A/N: My love and thanks to Midnight Cougar for her help with every chapter. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “I Knew I Loved You,” Savage Garden
“I knew I loved you before I met you
I think I dreamed you into life
I knew I loved you before I met you
I have been waiting all my life”
(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.
“Edward! The man of the hour!” Garrett calls from where he and Kate are standing near my parents.
I wave and notice more familiar faces as we join the others. Jessica, in her last months of pregnancy, shares a quick “hello,” and struggles with a squirming Natalie who Jess vows is going back in the stroller. I smile when Angela and Sue bribe Natalie with a cookie for each hand, while I nab two more of my favorites as we make our way past the picnic table area.
Bella’s boss, Felix, is laughing near the new park sign with James as he recounts tales from his latest RV adventure with his grandchildren racing from the monkey bars toward the swings with squeals of laughter.
The Banners, Bob and Barb, are smiling at Ember and listening to my father who’s holding our daughter while Mom has Teddy in her arms.
“How are you doing?” Kate asks as we approach, reaching out and hugging Bella. “Is everything ready to go? Or can I help with something?”
“I think Bella has everything under control. Like always.” I share a knowing smile with my wife, because she has a way of being on top of every situation, especially when it involves me. “Thanks for being here.”
“We wouldn’t miss it.” Garrett grins, giving me a one-armed hug while our wives lower their voices before laughing at some inside joke.
“You both have the most adorable babies,” Mom says, getting our attention as she gently sways a sleeping Teddy. “He’s such a cuddly Teddy bear. I can’t get enough.”
“She’ll give him back, right?” Garrett questions teasingly.
I laugh heartily, knowing my mother’s ground rules for enjoying her granddaughter apply to Teddy. “As soon as he starts screaming or needs a diaper change, you’ll get him back.”
“Edward!” Mom scoffs.
“You know it’s true.”
There’s a tap on my shoulder, and I turn to find our former neighbors, Diego and Bree, grinning from ear-to-ear.
“Hey, strangers.” I smile and hug Bree briefly, then offer Diego my hand. “Glad you could make it.”
“Thanks for inviting us,” Bree says, but her voice gets Bella’s attention.
“You made it!” Bella squeals with excitement at the latest arrivals and wraps her arms around Bree in a tight hug.
Bree pulls away slightly from their embrace. “It’s so great to see you, Bella. I’ve missed you.”
“Let’s go say hello to Angela.” Bella links arms with Bree, letting us know they’ll be back soon.
Diego and I nod while he looks around at the park, and we walk toward where the kids are playing as I explain all the improvements and additions. I’m proud of our end result as my eyes wander over the playground equipment complete with red and white firefighter touches everywhere. The monkey bars are ladders, connecting one part of the structure to the other. While Peter can’t get enough of sliding down the fire pole, another little girl is ringing one of the bells around the large structure.
“This is really great, Edward.”
“Thanks. It hasn’t been easy, but I think it’s worth it.”
“I know the feeling.”
I lower my voice. “How are you doing, man?”
His smile widens at my concern. “Good. Better. I’m grateful for every day.”
Diego and Bree moved to Seattle almost a year ago when they decided to seek treatment for his fentanyl addiction. Her tearful pleas were heartbreaking to hear when she shared their struggles with Bella at the end of one of their wine nights I happened to catch after my shift.
I reached out to my father, hoping he would know someone within our area who could help, and after a couple of calls, he had a variety of options I shared with Diego. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Forks for either of them, but Diego chose an inpatient residential style program. Bree found a new administrative job and stayed in an apartment near where he’s been receiving treatment.
Bella stays in touch, checking on them regularly, and I couldn’t be more proud, knowing how hard he’s working toward staying clean and recently decided to pursue a new career path in information technology. Life isn’t without its challenges for anyone, but he’s committed to a better one for both of their sakes, and Bree has stood by his side through all their ups and downs.
“That’s good to hear. I’m proud of you.”
Diego hesitates, swallowing a few times and gathering his thoughts before speaking. “I have a second chance, thanks to you, Edward. I won’t ever forget it. The doctors and nurses told Bree if you hadn’t…”
“Hey, I’m glad I was there.”
“Me too.” His voice shakes with emotion. “I was so stupid thinking I could handle it on my own.”
I reach out, patting him lightly on his shoulder. “We’ll always be there for you both. Whatever you need. All you have to do is ask. Never think you are alone.”
“Thanks. Uh…” He clears his throat. “Is your dad here? I’d like to thank him for his help in finding me a place.”
I grin as my eyes zero in on my father, knowing he’s asked me about Diego and his progress. “He is, and currently, holding his granddaughter. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
While my father visits with Diego, my smile widens when the loud rumble of a familiar engine pulls into the open space along the street in front of the park with Mike behind the wheel of Engine-2 and Emmett in the passenger seat.
“Daddy!” Natalie yells, toddling toward the truck when she sees Mike waving from the window.
After he slides from the driver’s seat, Mike scoops her into his arms, while the rest of the kids playing around the park make a mad dash for Emmett and the fire truck.
“This is a surprise.” I gaze in wonder, as I didn’t expect to see either of them until it was time for a shift change later tonight.
“Engine-2 was the first one we washed this morning, and we thought we would take her for a spin,” Mike explains with a smirk. “Your wife may have also put in a request for a visit.”
“Daddy,” Natalie says adamantly, grabbing onto his ears and turning him to face her, then points behind me. “Cookies.”
“Hi, sweetie.” Mike blows a raspberry on Natalie’s cheek, causing her to giggle and squirm. “Cap agreed to Bella’s request and said since you spend most of your time behind the wheel, it wouldn’t hurt for us to stop by for a brief visit.”
“Plus, we just heard there are cookies here.” Emmett winks and squeezes Natalie’s foot, causing her to bury her face in Mike’s neck.
“Of course.” I chuckle at Bella’s thoughtfulness and nod toward the pint-sized future firefighters. “Thanks for being here.”
Mike grins. “You bet.”
Emmett pulls a helmet, bunker coat, and pants from a storage compartment for the kids to wear for pictures with him next to the truck. “Who’s first?”
A chorus of “Me!” is shouted while he patiently focuses on each kid.
A man sitting on a bench at the far side of the park grabs my attention away from Emmett and the excited kids. I recognize him instantly as he fidgets with his hands while staring at the ground. His head bobs, agreeing with whatever the woman next to him says with her arm around his shoulders. I can see the moment when there’s a pause in their private conversation, because he looks up and his eyes meet mine.
I give him a small smile and a wave, but before I can make my way over to where he’s sitting, Bella intercepts me.
“Hey, Sue has Ember and I’ll need to feed her soon.” She tilts her head toward the gathering crowd near the sign for the park. “You should go say hello before we get started. Dad’s here and Mayor Greene, as well as some of the other city leaders have arrived.”
My eyes shift to hers then back to where the man is sitting, and she follows my gaze.
“Yeah. I think so. Is this another of your surprises?” I wonder.
“No, I didn’t have anything to do with this one. Have you had a chance to talk with him since that day?”
“No. Do you… do you think he’ll stick around or maybe I should…” I’m torn between what I should do and what I want to do.
As if Bella can sense my dilemma, she calmly reassures me. “Don’t worry. This shouldn’t take long.”
“I just don’t want him to leave without getting a chance to at least say hello.”
“If he came this far, I doubt he’ll leave without saying something.”
“Okay,” I agree reluctantly.
I make my way through the crowd, greeting the new arrivals. I’m thrilled Marcus and Alec from Station-3 are here, but like so many others, they are still on duty. Bella’s voice is heard above everyone as she stands on an elevated area near the park’s sign while I take a spot next to my parents.
“Can I get everyone’s attention?”
Most of the crowd quiets, and a few kids are overheard begging to return to playing on the new equipment, but they’re directed toward the cookies and lemonade quieting their protests.
“Thank you. Edward and I want to thank so many familiar faces for joining us this morning. I’m honored to be a small part of this great accomplishment today. It started with Edward sharing his sweet memories with me about a young boy spending his summers in Forks with his beloved grandmother and became another extension of his generous spirit. At this time, my boss and Forks’ postmaster would like to say a few words—Felix.”
There’s a small round of applause and Felix moves to the front of the crowd as Bella steps to the side.
“Edward, would you please join us?”
Bella grins proudly as I walk past her, taking the spot on the other side of Felix.
“For the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Edward, as he’s a frequent visitor at the Post Office, which should surprise no one—right, James?”
“I warned you,” James says with a huge smile as everyone laughs.
Felix nods his head in agreement and continues. “We all miss having James at the counter, but when I asked him for a recommendation upon announcing his retirement of who he thought would fit in perfectly with our team, he didn’t hesitate and suggested Bella Cullen. But he’s right. He did warn me they were a package deal, because he knew then like so many here today what a dynamic team they would become.
“It takes a special person to embrace the life of a first responder, which Edward has found with Bella, but that doesn’t happen without sacrifice. Many toss the word hero around far too lightly these days, but I can’t think of any other way of describing him. Edward is nothing short of an exceptional, every day hero who goes above and beyond without hesitation for complete strangers whether he is on duty or not.
“I know Edward well enough to know, he isn’t one to like this sort of attention, but I believe everyone will agree that his record of service is undeniable and worthy of our applause when his generosity is on full display like it is today.”
He waves toward James, who passes him some sort of framed picture.
“Edward, on behalf of the United States Postal Service, it is my honor to present you with this framed special edition first responders stamp for your dedication and bravery while serving our community.” He shows the crowd, then holds it out for me to accept.
I shake his hand to a round of applause mixed with a few shouts of support from Mike, Garrett, and Emmett in the back of the crowd. “This is amazing. Thanks.”
Felix and I pause for Angela to take several photos, and at her nod, Bella whispers for me to stay in place then takes the framed gift. After passing it to my mother, she stands next to me and grabs everyone’s attention once again.
“From the very beginning of this process, we were lucky to have community support from not only the residents of this neighborhood, but also many of our leaders, including Mayor Greene and members of the City Council. We also worked hand-in-hand with the Forks Planning Commission and Park Board to be certain we created an inviting and safe place for residents in this community. I believe Mayor Greene would like to say a few words.”
The mayor slips through the crowd with something in hand, takes the spot next to where I’m standing, and shakes Bella’s hand first, then mine. “Bella. Edward. Thank you for inviting me.” He turns, speaking toward the gathered crowd.
“It’s always a pleasure to be included in a joyous occasion such as this one today. Most first responders never realize the good they do, but today Edward’s gift of selflessness extends to everyone here.
“Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with Edward and Bella frequently, and one thing is clear—this project has been a labor of love right from the start. I don’t believe he missed a single deadline, which can be attributed to his perseverance and adaptability whenever issues surfaced.
He pauses, turning slightly toward me. “Many in this community knew your grandmother, Edward, and I’m sure they have shared their fond memories with you. I, like so many others, know she would be proud of you and your accomplishments not only today but also every day.
“Edward isn’t just a good man. He’s a great one, leading with his heart and extending kindness and compassion to all he meets. He’s a wonderful role model whose actions speak louder than words. I’m going to echo Felix’s words from earlier—Edward Cullen is a quiet hero living in our community. Ready to serve. Ready to protect.
“While we’re all here to share in the dedication of the Elizabeth Cullen Memorial Park, it is my pleasure to award you, Edward, with the Mayor’s Honor of Distinction for outstanding achievements in community service. Congratulations.” He holds the wooden plaque out for me to accept.
“Thank you, Mayor Greene.”
“My pleasure, Edward.”
Bella moves off to the side while Angela takes several photos of me with the mayor holding the engraved plaque. When we’re finished, she points to me and mouths the words, “You’re next.”
I nod, addressing the crowd of friends and family. “While I’m honored to be recognized for our work here, it didn’t happen without the help of countless others. I don’t want to forget anyone, but hopefully, Bella will remind me if I need a little prompting.”
Bella smiles, but there’s a loud squeal from Ember, squirming in Sue’s arms and getting everyone’s attention.
“Leave it to my daughter to demand I keep this brief.”
I chuckle lightly with the rest of the crowd.
“I’ll do my best, sweetheart.” I release a deep breath and try to compose my thoughts for a moment. “First, thank you to Mayor Greene, the City Council, the Forks Planning Commission, and the Park Board for green lighting this project over a year ago.
“My thanks to everyone at Clear River Construction. They were the ones who gave our idea life by creating the current design and installing all the equipment you see today. They also remodeled the garage with two bathrooms and improved my grandmother’s garden, with fencing, raised beds and irrigation. These improvements toward a new community garden will serve as a learning space for our younger residents too.
“I’m happy to share that maintenance of the garden and overseeing its progress will be completed by volunteers from the Forks Garden Club. Their members worked diligently when our landscape materials arrived for the park, and I can’t thank them enough for their help. Without them, we would probably still be planting flowers and spreading mulch this morning.”
A round of laughter passes through the crowd, then quiets as I continue.
“We’re lucky to have great friends like Angela Cheney, the members of the Forks Baptist Church, and Bella’s co-workers from the Forks Post Office. They have all volunteered their time, which allowed us to keep our labor costs low for this project.
“I’m a lucky man to work at a job I love, which includes my first responder family from Station-1 in La Push, Station-2 here in Forks, and Station-3 in Beaver. Everyone contributed to our various fundraising efforts over the past year. With their help, we were able to shorten our anticipated timeline, completing the park earlier than expected. Thank you to so many of them who are here today and those who are undoubtedly on duty as we speak.”
I glance toward my parents then look out over the crowd, hoping I can get through this next part without a struggle. “Our parents have supported us unconditionally―both financially and emotionally―at every turn, but I need to share a special thank you with mine. Bella teases me about being a mama’s boy, but apparently, it’s a tradition in the Cullen family, as throughout this journey I’ve learned how close my father was with my grandmother.
“He has great stories like many of you and wonderful memories of living in Forks, while mine are remembered through the eyes of an innocent young boy intent on chasing fireflies or playing in a new mud puddle.
“My grandmother taught me in life and death…” My voice breaks on the last word, and after a short pause, I tamp down the emotions surging through me and continue, catching Bella’s eye as she nods encouragingly. “…that every day is a precious gift. It’s a lesson I never forget, as I’ve been blessed with a beautiful wife and daughter who she would have doted on tirelessly. Thank you Bella for helping me to honor her here today.
“My wife…” I start, and my eyes flick to hers as I search for the right words. “A simple thank you doesn’t seem like enough. You’re…”
I flounder for a moment, because I have no idea how to thank her for everything since she came into my life, enriching it in ways I never dreamed and endearing me to her forever.
The relief I feel when her arm wraps around my waist giving it a squeeze is indescribable. I rest my hand at the small of her back as we stand united, reminding me I can do anything with her by my side. Her gentle supporting touch rights my swirling thoughts and I know that falling in love with her is the best thing I’ve ever done.
Bella gazes at me lovingly and whispers, “I know.”
The urge to kiss her right now is overwhelming, but I’m determined to wrap this up before Ember lets out another wail of displeasure.
“Forks has always held a special piece of my heart, and it’s no surprise this is where I call home. I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be than here among our ever-growing family and friends. Thank you to everyone for joining us today.”
Bella’s grin widens over the loud applause and shouts of congratulations as she starts clapping with the others around us. “You did it.”
At her words, I don’t resist any longer pulling her close, kissing her temple, and sharing an undeniable truth with only her as my lips move near her ear. “I love you.”
Angela gets our attention and encourages the crowd to gather around for a picture that will include everyone as we prepare for the ribbon cutting next to the new park sign. The Chief and Sue with Ember in her arms stand next to Bella while my parents squeeze beside me. I’m about to ask Bella about a ribbon or scissors when Emmett appears in front of us and unrolls a short section of fire hose that stretches from the Chief to my mother.
“Surprise!” Bella giggles, as her eyes dance with mischief and she lowers her voice. “Not my favorite version of a fire hose…”
“Bella…” the Chief warns when he overhears her words, but Sue and my mother chuckle.
Emmett interrupts before she can finish her thought, but knowing her, I can only imagine.
He grins and winks at her. “I don’t have any scissors, but these were on the truck, and I’m sure they’ll work.”
Emmett hands me a set of cutters commonly referred to as the Jaws of Life we use in rescue situations. It’s another perfect personal touch from my wife, making this event more personal for me. My eyes shift to hers whose eyebrows are wiggling up and down as if she already knows what I’m going to say.
“You think of everything.” I kiss her lips lightly.
“We can keep one half while your parents can have the other to remember this day.”
She’s so incredibly thoughtful.
“Thank you,” I say as I steal another kiss.
Angela takes numerous photos while I hold the cutters in place. When we get the okay from her, I cut through the hose and make the final announcement.
“The Elizabeth Cullen Memorial Park is now officially open!”
Everyone cheers and all the kids squeal with excitement, running in a variety of directions and climbing over the equipment.
“Congratulations, Edward and Bella.” My mother wraps me in a comforting hug. “We’re so proud of you both and honored to be included today.”
“Thanks, Mom. We couldn’t have done it without either of you.”
My mother moves to hug Bella, while my father gives me a brief embrace, then lets us know their plans.
“We’re going to go pick up lunch from Sam’s Diner.”
Bella’s eyes light up, but I’m sure it’s because she’s hungry and not because this is a new idea. I suspect she already planned ahead with my mother.
“Sounds wonderful. We can all eat here together under the shade trees at the picnic tables. There’s plenty of room.”
“We placed an order for ten to be ready at noon before we got here this morning. Do you still think that will be enough?” Mom asks.
Bella nods. “It should be. Kate and Garrett are staying for lunch and so are Diego and Bree. Sue and Angela will be joining us too. Then that leaves the four of us.”
“All right. We’ll be back soon,” Dad says as he guides Mom toward their car.
Bella turns toward me. “I’ll be over by the picnic tables where it’s a little quieter and feed Ember. Kate’s going to do the same with Teddy. Once the crowd dwindles, your parents will probably be back with lunch, but there’s no rush. Take your time with everyone, because I’m positive everyone will want a moment with you before they leave.”
“Okay,” I agree, pecking her lips with another kiss.
I give my personal thanks to the Chief and my fellow first responders who are the first to leave, then the various community leaders before they depart. As I spend a little time with each of our friends, both new and old, I notice the man and woman from earlier no longer sitting on the bench, but moving closer to where I’m standing once most everyone has left.
Upon their approach, the woman hurries to close the distance between us, bursts into tears, and throws her arms around me in a tight hug. She chants the words “thank you,” over and over through her sobs as I pat her back lightly.
When she pulls away, her apologies are immediate as she brushes away the tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You don’t even know who I am.”
“We may not have met before today, but I suspect I do. Connie, is it?” I smile as I reassure her.
Connie’s head bobs up and down as she glances at her husband. “This is—”
“Kevin Littlesea,” I finish for her, offering my hand to her husband who I recognized earlier.
His reserved demeanor wavers for a moment, then crumbles when he’s overcome with emotion as he reaches out, gripping my hand as if his life depends on it.
“I-I… Embry said…” Kevin’s voice is low and trembles as he stumbles and restarts what he wants to say several times before resigning himself to two words that mean so much. “Thank you.”
I’m about to reply when he continues while wiping away the tears threatening to fall.
“For… for giving me my life back. Edward… you… you risked your life to save mine?” He shakes his head at the questioning sound of his voice.
“And I would do it again if it meant you would be here today.”
Connie brushes away more tears with the back of her hand. “I don’t know why you were there—at that moment, but I… I can’t ever… thank or repay you enough for saving my husband’s life.”
My gaze shifts back to Kevin. “Don’t ever forget, you’re here for a reason. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
Kevin gives me a slight smile, as he stands a little taller. “You sound like my counselor.”
“I’m happy to know you’re getting help, but if you need me, I’m only a phone call away.” I remove my phone from my pocket, and after entering my passcode and pressing a few buttons, I hold it out for him to enter his phone number. “That goes for either of you.”
He glances at his wife, then his eyes look between my phone and me hesitantly while I nod at their stunned faces.
“Day or night.” I grin, hoping to add a touch of levity like my wife is so good at doing in these situations. “Don’t worry, I work all hours, have a baby, and I’m a light sleeper.”
With my reassurances, his smile grows wider and any hesitation he was carrying earlier about approaching me all but evaporates as he reaches for my phone.
“You’re probably tired of hearing it today, but thanks, Edward. I can’t thank you enough.”
I nod and point toward the picnic tables behind me. “Why don’t you two come help me eat some of these cookies and have a glass of lemonade? You’ve probably already met my wife, but I’ll introduce you to my daughter.”
Kevin hands back my phone and grins as Connie wraps her arm around his waist. “We would be honored.”
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.
Brimming with courage, her normally reserved firefighter confirms a wish for their future, overwhelming her in a rush of love, but later, respect and admiration, when she experiences first hand insight into the perils of his job.
He’ll arrive at her work unexpectedly one day, proposing they spend the rest of their lives together, which will lead them to one of the happiest birthdays either has ever celebrated.
Celebrating holidays will hold new meaning, as she experiences a new level of love and devotion through her husband’s generous spirit when he honors his grandmother’s memory in a special way.
Supported by family and friends, life together will bring out the best in each other as their extended family grows, and…