Gen 2 Ch 21: Tragedies and Miracles (Gen 2 Finale)

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.

Screenshot-133.jpg

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.

Screenshot-142.jpg

“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.”

Screenshot-140.jpg

“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!”

Screenshot-143.jpg

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.

Screenshot-146.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-152.jpg

“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…

Screenshot-156.jpg

Two lines meant positive. But how? This had to be a false positive. Right?

Oh life, don’t joke with me so!

Screenshot-157.jpg

I took another look at the test. Well, I never even had a false positive, so that was something.

Screenshot-154.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-162.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-171.jpg

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.

Screenshot-173.jpg

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.

Screenshot-174.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-177.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-181.jpg

“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!”

Screenshot-193.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-184.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-179.jpg

“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.

David’s POV

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?”

Screenshot-194.jpg

“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.”

Screenshot-197.jpg

“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?”

Screenshot-199.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-198.jpg

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.”

 

Irene’s POV

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.

Screenshot-224.jpg

Screenshot-225.jpg

And just like that I was falling apart. My mother was gone, the person who always gave me amazing advice and wisdom, my rock.

Screenshot-234.jpg

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.

Screenshot-222.jpg

“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.”

Screenshot-223.jpg

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.

“Me either.”

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.

Screenshot-238.jpg

And I wasn’t going to. I was going to be as careful as anyone could be with this baby.

Screenshot-239.jpg

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.

Screenshot-215.jpg

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.

Screenshot-256.jpg

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.

Screenshot-259.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-264.jpg

“Hello everyone, this is Wen Yang, she and her family are going to be in town for a while,” he introduced the new neighbors.

Screenshot-261.jpg

“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.”

Screenshot-263.jpg

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.

Screenshot-274.jpg

“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.

“How so?”

“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.

Screenshot-284.jpg

“Yes! There was this abandoned barn… No way. You too?” she understood from my expression.

“Yes. There was a woman-”

“Named Hua-”

“And she told me to swim in the creek,” I recalled.

Screenshot-282.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-286.jpg

“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.

Screenshot-5.jpg

Screenshot-6.jpg

Screenshot-7.jpg

Finally, my family was complete.

Screenshot-9.jpg

Welcome to the world Phoenix Collier!

Gen 2 Ch 20: China Living

Author’s Note: PG-13 for NSFW towards the end.


Screenshot-75.jpgScreenshot-73.jpgScreenshot-74.jpg

Even before we stepped off the plane, I knew coming to China was a great decision. The beautiful countryside that could be seen from our illuminators was mesmerizing to say the least. And there was something so serene about this place that I regretted not having the chance to come here earlier.

Of course, after our long flight we were exhausted to the point that we barely made it to the hotel beds before drifting off. But the very next day, we set out on the town, to explore all the local destinations.

Screenshot-4.jpg

“It’s so beautiful!” yelled Millie upon seeing the giant lotus flowers blooming in local waters. “Can we plant one at home? Please? Do you think Mr. Simon could plant some lotuses back in Hidden Springs?”

“Maybe,” smiled David. “But the lotuses are native to this part of the world, so I don’t know how well it would bloom in our country.”

“Actually, Dad told me that the lotus is seen locally as a symbol for perseverance, due to its ability to grow and bloom in severe conditions,” I added in my own botanical knowledge. “So, if we had a pond at home, we totally could plant one. Maybe we can still get a small flower, after all.”

Screenshot-3.jpg

“So cool…” the girl couldn’t contain her excitement.

We walked through the town for a while. At some point, David suggested that the water must be really warm this time of the year.

“I’m just saying, a swim would be nice right now. We are on vacation after all! And it’s not even too deep,” he winked.

Screenshot-13.jpg

“You will totally be remembered as ‘that tourist’ who went for a swim in the middle of the city!” I laughed.

“So? Life’s too short to care about what others think about us. Right, Millie?” he asked.

The little girl only laughed in return.

Screenshot-16.jpg

David winked again and, quickly stripping down to his trunks, jumped into the water.

Screenshot-17.jpg

Screenshot-23.jpg

Screenshot-20.jpg

Millie and I couldn’t contain our giggles.

“Told you! It’s pretty nice actually. And so refreshing…” he teased, performing a trick swimming move.

“Show-off!” I yelled back. It was a good thing that we’ve planned to visit the hot springs some time later, so we wore our swimsuits today. I stripped down to mine and jumped into the water as well. It was good…

Screenshot-26.jpg

“Come on in, Millie! You’ll love it!”

Luckily, David has been teaching her to swim lately, so we were all able to enjoy a relaxing noon swimming in the center of the town.

Afterwards, we decided to grab something local to eat. The shop owner promised us we won’t go wrong with the spicy ramen.

Screenshot-33.jpg

“So, when are we meeting the Wens?” I clarified over the deliciously mouthwatering noodles.

“Tomorrow. Mr. Wen said they were out of town and have only just come back to Shang Simla. So, we have this whole day just to ourselves.”

“Do you think they can help us figure out what’s wrong with the medicine?” I was curious.

“Maybe. He said his family knew about the plant. That’s something already. Where to next?” David asked us.

“Can we go to the big garden?” Millie chimed in.

“Scholar’s Garden it is, then!” he agreed.

The garden was less of a garden and more of a park. But from the looks of it, it was the best place in town for meditation. Dozens of locals came in quietly to relax and to feel one with nature.

And honestly, I envied them. Even as a kid, peace of mind was a very foreign notion to me. I would always be thinking about something or other, worried about homework, or school, or Gerald and our parents, or any other thing. The idea of clearing my mind was something out of the realm of the impossible.

But from the looks of it, it made people more content.

Screenshot-39.jpg

Screenshot-43.jpg

“It’s really beautiful,” David admitted quietly, as we stood at one of the highest points in the park, with the view of the valley spread out in front of us. “I think I can understand why people come here to meditate. The land itself calls out to the soul here.”

“It’s almost like time works differently here,” I agreed.

And not just in the Scholar’s Garden. Even in the town, there was an air of peace, of calm. Even our nature-friendly Hidden Springs didn’t have that quality.

Or did it? Perhaps, we were just too busy with our everyday lives to notice, to really give ourselves a break. Maybe that’s why people felt so rested after vacation? The change of place gave them a chance to see things in a different light.

After hiking around the park for an hour, we took a break, sitting down a little ways aside from the pathway.

“Thanks for bringing me here,” Millie blurted out. “I love it here.”

Screenshot-47.jpg

“We weren’t going to leave you out of the trip,” I laughed. “We would’ve brought Sherlock too, but I think he’s having the time of his life running through Dad’s garden right now.”

“Yeah, Sherlock must be having fun. Still, you could’ve made this trip just about you,” she admitted quietly.

“We all needed the vacation, though,” David added.

It was true. After we’ve recovered from the fire and made arrangements for our home to be repaired, what weight of what happened began to sink in. How truly lucky we were to have made it out of that fire alive. It really made us all see life in a different light.

Millie began to talk to people more, she became more social. Not a social butterfly in a real sense of the word, but nearly dying made her less afraid to interact with others, somehow.

David, he seemed to have found this newfound lease on life. While he was always the reserved, prone to stress type before, he was now less likely to worry about every tiny thing that could happen. I liked seeing that change in him. Even if it meant he was likely to go swimming in the middle of the town, just for kicks!

Me? I haven’t really found a newfound lease on life. But ending up in the hospital after that fire really made me feel how close I came to saying goodbye to everyone I knew in this world… And that made me realize that all the time I’ve spent worrying over not being able to conceive could be spent enjoying life with the ones I cared about. So what if I couldn’t have my own child? I loved Millie like she was mine. I had David by my side. I knew they loved me, as did the rest of family. From now on, I was going to focus on living in the moment and to enjoy my life, because you never knew when the end could come.

Screenshot-46.jpg

For example, right now I was going to enjoy the beautiful sunset in front of me.

That evening we all came home exhausted, but happy.

Millie headed to sleep almost immediately while David and I decided to relax downstairs.

“Did I ever tell you green is definitely your color?” David asked, rubbing my shoulders.

Screenshot-52.jpg

“You may have mentioned it,” I smiled happily, leaning on him.

“That dress really suits you. But you look equally great without it,” he whispered in my ear.

“Aren’t you tired today?” I laughed.

“Nope. Not today, not ever.”

Screenshot-58.jpg

This was another side effect of surviving the fire — the never-ending lust. But I wasn’t complaining. We stayed up quite late that night…

Screenshot-112.jpg

The next morning, we paid a visit to the Wen family. Wen Yang, who was a well-known horticulturist, invited us in.

Screenshot-67.jpg

“It’s great to finally meet you. Your last name is Meadow-Collier. Any relation to Simon Meadows?” she asked with excitement.

“Yes, actually. He is my dad,” I informed her.

“I’ve read his works on the plants he studied in Hidden Springs. Fascinating stuff, all of it,” she enthused.

“Hello! Welcome to our home!” Yijun smiled and shook our hands. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“The pleasure is all ours. And you have a lovely home,” David complimented.

‘Would you like any refreshments? Tea, water, juice?”

“Thank you, but we already had a hearty meal,” we admitted, a bit surprised at the warm welcome.

“Hey, do you want to play tag?” the Wen’s son asked Millie.

“Sure!” she smiled and the two took off.

Screenshot-73.jpg

“Kids, right? Always so energetic,” Yang laughed. “Alright, then! You were calling about the plant you were using for the medication in your company, right?”

“Yes. You said you knew about it?” I nodded.

“Of course I do. We all do. Here, we call it Shēngmìng de Guǒshí, or the Fruit of Life. We’ve known about it for centuries. You probably want to know why it doesn’t work in medication, right?” she smiled.

“Yes. Customer reviews say that it would help people for a bit but then their illness would come back. Do you know why it’s happening?”

Screenshot-72.jpg

“Because it can’t be made into medication. Even in raw untouched form, it won’t work for just anyone,” Yang explained.

“But it worked for my mother when she was dying,” I argued.

“Let me guess, someone in her family gave her the plant, right?” she smiled knowingly.

“My father did.”

“I thought so,” she nodded. “Then let me congratulate you: your parents have found true love. Such a rare thing in this world. Although, I like to think Yijun and I have it.” She smiled at her husband. “You see, it only works when it is given to the sick person by someone who truly loves them.”

Screenshot-77.jpg

“How? That makes no sense!” David was incredulous.

She shrugged. “Magic, probably. To be fair, we haven’t done any lab research on the plant, but the results speak for themselves. Of all the times it has worked for people, it was given to them by someone who truly cared about them.”

“There is even a story involving the plant, from back in the old days,” Yijun chimed in. “Back in 15th century, the only daughter on the local king fell deathly ill. He called in the best healers from all over the country, and none of them could help her. He was fully prepared to bury his only child until the poor shepherd boy, who was in love with her, brought her this fruit. Within days, the girl got better. Of course, they married afterwards, the king was so happy to have his daughter recover that he didn’t even care about the boy’s social status. By the way, the local Scholar’s Garden was planned by that princess and her husband. They never got to build it, but their descendants did.”

Screenshot-78.jpg

“That’s sweet.” Well, we knew now what the problem with the medication was. Looks like, it would have to be pulled from the market. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the whole idea of magical properties, but then again, who knew? “I guess we should pull the medication from the market, since it doesn’t work. How come no one has ever published that story? About how this fruit works?”

I asked the Wens. They laughed.

“You’ve seen how it works firsthand, but even you have trouble believing in the whole magical theory. And anyways, there are countless myths around the world regarding the plant. Those who truly need it for someone usually find it,” Yijun explained. “Like your father did.”

“I suppose that’s true. Thank you for having us in your home. It’s been great to meet you,” David and I prepared to take our leave.

“You can see them if you’d like!” Yang offered.

“What? See what?” David asked in confusion.

“The plants, of course!”

She led us outside to her small garden.

Screenshot-81.jpg

“We have more plants in our property in the neighboring town, but we still plant a few things here as well. We’ve planted a few, in case someone needs to cure someone they care about. That way, they don’t have to go hunting all over the world for it,” she explained.

There, among the plum and cherry trees, grew four healthy bushes containing several fruits similar to the one that saved my mother’s life.

“Would you like to take a few?” she offered. “I hope no one is sick in your family, but it’s good to have one around, just in case. And I know your father is good with plants, so he can grow it.”

“Thank you,” I smiled at our lovely host. “I think my father would love to have one at hand again. The one he grew previously was stolen.”

“That’s terrible. He must’ve been devastated,” she nodded, understandingly.

“He was. But by that point, Mom was healthy again…”

“So, he kept what really mattered,” she finished. “I’m looking forward to meeting your father and talking shop with him.”

“How so?” David clarified.

“Oh, I totally forgot to tell you, we’ll be in Hidden Springs sometime this year. I’ve already arranged with my relatives to care for my garden, but we’re going to your town to find out more about your unusual flora. It’s all due to the research your father has published a few years ago. My university has been granted funds and they’re sending me to study the local soil better. So, we’ll be neighbors, for a while, at least.”

“Well, you are welcome to stop by our home anytime, when you’re in Hidden Springs!” David and I both promised to keep I touch with the Wens before leaving their welcoming abode.

Screenshot-83.jpg

The rest of our vacation was spent relaxing and enjoying the local history, museums, and nature.

This is how, one day, we found ourselves camped out in the mountainous area away from the town. It was a very green location, just perfect for setting up camp. Since we were away from home, we had no camping equipment with us, but a grill was always easy to find.

Screenshot-85.jpg

We spent the day enjoying fresh grilled veggies, chatting about any simple thing, and generally making the best of our time.

At one point, I wanted to explore the area a little more, but both David and Millie were too tired after a long week of walking and hiking everywhere. So, I went by myself, promising to return in a bit.

Screenshot-87.jpgScreenshot-88.jpg

After going higher into the hill, I came to what appeared to be an abandoned barn. The area surrounding it was wild, but welcoming, with a bubbling creek flowing through it. It reminded me of the places where Mom and I used to fish together back at home.

I sat down to enjoy the nature around me and to give my legs a well-earned break. I too was rather tired from all the walking. But finding this place was worth the walk.

I’m not sure at which point “being tired” turned into “falling asleep on the ground itself,” but I drifted off.


“Well, what do we have here! A visitor? It sure has been a while…”

Screenshot-90.jpg

I opened my eyes to find myself looking at Yang. No wait, it couldn’t be Yang! This woman had paler skin and longer hair and even though she looked a lot like my new friend, there were certain differences in their appearance, once you’ve looked closer.

Screenshot-94.jpg

“Hello? I’m sorry if I’m intruding. I was just walking and I believe I fell asleep. I’ll leave now,” I tried to excuse myself.

“No need, child,” the woman reassured me, even though she looked to be my age or younger still. “I believe you have good reason to be here. There is always a reason for everything in life.”

Screenshot-96.jpg

“Ok? I’m sorry, but what is your name? You look a lot like someone I know,” I couldn’t contain my curiosity.

“Do I? Possibly. You can call me Hua,” she introduced herself. “But come with me.”

Despite knowing the concept of stranger danger well, I followed Hua. Something about her seemed trustworthy, solid.

“Take a look at this creek,” she told me. “Look at the way it flows. It’s full of life, movement. You need to let this life into yours. Go for a swim.”

Screenshot-98.jpg

“Excuse me?” I must have looked surprised.

“You know how to swim, right? Don’t worry, it’s not very deep. Your life is missing something right now and sometimes you need to go with the flow to acquire it,” she explained.

Despite the absurdity of it all, I followed her advice, shrugged off my dress and went into the water. It was summer, but the water was cool, even freezing. But as soon as I was enveloped by it, I felt more alive than I’ve felt in all the years that I’ve been alive.

Screenshot-105.jpg

“How is it?” she called from the shore.

“It’s great! I feel like I’ve just woken up from a hundred-year old slumber!” I admitted.

“I know. That’s nature for you. It will surprise you if you let it,” she laughed from the shore. “Well, you’re good now. Enjoy your swim and feel free to visit again if you’re ever here.”

Screenshot-106.jpg

I must have bent over into the water, because the next I knew, Hua wasn’t there anymore.

“How strange,” I thought. Telling someone to go for a swim and just walking off? However, the waters around me were still refreshing and I didn’t want to leave them yet…


I woke up where I fell asleep. The sun was only a slight bit lower that it was when I came here, so I deduced that not a lot of time could have passed.

Screenshot-108.jpg

I headed back to the campground where David and Millie were still happily chattering. They waved as soon as they saw me.

“Hey! Back so soon? I thought you were going to take a longer walk? Admit it, you’re tired too,” David teased.

“On the contrary, I’m full of energy, dear,” I smiled, pulling him close.

Screenshot-110.jpg

It was true. My dream has invigorated me in a way no coffee ever has before. I could walk a thousand more miles, run a hundred marathons, fly…

“Hey, why don’t we head back to the hotel? It’s going to be evening soon,” I suggested, batting my eyelashes at him.

“Alrighty! Who wants to go home?” he asked all of us.

“Me!” Millie yelled. She seemed sleepy, despite excitement.

“Home it is, then.”

Screenshot-113.jpg

Millie knocked out immediately after we came home. I had other plans for the evening…

“Hey, come in the bathroom in 10 minutes, will you,” I whispered in David’s ear.

“I don’t know what you have planned, but I’m up for it,” he nodded.

Screenshot-59.jpg

What I did plan was for us to take a romantic bath together. I’ve acquired a relaxing scented bubble bath within days of our arrival, but haven’t had the chance to use it yet. So when David came in and saw me in that bathtub, with nothing on but the bubbles… he liked my idea very much.

“You always have the best ideas,” he smiled as he undressed and climbed in next to me.

Despite being married for years now, I never got tired of seeing him like this, next to me.

Screenshot-61.jpg

“Well, this is cozy,” he put his arms around me and pulled me close. “We should do this at home too, sometime.”

“Sure thing. I’m going to stock up on bubble baths as soon as we come home, then,” I jokingly punched him.

“Hey! I thought you had a more romantic idea than to punch me!” he feigned offence.

“I did, didn’t I? Care to remind me what it was? Perhaps a crocheting lesson?”

“Let me remind you, then.” Somehow, despite the limited space in the tub, he managed to change his position so that he was on top of me. I looked him straight in the eyes, inviting him in.

“I want you so badly,” I whispered. “I always do. You’ve been my weakness from day one.”

“You have no idea what you’re doing to me when you speak like this,” he breathed out, thrusting into me with the fervor of a man who hasn’t seen a woman for a decade.

“I love you.”

Screenshot-64(1).jpg

Screenshot-65.jpg

Our lovemaking became faster, more passionate, rougher. Every touch of his electrified me, sending every type of shiver through me, and still, I couldn’t get enough.

I don’t know how long it took until we both screamed out in ecstasy, sinking back into the bubbles completely spent.

“Wow!” he breathed out. “This was really something. We are so buying bubble bath when we’re home.”

Screenshot-63.jpg

“Or not,” I looked around at the water that was spilled all over the bathroom. We certainly weren’t paying attention to much else.

Someone knocked from downstairs, yelling “Hey, people are trying to sleep here!”

David chuckled. “It’s a good thing Millie sleeps deeply. Otherwise, we might’ve had to have The Talk with her much earlier than expected.”

“Were we really that loud that everyone could hear us?” I cringed.

“Either that or we have a perv with a listening device downstairs.”

“In that case, they’ve hit jackpot tonight,” I laughed, caressing him. “Repeat tomorrow?”

“Absolutely.”


In a while, our vacation away from home came to an end.

It was the last day of our stay in China and even though we all loved it here, we missed home too. And we have already been called by the contractors who worked on repairing our house – all the work was done. We were free to go home.

Of course, Millie didn’t want to leave her friend behind. She and the Wens’ son became close friends during our stay here. But of course, they would be coming to Hidden Spring shortly, so their separation won’t be long.

Screenshot-117.jpg

We were spending the day at the spa. As I leaned back in the pool lounger and looked at my family playing in the pool, I was overcome with a sense of happiness. I’ve made many questionable decisions in my life, but this family was not one of them. And as long as they were with me, everything was going to be alright.

Screenshot-116.jpg

“Mom! Come join us!” Millie called.

“The water’s amazing here,” her father added.

“Coming!”

Screenshot-123.jpg

Life was good.

Gen 2 Ch 19: Smoke of the Past

Screenshot-8

“I really don’t know what to say,” Dr. Klein admitted. “It should be working. I don’t understand why it isn’t.”

This was our fifth IVF attempt, which was two more than the advisable norm for people in our situation. After David got his test results, only to find out that everything was fine on his side of things, we have invested ourselves money, body, and spirit, into this process, only to be met with failure once again.

I was trying to see the positive side of things, I was. This didn’t mean complete failure. There were still ways to have a baby… Just not one that I would carry, probably.

“So, should we try again?” I asked, still holding out hope.

Screenshot-9.jpg

Dr. Klein paused. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Usually, either the process gives results or the people just stop trying. And I’m not saying I want you to stop trying. But not only is IVF expensive, it isn’t really a pleasant process in itself… Perhaps, you should take a break for a period of time. And in the meanwhile, I’m going to continue my research on the matter. There is bound to be something else we can do.”

“So, there is still a chance?” I was searching for reassurance.

“There is. But don’t get your hopes up too much just yet. I was sure IVF would work, but…” she drifted off.

“We understand,” David nodded, giving my hand a reassuring squeeze. “Thank you for doing your best.”

On the way home, I tried to focus on the positive. There was still a chance. It was just so small…

“Hey,” David turned to me. “Don’t let the funk get to you. Just because this didn’t work, doesn’t mean nothing will. We can still have a baby.”

“How?” I blurted out. “Through divine intervention?”

Screenshot-12.jpg

“Who knows?” he shrugged. “Isn’t that why they call them miracle babies?”

“I just hate it that’s all. We’ve both had so much hope for this, and now we’re at square one again.”

“At least we tried, right? And look at the Uptons. They’ve pretty much given up hope of ever conceiving and then they did. I guess what I’m saying is, you never know how things will turn out.”

“I really hope you’re right,” I sighed. I felt guilty for thinking it, but it was somewhat easier for him to stay positive, since he already had a child of his own. And I loved Millie more than I thought would have been possible, but I still wanted a child that was biologically mine.

Screenshot-11.jpg

“By the way, I’ve almost forgotten, but your father called last night when you were asleep. I didn’t want to wake you up, since you were so tired. I told him you’ll call him back today,” David perked up. “He sounded really intrigued by something.”

“Hmm, I wonder what it is that caught his fancy this time.” As Dad got older and his stamina for gardening diminished, he began to spend more time with his scientific experiments and research. Everyone was happier for it – he was less tired, while Mom and the rest of us worried less about him accidentally hurting himself in the garden.

“He mentioned something about that plant that involved your family with mine,” David awkwardly admitted. “Something about the medicine our company made with it.”

“Oh, that,” I nodded. Ever since Collier Enterprises was exposed, we have made attempts to give proper credit and payments to people who got swindled out of their money by Lionel. Dad was one of the very few who have refused monetary payment, as long as his name was listed on the research. “I wonder what he wants to know. Even when he found that plant, I only knew that it worked, but not how. Dad was the only one who understood all the scientific specifics about it. So, really, I should be asking him about it.”

“He sounded really curious about something,” David mused.

I decided not to waste time and to head over to my parents’ house as soon as I’ve eaten. Dad was ecstatic to see me, as usual.

“Irene, honey! Come play a match with your old man,” he called, after I declined the hearty mac’n’cheese he offered me. “I’m glad you’re here. How has life been treating you? How are you feeling?”

Screenshot-29.jpg

“Meh,” I admitted. Dad knew all about our IVF attempts and he, like Mom, was trying to give me support through it all.

“Oh, honey, don’t fret. You’ll have your baby, I have a gut feeling about it,” he reassured me.

“The same way that you knew we’ll find a cure for Mom?” I smiled at my old man.

“That’s right! Speaking of that, I’m sure David already told you that I was calling about it, right?”

I nodded.

Screenshot-26.jpg

“Well, how have you been keeping up with your medications at the company?” he asked. “Do you keep track of how well everything works or doesn’t work?”

“How so? We keep track of sales and the demand for certain things, but what do you mean?”

“Long story short – I’ve been reading customer output regarding this medication. It seems like, in almost every case that the medicine was used, the illness went away for a short period of time, only to return later,” he explained. “And I want to know why. And why hasn’t it happened to your mother? Can her sickness still come back? Do I need to worry? I want to understand what is happening.”

This was news to me, but David and I were so preoccupied with our personal issues lately, that it made sense how we didn’t realize this was happening.

“We can take a look into it. We will,” I promised. Of course, it was only our job.

“Thank you, dear. Now you’ve been letting your old man beat you at this. I know you’re better at chess than this weak game!”

Screenshot-23.jpg

He was right, I was. After three more games, one of which I actually won with the others lost very closely, I was ready to head home.

Screenshot-14.jpg

There, I got online and began reading patient reviews of the medication based off the lifefruit. Everything looked just how Dad described it. Patients would experience a temporary improvement in health, only to get sick again after a while. Most likely, I thought, the pharmaceutical company added some new ingredient that interacted badly with the healing properties of the plant. But of course, this would have to be researched more closely.

I looked up at the clock near me. It was already 5 pm and Millie wasn’t home, I realized.

My sudden bout of panic ended quickly: of course, I have completely forgotten it with all the doctor’s visits, but Millie was supposed to be home later today. She has asked me almost a month ago if she could skip her after-school art class for a lecture by a world-popular zoologist who happened to be visiting out city.

I leaned back in my chair, smiling. The little girl was still extremely taken with her art, but now she had another interest that took up a lot of her fascination. In other words, all talk of boarding school was over, which put all of our minds and hearts to rest.

I was brought out of my reverie by a phone call.

“Mrs. Meadows-Collier? Hi! Is everything ok with Millie?” It was Mrs. Andrews, the instructor of her art class.

Screenshot-17.jpg

“Yes, Mrs. Andrews, she’s fine, why? My apologies, but it has completely escaped my mind to tell you ahead of time that she’ll be absent today,” I explained to the friendly teacher.

“Oh, I know all about that, Millie told me last week that she wanted to hear the zoologist’s lecture. I guess you just forgot to tell your babysitter about it, right?” she mused.

“What babysitter?” I asked feeling confused. David and I have considered hiring a babysitter when Millie has first arrived to us, but it all worked out without us needing one.

“Umm, the one who came to pick Millie up from class today? She seemed surprised to hear that Millie wasn’t here today, so I thought, maybe there has been some change of plans,” Mrs. Andrews explained, admitting, “I don’t mean to sound offensive, but I’m a bit surprised you’ve hired this woman to look after your stepdaughter. She seemed rather strange.”

Screenshot-19.jpg

“We haven’t! We don’t have a babysitter!” I choked out. “And you know we always either pick Millie up ourselves or have her take the school bus. Wait, what did this woman looked like?”

“She was kind of tall, slender, dark hair, I believe, although, she wore a hat. There was something about her eyes though. I can’t really explain it, but it felt off to me,” the teacher admitted. “I will keep an eye out for her in the future. And you should probably call the police. Or, should I do it?”

“That’s alright; I think I should call them. Thank you for your vigilance. I’m glad you’ve checked in with me about this.”

“It’s my job. I always try to make sure there aren’t any sketchy persons near the kids. Well, take care now.” With that, the teacher hung up, leaving me more than a little panicked.

With shaking hands, I dialed David. “David, are you with Millie yet?”

Screenshot-20.jpg

“No, I’m on my way to pick her up, now. Why?”

“Some strange woman went to her art class and claimed to be our babysitter in order to pick Millie up,” I nearly shouted. “Mrs. Andrews thought she looked strange and suspicious.”

“That’s troubling. We should call the police. But don’t worry about Millie, I already see her. She’s fine.” He hung up, and I was about to ring the police when our doorbell rang.

Screenshot-24.jpg

To my huge surprise, the man at my doorstep was Deputy Rosswell of Twinbrook PD and he did not look happy.

“Irene, can I come in? Is David home?” he asked urgently.

“No, but come in, Mr. Rosswell. Why didn’t you call us? We could’ve picked you up at the airport,” I invited the older man in.

“Thank you, but I decided not to discuss this over the phone and time wasn’t something I wanted to lose. I’m afraid I have bad news for you – Marilyn Johnson has escaped.”

Screenshot-28.jpg

“What? How?” I felt a chill go through me.

“I don’t know, Irene, I just don’t know. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but no one has realized she was missing until the institution orderly realized that she hasn’t eaten several meals. I came here as fast as I could after finding out,” he explained. “I have already contacted Hidden Spings PD on the way here. You probably won’t like it, but we’re going to assign a unit to watch over you. This woman, she is obsessed with your family. I’m afraid she is going to come here and I want to catch her before she does any damage.”

Screenshot-29.jpg

“Oh my god…” I blanched. “A woman claiming to be Millie’s babysitter has tried to take her from her art class. The teacher said there was something off about her. That must have been Marilyn.”

“Is that so? Well, I guess she works faster than we expected, then. You know, I do wonder how she was able to do it. The security at her institution was really tight. And now she is here, so fast… Well, never mind that, let’s just make sure everyone is safe.”

Screenshot-31.jpg

By the time David has arrived with a happily chattering Millie in tow, Mr. Rosswell and I were already discussing what we could do to keep safe. As soon as David was filled in on what has happened, he has decided that it would be best to keep Millie from going to school for the next week and to have her come to work with us. After all, safety in numbers was a thing.

Screenshot-33.jpg

We were to have police surveillance on hand at all times, until Marilyn was found. Of course they would stay inconspicuous, so as  not to attract her attention, but they would be near.

He has also suggested that someone check in with my parents and Gerald from time to time or even give them security as well, since Marilyn had an unhealthy obsession with them as well.

By the time the officer has left for the night, we had a game plan on our hands. But as they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men go awry.”

Taking Millie out of school for a week didn’t pose much of a problem. She had all her assignments with her and she could do them at the office. Besides, since we’ve decided to keep the entire family under police watch, the dog came with us and the little girl was ecstatic to have her furry friend with her at all times.

Screenshot-15.jpg

That was what created the opening for Marilyn to strike. Had the dog stayed at home, he would have made plenty of noise, alerting police to a stranger’s presence. As it was, the sole policeman who stayed at the house never realized anyone was there but him.

Screenshot-42.jpg

Screenshot-43.jpg

That night, we had dinner as usual. The police watching over us didn’t join us in order to attract less attention, so it was just the three of us and the dog. Millie kept recalling the wonderful zoological lecture from three days ago. Apparently, after the lecture ended, Terry Farrel, the zoologist himself ended up having a chat with her and even gifted her a new interesting book that had so much interesting information.

We watched a movie. We weren’t supposed to be terrified all the time, just because Marilyn was on the loose. At least, we were trying not to be.

We went to bed, as usual.

In retrospect, we should have paid more attention to Sherlock’s uneasy behavior that day, but we attributed it to our own nerves rubbing off on him.

Screenshot-47.jpg

I woke up to frantic dog barking and smoke.

Next to me David rolled over and began coughing, with tears running out of his eyes.

Screenshot-48.jpg

“Fire,” he coughed out, “the house is on fire.”

“But we have smoke detectors… Millie!!!” I realized the girl was in the house as well and the thought woke me up for good. We both rushed out of our bedroom and into the hallway, which luckily was not on fire yet, even if it was filled with smoke already.

Screenshot-50.jpg

The handle of her door was burning to the touch, but the two of us managed to throw it open. Millie was crouched on the floor inside, completely terrified of the fire, with Sherlock running all around the room and barking his head off.

Screenshot-51.jpg

“You’re ok! Come on, Millie!” screamed David, pulling his daughter to her feet. “We need to get out of the house as fast as possible, before everything burns down and there is no way out.”

Screenshot-57.jpg

We dashed downstairs, where an inferno was raging. Barely making way towards the front door, with the dog quick on out footsteps, we found it barred shut from the outside.

Screenshot-53.jpg

We exchanged a glance – this fire was no accident. This had to be Marilyn’s work.

“Backdoor, now!” David shouted, pulling us in the opposite direction. The flames were intense, but by some miracle we made it to the patio door, only to find it locked from the outside as well.

“What now?” Millie asked, sounding small.

“It’s thinner than the front door. We break it,” announced David, pushing against the glass panes with his whole weight. Eventually, the glass panes buckled under his intense pressure and the shattering sound was followed by the creation of our way out.

Screenshot-54.jpg

We practically fell outside, but the flames surrounding our house were still too close, we had to get away.

On a side note, I wondered why the police watching over us haven’t called the firefighters yet, but that thought left me as my vision went dark and the last things I heard were frantic calls of “Irene!” and “Mom!”

Screenshot-59.jpg


Screenshot-61.jpg

I woke up to the bright lights of the hospital room and two concerned faces looking at me – David and Millie.

“Mom, you’re ok!” The little girl rushed towards me and enveloped me in a hug. “Mom” was definitely a new development, but it brought a smile to my face. I looked over at David, who was grinning in relief.

Screenshot-63.jpg

Screenshot-64.jpg

“You’ve been out for three days. You’ve inhaled a lot of smoke in the house and passed out as soon as we got out. We’ve all inhaled some, but it seems like you’ve had it the worst. We were really scared for you. Your parents were here until an hour ago. They finally went to get some sleep.”

“Oh, goodness! What about the policemen? What about Sherlock?!” I sat up straighter, feeling light headed.

“Easy, easy,” David tried to calm me down. “Sherlock is fine except for some singed fur, he’s with your parents. The doctors were having a hard time restraining him from trying to get into your room, so I thought it was best he stay with someone who can take care of him for now.”

Screenshot-66.jpg

“He saved us all that night,” Millie added. “His barking woke us all up. Tell Mom why the smoke detectors didn’t go off?”

“Yeah, about that,” David explained. “Marilyn was in our house while we were all out. She tampered with the smoke detectors and spilled the incendiary agent around our house. And Sherlock must have smelled it, which was why he’s been acting so strange all day. But being a dog, he had no way to convey the message to us.”

“She was in our house and set the place on fire? Where the hell was the police?!” I couldn’t understand how this even happened.

“Mr. Rosswell was the one who arrived to our house after you passed out. He rode with us in the ambulance to the hospital and explained things. Apparently, someone called in a bomb threat to the airport and all the local police were called there for patrol. Of course, that someone turned out to be Marilyn, who did it to make sure no one was around to help us. And we know all this because they caught her,” he finished.

“Wait, how? If all the police were busy? And who called the ambulance?” I was probably still sick from the smoke, since nothing made sense.

“Hi, sis!” Gerald and Roman came in, smiling with a satisfied grins of people who have accomplished a good job.

Screenshot-65.jpg

“Remember, I work with the Hidden Springs PD on cybersecurity now? Well, I know a few things about proper surveillance,” Roman reminded me.

Screenshot-45.jpg

Screenshot-46.jpg

Screenshot-58.jpg

“As soon as Roman and I knew Marilyn was at large, we set up our own watch. We actually have a recording of her calling in the bomb threat. This was how we knew she was going to strike, but by the time we got to your house, the fire has already happened and you were being taken to the hospital. We knew she just had to be nearby still. Sure enough, she was hiding out on the block, observing her work. But don’t worry, sis, we got her. And this time around, she is going straight to jail, not to some mental health facility.”

“I’m glad. I hope, this time around, they keep a better eye on her,” I leaned back in the hospital cot.

“I hope so too,” admitted David.

“So, our house?”

“It is going to need a lot of repairs,” David explained. “So, we can’t go back there yet.”

“That sucks,” I sighed. I didn’t like hospitals very much, not since Mom’s sickness. “I guess we’ll have to finish our research on the lifefruit at a later time?”

“Hmm, not necessary,” Gerald perked up. “Dan and David have told us about your medicine problem and we’ve been doing some research. Apparently, this fruit has been found in China quite recently. Perhaps, you can go there and continue your research on location?”

Screenshot-69.jpg

“It sounds like a good idea,” David smiled. “It can be the honeymoon we never took. And Millie can come with us. It would be a good opportunity for her to visit another culture and to explore the nature there.” And to recover from the scare of the fire, but that went unsaid.

Screenshot-70.jpg

“But I have school,” Millie reminded us. “Won’t I get in trouble for missing so much time?”

Screenshot-67.jpg

“I’m sure, after taking everything into consideration, the school will understand. Besides, you’ll still do your homework,” I calmed her down.

“Thanks, Mom.” She still hasn’t moved away from me, even as the rest of my relatives went to the cafeteria to get coffee.

“How come you’re calling me ‘Mom’ all of a sudden?” I found myself asking the little girl. “You’ve always called me ‘Irene’.”

“Yeah… but I feel like you’re my mom now, just as mom as my birth-mom was. I mean, you’re always there for me and you’re always so nice to me. And when you got sick, I felt like I was about to lose my mom all over again and it was true. So, is it ok if I call you ‘Mom’?”

“Of course, honey. I was just curious. I would be only honored to be your Mom.”

Screenshot-71.jpg

Two days later I was released from the hospital with a mostly clean bill of health and David and I began to plan our family trip to China. We were determined to find out why the medication wasn’t working properly and if this was the place to look for answers, we would find them.

Gen 2 Ch 18: Biology

Author’s note: Another chapter dealing with fertility problems. Also, I’m no biologist or doctor, so my explanation’s of medicine may not be as great as they should be.


With time, Millie began to adjust to life with us in Hidden Springs. Despite any possible worries, she and I got along perfectly, usually chatting about all sorts of things.

Screenshot-6.jpg

Screenshot-7.jpg

Sherlock the dog made a great addition to the household. He was so energetic and playful that it really felt like we had two kids in the house, one human and one covered in fur. He was always either by Millie’s side, trying to nuzzle me, or dashing wildly all over the house, seemingly tireless.

Also, Millie found an unusual friend in my mother. Despite their age gap, they instantly made a connection, most likely because Mom knew Millie’s loss all too well, having lost her mother at a young age as well.

Screenshot-20.jpg

Mom was, of course, somewhat surprised at how quickly Millie and I became close, but that wasn’t something I could really explain. It just happened.

As soon as school started, we have encountered a new problem – Millie’s shyness. While she was comfortable at home with us, she found it extremely hard to interact with her classmates properly. Also, she often hesitated to ask questions in class when things were difficult for her, which resulted in her doing worse in school than needed. I wasn’t sure whether it was a result of her trauma or if it was an old issue that Sharon has also had to deal with.

However, she and I seemed to have reached a deal regarding that, more or less. According to her teachers, Millie would spend a lot of time in class drawing or doodling, even when she was supposed to be paying attention. This irked many of them. While I understood how it was necessary for the little girl to make her art, I knew this would further mess up her grades.

Screenshot-47.jpg

“Millie,” I offered one day. “Did you know there are after school art classes, not far from your school?”

This caught her attention. “There are? Can I take them? Pretty please!”

“You can. But on one condition,” I explained. “You need to start focusing on your work in class. I know how you love to draw, but the teachers don’t. They take it personally when you don’t pay attention to their class. Can you try to focus more on your subjects?”

She scratched her head in confusion. “It’s hard sometimes. I feel like they’ll think I’m stupid if I tell them I don’t understand something, but sometimes they talk really fast and I don’t catch their explanations. And there are so many other people in the class. It’s scary.”

Screenshot-48.jpg

“I know, honey,” I explained. “Let me tell you a little secret. I don’t like being around too many people either. Neither does your Daddy. Would you believe me if I told you we high-tailed it out of our own wedding as soon as we could?”

“Really?” her eyes widened in surprise. “But you have so many friends!”

“We do. It’s something that both of us have to work on. Because, the thing is, all of your life, you will need to be around people. For school, work, life in general. Interaction with others is something we all need, even if it scares us to reach out to others, at first. But it’s worth it in the long run. And the more time you spend with people, the less scary it will be,” I reasoned. “Besides, it can get pretty lonely by yourself.”

Screenshot-50.jpg

“I suppose,” she agreed. “So, if do my best to stay more focused and ask for help in school, I can go to art classes?”

“Yes you can. In fact, I have the forms to fill out for them right here in our office,” I announced to the beaming girl.

As soon as she was enrolled in the activity, things began to look up and some of her teachers even told me she has done a 180 in terms of her school performance.

David and I were overjoyed. He was heavily worried about her school problems, because they were another not so welcome similarity to his sister and he wanted Millie to avoid them as much as possible.

With our lives approaching a sense of normality once again, it was time for me to deal with something I put on the backburner for almost a year– my visit to the doctor. Kyla Upton gave me the contact information for her fertility specialist, Dr. Klein, a woman she described as highly knowledgeable in all matters pertaining to reproduction and health in general.

So I made an appointment with her and within a month, I was sitting in her warmly-lit green waiting room, nervously waiting for my talk with the doctor, while her receptionist finished inputting all of my filled out information into their system.

Screenshot-56.jpg

Screenshot-58.jpg

Dr. Klein’s office was very welcoming. It looked as if the doctor specifically planned the décor in a way intended to calm people down and make them comfortable. It was something I appreciated. I was here alone today – although David wanted to come along, I wanted the initial appointment, at least, to be a one-on-one with the doctor. Besides, I already knew the problem wasn’t with him.

Eventually, the receptionist finished typing in her information.

“You can go in now. The doctor is ready to see you,” she called me.

The doctor was a pleasant-looking woman, likely around 50 years of age. She looked at me with a friendly but knowledgeable smile and directed to a chair in front of her.

Screenshot-62.jpg

“Good morning, Mrs. Meadows-Collier. I hope we didn’t make you wait too long and that your commute here was quite pleasant. I’m Dr. Klein, but please call me Constance,” she introduced herself. “I’m not going to ask about what brings you here. I already took a look at your file. I see that you have been married for six years but have had no luck conceiving, is that correct?”

I nodded. “Yes. I don’t know what’s wrong. We have been trying regularly, but I can’t get pregnant. And, just Irene is fine.”

“Well, Irene” the doctor tilted her head in curiosity, “It’s not necessarily a ‘you’ problem. It could also be your husband. How come he isn’t here today?”

Screenshot-67.jpg

“He has a child from a previous relationship,” I explained. “So, he must be fine, in that aspect.”

“Also not necessarily,” the doctor reasoned. “Time passes, health changes. Also, it is quite possible that the two of you have a chemical incompatibility, which is pretty rare, but is something that happens every once in a while. This is why I prefer both spouses in such situations. But we can always do that next time.”

Screenshot-74.jpg

“So, what is in the plans for today?” I inquired. In retrospect, maybe I should have asked Kyla Upton about what I had to expect from this visit.

“Well, I am going to give you a physical examination and run some blood tests for now. Is that alright?”

“Yes, of course,” I agreed.

“But before we start, let’s talk about your health history. You haven’t had any serious conditions as a child or as a teenager, right? And your cycle is normal, no pelvic pain, STDs, or anything else that bothers you?”

Screenshot-68.jpg

“Not particularly, no,” I replied, before remembering, “Well, actually, can you sustain an injury that damages reproductive chances from taking a big hit to your stomach?”

She considered it. “Sometimes. But only if the hit was very intense and caused you serious damage or internal scarring. Is this happened to you?”

Screenshot-72.jpg

“I don’t know. Maybe?” I admitted, recalling my fight with Marilyn all those years ago.

“Well, let’s not worry about it until we’ve checked you out,” the doctor reassured me. “Come on, the exam room is just outside.”

Screenshot-76.jpg

“Now,” she explained, “Before we go in, remember: even if you hear a diagnosis you don’t like, nothing is final. I’ve seen countless women conceive despite serious health issues. And you are a young woman in good health. This is already something.”

We entered the exam room and she directed me to an examination bed.

“Please undress and get ready for the physical part. Also, just relax, there isn’t anything to fret about,” she smiled.

Screenshot-82.jpg

After examining me and asking several times whether any of the areas she pressed on were hurting, Constance moved on to the ultrasound to find out if I had scarring anywhere important.

Despite my worries, she soon calmed me down.

“Well, whatever injury you’ve had, there isn’t any damage from it. Your organs are as good as new,” she explained. “In fact, it doesn’t look like there is anything physical preventing successful conception and pregnancy.”

Screenshot-85.jpg

“So, I should be able to have a baby?” I perked up.

“Well, we haven’t done the blood tests yet. Also, I didn’t ask, but how is your family in terms of their health?”

“Pretty decent at the moment. They’re pretty old now, but they are doing alright. Mom did have cancer back when I was a teenager, but it’s in the past, thank goodness,” I informed her.

Screenshot-87.jpg

She gave me an inquisitive glance. “What kind of cancer? Was it just her, or did anyone else in your family have it?”

“Blood cancer, actually. She moved here when she was young because she knew she was at an increased risk for it, but it still got to her. And yes, her mother, my grandmother passed away from it when she was still a child… this is important?” I felt like an idiot.

“Of course, dear. I have a hunch about what the problem might be. If this is something that runs in your family, you also should have been at risk for it. However, since Hidden Springs seems to be almost supernaturally healthy for its residents, we end up developing very good immune systems. My guess is, you are at a much lower risk for your family’s disease than both your mother and grandmother, but that doesn’t mean you system doesn’t still have weaknesses. Let’s check your blood now. I have a feeling I know what is going on. ”

Screenshot-86.jpg

“Is something wrong with my eggs?” I felt a sense of dread.

“Not necessarily. However, your immune system might be the culprit here. Have you ever heard of anti-sperm antibodies?” she asked

“No…what do they do?” I was bewildered. Such a thing even existed?

“Yes, well, human bodies can be really weird at times. This is one of them. In cases where these antibodies are present, the man or woman in question will basically have a type of allergic reaction to the sperm, and the antibodies will destroy it, recognizing it as something harmful to the body. That makes it practically impossible to conceive naturally. It’s rare, but it happens.”

Screenshot-89.jpg

“Wait, men’s bodies, too? How, even?” I couldn’t process the information.

“Told you — our bodies are strange. Sometimes it happens after injuries, sometimes due to stress, or because of other environmental factors… but it’s not the end of the world,” she explained.

After taking a couple of samples, Dr. Klein headed straight towards the testing machine.

Screenshot-83.jpg

Screenshot-90.jpg

“It won’t take very long. This system is very good at completing the testing and compiling the results fast,” she explained.

I allowed her to focus on the tests, mulling over this new information. If the antibodies were the case, at least I knew why I couldn’t conceive, right? That didn’t make it any better, though.

“You can take a seat outside in the lounge, I’ll be out in a few minutes to discuss the results with you, dear,” Dr. Klein informed me, not taking her eyes away from the screen in front of her.

Out in the waiting room, I began to crumble again. Somehow, knowing something was definitely wrong with me made me feel even worse than before.

Screenshot-100.jpg

Soon, Constance joined me with the results.

“Well, it is just as I’ve suspected. Those darn antibodies are to blame for your failure to conceive. Your body is trying to defend itself from a falsely perceived threat. Meaning, it’s literally blocking you from making a baby. Hey, hey, hey, don’t cry darling!”

I couldn’t help it. This was it. I wasn’t going to have children all because of some strange physical problem.

Screenshot-102.jpg

To my surprise, she hugged me. “It’s ok, darling. I know you feel sad right now. How do you think I got into this line of medicine in the first place? I couldn’t get pregnant either, and I just knew I wouldn’t stop until I knew what was causing it. And I had problems worse than yours, but I still got my daughter, even if it took me longer than most to get there. What I’m saying is, you have options.”

“I do? Is it IVF?” I asked.

Screenshot-105.jpg

“Most likely, yes. Of course, your husband will have to come in here too; we still haven’t checked him out. But, in most cases like yours, the woman is able to conceive and carry a healthy child to term. So, don’t lose hope.”

Screenshot-109.jpg

“Thank you, Constance,” I got out through the tears. “I’ll talk to David about this.”

At home, I found Millie, once again, sketching something in the living room, with Sherlock keeping her company.

Screenshot-120.jpg

Screenshot-121.jpg

“Good afternoon, dear. Where’s your dad?”

“He’s doing something with the computer. He’s been in the office for the last three hours,” she answered, adding the last touches to her latest drawing.

“Oh?” I walked into our office, to find David focused intently on the screen of his computer, fingers typing wildly away. “Hey.”

Screenshot-123.jpg

“Hey yourself!” he turned towards me with a smile. “How did it go?”

“Eh,” I sighed. “We’ll probably need IVF if we want a baby of our own. It seems like my body is not allowing for natural conception.”

“Ok,” he agreed. “I’m ready whenever you are. What do I need to do?”

“Dr. Klein says she wants you to get tested first too,” I explained. “I’m sorry I didn’t let you come with me.”

“It’s ok. I know you wanted to get this over with on your own,” he sighed, looking back at the screen with a sad expression.

“What’s wrong? Is it me? You’re upset about something,” I noticed.

Screenshot-124.jpg

“Yeah,” he admitted. “It’s Millie. Apparently, her art teacher was talking about Le Frommage Art School in class and she has already brought it up several times earlier, but she has mentioned it again. And I just can’t Irene. I can’t send her to boarding school. I don’t want to be that parent who keeps their children from following their dream or whatever, but the idea of her away from home and with strange people in a faraway school is just straight up terrifying me.”

“Millie’s been talking about that boarding school again? She mentioned it to me once, but she didn’t say she wanted to go there. No way! Why?!” I was blindsided. Millie was honestly trying to be more social at school, but she was still a very shy person. The idea of her all alone at some new place with strange people was foreign and unreasonable to me as well. “Have you asked her about it?”

“Admittedly, no… I was a bit scared to start a serious conversation about it. What if she thinks it means I agree to let her go there?”

“Oh, David… I’ll talk to her.”

Screenshot-127.jpg

“Really? You’re the best!” he pulled me close, to kiss me.

“It’s the least I can do. Hey, what’s this?” I’ve noticed that on his screen was a large word document with writing.

“Well,” he admitted. “I’ve sort of been writing a book.”

“A book? What’s it about?” I was curious.

“About us. About our efforts to save the company. About how it all paid off,” he explained. “I didn’t tell you about it at first, because I wasn’t sure if I would manage to start writing anything, and later, because I wanted to finish it before telling about it.”

“Did I ruin the surprise, then?” I frowned.

“Nope. Actually, you’ve literally walked in as I finished the last page!”

“Well, congratulations, then!”

After planting another kiss on him, I left to talk to Millie.

Screenshot-138.jpg

“Hi, Millie,” I found the girl on the couch. “Can we talk?”

“Yes,” she agreed. Something about her mood seemed off to me. It was reminiscent of her behavior back when she has just arrived here.

“Is everything ok?” I got straight to the point. “You’ve been kind of sad lately.”

“Everything is fine, yeah. How was your day?” she asked.

“It’s ok. But your father tells me you want to leave us and go to art school?”

“It’s Le Frommage Art School. It’s very good and it helps develop young people’s artistic skills,” she explained in a neutral tone.

Screenshot-141.jpg

“It does sound very good,” I admitted. “But are you sure you want to go there just yet? There are many new people there and it’s very far from here. I don’t want to scare you, but this is why your Dad is worried. And frankly, so am I. You are only nine years old!”

“Yes, but other kids go there young too,” she argued.

“True, but I thought you liked it here with us and Sherlock,” I tried to reason with the girl. Despite her pleading, she didn’t seem to actually be very eager to leave. “Look, how about this deal: you finish elementary school here in Hidden Springs and if you want to go to Le Frommage Academy for high school, if you still haven’t changed your mind, you can go.”

“But that’s going to take so many years!” she exclaimed. “And you and Dad won’t have your own baby while I’m here!”

Screenshot-140.jpg

“What?!” her idea had me completely taken aback. “What makes you think so?”

“Well, that’s what Vicky and Sally said…” she mumbled.

“Go on.” I wanted to hear more of this novel idea.

“Well, they said you and Dad couldn’t have another baby of your own because you were too busy taking care of me and I don’t want you to not have a baby. So, if I go away, maybe you can?”

“Oh honey!” I tried to stifle my laughter. It was too sweet how concerned she was about us and it totally explained why she “wanted to go away”. “Millie, dear, I don’t know whatever made your friends think you were the reason for us not giving you a little sibling, but they are extremely wrong in this matter. Just so you know, your father and I both love you very much. And like I said, you shouldn’t go away to any school unless this is something you really want and have given a lot of thought to. And as stated previously, if you want to go there for high school, I will try to convince your father to let you go, which won’t be easy. But for now, please stay here.”

“Ok?” she hesitantly agreed. “But are you sure that Vicky and Sally were wrong? About you and Dad and the baby?”

Screenshot-143.jpg

“Yes, honey, very wrong. Your father and I do want to give you a little sibling very much, and yes, we are having some problems with that at the moment, but they have no relation to your presence here. They really have something to do with biology.”

“What’s that?” Millie asked with wide eyes.

Screenshot-146.jpg

“It’s a type of science that deals with living creatures, including humans. You’ll learn it when you’re in high school,” I explained without going into much detail.

“Oh!” her eyes grew even wider. “Living creatures? Like Sherlock, and the butterflies, and the animals in the park?”

“That’s right. Although this particular branch of science would be called zoology and it focuses mostly on animals.”

“This is so cool! I wish I could learn it sooner,” she admitted wistfully.

“You can, probably. There are plenty of interesting zoological articles on the internet and I’m sure your school library has some books you can check out on the subject. Your teachers can even recommend you some specific things, I believe,” I informed her.

“I’ll ask them,” she promised. “And Irene? I hope you and Dad get your baby!”

Screenshot-147.jpg

“Thank you, dear,” I pulled the little girl into a hug. “And if your classmates have any questions about biology and about how humans have kids, I’ll be more than happy to explain to them in high detail how the process works.” Even though, really, that was a job for their parents.

“You should! Maybe they’ll want to learn biology too!” she agreed.

“What are my girls chatting about so excitedly?” David smiled, coming out of the office.

Screenshot-149.jpg

“We’re talking about biology!” Millie announced. “Did you know, the study of animals is called zoology?”

“Really? That’s cool,” David glanced at me, giving me a wink.

“And I’m going to learn it soon,” she continued.

“If you’d like, we can go fishing too, soon,” I offered. I fondly recalled the times my mother and I would spend out on fishing trips together. It was a good pastime.

“Can I bring some fish home? And put them in an aquarium in my room?” Millie wanted to know.Screenshot-151.jpg

“Why not?” agreed David. “Just be careful and don’t get overheated outdoors.”

That night, after Millie went to bed, David and I ended up talking.

Screenshot-159.jpg

“That was cool of you, to make her focus on something other than art. Maybe she’ll forget all about Le Frommage Academy now?” he smiled.

“I hope so. I’d hate to see her leave, too,” I admitted.

“So, we haven’t really had a chance to talk. How are you feeling? After the doctor’s visit?”

“Decent, I guess. She was really nice and she seems to know what she’s talking about. I can see why the Uptons were so charmed by her.”

Screenshot-158.jpg

“I still wish you’ve let go with you,” he admitted.

“Sorry. I was all nerves before the visit. I didn’t want to have to drag you there all for nothing.”

“It’s not for nothing. I want to be there, at least for emotional support. And who knows, maybe there is something problematic with me these days? I fathered Millie before a lot of stuff went down,” he referred to his breakdown and the subsequent stress.

“I know. Dr. Klein said she wants to have you tested also. However, it seems like my body is making anti-sperm antibodies,” I explained, bitterly. “Who even knew this crap existed?”

“I think someone mentioned it back in college. Their friend was experiencing an issue similar to ours,” he nodded.

“It just sucks. Why does it have to be me?!” I exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted children, why is my physiology not cooperating with me?”

“Hey, the doctor said IVF is possible, so it’s not hopeless, right?” David tried to reassure me.

Screenshot-161.jpg

“I suppose. But sometimes, it doesn’t work,” I tried to shake the worries away.

“Hey, it’s going to be ok. We’re going to try. I’m going to be there with you for every step of it. And hey, who knows, maybe in a year from now, we’ll have a baby of our own?” he tried to cheer me up.

“I really hope you’re right,” I slumped down on my pillow.

Screenshot-166.jpg

“Trust me, it will all work out,” he promised, stroking my cheek. “And whenever you feel down, remember that I love you very much. As do the rest of your family and friends. And also, across the hall from us sleeps a little girl who thinks you’re the best thing since sliced bread. You don’t have to deal with all this alone.”

I fell asleep with him still hugging me. He was right. Everything was going to be just fine.

Gen 2 Ch 17: Three of Us

Warning: Mentions of depression, anxiety, talk of death. Also, just ignore the outfit change at the end of the chapter. I didn’t notice it until all the pictures were taken and I exited the game.


Irene’s POV

The girl was scared. That much you could tell. I wasn’t sure if she understood that David was her father or if she thought we were just random strangers, but she kept looking warily between the two of us, as if expecting something bad to happen at any moment.

Screenshot-146.jpg

That wouldn’t do at all, if she was to stay here.

“Hi there, I’m Irene. And you are Millicent, right?” I ventured carefully.

She nodded, quietly responding “Yes.”

“So, I’m thinking you must be tired and hungry right now. Would you like some waffles?” I tried to make the situation less awkward for all three of us.

“Thank you. Ms. Rae got me some food once we got off the train though,” she gave a small smile.

“How far did you have to travel to get here?” I asked.

Screenshot-143.jpg

“Um, five hours on the train? And before that, two hours in the car, I guess. Ms. Rae was with me though. I wasn’t alone,” she explained.

That was roughly seven hours of travel. Yikes. She must have been exhausted.

“Then you probably really want to sleep, right?” I wondered out loud.

Millicent hesitantly nodded.

“Well, then, let’s get your bed set up,” I announced, trying to sound more clear-headed than I was. The alcohol from the bar was still making its presence known to my brain, a fact that I really didn’t want a small child to notice.

“Would it really be ok for me to stay here?” she asked in surprise. “I know you weren’t expecting me.”

“Of course it’s ok, sweetie!” I hurried to reassure the little girl, who looked so much like her father, who unfortunately was completely quiet until this moment.

“Why didn’t Sharon tell me? About you?” he blurted out.

Screenshot-154.jpg

The girl shrugged with a strange expression. “I don’t know.”

I tried my hardest to keep my smile on. Of all the things he could say right now! David and I were going to have a talk after Millicent was out of earshot.

“That’s alright, Millicent. Do you have a set of pjs?”

She nodded eagerly. “All of my things are in the bag Ms. Rae brought with us.”

“Alright, then! Let me show you your new room and the bathroom. Let’s get you comfortable. We can talk about everything else in the morning,” I decided.

Screenshot-163.jpg

It didn’t take long for Millicent to fall asleep once she had access to a bed – the long journey to our house must have taken a lot out of her.

With one thing accomplished, I made my way towards Millicent’s father. He was still downstairs, seemingly waiting for me.

“There you are,” he exclaimed upon seeing me. “What are we going to do?”

“We are going to raise this child, your child, and we are going to do as great a job of it as we possibly can,” I announced.

Screenshot-160.jpg

“You mean, you’re ok with it? With the fact that I have a daughter from another woman? You’re not mad at me?” he asked somewhat panicky.

“David, we’ve been trying to have a child of our own for the past five years to no avail. I was starting to consider adoption, you know. And here we are literally handed this wonderful little girl, and she is yours. Maybe this was meant to be? I’m not saying I’m happy about what happened to Sharon. No child deserves to lose a parent at such a young age and Sharon herself was just our age…” I paused, trying to accept the fact that a woman so young has passed away leaving her little daughter unattended for, to the best of her knowledge. “What I’m saying is, we need to step up our game and be the support Millicent needs right now.”

“Thank you, Irene,” David sighed with relief. “For understanding the situation.  I do want to do right by this girl. But I mean, I didn’t even know she existed until an hour ago…”

“I know, I know. But David?” I looked him straight in the eye. “You know I love you, right?”

Screenshot-159.jpg

He nodded.

“But considering why Millicent is here, it was an unwise decision to ask her why her late mother never told you about her existence. I really doubt Sharon has explained anything about breakups to a child of eight. Promise me you’ll be careful with her.”

“Ok,” he agreed quickly. “I know I messed up. I’m going to try and get to know her a little better tomorrow. Wow, who would have thought! I’ve had a daughter for eight years and had no idea about it.”

“You do. Now, let’s get some sleep ourselves. We both need to sleep off the liquor before tomorrow starts,” I decided, dragging him to bed.

Screenshot-165.jpg

The alcohol still in my system knocked me out in seconds, but when I woke up it was still dark.

Strange. I thought I’d sleep for much longer after the kind of day I had yesterday. But then again, thoughts of the little girl in the room across the hall instantly invaded my mind. She must be so confused right now. I hoped she was able to sleep, despite all the recent shakeups in her life.

Screenshot.jpg

I looked at the clock: it was only 4:30 am. However, I knew I won’t be sleeping again this night. Quietly as not to wake David, I got out of bed and left the room, thinking of heading downstairs for an early morning snack, but something took over and I found myself heading towards Millicent’s room.

I wanted to make sure everything was ok.

Screenshot-2.jpg

Approaching the door, I heard quiet muffled sobs coming from inside the room – she was crying. Of course, she was. I would have been crying too, in her shoes.

Should I go in? Or would she rather have her privacy? Following my first instinct, I carefully opened the door and stepped in.

Millicent was lying in bed, seeming unable to stop the sobs shaking her small body. From the looks of it, she has been crying for a while now.

Screenshot-4.jpg

Screenshot-6.jpg

“Millicent?” I ventured carefully. “Have you slept at all?”

Becoming aware of my presence, she tried to stop crying.

“Yes,” she managed to whisper through the tears. “A little.”

Screenshot-7.jpg

“Do you maybe want to talk to someone? I know you’ve just met me this evening, but I can try to help,” I offered. “Or at least to listen.”

She sat up, giving up on sleep.

“Why? Aren’t you supposed to be mean to me? Stepmothers are supposed to hate their stepchildren. Like Cinderella’s and Snow White’s stepmoms. That’s what everyone always says,” she sniffled.

Screenshot-8.jpg

I couldn’t help but smile. She was so precious.

“No Millicent, most stepmoms don’t hate their stepchildren. I can’t say that there aren’t some bad ones in the world, but most of them are pretty nice. Can I sit here with you for a bit?” I asked.

She nodded. I sat near her, trying to figure out how to talk to a distraught child.

“What’s wrong? You can tell me,” I let her know.

Screenshot-10.jpg

She hesitated for a moment before admitting, “I miss Mom.”

Of course, she did. It was silly of me to even ask that question.

She continued, “I woke up an hour ago and it hit me that I’m never going to see her again and it just made me so sad. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to her.”

Upon this, she once again started crying, reminded once again of her loss.

screenshot-12

I remembered the time when Mom was sick. How all of us were in a race against time to find a cure for her. How elusive that cure was and how small the chance of finding it was. For several months, we were all terrified of losing her. It still would have hurt terribly, but at least we had time to prepare for the worst.

Millicent didn’t. The accident happened completely out of the blue and she was struggling to process what happened. And she was still so very young.

“You’ll see her again, Millicent. Not soon, but one day you will,” I told the little girl. “But until then, you just need to remember that your mom loves you very much and that she is looking over you from where she is right now.”

“Do you really think so?” she asked hesitantly.

Screenshot-14.jpg

“I do, dear,” I hurried to reassure her.

“But I still feel sad,” she whispered. “Is it bad?”

“It’s not bad. It’s normal to miss someone you love. I’m not going to lie to you – you’ll be missing your mother for a long time, probably for your whole life. But eventually, you’ll learn to live with her absence. Of course, it’s going to take time, but that’s life. Sometimes it takes people away from us too soon.”

“I won’t forget her right?” she asked nervously. “After many years pass, I won’t forget everything about her, will I?”

“Of course not, dear. She is your mother. Her memory will always be with you. And in the time being, your father and I are here for you. I want you to know that you never need to be afraid of either of us and that you can tell us anything that bothers you.”

“What is he like? My father, that is?” Millicent asked.

Screenshot-17.jpg

“He is a very good person, you don’t need to worry about that,” I smiled. “He’s someone who would always try to cheer you up when you’re feeling down. And he really knows how to put a smile on someone’s face. Tonight, he was just surprised that you exist. We both are, to be honest.”

“It’s so strange,” she admitted. “Whenever I asked Mom about my dad, she would get this strange expression and stop talking. Except for this one time when she said he was going to try to take me away from her if he found out about me. I think, maybe, this is why she never told him about me.”

It made sense, really. David was from an affluent family and especially when his father was alive, Lionel might have tried something like that. Sharon’s worry wasn’t ungrounded. However, I knew David would never have done something to separate a child from his mother. Of course, from what I knew of their separation, he wasn’t in the best state of mind at that point in time. Perhaps that was another factor influencing Sharon’s decision.

I sighed. Life could get really complicated sometimes.

“Maybe, I guess we’ll never know. But you are here now. And when your father wakes up, you’ll have a chance to really get to know him. Would you like that, Millicent?” I tried to cheer her up.

She nodded, beginning to smile. “Yeah, that would be nice. And you can call me Millie. All my friends call me Millie.”

“Alright, Millie. And you can call me Irene, no “Mrs.” or anything, alright?” I responded.

“Ok,” she nodded, adding “Irene.”

It was beginning to dawn outside. The night was really over.

“So, Millie, have you ever made pancakes?” I asked the little girl.

“No, Mom either cooked or got takeout back at home,” she shook her head.

“How would you like to help me make them?” I offered. “Fresh orange pancakes with whipped cream and jam?”

“That sounds delicious,” she admitted and her stomach rumbled in response.

“Let’s go then! The kitchen awaits brave experimenters in the culinary sciences.”

David’s POV

 

Sharon Preston. My first ever serious girlfriend. The person I once said “I love you” to. The person I pushed away when grief and anxiety got the best of me.

She and I met in our freshman year of university. As an art major, she was exactly the last person my parents would have wanted to see me with. And she had spunk, she did. There were so many times when she would call out our professors, who were less than knowledgeable in their topics, earning herself their disapproval and major respect from the students.

Screenshot-106.jpg

It didn’t take me long to fall for her, even when I told myself I didn’t have time for such things. Sharon was the kind of person I have always wanted to be, so full of energy and ideas, always drawing attention to herself and whatever she was passionate about.

And you just had to see her face when she talked about art. She would light up like the sun!

Screenshot-109.jpg

By the time we were juniors, we were already planning our future together, to the point of renting a place to live in as a couple while we finished school. That way, we could spend all of our free time together, enjoying each other’s company, loving each other, and generally being together.

Screenshot-111.jpg

Screenshot-114.jpg

Everything was absolutely perfect.

Until the news of Emily’s death came and broke something inside of me.

I blamed myself for relaxing, for forgetting that I still had a responsibility to her, for allowing myself to be happy while Emily wasn’t. I fell apart.

Screenshot-117.jpg

Sharon tried to help, to get me out of my funk, to help me get myself together. But as it went, I shut everyone out, even her. For months, I’ve turned into a shell of a person, one wrecked by anxiety and depression. Everyone got the hint and left me alone.

Screenshot-118.jpg

Screenshot-121.jpg

Except for Sharon. She stuck around for a long time. She was still trying, even though anyone could see that my condition was taking a toll on her. It wasn’t her job to make sure I was still alive and breathing every morning, but she did. She actually cared about my well-being, a fact I might have noticed if I wasn’t so deep under.

Until the day she didn’t. I guess everyone had their breaking point and Sharon reached hers.

Screenshot-124.jpg

We had a big fight that day. Sharon was trying to get me to come down and eat something that wasn’t junk food, or even just to come out of the house for some fresh air.

Screenshot-128.jpg

She told me I was going to end up seriously sick if I continued on the way I did.

I told her I hoped it would happen sooner rather than later.

Screenshot-134.jpg

That was when she lost it for good. She was practically crying by that point. She told me that if I wanted to leave this world so badly, it only showed how I didn’t care about anyone around me. Showed how I didn’t even care about her.

I told her this wasn’t about her. Couldn’t she see that?

Screenshot-141.jpg

She only shook her head and announced that if I was so set on destroying myself, she would have no part of it. She would not allow her own life to be destroyed alongside mine.

Screenshot-144.jpg

Screenshot-146.jpg

She left me after that. I don’t remember at which point she took her things from the house, but by the time I ended up in the hospital, they weren’t there anymore. The day of our fight was the last time I’ve ever seen Sharon Preston in person.

I woke up in cold sweat, the vivid dream that brought all my old memories up still playing in my mind.

Screenshot-28.jpg

Sharon Preston. I loved her, I truly did. Did I love her as much as I loved Irene now? Maybe, maybe not. But I loved her nonetheless.

And now I’ll never have the chance to apologize for all the pain I’ve caused her.

My mind was brought out of its reverie by the voices coming from our kitchen. One was Irene’s, the other must have belonged to Millicent.

Screenshot-32.jpg

Millicent, Sharon’s daughter. My daughter. It was still a shock to know that for the last eight years, I had a living breathing child in this world.

Eight years… Now that I’ve had time to think about it, Sharon must have known she was pregnant at the time of our breakup. Her pregnancy must have been just the thing that gave her a push to end things with me. It made sense, really: as a mother, she had to think about what was best for her child. I understood her decision.

And now, she was gone and I was meeting my daughter for the first time.

Entering the kitchen, I was greeted by a sight straight out of a “perfect family” sitcom. Irene was preparing pancakes and Millicent was by her side, helping her mix the ingredients, reading out loud which other items had to go into the dough, and rinsing the fruits.

Screenshot-34.jpg

“Good morning, David,” Irene called without even turning around. No matter how quietly I walked, I could never surprise her.

The little girl turned around upon hearing my name. For a moment, we just stared at one another. Gosh, she looked so much like Emily. Except for her mother’s eyes. Her eyes were a definite reminder of her mother.

Screenshot-37.jpg

“So,” I tried to make her comfortable, “hi. You’re Millicent and I’m David, your father, and wow, this is awkward, but I’m really glad to finally meet you.”

“Hi,” she responded quietly. “It’s nice to meet you as well. So, what do you do?”

Screenshot-44.jpg

“Well, Irene and I run a pharmaceutical company. It’s a big building, which is connected to different places around the world, and it produces medications help people. And there are a lot of different people working on different projects, and you are probably getting bored listening to this, am I right?” I realized.

She shook her head. “I like hearing about things. It’s interesting.”

“That’s a good thing,” I smiled. “The more you know, the richer your life will be, right? What about you? What do you like to do? What do you like?”

Screenshot-43.jpg

“I like to draw,” she answered after thinking for a moment. “I like to watch TV shows. Especially about cooking. I can’t cook though. But Irene is showing me how to make pancakes!”

“I sure am,” Irene affirmed from her spot at the stove. “They are almost ready, too.”

Screenshot-41.jpg

“That’s wonderful,” I smiled at the now-excited child. “So, do you think we can be friends?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “I’d like that.”

“Breakfast is served!” announced Irene. “Eat up. The weather is good today – perfect for a picnic in the park.”

“You have parks here?” Millicent asked, her eyes growing big. “How many?”

Screenshot-62.jpg

“Oh, we have plenty of them here,” Irene responded. “Hidden Springs is very green and every outdoorsman loves it here. Do you like parks?”

“I love them!” she smiled. “Do they have wildflowers and chipmunks? They are so picturesque!”

“You’ll see for yourself pretty soon, I think,” Irene smiled from across the table.

I looked over at my wife in amazement. This wasn’t the reaction I expected from her upon finding out I had a child from a prior relationship. Not only was she extremely accepting of Millie, going out of her way to make the little girl welcome, but it seemed like she and the girl already became close friends. When has this happened? How did I deserve this miracle?

Screenshot-79.jpg

On the way to the park, Millie took in the town passing outside the window with wide amazed eyes. I was still getting used to the fact that I had a daughter, but her presence was becoming more and more normal by the minute. Right, even.

Looking over at Irene, I couldn’t help but notice how she seemed to be more relaxed that she has been in months. The absence of a child must have been weighing on her mind even more than I’ve noticed. Perhaps, this was why she and the girl drifted towards one another so quickly. They both needed one another.

The park was quiet that day. It seemed that the majority of Hidden Springs have chosen to spend their day off elsewhere and the relaxed atmosphere of the woody area combined with the smell of the grass, still fresh after last night’s rain, put all three of us into a better mood.

Screenshot-87.jpg

Millie was curious about everything, from the history of Hidden Springs to how Irene and I met. (Oh yes, we had to change the story up a bit for her, for now at least!) She was still clearly sad about what happened, but she was beginning to adjust. It was an interesting change from last night, when she seemed scared to even speak up. I figured she resembled Emily in more ways than one – my late sister was also shy with people until she was able to get to know them closer. Although, Millie seemed to adjust to situations somewhat better, I had to admit.

She also seemed to be in love with drawing, bringing a large sketchpad with her everywhere she went. For an eight-year old, she was pretty good.

Screenshot-89.jpg

“Isn’t she precious?” Irene whispered to me while Millie was preoccupied with her drawing.

“Yeah. It’s a bit of a struggle for me not to call her Emily at times, though,” I admitted. “She looks so much like her.”

Screenshot-92.jpg

“Does she? Well, she is your daughter,” Irene smiled. “Do you think she’s going to be ok? I know I can’t replace her mother, but…”

“I think she’ll be just fine. And I think she already likes you more than me. I’m a little jealous,” I joked.

“Yeah, well. She and I had a heart-to-heart talk while you were sleeping,” Irene explained. “We get each other.”

“My girls are already conspiring against me, eh?” I pouted. But truly, I was happy that this situation was working out in a positive way.

I hoped, wherever Sharon was right now, she could see that her daughter had not one, but two people who were going to do their best for Millie.

Screenshot-3.jpg

Eventually, as evening began to set in, we headed home. All of us were tired and a little sore from not sleeping much the previous night, but it was worth it. We knew we had to spend some time together to get used to each other.

As we approached our house, our group was greeted by the sight of an irritated-looking young man and a large Siberian husky dog.

Screenshot-4.jpg

Oh shit, I thought. I totally spaced out about that.

“Yo man! That’s not cool, you know. I don’t have all day to wait for people who decide to back out at the last moment,” the young man addressed me. “I only waited as long as I did because you were so adamant about this particular dog and I just know he’ll be grabbed up by someone else as soon as he’s back up for adoption.”

“I’m so sorry,” I hurried to apologize to the rescue worker. “Stuff came up and I kind of forgot you were coming today.”

“What is this about, David?” Irene bewilderedly looked between me and the dog.

“Um, I kind of applied for a dog adoption,” I admitted, realizing that I probably should have asked her about this first. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about it. It was supposed to be a surprise for you.”

Screenshot-8.jpg

“A surprise for me? A dog?” she didn’t seem as happy as I imagined she’d be.

“You aren’t happy? I’m sorry. It’s just, you were feeling really down and I remembered how fondly you’ve talked of the dogs you and your brother had growing up. I thought bringing a dog home would cheer you up, you know,” I explained.

Screenshot-13.jpg

Her expression relaxed. “I’m not mad about the dog. It’s just, I don’t know if we have enough time for one. My parents weren’t working at a busy corporate office and their jobs allowed them to always have the pooches nearby. Besides, a Siberian husky is a very energetic breed…”

We were interrupted with loud giggles. Millie already made her way towards the dog, which was happily licking her hand, to her immense delight.

Screenshot-17.jpgScreenshot-12.jpg

“Well, when you put it that way,” Irene conceded. “I suppose a dog wouldn’t be such a bad idea.”

“That settles it, you two. I’ll be on my way now. I left some dog food by your door, which you might want to use soon – Sherlock here is probably hungry by now. Oh yeah, by the way, he only responds to Sherlock, ever since our manager started to watch BBC in the dog room. See ya!”

And with that, the man was gone on his way, whistling as he rode away from us.

“Well, I guess we have a dog now!” Irene announced, urging everyone indoors.

Even though she was initially opposed to the idea, she quickly turned to smiles at the sight of Millie trying to hug a dog that was practically her size.

Screenshot-19.jpg

“Looks familiar,” she explained. “Ursa and Hawk would constantly play furry babysitters for us when Mom and Dad had to leave us alone for any time.”

That evening, while Millie played with Sherlock, Irene and I were relaxing together in front of the TV.

Screenshot-29.jpg

Screenshot-30.jpg

“What are you thinking about?” I asked, looking at her content face.

Screenshot-26.jpg

“I’m thinking that everything is going to be alright,” she replied. “For all of us.”

I hugged her close, and whispered “Yes.” Of course everything will be alright. There was no other option.

Gen 2 Ch 16: Almost Perfect

Warning: PG-13 for some NSFW in the first part of the chapter. Also, don’t read if you aren’t comfortable with topics of infertility. Also, kind of long (5k+ words).


Following David’s proposal, we’ve decided not to put things off for too long and to have a small ceremony with only our family and friends present. Luckily, the lodge where Gerald and Katy got married was able to squeeze us in within the next two months, and we were able to marry in record time.

My parents were incredulous – in the course of one year, both of their babies were getting hitched! They and Gerald wished us both the best of luck in becoming a family. The girls at work just chuckled when David and I announced our engagement – apparently they were both expecting it for a while now.

Screenshot-10.jpg

Screenshot-12.jpg

Screenshot-13.jpg

So, one evening very soon, the two of us said our vows, exchanged rings, and became a family. I was officially Mrs. Meadows-Collier, and David was my lawful wedded husband.

As the wedding party went on, with all of our friends and family mingling, we both found ourselves needing some space from the group and found an opportunity to sneak away to a more private area of the venue.

“So, Mrs. Meadows-Collier, how does it feel to be a married woman?” David asked with an easy smile.

“Depends. How does it feel to be a married man, Mr. Collier?” I joked back.

Screenshot-16.jpg

“Right. It feels right. Did I ever tell you how amazing you look in that dress?” he asked, pulling me close.

“You can really work a tux too, love,” I responded, leaning into him.

Screenshot-18.jpg

“I love you, Irene,” he whispered before kissing me fervently. Pulling away, he asked, “Hey, do you think anyone will notice if we sneak away right this instant?”

Looking back at our guests, I shook my head. “I doubt it. There’s cake and an open bar – the best distractions known to humanity. Let’s go?”

The drive back to David’s, or rather our, house was as quick as could be. Before I could open the door, David stopped me.

“Wait, let’s do this the right way,” he explained, before picking me up and carrying me over the threshold.

Screenshot-19.jpg

“But we already live together!” I laughed. It was true, the week before our wedding, I have officially moved in with him, which was mostly a practicality, since I was already here most of the time.

“Doesn’t matter. I’m still carrying my wife over the threshold on her first arrival here in that status,” he chuckled. “So, what are you thinking off?”

“The same thing you are thinking off, I’m sure. I mean, I like the tux but…” I teased.

“Oh yes. Your dress needs to go as well,” he agreed.

Neither of us needed any more prompting.

Screenshot-20.jpg

It was strange, really. I kept hearing about all these couples who felt less attraction to one another after being together for a year, but in our case it was quite the opposite. I never got tired of seeing David in bed next to me and judging by his behavior, he felt the same way about me.

After we got all the yearning out of our system, he and I fell back exhausted but happy.

“So. We’re really married, huh,” he whispered.

“Yeah… You know it’s funny, but before I met you, I never imagined myself getting married,” I admitted.

“Really? Why not?” he asked softly, nuzzling my arm with his lips.

Screenshot-23.jpg

“I don’t know. It just seemed like such a serious strange thing to do.”

“What about now?” he laughed softly, caressing me.

“Do you really need to ask?” I responded, trying to ignore his eyelashes tickling me.

“I guess not,” he chuckled. “I’ve always wanted to marry, to have a family. It’s probably strange considering my own family background, but the more aloof things were at home, the more I’ve wanted a family of my own. A real family, where the husband and wife feel strong affection for one another and go out of their way to make each other and their kids feel loved. That kind of thing.”

“I want that too. Mom and Dad were like that, always. Still are. I think they made me set really high standards for family love. Speaking of family, do you want kids?” I asked. Ever since David proposed, I’ve been thinking non-stop about what it would be like to have a child together. Or two. Or three.

“I do. Do you?” he raised his head.

“Yes! At least two!” I laughed.

“I’d like that,” he smiled. “When do you think we should start trying?”

“We are already married. Why not now?” I offered. Once again, David didn’t need to be asked twice.

As we fell asleep close to one another, he pulled me close and whispered “I still can’t believe we’re finally a family. Sweet dreams, love.”

Screenshot-22.jpg

I was as happy as anyone could be.

David’s POV

Waking up next to Irene each morning was the best part of being married. Every time, I would be reminded that this wasn’t some wishful dream, but reality. For the first time in my life, it felt as if life was absolutely perfect. We were still absolutely swamped with work at the company, but that was nothing when you had the love of your life by your side.

Screenshot-26.jpg

I never expected that the upset drunken girl I met at the bar almost three years ago would become the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my days with or that she’d be the guiding light that chased away most of my anxiety. But that she was.

I just hoped I could be the kind of person she needed, for all the time.

Getting up and circling the living room, a recurring thought popped up in my head – this place was small. Too small for a new family that was thinking of growing.

Of course it was small. This was the place I got cheaply when I first moved here with the sole idea of not having to live under my father’s room once more. I didn’t really care about space or fancy amenities back then, since the place was for me alone. As it was, it was lucky that it had a well-functioning bathroom and a full kitchen, but space was somewhat of an issue.

Screenshot-28.jpg

This was a bachelor pad, not a family home. We’ll just have to move, then.

And I knew just the place.

A couple of weeks later, once Irene and I have gotten off work, instead of heading home, I drove past it and instead towards the new house. I haven’t told Irene about the purchase yet, but I’ve notice that she smiled, whenever we passed by this place. As soon as I found out it was for sale, I’ve put in a bid and the house was mine. Or more accurately, ours.

Screenshot-29.jpg

“Where are we going?” Irene asked, seeing our current abode fade in the distance.

“Someplace I hope you’ll like,” I nodded towards the house we’ve just approached.

Helping her out of the car, I hugged her while she took in the building. “It’s ours,” I informed her.

Screenshot-31.jpg

Screenshot-32.jpg

“But it’s huge! There’s no way we can afford it right now, not while we’re still paying out fines for the company,” Irene protested.

“It cost less than you think. Apparently the person who ordered it built and chose the layout didn’t like the end result. So, the seller put in on the market, but apparently, too many people are unhappy with the lake-side location and he ended up lowering the price.”

“What?! That’s crazy. This place is gorgeous,” Irene frowned.

“That’s what I thought. Their loss, our gain, right? Anyways, let’s head inside! It’s starting to drizzle.”

Once inside, I showed her the house the same way the seller showed it to me.

“So, the kitchen is all finished, the walls upstairs still need some paint. The plumbing is all functional, of course, and much more modern than our current one. There are two bedrooms other than the master, and two balconies. Wait till you see the one in the back!”

Screenshot-34.jpg

I led her to the master bedroom that had its own entrance to the large backside balcony with an amazing view of the lake.

“So, what do you think?”

Screenshot-36.jpg

Screenshot-38.jpg

“I love it. It’s a little big for just the two of us, but the lake is right here and it’s conveniently close to my parents, and yeah, you’ve probably noticed me looking at this house so many times. You have, haven’t you?” she realized.

“It definitely was something that influenced my home buying decision,” I admitted.

“It’s perfect,” she smiled. “And I guess you can go swimming in the lake whenever you want now, isn’t that so?”

“You just know it!”


5 Years Have Passed.

David’ PoV

We were having a house party, a thing that neither Irene nor I were fond of. However, when you have many friends, sometimes you have to make an effort to spend time with them outside of work.

In other words, our house was full of people. And people talk so much. Sometimes it’s overwhelming keeping track of all the conversations happening. At least how it is for me.

Irene was engrossed in a conversation with her sister-in-law. She has just offered everyone some cold beers from the fridge, but as it turned out, Katy couldn’t drink for health reasons.

Screenshot-7.jpg

“I’m not showing yet, but Ger and I are expecting,” she announced. “So, no drinks for me for the next while.”

“OMG, me too!” Lana chimed in. “I finally convinced Emmet that we can totally raise a child and I’m about three months in.”

“No way! We can be bump buddies,” Katy laughed. “What about you, Irene? When are you going to join the club?”

“Soon, hopefully,” Irene’s mouth curved in a smile that didn’t quite reach the eyes.

Screenshot-10.jpg

I saw Tia stiffen next to my wife. She was always much more intuitive to people’s emotions.

My mother-in-law also gave me a knowing look. She has also noticed Irene’s reaction, it seemed.

Talk about awkward.

Soon, it was over, as Gerald came back into the room and started asking Irene if we wanted to give an interview for his newspaper. After all our effort, we were now considered proof that a company in any condition could be pulled out of a rut.

Screenshot-19.jpg

At this point, Roman involved me in an interesting conversation about online media and I had to divert my attention away from Irene, although I could still see her mingling with Tia and Lana throughout the evening.

Eventually, the party ended and we were able to go to bed.

“Well, that was exhausting,” Irene sighed. “Why did we invite so many people, again?”

“Absolutely agreed. The next time people are hinting that we should have a party, we should make sure it’s hosted at their place!”

Screenshot-57.jpg

“Good thinking,” she laughed genuinely for the first time that evening.

“Hey, was everything ok back there, with Katy and Lana?” I ventured.

“Yeah, of course! Wow, Gerald is going to be a dad. My younger brother is becoming a father,” she smiled. “And I did wonder when Lana was going to get knocked up. After Tia and Roman had their Brannon, she wanted to start trying right away, but Emmet was freaked out about becoming a father…”

“Irene, that wasn’t what I meant,” I sighed. Why did she insist on pretending everything was fine?

“I know. But it didn’t bother me, really. I mean, we don’t have a kid yet, but it takes time, sometimes,” she shrugged.

Screenshot-54.jpg

“Alright, then. Just know you can talk to me about anything, ok?” I reassured her the same way she has always done with me.

“I know, I know. And that’s why I love you,” she smiled. “Well, goodnight, then?”

“Goodnight. Sweet dreams.”


The morning after the party, like I often did, I got up earlier than Irene. The weather was warm, meaning the lake would be perfect for a swim.

Screenshot-31.jpg

Swimming was something I did almost professionally in college and high school. It has always been something that calmed me down and improved my mood. Something about the water just had a healing effect on the soul.

Coming back from my swim, I could see Irene on the balcony, already awake and waving at me. She seemed to be in a better mood than the night before, which made me happy in turn.

Screenshot-39.jpg

Screenshot-35.jpg

“Had a nice swim?” she yelled from the balcony.

“Sure did. I’m hungry; will you have breakfast with me? I know you don’t have to go in until later.”

“Sure, I’ll be down in a bit,” she smiled, and headed back inside.

Irene’s POV

Waking up to an empty bed on summer mornings was never a surprise for me. I knew David loved to swim when the weather was warm, utilizing the free time before work to get the most out of the day. Knowing about his background in swim, I was happy he came back to this activity he has loved so much in the past. Not only did swimming help him control his anxiety, but it enabled him to once again quit smoking, a feat I knew he was proud of. As was I – it always worried me to see him with a cigarette before.

Screenshot-38.jpg

Screenshot-36.jpg

Besides, while I wasn’t a great swimmer myself, I could certainly enjoy the view.

“I’ll be down in a bit,” I told David when he called me to eat with him.

There was something I wanted to do first.

In the bathroom, I followed the directions on the box. I waited for 5 minutes, like I was supposed to.

Alright, Irene, here goes nothing. I didn’t want to look down at the little stick in my hand, though. The result was always the same, anyways.

Finally I forced myself to look.

Screenshot-41.jpg

Negative.

Again.

After five years of marriage, five years of trying to conceive, still negative.

Screenshot-43.jpg

I threw the offensive object away, doing my best not to cry. I actually had some hope this time around, for whatever reason. We were making sure to have a lot of sex on the days I knew I was ovulating, I was watching my diet like a hawk, we were both in good health, we both wanted a baby… what else could we do? What could I do?

Finally gathering myself together, I headed downstairs to breakfast. The pro of having such a huge house was that both of us could have our space when we needed it. This was something I appreciated when I felt as terrible as I did right now. But at the same time, I couldn’t be alone right now.

“Hey, what took you so long?” David asked, sliding a fresh peanut-butter sandwich towards me. “I thought we were going to have breakfast together. Your coffee got cold.”

Screenshot-46.jpg

“Sorry, I lost track of time,” I lied. “But I’ve been trying to cut down on coffee anyways.”

“Alright, then. I guess I should get ready for work. I have about half an hour to shower and get dressed,” he calculated.

“Ok,” I nodded still focused on my sandwich.

He raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything on his way to the bathroom.

“What the hell?” I realized what he was hinting at in a minute. “I need to get my head in the game.”

Screenshot-49.jpg

“I see you’ve changed your mind?” he joked as I joined him in the shower.

“I’m so out of it today. So out of it,” I shook my head. “Thanks for jogging my memory, hon.”


Months passed. My sister-in-law and Lana were both showing in their pregnancies. I tried to ignore the ugly nagging feelings of jealousy this stirred in me. They were my friends, I was really, truly happy for them, I was. But at the same time, it hurt knowing that, for some reason, what happened so easily to them just refused to happen to me. All I wanted was a child, real healthy child to complete my family.

It didn’t help that the girls, despite their wonderful personalities, simply didn’t notice how I felt. Of course, I’d be the last person to tell them, but when they asked me for things like these…

Screenshot-82.jpg

“Emmet and I would love for you to be the baby’s godmother, Irene. Please say yes!” Lana asked with anticipation.

“Me, really? Are you sure?” I was taken aback.

“Of course, you! Why not, we’re friends,” Lana shrugged as if it was such an everyday thing.

Screenshot-80.jpg

“Sorry, I just wasn’t expecting this! Of course, I’ll do it,” I agreed, still feeling strange about the whole thing.

“Thank you so much, Irene! You are such a great friend,” Lana exclaimed pulling me into a hug.

Screenshot-84.jpg

I hugged her back, with my heart warming up to the idea. Hey, I was going to be a sweet little boy’s godmother. That was pretty awesome. And Lana was always so sweet to me; of course, I’ll do this for her.

“You’re welcome, dear. But I guarantee you I’ll end up spoiling the little one.”

“Oh, I’m sure you will. That’s what godparents are for, right?” she laughed.

On my way from her house to the company, I was still smiling at her reaction. Until I ran into the last people I wanted to meet on any day of the week.

Screenshot-53.jpg

Screenshot-54.jpg

Micah and Mona. They were passing right outside of Collier Enterprises, on their way to wherever they were going.

Screenshot-55.jpg

They didn’t notice me, of course. They were busy fussing with their baby.

But I certainly noticed them, with my jealousy resurfacing again and bubbling up the surface in huge waves, only to turn into deep, deep bitterness over the fact that practically everyone was having kids but me.

Screenshot-57.jpg

I barely made it into the building, running for the empty conference room where I knew I could finally break down and let it all out. Except, the conference room wasn’t empty.

Screenshot-59.jpg

“Hello, Mrs. Meadows-Collier, I almost thought you won’t make it in today!” Liam Upton waved at me from across the table.

Still feeling awkward from being caught in such a terrible mood, I remembered: of course, today we were supposed to go over our quarterly income reviews with the lawyer. And of course, in my distracted state, I forgot all about it.

“My apologies for being late,” I found my voice. “I have to admit I forgot all about this review and I was here to pick up the unfinished paperwork from this week. Good thing I was here, then. Let’s look at these papers.”

Screenshot-60.jpg

“Yes, of course. Is everything alright, though? You look rather upset, if I may say so,” the lawyer ventured.

“Thank you for the concern, Mr. Upton, but I’m alright, really,” I lied.

Screenshot-63.jpg

“Ok, then. Well, as you can tell by looking at these logs, your company is doing very well. And I can attest that all the income you are making is coming in as legally as possible. Congratulations. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to talk to Mr. Collier about it yet, but I think, sooner rather than later, we’ll need less and less of these reviews. I must admit, I’m impressed by your and your husband’s approach to business. If all the other corporations were as meticulous about their reputation, I would have been out of a job!” he laughed. “But really, this is the kind of thing a business should aspire to.”

“Thank you, Mr. Upton. It means a lot to me to hear that from someone like you. You’ve helped our company as much as anyone could, despite our former reputation and you’ve given us so much advice on getting Collier Enterprises out of the rut that you are definitely deserving of praise for our success as well,” I admitted to the older lawyer.

He smiled warmly. “I’m always happy to help when people are willing to accept the help. Be it for business reasons or personal ones. And I’ve dealt with people for a little too long not to notice that you were on the verge of tears when you walked in here and that you are still trying not to cry. Whatever it is, you’re bottling it and it’s going to keep bothering you until you deal with it. I may not be a psychologist, but life has taught me that much.”

Screenshot-64.jpg

I sighed deeply. He was right. The conversation about Collier Enterprises has distracted me from my previous thoughts, but only a little bit.

“You’re right. Something is bothering me. It’s just that David and I have been married for five years now and no matter what I do, I can’t get pregnant,” I admitted. “It didn’t bother me at first, I know it can take time, but it feels like whatever effort I make, whether it be watching my health, using those stupid calendars for planning my fertility, taking vitamins, it all doesn’t help. And it seems like all around me, I keep seeing happily pregnant people, people with little children… I’m not a jealous person by nature, but I’m so jealous. Why is it that the one thing I want from life right now, I can’t have?” I finished, taking deep gulping breaths.

“Oh, Irene,” he sighed. “I know how you must be feeling right now.”

“You do?” I looked up.

 

“Believe it or not, Kyla and I were in the same situation when we got married,” he explained. “We’ve been trying to conceive for almost seven years, with no luck. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with us. All the checkups were coming up fine, no chemical imbalances or physical problems. Speaking of medical issues, have you gone to a fertility specialist yet?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I admitted. “I’ve gone to my regular doctor though.”

“You should see a fertility professional about this, though. They might know things that a regular OBGYN doesn’t,” he advised.

“I suppose. So, what did you do? How did you conceive?” I asked.

Screenshot-67.jpg

“We adopted,” he explained. “Kyla and I both wanted children and we decided that since nature didn’t want to cooperate, we’ll just have to accept that we couldn’t have them the usual way. So we adopted.”

“But your daughters look so much like you and your wife!” I exclaimed. David and I have met his family and we even noted to one another how strong the family resemblance was.

“They do, don’t they? Nora is biologically ours, yes. Kyla did, eventually get pregnant, without even trying, about six years after we adopted Betty. The biggest surprise of our lives. I guess, what I’m saying is, don’t give up. And even if things don’t work out the way you want them to, you and your husband still have options.”

“You’re right,” I realized. In more ways than one. It really did help me to talk to someone about it, since for some reason I couldn’t talk about it with David. “Thanks again. For forcing me to confront this right now.”

Screenshot-62.jpg

“You’re welcome. Now, enjoy your weekend and don’t let things bring you down.”

As I drove home, I felt lighter than I had in days, but eventually, the feeling passed, only to be replaced with more worry.

Liam and his wife were told there was nothing wrong with either of them, but they were still unable to conceive for 13 years. What if the same thing would happen to us? Or what if there was something wrong with one of us? With me in particular? What if our own biological children were never an option for our family?

Screenshot-89.jpg

We could adopt, yes. But would that be enough for me? Could I love a child that wasn’t biologically mine and raise him or her to the best of my ability? Would David?

What if, eventually, he’ll decide that he wanted someone who could give him a child of his own and leave me? I didn’t think I could deal with this.

This was how David came home from his meeting with an investor to find me on the floor, bawling my eyes out.

Screenshot-91.jpg

“Irene?” he ventured, sounding afraid to make it worse. “What happened? Are you hurt?”

I barely had the energy to shake my head “no”.

“Hey, talk to me, what is it? You know, I’m always willing to listen. But you keep it all bottled up inside,” he joined me on the ground.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I just can’t take this anymore. I really want a child of my own. Of our own. Why isn’t it happening?”

Screenshot-93.jpg

“That’s why you’ve been feeling so down for the past several months, isn’t it?” he asked quietly.

“Yes. I feel like I’m failing. We’re here, all alone in this big house, and it just feels empty. I know you want a big family. I want a big family too, have wanted one since before we married. But it’s just not happening.”

He scratched his head, deep in thought.

“You’re right, I do want a big family. But I want it with you. And if that’s not an option, it’s fine with me, honestly. Because, most of all, I want you to be happy, and you aren’t happy if you’re beating yourself up over something that isn’t your fault at all. And I want you to be able to talk to me about the things that bother you.”

Screenshot-92.jpg

“I’m sorry,” I whispered again. “I’ll try. But communicating these things is kind of a work in progress for me.”

“I know, but for once you need to let me be there for you,” he pulled me up off the floor and into a tender hug.

Screenshot-95.jpg

“I want to go see a fertility specialist, David,” I admitted.

“Yeah, we can do that,” he agreed rubbing my spine comfortingly. “I think I’ve heard of a good one from Kyla Upton at one point.”

“I want to know if something is wrong with me,” I admitted. “The uncertainty is bugging me too much.”

“Nothing is wrong with you,” David hugged me tighter. “Hey, you know what, it’s Friday night and we shouldn’t spend it cooped up in here. Let’s dress up and go somewhere.”

Screenshot-96.jpg

“What do you have in mind?” I asked, brushing away the tears.

“Hmm, I think your cherry dress will be very welcome, that’s all I’m going to say,” he winked before going up to change.


“Is that the place I think it is?” I asked incredulously as we approached the building.

Screenshot-97.jpg

“Sure is!” David smiled smugly. “I thought it was high time we gave this bar another visit.”

Rusty Old Bottle didn’t seem to have changed at all since that night I got black-out drunk and passed out in David’s bed. The same dim lights, the same aura of alcohol, the people who were here to get as drunk as possible.

Screenshot-98.jpg

Only the bartender was different, but provided it’s been over seven years since then, she must have been working elsewhere by now.

“I thought we should come here and remember our first meeting, Irene. And really, we need to get our mind off of the things bothering us. For one evening, let’s just relax and enjoy ourselves,” he explained.

“I like that idea,” I nodded, sitting down at the bar, like the last time. “So, what will you do if some crazy drunken woman starts throwing herself at you this time around?”

Screenshot-101.jpg

“I’ll take my wife home and kiss her until she’s feeling better,” he smiled.

“You sure know how to make a girl happy,” I relaxed in my chair. Scanning the room, I noticed something that has changed from the previous time. “Hey, they got a jukebox. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t here the last time, right?”

“I don’t think so, no. Hey, come dance with me,” he invited, pulling me out of my chair. “I want to dance.”

“Oh, how the roles have reversed!” I laughed, joining him on the dance floor.

Screenshot-104.jpg

The slow soulful ballad was perfect for a sensual romantic dance, of course. While I didn’t have much experience on the dance floor, David had no problem with the moves, since he took the lead smoothly and without a hitch.

Screenshot-107.jpg

“You know, we should really thank this bar for bringing us together,” he joked.

“Yes, who knew that a small seedy bar could be so romantic? Better than the French countryside,” I joked back.

Screenshot-108.jpg

“Say what you will. I came in here back then to try and relax after a meeting with my father. Instead, I ended up meeting my future wife. I think that’s pretty romantic,” he pulled me close for a kiss.

Screenshot-109.jpg

At that moment, the jukebox music changed to something much more fiery and rhythmic.

“How well-timed!” he got a strange look in his eyes, “So, have you ever danced the tango?”

In response to my negative response he laughed and announced, “Well, this will be your first time, then! Follow my lead.”

Screenshot-112.jpg

To my immense surprise, it turned out that David was a pretty good tango dancer. Every step he made was smooth, every twirl and turn completely in step with the rhythm of the melody. I was trying my hardest to follow and despite not knowing even the basics of the dance, with his lead, I managed to follow all the moves and not miss the rhythm even once.

Screenshot-115.jpg

Screenshot-111.jpg

After a while, I stared to enjoy the dance. There is something captivating and entrancing about getting to dance the tango with someone you love. Every time our bodies touched sent a new wave of emotions through me and while I was aware of the other patrons’ eyes on us, I kept wanting this moment to continue forever.

Screenshot-117.jpg

Screenshot-118.jpg

With every step, David and I were one. He guided my moves and I followed, even adding my own twist on them when possible.

Screenshot-119.jpg

Eventually, the music came to an end and David finished our performance by pulling me close and kissing me.

Screenshot-120.jpg

The bar crowd erupted into a round of applause, the loudest belonging to the bartender herself.

“Wow, I never knew you could dance like this!” I looked at my husband with admiration.

“I do. And you make a great dance student. I look forward to continuing our lessons at home,” he smiled warmly.

As we got back to our seats, the bartender was ecstatic. “That. Was. Amazing!!! Are you two professional ballroom dancers?”

Screenshot-123.jpg

“No, we’re just having fun on a date,” David admitted.

“First date?” she asked.

“Married for five years, actually,” I informed her.

“Wow, you two just gave me major relationship goals, then! Drinks are on the house for the both of you,” she promised and rushed off to make them.

Screenshot-122.jpg

“Where did you learn to dance like this?” I asked incredulously.

Screenshot-125.jpg

“At boarding school,” he smiled. “My roommate and best friend there was the son of professional ballroom dancers. He always joked that they’ll disown him if he didn’t know how to dance these things. He taught the moves of these dances to anyone who was willing to learn them. Of course I took advantage of that opportunity!”

“What else is there that I don’t know about you? You aren’t a secret master of the arts too, are you?” I was impressed.

“Never tried any of it, so I can’t say. Who knows?” David laughed.

Screenshot-128.jpg

“Your drinks are here!” the bartender announced.

“I don’t know if I should,” I admitted, remembering my last interaction with strong beverages.

“I’m sure one will be fine,” David shrugged. “Besides, I’m here and I’ll take you home.”

Three hours later, I was once again plastered from what was probably the strongest drink in all of Hidden Springs, and David was helping me out of the cab, half-carrying me home.

Screenshot-136.jpg

“Wow,” he noted, “you really do have the weakest alcohol tolerance I’ve ever encountered.”

Screenshot-137.jpg

“Yeah, well, I think I deserved a drink. And you said yourself I was a good student, and good students deserve a reward,” I mumbled. “Hey, who are they?”

David followed my gaze to our front porch. On it were a woman and a young girl of about eight years of age.

“I don’t know them, but let’s see what they want. Besides it’s starting to rain pretty hard.”

As soon as we approached the woman looked up from the ground with relief in her eyes. She approached us before we even got to them.

Screenshot-138.jpg

“Thank goodness, you’re home. I’m Norma, I’m with social services. I’m sorry to just show up like this but… I’m extremely sorry to inform you, but Sharon Preston was involved in a terrible accident and… well, she hasn’t made it unfortunately. And Millicent’s birth certificate lists you as her father, Mr. Collier.”

My intoxication evaporated at her words. Father? David? To this girl?

Though all of this, she hasn’t looked up from her lap even once, but she had the same hair color and while her skin was lighter, there was definitely a resemblance.

Upon hearing these words, David’s face went almost white.

Screenshot-140.jpg

“I have a daughter?” he managed to get out.

“Yes,” Norma answered. “Once again, I’m really sorry to be dropping in like this, but we’ve tried to reach you for hours, ever since we’ve arrived here, but it seems like our number for you was wrong.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“She doesn’t have any other relatives,” Norma quietly informed us. “Sharon’s parents have already passed away and she was an only child. It’s either with you or into the system for her.”

Screenshot-141.jpg

“Of course she’s going to stay with us,” I intercepted. “There is no way she’s going anywhere else if her father is here.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Norma seemed to relax. “I’ll be going then. Here’s my number if you need anything.”

And with that she was gone, leaving us with a young scared girl who seemed as shocked to be here as we were to see her here.

“Let’s get inside before we all catch a cold, come on,” I urged both the child and the adult.

The girl meekly got up from the porch and followed us inside. I didn’t know if she was in such shock over the loss of her mother, over being here, over meeting her father, or over all of the above. But she needed support at this time and I was going to give it to her to the best of my ability.


Well, that’s the end of this chapter.

The song they danced to is the Libertang0!

Gen 2 Ch 15: Home Sweet Home

Our return home couldn’t have come sooner. The motel was nice enough, but sleeping in your own bed? Priceless.

Ever since that night at Blue Moon Lodge, things between David and I have changed. We were friends before, but even if neither one of us has said it outright, we were definitely an item now.

This time around, I didn’t beat around the bush and told my parents about us. Mom’s response?

Screenshot-5.jpg

“Oh, you just became a couple? I kind of assumed you already were when I found him sleeping on our couch that one night. Congratulations, though. I like this one much more.”

Screenshot-6.jpg

Dad and Gerald just chuckled. Apparently, Dad also thought David and I had something going on, while Gerald was just wondering how long it would take the two of us to get together.

It was good to be home.

Of course, not everything was that simple.

The situation at the company, for example: things were even more chaotic than before we left. As soon as it became clear that Selma ditched from the country, the majority of upper management have turned in their letters of resignation, most likely out of fear of becoming embroiled in the legal scandal with the company. The rest of the workers had no idea what to do in these circumstances. They were worriedly awaiting news of what would become with their jobs. After all, they were regular people who needed a steady income…

Screenshot-8.jpg

While David and I were playing detective things just got more out of hand at home, and the further it went on, the more effort it was going to require to fix the situation.

As the situation stood, the company was still in a whole lot of legal hot water. While the server leak did come from a questionable source, investigation into said information has proven most of it true, which, under different circumstances, would have meant a hefty sentence for Lionel and a smaller one for Selma. As things stood, the main criminal was dead, and the accomplice was in a country out of our legal system’s reach.

David was lucky to have been officially uninvolved with any of his parent’s illegal activities, which was the one bright thing about this whole mess. He was in the clear with the law, especially after he himself nearly became a victim of the same criminals who killed his father and tried to pin it on his mother. The law enforcement somewhat sympathized with his situation.  But that meant that he, as the remaining heir of Collier Enterprises was now responsible for dealing with all the fallout from the recent events, in regards to the company.

Yes, that’s right. By some strange miracle, law enforcement didn’t force us to close down the entire company.

Of course, there was one huge explanation for this: Collier Enterprises was one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the country and it was one of the biggest employers in the area. Forcing us to close down would have created more chaos than the law enforcement and the local government were willing to deal with.

However, that didn’t mean Collier Enterprises was getting completely off the hook.

Screenshot-13.jpg

About a week after we got back from Twinbrook, we were visited by a government attorney named Liam Upton, who, in convergence with local law enforcement, was going to keep track of all financial deals made between the company and whoever it did business with. He had a respectable level of experience with corporate legal matters and it wasn’t his first time dealing with a company that landed on the wrong side of the law. Of course, most of his experience didn’t involve legal troubles quite as extensive as ours, but that just meant that we were going to be under much stricter overlook than any of the other companies.

All things considered, it was completely understandable and very reasonable. However, as things stood, we were now guilty until proven innocent for the foreseeable time period.

But at least, we could continue working, and so could the people whose livelihoods depended on having a job at Collier Enterprises.

Which left us with another problem — the company’s management team, which was basically nonexistent at the moment. The logical solution was to promote the remaining employees to the now empty positions and to start recruiting for new employees for their former jobs. However, as things stood, the local job-searching population seemed to be avoiding us like the plague and we only managed to hire a handful of new people. And the employees who were offered management positions suddenly found excuses for why they couldn’t take the jobs! Some bizarre, some understandable.

Screenshot-14.jpg

Tia, for example, happily announced that she and Roman were expecting baby number two and that sooner rather than later, she would have to go on a maternity leave. We were happy for her, of course, congratulating her on the soon-to-be new addition to her family.

Screenshot-15.jpg

Lana was one of the very few who actually agreed to take the job, but she warned us that she soon might end up having to move from Hidden Springs permanently, since her husband was awaiting a possible promotion to Sunset Valley.

Of course, there was another problem with these promotions: due to the large fines the company had to pay out, we could only give a very small raise to the new managers, not nearly as much as they should have been getting. We hoped this will change soon. But that remained to be seen.

And me? I was now very much a part of it all – I agreed to take the head manager’s position without any need to convince me, refusing the raise that came with it. Ever since the Marilyn fiasco, I couldn’t help but feel that my quest for justice would have had almost the same results for the company as hers, minus the deaths. So, of course, I was going to do my very best to fix things.

Besides, there was no way I was leaving David to the sole responsibility for everything. We were a team now.

Screenshot-60.jpgScreenshot-59.jpg

Even if being a team meant falling asleep exhausted together, not even making it to a bed.

Screenshot-45.jpg


After about a year, things were beginning to look up, somewhat. The company, while still dealing with a lot of financial duress, has figured out a new pattern for work, new medicines were still being developed, and slowly, people began to regain trust in us. Mostly, it was because David and I made a huge effort to change how things were done in the company. Collier Enterprises was no longer an intimidating pharmaceutical giant. We were a business founded on shady dealings, but we were doing our best to replace that foundation with one based on trust, honesty, and community presence.

screenshot-26

Screenshot-27.jpg

Screenshot-29.jpg

Some things changed, others haven’t.

Lana, to Tia’s and my delight, didn’t move away. She and Emmet have decided to stay here, after all.

Tia had her baby, and little Clyde dotted on his new sibling. Roman, after being contacted by both the Twinbrook and the Hidden Springs police departments, was now working with the local unit, strengthening the cybersecurity of their servers and also giving seminars on computer safety and privacy. He was happy to once again be able to provide for his family, from which he has been away for so long.

We’ve kept contact with Deputy Rosswell from Twinbrook. After he saved our lives, we have decided to stay in touch with the man. He has informed us that Marilyn and Sam were both tried in court for their crimes. Even with their admissions of wrongdoing, both Sam and Marilyn were going to jail for a long time. However, Marilyn was to serve a part of her sentence in an institution much more appropriate to her mental wellbeing, which turned out to be completely nonexistent, as ascertained by the court psychologists.

Screenshot-32.jpg

Screenshot-33.jpg

On a happier note, Gerald has proposed to Katy and they were busy planning their wedding. Most of the time, she was over at our place now, spending time with my brother. They have never looked happier.

Screenshot-22.jpg

And I was happy too. When David and I did manage to have some free time to ourselves, he never failed to put a smile on my face. He would constantly bring me sweet treats at work, give me compliments and kisses when we were together, and he could brighten up my day just by smiling a certain way.

Screenshot-38.jpg

Screenshot-39.jpg

I think, for the first time in a long while, everything in my life was looking just perfect. I was busier than ever, true, but I had someone that I knew was there for me no matter what, and who cared about me deeply. That constant worry I felt when I dated Micah, was never present with David. I think it just meant that Micah was never the right person for me, while David was. And I probably had to Micah to thank for that – if not for our terrible break-up and my behavior afterwards, I probably wouldn’t have met David the way I did and most likely never would have looked past his family name to see the wonderful person he was. Life works out in strange ways.


In record time, it was time for my brother’s wedding. After complaining about how boring most wedding invitations that they’ve seen were, Gerald and Kate have taken a very humorous approach to wedding announcements. At least they had a lot of fun during the photoshoot, and most of our friends seemed to like the invites!

Wedding invite.jpg

Also, in a decision that calmed my worried heart, Gerald and Kate have both decided that it would be a better idea for Kate to just move in with us after the wedding than for her and Gerald to move to a new place. The idea of my brother moving out worried me because I knew that, despite my biggest attempts to do so, with how busy I was at work, there was no way I could give as much care as needed to Mom and Dad once they got older. And I would have hated for them to be uncared for. Whereas, I knew Gerald’s much saner work schedule would allow him to spend time with the family.

Screenshot-64.jpg

Screenshot-63.jpg

Screenshot-66.jpg

 

Screenshot-67.jpg

Screenshot-68.jpg

On their wedding day, both Gerald and Kate have looked the happiest I’ve ever seen them. Despite their wedding photoshoot, neither had cold feet – if anything, they both wanted to get married as much as anyone possibly could.

Mom and Dad were also happy, even though both broke down in tears during the vows. After all, their youngest baby was all grown up and getting married! (I think they were also feeling happy about the fact that Gerald was remaining home after the wedding.)

It wasn’t long after the wedding that David and I have gotten our first break at work. A new medication for arthritis, while not too expensive, has managed to get the company much closer to leaving our current financial rut. This meant that we could finally give out some much needed bonuses to our hard-working employees, and also relax a bit.

Also, that meant more time for the two of us to spend together, outside of work. Since neither David or I liked large gatherings and loud places, that usually meant staying in and spending our time watching our favorite shows together, eating all sorts of unhealthy snacks, and just enjoying ourselves.

I know, I know, we were acting like boring old people, you might say, but it was during moments like these that both of us felt the happiest and most content. I knew I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Screenshot-73.jpg

Screenshot-74.jpg

We were re-watching old episodes of Colombo (what could I say, we have both developed a taste for detective fiction after our trip), having extra-cheesy pizza and cheese sticks, and laughing our butts off at all the ways “the bad guys” tend to get caught in shows. It was a lazy Saturday and David and I were at his house, with no plans to go anywhere. After polishing off the last pizza slice and finishing the episode, I leaned back into David contentedly. Suddenly, he asked me:

“Are you happy with me?”

Surprised, I turned to look at him. “I am. Why do you ask?”

Screenshot-75.jpg

He shrugged. “It’s just, you’ve been there for me in every way possible for the last two years and I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through all this without you. But it made me wonder if I was doing nearly enough for you to qualify as a decent boyfriend.”

“Are you kidding me? You’re an amazing boyfriend! Who else would bring me chocolates at work? Or give me a backrub when I’m feeling down?” I laughed.

“I just love to see you smile,” he whispered, hugging me.

“And I love to be with you. Just, in general,” I admitted quietly.

Screenshot-76.jpg

In response, he kissed me, making my stomach do flips, the way it always did when we touched.

“Hey, there is still some light outside. We should go somewhere,” he announced.

“What do you have in mind?” I was curious.

“We officially spend too much time cooped up indoors. We should enjoy beautiful nature for a bit. Bring your jacket, just in case,” he smiled, heading for his car.

To my surprise, instead of going to the park or the beach, like I thought he might, since David turned out to be an avid swimmer, he swerved into the hills and headed up the mountain road.

Screenshot-79.jpg

Screenshot-81.jpg

“Where are we going?” I wondered.

“You know, for someone who is a native of Hidden Springs, you know too little about all its nooks and crannies,” he smiled. “Have you ever been to Redwood Peak?”

“No,” I tried to remember the place. It was popular with some members of the astrology club back in high school, I remembered, as they used to camp out there to watch the stars. But I was more focused on other things back then. It was true, I’ve never been there.

“Well, you’ll see it now!” he drove higher up the mountain, coming to park by the entrance area of the park.

Screenshot-82.jpg

Screenshot-83.jpg

I could see why the place was perfect for stargazing – it was probably the highest point in town, and there was a lot of empty space to set up a telescope. If anything, there already was one present.

David led me towards it, explaining, “The view from this place is truly amazing. Take a look for yourself.”

Screenshot-86.jpg

Screenshot-88.jpg

Screenshot-90.jpg

I did just that. The entire Hidden Springs was laid out before us, with everyone looking so very tiny from our viewpoint up here. The height was terrifying, but there was something exhilarating about it. It was beautiful.

“What do you think?” he asked, hugging me from behind. “Was it worth leaving the house for?”

Screenshot-93.jpg

“It is. Thank you for bringing me here,” I whispered, still awed by the view.

Screenshot-91.jpg

“I thought you’d like it,” he smiled contentedly. “I used to come here with Emily, whenever possible. I used to think this place was more romantic than the Eiffel Tower on Valentine’s Day.”

“I think you were right about that,” I laughed softly. The air here was pine fresh, and the chirping of crickets had a peaceful quality to it, making me feel happy and elated.

“So, I’ve always thought that if I ever wanted to propose to someone I cared about, this would be the perfect place to do it,” David continued.

I turned around slowly, trying to figure out if this was really happening.

“David?”Screenshot-98.jpg

Screenshot-104.jpg

“Irene, I met you at the moment when my life was at its lowest, or so I thought back then. But when I met you, despite everything, you’ve managed to be a guiding light for me. At those moments when I felt close to giving up on everything, on admitting failure in life, you were there, pushing me along and reminding me that I wasn’t alone. I can’t and don’t want to imagine my life without you in it, because it would be absolutely empty. So tell me, will you be my wife, Irene?”

Screenshot-105.jpg

My breath caught in my throat and I could feel the tears well up in my eyes, tears of happiness. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to marry David, but I didn’t know if this would be something that would ever happen to us. Now that he was proposing, I couldn’t handle the surge of emotions in my chest.

Screenshot-95.jpg

“Yes! Of course, I will marry you, David. Because I don’t want to imagine my life without you either. I love you. I think I’ve been in love with since that time I’ve seen you outside the restaurant in town. I don’t know if soulmates exist, but if they do, you are mine.”

“But we’ve met at the bar?” David was happy but confused.

“Yeah, but I first saw you in town square, outside the restaurant, it was afternoon on a Saturday,” I admitted. “I remember wanting to go and meet you back then, but feeling guilty because I was still in a relationship. You looked really sad.”

Screenshot-99.jpg

“That was the day I first arrived here from Bridgeport. I’ve just arrived back from the airport at that time and I was dreading coming home,” he admitted. “And you saw me on that very day! Wow, this truly is fate.”

“I guess it is. So, this was your plan? Bringing me here for a proposal?”

“Partially,” he smiled, pulling me in for a kiss. “Have you ever gone camping?”

“No,” I admitted.

“There’s always a first time for everything! There are marshmallows and tent in the car. We’re going to have so much fun!”

Screenshot-109.jpg

I spent the rest of that night blissfully enjoying nature and s’mores, and falling asleep in a tent under the stars, next to the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. If human life could reach perfection, it was probably something like this.

Gen 2 Ch 14: Just a Small Pit Stop

Warning: I’m going to rate this one PG-13 due to violence, language, and some nsfw content.


 

We double checked whether anyone was near our car before getting in. David drove once again, since I was in no state to handle a vehicle right now.

Screenshot-15.jpg

He really was handling all this like a trooper. Which was probably for the best – these people were dangerous, and having a panic attack at the moment would be dangerous.

I leaned back in the car seat, trying to get a grip on my own whirlwind of emotions. So, we knew who the killer was and why. For revenge. For the same reason I even started working at Collier Enterprises.

It seemed like Marilyn and I had something in common…

I started shaking again, which David noticed. I shrugged to reassure him I was fine. Really, I had no right to be breaking down at this point. I wasn’t the one at the receiving end of all the recent problems.

“Perhaps, we should make a pit stop,” David announced. “I think this trip has given both of us enough of a shake-up to warrant some relaxing herbal teas. We need to calm down before going to the station.”

Screenshot-16.jpg

Even though I knew there was no reason to delay the police visit, I didn’t have the heart to protest. Soon, David turned into the parking lot of a popular coffee shop, called The Java Haus. As he shut off the car, I realized that his hands were also trembling. So we did both need to calm down before getting on the road again…

Screenshot-18.jpg

Once inside, we barely managed to order our beverages, trying to look normal in front of the baristas. As we settled down by the coffee shop’s fireplace, David took a deep breath and noted:

“We have to tell them everything. Even about our break in to Dad’s office. Because the impostor already knows about it and it might be something the police need to know.”

Screenshot-20.jpg

I nodded in agreement. “We also need to fill them in on the whole backstory, probably. With my parents and Aileen and her involvement with your father – that’s the motive right there. What else?”

“We’ll need to explain about Roman since he is how we knew about Aileen and since he’s someone who can attest to the fact that my mother’s computer was tampered with. I’m sure that, with everything happening, they’ll just thank him for the help with the investigation. Right?”

Screenshot-22.jpg

“I hope so. At the least, they should ask him for help tightening their own station’s security, since these impostors knew as much as they did about the investigation,” I remembered how much information the criminals were able to steal.

“Yes. They definitely knew enough to impersonate a real person in an important position. I just wish we had something solid on them, you know!” David slammed his hand on the table. “At this point, the police will only have our word for what’s going on. Would it even be enough?”

“Maybe. It’s more than nothing, right?” I understood David’s worry, though. We did lack solid proof to back what we knew. However, we knew Marilyn Johnson and that she was dating a man named Sam… I was sure Roman could assist us and the police where it came to getting more information on them.

“I’ll be right back, alright?” David stood up, heading off in the direction of the bathroom.

Screenshot-23.jpg

Nearly as soon as he left the room, my phone rang.

“Ms. Meadows, are you alright? This is Deputy Rosswell! Where are you right now?”

The older policeman sounded seriously worried.

Screenshot-24.jpg

“Yes, I’m fine, why? I’m at the coffee shop. We both are – David is here. Did something happen?”

“Thank goodness! You two are staying at Blue Moon Lodge, right? There has been a break in to your rooms! Very recently, too. And when we weren’t able to reach your David, we began to think the worst.”

“Wait, a break in? How did you know about it?” my mind was immediately on edge.

“We got a call from your hotel. Apparently, a strange man was found in Mr. Collier’s room by one of the maids and when she asked him who he was, he introduced himself as Deputy Westen. She took his word, but told the check in clerk about it, and the clerk is actually a niece of the real Mr. Westen. So, they called us in – I’m really sorry, but both of your rooms have been turned upside down. We’re at the hotel right now. I don’t know what this man was looking for, but he sure made a mess of things. How does he know you’re in town anyways?” Rosswell winded down.

“Um, David told him. We thought he was a real policeman from your department, remember?” I explained.

“Of course, of course. Look, where exactly are you? I want to send some of my men to you and bring you into the station. You should file a report – the man who broke in to you rooms matched the description you and David gave when you were here. Whenever we find him, I want as much on him as possible. And frankly, I’m sorry Ms. Meadows, but I believe you and Mr. Collier might be in danger at this time. I would rather have you somewhere my people can protect you.”

Screenshot-26.jpg

“We know who the killer is, Deputy,” I announced. “We’ve almost ran into her and the man you are looking for. I can’t give you solid proof at this point, but her name is Marilyn Johnson and his name is likely Sam. I’m sorry I don’t know any more…”

“Are you kidding me?! You had a run-in with them?! Were you investigating on your own? Young lady, do you know how much danger you were putting yourselves into?! That’s it. Where are you? Stay there until my officers and I get there!” The policeman sounded panicked.

“Of course, Deputy! We’ll be waiting for you at the Java Haus of the 5th freeway.”

I ended the call, knowing I needed to tell David what happened as fast as possible. Heading towards the bathroom, I stopped myself just before knocking – wouldn’t that be somewhat inconsiderate of me?

Screenshot-29.jpg

“You can go in, no one’s inside” the barista told me. “The man who was in there went outside for a smoke. Can you believe he tried to light up inside?”

Screenshot-30.jpg

He was outside?! Ok, calm down, Irene. There was nothing wrong with going outside. Only that there were real criminals in town, looking for us…

Screenshot-31.jpg

Luckily, at that very moment, David came back in through the backdoor of the café.

“Hey, sorry if I worried you! I just really needed a cigarette, and there’s no smoking allowed inside… what’s wrong?” he noticed asked, noticing my blanched face.

Screenshot-33.jpg

“They broke into our rooms, David. The Deputy just called me. He’s saying he’s coming here with a patrol to get us to the station safely. I told him we ran into them and he totally flipped. He’s saying we’re probably in danger.” The words just kept spilling out of my mouth.

David’s mouth dropped open. He motioned towards the front of the shop. Turning around, I saw two people coming up the stairs of the coffee shop: Fake Westen and Marilyn.

Screenshot-37.jpg

Screenshot-38.jpg

What was it with our luck today?

Quickly thinking, David grabbed me and pulled me back into the bathroom which, was near enough, and shut the door.

Screenshot-39.jpg

“It’s ok, it’s unisex, no one will complain. Can you call the Deputy and tell him they’re here? I think I left my phone in the car.”

I nodded. Of course I could do that.

The Deputy picked up on the first ring “Irene? What’s the situation?”

“They’re here, Deputy Rosswell. The Marylin and Sam I told you about are in this very coffee shop right now. We’re hiding out in the bathroom, so they haven’t seen us yet.”

“Hang in there! We’re already on the way. Try to avoid them if possible, and if you must confront them, make sure there are many witnesses, ok?”

“Of course. We’ll do just that.”

Once the call ended, we pressed our ears to the door and listened. As it turned out, Marilyn and Sam have settled very close to the bathroom door, so their conversation was audible.

Remembering my last missed chance, I took out my phone this time and set it to record.

“So, that maid saw you? You don’t think she’s going to be trouble, do you?” Marilyn asked.

Screenshot-43.jpg

“No, I told her I was searching the premises on a police order,” Sam brushed off, nonchalantly.

“I wouldn’t be so calm about that. I think it’s time for you to stop using that pseudonym since you’re in Twinbrook now. Someone might catch on,” Marilyn replied disapprovingly.

“It’s a big city, not some small town with only one police station. You tell them you’re the deputy, show the right paperwork — they think it’s true. People aren’t as smart as you think, Lyn.”

Screenshot-45.jpg

“Your carelessness will get us in trouble, one of these days,” Marilyn half-hissed. “I didn’t spend months getting close to that scumbag only for you to blow the whole thing.”

I heard a sharp intake of breath from David. No doubt, it couldn’t have been pleasant to hear about how this woman finished off his father.

“It was your choice to get as close as you did. I told you I’ll figure out a better way to get the key. You really didn’t have to sleep with him for it,” Sam continued.

His voice sounded bitter — no doubt Sam wasn’t happy about Marilyn “cheating” on him with Lionel Colier.

“Quiet! Someone will hear!” Marilyn hissed again.

Sam laughed “Who? The barista who just went on break? Or the one who just slunk off to the backroom, with Netflix on her phone? There’s no one in this café but us.”

“You’re still too careless. And you know I had to gain that loser’s trust in order to be close enough to give him you-know-what,” Marilyn mentioned.

“There were other ways to accomplish that,” Sam argued.

Screenshot-47.jpg

“Maybe. But I wanted to do it myself, is all,” Marilyn admitted, smugly. “So, did you at least find what you were looking for in that room?”

The silence that followed bordered on awkward. It seemed as if Sam wasn’t as comfortable with his girlfriend’s bloodthirsty side as he let on. Finally he muttered “Of course, of course. It only makes sense. And no, they don’t even have a computer with them. If anyone’s been snooping online for us, it’s most likely not one of them.”

“So, what are you planning to do with the guy?” Marilyn asked. “I’m sure, after the mess you’ve made in his room, he’ll be on the first plane out of here.”

David and I exchanged a look. They were talking about him.

Screenshot-52.jpg

“I don’t know, Lyn. He seems pretty harmless. And it’s not like he’s important or anything. I say, let him get on that plane and get the hell out of here. One less problem for us,” Sam offered.

“Are you kidding me? ‘Let him get the hell out of here’?!!! After all the effort we’ve put into bringing him here? I don’t think so,” Marilyn sounded offended.

“Well, what do you have in mind? I do have that video of him breaking into his father’s office, but I fail to see how that will do much. He was hardly breaking any laws by being in his own father’s office.”

Screenshot-50.jpg

“His records show anxiety, panic attacks, and a full on mental breakdown, Sam. It wouldn’t be too hard to set up an overdose from one of the usual medications for these conditions,” Marilyn proposed. “That would get him out of the way, for sure.”

“You don’t think it would be suspicious if both Collier kids die of an overdose?” Sam asked.

“An overdose isn’t the same as alcohol poisoning. Besides, no one suspected any foul play the last time,” Marilyn rebuffed.

“Oh my god,” David whispered. “It was them. They’re responsible for Emily.”

Screenshot-53.jpg

And before I could stop him, he rushed out of the bathroom, screaming, “You bastards!!! You killed my sister!!!”

Screenshot-54.jpg

Sam and Marilyn looked like they just saw a ghost. Unfortunately, this only lasted for a few moments, before Sam sprang to his feet, and barreled into David, who responded in kind by pushing Sam back, forcing him to the floor, and starting to pummel him with his fists.

Screenshot-62.jpg

Screenshot-55.jpg

Marilyn screamed, and pulled a gun out of her jacket, pointing it at David. Before she could pull the trigger, I rushed up and managed to push her up against the wall, pointing her gun away from the fighting men.

Screenshot-56.jpg

Screenshot-57.jpg

Unsurprisingly, she was quite strong. Of course, all that pent up anger and poison must have been making her fight harder than an average individual.

“Little bitch, don’t think I don’t know who you are. What, you think you’re going to get a piece of their money by cuddling up to him?” Marilyn growled. “I hate the whole bunch of you.”

Screenshot-60.jpg

“Well, the feeling is mutual, Marilyn. But guess what? You’re a fucking murderer. And you are going to jail for what you did. Both of you,” I spat back, making sure her arms were restrained. I found myself glad that I’ve started weight training with Lana all those months ago. Otherwise, I would have stood no chance against Marilyn right now.

I glanced over at David – he also seemed to hold his own. I’ve suspected that he used to seriously work out in college and fortunately, he clearly still had enough muscle strength to overpower the slimmer Sam.

Screenshot-64.jpg

Sam however, was not going down without a fight. He seemed to understand that we overheard their conversation and he was giving it all to getting out of David’s hold. By the looks of it, David was going to be hurting all over for a while after this fight, provided we came out of it alive.

My momentary lapse in attention enabled Marilyn to wrench herself out of my grasp, and raise her gun. My attempt to overpower her again was met with a kick to the stomach, so hard that it forced me to double down.

Screenshot-66.jpg

“Irene!” David screamed, jumping off Sam and rushing toward us.

Screenshot-68.jpg

Sam made to rise to his feet, and Marilyn was indecisive on which one of us she wanted to shoot first.

This is the only thing that saved us, because the next second, an entire patrol of police officers came barreling through the doors of the coffee shop.

Screenshot-70.jpg

“Drop that gun! Hands up where we can see them!” Rosswell bellowed.

Marilyn dropped the gun. She knew her game was over, just as Sam did. He got up to his feet with both hands raised. “Don’t shoot. We’ll cooperate. I’ll cooperate.”

Screenshot-74.jpg

Marilyn hissed under her breath again “Weak. I always knew you were weak.”

Deputy Rosswell cleared his throat. “Marylin Johnson, Samuel Carson, you are both under arrest for murder and fabrication. You have the right to remain silent. You also have a right to a lawyer. If you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you.” He paused for a second before adding, “Although we both know it would take a freaking miracle for you idiots for any defender to keep you out of jail. Now, get in the car.”

Screenshot-71.jpg

As the two criminals were taken away, the deputy made his way towards us.

“Hello, Mr. Collier, Ms. Meadows. I’m sorry we couldn’t get here sooner. But those two are going to be under the strictest watch now. You can give me your statements later. Right now, you both need a doctor.”

David and I just nodded. He was covered in bruises from his fight and my stomach hurt like I’ve been ran over by a car. Marilyn had more strength than one would have expected from her and I’ve experienced it on myself in the worst way.

As we were taken to the hospital, I asked the deputy, who chose to ride with us, “So, is Selma Collier clear now? They are the ones responsible for Lionel’s death. And for so many other things, it seems. I recorded their conversation at the shop – there is no way they can walk out of that one.”

Screenshot-76.jpg

“Once they are booked, Selma is free to go. She’ll probably need to give her statements too and press her own charges. She was a victim of their activity as well.” He paused. “However, if she is proved to be involved with Lionel Collier’s criminal activities, she may need to stand trial, still.”

“I see,” David muttered. “We’ll get through it. After today, we’ll get through anything.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “We will.”


 

At the hospital, we were both treated for our bruises and sent home with a mostly clean bill of health – a few relaxing hot baths would sure help, but neither of us was significantly injured, just very sore.

We both gave our statements that same evening. My phone recording and Sam’s and Marilyn’s behavior at the coffee shop were enough to make the police book them on numerous charges and eventually, at their lawyer’s honest advice, they talked, admitting to all the crimes they’ve committed. Also, even if they hadn’t, some footage surfaced from Lionel Collier’s hotel, which clearly showed Marilyn there with him. She had no one to blame but herself, of course.

Two days later, Selma Collier was released from jail, with a warning not to leave town. David was rejoiced, happy for a chance to finally patch things up with his mother, since she was, now, his only remaining family member.

Four days later, Selma Collier violated her order not to leave the city by arranging a private flight to Dubai.

In a letter she wrote to David, which he dejectedly showed me that evening, she explained that she knew police will find incriminating things in the leaked files. She was involved in Lionel’s activities to a certain extent, after all. And she knew Dubai had no extradition treaties with our country. Besides, as she put it, after everything that happened, even if she didn’t have legal reasons to run, she would have anyways. She needed a fresh start. She hoped David understood.

Screenshot-77.jpg

“I guess I just wanted a fresh start for both of us, you know. Mom and I never really saw eye to eye, but I hoped we’ll be able to come together in grief, or something. I guess it was too unrealistic to hope for it, though,” David admitted.

“I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling right now. But you know, you can always talk to me if you feel alone. I’m here for you,” I reassured him. We were sitting on the floor in his motel room, trying to watch some old detective noir, but it wasn’t that great. So we just talked.

“I know. You’ve been here for me this whole time. Even when I didn’t deserve it,” David smiled.

Screenshot-79.jpg

“Didn’t deserve it? Why? You haven’t done anything wrong you know. If anything, if not for your decision to come here and investigate, these people will still be on the loose. I think we’ve done society a favor, don’t you?

“Yeah, we make a good team!” he laughed.

I laughed back “We do, don’t we?”

Suddenly, we were both too aware of how close the other one was sitting. His gray eyes were on mine and I don’t know for sure which one of us made the first move, but the next moment our lips met in the hottest kiss I’ve ever experienced, and his arm was on the small of my back and I was moving to remove his shirt…

Screenshot-82.jpg

“Wait,” he pulled away, panting “I just want to make sure you aren’t doing this to make me feel better. It wouldn’t be right and I’d never forgive myself if I let you.”

Screenshot-83.jpg

“I don’t do things out of pity, David. Sleeping with you won’t be something I’ll regret. Will you?”

“Oh, hell no!” he smiled. “Where were we, then?”

“Let me remind you.”

Screenshot-87.jpg

Let’s just say, neither one of us slept until much, much later that night.

Screenshot-89.jpg


As I’ve already posted over at Tumblr, this is my default IreneXDavid song.

Thanks for sticking with my legacy. All of my followers mean a lot for me.

Gen 2 Ch 13: Twinbrook Retirement Community

“Good morning. Coffee?” David offered as we prepared for our visit to Twinbrook Retirement Community.

“Yes, please” I gladly accepted one of the two cups of the steaming drink. It was my idea to visit Ailene, but now that the visit was happening, I felt super jittery about it. A sugary energy boost was most welcome.

Screenshot-8.jpg

“I’ve checked out their website – it says visitors are welcome at any time. And generally, older people tend to make up earlier. I think we won’t be intruding if we go there around 10 am. Besides, I think we’ll need to ask the staff where to find Aileen, right? Unless Roman told you which room is hers as well. Did he?”

“No, just the address of the building, but we’ll find her when we get there…” I began to reason when a thought occurred to me, making me frown.

David noticed. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve just realized that I have no idea what Aileen looks like right now. I’ve seen a couple of old family photos of her from the time when she was married to my grandfather, but that was years ago and I don’t even really remember what she looked like young. I literally will need to be told which one she is, because I won’t recognize her,” I explained.

Screenshot-14.jpg

“I see,” David nodded. “Well then, we really should hope their staff can point us in the right direction.”

“I thought we decided I’d be the only one to go in?” I asked. I thought it would be less suspicious to Aileen if only one person came to visit her. Besides, we still didn’t know if she was connected to the events happening to David’s family. “I don’t want her to feel like we’re trying to intimidate her. And a one unfamiliar woman seems less threatening than two people coming in to see her.”

“I suppose that makes sense. I’ll wait downstairs for you then. But keep your phone on yourself, just in case,” he agreed.

“Will do. By the way, did you hear back from the police station about anything?”

“Not yet. But we left the station pretty late last night, I don’t know if they’ve had enough time to check everything out. Their plate looks pretty full these days.”

“Agreed. Well, it’s past 9. We should go, right?” I put away my finished drink and readied myself for the trip. Today was going to be busy, indeed.

Finding the retirement home proved to be an easy task – it was located in a good part of town and the place looked more like someone’s mansion than a nursing home. It looked like a very pricey place to spend the twilight years. Whoever was paying for Aileen to live here certainly wasn’t sparing any expenses for her.

David must’ve thought the same, since he let out a low whistle. “That’s a pretty upscale place, I’d say. I wonder how an abandoned ex-wife has enough money to pay for a stay here.”

“I guess she could be our culprit after all,” I warned him quietly. A good hacking ability could certainly bring in a significant income. And Aileen did have a history of questionable activities in the past…

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go see her with you?” David asked once more.

“I’m sure. We don’t know for sure if she is involved yet. It’s better if she doesn’t see you yet,” I reasoned with him, which he reluctantly accepted.

Parking on the curb, we entered the building which, despite the undeniable grandeur, looked the way one would expect a retirement home to look. The wallpaper, the carpet, the sofas and armchairs… everything was very “elderly”. A few old men and women could be seen in the large living room, watching a soap opera without really paying attention. Another old man seemed to be staring into space.

Screenshot-38.jpg

To be fair, despite the outward grandeur, the place seemed quite depressing. The residents present didn’t seem happy or unhappy. To be honest, they didn’t seem to really care about anything anymore, or to know what was going on.

Inwardly, I thanked whatever deity was looking over the world for my parents’ sharp state of mind and for their never-ending energy. I knew they won’t be around forever, but I was glad that they were doing so much better than these people in was seeing here.

“Is everything ok?” David asked, noting my concern.

“Yeah, it’s just this place,” I admitted.

Screenshot-42.jpg

“It gets to a person, doesn’t it?” he agreed.

“How do we find Aileen?” I wondered.

At that moment, a younger woman entered the room. “Hi! Can I help you with anything?”

Screenshot-44.jpg

“Yes, actually,” I turned to her, while David took a seat in one of the sofas, “Would it be possible for me to speak with one of your residents? I’m working customer support for Twinbrook Central Pharmacy and we’re checking up on our long-time customers, to see if they like our service, if their medications arrive on time, this kind of thing. I’m supposed to speak to her and have her sign a form where she verifies that I actually talked to her, instead of just saying I did.”

Screenshot-48.jpg

The lie about the survey form came pretty easily to me – all that time working with papers at Collier Enterprises must’ve rubbed off on me. Now the worker just had to believe it.

She frowned “Well, today is not really a good day for that – as you can see, most of our residents are out on a field trip to the beach. We generally provide nature and shopping excursions several times a month. Most of the residents who are still in good health are out today. The ones you see here today are the ones who didn’t feel well-enough for a trip.”

My face fell. “I see. So, I guess Aileen Johnson is out today?”

Screenshot-45.jpg

“Aileen?” the lady, whose nametag read “Holly” looked surprised. “Of course she’s here. She never goes on these trips. For the same reason as them,” she nodded at the present residents. “I don’t know whether she’ll be able to answer your survey. She might, she might not.”

“What do you mean?” I asked for clarification.

“Alzheimer’s disease. An acute case of it. Most days, she barely recognizes the staff. Her niece pays for her stay here, since she never had her own children, and the girl visits her often enough, but I don’t know if she even recognizes her half of the time. It’s quite sad really. But she is in room 23, if you want to see her. She might be sharp enough today, after all. ”

“Thank you,” I mumbled and headed up the stairs. The place really did seem dedicated to making its residents’ lives comfortable. There were books, music players, chess sets, easels, and other hobby-related paraphernalia all over the place. Aileen’s room was right in the center of the hallway.

Screenshot-54.jpg

I knocked to no response. To my surprise, when I tried it, the door was unlocked. But since this was a good neighborhood, I supposed there would be no need for heightened security. And it was safer if the door was open, in case of an emergency.

Screenshot-53.jpg

Despite my previous idea, I did recognize Aileen, but barely. She did not age well and she looked even more unfocused than the guy downstairs. She was resting in bed, and she looked very frail. It was actually hard to believe that this was the same person who caused my mother’s family so much trouble.

“Hello?” I called out tentatively. No response. I suspected she didn’t even hear me. “Hello? Aileen Johnson?”

She turned to look at me this time around, smiling to herself. Perhaps she could talk to me after all…

“Celeste? Is that you?” her frail voice asked.

Screenshot-55.jpg

Screenshot-64.jpg

I stopped in my tracks: she called me by my mother’s name! She thought I was Mom!  It wasn’t completely unreasonable – we did look alike enough, but still…

“I know it was you who put dirt in my shoes yesterday. Did you think I wouldn’t know? You really need to start acting your age, girl,” she continued.

And her mind was seemingly still in the past… there was no way this woman could have committed a huge server hack. And I doubted she’d be able to help me out much with any information. Perhaps we were following the wrong trail, after all.

“Celeste, why aren’t you talking to me? Are you angry at me?” she asked. “I know you’re angry at me. Well, of course you are. You miss your mom. I can’t replace your mom. You don’t even let me try.”

Screenshot-58.jpg

This sounded pretty accurate to what really happened in Mom’s family. I recalled her reminiscing about how she and Aileen had disagreements up until Mom moved away.

“Never accepted me as one of their own. At least I got enough money from that old fool, Brandon. Held me over for a while, until I found something better,” she continued.

Seeing someone who reminded her of Mom seemed to have set off a chain of memories in her head.

“Those dogs… they set off such a ruckus in there. Had to drug them to shut them up. They were certainly guarding their property. Ha! Not well enough…”

Screenshot-61.jpg

This got my attention. Our dogs were drugged on the night that Dad’s garden was destroyed and his research stolen. Was she the one responsible? But then, why was there information about this in Lionel Collier’s server?

“…knew I should’ve kept what I had to myself, but no, I wanted more money. And he never paid up. Said, he could put me in jail for breaking and entering if I made more demands… should’ve kept the plants and the research to myself. Stupid Aileen… so very stupid…”

Aileen was the one who robbed us all those years ago, I realized. And while the details were as clear as they would get, it seemed like she got cheated out of big money by Lionel.

She had the motive to be going after the Colliers, after all. But did she have the ability?

After drifting off once more, Aileen was again starring into space, my presence in the room completely ignored. It didn’t seem like she would say anything else.

It also didn’t seem like she had enough wit about her to be able to hack into a heavily-protected computer, no matter how much motive she had to do so.

Perhaps I could stay until she started talking again?

My phone went off with a message from David. “Get out of there, her niece is coming up to her room!”

Screenshot-66.jpg

I completely forgot the woman’s niece! Of course, she’d choose to come here today, when I was trying to pull out information from Aileen. Murphy’s Law!

Screenshot-99.jpg

I didn’t have time to get out of the room before I heard the door open. As fast as I could, I ran into the bathroom, hoping that they wouldn’t need to use it while I was hiding out. As soon as the door was shut behind me, I heard another woman enter the room.

Screenshot-83.jpg

“Good afternoon, auntie, how are you doing today? I brought some tangerines for you! And those chocolates you love so much!” I heard her say.

“Hi, sweetie! Thank you. They are so delicious!” Aileen responded, once again alert.

“Do you know who I am?” the female asked.

Screenshot-86.jpg

“Marilyn, sweetie, of course I know who you are,” Aileen sounded happy. I figured her niece was one of the few people who still got a reaction from her.

“That’s wonderful! You’re doing very well today. The last time I visited, you thought I was grandma,” the woman seemed sad about this.

“You look so much like your grandma, dear. You have her eyes and her hair. She would’ve been so happy to see you born, sweetie,” Aileen continued fondly.

Screenshot-88.jpg

“She did, aunt Aileen, she did. She lived till I was 12, remember?” Marilyn reminded her aunt patiently.

“She did? That’s wonderful. So, how was your day? Did you get married yet? You should get married while you’re still young and pretty. It is much more difficult when you are older,” Aileen advised.

Marilyn laughed. “Not quite yet, auntie, not quite yet. But we will eventually. You know Sam, he always keeps his word. Just like I do, auntie.”

“Hmm?”

Screenshot-91.jpg

“That man who wronged you, he finally got what he deserved,” Marilyn whispered so quietly that I had to press my ear to the wall to hear her.

“Who did?” Aileen asked her niece.

Screenshot-89.jpg

“Lionel Collier. He is exactly where he should be- dead. And the whole world knows what a scumbag he was.” Marilyn paused before added “You’ve taught me well, you know. They all think that stupid bitch of his did it, too. There isn’t anything that can point the investigation to me.”

Screenshot-96.jpg

I regretted not choosing to record this conversation, but I could barely make out Marilyn’s words out and I knew my phone’s recorder wouldn’t have caught them either. But I now knew who was responsible for Lionel’s death. Too bad I didn’t know what she looked like. But at this moment, my biggest concern was getting out of the room without the woman in the next room finding out about my presence.

Screenshot-90.jpg

“But you don’t need to concern yourself about this any longer. Just rest now. Do you need anything? A bath perhaps? Or a makeover?” Marilyn asked.

Screenshot-98.jpg

“Oh no! The nice nurse gave me a bath earlier. And she gave me some of her eyeshadow! See?” Aileen enthused.

“Yes, it is very pretty on you,” agreed Marilyn.

“And the bath is occupied anyways. Celeste is there!” Aileen finished, making my heart catch in my throat.

Screenshot-92.jpg

“Oh, I see. Is she alone today or with Roger? Well never mind, if you see grandma or grandpa, tell them hi. I’ll visit you in a couple of days, ok?” Marilyn dismissed her aunt’s talk, making me think it wasn’t the first time that Aileen “saw” someone from her past here.

Screenshot-94.jpg

“Take care, dear. And tell that Sam of yours that he should hurry and put a ring on it before you leave him for someone who does,” Aileen called after her niece, before the later left. Soon afterwards, I head unmistakable loud snores coming from the direction of Aileen’s bed. It was safe to leave my hiding space.

Screenshot-102.jpg

Descending down the stairs on legs that seemed to be filled with lead after hiding out scared for the duration of Marilyn’s visit, I mused over this whole situation. I knew who the culprit was, but I had no proof of it. Nor did I know how the crime was accomplished, since Marilyn didn’t mention it.

Screenshot-106.jpg

“Irene, there you are! Are you ok? She didn’t catch you in there, did she? Please tell me she didn’t,” David rushed to me, pulling me into a bear hug.

“Calm down, it is fine! She didn’t see me. Why are you so shaken? What happened?” I calmed him down while taking in his worried appearance.

Screenshot-107.jpg

“You are not going to believe this,” he sighed, starting to explain what happened while I was gone.

David’s POV

Since we agreed it would be best for me not to see Aileen with her, as soon as she went upstairs, since I didn’t need a cigarette yet, I sat down in the common room with the residents and tried to pass the time surfing the web on my phone. I was trying to look up information about that detective guy that my mother was duped by, but I wasn’t finding anything. There was no information about a Detective Beau Henderson at all. Whoever set this whole thing up had their head in the game.

Just as I was about to give up and try watching some of the TV show playing, I got a call from the number I recognized as belonging to Twinbrook PD. Not wanting to bother the elderly residents with my conversation, I headed outside to their pool are to speak with the detective.

Screenshot-68.jpg

“Hello, David Collier speaking,” I picked answered the phone.

“Hello, David. This is Deputy Rosswell from Twinbrook PD. Are you free to talk right now? I have some information for you,” the older man’s familiar voice informed me.

Screenshot-70.jpg

“I can talk right now. Did you make any breakthroughs?” I felt a surge of excitement.

“Yes and no. We asked one of the local computer geniuses to scour the web for a detective Beau Henderson. It wasn’t an easy job, but it looks like your mother wasn’t lying about his existence. Or rather about her belief in his existence. She really shouldn’t have done business with the guy without ever meeting him, you know,” the deputy scolded.

“So, who was it?” I urged.

“Well, whoever she was in contact with, it wasn’t the guy in the photo from the website, which we barely managed to find from some cached information, since someone did a good job of trying to erase of signs of its existence from the world wide web. The picture on the website seems to be from some failed obscure TV show about a detective. Anyways, now that the existence of this website is verified, your mother has some leg to stand on, but it still doesn’t explain a lot,” he finished.

“I see. Is there anything I could do to help her?” I asked. I didn’t want my mother to end up in jail because of someone’s skill at framing.

Screenshot-71.jpg

“Only if you could find the real killer, really. But there is another reason for my call. We’ve heard back from Hidden Springs PD. They received our notice about the fake Deputy Westen and they are absolutely horrified that this man was able to have them fooled. Captain Vanderburg especially was furious. Also, he tells us that Fake Westen flew out of town already, before they were able to take him into custody. So, be on the lookout, Mr. Collier – this man could be here, for all we know. Also, keep our number on speed dial for the duration of your stay here. I’m liking this case less and less and I would hate to have another murder happen while I’m the deputy here, am I being clear?”

“Yes, sir! Both Irene and I will do our best to stay alert while we’re here,” I assured the older policeman.

“Good. Now take care, young man.”

As soon as Rosswell hung up, I felt like having a cigarette. So much for trying to quit in college…

However, before I could light up, I heard the voice of a worker different than the one who talked to us earlier addressing who I could only suspect to be Aileen’s niece:

“Hello, Marilyn! Here to see Aunt Aileen again? You know, I wish more of our residents had relatives like you. I feel like Aileen gets more visits than any other resident here.”

Screenshot-78.jpg

I made my way back indoors and peered around the corner at Marilyn. She wasn’t anyone I’ve seen before, as I would’ve recognized such bright red hair instantly. Her smile was infectious.

“Oh, thank you, …. You know Aunt Aileen has always been like a mother to me. I hate to think she won’t be with me for much longer, but I’m trying to make the most of my time with her. Even if her mind isn’t as great as it used to be. Is she awake yet?” Marilyn beamed at the nurse.

Screenshot-76.jpg

“She should be. I hope you don’t mind that I gave her my eyeshadow – she seemed to love it so much and it’s not every day you see her smile.”

Screenshot-77.jpg

“Of course not! I was thinking of buying some baubles for my aunt soon anyways. I’ll go see her,” Marilyn smiled at the worker once again before heading up the stairs.

This was a disaster – if this woman saw Irene questioning her aunt, there would be a lot of explaining to do. I texted Irene to get out as soon as I realized what to do, but I didn’t know if she received the message or got out in time.

Screenshot-82.jpg

The most I could do now was wait, which was exactly what I did.

After what seemed to be an eternity, Marilyn came downstairs with, what I could only assume to be, a smile on her face. I was staying out of her line of sight, trying to figure out why, despite her pleasant appearance, this woman gave me the creeps. As soon as she exited the building, I made my way to the closest window with a view of the walkway outside, and doing my best to hide, tried to see where she went.

Screenshot-101.jpg

I didn’t need to look hard for her – she wasn’t going anywhere just yet. Instead, she was busy making out with her boyfriend, who looked only mildly familiar, until they pulled away from one another and I could see him clearly – it was the fake Deputy Westen.

Screenshot-104.jpg

Screenshot-103.jpg

A chill and a realization ran through me. This man impersonated a police deputy to get me to come to Twinbrook and here he was, making out with the niece of the woman we suspected to be involved in the crime. Irene and I were on the right trail. Irene! She was still upstairs and I had no idea if she was alright or not…

I ran back inside, fully planning to run up to Aileen’s room at this moment, but Irene was coming down herself, to my immense relief, and she didn’t look harmed. She did seem very deep in thought, though.

That I could deal with. But I would hate for anything to happen to her, especially because of me.

As soon as I told her who I saw Marilyn with, she nodded and muttered:

“Sam, his real name must be Sam. Marilyn mentioned she was seeing a guy named Sam to her Aunt. I spent the duration of her visit hiding out in Aileen’s bathroom. By the way, Aileen isn’t our culprit – she is really sick these days. And also, you might want to sit down for this one,” she urged me.

Screenshot-110.jpg

“Why, did you find out anything in there? Did Aileen mention anything?” I was curious. I did sit down though.

“Not Aileen, but Marilyn sure did. It’s her, David. She’s the killer. She told Aileen about it. Apparently, Aileen was cheated out of money by your father – money for robbing my father! And now, Marilyn considers it her duty to exact some weird revenge against your family. She did it, David. She admitted it,” Irene managed to get out before her legs gave out and she caught the couch to steady herself. Once on the couch, she started shaking.

Screenshot-112.jpg

“Irene, what’s wrong?” I tried to figure out why my best friend was in this condition now.

She gave a weak chuckle before explaining “It just hit me that I was literally in the same room as the killer. You should’ve heard her. She talked about it like killing someone is such a normal thing. I’m sorry, I’m babbling now, but I guess I never imagined a situation where I’d actually run into the person who did it. I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for. I’d feel the same in your shoes. Well… that explains why that woman game me such creeps, then,” I reassured her.

“What does she look like?” Irene asked suddenly. “I was hiding out in the bathroom, I didn’t get a glimpse of her.”

Screenshot-116.jpg

“Kind of tall, slender, very red hair. Pretty, if you ignore the major creep vibes she gives off,” I tried to describe the woman to the best of my ability, wishing that I had snapped a picture of her. “I know I can create an identikit for her, if I have to, for the police.”

“That’s good. We should do that. We should go there right now, to tell the police what we know,” Irene jumped to her feet.

“Ok,” I wasn’t sure how we would prove anything to the police without solid proof, but we had to let them know that Fake Westen was in town and that he had an accomplice. If we had to tell them more about our involvement and investigation into this, so be it.

“Let’s go.”

Gen 2 Ch 12: At Twinbrook PD

Mom and Dad were less than thrilled about my decision to go to Twinbrook all of a sudden, but I think they, at least, appreciated that I wasn’t keeping them in the dark this time around. David, for his part just headed home and got a few necessary items to take with him, since we weren’t planning to be staying in Twinbrook for too long.

We were just there to figure out what was happening with Selma Collier and why she was lying to the police.

The flight to Twinbrook was only three hours long, which the two of us spent watching some silly movie the plane’s television was playing. Discussing the happenings on a plane, full of strangers, was the last thing either of us planned to do.

The first thing David did upon getting of the plane was light up a cigarette. He previously told me that smoking helped him stay calmer when he was feeling too anxious about things. Which only verified that he wasn’t feeling so hot right now.

Screenshot-4.jpg

“How do we go about talking to your mother?” I asked. “Is there some protocol we must pass to get a visit with her?”

“Why would there be?” David responded. “I’ve called Deputy Westen last night and asked him whether I could visit her. He told me there shouldn’t be any issue—I am her son, after all.”

“So, the detective knows we’re here?” After the man’s visit to my house, I was feeling less than trustful of him and his tactics.

“Well, yeah. I mean, he would’ve known anyways, since they have visits on record at the jail Mom’s at,” he explained.

That much was true. It’s not like we could hide anything from the police if we wanted to visit a suspect. Which led me to wonder, how much was Selma willing to tell her son while she was in custody? After all, if she was scared to talk to the police, there had to be a reason for it.

“How soon can we go?” I asked David.

“As soon as we leave our stuff at the hotel. We’ve got reservations ready at the local motel. Ready to go?” he threw away the finished cigarette.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

Despite my protests, David grabbed my bag as well as his own, carrying it to our rented car. But then again, even though I made it a habit to work out these days, he was still the stronger one of us.

Screenshot-8.jpg

“Our rooms are definitely booked, right?” I made sure.

“Sure thing. I just hope I just hope we finish our business here in a week.”

We drove in silence after that, both thinking about the upcoming conversation with Selma. I was wondering whether the police will allow me to talk to her, and whether I even should. After all, David was her child, not me. I was practically a stranger to her. And not even a really friendly one, at that.

I glanced at David, wondering whether he would prefer me in the room with him. This seemed like a conversation that had to happen between him and his mother, in private.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“You’re going to talk to your mother alone, right? I don’t think I should go into the room with you. Since she doesn’t even know me,” I explained. “That’s going to be alright with you?”

“Of course. I mean, you don’t have to worry about me here. I know I haven’t taken some recent situations well, but talking to my mother isn’t going to be a problem, really. After all, it was my idea to talk to her.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself, I understand.”

“No, but really. You’ve been looking out for me enough, lately. Don’t think I haven’t noticed how you’re always checking whether I’m fine or not. Thanks, by the way. I really appreciate it,” David smiled.

“You’re welcome. It’s the least I can do.”

“Why though? Shouldn’t you hate my family? And me by default?” David suddenly asked. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked that. This question didn’t come out right.”

“It’s ok, I get why you’re asking me this. I’d be curious too, if I were you. I did have ill feelings towards your family, I admit. But can you blame me? Your father did commit the crime we’ve suspected him off, after all. But all my brother and I wanted was to expose him and his illegal activities. Not to have him dead. And now he is and your mother is possibly being framed for his murder? This is not what either of us wanted. If anything, it looks like there is more foul play going on and now someone my mother knew is involved… And no, I definitely do not hate you. You’re my friend and you’re the person who took care of me when I was drunk out of my mind and prevented me from doing some very stupid things. If I had any doubts about your character, your actions that night evaporated them. Besides, if anyone should hate anyone, you shouldn’t be too fond of me – I was, after all spying on your father’s company.”

“Yeah, well, I was spying on him too, so I can’t be angry about that. And you’ve been a rock for me, these last few weeks. Thanks.” David smiled and was about to focus back on the road when he grinned at me “And hey! Don’t think I forgot how you tried to pick me up that night at the bar. So, I’m hot and a total catch, right?”

Screenshot-7.jpg

“Oh boy! I’m really not going to live this one down, am I?” Truthfully, my drunken pickup attempts were absolutely horrible and sounded completely off to my sober self. Although, drunk me did have a good eye for guys, since in my opinion, David was both of those things.

Luckily, he was now really looking at the road and couldn’t see me blush. And luckily, he chose the drive to our motel wasn’t too long.

The motel, Blue Moon Lodge, was located not far from town center, a fact convenient for travelers who preferred to not be cooped up in their rooms for the duration of their stay. Our bookings came right through and we were able to check into our suites soon.

Screenshot-9.jpg

As soon as we checked in and dropped the luggage in our rooms, David and I headed out to the police station. Even though David called the detective previously, we still didn’t know if there was extra paperwork to fill out for his visit to Selma. As it turned out, we were right, and David was the only one allowed in to see her.

“I’ll wait out here, ok?” I promised to David.

He nodded. “Alright. I’ll see if Mom can clear this whole thing up for us.”

After he went in to see Selma, I sat down on one of the sofas in the police waiting room and allowed my mind to go over the events of the last few days. Who would’ve imagined this turn of events?

Screenshot-20.jpg

Fact1: Selma was in jail under suspicion of murder and reluctant to talk about her reasons for being here, under a fake name.

Fact 2: The server was leaked from someplace here, in Twinbrook.

Fact 3: Someone very good with computers is involved in all of this. Someone, who is possibly still present in Twinbrook.

Fact 4: It’s not certain that Selma will tell her son anything she hasn’t already told the police. She probably has good reasons for hiding things and people like the older Colliers tend to hold on to their secrets.

Fact 5: Someone put a lot of effort into destroying the Colliers and this is someone, about whom neither my brother nor his professional hacker friend knew anything. Even though they’ve been scouring the internet for information related to Collier Enterprises for years.

Thinking about all these things was beginning to give me a headache, but I knew they all had to be related somehow. If only we knew who made the spyware on Selma’s computer, we’d have had something to go on with.

Screenshot-22.jpg

As if on cue, my cellphone rang. To avoid the dissatisfied glares from the tired-looking police workers in the waiting room, I headed outside to answer.

It was Roman. “Irene! Hey! I’m not calling at a bad time, am I?”

“Not at all. Why? Is there anything new?”

Screenshot-37.jpg

“Maybe.” The sound of clicking and rustling papers followed. “I think Gerald and I may have tracked down Aileen Johnson. I’m not guaranteeing that this is the right place, but it sounds likely – it’s a retirement home, and you know, she’s definitely old enough to be living in one, at this point. If anything, I’m rather surprised she’s still around. Anyways, here’s the address – it’s in Twinbrook, so you and David can check the place out when you have some free time. If you’re up to it, that is.”

Screenshot-40.jpg

“She’s here? In Twinbrook? Wow, this is kind of unexpected. I never thought she’d settle somewhere so… marshy. But thanks for the information, Roman. I’m sorry our mystery is distracting you from spending time with Tia and Clyde!” I apologized.

“Oh! Never mind that, Irene! At this point, I’m myself very curious to find out what’s going on with David’s family. And you know how we scientific people get when we want to know something – we don’t stop until we know the answers. So, I’m happy to be of any assistance. Now, you two take care out there. Just in case.” With these words, Roman hung up and I was left with Aileen Johnson’s current address.

I was eager to check out the place as soon as possible, but the day was already nearing evening and I didn’t know whether it was a good idea to go to a retirement home later in the day. Technically, these places weren’t supposed to have laws regarding visitation times, but considering that I was planning to pay a visit to a person who had a bad history with my family and didn’t even know me, it was a task better undertaken earlier in the day.Screenshot-41.jpg

Also, I really had no idea how to approach that situation. Yes, according to Roman, Aileen had the computer skill necessary to create the spyware present on Selma’s computer and that made her either a source of information or a potential suspect in all of this, considering that she lived in the city the leak came from. But how would I even talk her into communicating with me?

In either case, I wasn’t going to visit her before talking it over with David. He seemed to have a pretty reasonable outlook on the situation, once he got over the initial shock of the events.

David’s POV

When the officer called on me to enter the room, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel upon seeing my mother. She and I never had a close mother-son relationship and over the last few months we’ve only drifted further apart. The fact that she barely ever talked about Emily was something that created a rift between us that I imagined could never be bridged at this point.

Yet, when I heard that she was arrested, I just knew I had to see her. I knew that if I never came to visit her at this moment, I would regret it for the rest of my life. It wasn’t much of a choice.

Screenshot-16.jpg

To my relief, while she looked uncomfortable due to being under arrest, my mother didn’t show any signs of any serious distress. But she did look highly surprised to see me here.

“David?! What are you doing here?” Selma exclaimed.

“Mom, hi. How are you holding up?” was all I managed to get out before she huffed and retorted:

“As well as possible, considering that these people arrested me for something I didn’t do. You know I didn’t kill your father, right?”

Screenshot-17.jpg

“Yes, I’m pretty sure you didn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is evidence pointing to you as the culprit and your silence on the subject is not doing you any favors. Come on, mom. Work with the police. You don’t want them to actually try you for Dad’s murder, do you?”

“You don’t understand, David. I don’t have an alibi, to speak of. They made sure of it.”

“They?” I was stumped. Who was my mother talking about?

“I got played, son,” Selma sighed. “A couple of weeks ago, your father visited his lawyer regarding our marriage contract. You know as well as I do what that means – he was thinking of divorcing me. Knowing how your father…worked, I had no doubt that he’ll manage to leave me virtually penniless. All these years that I’ve spent with him, and he was going to replace me.”

Screenshot-27.jpg

“You think there was another woman that he was serious about?” I asked, instantly regretting my choice of wording. But then again, did she really not know about the other women? I knew it wouldn’t have been the first time his father had an affair, but the man never thought to divorce and remarry before.

“You don’t have to cover for him, David. I know your father didn’t care much for me aside from the part of the trophy wife that I played for him for all these years. I knew he had affairs, but my position as Mrs. Collier was never at stake. I know you don’t care much to hear this, but I was ok with that. Yes, I married Lionel mostly for the money.” Selma looked down at her hands with a sad smile. “I’ve been real poor once, David. It’s not something I ever want to go back to. Had you grown up the way I had, maybe you would have understood.”

I nodded. “I’m not here to judge you. Not for this anyway. I just came here to figure out why they think you’ve poisoned Dad.”

“Ah, yes. That. Well, as soon as I found out about your father’s divorce plans, I knew I had to act fast if I wanted to keep some of the Collier money. For that, I needed to catch your father in the act of cheating on me. According to our marriage contract, that would have given me at least a third of Lionel’s assets. So, I hired an investigator to tail your father for a bit. I needed some hard evidence of his affair to present to the judge.”

Screenshot-29.jpg

“Did you get it? The evidence? Did you catch him with the woman before the whole thing happened? And how does the poison come into all of this?” My brain was slowly putting all the pieces together, but some things didn’t make sense. “If you had an investigator on the job, why come here in person?”

My mother smiled sadly with a gesture that showed exasperation. “About a week ago, the investigator I hired emailed me some interesting information: your father had plans to be meeting up with his mistress while on this trip. And the detective thought it best for me to be present and catch him in the act myself. Of course, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity of seeing your father’s face at the moment he knew he’s been caught. So, I came here, checked into that cheap motel under a fake name, and sat there waiting for another message or call from the detective. But the call never came – instead, your father ends up dead and they think I did it. And funny enough, when I opened up my email to show the local police my communication with the investigator, none of those emails were there! So, I explained to them what happened, but obviously, without the emails to give me any sort of an alibi, I’m screwed. Who’s going to believe me?”

“Wait, you told them what happened? But the detective who came to question me about your whereabouts said that you refused to talk to the police.”

Screenshot-32.jpg

“Of course I told them what happened, I’m not an idiot! Wait, why did a detective come to visit you?” she inquired.

“Because he wanted to verify that your alibi of being with me the evening of the murder was legit. Although he already knew it wasn’t,” David admitted.

“I never said I was with you on the night of the murder. Why would they tell you that? Whoever paid you a visit anyway?” my mother was confused.

“Um, deputy Westen. Why? He’s the one working on your case,” I explained.

My mother furrowed her brow, “That name doesn’t ring any bells, David. What does he even look like?”

“Tall, skinny, reddish-brown hair, some scruff, eyes that look like he hasn’t slept for a while. Do you recognize this description?” I inquired.

Screenshot-33.jpg

My mother shook her head. “Not in the least, David. And you know I have a good memory for appearances. I don’t think there was any person with that name or appearance here in this precinct, that I’ve had the opportunity to see.”

I leaned back in my chair, the pieces falling into place in my head. Whoever Deputy Westen was, he had no official connection to my mother’s case, it seemed. So, why did he come to visit me all the way in Hidden Springs? To get you to come here, an inner voice replied to me. It was starting to look like my mother was not the only one who got played. Another thought occurred to me.

“Hey, Mom? What does the investigator you’ve hired to tail dad look like?” I asked.

“Detective Beau Henderson? Medium height, blondish, a bit chubby…” my mother began to answer, stopping abruptly. “Wait, that’s what he looked like in his website picture. To be honest, our communication took place over the phone or email, entirely. I haven’t actually met him face to face, so I can’t guarantee that his profile picture was honestly him. In fact, I’m now quite sure that it wasn’t,” she finished sheepishly.

“I see.” It seemed that my mother was in quite a pickle now. But perhaps, now that I was here, I could figure out a bit of what was going on.

“Time’s up!” an officer entered the meeting room. “You can come back tomorrow, if you want, but that’s it for today.”

“Alright, then. Take care, Mom.” I hesitantly pulled her into a hug. Despite everything, she was still my mother. And now I knew for a fact that she was innocent of Dad’s murder.

Screenshot-34.jpg

“You too, David. And David?” She pulled away to look me in the eyes. “I really am sorry about Emily. I know we don’t talk about it, but I am. If I’d known sending her away to that school was going to end that way, I never would’ve allowed it. She wasn’t benefitting from your father’s company, so I just thought, since it worked out for you, it would’ve been a good idea for her as well. But, I am sorry.”

“I think I needed to hear this, Mom. But what’s done is done. Hang in there now. I’m going to try to get you out of here.”

As soon as I was out of the meeting room, I headed to front desk. I had a couple of questions to ask the people working at the precinct.

Screenshot-44.jpg

“Excuse me, Officer Hurst, can you help me with something?” I addressed the officer drinking a cup of coffee at the computer.

“Sure, what is it?” the officer lifted his eyes to face me.

“When can I see Deputy Westen?” I inquired, half-expecting the answer I received.

“Deputy Westen? Do you mean, Deputy Rosswell? ‘Cause he’s our current deputy at this precinct,” the officer scratched his head.

“Are you sure there isn’t someone by the name of Westen here?” I questioned the man.

Screenshot-47.jpg

“Um, not as far as I know. I mean, I am kind of a recent worker here, so maybe you can ask the others. But here is Deputy Rosswell, if you want to talk to him,” he pointed me to a man with graying hair, who has just entered the building. “Deputy, this young man here was asking about a Deputy Westen. Do you know of anyone by that name?”

“Westen? Of course I know of him! He retired a couple of years before you came to work here, Hurst. But you need to see him, young man? Is it a personal matter or a police matter? If it is the later, I’m sure I can help you out, since I currently hold his previous position. If it’s personal though, I’m afraid I’m not supposed to discuss those matters without him present. And Mr. Westen is currently out of town,” the older man explained.

Screenshot-48.jpg

“Oh it’s a police matter. But wait, did you say he is retired? Isn’t he a little young to retire? And how come he is still working on police matters if he is retired?” I was stumped. The man who came to visit us in Hidden Springs said nothing about being retired.

“Working on police matters? Of course, he isn’t! And I wouldn’t call 70 years of age ‘young’, really. If anything, Mr. Westen gave many more years to the service than most policemen ever do. He earned his retirement package and more,” the current Deputy smiled fondly, recalling his former superior.

Screenshot-50.jpg

His words made me understand that whoever came to visit us was definitely a fake. They had to be informed.

“I’m afraid I haven’t introduced myself. I’m David Collier. My mother is under arrest here in this precinct. And I’m afraid, someone is seriously out for my family – I asked about Deputy Westen because a man who introduced himself by that name came to question me and my coworker in Hidden Springs. But according to what you’ve just told me, I’ve been questioned by an impostor who seems to know a little too much about the proceedings here.”

Screenshot-51.jpg

“Is that so, Mr. Collier?” the Deputy asked. Both officers present exchanged a concerned look. “What can you tell us about this impostor? His appearance, behavior, age? In fact, can you help us create an identikit? If you have time, that is?”

“I can do that. Also, did my mother tell you that she has been in contact with a private investigator to tail my father?”

“She has, but she can’t provide any proof of it,” Rosswell noted.

“Of course she can’t. You probably don’t believe me, but whoever is out for my family, is very good with computers.” I didn’t want to mention Roman Blakely’s involvement in this and his discovery of the spyware on Mom’s computer for fear of implicating him. “It is likely that my mother’s computer has been hacked. I’ve heard of certain viruses deleting emails and data, while implanting false one. And like I said, whoever visited me knew a little too much about your precinct’s work. And he was able to convince the Hidden Springs police department that he was, in fact, Deputy Westen. Anyways, my mother was here because the investigator, Beau Henderson, asked her to come to Twinbrook. But the thing is she has never seen him in person. Can you take a look at his website while we’re making the identikit?”

“We can certainly do that, Mr. Collier. We want to get to the bottom of this, just as much as you. Especially if someone has been impersonating our officers.”

Screenshot-58.jpg

It was at this moment that Irene came back into the room. She looked like she had something to tell me, but didn’t want to mention it in front of the officers.

“There you are! How did it go? Did she talk to you? Did she tell you anything she hasn’t told them?” Irene inquired.

“Nope. Because, apparently, Mom told them everything – she was here because of a private investigator. It looks like, whoever the man who came to visit us is, he is not Deputy Westen. And Mom never claimed me as her alibi.”

Screenshot-61.jpg

Screenshot-62.jpg

“What?! But he had Captain Vanderburg fooled! Hidden Springs PD thought he was really from this precinct!” Irene was shocked.

“This is a very disconcerting fact indeed, young lady. We’ve already promised your companion to look into this issue. Perhaps you would like to join him in creating an identikit for your visitor?” Deputy Rosswell offered.

Screenshot-65.jpg

“Yes, of course!” Irene readily agreed.

And so, we’ve spent the rest of our time at the police department recreating the fake Deputy Westen’s appearance to the best of our memory. The final result looked as similar to the guy as possible and the concerned officers promised that they’ll be sending that picture to Hidden Springs PD immediately.

Irene’s POV

It was almost 9 pm when David and I were finally done at the police station. Even though the helpful officers have done their best to calm us down about the impostor, the whole situation was still very disturbing.

Also, at this point, we were just tired out. Luckily, the motel had a buffet. What could be better than food to recharge some energy?

Screenshot-69.jpg

“So, you looked like you wanted to tell me something back at the station?” David asked between mouthfuls of food.

“Yes. Roman called – he has Aileen’s address. She lives here, in a retirement facility.”

Screenshot-70.jpg

“Oh! We should go, right?” he asked.

“I think so. I just don’t know how to introduce myself. She doesn’t exactly like my family.”

“Then don’t. Just say you’re someone else. Don’t tell her you’re Celeste’s daughter. It’s not like she’s ever seen you, right?” David offered.

“Well, she probably saw my kid pictures. But not any recent ones, true. That’s a good idea, actually. I can tell her I’m from a pharmacy and making a survey of our customers, or something. Not exactly a lie.” David made this sound much simpler than I was making it out to be.

“Sounds good. We can go tomorrow, as soon as we’re up,” he proposed.

Screenshot-71.jpg

Screenshot-72.jpg

“It’s a plan, then,” I agreed.

With that in mind, we headed off to sleep. Tomorrow promised to be an interesting day.