I hold Hadley's hand in mine as we navigated Hudson Yards.

Now that we've been home a few days, she insisted on wanting to get Bella gifts for Christmas. I had already gotten her something, but that gift I wanted to be a little more private.

I watch my kid inspect each store and give careful consideration to anything she picks up. She takes gift-giving very seriously.


"Yeah, Had?"

"Can we get Bella and Emmett a gift card to a restaurant?"

"Bella and Emmett?"

"Well, they both love to eat," she explains with a shrug.

That was accurate, but I'm surprised that she wants to include Emmett.

"So you want to get Emmett something, too?" I ask wanting to confirm.

She nods.

"Uncle Carlisle is always talking about dining experiences and Bella and Emmett love to eat and bust chops, so what better way to do that than at a restaurant."

I smile at that.

The past few days have been a little heavy for Bella. Her father was upset that she left instead of talking out 'Renee-Gate' as Bella has taken to calling it. She still hadn't reached out to her mother because she wasn't even sure where to begin.

She'd been sticking close to Esme and letting her mother her, which was a bit weird for me but they both seemed to ignore the looks I gave them when I caught the mothering happening.

Hadley knew that Bella's mom wanted to see Bella, but we didn't go into specifics with her. She again had become very empathetic to Bella. It made them closer somehow, having mothers who have made huge mistakes.

"I think that's a great idea," I say in support.

Her answering grin makes my heart melt.

Though I don't think I could ever keep Rose away from Hadley, I can see why Charlie did what he did.

I just didn't admit that to Bella.

She needs all the support she can get, honestly, I was concerned for her. It's like she's on at all times, even though she'd probably like to be hiding away in her bed or mine. I could see the toll it was taking on her not only mentally but physically too.

We get Em and Bella's gift card from Bronx Brewery and then I suggest getting Bella a gift card from Blue Bottle Coffee.

"Dad, do you think Bella's going to groan when she sees her gifts?" Hadley asks, biting her lip when we enter Pandora.

"She'll definitely groan, but she'll love it," I tease.

Her face relaxes.

I make sure we don't go overboard on the bracelet we get her. It's a bangle with a Spider-Man mask heart on it. Hadley was going back and forth between that and a regular heart but I had a feeling Bella would love something quirky.

"Are you ready to head back home?" I ask her while we leave the store.

"Yep," she tells me.

As we walk to the subway I keep her close to me as we move through the crowded sidewalks. I always loved New York during the holidays.

I'd like to think I've passed that love to Hadley. Her eyes would light up when we saw the display windows and she loved seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center ever since she was a baby.

It was when we stayed in Port Angeles that she got to see how a small town celebrates. I was impressed with the picturesque Hallmark holiday movie ambiance and the kid loved it.

Bella even made it special and made sure we took a lot of pictures so she'd always have the memory of it. I watched her put her own feelings aside to make sure Hadley was having a good time on our short-lived trip.

The only thing I wish I could forget is how Bella's Ms. Shelly kept leering at me, it's something that may haunt me for the rest of my life.

I even shiver now at just the thought.

"You okay, Dad?" Hadley asks.

I nod, cupping the back of her head as we take a seat on the train.

I watch as she guards her purchases, keeping them clutched tightly in her small hand resting against her chest.

An older lady gets on and I offer her my seat while I stand in front of Hadley holding onto the bar above.

I watch Hadley as she quietly sits squished in between people who come and go off the train. Esme was taking her to see Rose at the hospital later. When we came back earlier than planned, Rose was curious as to why we didn't stay in Washington, but I just said we cut the trip short.

I was respecting whatever kind of relationship she had going on with Emmett, because he'd been visiting her up until he left to go home for the holidays, which was yesterday.

It's not my business, so Bella's decision to come home wasn't hers.

When we get back home, I see Alice smoking out on the stoop. I send Hadley in and tell her to hide her gifts.

"So you and Bella are done doing your cyber-surveillance?" I ask, taking a seat next to her.

"I had to force her to take a break, she got fixated on her half-brother," she says, taking a puff of her cigarette.


"Dude, she saw the kid was like a star athlete and then she started to compare her childhood," she sighs.

"Bella's not an athlete," I say with a disbelieving laugh.

"Exactly, she's a couch potato with a high metabolism," she jokes, throwing her hands up.

We both laugh.

I love Bella and I definitely don't want her going down this road of self-doubt, because everything that she is makes her special.

"I'm going to head in," I say while I stand.



"She's trying really hard to not mope but—"

"She's failing," I finish for her.

Alice nods sadly.

"Okay, thanks," I sigh, wishing I could take this all away for Bella.

I open my front door and toe my shoes off.

I look around the corner and notice Bella glued to her laptop. No Hadley in sight.

"Where's Had?" I ask, taking a seat beside her.

She shifts into my side to get closer.

"She darted straight back to her room, I think she might be a horrible gift hider. Needs to work on her stealth," she says absently while her laptop holds her attention.

I take her laptop and start scrolling through the article she's reading.

"Junior League star Liam Dwyer," I read the headline out loud.

The kid and Bella's faces look very similar. Bella has her dad's coloring but she favors Renee more than she does Charlie. The same goes for her brother. He's blonde like his father but his face is Renee.

I skim the article.

He's a year or so older than Hadley. A brilliant soccer star from the looks of it, he won the regionals for his team in Jacksonville.

"What else have you learned?" I ask her softly as I hold her laptop hostage.

She sighs.

"Her wedding to Phil was a big deal, she played it down in her letter but it was in the society pages in Jacksonville," she explains quietly. "They had Liam before they got married."

I close her laptop, place it on the coffee table, and wrap my arms around her.

"You know the only way that you're going to get answers is to reach out to Renee herself, because right now you are punishing yourself with all of this research you are doing," I tell her honestly. "I tell Had this all the time about social media and the kids in her grade that are on it. People play happy families, just because you see someone happy online doesn't mean that's what they are."

I feel her nod against me.

"You're right," she mumbles. "I don't know why this is fucking with me so much."

"Because you thought your mother abandoned you and that isn't the case. You just want the truth," I say with a shrug.

She looks up at me and I can see her tears welling in her eyes.

I cup her cheek and lean down to kiss her.

"I love you," she murmurs.

I blink in surprise.

She looks up cautiously through her lashes. This is her moment and even though she gave me hell for the timing of my declaration, I wouldn't ruin this for her.

I didn't throw those three words around and I knew she didn't either.

She leans her forehead against mine.

"I get why you said it when you did," she confesses quietly.

"You do, huh?" I ask lightly.

Our breaths are fanning our faces and I would give anything to throw her over my shoulder to carry her down to my room but I knew I couldn't.

"You couldn't hold it back. I get why you said it, I was there for you during a difficult time—"

"And I realized how important you were to me," I finish for her.

She nods, giving my lips another peck.

"You need to be surrounded by people you love while you spiral."

"By God, I think she's got it," I tease.

She hides her face against my chest but I can feel her smile.

Hadley walks into the living room trying to look casual. I realize that we need to work on her poker face.

Bella looks up and smiles at her.

"You done hiding my gifts Santa Hadley?" she asks innocently.

"We couldn't find anything for you," Had lies.

I can't contain my laugh, which earns me a glare from my daughter.

"Interesting, I couldn't find anything for you either," Bella muses.

Hadley eyes her skeptically.

"Very interesting," she responds.

I shake my head and go into the kitchen.

I can hear them bantering with each other while I grab a drink from the fridge. I also hear Esme arrive knowing that she and Hadley are going to be heading out to visit Rose.

"Where's your Dad?" Es asks.

"He's right here," I say, walking in with my water in hand.

My sister and Bella throw kisses to each other in greeting. I have to hold back rolling my eyes at how ridiculous they can get.

Hadley hugs Bella and then hugs me saying her goodbyes.

"Had, you got your mom's gift?" I ask, seeing that she's empty-handed.

"Oh yeah," she remembers, running to her room.

"That was nice of you," Es says while I shake my head.

"She got her mom a gift," I say, shrugging her off.

We got it before we left for Washington and she planned to give it to her when we got back but with us being back now seemed like a good time to give it to her.

I paid for it, but Hadley knew what she wanted to get her mother. Rose was into drawing and designed her sleeves, so Hadley got her some drawing supplies to take with her to the rehab facility.

She wanted her to have something she liked with her while she was away. I thank God that Hadley is so thoughtful and compassionate because I don't think she got that from either me or Rose.

"Got it," Hadley says, running past me to her shoes.

I give her another hug before she and Esme are on their way.

Bella's back on her laptop. I know that before her revelation that her mother wanted to be in her life, Bella had been writing a lot. I hope that she's writing instead of cyber-stalking the Dwyer family.