkling eyes, I’m positive it was the right move.
“I’m good. Real good. I’ve had so many changes since my divorce. The first being—I’m engaged. Can you believe it?” Vic holds out her hand, showing me her ring.
“Wow! That’s quite a sparkler. Who’s the lucky guy?”
“Hang on; let me get him over here.” Her eyes search the gamers, then she waves over a balding, overdressed guy in our direction, and shouts, “Jason, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
He holds out his hand for me to shake while Vic makes introductions.
“Jason, this is my friend, Emmett Cullen. Emmett, my fiancé, Jason Jenks.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Vic glances over at my dinner companion. “And you must be Em’s beautiful daughter. I’m sorry I haven’t had the chance to meet you before now.”
Lily smiles. “I’m Lily.”
“Vic, I will stick with the kids and let you two catch up. Nice meeting you Emmett, Lily.” Jason nods.
“Isn’t he great?” Vic asks, as we watch him reunite with two kids.
I can’t tell much from a handshake, but I can play along. “He seems like a nice guy. Where did you meet?”
Vic lowers her voice. “He was my divorce attorney.”
She shrugs. “We had a few dinner meetings, then once my divorce was finalized, we started dating. I never thought I would find anyone after all I went through with James. He was such a horse’s ass. Sorry, Lily. Pardon my language, but it’s the truth.”
Lily giggles at the silly face Vic makes.
“Jason has kids?”
“Yes, two—a boy and a girl. He lost his wife to cancer, and I know a part of him will always love her. I would never begrudge him that. But, Em—he and the kids are exactly what I need. And believe it or not, I’m what they need. It all feels so right. Every day with them feels like a blessing. We’re going to have a small ceremony this summer. I would love it if you and Lily could attend.”
“Sure. Send me the details and I’ll put it on our calendar. Are you celebrating something tonight?”
She chuckles. “No. We’re here to spend time together. Jason has been working long hours this week and needed fun time with the kids. Are the two of you having a father-daughter date?”
“We’re celebrating Lily’s sixth birthday.”
“Happy birthday, sweet girl. It looks like you won all the tickets. Are there any left?” she teases.
Lily grins. “Daddy’s good at all the games.”
Vic winks. “I’ll bet he is.”
“Are you still working at the bank? I haven’t seen my favorite teller when I’ve stopped by.”
“Oh, Em. You’re too sweet. No, I’m not. Jason asked me if I would stay at home with the kids. With losing their mom and his long hours, he wanted me there permanently. And the kids are such a joy. I’m lucky they accepted me so easily. Em, you never know when love will find you, and I’m thankful for this second chance. Who knows? Maybe Jason and I will add to our family soon.”
She grins. “We’re trying. I would love to experience having a little one. Maybe more.”
I lower my voice, not wanting to ask too much or too little about the fallout for her from our night together. “Did you ever tell—”
Vic shakes her head, smiling up at me. “James has no idea, or Jason, for that matter. There’s really nothing to tell. Thank you for being there for me when I needed a little more than a friend.” She rises to her tiptoes, leaving a kiss on my cheek. “I better find my family and let the two of you get back to your dinner. It was good seeing you again, Em.”
“I’m glad everything worked out. You look happy.”
“I am. Take care of your dad, Lily. He’s special.”
Lily nods. “Bye.”
Vic disappears past the arcade games and simulators as youthful shouts of excitement and laughter fill the air all around us.
I slide into our booth as our food arrives.
“Can I get you anything else?” The server asks after setting everything on the table.
I double-check, but it looks exactly as we’ve ordered. “No, we’re all set.”
I notice Lily seems a little more subdued after my talk with Vic. Maybe she needs to eat.
“Are you hungry, Lily?” I prompt, hoping for my bubbly Lily to return.
“Yeah,” she mumbles.
I point toward the pepperoni pizza. “This looks great. Do you want a slice of pizza?”
“No.” She pushes her chicken nuggets around then settles on nibbling on a French fry.
“Lily, is something wrong? You know you can ask me or talk about anything.”
She nods. “You like her?”
“Vic? Yeah, she’s—nice.”
“She said she’s excited to be a mom.”
“She is.” I wait patiently for her to continue.
Lily sighs, and I can only imagine what’s running through her head until she finally starts with the questions.
“Why don’t I have a mom?”
“Were you mean to her? Because some boys in my class at school can be mean. I hate Eric. He pulled on my braid the other day and I stomped on his foot.”
“No, I wasn’t mean.” I grab a napkin, wiping my hands.
“Then where is she?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know. We didn’t know each other for long. I met her in another state when I was on a trip.”
“Does she know where we live?”
I hate to crush any of Lily’s hopes that maybe that’s the reason her mom isn’t in her life, but I try to stay as close to the truth as possible. “She knows we live in Seattle.”
Lily exhales. “What’s her name?”
“Honey.” I’m not sure if I should reveal her legal name as it’s listed on Lily’s birth certificate, but I try to stick with the basics for this conversation. My greatest shock looking over the document initially was learning Honey’s age—eighteen when I met her, nineteen when she gave birth to Lily. I’m twelve years older than Honey, which is quite an age gap.
“Do you have a picture of her?” She stares at me with hopeful eyes.
“Uh—” I blanch at the thought of the video and photos I have of Honey showing an entirely naked woman having sex in an orgy of epic proportions with a variety of men and women. James made certain to share copies of his bachelor party weekend with all attendees, and for whatever reason, I have yet to delete them. “I’m sorry. I don’t.”
I hate lying to her. Maybe I should try tracking down Honey and find a decent photo or at least check how she’s doing for Lily’s sake.
“Do I look like her?”
I give Lily a slight smile. “You do. Your mom is beautiful. The two of you have blue eyes and similar hair color, but yours is lighter.”
She lets out a sigh, wiggling in her seat, then takes a bite of chicken.
I’m ready to change the subject and get my high-spirited, birthday girl back, and I know the exact course this conversation should take.
“Grandma said you helped with making your birthday cupcakes this year.”
Lily brightens a little more. “I added everything to the bowl and cracked the eggs. They’re messy. Then I stirred it all up.”
“Did you try the cake batter before you baked it?”
She nods. “Yes, Grandma says you have to taste everything and make sure it’s good.”
“Grandma knows cupcakes.”
“We poured the batter in pink cups then Grandma put the pan in the oven to bake. I didn’t touch the oven. It’s hot and Grandma says we have to be careful.”
Lily talks a little faster and with more excitement. “Then we made the icing and got sugar everywhere.”
“Did you learn how to make the swirls on top?”
“Uh-huh. We made half-pink and half-white. Then Grandma put both colors in a bag and I squeezed it out in a bunch of twirly circles.”
“Well, I can’t wait to try your first cupcakes. I’m sure they will be delicious.”
“Grandpa was sad until I told him he could have one.”
I chuckle imagining Dad laying it on thick to weasel away some cupcakes from Lily’s stash. “That sounds about right, but I can’t believe you would let him have your first birthday cupcake. I thought the rule was: the birthday girl always takes the first bite.”
Lily giggles. “Grandma and I had one too. Plus, I already made my birthday wish. It was easy.”
“I missed out on the wish and singing to you?”
She shrugs. “You can sing again Daddy and I’ll eat another cupcake, but you said only one wish, right?”
“That’s right.” I look over our partially finished food, then flag down a worker for some boxes to pack up the leftovers, as our meal winds down. “Are you about ready to go turn in your tickets then pick a prize?”
“Yes!” Lily drops her French fry immediately and wipes her hands, then grabs her tickets, filling her arms. “I’ll go put them in the machine.”
I nod for her to go since there’s a ticket redemption machine near our table where I can keep my eye on her. Chuck E. Cheese has a security stamp not to allow any kids to leave the building without the rest of their party, but I’m always a little on edge, as nothing is foolproof.
Lily giggles while she feeds the remaining tickets into the machine. It makes a chomping and chewing sound the entire time until the last one then Lily presses the button printing out a receipt.
“Daddy, look! I have over two thousand tickets.”
“Well, that should be enough for a couple Tootsie rolls and a sticky hand,” I conclude, knowing you never have enough tickets for the really great prizes at these type of places.
We walk toward the counter where a teenager is ready to help us. Lily hands him her receipt.
“You’re a big winner, young lady. Anything from here down. Let me know when you’ve decided.”
He leaves our receipt on the counter in front of us then helps another winner.
“Daddy, I have no idea what to pick. Can you hold me up? I can’t see.”
Lily hums and haws over the selections. “I wish I had enough for the rainbow slinky. It’s so amazing, but I could get a Chuck E. Cheese lunch box.”
After toiling for what seems like at least half an hour, Lily now has a birthday prize stash that includes: four mini Tootsie rolls, a pencil, two friendship bracelets, a package of Pop Rocks, and a Chuck E. Cheese lunch box.
She’s quite the efficient shopper, and I’m glad she didn’t ask me to throw more money with her tickets, which the helpful teenager behind the counter reminded us was a possibility.
I’m surprised at my restraint since I have little will power with giving Lily everything she wants. So, the fact that she doesn’t have all of those items plus a rainbow slinky is a win for me too. I know I spoil her too much, which Edward has warned me against, but so what. I don’t plan to have any other kids, not that she was planned, and it’s just the two of us. I make more than enough money. Why not indulge her with everything I can?