Gen 3 Ch 7: High School and Petty Drama

Irene’s POV

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“Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, all’s good, Mom.”

My son was going through something, that much I could tell, but he was loathe to tell me. And I couldn’t help but feel like I was failing him in some way.

The fact of the matter was, for weeks now, Phoenix was withdrawn and upset. While he was normally always with someone, talking and making plans (something David and I marveled at), now he was constantly staying alone in his room. And it was summer vacation – normally, he would’ve been out of the house all of the time. This was unlike him and we were worried.

After asking Millie if she knew anything, I still had no results. And with a small child on my hands, I didn’t have the ability to start snooping around properly.

This was how I found myself at Gerald’s house. He was a father of two teenagers himself and he was usually level-headed enough to figure his way through such problems.

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“So, how have you been, sis? Is Felicity letting you and David sleep through the night?” Gerald smiled.

“Felicity is fine. At least I think she is, even though sometimes she is really fussy. So far, her biggest concerns are sleeping, eating, and having a clean diaper on. I wish it were that easy with Phoenix,” I sighed.

“Ah, the terrible teenage years! It wasn’t so long ago that we were thinking about prom, dates and bringing down Collier Enterprises. Funny how things turned out, isn’t it?” Gerald chuckled. “But I do know what you mean. Our kind of drama was much different from that of our children. Who knew good old Phoenix was going to be the cause of such passions, huh?”

“His breakup was messy, I admit. He always seemed so mature as a kid– I never thought he’d screw up like this in a relationship!”

“From what I gather, his girlfriend caught him red-handed with someone of a questionable reputation,” Gerald informed me.

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“That Morgan girl?” I frowned upon remembering her. I’ve only seen her a couple of times, but she did not make a stellar impression on me. Something was just off – I couldn’t really explain it. But Phoenix seemed smitten, so there must’ve been something good about her.

“The very same. According to Tiff, Rashida was absolutely heart-broken to find them making out at that nightclub.”

“Tell me about it! I was there. David and I arrived at the nightclub just as she was leaving. I was rather shocked to hear some of those expletives coming out of her mouth. Rashida has always seemed like a very pleasant person. Although, I must admit, I do wonder …” I was still going over the situation, wondering where my son went wrong.

“If Phoenix was not as much in the wrong as she made it sound?” Gerald finished my sentence. “I agree. From what I gathered from overhearing my daughters, it seems like both of them were at fault. Phoenix absolutely should not have gone out with someone else the day they decided to take a break-“

“Wait, they were on a break? Then how is it cheating!” I didn’t know that part.

“You didn’t know, did you? Figures. But of course that girl spun everything to make the boyfriend the bad guy. She’s one of those girls,” Gerald declared.

“She isn’t…. I had my doubts about her when my son started dating my ex’s daughter, but she’s a good kid,” I defended the girl. I’ve been in her shoes, sort of.

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“I’m not saying she isn’t. But I’ve seen her and Phoenix together a few times and she seemed to me to be a little clingy. You know, Katie and I had a similar problem at one point. It was before we even decided to marry. She was constantly messaging me, concerned about me… mind you, it was still in the days we were chasing after Lionel, so I was busy a lot of the time.”

“Really? You’ve never told me.” I couldn’t believe my brother’s relationship has ever been anything less than perfect.

“There was nothing to tell! We’ve worked things out. Katie and I actually dedicated an entire date night to this. We stayed up super late talking about everything, I promised I’d try to keep in touch more, she admitted she was pushing things a bit too far with her overprotectiveness, we’ve set some boundaries – things went much smoother after that and we’ve never fought about this again. Perhaps Phoenix and Rashida could’ve benefited from the same kind of a conversation,” Gerald offered, wise as usual.

“I can’t believe he didn’t try to,” I frowned. My son wasn’t the kind of person to have communication problems.

“Are you talking about Phoenix?” Tiffani huffed, coming back home with Jeanne. “He screwed up, end of the story.”

“I don’t know, Tiff,” Jeanne shook her head. “Maybe we’ve been too quick to take Rashida’s side. After all, he is our cousin. I kind of feel bad about yelling at him.”

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“But he still cheated,” Tiffani tried to argue, but Jeanne quickly shook her head.

“No he didn’t. He may have moved on super-fast, but he didn’t cheat. Rashida even admitted they were on break. She did make the situation seem worse than it was.”

“So, you’re saying we should start talking to him again?” Tiffani made a face.

“Probably. I mean, we were kind of harsh on him. I know I was,” Jeanne shrugged. “Besides, the last few times I’ve seen him, he wasn’t with Morgan. I think she’s with some other guy now, so it’s not like we have to be in her company.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. It sounded like Phoenix’s social situation has been messed up for a while now. Did he and Morgan break up too? That would explain why I didn’t see her with him at all these days…

All of this made me even sadder. I was his mother – didn’t he feel comfortable enough to share things with me?

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As of reading my mind, Gerald hurried to reassure me, “It’s not you, Irene. Boys, especially at that age, wouldn’t share these things with their mothers. He wouldn’t want you to judge him.”

“I wouldn’t judge. But it sounds like he’s had another breakup and I couldn’t even comfort him. I just wish I could help him somehow.”

“You know, maybe we can. What helped you when you and Micah broke up?”

“I pushed myself into work and finding more intel on Collier Enterprises,” I remembered.

“In other words, you got busy. Which is exactly what he needs to do. I have the perfect idea. Didn’t you say Phoenix is a really good writer?” Gerald asked, an excited gleam in his eyes.

“His English teacher did. And from what I’ve read of his essays, it’s true.”

Gerald leaned back with a smile. “Good. You see, our newspaper is starting a rubric for young writers. Perhaps, we can get Phoenix interested? I know for a fact that having published work will look good on his college application. You know what? I will talk to him after your birthday.”

“Will you? Thanks. I will really appreciate it.” If I couldn’t help my son at the moment, then perhaps, his uncle could.

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Phoenix’s POV

After my parent’s birthdays passed, I got a call from Uncle Gerald, inviting me over to his place after school. Much as I liked Uncle Gerald, I had to admit, I was a bit scared to show up at his place. Who knew what my cousins would do? They weren’t my biggest fans these days…

Nevertheless, here I was. Luckily, Uncle Gerald was home and I didn’t have to wait for him.

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“Phoenix! Come in, come in. How’s life? How’s school? Have you been working on university applications yet?” he barraged me with questions.

“Uh, not really. I tried researching schools and majors but nothing seems quite right, you know,” I shrugged. I knew my parents wanted me to go to a university, but I didn’t want to go and just waste tuition money.

“Well, you’ve still got time, don’t worry about it. Come upstairs, I have a business proposition for you,” he urged.

Confused, I followed. As soon as he changed into comfortable clothes, Uncle Gerald started up his computer.

“Our newspaper is starting up a rubric for young writers. Now, it’s going to take some time to find enough people to really get it going, but all of us at the office are looking for people who can write well. And I instantly thought about you.”

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“Me? I’m not that good, really,” I protested. I wrote when I had an assignment, sure. My English teachers always gave me praise, but I strongly believed anyone could write those essays well, provided they didn’t half-ass the assignment. Most people just didn’t care enough about the grade to put much effort into their writing.

“Phoenix, I appreciate your modesty, but I’ve read your essays. Hidden Springs Daily could really benefit from someone like you writing for us. And you can write about any topic of your choice. We want to keep things interesting.”

“Alright… When would I have to start?” I was willing to give it a try. It wasn’t like I had anything better to do.

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“No better time than now! Seriously, that’s why I’m having you use my computer. You can take as long as you want. Write down even a few paragraphs – I want to send them to the head editor when you’re done. If they like what they read, you can consider yourself writer for the Hidden Springs Daily.”

“Uh, it sounds a little like nepotism, Uncle Gerald. Wouldn’t they certainly publish whatever I write because I’m your nephew?” I voiced my concern.

“Is this what worries you? In that case, I can keep your name off the writing until it is approved for publishing and just tell them it’s from an anonymous source. Would you like that?” he proposed.

That did sound like a plan. After all, I was sure Hidden Springs daily wouldn’t really want my writing.

“Just a few paragraphs,” he reminded me before leaving the room.

“Alright, here we go. Just a few paragraphs…” What could I write about?

An hour later I found myself looking at nearly five pages examining the culture and traditions of Egypt from an outsider’s perspective. It was way more than a few paragraphs, but what could I say? Foreign traditions always fascinated me.

Saving the document to my uncle’s desktop, I headed downstairs to look for him. Instead I found Tiffani, who was busy making hot dogs.

I haven’t seen her since she graduated high school, but before, whenever we saw each other at school, things were icy between us.

My attempt to quietly leave failed.

“Phoenix? You’re here? Hey…” she didn’t look pleased to see me.

“I was just leaving. Is Uncle Gerald not here anymore?”

“He left to buy some groceries; he’ll be back soon enough.” She paused before adding, “You should stay and eat, you’re probably hungry now.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea-“

“I insist. Seriously, I’m not going to poison you or something. You are my younger cousin, after all.”

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Dinner with Tiffani was awkward, to say the least. Until she finally asked:

“What was the fight about?”

“Huh?”

“Between you and Rashida. I know you had a fight before you broke up. I’m just curious about what brought it on,” she explained.

“A bit of everything, really. She got jealous over me helping Quiang’s sister with her essay and I got angry over her constant need to keep tabs on me. We both kind of said some explosive things and she said we should take a break. I wanted to talk to her, but you know how things went….” I found myself spilling everything.

“Is that so…” Tiffani drifted off, a peculiar expression on her face. At that time Jeanne and a classmate of ours, Julia, came in.

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“Well, look at you two, getting along! Told you, he wasn’t completely at fault,” Jeanne stated.

“Yeah, it seems good old Rashi really did blow some things out of proportion,” Tiffani admitted. “I still don’t like what you did, Phoenix, but I think I see what happened, sort of.”

“I should’ve listened to your side of the story as well before making assumptions about this whole situation,” Jeanne added. “But there was just a lot of weirdness with everything.”

“Yeah, like Sergio and Rashida getting together?” Julia mentioned, joining the conversation.

“Yeah, that.” My cousins both nodded in agreement.

“They did get together?” I asked incredulously.

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“Oh, you don’t know yet?” Tiff chuckled. “They’ve been sucking face all over the school. It’s kind of over the top, really. But then again, you’ve been busy too, huh? Morgan?”

“Yeah, that’s no longer a thing,” I admitted.

“Wanna talk about it?” Tiffani offered.

“Honestly, not really. Perhaps, another time. I should go now.”

“Take care, cuz. We’ll see you around.”

I left their house feeling lighter than I had in the last two months. Perhaps, breaking up with Rashida was the best decision I’ve made. I probably should’ve made it sooner – maybe both of us could’ve ended things on better terms. As for Morgan, she was a good lesson: just because someone sweet-talks you, they don’t necessarily mean well.


When fall came, I was officially one of Hidden Springs Daily’s new youth correspondents. Uncle Gerald submitted my work anonymously at first (I believed him, he wasn’t the type to lie) and the editors loved it. In fact, they wanted more, much more. So, on top of my already impressive schoolwork, I now had to do extra research for newspaper topics.

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But that was completely fine with me – the thrill of seeing my articles in the daily paper was well worth the extra work!

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As a result, I now spent much more time at the city library, looking up facts, combing through archives, finding new information to write about. After the first article, I enjoyed the positive outpour of views and comments on the paper’s website. It was really something – I was educating others about something! I wanted to make sure all of my subsequent articles were just as good or better.

Leaving the library one evening, I spotted a familiar face out in the square – Jeanine. Trust her to study outdoors when it is already almost too dark to see.

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“Hey, long time no see!” I called.

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“Phoenix? Hey!!!” She closed up her book and placed it in the pile behind her, rubbing her eyes. “What’s up?”

“Just researching stuff at the library,” I explained.

“Of course! You’re the big correspondent now! Congrats, I’ve always thought you’d make a good writer. How do you even know all that international stuff?” She marveled.

“It’s a hobby, I guess. What about you? All these books?” I gestured to the piles.

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She sighed. “Stupid schools with their stupid regulations. Like, it’s not enough that I’m on the soccer team, no, I also need to have a high GPA. And my GPA is already high, but they want to make sure I’m not just getting in due to athletics… They’re idiots is what I’m saying. So, now I’m studying like crazy to make sure I don’t mess up on any of the upcoming class tests, which could potentially lower my scores…”

That sounded like Jeanine, alright. Although, she was already smart, she didn’t need to prove anything. I wondered if there was something else going on.

“So, how have you been? I’m sorry I kind of fell of the face of the earth again. It’s just been like this,” she pointed to the books again. “I’ve been an awful friend to many, lately.”

“Hey, you’re not a bad friend! I haven’t really been around much either, to be honest. Sorry about that…” I admitted.

“It’s alright, between your girlfriend and the new job, you’ve had your hands full. I don’t know how you manage it, really. I don’t even have work but I already feel swamped,” she lamented.

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“Well, just work, now. Morgan and I have been over for a couple of months now,” I let her know. It was kind of strange – with how information traveled around our school, I thought she already knew.

“Oh, no! What happened?” she looked legitimately surprised.

I found myself spilling everything that happened, how I ended up dating Morgan, how the guys exposed her, how my cousins were still kind of cool with me for some reason, even though they knew I wasn’t really at fault.

She smiled sadly. “Sorry about Morgan. I had no idea she was like that. And wow, she was stringing my brother along too? Yikes. As for your cousins…” she bit her lip.

“What is it?” Were they angry at her too for some reason? Why? What could Jeanine have done?

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“Well, you know how Jeanne and I have always been super tight? Well, she’s been kind of distant with me lately. And honestly, I think Tiffani is responsible. She’s always been the ring-leader of the group, so to say. Well, she and you. But after everyone got angry at you over Rashida, it’s just been her. She’s is a bit of a queen bee. I think she was mostly calling the shots around the school, before she graduated. Her and …” she drifted off again.

“Ok, what happened between you and my cousins? You were good friends before.” None of this made sense.

“Taylor and I broke up and they took his side. There,” she let out.

“Wait, why? Why would they take his side?” this made even less sense.

“Not all of them. Just Tiffani and Rashida did. I think Jeanne and Trevor are sort of the voices of reason for them, but they’re outnumbered,” Jeanine explained patiently.

“What did he tell them?” I was becoming more and more disappointed with my family.

“More like, he didn’t correct his story. His mom couldn’t find her expensive diamond earrings and he accused me of stealing them.”

“Diamond earrings? I’m pretty sure I saw his sister wear them, the flower shaped ones, right?”

“The very same. It all came out eventually; Julia even admitted she took them. So Taylor came to apologize to me, but let’s just say, he didn’t sound sincere enough – I told him to take a hike. He was really pissed. Anyways, I guess he stuck to his original story with the rest of the school- that I stole from his family.”

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“Ok, ok, your relationship fiasco definitely takes the cake,” I sympathized. Yikes. And I thought I dated the wrong people.

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“It’s alright, I’m glad I know what kind of a person he is now. How could I even like him, right?” she laughed.

“Well, he has nice hair, I suppose,” I chuckled.

“That’s kind of a shitty reason to keep dating someone who doesn’t even trust you, though,” she stated. “You know, I have to admit, I owe you an apology.”

“What for?” Her words surprised me.

“I kind of thought Rashida’s behavior for the last couple of years wasn’t very good towards you, the clinginess, the possessiveness, the rest. But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to make the situation worse, you know. Have you noticed we didn’t hang out much while the two of you dated?”

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“I suppose. But you were with Taylor and we were all busy.”

“True. But I’ve noticed she didn’t like you hanging out with any females not related to you. That included me. I guess she thought I could try to seduce you away from her, imagine that?” she laughed. “But also, I felt bad because Jeanne and I kind of created this whole situation when we told you she had a crush on you. So, we were kind of responsible. I know Jeanne feels the same way.”

“This is ridiculous,” I chuckled. “You told me, yes, but eventually, she and I would’ve coupled up without your help too. We did like each other a lot. Besides, you’re not responsible for her behavior. We’re still friends.”

“That’s good to know,” she smiled. “So, Rashida and Sergio, huh? Who would’ve thought…?”

“Not me, that’s for sure.” Seeing them making out at a local diner the other day was weird enough.”

“Well, this year is going to go better, anyways. Tiffani is out of school now, Rashida is always with Sergio, and Jeanne and Trevor have common sense, so they’ll figure out we were never in the wrong to begin with! And there will be senior prom and we’ll all be able to relax for once.”

“Ugh, I’m not going,” I shuddered. The atmosphere at school, even without my older cousin there, was still going to be weird.

“Um, yes you are! You can’t just not go, Phoenix, you’ll regret it. Besides, if you don’t go, the assholes win,” she stated.

“I take it you’re going?”

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“Of course! I already bought an expensive dress, I’m not wasting it just because some idiots decided to mess with my reputation,” she challenged.

“Alright, then. I’ll go to. At least, I know I won’t be alone in enemy territory.”

“That’s the spirit. And before we know it, senior year is done and we’re off to uni, hopefully leaving all the bullshit in the past,” Jeanine smiled.

She was right. We weren’t going to let the idiots win.

“Well, I really have to go home now, I promised I’ll help Sonja with her school work,” Jeanine got up and started gathering her books.

“Schoolwork? School hasn’t started yet.”

“She wasn’t doing too well in her previous year and she has to retake her math class in summer school. She still doesn’t really get the material though, so it’s time for her big sister to come to the rescue!” she explained.

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“I guess this will be my job when Felicity is older,” I realized.

“Oh, absolutely. So, you better study up for your future job as big brother/teacher/hero!” she laughed. “Well, take care. I’ll text you soon, promise.”

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After she left, I pondered the situation with our schoolmates. It was kind of sad that our classmates and friends had such a petty side. But then, who didn’t?

At least I had one friend who had her head on properly. Unfortunately, she was dealing with something she totally didn’t deserve.

And now I’ve basically promised to go to prom. I just hoped it will go off without any weirdness, although I had a feeling this was wishful thinking.

 

 

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Gen 3 Ch 5: I Just Want to Have Some Fun

I needed to cool down. That was it. Rashida and I both just needed to cool down. Maybe some space would do us good?

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The library was usually empty at this time of day, since most of the school was still in class and those who, like me, had an empty period chose to spend it outside rather than surrounding themselves with more books. So, this seemed like a good place to get some quiet alone time and to think how my day turned out.

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On the one hand, everything that came up in our fight was a valid point. I did have an issue with Rashida requiring constant contact with me, to the point of wanting to permanently shut my phone off at times. I did have a problem with her clinginess. And I knew I had to bring these things up at some point.

Of course, I didn’t know she had jealousy issues too. That certainly put things in perspective. But who knew, maybe this fight would make her see things my way at least a little bit? I could only hope.

Because I didn’t really want to break up. Not like this, at least.

All of this was giving me a headache. I began to wonder if my parents would mind if I decided to just call it a day and go home to take a nap. It would be more productive that staying in school and sulking.

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Before I could make up my mind, the library door opened to let in the last person I wanted to see today: Morgan. And of course, I was sitting just where she could see me and I had no time to hide. Perfect.

“Phoenix?” she seemed surprised to see me. “Hey, what’s up? No offense, but you look like someone just forced you to drink unsweetened lemon juice. Are you ok?”

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“Peachy,” I mumbled. “Just peachy.”

“If you say so,” she shrugged. “Although, if you’re ill, the nurse’s office is just downstairs.”

“Thanks for the concern,” I sighed. “I’m not sick though. Just had a bad day, that’s all.”

“Oh,” she nodded understandingly and sat down next to me. “Well, that happens. Usually, I just eat something sweet to cheer myself up on days like these. I have some candy, would you like it?”

“No, thanks,” I refused. “I was just thinking of going home and taking a nap, actually.”

“That works too,” she laughed. “What happened though? If it’s not a secret, that is.”

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I wasn’t sure if telling her about my relationship problems was such a good idea. After all, I was pretty sure Rashida wouldn’t appreciate me discussing our private issues with another girl. But then again, she also threw a jealousy fit over someone who was practically family… and honestly, I needed to vent.

“My girlfriend and I got into a fight. She and I haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye on some things, and we both kind of exploded at one another. I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do now. Any advice?” I spilled the beans.

“Well, if you haven’t been agreeing on something for a long time, and all this crap kind of bottled up, it’s no wonder you two had a fight,” she explained as a matter of fact. “Sorry if I sound blunt, but anyone would tell you this.”

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“No, you’re right. My sister told me something similar, actually. I just don’t know how to fix this situation without getting angry again and making everything worse,” I admitted.

“Well, I would suggest not doing anything just yet. If you’re angry, she probably is too. Give it a break, think everything over, and then talk to her. If a guy tried to make up with me immediately after a fight, I’d probably snap at him again,” she admitted.

“Thanks, for the advice,” I nodded. “I think I will go home after all, then. I don’t feel like staying at school at the moment.”

“Wait, don’t leave just yet,” she got a wicked grin on her face. “I know what can cheer you up right now. Come on!”

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She jumped up, leading be down the hall, all the way to one of the teacher lounges. Students were usually not supposed to be here and it felt like we were breaking the law.

“Don’t worry,” she noticed my reticence. “No one’s going to be here until the end of this class, at least. And there is ice cream.”

“But it’s the teachers’ ice cream!” I whispered, looking around for any teacher that might show up.

“Nah, it was supposed to be for the students before Mr. Elms got a stick up his ass and decided to cancel the pre-exam party. There’s plenty of it – they won’t notice a couple of missing cans. And you need the sugar rush.”

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There was no arguing with her on this. And the ice cream was delicious.

“So, do you do this often? Sneak around student lounges and go through their fridges?” I teased. She was right, the ice cream did do me a lot of good – my headache was already almost gone.

“Well, I’m usually assisting at the main office during this time, but everyone there is on some conference, so I basically have a free period too for today,” she laughed. “You wouldn’t believe how much gossip you end up hearing when you spend enough time around faculty.”

“Like what?” I was curious.

“Well, I know for a fact that there are at least two secret teacher couples,” she snorted. “Then, one teacher actually hired a PI to trail his girlfriend who he thinks is cheating on him, and another female teacher is trying to secretly get pregnant from her boyfriend. Also, it’s a good thing that none of these people are spies, since they are all really bad at hiding their secrets. I won’t name anyone though, but you’ll probably figure out  all of them now by yourself.”

“This is better than a soap opera,” I leaned back in my chair. It was nice not thinking about my own problems for a change.

“Sure is,” she agreed, glancing at the clock. “Well, I think class is almost over and if you want to get out of school for today, you should be going now.”

“Thanks for the reminder,” I got up to leave before the halls were full of people. “And thanks for the ice cream.”

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“No problem,” she waved away. “Oh, by the way – if you want to have some fun outside of school tonight – come to the Chill Out around 8 today.”

“The Chill Out? Isn’t that place 18+ only?” I asked stumped. The nightclub was where all the cool college kids went. Certainly they won’t let high-schoolers in.

“It’s supposed to be. But the bouncers are chill, as long as you don’t cause trouble on the dance floor. They’ve let me in plenty of times before,” she admitted.

“Oh,” I was about to say no. It wasn’t a good idea. Just me and her on the dance floor? A recipe for disaster.

“There are going to be others from school. Always are.” she informed me. “Like I said, the bouncer is totally chill.”

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“You know what? I’ll be there,” I agreed. It was a while since I’ve had any fun and school was tiring enough without all of my relationship issues. I needed a break. And I wanted to check out the nightclub – after all, what was the point of all those age restrictions anyways?

“Alright then, 8 pm it is!” she reminded me, already heading out.

My parents were still at work when I came home, so they couldn’t complain about me ditching school. And it wasn’t like I skipped classes often. This was only the second time in my entire school career – they had no reason to worry.

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After sending the babysitter on her way, I ended up spending hours with Felicity. She was always such a cheerful little girl – my baby sister never failed to put a smile on my face. These days, I really regretted being so negative about Mom’s late pregnancy. Who knew, maybe Felicity and I would be just as close as Millie and I always were?

When the time came, I got out my more stylish clothes. From what I’ve heard, the night club had some sort of a dress code and I had no intention of getting turned away at the door.

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My parents didn’t question where I was going – they didn’t need to. Usually, whenever I left the house, I was going either to one of my friends’ house or on a date with Rashida. And no one in my circle ever expressed the wish to go clubbing. This was definitely a new thing for me.

The music in the club was already pumping when I got there. And there was the bouncer at the door. I felt hesitant. Maybe Morgan was wrong and the bouncer wasn’t as chill as she thought? After all, plenty of times, places like these would let in attractive girls to make the male customers have more of an incentive to go in. For all I knew, this lady was going to call the cops on me?

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“There you are!” Morgan appeared behind me, clad in a tight revealing dress that showed off her legs. “Almost thought you’d change your mind!”

“Not a chance,” I shook my head.

“Let’s go, then, don’t worry, there are plenty of others inside already. We won’t even come close to standing out,” she pulled me towards the club door, where, just as she predicted, the bouncer didn’t even bat an eyelash at us.

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Inside, the music was deafeningly loud, with the boomboxes blasting high-energy songs with the beats that were just right and I felt myself wanting to dance, to release all the negativity of the last few months out of me.

And Morgan wasn’t kidding when she said we won’t be the only underage ones here – I was pretty sure I recognized some familiar faces from school. I understood them though — we were all just here to have a good time. So we kept on dancing.

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Some were better at it than others. I like to think I have pretty good moves, but honestly, I had nothing on Morgan. I had no idea if she took dance lessons outside of school or if she just frequented clubs like these often, but she never missed a beat and her moves were always on point. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught several other guys at the club give her wistful glances. I didn’t blame them, I felt the same way.

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Some part of me felt guilty. This was the exact opposite of resolving my relationship issues. Yeah, there were others here, but it was clear Morgan and I were here “together”. Even if it was just a friendly outing, I was still breaking my promise to myself to avoid her company.

“Hey, come on, dance!” she pulled me back to the dance floor, noticing my momentary spacing out. “Aren’t you having fun at all?”

“I am,” I shouted over the music. It was true. Despite the guilty feelings, this was the most fun I’ve had in a long while. “Thanks for inviting me here!”

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“No problem!” she smiled, continuing to dance. I tried to keep up. I wasn’t planning to make going to nightclubs a regular activity, so I decided to take maximum advantage of this outing.

My thoughts drifted to Rashida again. I imagined taking her to a place like these. Instantly, I could picture her getting irked at the other girls looking at me, even if they did so by complete accident. I could see her either trying to compete with everyone else on the dance floor or trying to drag us out of here.

She wasn’t here tonight though, which made me feel a strange sense of… relief? Yes, that was it. Her absence was making me feel lighter than I’ve felt in months…

And right there on that dance floor, with the music still blaring loud, I knew it. My relationship was over. I just didn’t have it in me to fix it, because most of all, that required wanting to stay with the person I was in a relationship with. And the idea of staying with Rashida any longer, of dealing with her possessiveness made me want to scream. It would hurt, yes, but I would have to talk to her and end things for real.

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And really, this was a long time coming.

As the music changed from the fast paced dance tune to a slower number, I also knew I didn’t just want to be friends with Morgan. I was having a good time with her, I was attracted to her, and I knew she didn’t just invite me out here tonight for me to relax – she’s was interested in me. Instinctively, we moved closer to one another until we were slow-dancing with one another.

“Phoenix?” she whispered. “Do you want to sit this one out? Your girlfriend-“

“No, I think I want to dance with you,” I looked her in the eyes.

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“Alright,” she whispered back, grinning.

 

 

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– Clara! What the hell are you doing here? Mom and Dad think you’re studying at your friend’s house!

– You should be glad I’m here tonight. Go in. Take a look at what’s going on in there. 

– What?

– Just go see for yourself. And don’t shoot the messenger afterwards.

 

 

And so we danced together, with my hands on her hips and her arms pulling me closer and closer, to the point of our lips nearly touching, until this bliss was interrupted by the last person I wanted to be here.

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“Phoenix?! Well, asshole, I see you’re making great use of our break,” Rashida screamed at me. It seemed like she came out of nowhere and she looked furious.

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“Rashida? What are you doing here?” I pulled away from Morgan, who was looking on all of this with an uncomfortable expression.

“Me?! I’m not the one making out with someone else! Here I was, thinking you actually wanted to fix our relationship, but it looks like you’ve already moved on with her, you bastard!” she spit out bitterly. “Consider our break permanent.”

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“Ok,” was the only thing I managed to get out before she stormed out of the club. This was not how I wanted to end things, but the chances of her being in this club by pure coincidence tonight were so minimal that she must’ve been trailing me. And that would’ve been the final nail in the coffin of whatever was between us, even if I didn’t decide to break up already.

She could think I was the worst person in the world, but if that meant our relationship was over, then so be it.

“Um, I’m really sorry about this,” Morgan mumbled, looking down at her feet. “I didn’t know your girlfriend would be here. Damn, I didn’t mean for you to get broken up with…”

“Don’t be,” I shrugged. “I was planning to break up with her tomorrow anyways. She just beat me to it.”

“Still,” she bit her lip, “This did not go well.”

“It happened,” I stated. “It’s probably for the best, though. Because there’s something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time.”

“What?” Morgan cocked her head to one side.

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“This,” I admitted before pulling her into a passionate kiss. To my delight, she responded just as eagerly.

As we pulled away, she had a huge smile on her face. “I’m so glad I’m not the only one who felt that way,” she purred. “Is this why you’ve been avoiding me lately?”

“Pretty much, yeah. Are you angry?” I asked.

“I’ll forgive you after another kiss,” she smiled.

Before I could deliver, I felt someone’s strong hands grab me from behind and pull me away from Morgan.

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“That’s it, young man, you are grounded for at least a month!” Dad growled as he dragged me out of the club.

All I could do was mouth “I’ll see you in school,” at Morgan before we left the building.

And despite being grounded, I couldn’t help but grin the entire ride home, to the increased discontent of my parents.

Gen 3 Ch 4: How to Deal?

As Mom started showing, my strange feelings about her pregnancy didn’t go away. I knew I should’ve been happy for her and Dad, but something just wasn’t letting me.

This was why I found myself at Millie’s house one day. My sister always got me. If anyone could help me figure things out, it was her.

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“Hey, brother! What brings you here?” Millie asked, letting me in.

“Stuff,” I shrugged.

“Well, come in, come in,” she urged me into her kitchen, where she took stock of everything in the fridge. “Quiang and I are usually busy at work, and between our crazy shifts and taking care of Terrence, we keep forgetting to go grocery shopping.”

“So this is what being married is like, eh?” I tried joking.

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“Pretty much,” Millie laughed. “Well, except you get to come home to see the people you love every day, which is really priceless. Sometimes, I still can’t believe Quiang and I are really married. And then I look at Terrence and wonder how I deserved to be this perfect little boy’s mother. I can’t wait until we are in a good enough place to have another little one. It would have to wait until Terrence is older though. I can’t imagine taking care of two kids under 3 at once.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk about, actually,” I admitted. “I mean, Mom being pregnant? This is so crazy, isn’t it?”

“If you mean her age, then yes, it is quite crazy,” Millie agreed. “But I bet she is so happy right now, isn’t she? That’s how she always sounds when we talk.”

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“So, you’re completely on board with this?” I was incredulous.

“Of course I’m on board, Phoenix. She had my back completely when I was pregnant. Besides, what do you suggest she do? Get rid of the baby? You know there is no way in hell she’d ever do that, right? Even if her health was at stake, which it isn’t,” Millie looked at me sternly.

“The doctors said she’ll have to be on bed rest for the last part of this trimester and the next,” I informed her and she nodded. She knew.

“I still can’t believe she got pregnant again, and so late too,” she mused as we sat down in her living room. “You know, we never thought she’d have you either.”

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“Seriously? Why?” This was the first I was hearing of this.

“Mom had a lot of trouble conceiving. I remember at one point I even thought she and Dad couldn’t have a baby of their own because I was with them,” Millie laughed. “She and Dad had five failed IVF attempts when they were younger. Then there was this big fire – our house was nearly burned down because of this crazy woman who had a vendetta against the family.”

“Mom and Dad mentioned it once or twice. When I asked why there were still those old char marks in the living room,” I remembered being confused when I was younger. “They never mentioned their fertility problems, though.”

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“They don’t really like to talk about that time,” Millie nodded. “Well, anyways, our house had to be completely repaired after the fire, so instead of staying at a hotel, we all went to China because Mom and Dad had to find out something for work.”

“And you met Quiang there…” I realized.

“I did. Who knew how things would turn out?” she smiled happily. “Well, to our surprise, when we came back, Mom was pregnant with you. She still maintains there was something supernatural about that, although I’m not sure I believe that. I mean, there has to be a logical explanation for why her fertility problems went away in China. Although, who knows? There are lots of unexplained things in the world…” she drifted off.

“So, how is she pregnant now?” I asked.

“That is the billion dollar question, isn’t it?” Millie shrugged. “I say, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, the pregnancy is going well, Mom and Dad are happy, and we’ll have a new sibling soon. Let’s be happy about it.”

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“I’ll try, Mills. I guess I’m kind of excited to have another sibling. It’s been kind of empty without you in the house,” I admitted.

“Sorry, little brother. We just really wanted to have our own place. You’ll understand someday. But I miss having you around too,” she smiled. “So, what else is bothering you?”

“Nothing,” I replied, to which she snorted.

“I’m your big sister, I know something’s up.”

“Ok, well, it’s Rashida,” I admitted. I took a deep breath and let it out “I really like her, I think she’s gorgeous, we have so many things in common, and we’ve been great friends since we were little. But sometimes, I feel like dating her is a little too much.”

“Let me guess,” Millie pursed her lips. “She is overly affectionate. I mean, I’ve noticed it when I saw you two together, but I didn’t want to say anything and you weren’t bothered by it. Or maybe it just seemed that way?”

“I don’t know. It didn’t bother me at first. But it kind of does now. I mean, she texts me cute messages at 2 am at night, she constantly tries to be near me… I like her, but this kind of thing is making me want more distance. I don’t want to break up with her, I just…”

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“…need more space? I understand, Phoenix,” Millie nodded. “Perhaps you two need to talk this over with one another? Have you tried bringing it up to her?”

“No! The other day, I didn’t kiss her before class and it looked like she was about to cry,” I explained the problem. “I can’t even imagine how she’ll react if I tell her this.”

“Well, you’re in a tough spot, then. But you do need to address this issue before it wreaks your relationship,” she concluded.

“I know. Well thanks for helping me figure some things out. You’re the best,” I hugged my sister before heading towards the exit, where I ran into my brother-in-kaw.

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“Hey, Phoenix! How’s life?” Quiang waved at me. “Congratulations on your soon-to-arrive new sibling.”

“Thanks. It’s been nice seeing you two. Take care of yourself and of my sister,” I told him, to which he replied, “I always do.”

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I didn’t want to go home just yet. Because of the pregnancy, Mom was constantly feeling too hot, and therefore our thermostat was set to nearly freezing temperatures, making me consider putting on a parka just to be at home.

However, it might have been preferable to the weather we’ve been having lately.

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It was scorching hot. I had no idea why – Hidden Springs was usually supposed to be cooler than this, but this summer was taking its toll on all of us.

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Luckily, there was an ice cream truck in town center when I got there. A refreshing strawberry cone was most welcome.

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After buying my ice cream, I found a spot in the shade of a nearby building. I wondered how to spend my time. It was summer vacation, and having no part-time job, I mostly had nothing to do. Frankly, I was bored, to the point of actually missing school. At least there, I had my friends.

Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t notice a familiar face approach me.

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“Phoenix? Hey, long time, no see,” Morgan rounded the corner, smiling when she saw me. “How’s life been treating you?

“It’s good. I have a delicious ice cream, I’m in the shade, and I’m going to be a big brother soon. Life’s good,” I finished the ice cream and, scrunching it up, threw away the paper cone holder into the nearest trash can, scoring a perfect hit.

“Nice shot,” Morgan complimented, joining me on the bench. “You should try the chocolate one next time though, it’s even better.”

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“Would you like one? My treat,” I offered.

“Thanks, but I don’t like to eat before swimming. What about you? Want to go for a swim? The pool’s open right now and we’re here already,” she pointed out the fact that we were sitting right next to the public pool building.

“Seriously? Actually, that sounds great, sure,” I agreed.

Inside, I quickly stripped down to my trunks, regretting not taking Quiang’s offer to help me start working out, and jumped into the pool. The water was refreshing and nice and I quickly felt better. Feeling refreshed, I got out of the pool and took up one of the loungers.

By this time, Morgan finished getting ready for her own swim, and approached the pool, where she did a nearly perfect somersault into the water.

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“Oh goodness, yes!” she exclaimed. “What would we do without the pool? We’ll just prune up.”

“Yeah, sure,” I agreed, unable to keep my eyes off of her. She had a good body and I was glad that my shorts were loose. Otherwise, this situation would’ve been somewhat awkward.

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Finally, she climbed out of the water, the water still dripping from her smooth skin, and made her way to the lounger right next to mine.

“This is fun, we should hang out more often,” she smiled at me, only a meter or so away from me. “You seem like a fun person to spend time with.”

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“Thanks, so are you,” I responded, feeling guilty, so very guilty about being here right now. Perhaps I was an idiot, perhaps it was only hindsight, but I was realizing how awfully stupid and wrong it was for me to be here with Morgan, to be checking her out in that swimsuit, when only a couple of hours ago, I was having a discussion on how to fix the shortcomings of my existing relationship.

Morgan and I chatted about a few more trivial things, with me doing my best not to notice any of her attempts to flirt with me until it began to get dark, at which time I made the excuse that I still needed to buy something at the store, before I took my leave, heading out of the pool center as fast as my legs could carry me.

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I didn’t walk far when my phone beeped with another message from Rashida. This time, it was a cute picture of two fluffy kittens hugging each other, with a caption that said “You+Me=Purrfection.” Alright, even I had to admit, this was pretty adorable.

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Before I could reply back, I nearly walked into someone – my uncle Gerald.

“Oh, hello there, Phoenix, I seriously didn’t realize it was you. Did you grow more?” he greeted.

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“Hi, Uncle Gerald. I think I may have had another growth spurt, yes. How are you?”

“I’m good, I’m good. How’s your mom? How’s her pregnancy going?” he asked with concern.

“Pretty decent, I think, all things considered. Lots of back pain, but the food aversions are over, though,” I let him know.

“At least, it’s more than halfway done,” he nodded in sympathy. “The back pain is always too much, I know. I remember Katie could barely sleep at night when she was expecting the girls. I know Irene is happy though. So, what about you? You’re going to be a junior now, aren’t you? Thinking of schools to apply to? Or perhaps, something more hand-on?” he asked, bringing up something that kind of bothered me lately.

Seriously, everyone kept talking about what they were going to do when they were older. It was interesting at first, but as time went on, it got kind of stressful. I still had no idea about what I was going to do after high school was done and I felt like the black sheep out of my group of friends because of that. After all, I was supposed to have at least an inkling about my future career choice, right?

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“Still haven’t decided, huh?” Uncle Gerald noticed my confusion. “It’s alright, kid. Not many people know right of the bat.”

“You did though, didn’t you?” I referred to his choice to go into investigative journalism from an early age.

“Well, in my case, the circumstances helped me along. But before that, I changed my mind plenty. I even thought of becoming a pro soccer player at one point,” he laughed.

“Seriously? I had no idea!” the idea of my sophisticated uncle running after a ball was quite something.

“Most people are surprised to hear that,” he smiled. “You’ll figure things out, don’t worry. And if you ever need a friendly ear outside of the family, I’m only a phone call away.”

After we parted ways, I felt much lighter. My uncle’s advice was solid, as usual. Not to say that my parents didn’t give good advice, but they were parents and there were some things I wasn’t going to ask them about.

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Coming home, I found Mom in the kitchen, having dinner. I didn’t realize I’ve been out of the house for that long but it was already almost 9 in the evening.

“Hey Mom! How are you feeling?” I felt bad for being so negative over her pregnancy. Millie was right – it was a happy thing.

“I’m pretty good, mostly. Your sister’s been kicking a lot, though. I can already tell she’ll be a feisty one,” Mom smiled.

“How do you know it’s a girl?” I asked. They haven’t been told so by the doctor, yet.

“I just have a feeling. I had a feeling you were going to be a boy and this one feels like a girl,” she smiled. “Would you like some pasta?”

“Thanks, I’m good though,” the ice cream from earlier was pretty filling.

As soon as I thought about the ice cream, I thought about the pool, about Morgan, about Rashida! And I totally forgot to text her back.

“Hey,” I wrote, “What’s up? Cute kittens.”

“Hey!!!” she texted back. “Glad you liked them!”

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“What are you doing?” I hesitated before adding, “Want to come over?”

The fact of the matter was, while she and I certainly kissed and made out plenty of times, we haven’t gone any further. I was somewhat afraid of getting hit with the same luck as Millie in terms of contraception failure. But I knew she wanted to take the next step and tonight, I felt just about ready to do the deed. I knew Mom was going to go to sleep soon, and Dad was always near her these days, so he won’t stray out of the bedroom at night…

“Sorry, can’t 😦 😦 😦 , my folks are on a date and I’m supposed to help Clara with her homework :(” her response came back. Of course she had to help her younger sister first, that was understandable.

“No problem, see you soon <3” I hit send, still frustrated and annoyed at the situation. I guess, there won’t be any sex happening in this household tonight.

At least, cold showers were a very real and effective method for killing the mood.

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Time passed, Mom was in her last trimester. She was officially on bed rest now, and when she wasn’t, she could barely deal with the exhaustion and the back pain.

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Luckily, her due date wasn’t too far away now. I knew she wanted the baby to be born sooner rather than later.

In other news, school started again, which meant I got to see all of my friends all the time again. Well, all except one – I made the conscious decision to avoid Morgan around the school. I couldn’t deny the fact that I was attracted to her and if I wanted my relationship to survive, it was for the best for me not to be around her too much.

Also, I decided that Rashida and I were going to take our relationship a step further, after all. We were going to be responsible about it though, that much was for sure. Of course, finding a good time and place was going to be an issue, but I was sure it won’t be a problem for long.

An opportunity seemingly presented itself one day, when on a weekend, our schedules were empty enough for her to come over to my place, so I invited her over.

“Hey,” she smiled, coming into the house. “It smells good. Is your mom cooking something?”

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“Not Mom,” I smiled. “Me. It’s just a salad though, and I might have gone overboard with the spices.”

“Can I try it?” she asked, excited.

“Eh, it really doesn’t taste that great,” I admitted. My cooking was definitely not worthy of any praise.

“I won’t judge, promise,” she winked.

Before I could respond anything, Mom and Dad came down in a hurry.

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“Rashida, hi sweetie, how are you? Make yourself at home, don’t mind us,” Mom breathed out shakily.

“Mom, are you ok?” she looked really stressed out, which worried me.

“I’m as good as can be, considering that I’m in labor. Looks like your sister wants out and she wants out now!” she explained, on her way to the car, as Dad followed with all the essentials necessary for the hospital.

“Watcher, your Mom is in labor!” Rashida exclaimed.

“Yes, finally!” According to Mom, the baby was overdue, so this was good.

All thoughts of food pretty much went out the window.

“Are you ok?” Rashida asked, hugging me from behind. “You look worried.”

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“I am, sort of. I mean, Mom’s doctor is very good, but I can’t help but wonder if everything will go well,” I admitted. I regretted not coming to the hospital with them, but we all knew I’d be pretty useless there.

“It’s ok,” she reassured me, “She’ll be fine. I mean, look at Jeanine’s family – they have, what, five kids? And their younger brother was born pretty late too, but Mrs. Blakely is doing alright. I’m sure your mom will be fine.”

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“Thanks for being so positive,” I pulled her in for a kiss. I was glad I invested myself into this relationship harder. Really, my attitude was what caused all of my discontent. Rashida, despite being too affectionate, always meant well. “Let’s just chill while we wait for the news, cool?”

So, we ended up in my room, listening to the radio without really paying attention to any of the songs, and chatting.

“So, what’s up with the foreign pictures? You have a bunch in your locker too. They look cool,” she pointed to one of the posters in the room.

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I shrugged, “Foreign things fascinate me. To be honest, I kind of want to travel someday. Imagine going to another country, eating the local food, meeting the locals, leaning their customs and traditions… it’s all so new and real. But it would have to wait until I’m older, I guess.”

“Where would you want to go?” she asked.

“I think I’d like to see China,” I admitted, “According to Millie, I was conceived there…and Mom always says she felt the most tranquility in her life in China. I wonder if I can experience that too.”

“That’s cool,” Rashida sighed wistfully. “I’ve always liked their architecture – it looks so different from everything here.”

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“I suppose it does. Hey, did you know pagoda roofs were often built with the purpose of making ghosts and spirits unable to come in?” I smiled.

“No way!” she laughed. “I suppose it was their built in equivalent of spilling rice or sand on the floor.”

“True. Although, I really have no idea why people think becoming a ghost makes someone terrible at math,” I chuckled. “But who knows, maybe only those who are averse to arithmetic can become ghosts?”

“Ha!” she laughed again, sobering up quickly. “Hey, what about me? Can I come along when you go exploring the world? Or am I going to stay home and wait for you?”

“You should come along,” I offered, pulling her close to me. “Imagine, seeing the world together, making new foreign friends, maybe even staying abroad for a while…”

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“I’d like that,” she nodded. “It can be a great experience. And imagine all the foreign music I can learn. Maybe I can learn to play the lute while we’re there? It isn’t that different from a guitar, after all.”

“I think you’d be good at it,” I agreed. She already played the guitar as well or better than many famous musicians. Of course, she’d do well with a new instrument.

“You think so?” she looked at me softly, her amber eyes bright with excitement.

“Absolutely.”

She leaned in, kissing me, to which I responded with the same fervor. We were home alone, in my room, and I knew Rashida was not averse to taking the next step…

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Our kisses became deeper, and soon she was on top of me, with me making more space for us to both be comfortable as we got closer to the goal. Also, my mind reminded me to use the condoms I had stored in the drawer of my bed.

“Wait,” I gently stopped her. The thought about contraception reminded me of the fact that my mother was currently in the hospital, giving birth to a baby. And there is no way I could actually be having sex with someone at that time, not with a clear conscience. “This is a bad time.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she whispered, also remembering about my Mom. We both got a little too carried away with our foreign fantasies.

“No, I am. We should do it another time though, if you want to,” I offered.

“That… sounds pretty good, yes,” she blushed slightly.

After that, we decided it would be best to spend our time downstairs, in the company of the TV. We didn’t have to wait long – to our surprise my folks opted to come home after the baby’s arrival, foregoing the longer hospital stay.

They were both exhausted when they came home, with Dad looking relieved that this crazy day was over. Mom was really pale, but she had a small smile on her face.

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“Well, kids. Say hi to Felicity. She took her time getting here, but the doctors say she is healthy and weighs a good 7.5 pounds,” Mom announced. “Welcome home, baby girl.”

 

After Felicity’s birth, things moved into a more or less familiar routine. Mom was still not feeling as energetic as before the pregnancy, but the doctors said it was normal – the older you were, the more time it took to completely recover from pregnancy and childbirth.

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Felicity was, surprisingly, ok. I didn’t think I’d be as fond of the little girl as I was, but she was very cute and always smiled when anyone interacted with her. It was early to tell, but I thought she already looked a lot like Mom, which was really sweet. On the downside, she was a very fussy baby and always wanted someone to be near. But no one really minded.

Back at school, things were going smoothly. I took my uncle’s advice in regards to my future – I’d figure out what I wanted eventually. I knew I wanted to travel, yes, but how many jobs would be ok with that? That was the big question.

Things with Rashida were alright. After that evening in my room, we didn’t really get another chance to do the deed, but I was starting to think that, maybe it was for the best. For some reason, when it was just the two of us, things were going great between me and her, but whenever we ended up in a social environment, like the school or an outing with friends, that was when she became super clingy. I wasn’t sure what the deal was. Perhaps I should’ve brought up this conversation when Millie advised me to.

And… as it turned out, I didn’t even need to, in the long run. Life can be funny that way.

Rashida and I were walking to the cafeteria for our free period. She’s been kind of quiet all day, but I assumed she was just tired as her music practice was very intense again at this time of year. Apparently, I was wrong.

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“So,” she finally broke the silence, “you were hanging out with Dianna over the weekend.”

“Oh yeah. She needed to write an essay for this scholarship she wants to apply to and she asked me to make sure it looked ok,” I explained. Dianna was one of Quiang’s younger sisters and she was currently a freshman at our school. “I’m pretty good at literature and creative writing, so it wasn’t a big deal.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked frowning.

“I didn’t think it was very interesting,” I shrugged. “I mean, the essay requirements were kind of asinine, so we had to spend some three hours making sure it didn’t look like crap and we were bored out of our heads by the end of the day – I didn’t think you’d enjoy hearing about it.”

“It sounds more like you didn’t want to tell me you were hanging out with another girl,” her frown deepened.

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I stood still in my tracks. Was she serious? Was she really jealous of me and the little sister of my brother-in-law?!

“Are you kidding?” I snorted. “You do realize she is practically family, right?”

“That’s nothing. You aren’t related by blood, you’re good looking, and she is an impressionable freshman, who knows what’s going through her head?” Rashida justified her thinking.

“This is ridiculous,” I felt my blood boiling, “Well, you know, my older sister and I are only related through one parent and we’re pretty close, maybe you’re jealous of me and her as well?”

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“Now you sound like an idiot,” she flinched. “You make it sound like I’m being completely irrational.”

“Because you are being completely irrational,” I pointed out, my voice rising. “And really, I didn’t realize I was required to give you an hour-by-hour report of my daily activities. You already check in with me 24/7!”

“Is that how you feel?!” she raised her voice right back. “Well, maybe I wish you would ‘check in’ with me at least half as often as I do with you! Honestly, sometimes I feel like you’re only dating me out of some obligation because we were friends as kids!”

“I date you because I like you, Rashida! I wouldn’t have asked you out if I didn’t. You know me, I don’t care if stuff sounds wrong or inappropriate – I still say it. If I didn’t think we had any chemistry, I would’ve told you so right of the bat when I found out you liked me! But for fuck’s sake, when you want us to be together every minute possible, I feel like it’s too much. And now, you’re jealous of me too?”

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“Let it all out, Phoenix, let it all out,” she was yelling now. “You know, I’m glad this is all coming out of you now. I didn’t realize you were so tired of me. But perhaps I should’ve seen it earlier.”

“Why do you make it sound like I’m the only one in the wrong here?” I exploded. “You’re the one who started this conversation by implying I was cheating on you with Dianna. And when I pointed out how ridiculous that was, you’re the one who got offended. Well, you know what, you’re right. I am tired. Tired of constantly having to make sure you’re getting enough attention, of the text messages at night, when I’m trying to sleep… I’m tired of feeling like I’m your property! This is not how healthy relationships work!”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me any of this before today? Why didn’t you tell me those things annoy you?” she blew up right back. “I was just trying to be a good girlfriend!”

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“I wanted to tell you!” I wanted to rip my hair out, by this point. “But I didn’t know how to bring any of it up without you getting upset, the way you are now!”

“I’m a little past upset now,” she whispered, still seething. “I thought we really had something, Phoenix.”

“Rashida, wait,” I turned away, knowing that at least one of us had to deescalate this conversation. “I’m not trying to break up with you. I don’t know how we even ended up fighting like this, fuck it.”

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“Yeah, well, however it happened, it happened,” her voice sounded chocked, like she was about to cry. This really was the opposite of what I wanted. So much for trying to make the relationship work…

“What now?” I whispered.

“I don’t know… but perhaps we should take a break? Neither of us is thinking straight right now,” she proposed.

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“I don’t want to break up,” I admitted. “I do care about you, Rashi.”

“Don’t ‘Rashi’ me right now, please Phoenix,” she whispered. “And I care about you, but clearly we need to think everything through before making any decision regarding ‘us’. Because clearly, the current state of our relationship isn’t working out.”

“Ok,” I nodded, “I understand. So, I guess I’ll see you later? Sort of?”

When there was no response, I turned around to see that she was already gone from the hallway.

What started out as a completely normal day has turned into a total nightmare. And I couldn’t help but feel like it was all my fault.

Gen 3 Ch 3: Time is a Wicked Master

Irene’s PoV

The day of Millie’s moving came closer than David and I expected. And I say “David and I” because, apparently, Phoenix knew already but didn’t want to tell us in order not to upset us.

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And we were upset. David was definitely not prepared to see his little girl go off on her own yet, and I, despite not being her biological mother, loved her with all my heart and already knew I’ll miss her company when she won’t be here. But that was life – children grew up and built their own families and lives.

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Besides, the house she and Quiang found was, luckily, not too far from us and we knew we’ll be visiting each other a lot.

Despite all that, we were all feeling rather sad on the day the young couple and our grandson moved out. It also didn’t help that Sherlock was going with them, since he’s been attached to Millie’s hip for as long as they’ve known each other. The house was going to be much emptier from now on.

But maybe that was for the best.

“Hey, it’s going to be ok, Irene,” David hurried to cheer me up, knowing me all too well. “Phoenix is still here for the foreseeable future and we’re going to have more time to ourselves. Besides, they’re not too far.”

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“I know, I’m just moody,” I tried to smile.

“What’s bothering you? Really?” he prodded.

“Did I ever tell you how much I appreciate having you in my life? I know I tell you I love you all the time, but this is different. I appreciate all the years we’ve spent together, David. Through the good and the bad.”

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“I feel the same way about you, darling,” he smiled. “But you’re worrying me today. Is something wrong? Something other than Millie moving out?”

I shrugged, “Nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to tell you how I feel, that’s all.”

“Okeydokey,” he smiled. “I’m always happy to hear how much you love me, Irene. Just don’t scare me like that, ok? I thought there was some serious problem.”

“The only problem is how much I still want to jump your bones, even after all these years together,” I joked.

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“That’s the opposite of a problem, I’d say,” he chuckled. “Do you have any plans for today? Phoenix is going to be at school for several more hours, so we have the whole house to ourselves.”

“That we do,” I nodded.

“Let me clean up the dishes and I’m all yours,” he winked, heading off into the kitchen.

As soon as he left the room, I breathed out a sigh of relief. I didn’t know how to bring it up, not without making everyone miserable.

The truth was I’ve been feeling sick for at least the last two months. And considering that my mother fell sick when she was younger than I was, it was obvious why I felt scared. My mother got lucky. The plant worked for her, maybe it will work for me? Or maybe I was sicker even than Mom was and I was hopeless?

I really hoped I’d have more time with my family, with David, Phoenix, and Millie, I hoped I’d see their grandkids grow up…

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A new bout of nausea rocked me so hard that I barely made it to the bathroom before emptying the contents of my stomach into the toilet.

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Yes, it was definitely good that Millie and her family won’t be around for this.

“Irene? Love, are you ok? You don’t sound like you’re feeling well,” David was already outside the door, concern clear as day in his voice.

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“David… I don’t know,” I admitted. Finally, I found the energy to come out of the bathroom. “I’ve been feeling sick for the last few months and I’m just scared.”

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“Irene… why didn’t you tell me? You know you don’t have to go through anything alone, right?” he frowned in concern.

“Yes, I just didn’t want to ruin anyone’s mood,” I admitted.

“Come here,” he pulled me into a hug. “Ok, first things first. We need to go to the doctor and figure out what is wrong with you. It’s better than going crazy with worry and letting your imagination run wild. We have plenty of time right now, are you feeling good enough for a trip to the hospital?”

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“I guess,” I nodded.

“Let’s go, then. We’ll figure out what to do next after we know the nature of the problem.”

Three hours later, we left the hospital in a daze.

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“Well… This is quite a surprise!” David managed to get out.

“How? Just how? I don’t understand…” I was even more shocked.

“Well, what I’m thinking is, perhaps, since you are older now, your immune system, which was responsible for the issue in the past, is weaker. And your reproductive system is normalized now? Have you missed your period lately?” he asked.

“Yes. I assumed it was just menopause,” I admitted, still baffled.

After all these years, after barely conceiving Phoenix after multiple failed IVF attempts, now, only a few years away from retirement, I was pregnant again. And I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Judging by the amazement on his face, neither could David.

“Want to sit down? You look like you’re going to faint soon,” David offered, guiding me to one of the nearby benches. “So, this is going to be an adjustment for all of us.”

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“Quite a big one,” I agreed. “You know, after all these years, I kind of assumed we’ll never have any more kids.”

“I thought so too. Which isn’t to say I’m not happy about this new development,” he smiled. He quickly sobered up again. “But we do need to think through all the logistics now.”

“We do. We aren’t as young as we used to be, and I know late pregnancies can be problematic,” I sighed. “I wish Constance was still practicing.”

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“Me too,” David chuckled. Our friendly doctor, after having more miracle children herself, ended up retiring and marrying our old policeman friend, Spencer Rosswell, who has moved to Hidden Springs following the whole fire ordeal. We could probably ask her what to do though…

“Can I take time off from the company for as long as needed at the moment? In case the doctors tell me to go on bed rest?” I asked.

“It can be done, yes. Do you feel up to going through another pregnancy?” he asked.

I nodded. “I’ve always wanted more children. Even if the timing isn’t great, I’m happy.”

“I know. I just wanted to make sure you are completely on board with the whole situation since most of the strain of the pregnancy will be on you,” he explained.

“I realize that. It won’t be easy. But can you really believe it? We’re having another baby!” I smiled, snuggling up to him.

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“And I can’t wait to meet the little one,” David wrapped his arms around me. “Now we’ll just have to tell the kids. Boy, are they going to be surprised!”

 

Phoenix POV

“So, like I was saying, we need to figure out a way to keep the robotics team off of my back for this,” Sergio complained. “It wasn’t my fault that someone left the thing on overnight and it overheated. I mean, I wasn’t even at school that day, so obviously I had no control over what happened, right?”

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He was currently on the robotics team of our school and there wasn’t much that escaped his attention. Unfortunately, despite finding the guts to take part in the things he loved, my friend was still very non-confrontational, and because of that, many of our classmates took advantage of him. Like this time – he was somehow getting blamed for someone else’s mistake, which was total bullshit.

“You just have to tell your mentor, man,” Trevor shook his head. He was kind of new in our group – we only started hanging out with the guy because my cousin Jeanne was dating him, but he was very chill. Which was good – he had a calm approach to things. “And you shouldn’t worry about what they’ll think of you – standing up for yourself is completely normal. If anything, blaming you for someone else’s mistake isn’t.”

Yeah, it seemed like my cousin picked well.

“I guess. So, I guess, what I’m saying is, will you guys have my back if the mentor doesn’t believe me?” Sergio asked.

“Dude, of course! That’s what friends are for!” I exclaimed. “And if anything, we can verify any information for your instructor. You were home with a fever, we all remember. I don’t know why this situation is even up.”

“And maybe we can remind your instructor to double check his information the next time something goes haywire. After all, isn’t he supposed to be responsible for equipment?” Trevor reminded us.

“Thanks, guys. I guess I’m just stressing out over this for no reason,” Sergio sighed.

“It’s ok, man. We get it,” I calmed him down. Looking behind my friend, something, or rather someone caught my sight. “Hey, who’s that?”

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My friends glanced in the direction of my sight.

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“That?!” Sergio gasped. “Don’t tell me you forgot all about Morgan. She went to our elementary school, but she was in the other class, I believe. Still, you must’ve seen her around playground.”

“Morgan? Morgan Forrester? That’s her?” I was confused. Yeah, I remembered her, vaguely. She was always the quiet unimposing kid. She definitely wasn’t someone who could catch a guy’s attention.

“Yeah, the very same,” my friend verified. “I guess she grew into her looks, or whatever you call it.”

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“I’d call it becoming a premium bitch,” Trevor snorted. Noticing our confusion, he explained, “A friend of mine went out with her for a bit, until she ditched him for the next guy. Apparently, as soon as she realized guys like her, she’s turned into a player. Seriously Phoenix, you’re lucky your girlfriend is a cool person and not like that.”

“Yeah, Rashida could’ve turned out much different,” Sergio agreed. “You’re lucky she is as chill as she is and so into you.”

“Rashi’s great,” I agreed. She actually hasn’t texted me all day, which meant that she must have been swamped with music practice. Otherwise, my phone was always ringing with texts from her, even at night, sometimes.

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“Hey, guys, are you talking about Rashida? Have you seen her today yet?” Jeanne ran over to us, excited about something.

“Not yet, why?” I turned to my cousin.

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“She was looking for you earlier,” Jeanne puffed out, out of breath. She had a habit of running in the hallways, something that got her in trouble with the teachers and hall monitors plenty of times, but habits die hard.

“What happened? Is something wrong?” my mind went into overdrive – I hoped she was alright.

“Oh, I think it’s something about her schedule and your plans,” she shrugged. “She got qualified to play with the regional aorchestra and she worried about the recital being on the same night as the Spring Fling Dance.”

“Oh! That!” I breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought someone was hurt.”

“Not physically, no. But she was really upset about not being able to go with you,” Jeanne explained.

The bell rang and the guys started shuffling off to class.

“Aren’t you coming to class, babe?” Trevor asked my cousin, before leaving.

“In a bit. I need to get something from my locker first. I’ll see you there, ok?” Jeanne waved him along, turning to me as soon as he was gone. “You totally forgot all about the dance, didn’t you, Phoenix?”

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“Guilty as charged!” I admitted. “I didn’t even realize it was this month. Maybe Rashida should’ve reminded me?”

“Phoenix! She’s your girlfriend. She isn’t supposed to remind you about these things. You’re lucky I’m warning you about the situation, so that you won’t make a total idiot of yourself when she talks to you about it.”

“I know, cuz, you’re my savior today. In all fairness, things have been hectic at home with Millie moving out and all. It’s a big change – it’ll take a lot of getting used to my big sister not being there every day.”

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“I understand. Just, keep your head in the game, cool? Boys have been broken up with for less,” she laughed, before running off to class.

Before I could leave for my own class, the subject of our discussion herself rounded the corner.

“There you are!” she lit up upon seeing me. “I’ve missed you!”

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In all the two days of the weekend that we haven’t seen each other, I thought.

“Missed you too. Jeanne said you wanted to talk to me about something?” I feigned ignorance of the subject.

“Yes. It’s about the Spring Fling Dance. My recital is on the same night, so I can’t go. Sorry?” she frowned.

“It’s ok. Seriously, how many other teenagers get the chance to play with one of the best orchestras in the region? It’s seriously a better deal than being stuck in our gym all night. Besides, there will be plenty of other dances,” I hurried to reassure her.

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“Really? So, you aren’t upset?” she lit up.

“Nope. And hey, after the recital, we can hang out and stuff our faces with all the pizza!”

In all honesty, I was somewhat happy we couldn’t go to this dance. The previous year, shortly after Millie’s wedding, there was a similar event at our school. Naturally, Rashida and I went together, since we were already an item at that point. And it was crazy. First, she thought her dress wasn’t up to par, even though it looked great on her, then she got upset because she thought one of the other girls in our class was glaring at her, even though that was certainly not so, then the music played wasn’t romantic enough. It felt like, during that time, she was a completely different person, completely different from the one I knew as a child. It wasn’t something I wanted to go through again.

“Deal! And hey, you aren’t upset that I couldn’t message or call for the past few days, are you? Seriously, sometimes I feel like my extracurricular rule my life,” she complained.

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“It’s cool, Rashi. We still see each other every day,” I reassured her.

“Ok… well, I think you’re going to be late? I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Definitely. And you should run too, before you get detention for tardiness,” I was about to leave when I noticed the barely perceptible frown on her face. So, I pulled her into a kiss. “Seriously, everything’s cool.”

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“If you say so!” she lit up, before running off to class herself.

I couldn’t help but feel relieved when she was gone. Ever since we started dating, Rashida has become really affectionate with me. So affectionate, in fact, that sometimes it bordered on clinginess. And honestly, I wasn’t sure how to bring it up without upsetting her.

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The rest of the day passed without more emotional rollercoasters and I was on my way out of the school building when I heard someone having a “heated argument” with one of our notoriously dysfunctional vending machines. Making a detour to see who lost their money, I spotted familiar-looking long hair and blue dress. Morgan.

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“A little bit higher and with less force does the trick,” I advised the girl. She was neither the first not the last person to lose their money to this crazy apparatus and most of us have already figured out a way to get the candy bars to drop down when the machine failed to push them out.

After putting my advice into action, she was rewarded with not one, but two candy bars.

“Wow, thanks! Seriously, you’d think they won’t fix these things on purpose, just to steal our money!” she turned to me giving one of the bars to me. “Here, I think you deserve this for helping me get my money’s worth.”

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“Thanks, keep it, though. You’ve gone through enough trouble with that iron thief” I refused.

“Alright. Hey, you look familiar. We went to elementary school together haven’t we?” she asked.

“That’s right. Feels like it’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”

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“Sure does. Last I remembered, you weren’t the big defeater of vending machines,” she chuckled.

“What can I say? I’m quick to pick up useful skills,” I smiled.

“I’m sure. Well, we should hang out sometime,” she smiled in a way that made my insides feel tingly. I wondered if the rumors about her being a player were true. It wouldn’t surprise me, really – she was very attractive. And she certainly knew how to play up her assets; that much was clear with how she wore the colors that brought out the deep blue of her eyes.

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“Yeah, sometime, sure. Well, it’s been nice seeing you, but my ride is waiting. See you,” I hurried to take my leave.

There was no ride waiting for me, of course. I preferred to take a walk on evenings like these. And I certainly needed to clear my head tonight.

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This wasn’t right! I had Rashida, a gorgeous, amazing girl who was head over heels for me. So, why was I so flattered by Morgan’s attention? Why did I want more of it?

I knew one thing for sure – this was not a healthy way of thinking.

At home, my parents were waiting for me with an apprehensive expression on their faces.

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“There you are! Can you sit down, Phoenix? Your father and I need to tell you something,” Mom announced as soon as she saw me.

“Umm, sure? Did I do something wrong?” I couldn’t understand their expressions.

“No! Not at all. We just have an announcement to make,” Dad explained, sitting down next to us. “So, your Mom has had a health scare earlier today and we went to the hospital to make sure everything was alright with her wellbeing.”

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“Mom? You aren’t sick are you?” I turned to her.

“No, Phoenix. I’m healthy. However you are going to be a big brother very soon,” she announced. “The doctor told me I am at the start of second trimester and the pregnancy is going well. Which is why I’ve been feeling sick lately.”

“Pregnant! But how? Aren’t you a little too old to be expecting?” I exclaimed.

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“Yes, Phoenix,” Mom frowned. “This is why your father and I were very surprised but happy to hear this news.”

“This is insane, you know that, right?” I couldn’t help it. My mother was almost 50, an age where women usually already had grandbabies. Hell, she already had a grandchild from Millie. The new baby’s nephew was going to be older than them!

“Phoenix, we know our situation is not conventional, alright?” Dad looked at me sternly. “But we were hoping you’d feel happy for us.”

“I’m not saying I’m unhappy. I just worry for you guys, ok? Late pregnancies can be very problematic.” Besides, as the owners of a huge local company, my parents were definitely at the center of attention in town. Mom’s late pregnancy would be the talk of the town. And not in a good way. Not that it mattered to me that much, but the whole situation was making me feel weird.

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“Yes, Phoenix, we are aware of all the problems that can arise from this. I am well aware that I will likely be on bed rest for the majority of second and third trimester and that it will put a big strain on me. But I am willing to go through it, still. And as there are several more months left until the baby is due, you have enough time to get used to the idea of a new child in the house,” Mom shot off, making it clear that she already made her decision on the topic.

“Alright, then. Best of luck to you two,” I sighed, heading upstairs to my room. Today was weird enough and I just wanted to sleep it all off.

Might as well enjoy the peace and quiet in the house until my little sibling arrived.

Gen 3 Ch 2: Holy Matrimony!

So, school could’ve been better. Sometimes it seemed like homework was going to be the bane of my existence as it always kept coming and coming.

But on the bright side, school meant friends and the need to do homework meant that we could all get together to study. And being with other people was great!

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Since Hidden Springs was pretty safe, our folks didn’t mind us hanging out in the park by ourselves, even when it got darker. So, we could all still chill together after schoolwork was out of the way. Like we did today.

“So, what’s the deal with Mr. Barnes’s new car? He’s been so excited about it all day. I mean, it’s nice but it’s still just a car,” Jeanine asked. She was already done with her assignment and stretching after sitting down for too long.

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“It’s his favorite model,” explained my younger cousin Jeanne, as she continued writing her assignment. “Wouldn’t you be super excited if you could get a state of the art weight machine like you’ve been talking about?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Jeanine admitted. The Jeannies were best buds since birth. With their families extremely close, everyone joked that when Aunt Kate and Aunt Tia got pregnant around the same time, they planned for the kids to be friends. Whether they wanted their names to be similar is still up for question.

“Cars are ok,” Sergio Preston, Aunt Lana’s son, admitted. “But robots are way cooler.”

“Of course you think so! Do you still want to be a robot maker when you’re old enough?” I asked. My friend was into computers and technologies for as long as I knew him. Now that we were nearing the end of grade school, I thought he should really look into his options for that area of expertise.

“I don’t know, Phoenix. That kind of thing requires a lot of work… and college… I’m not sure I can do all that,” he made excuses.

“Why? It’s worth it if you want it. Besides, I know your folks would want you to go for it,” I was curious about Sergio’s reasons, but I already suspected what the deal was.

“He’s just scared,” Jeanine shrugged. “I don’t know why, though. Seriously, Sergio, go for the things you want. Otherwise you’ll regret it later on. At least that’s what my Dad says.”

“Going for the things you want is reasonable, provided you aren’t taking them from someone else,” Jeanne chimed in. “Like you did with that book you liked at the library, right Jeanine?”

“Oh, come on! It’s a library book. I’ll give it back,” my friend shrugged.

“Like you gave back that pencil to the kid from Bio?” Sergio chuckled.

“Ok, I have some… memory problems where it comes to giving stuff back,” Jeanine admitted. “At least, I’m not scared of everything.”

“Come on, folks, we all have our faults,” I tried to reason with my friends. Looking around the park, I noticed my older cousin Tiffani talking to a girl I’ve seen around but didn’t really know. “Hey, who is Tiff talking to?”

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“Oh, that’s Rashida Sheppard,” explained Sergio.

“She went to that artsy school before, but her parents wanted her to focus on academics more, so they transferred her here,” Jeanne explained.

“But she hasn’t had time to make many friends here yet. She’s nice though, I’ve talked to her,” Jeanine informed us. The Jeannies were the people to go to for information it seemed, as even I couldn’t compete with their knowledge of the rumor mill.

“Her dad is a rocker, I hear,” Sergio chimed in. “Micah or something?”

“Oh!” the light bulb came on. “I think my Mom dated him! Before she met Dad! Obviously, things didn’t work out for them, which is probably for the best, since I wouldn’t have even been born if they stayed together. I wonder what Rashida is like.”

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“Why not talk to her?” Jeanne looked up from her homework.

“I don’t know, man. Talking to girls is scary,” Sergio complained.

“You talk to us though,” Jeanine frowned.

“Yeah, but I’ve known you since we were that little! That’s different,” Sergio reasoned.

“Meh, I’ll just talk to her,” I announced and left my friends.

My cousin was discussing something about the sports tryouts at the local high school with the dark haired girl when I approached them.

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“Hi, girls. How are you doing?” I never had any problems talking to new people.

“Hey, Phoenix. What’s up?” Tiff turned to me.

“Not much. Just wanted to introduce myself to someone I don’t know yet. You know me, I’m always looking to meet new people! I’m Phoenix, what’s your name?”

“Hi, I’m Rashida. I’m always happy to meet new people too. Hey, wait aren’t you Phoenix Collier? I think our parents used to date, didn’t they?” she smiled.

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“Yeah, although officially, I’m not supposed to know about that. I just overheard my Mom talking about it to her friends one day,” I chuckled.

“Me too! I heard it by accident!” she laughed. “Parents are weird that way, aren’t they? But hey, we still love them.”

“Totally. So, you’ve just transferred to our school? How do you like it here?”

“Well, I’d like it more if the teachers weren’t trying to murder us with all the homework, but hey, I shouldn’t complain. At least, the people are nice,” she laughed.

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“What were the people like at your old school?” I ventured.

“Eh. They were very artistic. But you guys are friendlier, so I like it here more,” she admitted.

“I’m sorry about your old school,” I frowned. “I hope they weren’t mean to you. You’re too nice.”

“Thanks, you’re cool too. And no worries, my old classmates were ok. So, what do you do for fun?”

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“Video games, mostly. And watching reruns of old cartoons. Especially the funny ones,” I admitted.

“Like Tom and Jerry and the Looney Tunes? I love those! They knew how to make good comedy back then,” Rashida agreed.

“Yeah, those are some of my favorites actually,” I admitted. It seemed like she and I had a lot in common. “We should hang out together more!”

“Agreed. Although, we should probably not ignore the others, next time. I think Tiffani left ages ago,” she frowned.

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“Yeah, Serge and Jean must have gone home some time ago too,” I noticed how she and I were the last ones at the park.

“We should head home, I think. See you in school?” she asked.

“See you!”

Back at home, I ran into Dad in the kitchen, out for a snack.

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“Hello, Phoenix. How was your day?”

“It was good. There is a new girl at our school and we’re friends now,” I announced.

“That’s great,” he smiled. “You know, it always makes your Mom and I happy to hear you’re so outgoing. We were worried you’d take after us and be a total loner.”

“Were you scared to talk to people?” I was curious.

“Not scared. More like, not very good at it,” Dad explained.

“Why do you think someone might be scared of socializing with others, though?

“Well, I’m not sure. I think it mostly has to do with different personalities. Some people find the company of strangers intimidating and are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing,” he ventured. “Why? Is someone you know scared to talk to others?”

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“Yeah, Sergio. But then, he’s afraid of many other things too,” I shrugged. “He sells himself short, really. He needs more confidence.”

“That he does. I remember Lana saying she worried about him sometimes. I think, in the long run, each person needs to build themselves up in order to have the kind of life they want. He’ll get there, eventually,” Dad smiled. “I’m glad you care, sonny. Now, you should get some sleep. School starts early tomorrow.”


Years passed. People got older. My sister Millie was about to be a legal adult. She has finally graduated from school and her grades were impressive – she was the school Valedictorian! And all that with a small kid, no less. My sister was a bad-ass, that much was for sure.

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For a few months now, her boyfriend Quiang has been living with us too. Ever since he graduated a year ago, he has gone into the local police force. His parents wanted him to follow in their scientific footsteps, but he was adamant about wanting to make sure the town was a safe place to live, now that he was a father. If you were to ask me, though, he was too much of thrill-chaser to last in a lab. Not like my sister, who immediately after graduation got hired by the local research lab. So, in a way, the Wens were getting a child in the sciences after all!

Since Mom told me I could invite some people over, I invited my friends, but only two of them could make it to Millie’s birthday: Sergio and Rashida. This was going to be interesting: Mom didn’t know one of my best friends was her ex’s kid and I was kind of curious as to how she would react… I mean, she couldn’t possibly tell me not to be friends with Rashida, could she? It wouldn’t matter anyways – judging someone by their parents was completely unreasonable.

“Hey, Mom, my friends will be here soon! You’ll finally meet Rashida, like you wanted to,” I announced.

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“That’s great! I’m always happy to see your friends, you know,” she smiled.

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She certainly knew my friend’s parentage when she saw Rashida! I guess, my friend looked a lot like her mother, whose appearance my Mom knew very well… But no one could resist Rashi’s charms, not even Mom!

“Hello, Mrs. Collier, thank you for having me here,” my friend introduced herself with an open smile.

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“Oh, you are very welcome, dear,” Mom quickly found her composure. “I hope you like cake, because we are having lots of it today!”

The rest of the birthday went off without a hitch. Everyone got along. Mom had no problem with me being friends with her former beau’s kid. Sergio didn’t complain  The only trouble was, Dad and I had to try hard to keep watch on what we were saying: a few days ago, Quiang asked Dad for official permission to marry Millie and Dad happily gave it to him. Now we just had to try hard not to ruin the surprise!

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Thankfully, we only had to wait until the day of my birthday, when the whole family went to the local pizza place for lunch. Throughout the meal, Quiang was shooting glances at Millie and the rest of us knew today was the day. I think, even Millie guessed at some point that something was up.

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Afterwards, Mom and Dad took me and Terrence home, while Quiang and Millie went to the old lodge in the mountains.

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As she later told me, once they were at the destination, he dropped down on one knee and pulled out a ring, telling her he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her and asking her to marry him. She knew he was hiding something, but she didn’t even know he went ring-shopping already. If anything, she thought he’ll want to wait until they were more ahead in their careers to tie the knot, but in all fairness, they did already want to be married.

I was happy for my sister. Like I knew since I was a kid, she and that guy were pretty much meant to be and it would’ve been weird if they ended up with anyone else.

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So, a lot of happy tears were shed on the day of their wedding. Mostly by Mom and Dad, I’ll admit – they still couldn’t come to terms with the fact that little Millie was all grown up and getting married, even though she already had a kid of her own. I think, they were secretly happy that the new couple was still going to live with us for a bit longer, because they weren’t ready to see her go just yet. So, I wasn’t going to spoil their day by telling them that Millie and Quiang were already looking at houses.

Next to me, Rashida was also having trouble holding back tears at the matrimonial ceremony. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Weddings always inspire me. Two people officially united together as a family. That’s really something to aspire to.”

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Behind her, Aunt Kate nodded and agreed, “So true. I still fondly remember the day of our wedding. We actually got married here too. Gerald was being fussy about the cake spoiling, but everything went great, remember, Ger?”

My uncle smiled fondly behind her, agreeing “One of the best days of my life. Just wait till it’s yours, kids.”

At this, Rashida smiled and looked at me, which made me feel really strange.

 

A few days ago, Rashi and I were hanging out at the local coffee shop and all our friends have already gone home, leaving the two of us alone. This was a good time to figure out things between us – for a while now, I’ve noticed that she’s been acting funny around me and I couldn’t explain what was up. When I asked the Jeannies, they looked at me like I’ve sprouted a second head.

“Wow, you’re a dork,” Jeanne laughed.

“Why?” I couldn’t understand.

“Because she likes you, you doofus!” Jeanine explained in exasperation. “How can you be so dense about it? She has a crush on you!”

“She’s had it since we were kids,” my cousin informed me. “We were starting to wonder if you’ll ever notice.”

So, after I recovered from the initial surprise of finding out one of my closest friends had a crush on me, I realized I was pretty happy about it. I mean, Rashida was gorgeous and we got along great – if she were to ask me out, I’d say yes in a heartbeat!

And that day, at the coffee shop, it was obvious that something was up between us. She kept shooting me furtive glances all morning, and I understood that my cousin and her friend were right.

She was about to leave, when I caught up with her outside the shop.

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“Rashi, wait!”

“Yes, Phoenix?” she turned around.

“Look, can I ask you something?” I wasn’t sure how to say this.

“What is it?”

“Do you like me? As in “like me” like me?” I blurted out.

“Uhh,” she sounded startled, blushing furiously. Yeah, she did.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

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“Because I didn’t think you felt the same way,” she admitted quietly.

“I’m sorry. I’m such an idiot. I should’ve realized this ages ago,” I admitted ruefully.

“So, what now?” she ventured carefully. “I really hope things don’t get weird between us.”

“Why? Why not give dating a try?” I asked.

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“Are you serious?” she was dumbstruck.

“Of course! We’re already great friends, you like me, I like you… It can’t go wrong, can it?” I explained it.

“Phoenix… I should’ve told you before, I guess. But yeah, I really do like you,” she looked at me softly.

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“So, will you be my girlfriend,” I pulled her close. She smelled like peppermint and cloves, and her skin was always so soft. I found myself lost in her eyes. She really was something. How did I not realize this before?

“I’d love to,” she whispered before our lips met in a kiss.

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Yes. We definitely had that chemistry.

 

So today, at Millie’s wedding, Rashida was here in the status of my girlfriend. Which was why I felt really strange at her excitement about weddings. I liked her a lot, but we were a bit too young to think about that. Sure, Millie and Quiang were getting married before they were even twenty two, but they already had a kid together, so their situation was different.

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Over cake, the matrimonial discussion continued. At some point, Quiang joined Rashida, Sergio, and I at our table.

“So, how are you enjoying the wedding, kids?” he winked.

“You aren’t that much older than us,” I chuckled. “Why are you calling us kids?”

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“True. Just wait until it’s your wedding, then you’ll be talking down to the small fish, bro,” he laughed.

“That’s still far in the future,” I laughed.

Rashida smiled over her cake. I almost chocked on mine.

The truth was, I didn’t really understand the whole obsession with getting married. I mean, sure it was probably nice if you were with the love of your life, but the idea of being officially married to someone seemed overrated. After all, our families were lucky to not have been touched by the staggering divorce rates that plagued most of the world. So, what was even the point of saying “I do” at the altar?

Besides, people who loved one another could be perfectly happy together without getting married, right?

Right?

Gen 3 Ch 1: Early Maturity

I came home from school and immediately heard raised voices in the house. Or rather, one raised voice – Dad’s. And I knew without even seeing the other people near him what this was all about.

Two Weeks Ago

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I was feeling sleepy and the bathroom shared by me and my sister Millie has been occupied for over an hour. I could use the downstairs bathroom, or the one in our parents’ room, but my toothbrush was in this one, so…

“Millie? You in there? Is everything ok?” I tentatively knocked on the door. No response.

“Millie, come on! I won’t look, I just need to get my toothbrush and leave!” Still no response.

I knew girls usually took longer in the bathroom for makeup and stuff, but come on, this was ridiculous! It wasn’t even school time, it was bedtime, and Millie used minimal makeup and was usually fast…

“I’m serious, is everything ok?” worry began to prickle at me. I was only in fourth grade, but my sister and I were very close. It wasn’t normal for her to just shut me out like this, with no response.

I thought I could head a muffled sob mixed with a sigh. I tried the door and to my relief found it unlocked.

“Heads up, I’m coming in,” I announced, stepping in.

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My sister was fully dressed (well, in her pjs, that is) and she was slumped on the floor, staring at the wall, with a panicky expression on her face.

“Millie? What’s wrong? You can tell me,” I was always willing to help my sister out.

“What’s wrong? Mom and Dad are going to kill me, that’s what’s wrong,” she sighed.

Next to her was one of those little sticks they always showed on TV, the ones people used to find out they were-

“Are you pregnant?!” I blurted out. Even from where I was standing, I could see the test showed two strips.

“Shush!” she bit her lip in panic. “Our parents will hear!”

“They’re out! Or have you forgotten?” I smiled.

“I’m sorry, my brain is all scrambled right now,” she shook her head.

“So, what are you going to do now?” I asked, joining her on the floor. “I mean, you’ll have to decide soon, right?”

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“I’ve decided already. I’m keeping the baby. It’s not even a question,” she announced.

“Then, you should probably tell Mom and Dad before you start showing. Unless, you want them to figure it out once your belly starts growing.”

“I will,” she nodded. “I just need to figure out how to do it without them freaking out too much. Hey, how do you even know all this grown-up stuff? You’re in fourth grade.”

“That doesn’t mean my eyes and ears are closed off to the world. Besides, it was bound to happen once you and Quiang started, what do you guys call it, hooking up?”

“Phoenix!!!” My sister shrieked. It was hilarious, really. Wen Quiang was her close childhood friend, and I guess, as they grew up, they became closer still. I don’t know if our parents realized it, but they’ve started dating some time ago and Millie was definitely head over heels for the guy. And I was quite sure our folks didn’t realize how far they’ve gone in their relationship.

“What? I’m just stating the facts. Hey, when did you guys begin sleeping together anyways? I thought you were both super busy.” My sister was in the advanced biology program at the local high school and on top of her already impressive school, she was doing a zoological internship at a local lab. Plus, she was still taking art classes. She has little time on her time, in general, and as far as I knew, Quiang, being a senior in high school, was almost as stressed out and overworked as she was. The fact that they found time to make a baby was really surprising.

My sister sighed. “It’s all because of homecoming. Sort of,” she explained. “You know how a lot of girls think Quiang is cute? Well, that translates into them not liking me very much, because he’s with me. And at homecoming, stuff kind of escalated. As soon as he and I showed up together, they started acting like a bunch of vultures, glaring at us, snickering. Another person wouldn’t have cared, but I can’t help it, this stuff gets to me. Anyways, Quiang noticed and he suggested we leave for someplace friendlier. So we headed off to that lodge in the mountains, since it’s always really nice and fresh there, and they were supposed to have one of those outdoor movie nights, but apparently we got the day wrong. Anyways, I was still upset and neither of us wanted to go home, so we ended up getting a room so we could just chill out and watch a movie together, but… well, once we had a room, we kind of realized that we probably wouldn’t have a chance like this in the near future, with the comfort and the privacy, and one thing led to another… And then, after the first time, there wasn’t really a reason to stop sleeping together.”

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“I see,” I nodded. “Well, that’s done. Does he know yet?”

“No, I didn’t want to tell him until I knew for sure,” she admitted. “I don’t even know how he’ll react. Neither of us planned for this.”

“Well, if he is as good as he seems to be, he’ll man up and take responsibility, right?” At least, that’s what I always heard a guy was supposed to do in this situation.

“I guess, we’ll see, dear brother, I guess we’ll see. Well, thanks for lending me a friendly ear. I could sure use it,” she admitted.

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“That’s what brothers are for,” I pulled her into a hug. “Do you want me to sit with you when you tell Mom and Dad?”

“Thanks. I think I should do it myself, though,” she shook her head. “I’ll do it soon.”

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“Alright, sis. See you in the morning,” I headed off to sleep, still thinking about my sister’s problematic situation.

I didn’t know much about babies, but from what I knew, they took a lot of work. This meant, Millie was in deep.

 

So, today, when I walked in and heard raised voices in the house, I knew she finally told out folks about her situation.

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“I can’t believe you of all people are in this situation!” Dad was pacing around the living room while Mom and Millie were slumped in the couch and the armchair, watching him. “You’re an A+ student in Biology; surely you know how these things happen!”

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“I know Dad,” Millie spoke quietly. “And we were responsible. We used protection. But these things happen.”

“So what are you doing now?” Dad asked with exhaustion in his voice. He and Mom were the owners of the local pharmaceutical company and from what I understood about the business, it was very stressful and tiring. But while Mom and Dad usually seemed to have a lot of energy, Millie’s news must have taken a lot out of them.

Frankly, I didn’t understand why. Mom always said children were a miracle. So, if anyone, she should’ve been happy, right?

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Just as I predicted, she glared at Dad as soon as he asked the question and he noticed, glancing down apologetically.

“I’m keeping the baby, of course!” Millie announced.

Mom breathed a sigh of relief. Dad shook his head in acceptance.

“I didn’t plan for this child, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want them,” my sister admitted. “I’ve always wanted children. Not that early, true, but now that it’s happening, I already love them with all my heart and can’t wait to meet them.”

“And look on the bright side, David,” Mom added. “At least we know for sure Millie doesn’t have my kind of problem. That’s already good.”

“True,” he sighed, “I guess congratulations are in order?” He sank into the seat next to the rest of the family. “You’re going to be a mom!”

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“I know, Dad. You know, I bet it’s a boy,” Millie smiled.

“How do you know that?” Mom laughed. “It’s not even late enough to tell.”

“Call it a gut feeling.”

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It was looking like the situation in our living room was getting diffused and the family has peacefully accepted the situation. That was good. That meant Millie wouldn’t have to worry more than necessary (that’s right, I knew it was bad for pregnant ladies to worry) and that we could have dinner relatively soon.

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And also, that I could finally stop hiding.

“Ay! Is everyone finally on the same page? Millie’s pregnant, you’re going to be grandparents, and I’m going to be an uncle. Awesome-sauce! Now can we all go eat? I’m sure Millie must be hungry now, and frankly, so am I,” I went over to my family reminding them that the world didn’t stop.

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“Phoenix? You were here all along? How much did you hear? Wait, you knew all along, didn’t you?” Mom asked, realizing that this was only news to them.

“Duh! Millie was scared to tell you for weeks now. Thanks for not being too angry at her,” I smiled at my parents.

“No point being angry now, is there?” Dad shrugged. “Well, not at Millie, at least.”

“Dad! Quiang isn’t to blame for this. We’re both responsible,” my sister defended her boyfriend.

“You are. And just so you know, you aren’t leaving school, young lady. We still expect you to stay on top of your grades,” Dad warned.

“Wasn’t planning to leave. And I’m not quitting the internship either. I’ve worked hard enough for it, I’ve earned it. Maybe that way, the baby can have important skills later, right out of the womb? Studies show that what a mother does during her pregnancy has a huge impact on the child’s development,” Millie reasoned.

That was my sister. She always had the right priorities in life. I had no idea what my future nephew would be like, but I knew he would have the best mother ever.

Of course, there was still one thing to do. In a few days, she called over her boyfriend and simply put a pregnancy book in front of him, when he sat down next to her, while reading one herself.

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“Here, this one’s for you,” she told him.

Quiang was stunned for a few moments, but luckily quickly came to his senses.

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“You don’t mean it, do you?” he asked carefully.

“I do. I’m at the end of first trimester, it seems. The doctor confirmed I’m even further along than I thought,” my sister explained calmly. “But that doesn’t matter in the least. I want this baby. I’m keeping the baby.”

“Millie!” he exclaimed. And to everyone’s surprise, he hugged her very tight, kissing her. “Thank you!”

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“You’re happy?” Millie looked confused. “You aren’t freaked out?”

“Oh, I am. I’m scared silly. But I’m also kind of happy. You know how my parents wanted to go back to China permanently once school was done? Well, now that won’t happen. There’s no way they are going to ditch their grandkid and go to a different country now! And we are having a baby together! Have you begun thinking of baby names yet?”

“Not yet, I wanted to tell you first…” my sister was clearly surprised by his fervor.

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“That’s cool. We’ve got months to decide. And just so you know, whatever you need, I’m here. I’m going to be a hundred percent here for both you and the baby,” he promised.

And that sealed it. My sister’s boyfriend was a good guy, after all.

Quiang stayed with us quite late, that night. Even after our parents went to bed, he and Millie were still chatting together and making plans for their relationship and for the baby.

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He even asked her to slow dance with him, when the radio began to play a popular slow ballad. And from Millie’s shining eyes, anyone could tell that, despite her unexpected pregnancy, she was really happy. They both were.

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It was late and I had to go to sleep, since school was early in the morning and my teacher always yelled at me if I began to drift off in class.

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On the way to my room, I once again, looked at the happy couple. They didn’t even notice me observing them. I couldn’t help but wonder how they knew that the other person was “the one” for them, have known for years now. It seemed like a really foreign idea. After all, there were so many different people in the world. But then again, I still had time to figure it all out. I was only in fourth grade.

 

Despite morning sickness, backaches and other symptoms of pregnancy, Millie really glowed during hers. She actually had a countdown on her wall, where she eagerly marked off the days until my new nephew was here. Even our dog Sherlock seemed to be in on the excitement, but then again, animals often reflected their favorite owners’ emotions.

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After several more months of this, she finally went into labor and gave birth to a little boy named Terrence. And despite how tired she was from taking care of him, she was absolutely in love with him.

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I liked my new nephew. He was cute and he seemed like a bright kid, although he was still kind of young to tell. But the amount of care he required? It was immense. I had no idea how my sister stayed on top of it all. Sure my parents, Quiang, and his family helped out, but still.

Babies sure took a lot of work.

I knew one thing for sure: if I were ever to have kids of my own, it would be once I was much, much older.

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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“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!”

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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.

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“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.

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“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…

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

Oh life, don’t joke with me so!

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

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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!”

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“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.

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“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.

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“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?”

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“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.”

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“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?”

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“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.

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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.

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

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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

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“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.”

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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Finally, my family was complete.

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Welcome to the world Phoenix Collier!

Gen 2 Ch 20: China Living

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


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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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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.

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

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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…

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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…

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

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“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.

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“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?”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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…”

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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“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.

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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.

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“Mom! Come join us!” Millie called.

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

“Coming!”

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Life was good.

Gen 2 Ch 19: Smoke of the Past

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“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.

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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?”

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“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.

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“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?”

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“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.

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“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!”

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“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?”

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“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.

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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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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

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“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?”

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“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.

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

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.

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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.

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“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?”

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“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.”

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“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?”

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“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?”

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“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.”

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“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.

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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.”

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“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.

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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. ”

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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.

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“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!”

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“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?”

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“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.

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“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!”

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.