A/N: My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone on the West Coast, but especially those who are tirelessly fighting the wildfires burning acres and acres of land. Please, stay safe. I’m tweaking my posting schedule but hope you don’t mind having the chapter today instead. Thank you to Midnight Cougar for adding her suggestions each and every chapter. She’s the best! xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Love Shack,” The B-52’s
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond own the adorable little mouse whose needs inspired this very adult version of their story. Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
It’s late Chicago time when our flight arrives from Seattle into O’Hare Airport. I could rent a car and drive, but I don’t want to deal with parking around my parents’ building, so we use a rideshare service for our transportation from the airport.
Our hands are linked and resting against my thigh as the driver winds his way through the streets of downtown Chicago. With skyscrapers out every window and dwindling green space, it’s a vivid reminder of what we’re missing back home. The fact that I now think of Forks as home isn’t lost on me, but I’m sure anywhere I live with Bella will feel like home.
She’s officially settled into our apartment, and living together is better than I could have ever expected. It took her all of two seconds to introduce herself to my neighbors, and she’s had Jane and Bree over for “wine night” with Angela recently. I don’t know what that entails exactly, as I suspect it’s nothing like my mother’s book club. Or maybe it is, only with movies instead of books.
While her father took their television when he moved in with Sue, Bella nabbed their movie collection and disc player. So we now have the ability to watch movies at our place, which had Bella and the others cackling while watching the movie Long Shot the other night when I returned home after my shift.
Even though Bella claims not to be a good cook, she’s been bringing her A-game in feeding me at all hours. I’ve reassured her many times it isn’t necessary, but she says it gives her something to do. Since Jess returned from her maternity leave this past week, Bella is no longer working next door at the Police Department, and eager to start her new job at the Post Office in a few weeks.
I gaze at her profile while she looks out the car window, worrying her lower lip. Bella won’t admit it, but I know she’s nervous about being here and meeting my parents in-person this weekend. I have reassured her she has nothing to worry about, but if she feels anything like I do around her father, then I completely understand her concern. While I believe the Chief enjoys keeping me on edge, I’m looking forward to the day when I’m able to relax in his presence. According to Jasper, it may never happen, but I’m hopeful it won’t take years for us to get there.
My mother is beyond excited for our visit, and I’m positive she’s anticipated our every need while we’re here. My parents sold our home in the suburbs years ago and live in a high-rise condo overlooking Lake Michigan. For years, my father commuted into the city for his job at the hospital, then later at the university, but now he’s only fifteen minutes away where he teaches at The University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine.
I won’t deny the views from their home are breathtaking with the floor to ceiling windows and wrap around balcony, but after fighting fires in more than a few of these buildings, I know firsthand how deadly they can be when the tenants become trapped. The helpless pleas and desperation…
“We’re here.” The driver’s voice pulls me from my thoughts before they can wander down that path again.
“Great.” I look over at Bella, squeeze her hand, and give a reassuring smile, even though I’m probably the one who needs it at this point, but for different reasons. “Let’s get our bags.”
“Are you sure I shouldn’t have brought something? I feel weird showing up empty-handed.”
“It’s all good. This will be a brief weekend visit for you to get to know them. Trust me, you can bring something next visit.”
With her hand still in mine, I pull our bags with my other when we enter the lobby and check in with the front desk.
After scanning our identification, the man makes a quick call, probably letting my mother know we’re here and gives us directions, even though I know where I’m going. “Mr. Cullen, your mother is expecting you and Miss Swan. If you don’t need any assistance with your bags, please proceed to the elevators just around the corner.”
“No, I’ve got them. Thanks.”
“Have a good night,” Bella says, following behind me.
“You too, Miss Swan.”
It’s only an elevator ride.
I repeat over and over, but it does little good to calm my nerves as I grip the handle of Bella’s rolling suitcase with my duffle bag stacked on top. I hate that this bothers me, but I know once I’m on their floor I’ll be fine. It’s a little unnerving getting there, and I hope I can keep it together in front of Bella.
“They have a doorman… and a front desk,” Bella whispers with wide-eyes once we’re in the elevator.
But I’m having trouble focusing as we ascend floors and I watch the little circles light up.
“I think no matter what I brought I’m underdressed.”
7… 8… 9…
I release a few deep breaths when her voice cuts through the loud pounding of my heart in my ears while my hand clutches hers tightly.
“Did my ears just pop?”
35… 36… 37…
“Damn, I hope we don’t ‘Willy Wonka’ out of this place,” she jokes, but her face becomes a picture of concern when I shift my gaze to hers. “Hey… are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I mumble, focusing back on the numbers of the floors.
68… 69… 70…
The doors open finally for the seventy-first floor and my relief is instant as I hurry us out of the elevator.
My voice wavers, but I want to squash her worries. “I’m normally okay with heights, but I haven’t been around these in a while and it brings back…” I shake my head. “They make me a little uncomfortable. I’ll be okay once I have some time to adjust to them again.”
“I’m good. Let’s go.” I attempt to pull both her and our bags along, but she digs in her heels, tugging me backward.
“Wait a minute. You’re not okay, and I want… no, I need to say something.”
I nod and lean against the wall, breathing deeply while she stands between my legs and my hands settle at her hips, playing with the belt loops of her jeans. Her fingers push through my hair over and over as if she senses how much I need her soothing touch.
Her voice is soft when she speaks. “When I tell you I love you, it’s so much more than those three little words, and I understand that sometimes we both need the reminder of how much deeper this thing is between us and growing every day.”
“Bella,” I whisper her name, pulling her closer until our chests are pressed against one another and her hand moves to cupping my jaw.
“You, Edward Cullen… you are the bravest, strongest, and most amazing man I know. You’re the first one out the door at a moment’s notice, whether that means rescuing someone underground, underwater, or… eighty stories in the air.”
She lets that last line hang between us for a bit, waiting until my eyes lock with hers.
Her lips twitch with a slight smile. “You’re a real life superhero.”
I shake my head, thinking back to many of her favorite Marvel movies . “I’m no Ironman or Thor.”
“No, you’re more Captain America, and I promise I won’t ever forget that you’re human too. I may not know everything that’s going on in your head, but I know you lead with what’s in here.” She pulls away slightly and taps on my chest.
“It’s okay to let me see the chinks in your armor. Your job isn’t without risk, and I have no doubt it has been tested in the past. It’s dangerous, and injuries happen—not only physical ones. We’re in this together and like Bucky was always there for Steve, I’ll be here for you.”
“God, I love you.” I slide my arms around her body, holding her against me tightly and burying my face in her hair. I breathe deeply, taking in her comforting scent, and seek her lips, kissing them with a growing need, before resting my forehead against hers and trying to keep myself in check. “Thank you.”
“How are you feeling now?”
“Better,” I admit with a smile.
“That answer sounds much more believable than the earlier one you tried to sell me. Now, let’s go see if I can impress your parents. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to use my exceptional fire hose skills in this situation,” she taunts playfully.
I wrap my arm around her shoulder, and she reaches up, entwining our fingers together while I grab our bags, pulling them as we walk toward my parents’ door.
“Maybe you can use those when we’re alone later.”
“In need of another inspection, are you?”
After we turn the corner and pause at my parents’ door, I press one more kiss against her temple, but before I knock, the door swings open and my mother is beaming from ear-to-ear.
“Hey, you two. You’re just in time for a nightcap,” she says, lifting a wine glass in the air while waving us inside.
“Hey, Mom.” Once the door closes, I give her a one-armed hug as my hand is still linked with Bella’s.
“Oh, Edward. I’ve missed you, darling.” Mom lifts onto her toes, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
“Are you in your pajamas already?”
Her smile widens at my teasing. “Let’s call it my lounge wear. You’re lucky I’m wearing pants. I’ve been working this evening.”
“Did we interrupt?”
“No, not at all.”
I look at Bella then back to my mother. “I know you’ve met over the phone, but Mom, this is my girlfriend, Bella Swan.”
“Welcome to our home, Bella. It’s wonderful meeting in person and having you here this weekend.”
Mom opens her arms and offers Bella a hug she accepts excitedly.
“Thank you. Did we miss happy hour?” Bella jokes.
Mom turns to me. “Oh, I like her already, Edward.” Then turns back to Bella. “It’s always happy hour here. How about a glass of wine?”
“That would be wonderful.”
“Red or white?”
“Whatever you have open will be great.”
We follow Mom into the kitchen, but Bella’s gaze travels over the designer furnishings of the condo.
“Your home is beautiful, Esme, like something out of a magazine. I love the neutral colors and the warm wood finishes in all the right spots; it’s perfect.”
“Thank you. I made most of the selections myself and went with a more modern but comfortable feel. We have three bedrooms and three bathrooms, but with the large open space in here, I tried to make the most with every square foot and not overwhelm the space.”
“It’s gorgeous. Everything from the furniture to the accent pieces and lighting fixtures could be a piece of art on their own. And the view is incredible.”
I keep my eyes off the windows, but it’s a nearly impossible task as they are everywhere, showcasing a thriving city at night. Lake Michigan provides a bit of relief as it fills the windows with plenty of dark expanses to aid in distracting me we’re over eight hundred feet in the air.
“I love an eclectic mix of things. This place is just the right amount of space for us, which is smaller than the home where Edward grew up in outside of the city. For me, you can’t beat having everything we need within the building or a short walk away.
“Carlisle has always had a home office. So when we made the move, I knew we would need to dedicate one of the bedrooms as a working space for him and his collection of medical books and journals. Edward, you can leave your bags in my office. It’s where you two will be staying and doubles as our guest room. If you would like to take a moment to freshen up after your flight, please don’t let me keep you. I fixed some nibbles to share, if you’re hungry.”
She waves toward the carefully arranged trays—one is filled with assorted vegetables, crackers, meats, and cheese while the other is a variety of everything chocolate with strawberries scattered throughout.
Bella’s eyes widen. “It looks too beautiful to eat.”
“Thanks, but I have to admit I’m not much of a cook. Carlisle makes an incredible breakfast or cocktail whenever the need arises, but otherwise, I’m normally calling for carryout. One of my girlfriends put together a couple of these boards recently for our monthly book club meeting. I thought I would give it a shot and found that I’m great at opening packages and dumping them into little piles or dishes on a tray. Edward said you liked chocolate and I’m a fan myself, so I took a little more care with this one. Please help yourself.”
Bella selects a square of dark chocolate, popping it into her mouth immediately, then chooses a peanut butter cup and focuses on unwrapping it.
“Where’s Dad?” I wonder while snagging a couple of cheese cubes.
“He should be home soon. They had an emergency at the clinic.”
“He’s volunteering at the clinic again?”
“You know him. They had a scheduling issue, and he won’t let them go shorthanded. Did you want a glass of wine too?”
“Sure, we’ll be right back.”
I guide Bella toward my mother’s office, which is right off the entry and flip on the lights. She uses it mostly for storage and prefers to work at their dining room table, which has the best view, according to her, but she keeps it as a bedroom for the rare occasion when I visit. After rolling our bags inside, I close the door behind us.
“The bathroom is right through there.” I point toward the door, but Bella’s not listening, mesmerized by the room’s contents.
If you give a postal worker a love note, she’ll wonder about the identity of the author when it’s delivered by an unintended mail carrier.
After a visit from a sexy firefighter, the mystery surrounding the note will add to her curiosity, but it won’t be solved any time soon, when she has no choice and accepts another job far from home.
Her secret admirer will hold on to hope for their paths to cross again, and when they do, he will find that being near her again is better than he ever anticipated.
Visiting her during his breaks and getting to know each other will be the best parts of their days, until one day she unknowingly makes his favorite childhood cookies, giving him the sign he needs to move forward.
She’ll hold back nothing as she tempts and teases him when they’re alone, testing his resolve, until a few adorable photos of him with a friend’s new baby causes an unexpected shift in her world.
As they grow closer, they’ll understand that the intimacy between lovers isn’t only about a physical connection, but the everyday interactions through the simplest moments and sharing of new experiences.
Through private conversations, their relationship deepens with the reveal of a variety of secrets, and with a new confidence, the truth of their adoration for one another is undeniable.
After another wonderful evening together filled with fun and flirting, she’ll realize that she’s never been loved like this before, and for as much as he wants to be everything she needs, she wants to be that for him too.
With constant reminders that every day together is precious, she’ll consider their future options, and after the first step of moving in together, everything will start falling into place.
When he opens his heart and shares treasured memories of a time long past, a trip to visit his parents will further satisfy her growing curiosity about other areas of his life.