Smiles had been scarce in the Hasslich household since Coralie’s disappearance, but the news of Aurora’s engagement to Palani – and of her new addition – brought joy to them all. The house felt lighter, airier, more cheerful than it had in months. Good things were happening, and life was moving on.
Aurora’s belly seemed to grow bigger by the day, and though she battled constant exhaustion, morning sickness, and an aching back, she never once complained. She still didn’t know quite how it happened – how she’d gotten so lucky as to have another chance at an heir, and the love of her life by her side. But here they all were, and Aurora was overwhelmingly, blissfully grateful – whenever she could keep her eyes open, that is.
As Aurora’s belly grew, so did her youngest song. Xander had grown from an infant to a child, eager to learn all he could about the world around him – and when he finally jumped from his crib, Palani was close by as always.
Unlike his mischief-making dad, Xander was a quiet and well-behaved little bookworm. He was a happy kid with a playful spirit and a wild imagination. And while Xander and Palani could not have been more different, they had the most important thing of all in common – each other.
Interestingly, Xander’s skin tone changed once he entered childhood. He here is in CAS:
Meanwhile, Aurora’s middle son was more than enjoying his time in high school. As a creative, lazy, snob, Axel was never going to be the captain of the football team – but he certainly didn’t lack for popularity! Axel had found his niche in a group of artsy, pretentious, drama club kids. But Axel wasn’t just any snob. Axel was KING Snob! And King Snob – oddly enough – had many female snob admirers. Including the lovely Peyton Holiday-Scott.
Peyton – like her cousin Tabitha Piper-Hasslich – was the granddaughter of Dean Holiday-Scott. No matter – Axel was smitten.
Of course, Axel wasn’t the only Hasslich with romance on the brain – the past few weeks had brought Tabitha an adventure of her own.
No, she hadn’t stolen Brennan away from Addie, though the thought had crossed her mind (Brennan was like catnip to the Hasslich women, it seemed). But while she was not immune to his many charms, the relationship that Tabitha enjoyed with Brennan was strictly platonic – and entirely orchestrated by his wife.
It had started back on the day of Roxas’s wedding to the beautiful Beth Elstree. It was the first time that Addie had seen her brother – and the first time she had seen her estranged family – since their falling out many moons ago. Addie had been beyond nervous. Brennan had changed her, yes, but she knew she had said unforgivable things to her brother. She knew she had hurt Aurora, who had only ever been kind to her, and that Coralie would still be intensely and justifiably angry with her. But Roxas had extended the olive branch, and Addie was sure that attending his wedding – supporting his marriage – was the first step to bridging the gap and reuniting with her family. She had a long way to go to make up for all the things she’d done, but this wedding was her first step in the right direction.
And so, when she arrived at the wedding with Brennan at her side, she clutched his hand in her sweaty, shaking palm. Would her family even acknowledge her? Would they pretend not to know her? Would Coralie confront her? Addie felt nauseous, sick with anxiety. They would never forgive her, she was sure of it. She didn’t deserve their forgiveness.
But then, suddenly, there was Tabitha. Tabitha, who caught Addie’s eye from across the room, and smiled – smiled! – at her. Tabitha, who made a beeline towards them and enveloped Addie in a tight, reassuring hug, and whispered kind words in her ear.
“It will be okay,” she had said, “We all make mistakes. We’re all family here.”
And of course, Tabitha had been right. By the end of the wedding, Addie had made up with Roxas. She’d welcomed Beth as a sister-in-law, laughed with Aurora, and even danced with Coralie. All was well, and Addie had Tabitha to thank, for breaking the ice and being the first to welcome her back into the clan.
So when Addie heard that Tabitha was single and looking, she tasked her husband with finding her cousin a match – and not just any match. The PERFECT match. Addie knew she could never repay Tabitha for her kindness, but maybe this was a good place to start.
Luckily, Brennan had just the guy. Or so he thought when he introduced Tabitha to Jesse Franklin, who – unbeknownst to Brennan – had been blessed with the insane trait. After a nonsensical tirade, Jesse mocked Tabitha’s outfit and stormed off, flailing his arms and talking to himself. That was Strike One.
A week later Brennan set Tabitha up with a coworker named Bradford Joyce. Tabitha had been impressed when Bradford made dinner reservations at the most romantic (and expensive) restaurant in Newcrest. But when the bill came and Bradford explained that “the old dine-and-dash” was a powerful aphrodisiac, Tabitha was forced to pick up the hefty tab kick the loser to the curb. That was Strike Two.
But this time, Brennan was sure. Tom Locke was the one.
Or so he hoped.
Tom Locke was a cheerful, lazy, glutton who had befriended Brennan over a chess game at the park. He was sweet and easy-going, and most importantly, he was single.
Tabitha took one look at him and was obviously entranced. Tom, on the other hand, was harder to read. Brennan got up to “get them some drinks” and left the two of them alone, throwing a quick wink in Tabitha’s direction.
Tabitha: So Tom, what is it you do for a living?
Tom: A little of this, a little of that.
Tabitha waited for him to go on, to ask a question in return, but Tom was quiet. She watched him as he looked around. At the sky, at the floor, off into the distance – anywhere but at her.
Tabitha: So, uh, Tom… tell me about yourself.
Tom: I’m a happy guy. Yeah. And I like food. French fries.
Again, no follow up. Tabitha sighed – her interest was clearly one-sided. Brennan had missed the mark on this one. This was definitely not going anywhere. Again. She looked at her watch.
Tabitha: It was nice to meet you, Tom, but I think I’ve got to get going. I, um. I have to wash my hair tonight. Totally forgot! Yup. Late for my hair washing!…. Tell Brennan I’ll call him later, okay?
She stood up and started off towards home.
Dating is the pits, she thought sadly.
But then she heard someone calling her name.
Tom: Hey, Tabitha! Tabitha! Do you think maybe I could call you sometime?
Tabitha scratched her head. What was this guy’s deal, anyway?
Tabitha: You do realize that calling me would require you to actually speak, right?
Tom just nodded in silence and pulled out his phone. Tabitha shook her head in confusion, but she found herself punching her number into his contacts.
What the plum, she thought. Two strikes and a foul ball. I’m not out quite yet.
Late that very same night, Aurora woke with a start. There was a sharp, familiar pain in her abdomen that she recognized as a contraction. It was time to go to the hospital – it was time to deliver this baby!
Aurora experienced a rollercoaster of emotions as Dr. Isla performed the delivery. This baby had to be a girl – a boy would mean another “transaction” with another man. It would mean putting Palani through that all over again!
….But even if it was a girl – then what? Aurora worried.
Another little girl to breed into an heiress – to force into a legacy? Another little girl with no choice, no freedom in her own life?
Another little girl to run away from the responsibility – from the legacy, from the family, from her – just like Coralie?
Aurora’s heart skipped a beat at the thought of Coralie, but Isla’s voice broke through her thoughts.
“You have a happy and healthy daughter, Aurora! Congratulations!”
Happy Birthday, Lola Hasslich!
It was 5am by the time she arrived home with Lola, but Aurora couldn’t sleep. Instead she rocked her new baby girl, covering her with kisses and tickling her tummy. Another daughter – the only daughter – the Hasslich future heiress. But Aurora had made mistakes with Coralie, that much was certain. She’d driven her away, smothered her with responsibility and legacy duties, forced her own daughter to disappear silently into the night.
I have to learn from my mistakes, Aurora thought. I have to protect Lola at all costs.
And then she heard it, softly at first, and then harder. Louder. A knock on the door.
Aurora stopped and listened, cautious. She tucked Lola into her crib and crept quietly down the stairs, baseball bat in tow. She had a family to protect.
She tiptoed up to the front door and put her eye to the peephole.
The bat clattered to the floor. Upstairs, Lola cried. Aurora gasped, and threw open the door.
Note: A big thank you to Sabreene for submitting our third place Hasslich baby daddy winner, Tom Locke! Sabreene is also the author of the amazing Elstree Prettacy, where you can follow Roxas and Beth as they embark on their next adventures!