Chapter 34

Side by Side


When I emerge from the bathroom, freshly showered and dressed, I find Edward standing at my bedside table in his boxers, thumbing through my copy of Microsoft Office for Dummies. I figure if I leave the book there, Carlie might believe I'm actively reading it.

(For the record, I'm not.)

I slide my arms around his waist, brushing kisses across his shoulder. "Someone once told me that when you don't get dressed afterwards, you're begging for another round."

Edward drops the book and turns, his mouth twisting into a wry smile.

"Was this someone an irrepressibly horny, seventeen-year-old boy, by any chance?"

"Probably."

"How was your shower?" he asks, still grinning.

"Lonely."

"Mine was too."

"With my luck, if we'd showered together, Carlie would have come bursting through the door hours early."

"Next time you're at my place we'll make up for it. Maybe instead of finishing with a shower, we'll start with one."

"You've got all the ideas."

We embark on a steamy kiss that eventually dissolves into a shared wide smile. God, something's bound to go wrong any second. I mean, this can't be my life, right? Edward gives my bum a two-handed squeeze before reaching for his clothes.

"So?" He pulls his T-shirt over his head. "Movie?"

"Sure."

He follows me downstairs, zipping his jeans on the way. In the family room, I scroll through the Netflix menu while Edward watches, weighing in on our options as he plows through yet another piece of pumpkin pie.

In addition to his insatiable appetite, he apparently has hollow legs.

X –X – X

When I was married to Mike, movie nights consisted of me watching a movie while Mike sat in the armchair across the room, pretending half-interest in what I was watching. In truth, he was usually lost in the realm of his work, or whatever it was that was so fascinating on that damn laptop screen, in the room, but not quite there—not with me. I wonder if that's how Edward and I will end up when the honeymoon period is over. I hope not.

Edward is stretched out on the couch, legs wrapped around me as I lean back against his chest—a perfect film-viewing position. We've settled on Across the Universe, which neither one of us has seen. As the opening credits roll, Edward kisses my neck.

"How am I supposed to focus on the movie with this view?" he says, pulling the neck of my T-shirt open so he can peer down my cleavage. He draws my breasts together, moaning in my ear. "Shit, there's something else I forgot to do. Don't let me forget to get some of this action next time."

I pause the film and turn to peer up at him. "How am I supposed to focus with you doing and saying things like that?"

"Saying what? That was nothing. What I wanted to say is, 'West-End, remind me to fuck the hell out of your tits next time we're together.'"

Edward leans down to kiss me, his fingers rubbing a tickly circle on my inner thigh. Half an hour ago I was perfectly satiated. What a difference thirty minutes can make! Lord, what this man does to me. He shifts his position, groaning as he adjusts his jeans.

"You're killing me, woman."

"You started it," I remind him, resituating myself against his chest and reaching for the remote.

Edward stops my hand. "Hey, hang on a sec. Before you start the movie, can I run something by you?"

He pauses, and I scan his face. "Of course. Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, everything's great. I'm just wondering what you're doing on Tuesday."

"Tuesday? No clue. I haven't thought about next week at all. What are you thinking?"

"I guess if you're not busy, I wondered if you could do me a favour. Without Angela at the desk, Garrett and I aren't sure what we'll do in the short term. We need to advertise for a new receptionist. Would you be able to swing by for a few hours each day next week to help us until we get someone?"

What? Me? Work at his studio? He can't be serious.

"I'm not sure how useful I'd be. You know I can't use computers to save my life."

"The computer software we use is easy. I'll teach you. It'll be fun."

"You have no idea what you're saying. The words fun and computer don't belong in the same sentence when I'm involved."

"The computer part is minimal. It's more about being personable—giving tours, chatting with the parents when they drop off their kids, directing traffic. You'd be great at all that sort of thing. You can call me to help you if you get stuck with the booking and scheduling."

"I'd hate to screw something up. Look what happened to Angela, and she supposedly knew what she was doing."

"Bella, you have more common sense in your left ass cheek than she has in her whole body. You'll be perfect. Just a few hours…say from ten until two. Jordie's coming in at 3:30 every day this week to help out Garrett. Normally Rose wouldn't let him do that, but she knows we're in a jam."

"Can I think about it?"

"Of course you can. I don't mean to pressure you, but, you know, it would be great to see you every day, too."

He nuzzles my neck and tickles my thigh again as he says this. He certainly has a way of winning a gal over.

X-X-X

I do my best to enjoy watching the movie without letting my concerns for Carlie's welfare overshadow my evening, though I catch myself glancing at my phone from time to time, making sure I haven't missed a message.

Part of me hopes she's having a good time. All parents want their children to broaden their horizons and have fun. But there's also that terrified part of me—the part that dreads her getting hurt. I tell myself that worrying won't help at this point, and I just have to trust that Carlie has enough good sense not to get herself into a jam, and the wherewithal to call me for help if she does.

The movie itself is entertaining enough, but watching it with Edward makes it even better. He keeps his arms wrapped around me, stealing kisses now and then. My favourite part is listening to him sing along to the Beatles' soundtrack. He can't help himself and I certainly don't object.

When the final credits roll, he kisses the top of my head and unfolds himself from around me.

"Good flick." He bobs his head at the closed door off the main hall. "Is that a washroom?"

"Yep. Help yourself."

I stand and rub my shoulder, listening to my back creak after sitting in the same position for two hours. Oh, the joys of aging.

When my phone pings on the coffee table, my hand freezes mid-shoulder rub. It's Carlie.

Leaving party. Home in 15?

Fifteen minutes to wrap things up with Edward. That's doable. I text her back quickly.

Ok, I'll make sure Edward is gone.

Edward emerges from the power room as my phone pings twice in quick succession

It's ok.

I mean you don't have to tell him to leave.

Are you sure? I reply, my heart thumping double-time as I type.

Yep. See you in a bit.

"Everything okay?" Edward asks, gesturing to my phone.

"I guess so. Carlie's on her way home. Sounds like she's ready to meet you."

I give him a wary look and he plucks at his Velvet Underground T-shirt in mock horror.

"I have to meet her in this old thing?"

"Edward, be serious. This is huge for me. For us."

He drags me into his arms and squeezes me tightly. "Don't worry. She'll love me."

"We really need to work on your self-esteem."

I laugh and peel myself out of his arms so I can package up what remains of his pumpkin pie. My hands shake as I slip some plastic wrap around the aluminum pie plate. He may be cool as a cucumber, but I'm not quite as collected. Carlie not accepting Edward isn't a deal breaker, but life would be so much easier if she'd approve, or at the very least find him passable.

Edward follows me to the front hall, where I deposit his wrapped pie on the table beside the door. He sees the pamphlet Doyle left behind and picks it up. "Kick the Vicar? Is this the band Carlie was seeing tonight?"

"That's what I gather."

"I know these kids."

"Really? How?"

"They were at the studio this summer doing some recording. Barely had two pennies to rub together, but they wanted to lay down a couple of tracks for a demo. They were a bit screamy for my taste, but they've definitely got some raw talent."

"That's good." I nibble on my nail absently, at this point not particularly concerned about Kick the Vicar's talent or lack thereof.

"Hey, you're really worried about this meeting," Edward says, watching me sneak a look through the glass insert in the door.

"I just want her to like you." I step back into his arms, settling my nose against his neck as he rubs my back.

"You know, she might not like me at first on principle. Just give her time."

"I wish I could take things in my stride the way you do."

"I'd be more worried if you didn't care. It's normal for you to be a stressed. Especially right now. You and Carlie have had a difficult couple of months."

"You're not wrong there."

"Can I ask you something, and you just tell me if I'm out of line?"

"That sounds ominous."

"Not really. I guess I'm wondering why you only have the one child. You're such a devoted mother. Was stopping at one child a choice, or…"

Edward must see my face tighten as he opens the topic I've been dreading broaching for weeks.

"Shit, I shouldn't have asked. It's none of my business. You don't have to—"

"—no, it's okay. I've been thinking about talking to you about it." I clasp both of his hands and take a deep breath. "I definitely wanted more children. After Carlie, I had two miscarriages. I just couldn't face another try. It was heartbreaking. I had my tubes tied."

"Shit, I'm so sorry. That must have been awful for you."

"It was. You know, I almost told you about it on Labour Day when you were talking about the trouble Kate had carrying to term. The timing didn't seem right that day. But I know I should have mentioned it earlier. I mean, Tanya wanted to be with you so badly, and she's younger. She could give you children, a family—"

"Jesus, no…" Edward pulls me back into his arms, smoothing my hair, shaking his head to stop my words. "That's not why I asked. I was just curious, that's all. At my age, I'm not chomping at the bit to start a family, trust me."

"But you have such a way with kids. You obviously love them."

"I've had plenty of kids in my life. I still do. Soon I'll have a godchild as well. And hopefully before long," he says, pushing me away gently, his eyes drawing my gaze upward, "I'll have a relationship with Carlie. We can't force things. She might not take to me right away, but she'll warm up. You'll see. One day, she'll be my biggest fan."

"Second biggest," I say, smiling against his lips, happy to let him distract me with his sweet kisses.

After one last kiss, he checks my expression.

"Are you sure you're okay? I didn't upset you?"

"I'm fine. It's ancient history. I'm glad we talked about it, though."

"As long as you're sure. I didn't mean to—"

I cut him off with a definitive nod. "It's been gnawing at me. I wanted you to know."

The sound of a car pulling up to the curb interrupts us. I draw in a deep breath and Edward pulls me away from the front door.

"Hey, no spying on the goodnight kiss, Mom."

I cover my face, groaning. "Oh, God, don't say that."

Edward laughs gently as he perches on the arm of the couch, taking my hands and tugging me toward him. He diverts my attention with idle chitchat about his plans to take Seth to his hockey practice the next morning, and tells me a little more about the studio and what filling in next week might entail. When I hear the sound of car doors closing, I stiffen. The moment of truth is nigh.

I brace myself for the sound of footsteps on the porch or Carlie's keys moving in the lock, but there's nothing for several interminable minutes.

"What's taking her so long?" I make a move toward the door.

Edward pulls me back again. "They might be on the porch together. Give them a minute. Breathe."

I breathe. And breathe and breathe and breathe until I seem to be on the verge of hyperventilating. Edward does a terrible job of concealing his amusement, but he placates me by telling me to stay put as he moves over to the dining room window and slowly eases the curtain open a sliver.

"They're not on the porch. They're looking at my car. Grab a coat," he says, reaching for his own jacket and slipping on his shoes.

"I don't know if we should—" I start to say, but Edward's got the door open, and I have no choice but to slip a coat around my shoulders and follow him outside.

On the driveway, Carlie and Doyle are bent over, looking at the interior of Edward's car through the driver's side window.

"What kind of car is it?" Carlie asks Doyle, cupping her hands around her eyes, her nose virtually pressed to the glass.

Before he can answer, Doyle hears Edward's jangling keys and he spins around as if he's been caught in the midst of trying to hotwire the car instead of innocently peeking in the window. Carlie turns as well, giving Edward a quick once over, her face registering the fact that this cool car on her driveway belongs to none other than her mother's new squeeze.

"Triumph Spitfire," Edward says in answer to Doyle's query, sliding his hand along the hood. I remember him doing something similar when I saw the car for the first time in September.

I reach for his arm, hoping to derail the antique car show proceedings for a moment. I have more important business to attend to.

"Edward, this is my daughter, Carlie, and her friend, Doyle. Car, this is Edward."

Carlie looks from me to Doyle and then to Edward. Then she does the unimaginable. She sticks her hand out, just as I'd done earlier when meeting Doyle. She doesn't speak. I'm not sure if her muteness is due to awkwardness or surliness, but it doesn't matter. Edward quickly fills the silence, smiling as he shakes her hand.

"It's great to meet you, Carlie. I think I owe you a big thank you," he says, retrieving his hand and resting it on the car again. "You helped your mom track me down on LinkedIn, right?"

"Um, yeah. I guess I did," Carlie says, as Doyle looks on, his hands stuffed in his jeans pockets.

I'm caught in a freaky Friday-esque moment—a strange role reversal as if I'm the teenager desperate for parental approval. I feel compelled to tell Carlie how great Edward is and if she'll just give him a chance she'll see I'm right. I say nothing of the sort, and once again, Edward rescues us from the discomfort of the moment, this time by unlocking the car, opening the driver's side door and gesturing for Doyle to climb in.

"You too, Carlie. Hop in the passenger side if you'd like," he says.

Carlie climbs in cautiously, almost seeming afraid to touch anything. Doyle, on the other hand, doesn't contain his awe. He slides his hands across the steering wheel admiringly. When he grasps the gear shift and leans back in the seat, I can tell he's imagining himself cruising the open road with the top down. All that's missing is a few of those engine sounds little boys make when playing with their dinky cars on the floor. I've no doubt he's making those sounds in his mind.

While Edward points to the dashboard, telling Doyle about various aspects of the car's specifications, Carlie climbs out. As she pushes the door shut, Doyle seems to come to his senses, realizing he's potentially consorting with the enemy. He clambers out of the car quickly, clearing his throat and casting apologetic glances at Carlie, who's gone back to sizing up Edward. To his credit, Edward seems not the slightest bit concerned with her appraisal. I expect him to spin around for her any second so she can get a good view of his backside.

"So did you have fun tonight?" I ask, smiling at them brightly—perhaps a little too brightly. I'm probably trying too hard. I don't have Edward's flair for grace under pressure.

"It was all right." Carlie shrugs. "The band was okay. Doyle's friend Ethan was awesome, though, eh, D?"

Doyle nods enthusiastically. "He's pretty good."

"I saw the flyer for the gig," Edward interjects. "Kick the Vicar, right?"

"Yeah." Doyle nods again then frowns. "Weird name, I guess."

"But a unique one," Edward says. "I remember them coming into my studio over the summer to record a couple of tracks for a demo."

"Hey, yeah they did do that. They wanted to get a five song demo together."

"Studio time tends to be expensive. Five songs was out of their price range."

As Doyle and Edward chat, I watch Carlie. She hasn't taken her eyes off Edward. I wish I knew what was going through her mind. Does she still think he's 'pretty hot for an old guy'? Can she sense his warmth and friendliness? Or is she too emotionally invested in comparing him to her father to register his good qualities?

Edward reaches into his back pocket for his wallet and hands Doyle a business card.

"Give this to your friend," he says. "Tell him to call me. That's my direct line. If the band is interested, maybe they can come in over Christmas to try to get another couple of tracks down. The studio is quiet over the holidays, so I can probably give them a good rate."

"Cool," Doyle says. He looks at Carlie, and rubs his tongue over his lip ring. Nervous habit? Secret code? "Um, I guess I should go." His eyes drift to the curb.

"I'll walk you to your car," Carlie says.

Doyle backs away, his hand raised in parting. "Thanks again for the desserts, Mrs. Newton. And for this," he adds, looking at Edward and holding up the business card.

"No problem," Edward says.

"Good luck with the turkey tomorrow," I say. "Text Carlie if you have any questions about anything. Maybe I can give you some pointers."

Doyle nods and together he and Carlie wander down the driveway. Edward leans against his driver's side door, and I stand beside him, scanning the neighbour's lawn. Despite my curiosity, I'd rather not bear witness to Carlie and Doyle's good night grope.

"He seems like a nice kid," Edward whispers.

"I think so, too."

When I hear Doyle's car door close and the engine rev to life, I turn and see Carlie standing on the sidewalk, her arms wrapped around herself. Once Doyle is well down the street, she starts to trudge up the driveway. For a second it seems as if she's going to disappear into the house without another word, but then she stops on the bottom porch step.

"I'm going to bed," she says.

"Okay. I'll be in in a minute."

"It was nice meeting you, Carlie," Edward calls out.

"Yeah, I'll seeya."

Yeah, I'll seeya?

As the door closes behind her, I breathe out extravagantly. While I'm not exactly over the moon with the results of their first meeting, I'm extremely relieved that it's over.

"I'm sorry, Edward. Her social skills are usually a lot better than that. Thank you for being so easygoing."

"Oh, come on. She's a teenager. And this was hard for her. Her loyalties are split all over the place. She had no idea what to say."

"I guess." I groan and cover my eyes with my hands.

"Come on, it wasn't that bad. In fact, I think it went pretty well. No one lost a limb. That's gotta count for something."

I smile reluctantly. "Well, the verdict might be out with Carlie, but Doyle's definitely smitten. I swear you could charm the bra off a nun."

He quirks a playful eyebrow. "And you're just realizing that about me now?"

"No, I guess I've known it for years. You've sure worked your magic on me enough times."

"And yet here you stand. Fully dressed."

I pat his chest, smirking. "Feel free to cast your mind back a few hours, Casanova."

"It's probably not the best time for me to think about that. Carlie might be spying on us," he adds in a stage whisper. "I'll save that for later. And tomorrow. Tomorrow, there'll be lots of time to think about you on your knees, or sprawled out on the bed all warm and naked. Best do that while I'm in the privacy of my own bathroom."

Edward links his hands around my waist. His smile lights up his whole face. Let's be honest, it lights up the world—or at the very least my world.

"Did you mean what you said earlier, or were you just basking in the afterglow of my sensational lovemaking skills?" he asks.

"I'm not sure what you're referring to," I say, flashing a demure smile.

"When you said you love me—did you mean it? Because I meant it."

I rest my cheek on his shoulder. "Of course I meant it. God, I miss you already and you haven't even left yet."

"I wish I could see you tomorrow. I'd suggest trying to figure something, but I'm seeing Seth—"

"No, you need to do your thing with Seth. It'll be good for me to spend some time with Car, too."

"Monday's good, though?"

"Absolutely."

"So, should I pick you up and we'll go to Rose and Emmett's from here? Or do you want to come down to my place?"

"I don't know. What's the timing?

"She's expecting us around four. I'll probably go for a run before we head over. Gotta work off all this pie." He gives his non-existent belly an exaggerated rub. "Hey, you could join me. I'd love to go running with you."

"I don't run the same distances as you. I haven't got the stamina. I'd slow you down."

"I'd wait for you West-End." Pausing briefly, he tilts my chin and peers into my eyes. "I'll always wait for you. And I'm not just talking about running. You must know that."

He kisses me, and I melt against him, allowing myself to feel protected, loved and wanted as his arms enfold me.

I know he means what he's said. For years, I was out of reach—beyond his sightline—and a little piece of him was always there waiting. He's not likely to abandon me when he knows exactly where I am, and truth be told, I'll run as fast as I can to make sure I stay right by his side.


Sorry for the epic delay. Writer's block. Life. Work. Books. Lots of books actually. Really long ones. My humble apologies. (Blame Diana Gabaldon.)

(Sidenote: to the Guest reviewer who left that lovely message on July 10th, thank you. I needed that boost to get me back in the saddle. Wish I could have answered you personally.)

Thank you for reading.

xx