Gen 1 Ch 14: We Will Get Through This

Simon’s POV

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I must admit I received quite a shock when I saw my teenage daughter leaving for prom wearing a cropped halter top and a mini skirt.

“I won’t be late, Dad, don’t worry!” she reassured. “Prom ends at 10 and I’m coming straight home after that.”

“I’m glad you’re going to prom, hon,” I told her, “I guess you’re breaking out of your loner shell?”

“I wasn’t going to go,” she admitted “But I have a date, so…”

A date? Who? At that moment there was a knock on the door “That must be Micah!” Irene announced, and hurried outside. I just followed. A kid who I have seen skating around town and generally hanging out with the rocker crowd in school was waiting for my firstborn, looking at the clock and at the limo waiting outside on the street.

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“Mind if I talk to him, Irene?” I made clear to my daughter that I wanted to know what the kid was like.

“Uh, sure?” she looked uncomfortable. I understood, of course—she didn’t want to look bad in front of her prom date.

“Hello, I’m Simon, Irene’s dad. And you are?” I introduced myself to the boy.

“Micah Sheppard,” the boy introduced himself. “I promise we’ll be back as soon as the dance is over and we can hail a cab.”

“That’s great. But tell me more about yourself, Micah.”

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“Well, not much to say. I like to skateboard and play the guitar, mostly. I even take lessons for the later. As for the dance, I promise not to do anything you wouldn’t approve of,” the boy reassured me.

“Alright then, have fun you two,” I waved them toward their ride. Who knew? My daughter was going out with someone. He didn’t seem too bad either—musicians were in the family already, so if things got serious with them, it won’t be anything new. Not that I would worry any less, of course.

While the teens left for their dance, we had an impromptu movie night—just me, Celeste, and Gerald.

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“Does Irene have a boyfriend?” Gerald was ever curious.

Celeste began to giggle “Just because she’s going to prom with the boy doesn’t mean he’s her boyfriend! I went to prom with someone entirely different that your Dad, and I wasn’t even dating the guy. What about you Si?”

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“Um, I actually didn’t go to prom, to be honest,” I admitted “I just headed to the library and stayed there until the thing was over.”

“Oh no! Why?” my wife was genuinely surprised.

“I was much more shy back then than I am today. Didn’t feel like hanging with my classmates that I had nothing in common,” I admitted. “I’m glad Irene doesn’t have the same problem and is breaking out of her shell a bit.”

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“Well, I’m going to take Katy to prom!” announced Gerald. “And I’m going to be her boyfriend too.”

Celeste and I shared a smile. He was so crushing on that girl!

True to her word, Irene was home a bit after 10. Smiling from ear to ear, she not only served everyone dinner, but later offered to clean the dishes.

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“Prom rocked! And Micah was actually a good dancer, didn’t step on my feet even once. He asked me to be his girlfriend, can you believe that?!” my daughter was ecstatic. Whatever that boy was doing, he not only got her to attend a social event but to be happy afterwards. Good job, I’d say.

Irene’s POV

Yes, I did agree to be Micah’s girlfriend. What can I say? The guy had a lot of charm and he was really fun. Why not give it a try?

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Gerald was all ears after I came home from prom. He wanted to hear every detail about the dance and even let me put up our prom picture in our room.

“I’m going to ask Katy to prom when we’re in high school. You think she’d go with me?” he was curious.

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“Why not? She’d be silly to refuse,” I reassured my little brother

After a while, it was time for Gerald to join me in high school. We were throwing a joint party for him and Katy, who after Maya’s passing, spent more time at our place than ever.

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Micah was there too. After we became an item, he also visited my place quite often and my parents totally didn’t mind. They were wary of him at first, with his juvenile delinquent image, but came around when they saw that I was happy with him.

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After our fight, Mom and I took to going out to fish after school again. It was therapeutic for both of us since we got to talk to one another, enjoy nature, and relax at the same time together. She and I discussed a whole lot of things, from life and relationships to the more random topics in the news.

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It was during one of these outings that it all began, at least for me.

“Wow, great catch,” I admired after Mom reeled in a huge fish.

“It’s all about proper baiting, hon,” she smiled. And quickly bent over, holding her stomach, throwing up.

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“Mom? Is everything alright? You don’t look so good,” I realized.

“It’s nothing, sweetie,” she tried to brush the episode off like it was normal.

“Doesn’t look like nothing to me. You’ve been way pale all day. You know you aren’t getting any younger and have to take care of yourself,” I tried to reason with her.

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Mom looked really worried and slowly nodded “I know sweetie. I already have an appointment with the doctor tomorrow.”

So this wasn’t the first time she felt sick? And she was putting of the appointment. Was there a reason to worry? I really hoped Mom’s symptoms weren’t anything serious.

That night, even Gerald’s joyous announcement that he and Katy were officially dating didn’t make my mood better. Who knew what was going on with my mother?

Celeste’s POV

I dreaded going to the doctor about my symptoms. That’s why I put the hospital visit off for so long.

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Truth be told, I’ve felt somewhat strange ever since before the kids have gone to high school.

I was just enjoying the outdoors with Simon. He was gardening and I was watching him. He always looked so at peace in his garden.

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“I bet you never imagined this garden to turn out so well,” I reminisced.

“It certainly exceeded my expectations,” he admitted. “Just like my love life.”

That was my husband—never missing the chance to be sweet. “I have to admit, I did catch the best fish in the sea, too.”

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He smiled, appreciating the return pun “You’re adorable.”

“Well, I have to keep up with you, right?”

Inside, my fish still waited to be fed. After I was done, I was planning to go out and buy some groceries, but all of a sudden, I’ve felt the worst dizziness in my life. It was so bad that I spent the rest of the day lying on the couch, not doing anything and hardly moving.

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When the family asked if I was ok, I told them I was just tired, which wasn’t a lie. I did really feel less energy than usual.

At first, I thought I was pregnant again, and while the idea of having a child at this age terrified me, I knew that was a good thing. But after several months passed and I was certainly not with child, I figured it was something worse.

I was going to go to the doctor then, but then the symptoms went away for a while and I assumed it was a simple food poisoning or brain flu. But now the dizziness, the nausea, and the weakness were back. From looking online, I knew that I had reasons to suspect a serious illness.

So, it shouldn’t have been too much a shock that day, when the doctor confirmed the facts—I was sick. Very, very sick.

After coming home with the news, I couldn’t think clearly. I just wanted to smash something, something solid, something that wasn’t killing me like the cancer was. I knew I was at a high risk, after what happened to my mother. I knew I should’ve been more vigilant, but wasn’t I? I made sure to eat all natural food, I spent hours outdoors, I stayed fit. Why was this happening?

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Simon found me in a desperate state when he got home from the store.

“Celi? What’s wrong? Talk to me,” he hurried to my side with a worried look.

“Simon…” I had trouble saying the facts out loud. It felt like they’d turn out to be some sort of a nightmare I’ll wake up from soon, if I didn’t say it out loud. “I’ve been to the doctor. I’m sick. Just like Mom.”

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The dogs surrounded us, as if feeling that I needed the extra companionship at the moment.

Simon took the news like a trooper “That doesn’t mean everything is over. I mean it. Science has come a long way from where it was even a couple years ago. The doctors have advanced medications now. We can afford it, don’t worry about that. And you know I’ll be there with you every step of the way.”

“What if it isn’t enough?” I knew that cancer research has come a long way, but still, for so many it wasn’t successful.

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“Well, we’ll try, hon.” He brought me into his lap and enveloped me in a big hug, as a mother would. “And who knows? I have hope that you’ll get through this. You’ve got a fighter spirit.”

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For the first time since the start of my sickness, I felt something other than the awful dread of feeling like the world was ending. My children and the person I loved were right here with me. I wasn’t alone. If anything, that would give me the spirit to fight for my life.

Simon’s POV

Even though I knew Celeste had a history of cancer in the family, news of her sickness hit me like a ton of bricks. She was too young to go just yet. No, she was supposed to grow old properly, to see our kids graduate, have kids of their own. If I had it my way, she would play with her own grandchildren.

Of course, soon our hopes for a fast recovery came crashing down. After the first round of treatment, Celeste’s sickness didn’t change in the least. The doctors were giving her what medication they could, but no changes for the better happened at all. The disease, in Celeste’s case was acting differently than it had in other patients, they said.

I had some ideas as to why that was. And some ideas for why Celeste got sick in the first place.

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The cemetery was empty on that rainy day. Good. I didn’t want anyone asking why I was “playing around” in the pond. Of course, I wasn’t here to play; I was here to get water samples from that pond behind the chapel.

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Crouching down on my knees and making sure my hands didn’t touch the water, I picked up a good amount of the liquid in a vial. I thought I might need a bit more, but I didn’t want to bring more energy from that place into the house.

At home I tested my sample for anything I could find. Of course, the water didn’t seem very different than the water in other ponds. What did attract my attention was that there was much less bacteria in the sample than would have been in any other pond. It was surprising there were any fish at all in there, considering that fact.

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Wanting to test out the theory I had in mind, I went outside and poured the remaining water in my sample on one of my plants, which was thriving and always brought in good fruits.

The next day, that plant has wilted. Just as I had expected. Something in that pond was harmful to life. I didn’t know what it was, but maybe others did?

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After long hours of searching around on the internet, from sources reputable and questionable I came to realize that the fish that swam in that pond were rather infamous. Their origin was not known, but it has been noticed that in every body of water that they appeared in, most other life soon died out. The fish, however, only thrived when that happened. It was rumored that they could drain energy from things and in some places were considered to bring bad omens. For that they were “fondly” called Deathfish.

Well, I thought, leaning back after reading about this for hours. Why were they in Hidden Springs?

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More research revealed that the few places that these Deathfish were rumored to inhabit were located not so far from famous places of miracle. Places of miracle? What were they?

Alright, those were places that were rumored to have very good energy, where a lot of medicinal hot springs were located (check), and where a lot of other phenomena took place. Also check, if my stranger garden plants were any proof.

But was there any way to combat the effects of the Deathfish, I wondered? Some information sources maintained that since the fish were harmful to life, there had to be, within reasonable vicinity, something that had the opposite effect. But what?

I couldn’t find anything, no matter where I looked. While people knew a reasonable amount about the fish, there wasn’t anything about the counter.

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Well, I would just have to find it then. There was no other choice. Celeste was only getting worse, and I promised I would find a cure. I was going to keep that promise.

 

Gen 1 Ch 13: Teenager Already

This is mostly an Irene-centered chapter and most of it is from her point of view.

Irene’s POV

Today was my birthday. I was turning 14 and will no longer be considered a kid. Good. I was done with elementary school! It was boring beyond comparison and I could only hope high school would be better. Or that, at least, the teachers would be more competent.

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“Morning, sis,” Gerald shuffled out of the bedroom, looking sheepish. “I guess you won’t play with me anymore?”

“What makes you say that!? I wouldn’t abandon you, Gerald, what makes you think I would?”

“I dunno,” he mumbled “You’ll be bored with me when you’re having fun with high schoolers, no?”

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“Come here, you doofus,” I pulled him into a hug “There’s no way I’ll find some high schoolers more fun than my own brother. Besides, you’ll join me in high school soon enough.”

We played outside for a while, until the guests began to fill in.

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“Katy!” Gerald rushed to Maya’s foster kid with a huge smile on his face, “You made it.”

“Of course,” the girl responded “You did invite me, after all.”

Was it just me, or was my little brother crushing on Katy? No wonder he always got shy when she was here. It was sweet.

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Soon Mom called us all inside and we headed for the cake.

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“Happy Birthday,” sang the guests, as I officially became a teenager. Tomorrow will be my first day of high school, but for now I’ll just have to wait out till the party was over. Seriously, I didn’t mind these people’s company, but not all of them at once!

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Well, high school was certainly more interesting than elementary school. These teachers knew what they were doing, at least our math teacher did. That’s why I was sitting out here, in fresh air trying to get some more work done and understand these equations. Luckily, I had a pretty solid math base already and it wasn’t too difficult. Still, this homework juiced me!

Needing to cool off, I decided to walk at least part of the way home. I didn’t want to end up yelling at my folks because I was annoyed by the amount of my assignments.

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Walking by the police station felt a strange sense of being watched. Turning around I discovered one of the guys from my school, sitting by the fence and humming something, but most certainly staring in my direction. Ok, what was his deal?

“Is there any particular reason you’re staring at me?” I confronted him.

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The guy’s face became quickly annoyed “What makes you think I’m staring exactly at you?”

“Oh, I don’t know, a pair of eyes?” I retorted “That gives of creeper vibes, you know.”

“Oh well, maybe I’m trying to give off creeper vibes?” he offered. “But seriously, I’m trying to annoy the folks inside the station enough to return my skateboard. They confiscated it because, apparently, I was skating in a ‘No Skate Zone’. I figure if I’m enough a bother they’ll just give up and get it back.”

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I couldn’t help but laugh “That’s the craziest plan I’ve heard of. And not in a good way. You know, they’ll just be angrier at you and make sure you never get your board back.”

“Really?” his face soaked in the facts. “Well that sucks. Do you have a better plan?”

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“Maybe,” I offered, sitting down next to him. “But it involves some effort. I’m Irene by the way. You?”

“Micah. Micah Sheppard,” he introduced himself. “So what’s your genius plan?”

“Nothing genius, Micah. Just common sense and some schmoozing,” I admitted.

“Ugh, why do we have to play along with the authorities?” he sounded annoyed.

“Do you want your board back or not?”

He nodded.

“Then let’s go.”

Three hours later, we were walking out of the theater, with the police officer’s honest promise to return the skateboard to Micah on Monday without any fines needing to be paid.

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“How did you know that helping the officers out during their play performance would make them give back my skateboard?” he wanted to know.

“Just some common sense. They had a banner on the station door about their officers’ play happening at the theater tonight. The banner called for volunteers. Helping at the theater is a sure way to show them you’re not a juvenile delinquent and that you appreciate fine arts. And they were pretty happy for extra audience. Happy officers make friendly officers, see?” I explained.

“Well, thanks for the help, genius. Hey play rock-paper-scissors with me for a bit, will you?” he asked.

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“Umm, alright.”

After I lost for the last time, he smiled “The loser owes the winner their phone number!”

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“Seriously,” I groaned “It’s no big deal, you just had to ask.” After exchanging phone numbers, I headed home. It was now pretty late and I was sure my parents were worried. But at least I met Micah. He was pretty cool, even if he didn’t necessarily see the easiest most efficient way to accomplish a goal. And, I had to admit, despite the crazy hair and rocker wannabe style, he was pretty cute.

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At home, everyone was asleep. I hoped they didn’t worry too much—I’ll explain that I ended up having to help a friend out, which was true.

The next morning began as usual. Gerald was doing TV exercises, Mom was brushing the dogs, and Dad was out in the garden.

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“Morning, guys,” I called out, while checking my phone for anything new.

“Young lady, do you have any idea how worried we were last night? Where in the world have you been until 12 at night?” my mother blew up at me.

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“Mom! I was just helping a friend out. I didn’t realize it would take so long, I’m sorry!”

“Sorry? You could have texted us, at least to tell us where you were!”

“I know, I’m sorry Mom, really. I ended up at this play event and didn’t realize until it ended how late it was. I came right home afterwards, though,” I realized I should have texted home last night, but you know how they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

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I was still in trouble, I knew that. Breakfast that morning was very awkward, with both parents glaring daggers at me and Gerald not really understanding why—I guess he’s gone to sleep early last night and didn’t realize there was much drama going on.

I didn’t help matters either “How long are you guys going to not talk to me? You are supposed to be the mature adults, after all.”

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“Don’t start with me, Irene” my father shot back “You know we’re right to be worried. Stuff happens to young people and we don’t want it to happen to you.”

“Oh come on! I’m not a baby! What are you trying to keep me in a cage?” I shouted back, knowing even then that I was making a mistake

“Irene, don’t yell at me. I don’t care how old you are, I still am your father!”

Ok, no thanks. My father almost never got angry, and I didn’t want to be the one causing any outbursts from him. It was bad enough that both Mom and I had awful tempers. Rather than engage in the conflict I headed to my room to cool down.

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After a few minutes by myself I already felt calmer. Then the text came. “Hey, wanna hang out? Micah.”

“Yes, where and when?” I texted back.

“Meet me at the junkyard in half an hour.”

Good, getting away from home was a good idea right now. And Micah would be the perfect distraction with his antics.

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“Leaving, sis?” asked Gerald as I exited the house.

“Yeah, I need a breather right now. See you later, bro,” I waved as I left to meet with my new friend.

Celeste’s POV

I knew I shouldn’t have lost my temper with Irene the way I did, but I couldn’t help it—we were so worried for her last night that all the nerves from last night showed themselves this morning. And it didn’t help that she had a temper to match.

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Now she was gone from the house again and I kept thinking over what our conversation trying to figure out why I didn’t handle the situation better. As I watched the swimming fish in the aquarium, I remembered my own upbringing. My father and brother were very traditional and often tried to limit how much time I was away from home. They didn’t do it out of strictness, of course. They did care about my wellbeing. But that didn’t detract from the fact that I grew to resent that constant overlook and constantly craved independence. I never wanted my own child to feel that way.

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Soon, Gerald’s friend Kate Forbes came over and I was temporarily distracted from my worries by their playful interactions outside. Maya’s foster daughter was nothing like me in appearance, but I knew from long discussions with her that she was as environmentally concerned and head-strong as me. It was somewhat amusing that Gerald was crushing on someone so similar to his own mother.

“Hey, don’t worry, Celi,” Simon approached me. “Irene won’t do anything crazy, I’m sure of it.”

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“Thanks, Si. I’m just sad that we had a fight. I didn’t want to be that parent, who flips out so fast.”

“Well, you were right to worry. She’ll understand. She just needs to cool down.”

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I hoped so, I really did. That evening, she still wasn’t home when it got dark. I began to worry, but then Simon got a text from her. Irene was at the local karaoke club and she promised she’ll be home before midnight, telling us not to worry, that she wasn’t alone, and that she’ll get a ride home. Not that these facts made us worry less, but she was making an effort to calm us down.

I knew then that I raised a daughter, who despite having my temper also had a good head on her shoulders.

Irene’s POV

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It didn’t take long for Micah to show up at the junkyard, even though he lived quite far away from the place.

“Yo! Why the long face?” he asked, seeing my upset expression,

“I ended up in an argument with my parents. That almost never happens and now that it did, it really ruined my mood, that’s all,” I explained, somewhat reluctantly.

“That sucks,” he agreed. “Fighting with the folks is never fun. What was the reason, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“They flipped ‘cause I came home late yesterday and didn’t text them about it,” I admitted. “But seriously, I can’t predict every situation in life, how was I to know I’ll be busy till dark?”

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“Sorry. If you haven’t been helping me out, this situation wouldn’t have happened,” he realized.

“Dude! I made the decision to go to the theater of my own free will; I could’ve walked away from you yesterday. It wasn’t your fault,” I hurried to reassure him. The last thing I wanted was for Micah, who was supposed to distract me from the problem, to be all apologetic.

“Say what,” he offered, “why don’t we turn today around for the better? Let’s go out on the town!”

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“Aren’t we already?” I laughed.

“Yeah, but the junkyard is pretty dead today and there isn’t any cool thing going on. Let’s head into town. What do you say about a karaoke bar?”

“Yeah, that can be fun. Music is always good entertainment,” I agreed.

The bar was pretty empty, considering that it was a Saturday.

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“Well, that sucks. I thought we could listen to some songs,” I complained.

“Listen?” Micah laughed. “Come on to the stage. We’ll be the ones singing!”

“What! I don’t sing!” I tried to resist. “I’m totally tone deaf!”

“Everyone is tone deaf at some point. Try it! Karaoke is pretty fun,” he insisted, picking out a popular duet song “Seriously, I’m going to need a second performer for this.”

Oh, well. I might as well try it.

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Screenshot-43.jpgAs the song started, Micah took the lead part, and all I had to do was follow along. Surprisingly, we didn’t sound half-bad. But of course, it turned out that Micah had a great voice.

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As we sang, I couldn’t help but notice how natural he looked on stage. Maybe the whole wannabe rocker act wasn’t totally an act after all.

As we finished and he belted out the last lines of the song, the few people at the bar gave us a solid applause.

“Wow, you’re a really good singer!” I complimented him.

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“Thanks, my music teachers are due for their thanks. I’ve been taking after school music lessons since I was 5,” he admitted.

“Looks like they paid off,” I admitted.

“I’ll play guitar for you, someday. I’m actually a way better guitarist than I am a singer,” he smiled in a way that made me wonder why my face was heating up. I mean, I was usually pretty level with my emotions around the other sex.

“Your parents must be really proud of your talent,” I wondered.

“My dad is. He’s also a musician and he’s always been supportive of my musical leanings. Mom always thought it was a waste of time and kept urging me to do something more serious, like mathematics or physics. It doesn’t matter now though. She doesn’t live with us anymore,” he admitted.

“Oh. I’m sorry,” I expressed, feeling bad for my friend.

“Oh, don’t be. Dad and I are actually pretty much happier now. At least there’s no more yelling between them. It might sound cynical to say that about my own parents, but I never understood why they married. Dad was always really serious with his music—he never planned to change his life and Mom knew it. So, why she married a guy who couldn’t provide her the lifestyle she wanted, I don’t understand. It was totally not a shotgun wedding, so she didn’t have an unplanned pregnancy to worry about. Anyways, she actually met some rich producer dude and got with him a couple of years ago.” He went quite for a bit. “And I think even if she didn’t meet that guy, they would’ve called it quits soon. That relationship just couldn’t be fixed by this point.”

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“Well, that just blows. At least you and your dad are handling it pretty well,” I noted, suddenly realizing that I had my arm around him. Ok, Irene, I told myself, that was so not cool—the guy was just telling me about the end of his parents’ marriage and I’m making a move on him?

Micah however didn’t seem to mind and actually leaned in closer “Well, like I said, its fine. They’re both now dating people they’re happier with, so I’m happy too.”

“That’s good, I guess, that you’re not upset. I can’t imagine what I’d do if my parents decided to separate. Probably something really immature and angry,” I admitted. “Which reminds me; I should let them know where I am. One argument about my absence was one too many for me.”

Sending the text I was too aware of Micah sitting close to me. It unnerved me that I allowed myself to get so handsy with him when I barely knew him. Micah clearly didn’t mind a bit, since he was smiling like nothing was wrong.

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“So, I was wondering,” he ventured “I know prom is kind of overrated, but hey, it could be fun. Would you go with me? I mean, you don’t have a date yet, do you?”

“No. No I don’t,” I measured him up. “And you’re not going with anyone else?”

“Nope. Not it a relationship,” he stated as a matter of fact. “Although, our date seems to be going pretty well, so I’d say this could be a start of a cool thing.”

“Us?” Was he flirting with me? Of course he was. “Dating?”

“Well, I know you think I’m cute,” he smiled slyly “And I think you’re cute. And we’re both single. And I think we have pretty good chemistry.”

Woah, this guy was going fast. Although, I couldn’t say I didn’t find it attractive. “How do we know that we have chemistry? We only know each other for two days,” I argued.

“There’s no time limit on these things,” he looked at me flirtatiously. “Besides we can always double check if the chemistry is there.”

“Oh yeah? How?”

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“Like this.” And he pulled me into a passionate kiss that lasted for longer than I previously believed possible. Boy, he was good. But he was right, I did like him.

“Alright,” I managed as we pulled away from one another. “Prom is on. We’ll see where it goes from there on.”

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Coming home I was both exhilarated from what turned out to be my first ever date and worried that my parents were once again angry with me for staying out late. I did send them a message to reassure them, but maybe they were still angry I left in the first place?

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My parents were both still up. I thought they were going to yell at me, but they both pulled me into a hug instead.

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“What? You aren’t mad at me? I’m sorry I just left, but I didn’t want to keep fighting with you two.” I was confused to their behavior.

“I know, hon,” explained my mother. “You did make us very worried last night, but I know I also overreacted this morning.”

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“Mom, you did nothing wrong! If anything, I understand why you were angry,” I exclaimed.

Mom laughed “Oh, yes young lady. I certainly am going to establish some rules about when you can and can’t be out alone. But also I want us to be able to talk things out peacefully.”

“Deal,” I agreed. “I can follow the rules and I’m all for talking things out!”

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“Good. Now go to sleep before your brother comes asking where you are!” urged both parents.

I headed to sleep happy. This day started off horribly, but it certainly turned around for the better.

Gen 1 Ch 12: Creepy

 

Back in Hidden Springs, our lives resumed their regular flow. I had my gardening and research, Celeste had her fishing, Irene put up with school for the sake of not flunking, and Gerald enjoyed himself only as a little kid could.

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Around this time, my produce was becoming rather renowned around town and the local restaurants wanted to buy from me. Happily, I provided them with as much good produce as I possibly could. In return, they requested that I deliver my homegrown cheeseplants next. Cheeseplants! I knew they were most likely laughing at me for some reason and simply decided that their company was best avoided from now on. I mean, cheese doesn’t grow on plants—even babies knew that.

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Of course, when I got home I planted a couple of pieces of cheese in the garden, just to prove that it simply wasn’t possible.

That evening, our family was dining all together, as usual. Irene was acting out the scenes from her favorite fairytale.

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“And they uncovered the secret of the missing treasures, for which the king made them all knights and gave them lots of land!”

“That’s great for the knights, dear. Now, come and eat your mac and cheese before it gets ice cold,” Celeste urged her. “Hi Si, how’s the garden coming along? And the research?”

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“It’s good. Everything is in perfect bloom. I didn’t ever expect the garden to bring such good income. And the research is coming together perfectly well too—it mostly centers on how fertile everything here is. I mean, I know for a fact it’s not like that in other places. I’m still trying to figure out why it’s like this.”

“Dad!” Gerald ran into the room. “Food!”

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“Yes, buddy, let’s eat now.” I gave him his bottle and settled down with the girls.

After dinner Celeste went out to fish and I headed back out in the garden. Tomorrow was Gerald’s birthday and I wanted to be free most of the day for the party and for spending time with the family.

I was tired pretty early from working in the garden all day and went to sleep pretty early that night. I woke up early, around 4 am, realizing that Celeste only got home and into bed around that time. Where was she until now? If she wasn’t sleeping so sweetly, I would have asked her right at that moment.

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That day, after Irene returned from school, the party began. Gerald blew out his candles and became a grown kid. It seemed so crazy—it felt like only yesterday that he was born and now he’ll be going to school with Irene. Hopefully he’ll find it more interesting than she did.

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What I’ve noticed from the start was that while Irene only interacted with the local kids out of necessity, Gerald was always happy to chat with everyone. And by extension, that was forcing Irene to be more interactive with people, if she wanted to spend time with her brother. That would be an interesting experience for both of them.

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After the party was over and the guests left, the kids headed to their own room and I was going to ask Celeste about her outing from the night but she headed to sleep very early, having been tired and worn out all day. What could have caused that?

Irene’s POV

“Hey Irene, do you know the answer for number five?” asked Gerald “Our math teacher isn’t too clear in class.”

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“Sure, bro. It’s 24. Here, let me take a look at your homework,” I offered.

My brother’s handwriting was so impeccable he could teach calligraphy. “It looks like you have everything correct, you just put a minus instead of a plus here,” I admired “But I understand, I had Ms. Tildon previously—she can really go off on tangents when explaining stuff.”

“How come you’re considered a bad student, sis?” Gerald wanted to know “I mean, you’re really smart, but pretend to not be?”

“I just don’t like it when they want me to do too much work that’s all. I mean look at all our honor students, they’re constantly expected to stick around, helping out the teachers and doing extra assignments.”

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“Oh yeah, like Katy had to do last time—she ended up cleaning the bug cage at school for extra credit. But why do you want them to think you’re a bad student?”

“Not a bad student. I mean I do all my work and make sure I don’t make too many mistakes. And I always make sure to ace the tests. I just don’t want to end up on any honor rolls. Not at this school, at least,” I explained. “And that way I know what the teachers are like to the less stellar students at school.”

“But why?” my brother still didn’t understand, despite being a perceptive kid.

“I just hate being in the spotlight, that’s all. They think I’m a bad student and don’t bother me.”

“You aren’t really a people person, I see,” Gerald understood.

“I’m a certain people person. I like you, I like our parents, I like our family from Appaloosa Plains. I guess Aunts Maya and Madeline aren’t bad either. I just don’t like most people at school.”

“Maybe you will later on?” Gerald was curious.

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“We’ll see. Things change,” I agreed. “Wanna play some soccer now? Oh, and here’s your birthday gift, it’s a cool rock from the river.”

“Neat! Let’s play!”

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My brother was an athletic kid, who loved all things sports. I wondered if he was going to pursue athletics as a sport later in life. Of course, there was plenty of time for us both to decide what we wanted to do in the future.

“Watch out! And the mighty Gerald Meadows scores!” Yelled Gerald after making a perfect goal. “Come on sis, head in the game!”

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“Alright, alright! But you watch it now, I’m not letting you win anymore.” Of course that was a lie—even though I was good at sports, Gerald was much better. At first I got angry about it, but I could never stay mad at my brother too long.

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When we got home that night, Mom was still out. I wondered why. Usually she invited me on her fishing trips when I was done with homework. But lately she didn’t. And she was, I don’t know how to explain it, acting strange? Like she had something on her mind at all times.

Dad, Gerald, and I ate dinner at our usual time. I could see Dad was worried about Mom, but he was trying to look normal for us.

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When we went to bed, Gerald kept asking me where Mom was and if she and Dad had a fight or something. I honestly didn’t know, but reassured him that everything was fine. After he fell asleep, I stayed up a long time, just worried about what was going on.

Simon’s POV

My day was going normally, until I discovered that the cheese I planted actually sprouted. That’s right, the cheese was actually growing as a plant. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to pinch myself to see if I was still sleeping.

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Of course, that prompted me to study the soil more. After all, that kind of thing wasn’t normal, right? I spent most of the day going between the garden and my notes, trying to figure out what was going on. Eventually, it got dark and I then realized that neither my wife nor kids were home, a fact which worried me. Of course, Hidden Springs was a pretty safe place, but why tempt fate?

Eventually Irene and Gerald came home. They were wondering where Mom was. I didn’t want them to see how worried I was so I tried to act like everything was fine, except this was not the first time that Celeste was gone late at night. These absences were really unnerving me. I would’ve thought she was cheating on me, except I knew we were both not the kinds of people to do that. And honestly, I would rather be cheated on and know that she’s safe and sound with someone else than think she is somewhere unsafe.

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Eventually the kids went to sleep and I was still waiting on the couch, expecting her to walk in, but she didn’t.

I don’t know how I got too bed, but the next thing I knew, it was 4 in the morning, I was lying on the bed feeling like I had ran several marathons, and Celeste was still not home.

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My mind went into panic mode. Something made me look at the aquariums. One of the fish in there was long, black with wing-like fins, and the other fish, even sharks and piranhas kept away from it. Something about that fish made me shudder. When did Celeste bring it in?

A text on my phone got my attention. It was from Maya, who apparently texted late last night. “Simon, sorry to bother, but Celeste isn’t picking up. I forgot my purse in the cemetery yesterday; maybe Celeste brought it with her? I’ll stop by and get it, if so.”

The cemetery. Celeste was there and Maya was there with her, then. And now Celeste wasn’t picking up the phone?

Without a second thought, I headed toward the cemetery. Something was telling me this was the right train of thought. Once inside, I headed deeper into the burial ground. And there, fishing at 4:30 in the morning, was my wife.

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On the one hand, I should have been happy that she wasn’t cheating on me with anyone and was only doing what she normally did. But why was she in the cemetery at night?

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“Celeste,” I called out. No response. “Celeste!” she cocked her head to the side, as if hearing a voice from far away. Finally I approached her and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Simon…?” she realized I was next to her “Why are you here?”

“I could ask you the same question! Why are you here, in the cemetery, alone at night?!” I think this was the first time I ever yelled at anyone, but I was really terrified to find her here, so entranced.

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“Night? Simon, look, the fish in there are so pretty,” she pointed at the pond behind the cemetery chapel, where even from here, I could see more of those winged black fish.

“Celeste, have you been coming here at nights? Why and for how long? You haven’t been sleeping through nights, fishing here.”

“Simon, it’s nothing!” she was about to argue, until she almost fainted and would have fallen if I didn’t catch her. “Simon?”

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A look of realization came over her face. “Simon, have I been coming here continuously to fish?”

“Have you not realized that? Yes! And I’m sorry for yelling earlier, I just worry for you, and the kids were wondering if everything is ok.”

She hugged me close and whispered “I’m sorry. Let’s go home, ok?”

On the way home, she shivered a bit, since it was nighttime and she was only wearing her shirt and jeans. “I didn’t realize I became so entranced with that pond. I wonder why.”

“It’s alright. You’re coming home now. But first eat something.”

As soon as she had some food, I made sure she headed straight to bed. If she spent so much time fishing at the cemetery, she must have been worn out from the long nights out.

It was already morning by the time the whole affair was over and the kids have woken up.

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“Is Mom ok?” Gerald came over to ask me and I could see Irene peeking out from their bedroom as well. They were indeed worried.

“Yes, she’s tired so she is asleep now. But she’s going to be fine.

But as the kids were headed for school, I couldn’t help but wonder if Celeste’s excursions to the cemetery were as harmless as she thought. Hidden Springs was different, in a way few other places were. It had freaking cheeseplants, it was so fertile. Some of that energy had to be supernatural. Having come from a family that boasted a few supernatural creatures down the line, I knew that they existed. Also I knew that not all supernatural energy was good.

Quickly, I threw out the black winged fish from the aquarium. Something about the pond it was from was simply not good. And I didn’t want the energy of that place to be present in our house. It was just… creepy.

———————————————————————————————————————

Over the next few days, things have gone back to normal. There were no more excursions to the cemetery in the middle of the night, and my wife no longer seemed to be entranced by some supernatural force. She didn’t even go fishing for a bit—I guess the whole situation freaked her out.

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Of course, not for long. “I’m heading out to fish, Si! Don’t worry, not to the cemetery, just to the usual spot at the park,” she hurried to calm me down. “I won’t be heading to the cemetery any more, promise.”

“Alright, take care,” I urged, taking bewildered note on the burger and steak plants that also, surprisingly, sprouted along the cheeseplants. Whatever was causing this to be possible was straight up not normal.

Gerald’s POV

“Are you done with homework and the cakes?” my sister asked.

“Yeah, we can go play soon,” I pointed out. “Isn’t it great that Mom’s back?”

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Irene sighed. I think she expected that I haven’t noticed anything strange happening in the household, but she was forgetting that I noticed everything, just like she did. “I hoped you wouldn’t worry,” she admitted.

“Why? She’s my Mom too. Was she sick?”

“I don’t know, bro. But she didn’t seem like herself for the last few days and now she’s acting like her old self again. So, whatever was bothering her must be gone now.”

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“That’s good. But just for the future, I’m not that much younger than you—you can share stuff with me, ok?”

“Ok, bro, I’ll remember that!” Irene laughed splashing me with water from the nearby tree. She was acting boisterous, but I knew that she was doing that to cover how worried she was. After all, she and Mom were very close.

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Still, it was nice that things were back to normal. After all, we’ve missed having dinner as a family, with everyone present. Or having Mom tuck us in at night. Or just seeing her and Dad smiling at each other. It was good to have the family be normal again.

Irene’s POV

It was nice to “be back” as the family put it. To be honest, I still don’t understand what happened.

I simply went fishing and realized, while passing by the cemetery, that there was a pond there, which most people didn’t use for fishing and for that reason it must have had a whole lot of fish. So, I headed inside, and threw in the lure.

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At first the fish wouldn’t bite, but as it got dark, the catch increased. It was like the fish only woke up when the sun set.

Some of those fish fascinated me—the long winged black fish. They were so pretty and interesting! I just had to catch more of them.

So, I ended up altering my daily schedule to make sure I ended up at the pond after the sun had set. I didn’t notice the worried expressions of my family and the fact that I was much more fatigued than I normally would be didn’t alert me.

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Even on Gerald’s birthday, when I nearly fell asleep in the kids’ rocking chair, that didn’t make me realize that I had to cut my cemetery trips short.

It wasn’t until that moment when I was brought out of my haze by Simon yelling at the cemetery that I was able to realize that my trips were strange. I was ignoring everything I cared about for them. I was forgetting about my own wellbeing. I was endangering myself.

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What really freaked me out though, was the fact that it was Maya’s text that alerted Simon to my nightly whereabouts. Maya was there at the cemetery with me and I didn’t even remember that! Why was I so entranced by that pond?

This whole situation both baffled and scared me.

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After I told Simon, he simply hugged me and held me tight most of the night. Everything was back to normal. So, why couldn’t shake the feeling that I was forgetting something?

Gen 1 Ch 11: A Visit to Appaloosa Plains

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The ride to Appaloosa Plains was surprisingly easy. I guess it was a good thing Celeste finally agreed that we buy a family car— neither of us actually really needed it around town, but it was better to take a long trip in our car that we were familiar with and comfortable in. On the way, the kids had a lot of fun, especially when we passed all the farms, with cows and goats grazing in the open. Neither Irene nor Gerald had seen farm animals outside of the TV.

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Finally we approached the house, which looked big enough to house a dynasty, but was now only home to Celeste’s father and his wife. It was exactly the house one would expect to see in a movie about wholesome country living and made me think of home cooked meals and hay.

“Well, we’re here” announced Celeste, nervously rubbing her neck. I knew she wasn’t too eager to interact with her stepmother.

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“Just stay calm, love. Whatever’s done is done and you haven’t seen your father in too long to let her ruin it all” I encouraged.

“Calm!? That woman is the reason my father didn’t even know of my marriage. I’m going to tell her exactly what I think about her and her behavior!” Celeste contended. She picked up Gerald who began to fuss and strode towards the front door, ringing the bell with the authority of an attacking paladin. To both our surprises, the door was opened by none other than Roger.

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“Celi! You’re finally here. And is that my nephew? Wow, he’s all grown up now. Hi Irene” he waved at our daughter “I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m your uncle Roger.”

“I remember you, Uncle Roger!” waved Irene, happily.

“Roger?” Celeste was dumbstruck “I thought you guys didn’t live here anymore.”

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He snorted “Oh, sis. We’ve got a whole lot to tell you, but come in y’all, it’s hot out here.”

Inside Roger’s wife Tammy was waiting, surrounded by two boys slightly older that Irene and an old man who I assumed to be Celeste’s father.

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“Dad!” Celeste rushed towards the man, pulling him into a tight embrace “It’s been too long. I’m so sorry, I would have visited sooner, but the kids were too young for the road.”

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“It’s alright, sweetheart” replied Brandon Lewis “At least now they all get to see their ancestral home and their family. And I finally get to meet their father in person. But first things first, I’m sure you’re hungry from the road.”

While Celeste was catching up with her father, I was rather overwhelmed by my in-laws. One of Roger’s twins was instantly next to me, entertaining a virtual stranger with all sorts of excited jokes and tales and trying to catch Irene’s attention. Roger looked both proud of his kids and a bit tired out.

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“They love company, especially Mikey,” he explained half-apologetically. “We haven’t been getting out much since Emily was born.”

“How are they reacting to the baby sister?” I asked.

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“Surprisingly well. They’re disappointed that she can’t join in their misadventures yet, but I’m sure as soon as she can walk she’ll be causing as much trouble as these two,” he admitted, picking up Gerald. “But come on, Tammy would never let me hear the end of it if I leave you guys hungry.”

“You guys live here now?” I was surprised. “I thought, you know, your stepmother caused you guys to move out.”

“She did,” certified my brother in law but before he could elaborate, Mikey yelled out “Hooray, the witch is gone!”

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“What the kid said,” explained Roger. “Aileen isn’t here anymore. I told you, we’ve got lots to tell you.”

This was quite a bit of news. The family looked to be pretty happy with that woman’s absence; although I was sure Celeste would be very disappointed at missing her chance to yell at her stepmother.

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Over dinner, the family explained to us that after Roger’s family moved out Brandon Lewis fell sick, his wife Aileen was responsible for the mail in the household, along with plenty of other things, like ranch workers’ salaries, documentation, bills. No one thought anything bad would come off it.

Well, until the whole wedding invitation fiasco, that is. By that time, Brandon Lewis’s illness has lessened and he was able to take a look at his affairs. And this time, Roger was looking at the papers as well. What they discovered was, Aileen didn’t just hide the wedding invitations from the family—she has also been stealing from them. There were numerous times when she paid workers less, failed to cover important bills and, overall, skimmed as much from the Lewis family as she possibly could undetected.

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“It was a good thing we realized what was happening when we did,” admitted Brandon Lewis, as we all got comfortable in their living room. “Another month of non-payments on our bills and we would have lost the ranch too. As it is, we had so many fines to pay regarding violations of workers’ compensations and energy bills that we had to sell off some of the best horses.”

“Wow, dad,” Celeste was outraged “Why didn’t you tell me over the phone? And where is Aileen anyway?”

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“Well, dear, here’s the best part—as soon as she realized that we were on to what she was doing, Aileen made a very smart decision and got the hell out of here! Good riddance too,” my father-in-law laughed “I don’t know what I saw in that woman to begin with or how I could be blind enough to her character, but I’ll tell you one thing that is sure—ever since she’s been gone, my health problems have lessened considerably. I don’t know if she was doing something to sicken me or if it was just the side effect of living with that person near me, but I’ve felt more health and energy than I’ve had in years.”

“But where is she now?” I wondered “I’m pretty sure there could be some legal action you could take against her. Who knows what else she could’ve done to you and your family had you not discovered her machinations?”

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“Son, what’s done is done. The only reason Aileen was able to do any damage to this family was because I married her in the first place. I thought she was a good woman. I was proved wrong,” Brandon looked sad saying this “But I want this chapter of our lives to be over and for us to move on. Our family is reunited, I have wonderful grandkids and my in-laws are treating my kids well. Let’s not dwell on the negative.”

“Will you be ok though?” Celeste worried over her father “By yourself that is.”

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“Now that Roger, Tammy and the kiddos are living here, I never feel alone. I should’ve never let her drive my family away. But now that my house is a home again, I don’t feel so lonely. And you know, you can always visit, right? This is as much your home as ever.”

“I know Dad,” smiled Celeste. “That’s why we’re here.”

After Celeste went upstairs to get the kids settled in and meet her baby niece, Brandon pulled me to the side.

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“I’m glad we’re finally meeting face-to-face, young man. Even if the meeting is long overdue,” he joked.

“Huge apologies, once again. We both wanted to visit for the longest time, but didn’t know when to find the right time.”

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“That’s alright, Simon. At least you are here now. And I can see from the way you two interact that you and Celeste are just like Emily and I used to be. She’s happy with you, and that’s what matters to me. When her mother passed away, we all took it badly, but Celeste and Emily were extremely close and I know she felt lost without her mother’s presence. But whatever light went missing back then is now present in her again, and I think that’s because of you.”

“You have no idea how much these words mean to me, Mr. Lewis.”

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“Don’t thank me; I’m only stating the facts here. And feel free to call me Brandon or Dad,” he offered, pulling me into a tight hug. “You’re part of our family now.”

After our warm reunion, Celeste and I stayed with the Lewis family for two weeks. Celeste enjoyed all the time she got to spend with her family and Irene was ecstatic to interact with her cousins. Mikey was the boisterous jokester one and Jonny was the quieter but more intellectual one. They both enjoyed her horror stories and the three of them spent the weeks running around the barns and taking their turns cooing over Gerald and Emily.

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As our stay in Appaloosa came to an end, there was one last place we haven’t gone to—Celeste’s mother’s grave.

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It was already near dusk and there was a serene beauty at the cemetery, despite the fact that it was a place of sorrow. Celeste finally stopped near a gravestone that already had flowers placed near it.

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“Roger must have been here recently,” she noted quietly. Her voice was already tearing up a bit and when I glanced away from the grave at her, she was crying.

“Are you…ok?”

“Yeah,” she managed through the tears “I just haven’t been here in a long time. Crazy isn’t it how the only thing that can remain of a person is a gravestone and some memories?”

“That’s not true,” I maintained “That woman left more than just a gravestone. She left a legacy here. She left two children, five grandchildren, and the fondest feelings with everyone who knew her. I mean, I never even met her and I think she was a wonderful human being, because without her, you wouldn’t have existed.”

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“Thank you, Simon. I needed to hear that.” She let me pull her into a hug. “And you wouldn’t believe how much Emily Jr. looks like her! You can practically see Mom in her.”

Once she has calmed down enough, she managed to clean the grave and leave her own flowers. I helped, even it was clear Celeste wanted to do most of the work.

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“There,” she announced after all the work was done “I think now it is time to go home.”

“You don’t want to stay in Appaloosa Plains a while longer?” I offered.

She shrugged “I don’t know. I like it here. But I’ve been missing Hidden Springs and our home. Appaloosa Plains used to be my home, but I think now its Hidden Springs. I actually want to get home.”

So it came that we packed up our things and the kids and headed home to Hidden Springs.

Gen 1 Ch 10: Births and Birthdays

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A week later, it was Irene’s first birthday. Roger insisted on staying in town so he could be present to see his niece blow out her first candles and to use the week to catch up with his sister. I was glad that despite their rough reunion, they were still getting along fine.

So the day of the party, it was us, Roger, Madeline, the babysitting girl Vanessa, and strangely enough, both Carl and Maya. It seems like during the time of Celeste’s first pregnancy and the consecutive year, those two have reached a truce. Not like they were best buds or anything, but they were pretty amicable with one another. Celeste believed it was because Maya herself has met a guy who was over the moon for her and didn’t feel angry at Carl anymore. They were both better off now.

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So, our firstborn was growing up. It turned out she did in fact have Celeste’s hair and my eyes, which we both figured was a combination that would make her a little heart breaker when she was older.

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“So, the other day, she didn’t like how her bottle looked and she ended up grabbing it out of my hands and throwing it across the room! Can you imagine that?” Celeste enthused to her brother.

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“Oh yes! When Mikey and Jonny were her age and they thought we weren’t feeding them what they demanded, they would make all sorts of accidents happen to their food” he laughed. “They can be the perfect little rascals at that age.”

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After the guests left and Roger went back to Appaloosa Plains, Celeste and I just focused on her pregnancy and on Irene’s development. Luckily for us, Irene was a quick learner who had no problem learning words or anything else that she saw on the TV. And since she was older now, she required much less company than she previously did. If anything, she preferred her own company to anyone else’s and was often thoroughly focused on her toys.

This was all good, since with this new pregnancy, Celeste was experiencing more difficulties that with Irene’s. This time around she had serious back pains and often found it hard to sleep through the night because of them.

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“You know, I think the baby is going to be out sometime this week. I can just feel it” she noted one night while we were putting our daughter to sleep.

“That would be a relief, wouldn’t it?” I asked “You could finally relax a bit.”

That night, once again, she woke up before dawn. “Is he kicking again?” I wondered.

“Yeah. Who am I carrying, a soccer player?” she complained.

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I lit up the fireplace in the living room to make it more comfortable. Celeste leaned back into me and I took the chance to rub her shoulders, hopefully releasing some tension from her. Our son was sure not giving her an easy time of this.

“How do you think Irene took the news? Does she understand she’s going to be a sister soon?” wondered Celeste.

“She’s a bright girl. She already kept asking me why mommy was getting big” I remembered “I think she’s curious about meeting her brother.”

“Good” Celeste laughed “Because there are no refunds on this.”

Eventually, it dawned and we turned on the TV on low volume so as not to wake the sleeping tot. But apparently the volume wasn’t low enough for her, since Irene somehow got out of her bed and made her way into the living room. It was pretty adorable, as she still couldn’t walk very well and was trying to steady herself.

“Come here you!” I raised the little girl to sit up on the couch, where she joined us in watching the weather forecast.

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“Daddy, spring?” she asked.

“Yes, soon it will be warm” I explained, impressed by her quick grasp of information.

“When bruther’s here?” she was still curious.

“Yep, your brother will be here then” I smiled at the kid. That seemed to satisfy her for the time being.

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Eventually, Celeste fell into a nap near us and Irene and I quietly chatted, with her asking about the baby and what he will look like. She was pretty excited for a brother.

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Eventually Celeste woke up and with one look at her stomach and at the door let me know that it was time. Luckily, Vanessa wasn’t far and she was able to watch over Irene while her brother was being delivered.

This evening, Gerald Meadows was born. Apparently he was a pretty athletic kid, which all the nurses at the hospital commented on. That did explain all the kicking.

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————————————————————

It would be a straight up lie to say that our lives were easy with two small children to care for, but we managed. Celeste and I alternated turns with the childcare and made the best of the winter and the cold.

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At one point Celeste decided that she didn’t care about the cold anymore “Screw it! I’m going fishing!”

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And she did. I stayed home taking care of Irene and Gerald, making sure to focus on them and not how much I was worried about Celeste, who was out in the cold. But even though I was worried, I knew the fishing trip was good for her—she missed her work.

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“Mommy’s going to catch fish?” Irene giggled.

“Yes sweetie, she’s going to catch lots of big fish” I cooed at the laughing toddler.

“Yay! Pet fishies!”

That wasn’t so bad of an idea! Irene was sure a pretty smart kid.

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Celeste eventually returned home, exhausted but very satisfied. “No other fishermen out in this weather, so the fish are biting like crazy!” she explained. “Wait till you see the kind of catch I’ve got!”

I didn’t say anything to her yet. But the next morning, when she woke up, she saw a brand new aquarium, with space for at least six fish in it, in our hallway.

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“Simon, when did you get this?!” She was ecstatic.

“Overnight delivery, baby. Thank Irene for the idea. She suggested we keep pet fish and I thought this way you could have some here when you can’t go fishing for long periods.”

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“It’s a great idea! I can keep all the fish I like in here. Thank you, Si. And you, sweetheart” she hugged Irene.

“Mommy likes pet fish?” the little girl looked satisfied.

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“Yes, dear, very much” Celeste smiled at her daughter.

Of course, as Celeste had her fishing, I had my studies. I gave in and bought a telescope and also continued to research the soil and the plants that I had collected before frost had set in. I wasn’t bored.

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Soon, it was time for Gerald’s first birthday. It was turning out that our son looked almost like a split image of me, but with his mother’s eyes.

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We worried that the kids won’t get along and won’t share the toys and space, but we couldn’t be more wrong. The usually solitary Irene could now almost always be found playing alongside her brother. They got along so well, that we even allowed ourselves to leave them both with Vanessa one day and spend some quiet time out fishing.

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When we came back, Vanessa couldn’t stop going on about how adorable they were. It was clear that girl was going to have many kids of her own one day, considering how much she loved them.

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As our own birthdays passed, yes Celeste and I weren’t getting any younger unfortunately, so did winter. We were both eager to see warmer days and enjoy the outdoors a bit more.

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For me, that meant I was back in my garden, collecting the literal fruits of my hard work and that Celeste was able to stay out near the water for longer periods of time. But that was alright—our kids were getting bigger.

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In fact Irene’s birthday was coming up and soon she’ll be in school. We called the usual gang over for her party. Irene blew out her cake candles and took her first steps as a school-aged child.

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We should’ve realized that with her looking so much like her mother, there were bound to be personality similarities as well. Of course, she didn’t like big crowds, but we expected that since she knew all these people since she was born it won’t be a problem.

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“Mommy, can I entertain the guests?” Irene innocently asked of her mother.

“Of course, dear, why not?” Celeste allowed, not realizing what kind of entertainment Irene was talking about.

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So, our seven-year old began to tell the guests a story. A very realistic ghost story. Honestly, it even terrified me, and I considered myself a logical person. The rest of our friends looked equally horrified.

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“…And so they found them, both the mother and the son, dead, turned to stone. And no one knew how or why it happened” Irene finished her grisly tale with a calm expression on her face and the demeanor of a professional orator.

“How was the story, Dad?” she asked excitedly.

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“It was…not bad” I pulled out of me. “But where did you learn it, hon? I’m sure neither your mother nor I read it for you before sleep.” The idea of doing that made me shudder.

“Oh, it was on TV. There was a story series about international folk tales and I thought they all sounded so cool! I memorized all of them!” she bounded away to sleep.

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Well, maybe Celeste and I should’ve monitored what our kids were watching better…

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Of course, Irene was ever the caring older sister with Gerald. She would feed him, entertain him, make jokes with him, and all that without us asking her too. Even though they were close in age, she was trying to be a second mother to him.

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She was even the one who got Gerald to calm down when one of the dogs ended up soaking him to the bone after coming in from the rain.

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The only problem with our eldest was her approach to school: she straight up hated it. We couldn’t really understand why. Although I had a hunch—Irene was a quick learner and many of the things her classes were studying, she already knew. And since she was as hot-tempered as her mother, she would cause trouble in class and whenever she had to complete even the simplest homework, she grew quickly bored and annoyed.

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“Mom, Dad, can I please not go to school?” she asked with the worst fake cough I’ve heard in a long time. “I’m sick.”

“Oh, honey, that’s too bad” Celeste thought quickly “I guess we won’t be able to go fishing together then, if you’re sick?”

Irene’s eyes got big for a moment and she announced “Well, I’m not that sick, really. Just a bit tired. But I can go to school. And fishing” she finished, before running off to the school bus.

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“Nice one, I wouldn’t have thought of that” I complimented my wife. “You sure know how to get through to her.”

“Oh, I was just like her” explained Celeste. “Takes on to know one.”

Of course, when Irene got back from school, she insisted on going fishing, despite the strong rain that went on outside. After all, she wasn’t one to pass up such a bribe.

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“Dad, I caught so many big fish!” she enthused at dinner. “Well, not as many as Mom, but still a lot.”

“That’s great. Do you like fishing?” I wondered if I was going to have a new fisherman in my family from now on.

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“I do. It’s fun. And Mom shows me how to do it properly.”

Our days went on in this manner, until one day I came in the kitchen to find Celeste sitting with a concerned expression.

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“What’s wrong?” I asked, joining her.

“My Dad is not feeling well. Roger called and he’s urging us to visit” she explained.

I understood. There might not be much time left for her father. We should’ve gone sooner, but traveling to another city with two small tots would have been problematic. Of course, now that Irene was older and Gerald didn’t require as much care, we could make the trip. “What are we waiting for? Summer vacation is coming up, let’s go.”

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“Seriously? Let’s do this” she agreed. “Besides, it’s high time that my Appaloosa family gets to meet my Hidden Springs family, don’t you think? And I’ve heard that Roger and Tammy had another baby. I want to see my nephews and niece.”

“I am very excited to see my in-laws” I admitted. From talking on the phone, I already sort of knew the people. But meeting them would be another thing entirely. I only hoped I’d make a good impression.

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Gerald is named after the famous English naturalist Gerald Durrell, who was a founder of a world-famous zoo on the island of Jersey and wrote of his travels and about animals in his books. 

Gen 1 Ch 9: Tempers Run in the Family

Warning: This chapter has a conversation on the topic of sexual relations and also some cussing. Nothing too graphic, but you’ve been warned. Also, certain views expressed by certain characters are not necessarily shared by the character’s creator.

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Winter has fully set in. My garden was officially frozen over and it was simply too cold for Celeste to go out fishing.

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Which proved to be a good thing, really. While Celeste and I were elated to have our little girl, caring for a newborn really took a lot of energy and time. Irene wasn’t a troublesome baby, but she definitely loved attention and cuddling. Which both of us were always ready and willing to provide. Of course, a bit more sleep would’ve been nice.

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But even despite the lack of sleep, we always found time for each other. Having worked out some sort of a schedule for taking care of the baby, Celeste and I always managed to make some romantic time for each other. It was a good solution—otherwise we would’ve been pretty stressed out from just the pressure of parenting.

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Still, after all the time being cooped up taking care of a small child, we definitely needed a break. Luckily Madeline provided us with that option—she gave us her babysitter’s number. She sounded pretty friendly over the phone and Celeste and I decided to give her a try.

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“Are you sure Irene will be ok?” Celeste fussed before the girl’s arrival. It was obvious she was hesitant about hiring a babysitter despite her friend’s recommendations.

“I’m sure Madeline wouldn’t hire her for her own kids if she wasn’t competent. I know you’re worried. But we do need this break—it’s been ages since we’ve gone anywhere” I rationalized.

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Soon the girl walked in “Hi, I’m Vanessa. You must be Celeste and Simon, right?”

“That’s right. The baby food is in the bottles, Irene’s favorite story is by her crib and extra diapers are in the bathroom. Call us if you need anything else” I informed the girl.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ve been babysitting since I was twelve, I know the drill. Your daughter will be in good hands with me!” Vanessa calmed us down. I think her confidence reassured Celeste, since she actually smiled. “You two have a good evening.”

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So, for the first time in a while, we were on a date. Since it was pretty cold, we headed to the coffee shop that we used to frequent before our wedding. It always had delicious warm beverages which put people in a good mood.

After we finished our drinks, Celeste’s phone went off with a notification. Looking at it, she gave a small laugh.

“What’s so funny?” I was curious.

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“Looks like our Irene is going to be a star when she’s older—her photo got so many likes. Oh, look Roger is on Facebook! So much for saying he’ll never use social media. I am so sending a friend request his way with a note saying ‘Look who’s on the Internets!’ He used to make fun of people who overuse the internet, you know. And now look how many pictures of my nephews are on here!” she explained, showing me her brother’s profile.

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“Heh, are there any pictures of us on your profile?” I winked.

“Not yet. I’ve only just made a profile on here, to be honest. So far I’ve just been finding the people I know on here and friending them. And baby pictures” she admitted. “I just want everyone to see how adorable Irene is!”

“She is isn’t she? We did a good job with her.”

“Hey, I’m the one who actually was pregnant and then gave birth, you know!” she teased.

“I’m just kidding. Wanna take a picture together, for everyone?” I offered.

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“Sure thing.” We usually weren’t into public displays of affection, but maybe the sugary drinks made us giddy–we were smooching for the camera in seconds.

“You have my permission to post that one on your page!” I gave her the go ahead.

“All done. How does the title ‘Me and my one and only’ sound?” she teased.

“Oh, come here, you” I pulled her into a hug.

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After the coffee shop filled up with students, we knew we wanted to be somewhere more private. It was too early to head home, so we ended up at the little park where we used to fish in warm weather. It was now covered in snow and the pond was frozen over. It looked beautiful like a fairytale.

“This is nice, isn’t it?” I asked as we sat down on the swings. “Why didn’t we spend more time here?”

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“I don’t know. I guess we’re always too busy to enjoy these things. I don’t believe I’ve been on the swings since I was 11. Wow, sounds like a long time ago, doesn’t it?” she giggled.

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“I don’t think I’ve ever used them, to be honest. I was always the serious kid growing up” I admitted.

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“Oh, no! Why not? It can be fun! Look” she tried to swing the set she was on but somehow didn’t succeed “Oh well. I think it’s frozen or something.”

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“Is it?” I was already on my feet and pushing her forward. “Having fun yet?”

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“OMG! Simon, this is awesome! The last time anyone pushed me on the swings was when I was actually little.” She was ecstatic.

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“You’re never too old to have fun. And that’s coming from the ‘serious kid’ on the block.” I pushed her harder, only for her to start singing a kids song about riding the swings.

We would’ve kept up at it longer if not for Celeste suddenly urging me to stop.

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“Is everything alright?” I asked, worried that the swings made her head spin.

“Yeah, I think so. Just got a bit lightheaded, that’s all” she brushed it away.

And then she groaned and grabbed at her stomach while muttering “I think I’m going to be sick.”

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“I’m sorry I pushed you so much” I apologized.

“Don’t be, it was so fun.” Suddenly she stopped, looking like she was calculating something in her head. “Hey, Si? You are happy we have Irene, right?”

“That’s a rhetorical question. Of course, I adore her” I responded. “Why?”

“Because I think I may be pregnant again” she admitted.

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“Come here” I picked her up, and looking straight into her eyes told her “There is nothing more important to me than our family. Why would I be unhappy about another child?”

“It’s just so soon. And we’re already so busy with Irene” she worried.

“Well, Irene is going to be a big sister soon. That’s good—she’ll never be alone, she’ll always have a friend nearly her age at home. Having a brother or a sister is good for a kid. As for us, we’ll handle this. That’s what family is about.”

Putting her down, I realized how cold she was. “I think we should head home, or we’ll both catch a cold out here.”

“No kidding. I bet Vanessa is wondering what’s taking us so long” she agreed.

On the way home, we held hands all the way.

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As the time went on, Celeste’s second pregnancy progressed. We didn’t know the baby’s gender yet, but we at least had some naming ideas this time.

We have just eaten and Irene began fussing in her room.

“I’ll check on her” I developed a habit of making sure that, at least as long as Celeste was with child, I would do as much to relieve her, since her back pain was pretty bad this time around.

While I was in the bedroom I heard the doorbell ring and Celeste open the door. What followed next was a tirade of angry yelling.

Celeste’s POV

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Opening the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Roger? What are you doing here?” I didn’t expect my brother to arrive just like that without warning.

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“What am I doing here?! I could ask you the same thing! What are you doing living here shacked up with some man, with a child?! Didn’t dad teach you better than that?!” If my brother and I shared one thing, it was definitely our temper, and now it was directed at me. I didn’t like that at all.

“Excuse me?! What am I doing here? How dare you just show up and start yelling at me in my own home?” I yelled right back.

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The nerve of him! Roger was always the strict older brother who believed premarital relations were taboo. That was why he came with me when I had to move here—he was “protecting my honor” so to speak. Of course, I made it clear to him as soon as I was 18 that I was going to live on my own. Of course, he protested vehemently, but after our many disagreements and due to the fact that Dad really did need help back on the ranch, he eventually went back.

Don’t get me wrong—I’ve always loved my brother dearly despite his views on life, but logic dictated that to continue getting along we just couldn’t live under the same roof.

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“Your home?! Since when?!” Roger wasn’t one to easily back down. “How fast were you to jump in bed with the first man who looked at you after I was gone? Huh?”

“Are you trying to call me a slut? Brother dear, don’t even go there. You know perfectly well that while I never agreed with your archaic views, I have standards for relationships. Also, I have been legally married for over a year now, which you would have known if you, oh I don’t know, actually deigned to show up to your only sister’s wedding!” I would’ve kept yelling at my brother if Simon didn’t show up with a completely baffled expression on his face.

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“Hey you two, maybe try to keep it down a bit, Irene just barely fell asleep” he shot me a pleading look and turned to my brother “Look, I know from the pictures my wife has shown me that you’re her brother, but you really have to explain why you think it’s acceptable to come into our home and start yelling at her without even a greeting.”

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“Well, why did you elope? Did you have a shotgun wedding or something? Is that why it was such a secret?” my brother was still fuming.

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“For your information, Simon was a perfect gentleman and hasn’t even suggested touching me in a questionable way until we were wed and our beloved daughter was definitely not born out of wedlock!” I shot at Roger. “And the wedding was most certainly not secret—we sent both you and dad invitations. Officially printed and all. But you were busy with your pregnant wife and dad was busy at the ranch. At least that’s what he’s texted me. Texted, Roger! Not even called. I mean who even does that when their daughter tells them she’s getting married?!”

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“What…” Roger’s face showed utter confusion and then a bitter understanding. “Oh goodness… I can’t believe she did…. It seems I owe you both a huge apology.”

Well, this was about to be good. My brother usually hated to admit he was wrong. But as it turns out, Irene did in fact wake up because of our yelling.

“Great, now your niece is awake. It seems you two have a chance to get to know each other a bit. Now don’t bite. We have dogs for that.”

Simon’s POV

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After Celeste left, Roger looked at me awkwardly and tried to explain “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have acted the way I did when I got here, but my temper is definitely not one of my best qualities.”

“I guess that’s something you two share, isn’t it?” I couldn’t help myself “It’s a sibling thing.”

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“She and I are really close. Well, used to be, I guess.” Roger looked nostalgic for a bit. “I guess I shouldn’t have disagreed with her when she hated our step-mother.”

“She doesn’t usually dislike people. I wonder what caused her to think badly of someone” I wondered.

“I don’t know how much she’s told you about our family after mom’s death” he asked.

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“She told me your father took it bad but that he later remarried” I admitted, realizing that Celeste for all our closeness didn’t actually talk much about her father’s second wife.

“That’s the short version of it. Dad took Mom’s passing extremely bad. He wouldn’t even get out of bed for months. Celi and I took care of the ranch and making sure everything was functioning, with the help of the other ranch workers. Eventually he recovered. Then, four years later, he meets Aileen and you can just see that being with that woman makes him happy. And she seemed nice enough. I was only happy that Dad could move on” he explained.

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“But Celeste didn’t like her?” I prodded.

“She hated her vehemently. That was part of the reason she agreed to move here, not just for health reasons. They just didn’t get along. Celi would always find ways to antagonize Aileen and Aileen didn’t really like her in return, but who can blame her—Celi used to pull crazy stunts on her all the time, like stuffing her shoes with fish. We all thought that she was just unhappy because she thought Dad was replacing Mom. But maybe she was on to something” he drifted off.

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“Of course I was on to something. That woman is a fake if I ever saw one” complained Celeste coming back into the room, holding the peacefully gurgling Irene. “You weren’t really in the house around her as much as I was—you didn’t get to see how differently she treated everyone. She could be nice to your face and then spew the worst garbage about you behind your back. I heard her on the phone with her friends. I don’t even know if they realize how fake she is. I think she only married Dad because she thought he was richer, being a ranch owner and all. I guess she’s pretty disappointed now.”

“Is that why you didn’t like her? Why didn’t you tell us?” Roger asked quietly.

“Would you have believed me? You thought I was in my rebellious teen phase and just trying to irk her because she was marrying Dad” she accused without actually being mean. “So, you want to explain what happened to that wedding invitation?”

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Roger, with his hand on his chest shook his head “I never got it. I really was busy with Tammy’s pregnancy—I mean it was a tough one, twins and all. But I would have tried to go if I knew, I swear. And Dad… well, I didn’t want to worry you, but he’s been pretty sick lately. I guess Aileen is responsible for mail now? But didn’t you call him in person?”

“I kept hitting voicemail. And then he texted me that everyone was really tied up at the ranch. Yeah, I was hurt, but I didn’t think he was lying. Fall can be pretty busy on a ranch.” Celeste also realized that the situation was starting to sound less than plausible.

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“Dad doesn’t know you’re married either, Celi. That’s why I flipped out like this. Imagine my reaction: I log in into Facebook when I finally have the time for it and see your profile where you’re sucking face with some guy I don’t know and already have a baby.”

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“And you thought your sister was living indecently” she shot at him with a warning in her eyes.

“Sorry” he apologized. “But you know I can go crazy like this sometimes. I know I shouldn’t have behaved like I did.”

“Well, it seems like the mystery of the missed wedding has been almost solved.” They both turned to look at me. “Well, you two want to call back home and maybe find out why both your wedding invitations got lost?”

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“I still can’t believe she forgot about two official wedding invitations” sulked Roger as he ate half an hour later. “I mean, they weren’t even addressed to her!”

“Umm, maybe that’s why she did it?” I suggested. The phone call to Appaloosa Plains revealed that Aileen saw the letters but later forgot about them and didn’t mention them. “You know, she saw that Celeste wasn’t inviting her and decided that then no one would go?”

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“Why would I invite her to my wedding? It’s bad enough this person wormed her way into my family” rationalized Celeste.

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“Well, in any case, I already called dad told him of the situation. He’s excited to meet Simon. If possible, he would like to talk to you. He’s feeling well enough for it today.”

“I’d be honored to talk to him” I honestly told him.

Celeste’s POV

While Simon was on the phone with my dad, Roger smiled and admitted “You’ve picked well. He’s a keeper. And he knows how to calm down our family—always useful.”

“He is isn’t he?” I smiled. “How are my nephews doing? How’s Tammy?”

“They’re both healthy and thriving, the mother and the sons. Do you think it would be ok for me to hold my niece?”

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In the kids’ room, Roger literally glowed “She’s so adorable! I can already see she’s got your and Mom’s hair. Although, it could get darker as she ages and be like mine and Dad’s. Are you two planning on more?”

“Why do you think I’m getting so big?” I grinned. “This little bub should be due in a few months.”

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“Goodness gracious! I’ve been here all this time and haven’t even realized my own sister is pregnant!” He put his hands on my belly and called “Hey little one. Your Uncle Roger is here. You’re invited to Appaloosa when you’re born. I promise to teach you to ride a horse and build a silo.”

“Hey, hey, he or she’s not even out yet. It’ll be a few years till the little ones can do all that.”

“How’s your health? Is it really so good here? I’ve missed you, you know” he admitted.

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“Well, you know what the doctors said. I’m at risk of the same cancer that took Mom and it’s healthier for me to stay here. Besides, I love this town now. It’s been my home for a while now.”

My brother pulled me into a big hug “Well, I’m still in town for a few weeks. I’ll come around, if you don’t mind.”

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“Of course, please do” Simon invited coming in the room. “Your father sounds wonderful. He’s invited us all to Appaloosa Plains in the summer.”

“Will you visit?” asked Roger, getting excited. “Please do! Tammy would be happy to see you and you’ll see the kids.”

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“Well, our little one should be born then. If we can, we’ll totally visit.”

“It’s a deal” he smiled.

After he left, I pulled Simon into a tight embrace “Hey, sorry that we caused such a ruckus earlier. I guess the Lewis clan has a few hot-heads in it, myself included.”

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“Oh, I didn’t mind. Your brother definitely should have chosen a more polite approach, but I can tell he’s just worried for his sister.”

“Yeah, Rog is a bit old-fashioned that way. But you definitely impressed him. He admitted that you’re a keeper.”

“Well, I’ll be! Good, then he knows that I have only one thing in mind. To make sure your life with me is as happy as it possibly can be.”

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With that we finally went to sleep and I felt at peace—my life really was pretty good. And soon there will be another little person who would be a part of it.