A/N: My thanks to Midnight Cougar for adding the polishing touches everywhere they’re needed. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Sirius,” The Alan Parsons Project (Chicago Bulls Intro/Theme Song – Instrumental)
(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.
When I wake the next morning, the reading lamp is burning brightly, but Bella is sound asleep nestled against my side and the book she was reading has slipped from her hands. I pull my arm from around her and slide out of bed, then tuck the covers back around her still naked body without waking her. I grab some workout clothes from my bag then walk around the bed, turning out the light then changing in the bathroom. Once I’m ready, I grab my socks and shoes, leaving a sleeping Bella, and soundlessly close the door.
It’s around seven, and I finish tying my shoes when Dad exits their bedroom, dressed and ready to go.
“You good?” he asks with a soft voice.
“Yeah,” I whisper.
We slip out the door and walk toward the elevator.
“Bella still sleeping?”
“Yeah, I think she was up all night reading one of Mom’s books.”
“Your mother won’t be up for hours either.” Dad chuckles and presses the down arrow button. “Do you have a planned workout or did you want to play a little one-on-one?”
I release a couple of deep breaths, willing away any lurking anxiety, then consider his words before I answer, because I hadn’t thought about my workout, only how I would ask him for the money I need. “A run to warm up would be good, then we can play.”
Once the elevator arrives, the doors open and we step inside. I’m quiet and focused, watching the illuminated numbers as we descend. It’s easier this time, as I thought it would be, but that’s probably because I know we’re getting closer to ground level. When the doors open again to the floor housing the gym, I’m the first out, but Dad moves toward the door ahead of me and slides his key through the key reader, granting us immediate access.
My nervousness fades almost immediately once inside. It’s virtually empty, but I’m distracted easily by the state-of-the-art facilities and top of the line equipment. Compared to our small gym at the station, this is nearly utopia for even the average gym rat. I’m in heaven. I spot a line of treadmills near the windows, and calm settles over me knowing I’ll be able to blast away any lingering anxiety from the elevator ride quickly. We pass by the enclosed basketball court on our way toward the cardio equipment, and I let Dad know my plan.
“I’m going to jump on one of these treadmills and get the blood pumping.”
“Sounds good. I will too. Let’s pick a couple side by side.”
“Okay, how about over here?” I point.
At his nod, we grab towels and take our places, starting with a light jog. I left my in-ear headphones upstairs, which I normally use when I run, and watch the light pedestrian traffic below, upping my speed twice while trying to figure out the best way to start this conversation.
The last time I asked him for money was when I told him I didn’t want to go to college, but the firefighter academy instead. Even though it was a fraction of the cost, it wasn’t an easy conversation because my parents had their own expectations about my future. For me, it was not only the right choice, but also the only choice. I haven’t asked for money since then, but this is slightly different, and even though I’m feeling hesitant, I’m eager to let him know my plans.
“Dad, I want to talk to you about something.”
“What’s up?” he asks while increasing his speed.
“No. Not Bella. Grandma Cullen’s home site.”
“Oh?” He turns his head in my direction, waiting for my next words while keeping his pace.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do with it.”
He nods, returning his focus to beyond the windows and watching the activity on the street. “Are you going to sell the property? I understand if you don’t have time for the maintenance. You could always hire someone to do it for you.”
“No. I have a better idea, which was actually Bella’s. I took her there recently, and I was telling her about my summer visits.” I increase my speed again, picking up my pace to almost a full run. “After walking around the lot, she said the answer of what I should do with it was obvious and surprised I hadn’t thought of it myself.”
“Okay. So what’s the idea?”
“I’m thinking about turning it into a small neighborhood park—add some playground equipment, benches, and maybe even remodel the garage for a bathroom, drinking fountain, and keep part of it for storage.”
“With her plan, I’d be able to preserve my memories while giving back to the community and creating new memories for others.”
He shakes his head. “That’s not how I thought you would end up utilizing the property, but I’m not really surprised. You’ve always thought of others first.”
Needing to get the real issue out, I continue, “I don’t have the money to do it myself. Bella suggested creating fundraising opportunities that would generate a portion of what would be needed and get the word out about establishing the park as a safe place for kids in the community.”
“That’s a wonderful idea too.”
“She also thought we should name the park, calling it the Elizabeth Cullen Memorial Park.”
“Oh, Edward. I’m…” Dad’s speechless for a moment, then gathers his thoughts. “Mom would be incredibly honored with that idea.”
“I know it’s a lot to ask, and I rarely ask you for anything, especially when it comes to money…”
“Edward, you haven’t asked us for anything in over six years—out with it.”
“Okay, I was wondering if you would consider making a donation. I don’t have any numbers yet, as we’ve only talked about it recently, which is mostly brainstorming ideas, but I’m planning to get pricing for the equipment and estimates for labor. Plus, I’ll need to contact the city for their approval and handle whatever unexpected roadblocks we encounter in trying to bring this idea to life.”
Dad reaches out, stops his treadmill, and gives me his undivided attention. “Son, your mother and I would be more than happy to help in whatever capacity, including financially. I set aside the insurance money that was paid after the fire in case you would need it in the future. Let’s see the numbers on your estimates, then talk again.”
Relief surges through me. “Thanks, Dad. Maybe we could do a ribbon cutting type of thing where you and Mom fly to Forks to join us when the park is complete.”
His grin widens. “I suspect after your visit this weekend, it will be impossible to keep your mother from planning future trips to Forks. She likes Bella.”
I tilt my chin in his direction. “What about you?”
“I’m easy. Bella is an intelligent young woman and all I ever want is for you to be happy. From everything I’ve seen and heard, that seems to be the case. How’s life living together?”
His laugh is immediate. “There’s always a but.”
I nod, but slow my speed, wiping the sweat from my brow with my towel while I continue running. “Bella starts her new job soon. It will be difficult because she’ll be working days. I don’t want to say you were right when we had this conversation long ago, but… you were right.”
Back when we were discussing my career path, this was one of those things my father brought up. It’s difficult to admit that he was right back then about giving up my nights and weekends, because he argued that when I found the right person, I would want those times together, especially if we ever start a family. I realize now he was speaking from his own experience working as a doctor when I was younger before transitioning to teaching at the university. He was still gone, but not as often, and said one day I would understand. I think that day arrived when Bella got the call from the Post Office.
He chuckles, undoubtedly reading the natural progression of my thoughts and offers his reassurances. “It’s not about being right, Edward. You’ll need to make the most of the time you do have together. It won’t be easy, but don’t forget you can always lean on us. All you have to do is ask.”
“Sure. I’ve loved your mother for over twenty-seven years, and I’m as madly in love today as the first time I saw her. It hasn’t been easy and there were times when she needed me, feeling every bit a single parent, but I’ve never stopped letting her know how important she is to me. I can’t imagine life without her, nor would I ever entertain the possibility. I’m lucky she’s stuck by my side and supported my career, helping me make the right choices and always believing in me.”
“I hope I have that with Bella, but maybe with a few more kids.” I shrug because being an only child wasn’t bad, but I’ve always wished for a larger family someday.
“Still hoping for that brother or sister?”
“I have plenty of brothers at the station, but I think it would be nice to have two or three kids.”
“Your mother will love that idea, but let’s take it step at a time and not get ahead of ourselves. It sounds like you’ll need your grandmother’s ring soon. You don’t have to use it, but it’s an option, if that’s the direction you plan to go with Bella.”
“Grandma Cullen’s ring?” My stride falters and I stop the treadmill, wondering what he’s talking about, because I don’t remember Grandma being someone to wear much jewelry, let alone a ring.
“Yes. She left it for you, giving it to me years ago, in case she wasn’t around to pass it on herself. It’s the engagement ring Dad gave her.”
“You have her ring?” I’m stunned for a moment at her foresight, but almost instantly shift to ways I could propose to Bella—with my grandmother’s ring.
“Remind me to get it before you and Bella leave tomorrow, if I forget.” He smirks, tossing his towel into the used bin. “Let’s hit the court. I think I like my chances today.”
My eyes narrow at that last comment, as he leaves the cardio area, because he’s always been a master of the mental game ever since I filled out due to the rigors of my job. With age working against him these days, I know he’s not above using every trick in the book, like distracting me with thoughts about Bella and our future.
“Nice try, but I’m onto you, old man.” I call from behind, wiping down the machine, then tossing my towel after his and grabbing a ball from the rack when we enter the gym. I bounce it a few times before passing it to him. “Same rules as always. Best two out of three, first one to eleven wins. I’ll even let you be on offense first. So, don’t start crying about me not being fair when I win later.”
“Oh, Edward, everyone loves a Cinderella story, but the home team isn’t about to roll over for anyone today. How many championships for Chicago?” he asks, referring to the Bulls while dribbling the basketball and switching between hands, continuing when I only roll my eyes. “I believe we’re at six, but who’s counting, right? And Seattle? Oh, that’s right, you don’t have a team.”
“Your smack isn’t going to help, if that’s your strategy today. Come on, Dad, stop stalling, and let’s play.”
When we enter the condo two hours later, we’re both in desperate need of a shower, but the sound of laughter in the kitchen draws us around the corner. My grin widens when I find Bella perched on a barstool with an orange filled champagne glass in hand. My mother is in the middle of sharing some unbelievable tale that has Bella in a fit of giggles, holding her side and gasping for breath. Both are still dressed in their pajamas, but Bella’s includes a pair of leggings that were missing last night.
With the orange juice on the counter, my mother pauses to pour champagne into her glass when she spots us.
“Good morning,” Dad says from beside me.
“Hey, how was your workout?” Mom grins as her eyes shift from his to mine.
I elbow my father. “Great. Right, Dad?”
“Yeah, great,” he mumbles.
“Morning,” Bella says as I lean close, kissing her lips lightly.
“So, who won?” Mom asks, as if she doesn’t already know.
“Yeah, Dad. Tell them who won,” I encourage.
“Seattle. Two to one.”
I can’t resist ribbing him with his own smack. “And according to the experts in Chicago, Seattle doesn’t even have a team.”
Mom plants a quick kiss on his lips. “Awww, at least the home team got on the board. Thank you for letting him have one this time, Edward.”
Dad grumbles. “Es, he didn’t let me do anything. I’m going to shower, then I’ll be back to make breakfast.”
“No rush, honey. Bella and I have the drinks sorted. We’ll be fine.” She winks in Bella’s direction, sending them both into another round of giggles. “Edward, can I fix you something?”
“No, I need a shower too.” I kiss Bella’s lips once more, wishing she could join me, but we’ll save that for when we’re back home. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
When I return, the countertop is filled with dishes of food as Dad adds the finishing touches to scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, and hash browns, while Mom takes credit for not burning the toast and adding a pre-made fruit salad from a plastic bowl into one of her own. With overflowing plates, we sit together at the dining table while Mom and Bella’s next round of mimosas are lighter orange than their earlier ones. I suspect the amount of orange juice they’re using is less and less with each pour. Knowing my mother, she’ll forgo the orange juice soon and just fill their glasses with only champagne as she is a bottle finisher and Bella seems to be going glass for glass with her.
In between their bawdy banter and inside jokes over the book Bella was reading last night, I share with Mom the idea for what I want to do with Grandma Cullen’s home site. She’s surprised at first, but supportive, offering whatever assistance we may need once we have more details.
Since this is Bella’s first trip to Chicago and the weather’s predicted to be nice but cool, my parents suggest spending an easy day of sightseeing around the area. Bella insists she needs my help with picking an outfit from what she brought for today’s weather, but it turns out that’s code for a quickie. Once we’re back in the bedroom, she’s peeling off her pajamas and handing me a condom before I barely have the door closed. While I’m slightly stunned by the turn of events, I don’t waste any time doing my part after she bends over the padded curved footboard of the bed, wiggling her hips in invitation. We’re quiet enough, I think, but there’s no way the smiles on both our faces will wane with this type of start to our day.
When we’re all dressed and ready, the four of us leave their condo and hit the streets, walking toward Grant Park, which leads us to Buckingham Fountain. Bella and I swing our clasped hands back and forth, filling me with happiness in a way that only Bella can. I have trouble keeping my lips to myself, especially after recalling what we were doing only moments ago, and sneak kisses at every opportunity when I think my parents aren’t looking.
Once we arrive, Bella takes countless pictures of us and with my parents with the city skyline in the background. The fountain runs from May through October, so we’re too early to see it in action today. Bella makes me promise we’ll return when it’s operating, which has my parents grinning from ear-to-ear when they overhear my agreement and notice us sealing the deal with another kiss.
With Lake Michigan only steps away, we take a moment to appreciate the views and Bella marvels at the variety of sailboats bobbing along the calm, deep blue waters. At my parents’ prompting, we leave for Cloud Gate, otherwise known as “The Bean” because of its shape.
On the way, Dad and Bella walk together as he points out buildings and famous architectural sites unique to Chicago. While they’re focused on the surroundings, Mom slips her hand into the crook of my elbow.
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Mom slows as we fall farther behind Dad and Bella.
“Yeah, I’m glad you suggested we do this. Bella is having a great time.”
“I don’t think that necessarily has to do with us, but you.”
My heart lifts at the thought—her happiness is always my priority. “I may have missed being here too—a little bit.”
“Only a little bit?”
I shrug. “Being here brings back a lot of memories, not all good, as you know, but I like being able to share the good ones with her and make new ones too.”
“How are you doing?”
“I’m good. The elevator is always…”
She nods. “I know. You may never shake that rescue. It would haunt anyone, and you did everything you could, given the circumstances.”
“But it wasn’t enough,” I state quietly. It wasn’t long after the devastating loss of two of my fellow firefighters, I made the decision to leave the Chicago high-rise rescues behind and build a new life in Forks.
“Is… is it easier with Bella?”
“Yeah, I’ve shared some things with her, but not everything. I just can’t. Garrett said to lean on him for the more difficult ones.”
“That’s an excellent start, and he’s probably right.”
Mom’s quiet for a moment, but I have no doubt she has more to say. So, I’m not surprised when she shares her first impressions.
“When I mentioned your obvious happiness last night before Bella joined us, I think… I think I was understating it. You’re… there’s a lightness I haven’t seen from you in years.”
Mom’s right, and I can’t keep the growing smile from my face. “She makes me feel ten feet tall—like I can do anything and she’ll be proud of me.”
“Don’t forget, we’re proud of you too,” Mom adds.
I nod, because no matter how old I am, it feels good to hear those words from her.
“And… well, you know very well I’m no prude, since we talk about anything and everything, but—”
I cut her off to make a clarification. “You talk about everything. I only listen, because there’s no other choice. Persistence is a strength of yours.”
She laughs, knowing I’m right. “Okay, maybe that’s true, but I think I’ve been on my best behavior this visit.”
“There’s still time,” I tease.
“I don’t want to scare Bella off, but I think as we get more comfortable around one another, we may be more similar than I realize.”
“But Edward, back to my original point, I’ve never seen you kiss anyone in front of us—ever. Sure, you’ve had girlfriends in the past, but you’ve always been so… reserved—not even holding hands around us. With Bella… well, there’s just this ease… and no hesitation from you at all. As soon as you see her, your entire body relaxes, and it’s like you can breathe easier, knowing she’s within reach. And hers, well, she lights up in a way that’s electric. She’s practically vibrating at the sight of you. The chemistry the two of you have is nothing short of intoxicating.”
I always forget how perceptive my mother is, noticing non-verbal cues that most people miss, but I whole-heartedly agree. “It’s different and you’re right, that’s how I feel.”
“I thought so.” She smiles knowingly.
“I love her.”
“I can see that and she loves you. It radiates from both of you effortlessly. You’re like two magnets.”
“I knew from the first moment I saw her,” I confirm. She is well aware of how long I was holding out hope for Bella returning to Forks and having the opportunity to pursue a relationship with her. “I was probably more nervous than I should have been once she was working next door, but I already knew how important she was to me and didn’t want to do anything that would risk her not wanting to build a relationship or leave Forks.”
“Was it worth the wait?” Mom asks.
I can’t keep the grin off my face, as we get closer to where Bella and Dad are waiting for us.
“That makes me so happy for you. I know it wasn’t easy, but some of the best things in life never are.” Mom slides her hand from my arm, linking her fingers with Dad’s.
“Edward, look at this. Isn’t it incredible? Have you ever seen anything like this before?” Bella waves behind where she’s standing then turns to gaze at the grand structure.
I never tire of experiencing something new through her eyes. “Maybe once or twice. We took a lot of field trips into the city when I was younger and in school.”
“Let’s walk closer.” Her hand slides in mine.
I look over to Mom and Dad who are getting comfy on a bench nearby.
Before I can say anything, Mom waves me off. “Go and enjoy yourselves. We have plenty of time. We’ll be here when you’re ready.”
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.
In a moment abundant with shock and awe, she finds a kindred spirit in all things naughty, and the natural affinity between the two most important women in his life surpasses all expectations.