Aurora’s stomach was tied into knots, tight and twisty and heavy. She loved watching him play with Xander – really, she did. Palani was such an involved father, doting on his infant son at every turn, eager to feed him, to bathe him, to spend every possible moment tending to his needs.
It tugged at her heart strings, this fatherly devotion. The paternal bond was a rare thing in the Hasslich family, yet thanks to her own sweet and wonderful father, Aurora knew firsthand what a special relationship that was, what a difference a father can make in his child’s life. Tears sprung to her eyes as she watched him, overwhelmed with appreciation for the kind and wonderful man she loved.
The man she would have to let go.
Aurora had put off the inevitable for as long as she could, but her conscience told her the time was now. She had spent days gathering her courage, preparing for his reaction. For his hurt, and for her own impending loss.
She’d lost so much already. Coralie was long gone, and with Sebastian careening into young adulthood, he would soon be leaving, too. He was an independent boy, sure of himself and his ability to make his own way in the world. His plans to leave the nest were already well underway – the lease on his new apartment (his “bachelor pad,” he’d called it) would begin the day after his birthday. And then he would be gone as well, lost to the world of parties and girls and youthful irresponsibility.
But to lose Sebastian was the natural way of things – a child isn’t meant to be in his mother’s care forever, after all. Sebastian was meant to have his own adventures and learn from his own mistakes. It was her job as his mother to let him go.
Losing Palani, however, was an entirely different type of loss. They were in love – they were meant to grow together, to to live out their days side by side. Aurora felt sick at thought of life without him – and physical pain at the thought of life without Xander. Because in the end, if – no, when – Palani left her, he would want to take Xander with him. And who was she to deny him his son? Who was she to rob him of his family?
It was an impossible choice. Family had always been her top priority, but to keep Palani meant to fail the legacy – and to uphold the legacy meant to fail Palani and lose her son. There was no simple answer, no solution that would make everyone happy. The best she could do was to do right by her family – and that meant letting Palani go, and letting Xander go with him, to be loved and cared for by a father whose devotion knew no bounds. It meant sacrificing her own happiness for the good of the legacy.
Palani suddenly appeared beside her, shirtless and handsome and leaning in for a sweet kiss on the cheek.
One more day, she thought to herself. It can wait for one more day.
The next day was Sebastian’s birthday, and he aged gracefully into his young adulthood, picking up the romantic trait along the way.
He wasted no time in moving out – there was no time to lose when it came to the ladies! He started up the moving van and picked up his cousin, and before long Sebastian and Beau were settled into their new place, partners in crime once again.
But back at home, Aurora sat down with Palani, ready to face the fallout of her decision.
Aurora: I love you more than anything, Palani. I never thought I would fall in love, but then there you were – and here we are. But I’ve always said my family comes first, and that means the legacy, too. And with Coralie gone –
She choked at the thought of her daughter.
Aurora: With Coralie gone, I have no choice but to produce another heir. And since you can’t be the father…
Her face fell, and she looked at her hands.
Aurora: I have to be with someone else. Woohoo with someone else. Maybe more than one someone else. I never, EVER want to hurt you, and you have to know I don’t WANT this. You’re the only man I want, Palani. You’re the only man I could ever love. Letting you go is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But I can’t fail the legacy. I just can’t be the heir to end it all.
Palani stood up, silent and staring at her, mouth agape. Painful, graphic images ran through his head – thoughts of Aurora – his Aurora – in bed with some other man. And it stung, more than he’d ever thought it could.
Aurora saw the hurt written all over his face. And when he finally spoke, she could hear the pain in his voice.
Palani: I need time to think, Aurora. I’m sorry, I just…. I just can’t look at you right now.
Palani “slept” on the couch that night, but sleep never came. He lay awake, staring at the ceiling, jealousy and anger tearing through his veins. How could she do this to him? To them? She was tearing them apart! All for some dead lady’s legacy! Grief threatened to break through his rage, but he squashed it down, smothered it with anger.
By the time the sun came up, Palani, red-eyed with exhaustion and consumed with despair, walked out the front door, across the street, and down the block. His dastardly side at work, Palani Wahine was looking for trouble, and it didn’t take long to find it.
Palani: Oh hey, you’re Marvin Powell, right? Sebastian’s dad? Aurora’s ex?
Marvin said nothing, afraid to provoke the volatile young man.
Palani: You woohoo’ed my woman! And I don’t think I like your face!
Palani also ran into Mathias Goth…
And even Dr. Evan Murray, who had delivered Xander. To Palani’s knowledge, the doctor had never shared a bed with Aurora, but he had seen her va-hoo-ha, and that was enough for Palani.
But when all was said and done, Palani sat down on a bench and put his head in his hands. What good would it do to beat up Aurora’s ex-boyfriends? It wouldn’t change anything, and it certainly wasn’t making him feel any better (well, maybe a little, if he was totally honest with himself). But in the end, the only thing that could make him feel better wasn’t a thing at all. It was a person.
She was a person.
A person he didn’t own.
A person he loved more than anything.
A person he trusted more than anything.
Aurora would sacrifice anything for her family, Palani thought. And she is my family. Maybe it’s my turn to sacrifice for her.
Palani pulled out his phone and sent a text to Aurora:
Meet me by the canal in two hours.
When Palani arrived at the canal, Aurora was already there waiting for him.
She heard his footsteps as he approached, and braced herself for the bad news. But when she turned to face him, he was grinning ear to ear.
She frowned, confused, the ever-present knot in her stomach tightening and twisting with anxiety. And as he dropped down on one knee before her, she could only stare at him wordlessly in bewilderment.
He looked up at her and winked.
Palani: Geez, Aurora, could you smile? I’m trying to propose here!
He laughed easily as he teased her, but Aurora said nothing.
Palani: Aurora, I know your legacy is important to you and to your family. But your family – our family – is the the best thing that’s ever happened to me. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me! And I’ve realized that there is nothing more important than keeping our family together – you, me, Xander, Axel, Sebastian, and Coralie, wherever she is and whenever she comes home. That is what’s important.
Aurora opened her mouth, interrupted, choking on her words, but Palani spoke over her objections.
Palani: You are the most selfless woman I’ve ever met, Aurora. You would sacrifice your own happiness to put your family first. Let me be the one to sacrifice for you. If it means I can spend my life with you, then I give you my blessing, and my unfailing support, to do whatever you need to do to fulfill your duty to your legacy.
Aurora: But Palani, I could never ask you to – it’s just not fair to you –
Palani: What’s not fair is you making this decision for me. I know what’s best for me, and I know that together, we can handle this. Where I come from, mating is completely separate from love. I know this kind of arrangement is unorthodox here, but in the Amazon, it’s completely normal.
He paused and raised an eyebrow, and smiled indulgently.
Palani: I mean, in the Amazon, I’d be dead already! Look – I never imagined that one day I would grow up and fall in love, and have a family! I never dreamed I’d have the chance to be a real father. That I could be a husband! Supporting you in your responsibility to your legacy is a small sacrifice for the woman I love. And you love me, too, Aurora, I know you do. So what do you say? Will you marry me after you woohoo some random dude and have a daughter for your crazy dead great-great-grandma’s legacy?
He was beaming up at her, laughing at her stunned expression. She wiped a tear from her eye, and then laughed with him, the absurdity of it all suddenly hilarious.
She kissed him and threw herself into his arms.
“Yes,” she whispered into his ear. “Of course I will marry you after I woohoo some random dude and have a daughter for my crazy dead great -great-grandma’s legacy.”
And they dissolved into laughter all over again.
The chosen random dude turned out to be an unemployed, jealous geek named Jacob Schaeffer. Aurora had already learned that Jacob hated children, which was exactly what she was looking for in her next baby daddy . Since Palani had decided to legally adopt all of Aurora’s children, including the yet-to-be-conceived, a man who didn’t want kids was the perfect candidate.
Palani made himself scarce for what he and Aurora had dubbed “the transaction,” and Aurora set herself to the task at hand.
She closed her eyes and pictured Palani’s handsome face, and tried to enjoy herself. There were no fireworks – he was no Palani if you know what I mean – but he would do in a pinch.
Afterwards, Aurora heaved a sigh of relief as she watched the pink plus sign appear on her pregnancy test. Once was more than enough with Jacob Schaeffer. Now all she had to do was pray for a girl, so she didn’t have to go through this again.
Of course, Aurora wasn’t the only one who hoped she’d seen the last of Jacob Schaeffer, and of any other potential baby daddy for that matter.
Downstairs, as Palani returned from his well-timed outing, he passed Jacob in the kitchen. Jacob was on his way out, and Palani ordered himself to hold his tongue (and his fists).
Well…..no such luck. No one ever said he was perfect.