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 (41), Lily (10), Honey (29), Edward (39), Bella (37), Carlisle (76), Esme (67)
I have yet to get through this chapter without a few tears or at least that lump in my throat that won’t go away. So, maybe a tissue warning for the tender-hearted.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m just here having fun.
C9 – Happy 10th Birthday, Lily
I hate being late for anything. It seems everything is plotting against me getting home at a decent time this evening. I notice Bella’s car is still in the driveway when I get there. She and Lily don’t hear me walk through the front door as their conversation continues.
“It was so beautiful, Lily, and romantic. Like a whole other world.”
“Am I doing this right?”
I set down Lily’s birthday present and peer into the kitchen, watching them assemble one of Bella’s favorite cookies—macarons. The two of them baking together for her birthday has been a welcome distraction, as we’ve suffered a few losses over the past few months, bringing a dark cloud to this year’s birthday celebration.
First, it was Luna then Dad. Lily hasn’t been doing well with either of their deaths. Her usually bubbly personality has all but disappeared. She’s been withdrawn and moody with no end in sight.
I’m at my limit on figuring out what to do, asking Edward and Bella for help. Bella suggested she spend time with her, baking together—one of Lily’s favorite things to do. Bella thought it would also give her an opportunity to talk about losing Luna and her grandfather since she’s been keeping everything bottled up.
“You’re doing a great job with the strawberry ones. It’s a perfect pink.” Bella taps Lily’s nose, then stuffs an entire finished pink cookie in her mouth.
Lily does the same, then they both giggle with full mouths as Lily holds her cheeks. “We look like chipmunks.”
Her giggle is music to my ears—a first in too long.
Bella goes back to filling and sandwiching cookies together. “These are delicious. The chocolate ones taste exactly like when I made them in Paris.”
“Is that where Uncle Edward asked you to marry him?”
“No, but we had an unbelievable time seeing the sights of Paris and getting to know each other better.”
They work in silence for a moment, and I wonder if I should make my presence known when Lily speaks.
Her sad voice is soft. “Aunt Bella, do you know my mom?”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I don’t.”
“Don’t tell Dad, because I don’t want him to be mad. But I tried searching for her on the internet.”
Oh, shit. I wonder when this happened.
“Did you have any success?”
“No. I searched for ‘Honey Cullen’ in Nevada, but there weren’t any.”
“I doubt her last name would be Cullen, since she and your dad weren’t ever married.”
“Oh. I wonder what her last name is.”
“I have no idea. That’s a good question for your dad.”
Oh, God. More questions for me. I lean back against the wall to the kitchen and listen.
“Do you think he loved her?”
“They didn’t know each other for long.”
“What about love at first sight? Do you think it’s real?”
“It can happen, but I don’t know if that was the case for your parents.”
“I don’t think my mom loved me.” Lily’s voice breaks on the last words.
“Lily, I don’t believe that to be true for one minute.”
“Then why isn’t she here?” Lily cries, sniffing back tears.
“Your mom was smart enough to realize she wasn’t able to be everything you needed and found your dad so you had the best life possible. She knew he would do everything to take care of you. Sometimes, we’re in such a rush to grow up that when we get a huge dose of reality—like having a baby when we aren’t ready; it can be overwhelming. I don’t know how old your mom was when she had you, but I would bet she wasn’t ready to be a mom. She loved you so much that she knew the best thing for you was for her to take a step back.”
I’m so glad Bella is handling Lily’s questions, as I would have no idea what to say.
“Do you think she was sad about leaving me?”
“I’m positive it was the hardest thing she’s ever done in her life.”
“Will you help me find her?”
“I think the best person for that search is your father. He may know more about her than I do.”
“I don’t think he likes talking about her.”
“I can understand that. He’s also protective of you and doesn’t want to see you hurt if things don’t work out the way you hope.”
“I want to see her—at least a picture. I don’t even have that. I’ve used every one of my birthday wishes trying to make her show up, but it isn’t working.”
“Sweetheart, every day you look in the mirror you see pieces of your mother, and especially here…” Bella taps on Lily’s chest. “In your heart.”
“Maybe I’m bad luck. First, my mom doesn’t want me, then Luna dies. Now Grandpa.”
“Aww, Lily. I’m sorry, but death is part of life. When I lost Tucker two years ago, I was upset for months. I loved him so much and we had been together forever. Losing someone we love isn’t easy. We all take different amounts of time to grieve. It’s probably related to how much we loved them.”
“Then you got Goldie?”
“Yes, Uncle Edward surprised me when he brought home a dog, but Goldie fits perfectly with our family. Unfortunately, Goldie’s owner couldn’t keep him, as she was old, needed more care, and was moving into a new senior care facility, which didn’t allow dogs.”
“You’re his second-chance family.”
“Do you think he still loves his first owner?”
“Golden Retrievers are smart and I don’t doubt for a second he wouldn’t remember her if he saw her again.”
“But she can’t visit him.”
“No. Her family moved her out of state to be closer to her children and grandchildren. That way they can make sure she’s getting the care she needs.”
“Sometimes we can’t live with whom we love.”
“That’s right, but it doesn’t mean we don’t love them any less.”
“Do you think Grandma misses Grandpa?”
“Every day. But she has friends and us. Did you know Grandpa loved macarons?”
“I brought extras back from Paris and he kept them for himself.”
“Do you think that’s why he died? His diet? Maybe he ate too many sweets. Grandma always says too many aren’t good for you.”
“No, I don’t. His heart finally gave out after suffering damage years ago. He was seventy-five and lived a long, happy life with an amazing family. It’s all any of us can want.”
“Do you think Daddy will die soon? What if his heart stops working? What would happen to me?”
“We have no idea when anyone will die, but if something happened to your dad, you would probably come and live with Aunt Alice or me, since we are your family. But that’s up to your dad. You should ask him about it. I’m sure he would be happy to answer your questions and put your mind at ease. We all love you Lily and will do everything we can to take care of you no matter what happens in your life.”
“Thanks, Aunt Bella. I love you.”
“I love you too, Lily. Now we better finish up these cookies before your dad gets home and I need to get home soon too.”
I sneak back to the front door and open it then close it loudly this time. “Anybody home?”
“We’re in the kitchen, Daddy,” Lily shouts.
Things have gotten a little easier for me where Bella is concerned. I’ve been dating a few women. It isn’t anything serious, and I’ve only fallen off the abstinence wagon a couple of times, needing to release some tension, which Irina said could be expected given my active sexual history. She says the next woman I have sex with should be someone I’m willing to introduce to Lily. This qualifier alone has me carefully screening and getting to know my dates, which Irina says is great progress. It doesn’t feel great, but I know I need to change how I treat women and be a better man, not just a father for Lily.
“Hello, my Birthday Girl.” I lean over and kiss the top of Lily’s head. “It smells like a French bakery in here.”
Lily giggles, and my heart races with the sweet sound. “We’re making macarons. You want one?”
“Absolutely, pink please.”
Lily smiles then stuffs a pink cookie into my waiting mouth.
“Is it good?”
“You want to try the chocolate one too?”
“Sure.” I finish the mouth full quickly. “What are we doing for dinner tonight? Your choice, Lily.”
Bella finishes filling the last cookies as Lily watches.
“Can we stay here?”
“We can do whatever you want, but I have a birthday surprise for you.”
“Do you want to see? It’s by the front door.”
“Yes. Come on Aunt Bella.” Lily grabs her hand, pulling her in the same direction.
They follow me into the entry where a pink open box with a dark pink bow on the side is waiting.
“What is it?” Lily looks inside and lights up, then her voice goes soft. “A kitty?”
Lily reaches in the box, pulling out the sleepy, cream-colored cat.
“Is it a girl?”
I nod my head, pointing to the pink collar. “She’s yours. You need to pick a name for her.”
“I’ve never named someone before. What should I pick Aunt Bella?”
Bella kneels in front of Lily and gently scratches the kitten behind the ears. “There’re plenty of names you can pick. What about a name after something you love, like Cookie or Cupcake—”
Lily giggles, holding the kitten to her chest. “What about a flower like me?”
I cringe, hoping the next word out of her mouth isn’t “Rose” or some variation.
“How about Daisy?”
I let out a sigh, and Bella’s eyes find mine since she’s probably thinking the same thing.
Bella smiles at Lily. “Daisy is a wonderful name. It looks like you have a new friend. I need to head home. Enjoy your cookies and cupcakes. I had fun baking with you today. You’re double digits now, like the rest of us.”
Lily grins. “Thanks, Aunt Bella.”
“Happy birthday, Lily. Take care of Daisy. Congratulations on becoming a new momma.” Bella leaves a kiss on Lily’s cheek.
Bella slips out the front door.
“I’ll be right back, Lily.” I close the door and jog to catch up with Bella. “Hey, wait up. Thank you for spending time with Lily this afternoon.”
“Emmett, she’s always a pleasure. Great job on getting another cat. It will help too.”
“It was Edward’s idea.”
Bella grins. “He has some good ones.”
“Thanks for talking with Lily back there. It’s the most I’ve heard her say in months.”
“She’s got a lot of difficult questions waiting for you, but I did my best. Just be honest with her. She may not be ready for the truth but she can handle more than you think. Lily’s no shrinking violet.” She laughs.
“I’ll do my best.”
“That’s all anyone can ever ask of you. How are you doing since Carlisle passed away?”
“I’m holding it together. Some days are better than others. I really fucked up and lost a lot of time with him.”
“You made the most with what you had. That’s what counts. I better get going before Edward wonders what’s happened to me. Keep our girl happy. She’s in a better place than she was. Daisy will help too.”
“Okay. See ya.”
I walk back inside to find Lily grinning from ear-to-ear on the couch with Daisy curled up asleep in her arms.
“I tried to put her down, but she ‘meowed’ at me.”
I chuckle. “What should we have for dinner? Pizza?”
“Maybe we should eat something here. Could you cook me something?”
“How about soup and grilled cheese? It’s not very extravagant, but maybe some comfort food would be good for both of us.”
Lily nods, cuddling Daisy close. “You make the best grilled cheese, Daddy.”
“How about ham and potato soup?”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Thanks for taking care of me.”
My heart may burst. “It’s an honor to be your dad.”
“And for Daisy. We’re a family again.”
We always were.