A/N: I tried to answer reviews, but I updated right before FFN took a sick day. If you didn't get a reply, it's because your review came across as guest. If you have a question, just ask me again!
"Thanks for reminding me about these, Shelly." Edward yawned as he slid a stack of resumes across the welcome desk.
"Anytime, sweetie. Last thing I want is to have that inn ready for occupancy and no staff to run it."
"Aw, come on. I wouldn't have waited that long!" Edward couldn't help laughing when Shelly cut her eyes at him and huffed. "Okay, maybe I would have, so thank you again. Can you call the three on top to come in for an interview next Tuesday? But keep the rest of the applications in case these guys don't work out."
She nodded and tsked Edward when he yawned again. "Late night?"
He grinned at Shelly, knowing she was fishing but so not ready to talk about anything that happened last night yet. "Just couldn't sleep. Probably too excited about the idea of a completely free weekend!"
"You best enjoy it. I suspect once you close on that inn Monday, you'll be eating, sleeping, and drinking this place."
Edward's smile grew. "For a while, yeah. But it'll be worth it when it finally comes together. I still can't believe it's actually happening."
The bell above the door jingled, and when Edward saw the huge ball of wrath headed his way, he wished he'd been keeping a closer eye on the door so he could've hidden from her. Alice marched through the door, Prada bag on her shoulder, eyes narrowed, and mouth pinched together. She managed to unfreeze her sour face long enough to spare Mrs. Cope a small smile before pointing to Edward's office without saying a word. With a soft groan, Edward's forehead hit the top of the reception desk.
"Good luck with that one," Shelly whispered. "I don't know what you did, but you may want to remind her the walls are thin!"
Edward winced before following his sister into his office and closing the door behind them.
"So … I guess Garrett called Irina?"
"What the hell, Edward?"
"She said you were cheating on Garrett with Emmett!"
"You tell me!"
Edward plopped down on the old couch in his office, flung his head back, and rubbed his face with his hands. "Alice, I slept like shit last night, and I'm really tired. Can you please be less vague? You know I didn't cheat on Garrett. Hell, we weren't even really together!"
"He told her that you ended things between the two of you last night after you admitted something was going on with Emmett." Edward opened his eyes and studied his sister. He could tell by the tone in her voice that she was more hurt at being left out than angry with him for whatever he supposedly did. There was no one in the world he was closer to than Alice. She'd been the first real friend he'd ever had and never once shown him anything but love, even when he was still struggling to find his way and often acted like a little shit. They literally told each other everything.
"Ali," he began, using the name he'd started calling her when they were teenagers just to piss her off. No one else was allowed to call her that, and Edward knew she'd secretly grown to love it. "Nothing happened between Emmett and me after that first kiss. We had dinner last night, but we discussed work most of the evening. Besides, when some asshole decided to try and take us down a notch by calling us faggots, I thought Emmett was going to legit have a coronary. There is no way that man is looking for anything more than a one-night fuck from a man, and you know that is not my scene."
Alice's eyes were wide. "Well, what the hell was Irina talking about?"
Closing his eyes again, Edward sighed. "I don't know. I mean, I did meet Garrett last night with the intention of ending things. You know I wasn't really feeling it with him anymore. I must've been acting weird because he figured it out right away, before I even said anything. He assumed it was because of Emmett, but I swear, I hardly said a word. And when I did open my big mouth, I blurted out something about that stupid kiss with Emmett a few weeks back. He was halfway out the door the second he realized I wanted to break it off between us, though, and I never got the chance to explain."
The couch shifted next to Edward, and two small arms wrapped around his shoulders. "I'm sorry," Alice murmured. "I shouldn't have assumed the worst, but I had no idea you were planning to break up with him. Of course I knew it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns, but your first date went so well. I thought once you weren't so busy, you'd get excited about him again."
"We both know I would've made time for him if I'd wanted to." Edward sighed.
Alice adjusted herself until she was sitting beside her brother, then circled Edward's arm with both of hers and laid her head on his shoulder. They sat like that for several long, quiet moments before she finally broke the silence. "So, how exactly did Emmett flip out at dinner?"
Edward groaned. "Acted like he was going to fight the guy right in the middle of Chili's, then wondered why the douche even thought he was gay."
Alice surprised Edward by defending Emmett. "Maybe he just finds the term offensive. He's been spending so much time over here, I don't know how he'd remain indifferent to the word. I'd bet just about anything I have that Seth or Ri wouldn't question that he'd taken offense at anyone using the term in general."
Edward swallowed. Like he hadn't already thought of that possibility, and every other possibility, a million times. Garrett, whether he'd really meant to or not, had given Edward a lot to think about.
Edward wasn't dumb. He knew he and Emmett had enough sexual energy between the two of them to power all of Woodstock, but that didn't mean it was a good idea to jump into bed with the guy. Thoughts of their kiss right outside in the dark parking lot rolled freely through his mind now that he didn't have to feel guilty about them, and then, because life was too cruel, he'd see the anger written all over Emmett's face when he'd stood up to retaliate against the idiot from last night.
He'd tossed and turned all night, analyzing and then reanalyzing the events of the evening. As soon as he thought he had a grasp on Emmett's reaction at Chili's, Garrett's words would flash through his mind, and Edward would dissect every word again. Pushing both conversations out of his head proved to be pointless because as soon as his mind was clear, he'd started worrying about why he was so twisted up to begin with. Thus began the never-ending cycle that lasted until dawn when Edward finally passed out from pure exhaustion.
Shaking his head, Edward looked at his sister. "I don't know what to think anymore, and honestly, I'm too tired to care at this point."
With only two bars in Woodstock, nightlife had always been pretty tame. Richardson's catered mostly to tourists, so locals usually frequented Bentley's, but Edward had no desire to return there just two days after his disastrous conversation with Garrett. When his friend Demetri called and invited him out for drinks with him and his husband, Alec, Edward asked if they could go to Richardson's for a change of scenery.
After several hours of drinking and laughing with his friends, Edward felt relaxed and more than a little buzzed, and he had to piss. He excused himself from their corner booth and was surprised to see a full restaurant when he turned around. The bar was packed, and nearly every table was full. A few brave—or maybe just drunk from the looks of it—souls had made their way to the makeshift dance floor, and Edward found himself moving in time to the music as he made his way to the bathroom.
After taking care of business and washing his hands, Edward checked himself over in the mirror, wondering if he could have one more drink before switching to water. Demetri had picked him up, so he didn't have to worry about driving home, but it was his last free weekend before who knew how long. The purchase of the inn would keep his nights and weekends hectic until the doors were officially opened, and he didn't really want to spend his last free day nursing a hangover.
Deciding one more wouldn't hurt, Edward tossed his paper towel in the trash and headed back into the crowded restaurant. A slow song was playing, and a few more couples had gotten up to dance, forcing Edward to walk around the edge of the dance floor. He would've missed seeing Emmett completely if he hadn't heard a hushed, "Isn't that the guy from the fundraiser we went to last month?"
Snapping his head to the left, Edward's eyes widened as he took in Emmett sitting next to the same blonde he'd brought to the fundraiser. Sitting across from them, looking as uptight and out of place as possible in their expensive designer suits, was an older couple Edward immediately recognized as Emmett's parents. Emmett's arm rested on the back of the booth behind his date. Edward tried to recall her name and then struggled to remember if Emmett had ever even introduced them. She was pressed up against Emmett so closely, Edward doubted a piece of paper would've fit between them. She at least had the decency to blush at being caught talking about him.
Emmett merely offered Edward a curt nod before picking up his highball glass and taking a swig of the dark liquor inside without acknowledging his date's comment. Edward nodded back dumbly and tried not trip over his own feet when he started to move away.
The senior McCarty's voice, and the good manners Esme had finally managed to ingrain in him, forced Edward to take a step back to their table.
"Yes, sir," he said, offering the man a smile and holding out his hand. "I'm Edward Masen."
"You're the one my son donated so much of our money to a while back, right? What's your charity again?"
Right. No need to introduce himself—it's not like everyone in Woodstock didn't know who he was.
"Home for Hope, sir. We're a non-profit organization that—"
"Helps at-risk youth," Emmett interrupted.
Edward snapped his mouth shut and stared at Emmett incredulously.
"Ah, that's right. Emmett spoke very highly of you and your organization. I'm glad we ran into you. It takes a lot to impress my son."
Emmett's eyes remained on his highball glass, studiously ignoring Edward's stare and slowly swirling the drink around the bottom of the glass while his father spoke. "I'm so glad to hear that," Edward said, dragging his eyes back to Mr. McCarty. "I can't tell how you thrilled H4H was to receive such a generous donation from McCarty Steel."
Mr. McCarty laughed. "Generous indeed! I must admit, I was surprised to learn the amount, but Emmett assured me you were a sound investment. And of course, now that you've reminded me, we're always happy to help our youth."
"Well, thank you again. I should probably get back to my friends, but it was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. McCarty, and of course, it was nice to see you again." Edward said, addressing Emmett and his still-nameless date.
Edward's stomach churned as he made his way back to his own table. He'd suspected Emmett's father was in the dark about Emmett's personal donation to H4H, but he had no idea the man didn't even know where the business funds had gone. Granted, it was none of Edward's business how the two men ran McCarty Steel, but he'd been under the impression that while Emmett was being groomed to take over and was trusted to make most of the decisions, his father still kept his fingers in most of the pots. He couldn't believe Emmett had lied to his father about H4H. Edward knew Emmett didn't answer to him, owed him no explanations on his personal life, but the entire conversation left Edward feeling hurt, betrayed, and even embarrassed. Deciding his night was over, Edward stopped by the bar and asked for a water before returning to his booth.
"Were you just talking to the McCartys?" Alec asked before Edward's ass even touched the seat. His eyes were wide, and he looked a little awestruck. Not that Edward blamed him—the McCarty's had employed half the residents of Woodstock at one time or another. They were also never seen out at establishments like Richardson's. Only the best of the best for the McCartys.
"Yeah." Edward dragged out the word. "Why?"
"I didn't realize you knew them. No wonder we haven't seen you in months!" Demetri joked.
Edward took a sip of his water and shifted in his seat, his conversation with Emmett almost a month ago rushing back to him. He hadn't been surprised when Emmett had asked to remain anonymous as a condition of donating the remaining funds to purchase the inn, but he also hadn't expected the man to become a semi-permanent fixture at H4H. Emmett's actions within those four walls had fooled Edward into believing that he'd wanted to remain anonymous simply to be selfless. Now though … now it felt dirty and shameful. He couldn't even tell two of his closest friends how he ended up obtaining the single most exciting accomplishment of his life. And was he supposed to keep the fact that Emmett volunteered at H4H quiet, too?
Forcing a smile on his face, Edward answered. "I met Emmett at the H4H fundraiser last month. He made a sizeable donation on behalf of McCarty Steel. He was with the same girl that night, and she recognized me as I was walking by. Can't say I really know them."
"Wow. He doesn't often take the same girl out more than once. He must like this one," Demetri mused, peering around Edward.
"Guess so. I wouldn't really know." Edward drained his water and looked at his friends. "I think I'm about ready to head home. If you guys want to stay, I'll just call a cab."
Alec shook his head as he signaled their waitress. "Nah, we were just saying we were ready to go, too."
Edward kept his head down as they headed toward the door, not even daring to look toward the McCartys' table and risk being ignored by someone he'd thought of as a friend. As he stepped outside, a quiet chuff escaped his mouth, and he realized the following week was going to be pure hell. Emmett had taken off half of the week to deal with closing, help interview applicants for the two positions opening the inn would require, and finalize the remodeling plans. Suddenly, the days Edward had been looking forward to more than anything for weeks, he now dreaded.
Edward spent most of Sunday cleaning his home. He wasn't a neat-freak by any means, but he liked to keep his apartment tidy enough that it could be company-ready within twenty minutes. He kept his kitchen pretty clean and did his best not to leave random objects lying around. Still, he'd been so busy at work lately that he'd neglected some of the deeper cleaning. By the time he'd finished scrubbing, vacuuming, and dusting, he was disdainfully eyeing the pile of dirty laundry shoved in the corner while he ate a late lunch. Once he finished eating, Edward decided to take a little break before tackling the laundry and stretched out on his couch to read. He'd been so engrossed in his book, he jumped when his phone rang.
When he saw Emmett's name pop up on the screen, his heart stopped, and he stared at the phone while it continued to sing to him. He'd been half-waiting on the call from Emmett all day, sure that he'd be withdrawing his donation. The money was already in H4H's bank account, so he was pretty sure Emmett couldn't just demand it back, but the paperwork wasn't being handled until Monday. Technically, Emmett could still call the whole thing off, and after what happened last night, Edward wasn't even sure he'd be surprised at this point.
Finally, deciding he needed to just answer and get it over with, Edward's finger swiped across the screen.
"Hey, Edward. It's Emmett."
Well, this wasn't awkward at all. Edward couldn't remember the last time they'd actually announced themselves on the phone.
"Uh, yeah, I know. Can I help you with something?"
"I just wanted to make sure everything was all set for tomorrow."
"As far as I know, unless you know something I don't."
"No—no. Not at all. Just didn't want to show up unprepared."
"Right. I understand. Well, nothing's changed on my end." Edward closed his eyes and resisted beating his head against the armrest of the couch. If that wasn't the biggest lie ever, he didn't know what was.
"Good to hear. I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Yep. I'll be there."
Emmett stared at his phone for a moment after Edward hung up on him without saying goodbye. On the one hand, he was pretty sure he deserved it for cutting Edward off and covering up the fact that H4H catered to LGBT youth. On the other hand, he was still clinging to the sad truth that he'd made zero promises to Edward beyond donating his money and expertise. Just because he'd made a connection with a couple of the kids at the center and had become somewhat friendly with the owner didn't mean he owed them an explanation about anything else in his life. He knew his dad would become suspicious if he found out to whom Home for Hope catered, so when Emmett had gone over the donation with him, he'd been careful not to mention the name of the center. Instead, he focused on how Edward had started the organization from scratch and had managed to grow every year, becoming one of the top LGBT shelters in New England.
He just left the LGBT part out.
Emmett McCarty Sr. was a good man, a shrewd businessman, and a caring and attentive father for the most part. He had worked alongside his own father to build McCarty Steel from nothing and knew the value and importance of helping those less fortunate. While he'd encouraged Emmett to play sports in school and had attended games when he could, he'd always made it quite clear that he intended to hand his business over to his son, and Emmett's first priority should always be toward reaching that goal.
Emmett had been more than okay with that plan, and when he'd fallen in love the summer between his junior and senior year of high school, Emmett knew he'd found the perfect person to spend his life with while following in his father's footsteps. He may have been a little apprehensive about telling his parents he'd fallen for a guy, but who wouldn't be? It never crossed his mind that something so inconsequential as who had stolen his heart would make a difference to the man.
Too bad he'd had to find out the hard way.
Emmett walked into the bank five minutes before the closing the following morning. Edward had texted him first thing, saying they needed to meet there instead of riding over together because his plans had changed and he'd be across town until just before their appointment. Emmett supposed he could've been telling the truth, but it was a pretty huge coincidence. Resigned to an uncomfortable meeting, Emmett sat down in the chair next to Edward while they waited.
"You ready?" Emmett asked.
"Yep," Edward chirped. "Not much could make this day better."
Emmett cringed, not missing the subtle dig or the falseness in Edward's tone.
"Listen ... about the other night—"
Edward held up his hand, halting Emmett's speech, and finally raised his eyes to meet Emmett's. "You don't owe me anything. You don't want your father to know how you spend your time and money. It's none of my business."
"But it's not as simple as that—"
"It never is, Emmett. Best not to forget what I do for a living. I've heard it all. I can promise you that."
Emmett opened his mouth to argue again but couldn't find the right words. Edward was right. There'd been plenty of instances over the past several weeks where Emmett could've let Edward in, told him about his past … Felix … his guilt. Instead of sharing something real about himself to someone who would actually get it, someone who would actually care, he'd stuck to business as usual. Why should Edward give him a chance to explain now? He experienced worse stories than Emmett's all the time; Emmett was sure the last thing Edward wanted to do was to pull teeth to get his own fucked-up past out of him, especially after Emmett had been so rude.
"Look," Edward sighed. "I don't mean to be callous, but maybe this isn't the best time for this, okay? Right now, I just need you to do what you do best, and be the business guy. Make sure the bank hasn't screwed us, and we didn't miss anything. Can you do that?"
"Yeah," Emmett nodded. "No problem."
Edward took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Thank you."
Jasper, acting as H4H's financial advisor, walked in with H4H's lawyer a moment later, saving them from any further awkward conversation, and within minutes, they were called back to finally start the process.
Going over all of the paperwork and watching Edward sign his name about a hundred times lasted over an hour, but everything checked out perfectly. Emmett had never seen Edward's smile so huge as when the keys were finally pushed across the table. When they reached the parking lot, Carlisle, Esme, and Alice were waiting for them, each holding a balloon. Alice wasted no time, bounding up to her brother and throwing her arms around him in what could only be called a massive tackle hug. Edward laughed as he caught her mid-flight and squeezed her tight before setting her down and turning her over to her husband.
Esme, with tears brimming in her eyes, was next. Edward wrapped his arms around her waist and buried his face in her hair. The moment was so intimate, Emmett felt guilty watching but found he couldn't turn away. Tears fell freely down Esme's cheeks, and Edward must have been whispering something to her because every few moments, Esme would nod her head or laugh through her tears. Esme finally released her grip on Edward and handed him off to Carlisle. This time, when Emmett saw Edward swipe the tears away from his own eyes as his foster father embraced him, Emmett forced himself to look away.
Taking a deep breath to steady his emotions, Emmett started toward his car, wanting to leave Edward with his family to celebrate, when a small hand landed on his arm.
"Oh no," Alice chided. "You're not getting away that easily!" Before he could protest, Alice's arms circled Emmett's waist, and she pressed her head against his chest. "Thank you. I realize we've only said like ten words to each other, and this is probably really uncomfortable for you, but this is a dream come true for our family, for Edward, and we'd still be a long way off from making this happen if it weren't for you. So, you have to endure me invading your personal space for the next five seconds."
Wrapping his arms around Alice, Emmett smiled. "I think I can handle that … for the next five seconds."
Laughing, Alice pulled back. "Well, look at that. You do have a sense of humor. I was starting to believe my brother was making it up."
Emmett looked down at the ground, hoping she didn't notice the blush he felt creeping up his cheeks. "Yeah, well, I guess I better get to the office."
"Nope!" Alice grabbed his hand, stopping him. "We're surprising Edward back at H4H with a little shindig, and you're going to be there. He'd be upset if you weren't, so I refuse to take no for an answer."
Clearly, Edward hadn't told his sister what happened Saturday night, which was more than a little surprising. He knew how close they were, but she was already pulling him toward the rest of the group. His eyes met Edward's red-rimmed ones as they walked up, and Emmett cringed when Edward offered him a small smile that fell flat almost as quickly as it appeared. One thing was for sure—it was going to be one hell of a surprise party.
A/N: I'm so judging you, Emmett. Hard.
Big thanks to the people who make me better! Born, Intricacy, Jordan (His birthday is tomorrow—leave him some love!), Les, and Yummy are so, so supportive but not afraid to kick my ass when I need it. They've also agreed to protect Emmett and me if someone starts throwing things. I'm such a lucky girl. Chaya is the best beta ever. She does so much more than cross my t's and dot my i's. Again … lucky girl.
Looking for support? September is Suicide Prevention Month. The bravest thing you can do is get help... bornthiswayfoundation*org/pages/our-mission/
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Thank you guys so much for all the love you've shown this story. I fell in love with it before I wrote the first word and knowing you guys are enjoying it really means a lot.