Author’s note: Mention of death.
Upon returning home, things fell back into the usual swing of things.
Millie was once again attached at the hip to Sherlock, David and I were back at work and busy, and our friends still always wanted to meet up and chat.
Thankfully, the house hasn’t changed much. True, we had to replace most of the first floor furniture and wallpaper, along with our cars which were badly damaged by the fire, but the structure itself was as sound as the day it was built.
Not long after coming back, I was hanging out with Kyla Upton, who, as it turned out, has also been to Shang Simla with her husband many years ago.
“It’s such a lovely place, isn’t it? The food, the atmosphere, the nature. I loved our trip so much that I still keep trying to convince Liam to go back sometime,” she recalled fondly.
“I understand exactly what you mean. It felt like we were in another time while we were in China,” I agreed.
“Yes, that’s it! Good times, good times. I feel like traveling is such a good bonding experience for the whole family. Did you get to learn any of the local recipes?” she asked.
“Unfortunately not. We were usually too busy being out and about to really relax. I feel like my legs haven’t recovered from all that walking still! But apart from that, we found out what we needed to know,” I concluded.
“Oh yes, about the medication! At least you know now why it cured your mother, right? I must admit, your parents have been giving us all couple goals for years here,” she smiled. “It’s so lucky to find someone that special.”
“It really is,” I agreed.
My stomach rumbled, embarrassing me, but Kyla just smiled.
“Speaking of food, I have my famous macaroni and cheese in the kitchen and it is getting cold as we speak!”
She wasn’t kidding when she said her dish was famous. As a restaurant chef, she knew how to make food extra delicious, and I didn’t hesitate to compliment her cooking skills.
“Thank you dear, I guess I just love making people eat well,” she laughed.
I focused again on the delicious food in front of me, but right then my stomach decided that it didn’t like the smell of cheese. I quickly stood up with the intention to run out the door and get some fresh air, but as soon as the offending smell was away, the feeling went away.
“Sorry. The food is perfect, I’ve just been feeling kind of queasy lately. Honestly, I think I’ve caught some weird bug while abroad. Or maybe, foreign food wasn’t in agreement with me,” I wondered out loud.
“Oh, really? What makes you think that?” Kyla asked.
“I keep getting lightheaded all the time, I feel super tired even when I get enough sleep, my chest is hurting,” I counted my symptoms.
“Chest or boobs?” Kyla clarified.
“The later. I can’t even sleep on my stomach anymore” I complained.
“Have you taken a pregnancy test yet?” she asked.
“Oh, no. It isn’t necessary. I mean, all of our IVF tries have failed, and there is no way I could get pregnant naturally, as things stand,” I shook my head.
“You never know. Seriously, go take one now. There should be over twenty of them in the bathroom cabinet,” she urged me, and upon seeing my surprised face, explained “My Betty got herself knocked up by that boyfriend of hers. She kept taking one test after another last week, complaining how a pregnancy would make her sit out over a season of her team’s games. I’m telling you, that girl has no idea how blessed she is! But seriously, go take one.”
Just to calm down her suspicions, I headed into the Uptons’ bathroom and took the test. Looking at it, after seeing hundreds of these things with only one line, I was shocked to see two…
Two lines meant positive. But how? This had to be a false positive. Right?
Oh life, don’t joke with me so!
I took another look at the test. Well, I never even had a false positive, so that was something.
“How did it go?” asked Kyla when I joined her in the living room.
“It says positive. But I’m sure it’s wrong.”
“You don’t know that! Make an appointment with Dr. Klein. Get checked out again,” she urged me.
“Oh, I will. I will.”
That day, as soon as I walked into my house, I was hit with another wave of nausea, so bad that I just barely made it to the bathroom on time.
Could I really be pregnant? I didn’t want to get my hopes up just yet. But if there was even a small chance… then I was willing to spend the entire 9 months hurling just to be able to hold my child in my arms.
I made the appointment with Dr. Klein. She sounded excited about the prospect of her troublesome patient finally being pregnant.
I decided not to tell David just yet, though. It wouldn’t be right to get his hopes up if it was all for nothing.
However, that night we got a call that made my heart drop.
“Irene! It’s Mom,” my brother told me. “She isn’t very well.”
“What do you mean, ‘she isn’t very well’? What happened?” I prodded.
“I don’t know. I think she may have had a heart attack, but she wouldn’t go to the hospital no matter how much Dad, Katie, and I are begging her to,” he admitted. “Maybe you should come talk to her?”
“I’ll be right there.”
“Where? What’s up?” the phone call woke up David.
“Mom’s not well. I’m going there right now.”
“Wait, I’ll go with you. And Millie too – she’s fond of Celeste.”
In half an hour, our whole family was at my parents’ house.
“You’re here!” my brother breathed a sigh of relief. “Please come in. Maybe you can talk some sense into her.”
True to her character, I found Mom walking around the house, doing random chores, like nothing has happened at all.
“Mom! Please go lie down. Or at least, sit down, will you?” I pleaded with her.
“Oh come on, Irene, don’t tell me you are as prone to panic as they are. I’m fine!”
“Yes, I know you are, but you’ll be even better if you consider your health and the fact that our family is scared sick for you,” I tried to reason with her.
She considered my words.
“I can sit down, but you have to promise not to worry so much. It’s normal to get random aches when you’re my age. Not the first and certainly not the last,” she shrugged.
“I know. But I can’t help worrying. You’re my mother. And none of us are prepared to part with you just yet. We all love you, you know that, right?”
“I know, I know, honey. I’ll sit down now.”
“Please do. Who knows, maybe you’ll have another grandkid who should meet you, soon?” I ended up spilling.
“You don’t mean!” Mom looked happily surprised. “Well, this is certainly news!”
“It’s not certain. I only took a test so far, but it was positive,” I admitted.
“I think it was right. Call it a mother’s gut feeling, dear,” she sighed contentedly, sinking into the rocking chair. “I promise I’ll take care of myself. I want to see this little one. But it’s 3 am, you should go home now, sweetheart.”
“Are you sure I shouldn’t stay here for just a bit?”
She shook her head to say “no.”
“Alright. Take care then,” I gave her a hug and went to tell David we could go, only to find him in a conversation with my brother, frowning for some reason.
As soon as Irene left the room to speak with her mother, Gerald pulled me aside.
“Hey, do you have a moment?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Oh, a lot, I guess. This isn’t the first time Mom’s been feeling ill. She hasn’t been in the best of health for a while now. Dad too, but what can you do, it’s old age,” he admitted. “But you know how Mom is — she always has been a stubborn one. She hates going to the doctors or telling people when something is hurting.”
“I had no idea,” I frowned. Whenever Irene and I were over at the Meadows household, Celeste always looked very sprightly, but I now understood she was doing her best to put on a healthy front when Irene was here. “She didn’t’ want to worry Irene?”
“Yeah, she would’ve hidden everything from us too, but it’s harder when you live in the same house,” Gerald explained. “But this is only part of what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What’s the rest?”
“Have you and Irene been following the news closely?” he started.
“Not really. We’ve kept in touch with Collier Enterprises, but that was it for our communications while in China,” I admitted.
“Understandable,” Gerald nodded. “You guys needed a break from all this crap. And I’m not sure if it was even in any major news outlets. But basically, Marilyn Johnson is dead.”
“Oh… that’s surprising. What happened to her?”
“Well, that’s the thing. It’s ruled a suicide. But, Marilyn didn’t really strike me as someone who was likely to end her own life. And considering that it happened while she was transported to the penitentiary, I can’t help but think there was foul play involved,” Gerald admitted. “Maybe someone wanted to silence her? Perhaps, the person who helped her escape?”
“You think someone was helping her?” I tried to understand why.
“I’m sure of it. Look, she was in an asylum for the criminally insane, under high security. And then, just like that, she escapes, makes it all the way here, and even has time to dye her hair and acquire effective incendiary agent, all in record time? She had to have outside help. Which brings up a new question: who and why?”
“Maybe someone still has a grudge against me and my family?” I offered. “I mean, my father screwed over a lot of people. We’ve tried to make it up to everyone, but we might’ve missed someone.”
“And instead of bringing up their grievance like normal people, they sic a criminal on you, only to eliminate her once she fails to accomplish the job…” Gerald considered. “It’s possible. But I have this weird feeling that something else is going on that we don’t know much about. What I’m saying is, keep your eyes peeled.”
“What about your family? Do any of you have past enemies and grudges?” I suggested.
“I’m already working that side of things. Roman and I have been trying to research Dad’s side of the family, and so far, there is a lot of family history to go through. We’ll contact you if we find anything noteworthy,” he promised.
Before the conversation could continue, Irene came back and from Gerald’s facial expression, I could tell he didn’t want to talk to her about this just yet.
“How is she?” I asked.
Irene shrugged, “Could be better. I got her to rest, though. Call me if anything else comes up, ok Ger?”
“Sure thing, Sis.”
We went home that night worried about family. We knew no one was infinite. And we were proved to be right to worry.
Mom passed away later that week. The next heart attack she had turned out to be her last.
And just like that I was falling apart. My mother was gone, the person who always gave me amazing advice and wisdom, my rock.
It was a good thing I had David by my side, pulling me through the grief. Otherwise, I would have been a mess.
However, soon we got a call from Dr. Klein, asking us to come in to her office.
Once she saw us, her face lit up.
“There you are! I studied your test results, Irene. What we have here is nothing short of a miracle, I tell you. You are, indeed, pregnant!” she exclaimed.
“What? But how?” David was shocked. I still didn’t tell him about the positive test result, so it was a complete surprise to him.
“Wish I knew,” Dr. Klein shrugged. “This is the first time I see people with your diagnosis conceiving naturally. But I’m just happy for you.”
I couldn’t even talk. Happy tears spilled out of my eyes at the news. I was going to be a mother!
“Do you hear that, Irene? You’re pregnant. We’re having a baby!” David put his arms around me and pulled me close.
“Yes. Finally! I can’t wait to meet the little one,” I whispered.
From then on, I had to take it easy. I took complete maternity leave from work. The company was doing well enough without me at the moment and stress on the baby wasn’t something I was going to risk. I even asked Dr. Klein if I should go on bed rest, but all the tests for me and the baby were looking good, so she said there was no reason for it, as long as I made sure not to overdo things.
And I wasn’t going to. I was going to be as careful as anyone could be with this baby.
As the pregnancy progressed, I couldn’t wait to meet the little one.
Apparently, neither could Millie. She was very excited to have a little brother or sister. And thankfully, due to her interest in biology, David and I didn’t have to explain to her why the baby was inside of my belly.
Soon, the Wens arrived to Hidden Springs and we decided to throw a little welcoming get together and invite everyone.
This was the first party we had since Mom’s passing, and while I still pained over her departure, I knew she would want me to go on with my life, especially for the sake of her grandchild.
We’ve invited Dad, since he tended to retreat into himself ever since he became a widower. I wanted to try to spend more time with him, since you never knew when the end could come.
His face, when he saw how huge I was, could light up a stadium.
“So, how long is it until my grandchild is here?” he smiled.
“Not long now. Less than a month to go, actually,” I went to give him a hug. “How are you? Doing better?”
“I am actually. I miss your mother, but I know she is in a good place. And she would want me to spend extra time with our family, for the both of us,” he explained. “You know, this pregnancy really is making you glow.”
“I’ve wanted this for so long,” I agreed.
Soon, the other guests arrived. The Uptons, Lana, Tia, Yijun…his wife was running late though.
We were all eating already, when Yang arrived and David got up to invite her in.
“Hello everyone, this is Wen Yang, she and her family are going to be in town for a while,” he introduced the new neighbors.
“Good evening, it’s lovely to meet you all,” Yang greeted everyone. “And it’s especially an honor to meet you, Mr. Meadows. Your work has inspired me for many years.”
“This is music to my ears,” Dad blushed. “I’m glad my research didn’t get published for nothing.”
While everyone greeted the Wens normally, Kyla’s reaction shocked me. She looked like she just saw a ghost when Yang walked in and kept on shooting her strange glances all through dinner.
Afterwards, I asked her about it.
“Is everything ok? You seem uncomfortable with Yang for some reason, but I assure you, she is a great person. We really got to know them well in China,” I told her.
“Oh, it’s not that! I don’t doubt she is nice. She just looks a lot like someone else. It’s kind of hard to explain…” she drifted off.
“I had a dream about a very similar-looking woman when Liam and I were in China, all those years ago,” she admitted.
This woke me up.
“Did you go for a walk in the mountains there?” I ventured.
“Yes! There was this abandoned barn… No way. You too?” she understood from my expression.
“Yes. There was a woman-”
“And she told me to swim in the creek,” I recalled.
“And I did, and then I woke up…” Kyla finished. “I guess it wasn’t quite a dream, then, was it?”
“Did you get pregnant with Norah after coming back?” I guessed.
“I did. And so did you. We should find out if she has any relatives named Hua,” she concluded.
However, when we asked Yang, she informed us that the last Hua in her family was her great-great-great- grandmother. And that she didn’t have any young female relatives…
This would be a mystery for another day, then!
The party went well, with the only person disappointed being Millie – she was sad that Wen Quiang couldn’t make it, but as his parents explained, he was still jetlagged from traveling.
In less than a month, I went into labor, which took several hours, but after all the pain of childbirth was over, I finally held my newborn son in my arms and the smile on his tiny face was well worth the long wait and all the pain in the world.
Finally, my family was complete.
Welcome to the world Phoenix Collier!