A/N: Thank you to Midnight Cougar for her help in fine-tuning this chapter. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Make You Feel My Love,” Adele
“When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love”
(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.
“Hey, man.” Mike yawns, taking a seat at the station’s kitchen table.
“Hey.” I nod in his direction and return my attention to fixing dinner.
It’s my week to cook for everyone, and I’m not interested in hearing his or anyone’s complaints about what we’re eating.
“What are we having tonight?”
I’m not great with cooking meals, but this one is easy and healthy. I finish placing the salmon fillets on one pan, while the other is filled with asparagus and potatoes. Once I add them to the oven, I double-check my phone with my note of how long everything should cook.
“Are you getting excited for your trip up north?”
“I suppose,” I answer, setting the timer on the oven.
Mike isn’t going with us, but staying with Jasper here for the weekend with the support of our community volunteer firefighters, while Garrett, Emmett, and I are off to play in the snow. It isn’t easy for all of us to take time off together, but Jasper thinks it’s a good idea to get away for a few days. Tyler, one of the deputies from next door, is going to tag along too.
“What’s with all the one and two-word answers? You’ve been in a real mood lately.”
I shrug my shoulders, not wanting to share my disappointment over not seeing Bella since my last visit to the Post Office. Even worse, when I asked James why she hadn’t been working the counter, he told me she was only hired temporarily to help during the holidays. According to him, she returned to another job in Seattle right after Christmas.
I was surprised and disappointed to learn she wasn’t a regular employee, and my plans for future visits to the Post Office or dates after the holidays have disappeared. So, for the past few weeks, my frustration is the only thing growing over the situation, instead of building a relationship with her, as I had hoped.
“You want to go work out together before dinner is ready?” Mike suggests.
I shake my head. “No. I worked out earlier. I think I’ll read for a while.”
“Okay.” Mike nods, standing from his place at the table. “But Edward?”
I look up, but I suspect I already know what he’s going to say. “Yeah?”
“If you want to talk about whatever is bothering you, I’m here. We all are.”
Ever since the news of Bella’s departure, I’ve felt myself withdrawing from everyone. Mike isn’t the first to notice, and Jasper seems to be keeping a closer eye on me. All the wives have renewed their efforts in introducing me to their single friends, which doesn’t seem like a coincidence at all.
After Christmas, Jasper’s wife Alice visited the station, introducing me to her friend Chelsea, a single mom with an adorable little girl. Thankfully, Emmett was here at the time and didn’t miss a beat, offering to take Chelsea out on a date, and I think they ushered in the New Year together.
When Alice saw that Chelsea didn’t work out for me, she made another attempt at introducing me to a single cousin of Jasper’s who was visiting over the holidays from Texas. I had to admit, Maria was more my type, at least on the surface. The combination of her brunette hair, brown eyes, and fair skin had me curious, but not for long, because as soon as she opened her mouth, I realized immediately who she wasn’t.
Garrett’s wife, Kate, stops by whenever she’s in town, always mentioning a sister of hers, Tanya, who’s single and would be “perfect” for me too. The last time she was here, she shared some recent pictures Tanya had taken for a magazine, as she’s pursuing a modeling career. While most would be drawn to her blue-eyed, blonde look, the photos did nothing for me. In my opinion, Tanya could use a cheeseburger or ten.
I appreciate their intentions, but what they don’t realize is that I have no interest in dating or leading anyone on when my heart is now in Seattle. I know that’s probably foolish, but my draw to Bella isn’t something I will soon forget because she’s there and I’m here—over three and a half hours away.
I know Jasper didn’t let distance keep him from Alice, but I have my own inroads to make with her, and there’s no way I’m going to ask Chief Swan for her phone number. He is a man of few words and can be incredibly intimidating without even trying. At my casual greetings upon seeing him in passing, I’ve barely been able to get a nod of acknowledgment. For now, I can only hope that at some point in the future our paths will cross again.
Our snowboarding trip to Vancouver in March goes as planned, and I feel myself growing a little closer to Tyler, but especially Emmett and Garrett during the trip. One night over dinner, Em and I discuss ways to spend our downtime beyond the station and consider possible options. I’m excited about many of his ideas, but at Garrett’s suggestion, we agree to check out volunteering for the Habitat for Humanity in Port Angeles and assist with home renovations or new builds in the area.
Jasper is always encouraging us to find ways to give back to the community or the surrounding area. Em worked construction for a few years before becoming a firefighter. So, it’s an easy fit for him. I’m not exceptionally handy when it comes to construction or remodeling, but I know the basics, and I’m willing to help out wherever I can. Learning new skills is a bonus too.
It’s early May, and we’ve been out on the current Habitat worksite all day, leaving me covered in sawdust and exhausted when I return to my apartment for the evening. Pushing open the front door, I make my way inside, toeing off my work boots and shrugging out of my jacket. It’s quiet, which tells me my neighbors must be out. The paper-thin walls make it nearly impossible not to hear them next-door or downstairs. I plop down on the couch, flip on the television for a little background noise, and search through the channels for something that will hold my attention, but give up, leaving it on the news when that’s my only real choice this time of day.
I look around my apartment, taking in my modest one bedroom, one bathroom unit. It contains the basics, which is all I need considering I’m at the station more than I’m here. My mother claims it’s drab and too minimalistic for her tastes. She’s always offering to help me upgrade my furnishings, but those aren’t a priority for me. I don’t need artwork or fancy knick-knacks. So, I have declined her assistance.
The apartment is furnished with simple furniture in the living room and bedroom. The gently worn couch is comfy enough, as I’ve fallen asleep there more times than I can count when my neighbor, Jane, is entertaining on the other side of our shared bedroom wall with her latest… friend.
The side and coffee tables are showing signs of wear, but they are all perfectly functional. I did buy the television, but instead of paying for cable, I’m using an antenna to pick up enough major channels out in the airwaves, keeping me current on the latest news.
My bedroom holds a full-sized bed and a chest of drawers with a small built-in closet. I’ll admit that for my size, I would probably be more comfortable in a bigger bed, but this one works, so I haven’t felt the need to upgrade it or anything else.
I keep it all neat and clean, but my job has probably added to my minimalist lifestyle. I fight daily to keep people from losing what’s important—their lives and their families or friends. Vehicles can be fixed. Homes can be rebuilt. Possessions can be replaced, but people can’t. While I have everything I need, what I want is out of reach currently.
She isn’t ever far from my thoughts. I often wonder what her life in Seattle is like, especially on nights like this one, when I come home to an empty apartment.
With a heavy sigh, I walk toward the kitchen, stop at the refrigerator, and scan my options before moving to the freezer to find my meager selections. I grab one of the few remaining frozen meals, heating it up in the microwave, then leave to shower.
The hot water feels great, pouring over my aching muscles, but I’m too hungry to linger, finishing my shower before the water cools. Throwing on a T-shirt and a pair of sweats, I return to the kitchen, removing my chicken and pasta from the microwave, then dumping it onto a plate.
I drop off my dinner and a fork at my little table near the kitchen, as I hear my phone on the coffee table in the living room vibrating with an incoming call. My mother’s face fills the screen once I accept the call.
“Darling, how are you doing?” she asks, sipping from her wine glass.
“Okay. I was just getting ready to eat.” I settle into one of the two dining chairs and slide my feet onto the opposite one.
“Isn’t it a little early for you? You look tired.”
I shrug. “I’ve been busy, and I came home hungry.”
“Are you having trouble sleeping again?”
My sleep hasn’t been great, but I’ve been keeping myself busy and distracted in an effort to ease everyone’s concern over: single, overworked me.
“Where’s Dad?” I grab my fork, push around my food, and take a small bite.
“He’s running an errand for me. How is life at the station and on the new home site?”
“Good to both. I’m enjoying the build. We’ve been framing this week. It’s very… uh… I don’t know—satisfying?”
A gentle smile spreads over my mother’s face. “I would imagine.”
I set down my fork and run a hand through my wet hair. “It’s probably because we normally deal with the destruction of buildings or the prevention of their destruction, but this… this feels good creating something out of nothing—a new home for a family. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
“You’ve always been a helper, Edward. So, I’m not surprised this is where life has taken you in your journey. We’re so proud of you, but we miss having you here in Chicago.”
I miss them too, but know I have no intention of moving back there—too many ghosts of girlfriends past. A lot of women think dating a firefighter is a great idea, but most don’t understand the real dangers or level of commitment involved. It isn’t a glamorous life, and you don’t do it for the money. I went this route for many reasons, but primarily to help people. I’ve never regretted my decision, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t seen regret in the eyes of those who thought they could manipulate me into changing my path in favor of their own big city dreams. Not everyone is accepting of my being pulled away to an emergency at all hours and missing out on special events like birthdays or holidays. I’m thankful my parents have always been supportive, even if that means moving away from them.
“Maybe I’ll be able to visit soon,” I concede, hoping it’s enough of a promise to tide her over.
“You know, Mother’s Day is just around the corner and your favorite holiday, right?”
My mother always teases me with the story about how when I was little, I was asked by a family friend what my favorite holiday was. Most kids would have said their birthday or Christmas, but not me. I told them it was Mother’s Day. We’ve always been close or as she says, my pre-kindergarten self used to tell her, “best friends forever.”
“You’re right, Mom. It’s one of my favorites. I’ll see if I can get time off, but I can’t make any promises.”
“That would be wonderful or we can fly to see you too.” Mom softens her voice. “Your grandmother would be thrilled to know the man you’ve become. The two of you always had such a special bond, right from the start.”
“Like we do.”
She nods, but I don’t miss the way her eyes become glassy with unshed tears at my words, and she takes another sip of wine, so I continue.
“I miss her and the summers I spent with her here. I drive past the old home site regularly.” I chuckle, thinking of all the wonderful times I spent with Grandma Cullen until I thought I was too old to spend the summers here. What an idiot I was. If I could go back in time, I would have moved here sooner. “The tire swing is still hanging from the tree out back. Everything is just like I remember it—well… except for the house…”
“I know, dear. I understand how difficult that must be for you.”
“It’s a little easier than it used to be.” I swallow around the lump expanding rapidly in my throat. I tilt my head back, look at the ceiling, and gather my thoughts—I always come back to the same one. “If I had been here, maybe I would have been able to…”
“Edward, you can’t save everyone.”
“It’s what I’m trained to do.” My voice cracks on the last word, and I will away the tears, sniffing back my heartbreak at losing one of the most important people in my life. “I can try. If not her, then someone else’s…”
I’ll never get back those times again.
Grandma Cullen filled them with lemonade and my favorite cookies while we rocked back and forth on her porch swing without a care in the world. I remember running through the grass barefoot, climbing trees, and chasing fireflies. Her comforting laugh at my silly jokes or antics would carry across the yard with the warm summer breeze.
She allowed me freedoms I didn’t have at home normally, as we worked in her garden together or picked ripe fruit from her trees and bushes. Grandma was always a friendly neighbor, sharing her abundance of things like tomatoes and zucchini from her garden. I don’t remember how old I was when I learned to mow her yard, but with her encouragement, I made a little money mowing her neighbors’ yards too.
One summer, she had a surprise for me—a bike. It wasn’t new, but it had a lot of life left in it, and I rode it everywhere, creating a bike path around the perimeter of her property, because she was always worried about me riding in the road. Not a complaint or harsh word ever passed her lips about me or anyone, and I’m sure I probably got on her nerves from time to time when I slammed the back door for the millionth time or tracked mud inside her home from another perfect summer day. She kept a never-emptying cookie jar filled with my favorites near the backdoor, and I remember always sneaking a couple to take with me before going outside to play in the yard or spend my time on the tire swing.
Mom’s voice pulls me from my memories. “Oh, darling. I wish I were there to give you a hug. You sound like you could use more than one.”
I shake my head. “I’m okay. I’m just… thankful for the time I had with her. I wish I could get that back.”
“I know. Have you thought about doing anything with the property? You could sell it, if you didn’t want to keep up the chore of maintaining it. I’m sure with all the rain you get, mowing is a constant job.”
“No. I’m going to keep it. I don’t mind. There’s a bit of comfort in the mowing, and the old mower in the garage still works just fine. The property is the only thing of hers that I have left. I’ll figure out what to do with it someday.”
“I understand.” She pauses, taking a quick sip, and not-so-subtly changes the subject. “Have you heard anything from…?”
“No. Nothing,” I answer instantly, not wanting to add more layers of disappointment to this already bittersweet conversation.
I told my mother about meeting Bella back in December, and she’s always looking for new updates, but it’s been months without a word about her. I’m not going to ask Chief Swan about Bella directly, but we’ve moved past pleasantries to small talk over the past months. I keep hoping she’ll come home for a visit, and I can come up with a good excuse for us to meet again.
“Well, don’t give up hope,” Mom encourages.
“Good. I better let you go, so you can eat what is probably your cold dinner now.”
I look down at my unappetizing meal. “I can always reheat it.”
“Call me if you need me, sweetheart.”
“I love you.”
“Love you too, Mom. Tell Dad I said hello.”
“I will. I just wanted to check in with you before I become indisposed for the rest of the evening. I can’t wait for your father to return.” She giggles, taking another long sip from her wine glass.
At the word indisposed, I know it’s time to put an end to our call before she gets too detailed about whatever “errand” she’s sent my father to do. My parents have a very adventurous and active sex life, and while we have a great relationship—able to talk about anything and everything—my mother tends to overshare when she calls, especially if it isn’t her first glass of wine.
“All right, Mom. I’ll talk to you later. Good night.”
“Good night, Edward.”
I end the call, toss my phone on the table, and grab my plate, moving toward the microwave. Once everything is piping hot again, I get comfortable in the living room and eat, hoping that something on television will distract me from the longing I’m feeling for a relationship, like the one my parents have.
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.