Category Archives: prettacy

Chapter Ninety Eight : Harmless

Jessalyn was very happy, eating her breakfast alone in peace. She chomped away on her cereal, liking the way the crunching sound rang in her ears. In a house this size with this many people, silence was a rare and welcome occurrence. She couldn’t remember the last time she heard herself chew. The rhythmic crunch was music to her ears.

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Enjoying the silence, Jessalyn embraced the opportunity to think and to reflect, and to maybe – just maybe – make the decision she’d been avoiding. But Lucas’ face flashed in her memory, and then Stanley’s big blue eyes after that, and Jessalyn promptly shook them away. Maybe the commotion was better, after all – noise to drown the sound of her indecision. And her guilt.

Because she was guilty – and not just because she still hadn’t told Lucas about Stan, or Stan about Lucas. That was part of it, yes – a pretty big chunk of it, actually. But more than that, she still hadn’t told Theo, and keeping something like this from her twin felt like the biggest betrayal of all.

Jessalyn chomped again, concentrating on the sound the cereal made as it popped in her mouth. Better not to think about it just now. Anyway, she still didn’t understand why she had to make this decision at all. Why did the world have to be so uptight, so structured? So “you-can-only-have-one-boyfriend” judgmental?

She sighed and turned her thoughts back to cereal, the crunching, and the silence around her. She’d have to enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasted, because if Jessalyn knew anything for sure, it was that peace and quiet never lasted long in this little house.

But as the silence drew on, her thoughts returned to Stan and Lucas. Again she brushed them away with a dramatic huff, and turned her frustrations on the family’s small kitchen instead. Why did they even still live in this tiny house after all this time? They had the money to move – she knew they did. She’d seen her mother’s bank statement once when Coralie left the page open on the computer. Something about tradition, she imagined, about this mindless legacy they all were compelled to fulfill based on the whims of some long dead relative. Not that Jessalyn minded, really – she thought she’d be quite a good heir, in fact, considering her penchant keeping for multiple men.

The air stirred beside her, a stool screeched across the wooden floor, and Jessalyn was jarred abruptly from her thoughts. She’d been so caught up in her worries that she didn’t even notice her father come into the kitchen.

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“Penny for your thoughts?” Kody asked smiling, as he slid into the chair beside her.

Jessalyn laughed despite herself. “Do you always have to be so corny?”

“Always,” he replied with a grin. “It’s a father’s right. So, I’ll ask again – penny for your thoughts?”

Jessalyn hesitated. She didn’t need to ask to know her dad wouldn’t want to hear about her recent makeout sessions with two different boys. So finally she sighed, and responded simply, “Nothing, Dad.”

But Kody knew better. “It’s about those two boys,” he said, cocking an eyebrow and laughing at the surprised expression on her face. “Oh, you thought I didn’t know, did you? Well I’m onto you, chick-a-dee. And I can’t say I’m terribly surprised, either. I mean, for one, you’re a teenager and I hear that means your hormones are ratings. And for two, you’re a Hasslich, which is all I care to say on that particular subject.”

Jessalyn stuttered, her face flushed.  At last, she asked the only thing that really mattered : “Does Theo know?”

Kody shook his head. “Theo is oblivious, Jess. You forget, but he’s a teenager too – he’s so wrapped up with Elsa he wouldn’t notice a dinosaur if it swallowed him whole.”

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Jessalyn sighed in relief. “Well, thank the Watcher for that. He’d be so mad if he thought I was hurting Stan, you know?”

Are you hurting Stan?”

“I don’t really know. We never really talked about being exclusive or anything, but I never said I wasn’t, either. And I really do care about him, Dad. I don’t want to hurt him. But I care about Lucas too.” She looked at him sideways, a wry smile playing on her lips. “I don’t suppose you’d tell me I can keep them both?”

Kody released a hearty belly laugh. “They’re not puppies, Jessalyn! You’re going to have to make a decision sooner or later. I suggest sooner, personally, but if it’s later,” he cast his eyes downward, blushing “my best advice is to not get too …serious… with either of them until you decide. Do you understand what I mean, Jessalyn?”

She felt the heat rush to her already crimson face. She knew she’d be in for “the talk,” sooner or later, but she never expected it to come from her dad! She swallowed hard, quickly assured her father that she caught his meaning – and then promptly excused herself from the table.


Meanwhile, Jessalyn wasn’t the only Hasslich with a decision to make.

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Diego was struggling with an equally important choice of his own.

So? What did she say?” Sheena asked excitedly. “Am I in?”

Diego stared at the ground. He’d asked Libby – pleaded with her, really – to let Sheena join her club. But Libby (as any respectably bossy sister would do) denied the request – time and time again – solely because she could, and also, of course, because she saw how much it mattered to Diego. Libby insisted that she was only looking out for her “little brother,” a title Diego detested, but that was undeniably true nonetheless. Technically, she was three minutes and 24 seconds older than him – an age difference that, according to Libby, meant she outranked him in both age and in club hierarchy. And so as her brother’s keeper, and as the self-proclaimed club president, Libby was the sole determiner of new applicant approval. Sheena, naturally, did not have Libby’s approval.

And so Diego had two options. Either he could tell Sheena that Libby said no, and face the wrath of Sheena, or he could lie and say Libby said yes, and try to keep Libby from finding out. Ever.

“Well…..” Diego started, shuffling his feet uncomfortably.

Sheena pursed her lips, and her eyes glazed over in anger.

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She stared at him, wide-eyed, in shock. “She said no, just like I told you she would! And you didn’t even stand up for me, did you?”

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Diego paled at her anger, and he felt himself break out into a nervous sweat. But behind the rage, Diego recognized the hurt in her eyes. He didn’t like to see her sad. But Diego knew he couldn’t lie.

Instead, he said something true. Or something that would be true, at any rate.

“She said no -”

Sheena’s eyes welled up, and Diego hurried on.

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“But I thought of something better! I’ve started a new, even better club! Me and you are the co-presidents, and anybody can be in it. We don’t need Libby’s snooty club, anyway, do we?”

Sheena grinned and threw herself at him in hug.

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Libby was going to hate him for this, and he knew she’d make him pay the price. But if anyone was worth it, it was Sheena.


The sun was setting, but earlier in the day, Jessalyn had made a decision. It wasn’t THE decision, exactly, but it was a step in the right direction. One more date with Lucas and one more date with Stanley, and then she would make THE decision. She just needed to be sure.

She met Stan at the bar for a few virgin drinks, and they quickly fell into their usual banter. Joking, laughing, flirting – all the things she loved about hanging out with Stan. Not to mention those piercing blue eyes.

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Things were going well, and Jessalyn heeded her father’s advice. She reminded herself to keep a cool head, and not to lead Stanley on. Because her dad was right, of course – it was in no one’s best interest to let things go too far.

But when Stanley took her by the hand and asked her to dance, Jessalyn felt the electricity pass through their fingertips. The chemistry was undeniable, but it was only holding hands, Jessalyn reasoned. Surely hand-holding wasn’t “going too far.”

It was harmless, really.

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And honestly, if she’d gone as far as holding his hand, was there really any harm in a kiss? Just one measly kiss, that’s all it really was. And they’d kissed before – they’d kissed plenty of times! One more couldn’t hurt anything.

It was harmless, really.

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And, well – as long as they were kissing, they might as well do it somewhere a little more private. She didn’t want to be that girl, the one making out in the corner in front of an audience. At least this way she was keeping it classy.

And in the end, it was harmless, really.

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And seriously, as long as they were down here, they might as well sit down somewhere. She’d been on her feet all night, and these heels were killing her!

It’s only a bed. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s absolutely, completely harmless!

Really!

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Chapter Ninety Seven : Hot Mama

I love my kids.

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No, really, I mean it! They were a surprise – a huge surprise – but their squishy little faces grew on me fast. Thirty tiny fingers and thirty tiny toes! Triple the dirty diapers and triple the mouths to feed, as if my Hasslich you-know-what’s weren’t hanging to my knees already! All I know is it’s a miracle I have my mom and my sister to fall back on.  And Kody, too, of course.  He’s no slouch in the uncle department, which sure is lucky for me.  It’s nice for the kids to have a father figure in their life.

What about Marcus, you say?  Right.  Well, I never did get around to telling him.  I mean, I meant to.  Really.  I didn’t want to at first, but Coralie insisted he should know about his kids, and it got me thinking maybe she was right.  But then I heard he married some chick named Ulrike something-or-other…?  Okay, fine.  Ulrike Faust – Ulrike Flex, now, I guess.  Okay, fine! – not I guess.  I know.  Ulrike Flex: Art Book Collator, Windenberg native, creative, art lover, perfectionist, muser, founding member of The Renegades.  Not that I know everything about her or anything.  Not like I pulled an all-nighter stalking her Simbook or anything.

Yeah.  Ahem.  Anyway….

Now that my little monsters (I say affectionately, of course) are officially child-sized and capable of minimal self-sufficiency, I’m thinking its time for old Lola to pursue a few additional endeavors. Maybe go someplace where they call me something – anything – other than Mommy. Something like…. Lola. Or “Sexy,” or “Hot Stuff,” or “Musical Genius” will do.  I can just hear it now – like “Hey, Musical Genius!” to which I smile kindly, as if I hear that all the time.

But really, anything will do. They can call me Plumhole if they want to, as long as their fingers aren’t sticky and they don’t wet the bed.

So naturally, the first thing I did after the kids’ birthday was find a job. Now, it’s not like we’re hurting for money around here, but it’s a plum of a good excuse to get out of the house, you know what I mean?  The kids are in school now anyway, so what else am I going to do? I mean, I guess I could do what Coralie does, which is mostly running and yoga and cooking up fancy gourmet meals.  Soccer mom stuff.  But she barely ever leaves the house, which I guess makes sense for someone who was once abducted and impregnated by aliens – breeds a certain fear of the unknown, if you ask me.

But I’ve never been abducted by aliens, and I think even if I was, I’d still want my job. It’s just not in my SNA to sit still. I need to dance, I need to play music!  I need to move and talk and joke and go places and see things and meet people and explore the world. You know? So I like being an entertainer, even if I am only a C-lister.  I get to do all the things I love, and someday I’m sure I’ll do what I was born to do – to play the very best clubs in Windenberg, to blow kisses to my adoring fans while they chant my name. To have my pick of attractive groupies for dating and other such romantical activities. (Maybe that last part is my favorite.)

But for now, I’ve got to practice, and I do, every night after I put the kids to bed.

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Between raising three kids and working towards a promotion, life is pretty busy.  Luckily for me, I live in a big house with lots of built-in babysitters, so I still get out of the house pretty often.

Most Saturday nights you can find me in Windenberg hanging with the Spin Masters. Dominic Fyres says I’m the coolest mom he knows, which is kinda weird since, you know – he’s married to the mother of his children and all.  Not that I mind – keep the compliments a’comin’, Dominic!

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So Saturdays are my big night out, but I try to keep my wild(est) side in check. Sunday is my stomping day, and I like to be on my game when I plaster the neighborhoods with my face! I mean, hey – nothing wrong with a little self-promotion, right?  If you want something, you’ve gotta get out and grab it by the cajones!  That’s what I always say!

Ive always enjoyed my flyer-posting Sundays, because that’s when I get out there and promote myself to the public.  You know – round up the groupies.

But lately I’ve been enjoying my route just a little bit more.

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Remember Marian?

I saw her on my flyer route a few days ago, and recognized her immediately from our last run in at the park.  It’s been awhile, and we’ve definitely both gotten older, but I’d know that gorgeous porcelain face anywhere. True, she doesn’t fit the mold of a groupie, but she piques my interest with that mop of crazy red curls and that smart-plum smirk.

I barely know her, but then, I don’t need to know her to want to kiss her.

Marian’s street always gets extra flyers.

And today is no exception.  I’m always hoping to spot her, to run into her, to strike up a conversation, you know?  I’m tacking a flyer to a street pole when I see her cross the street toward me (she’s wearing that cute little bowler hat again) and I realize I’m staring at her.  I almost look away, but it’s then that I see she’s staring straight back at me. She smiles and she makes a beeline in my direction.

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Is she flirting with me? I think she is, but it’s been awhile since I’ve flexed those muscles. My eyelashes flutter involuntarily, and I physically force them to stop. Rein it in, Lola. Get it together.

I’m thinking I should ask her out, that I should do it now before she’s gone.  But Marian beats me to it, and I’m stunned.  Next thing you know, we’re at some bar, and she’s holding my hands.

If you want something, you’ve gotta grab it by the cajones!  That’s what I always say.  Did I say that already?  I think I said that already.

Maybe Marian wants me, and my hands are the cajones….

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But I want more than hand-holding.  I want that kiss.

I don’t grab Marian by the cajones.  Because, I mean, she doesn’t have any, obviously.  So I grab her by the waist instead, and I dip her as I plant one on her.

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Well, plum.  How’s that for grabbing life by the balls?

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Chapter Ninety Six : You Can Call Me Queen Bee

“I can’t believe my babies’ birthday is today!” Lola exclaimed.

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It was a strange feeling, the way this intense nostalgia and growing excitement all mingled into one big mish mosh of emotion. Her squishy-faced bundles of joy would soon be walking, playing, going to school, making friends, and inevitably needing her less and less each day.  Even stranger was that she missed those tiny fingers and toes already.  It wasn’t so long ago she dreaded their very birth, dreaded the responsibility of motherhood and the lack of freedom it would bring.  But now that her triplets were growing, Lola suddenly wished that they’d stop.

Coralie put her hand in front of her mouth, covering her smile. “Look at you, Lola.  A mom through and through! Who ever would’ve guessed?”

Lola shook her head, laughing. “I know, it’s strange the way life works out, isn’t it? I have to say, I’ve enjoyed motherhood far more than I thought I would. I’m going to miss having my smushy little babies around – it almost makes me want to have another.”

Coralie’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, to which Lola laughed.  “I said, almost.  I can’t say I won’t miss this part, but I’m ready for the next phase.  They’ll be more independent as kids, and it’ll be nice to get some time to myself again.”

Coralie nodded in agreement. “Triplets are a lot of work, especially when you weren’t even planning on one! And I thought twins were hard! But oh, Lola – just wait until they’re teenagers. If even one of them turns out like Jessalyn, you’re going to have your hands full.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves now! I need to get through today first! One step at a time, you know?”

Coralie turned to face her sister. “Well?” she asked. “Are you ready for this?”

Lola pursed her lips briefly, and then smiled. “Yeah. I’m ready.”


 

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Lola walked from crib to crib, taking in those squishy faces one last time.  There was an underlying sense of sadness, of time moving on, but overwhelmingly, Lola was ready.  She was eager to meet her children, to see how they would grow and who they would turn out to be.  Parenthood wasn’t about keeping her children to herself, but about raising them to be capable and unique individuals.  And unique they would be, if they took after her.

And as the family gathered around, and the bassinets began to shake, Lola grinned in anticipation.

Libby was the first to spring from her crib, natural born leader that she was. As an insider with the Social Butterfly aspiration, Libby immediately took to Jessalyn.  If anyone could help her achieve Queen Bee status, it was her cousin.

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Diego soon followed suit, bounding from his crib to join his sister.  Already he was an active boy, but with the Artistic Prodigy aspiration, it was clear that his energies would be used in pursuit of creative endeavors.

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And as the youngest, Celia was the last to leap.  Naturally creative with the Rambunctious Scamp aspiration, she was as different from her brother as a triplet can be.

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Lola stood on the sidelines and sighed.  Her triplets were triplets, as similar as any three children could be.  But already she sensed the differences, where their personalities would diverge and grow independently of one another.  And separately from her.


 

Here are the kids in CAS:

Libby Hasslich

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Diego Hasslich

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Celia Hasslich

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In another home, life with triplets might prove overwhelming, noisy, or even chaotic. But the Hasslich family was no stranger to multiples, and so the chaos was only more of the same.

The triplets were off to a running start, all three of them full of energy and personality. Diego, forever in pursuit of artistic excellence, spent most of his time at the his craft table.

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Day after day, his talent grew, not as a result of any natural ability, but as a product of his endless reserve of persistence and dedication. Diego worked hard to graduate from drawing shapes to vehicles, and though he loved his sister, he envied Celia’s innate creativity – especially because she rarely used it.

Celia never could sit still for long.

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But it was Libby – predictably – who emerged as the leader of the pack. There was nothing she loved more than people, than making friends, and being admired.  She idolized her cousin Jessalyn, and strove to walk in her very popular footsteps.  Indeed, there was nothing Libby liked more than people, unless it was being loved by them.

And so, while her brother and sister were happy in their individual endeavors, Libby was ready to surround herself with her very own subjects friends.

“I’m going to start a club,” she told Celia one day.  “A super-secret, super special, really cool club.  And since you’re my sister, I’ll even let you be in it!  Space is limited, of course, so I’ll need your formal acceptance letter by noon.” Libby smiled benevolently at Celia, as if she was doing her a great big favor.

Celia shrugged.  “Okay, sure.  But who’s in this club, anyway?”

Libby crinkled her nose.  So far it was only her, and Celia, pending that acceptance letter, of course.  But it wouldn’t sound very cool to say so.  “VIP’s only,” she answered vaguely.

Celia shrugged again. “Okay, sure. But what do we do in this club?” she asked, reluctant to commit to anything that might interfere with her monkey bar time.

Libby paused.  She hadn’t really thought about that.  “It’s a secret!” she improvised.  “If you want to be in it, don’t ask so many questions, Celia.”

“Whatever,” Celia muttered.  “But, Libby – ” she leaned in close, not wanting to be overheard. “Make sure to invite, Diego, too.”

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Libby did invite Diego – not that she particularly wanted to.  Her brother was kind of a geek, she thought, always hidden away behind his craft table with a big bag of glitter. But her options were limited, and she’d have to start somewhere.

And when the day of their first club gathering arrived, Libby was thrilled to find that it was an undeniable success. Not only did everyone listen to her as the club leader, but they even gained a member!

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Libby thought her cousin Amalie was almost (almost) as cool as she was, which was really saying something. If she played her cards right, Libby decided she might even grant her cousin with the coveted title of Princess-Bee (second in command, of course, to Libby’s own title of Queen-Bee).

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-Madison Hasslich, left (daughter of Isaac Hasslich) playing with Amalie Wahine (daughter of Xander Wahine-

But while Libby spent her day with her new wing-woman, Diego made a new friend of his own.

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Sheena Santander was her name, as Diego soon found out. But when he introduced himself as Diego Hasslich, Sheena gave him a funny look.

“Hasslich?” she said, like it was a dirty word. “My mom says the Hasslich men are cads, whatever that means. I don’t think it’s good thing, though.”

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Diego shrugged.  “I’m not a cad,” he assured her.  He didn’t know what that meant either, but it didn’t sound like a good thing. All Diego knew was that he only wanted Sheena to think good things about him.

“Her old boyfriend was some guy called Xander, I think,” Sheena went on.

Diego’s face lit up.  “That’s my Uncle Xander!”  He frowned, putting two and two together. “But my Uncle Xander isn’t a… a cad.”

Sheena shrugged. “My mom says he is, but she says that about my dad, too. My dad just says my mom is sad. He always used to say, ‘Janie, turn that frown upside down!’ But she didn’t, and now my dad has a new girlfriend, which is kinda weird, because my dad is REALLY old.”

Diego didn’t know what to say to that, but he did think it sounded like Sheena could use a friend.  As soon as he had the chance, he would ask Libby if Sheena could join the club.

Because all Diego knew was he wanted to see her again.

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Chapter Ninety Two : Baby, What A Big Surprise

Coralie Hasslich was an adult.

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She carried adult responsibilities and obligations, and she met them, day after day without fail. She was a fiancé, and heiress, and a mother of three. She had a teenage son, for crying out loud.

So if she was so grown up … then why did she still feel like a child?

She should be ready to step up, she thought – to step in for her mother.  To guide the family and maintain the Hasslich legacy. That was her job, wasn’t it? It’s what any good heiress would do.

It’s what her mother want want her to do. It’s what her mother herself would have done.

But Aurora was a hard act to follow.

In the weeks after Aurora’s death, Coralie floundered. Ironic, she thought, that she should need her mother so much more, now that she was gone. Aurora was her constant – always there to lay the groundwork, to clear the path, to strap on a head lamp and find a way forward when Coralie thought there was none.  And Coralie needed that now more than ever, because try as she might, she could find no way forward.

She couldn’t even find the head lamp.

Paying the bills, cooking the meals, keeping their home – it all was hard work, to be sure. But Coralie knew how to do those things. She didn’t worry about paying the electric bill, or keeping them afloat. The steps were clear, like instructions in a cookbook.

Make money, write check, mail to electric company – Voila! Let there be light!

Two cups sugar, three cups flour, one cup blueberries – Voila! Let there be pie!

When the toilet broke, Coralie knew how to fix it. And when the refrigerator broke….well, she knew where to buy a new one.

What she didn’t know was how to fix this – to fix them. What she didn’t know was how to piece her family back together, how to bring them back from the edge of grief and loss.

There is no recipe for Happy Family Pie.

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“I’m at a loss,” she admitted to Kody. The sun was shining overhead, and inwardly she cursed it.  How dare the sun shine so cheerily when she felt so miserable?  How dare the weather contradict her this way? “I’m not like my mother, Kody.  She was so good, she always knew what to do.  And I’m so….so….not her.  I just can’t do this – I’m too tired, I can’t fix it, I don’t know how be an heir!  Maybe I’m not cut out for this, after all.”

She sniffled and choked back her tears.   Kody tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.

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“Yes you are, Coralie,” Kody said gently. “And you have to be. This family is falling apart. It needs its matriarch – that means you, now, you know? You’re the heir -”

“Co-heir,” she corrected.

He smiled. “Co-heir. Exactly. Which means you don’t have to do this alone. You have Lola, and you have me. We’ll figure it out together.”

Coralie whirled on him.

“Lola’s no help!” The bitterness in her voice sounded venomous, even to her. She stopped short, surprised by her own callousness.  She hadn’t realized how alone she felt, how keenly she felt Lola’s withdraw. But Coralie softened, frowning at the thought of her sister. “It’s Lola I worry about the most, Kody. All she does is cry, and lock herself in the bedroom with that guitar! This is hard on all of us, but Lola….. you and I both know this pregnancy wasn’t planned. And now she’s lost her mother and all her dreams in a matter of weeks….”

Kody took her hand, and stroked her palm with his thumb. “And that’s why she needs your help, Coralie.”

Coralie sighed heavily. “But that’s just it. I have no idea how to help her – I don’t even know where to begin. My mother was the fixer, not me.”

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But Kody smiled, a twinkle in his eye. Coralie recognized that twinkle – it was the same look her mother would get when she had an idea.

“Well then it’s lucky for you that you have such a smart and thoughtful fiancé. Because I do.”


 

Lola was exhausted. Her body and her brain begged for sleep, but rest was frustratingly elusive. She missed her mother, she missed Palani, and when she wasn’t missing them, she was worrying about her future – mourning her freedom, grieving the music career she would never have.

Her only consolation was her pick and her guitar.

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She was now firmly in the third trimester of her pregnancy, and her belly grew bigger by the day.  She tossed and turned at night, the baby doing cartwheels on her bladder and somersaults on her ribs. She never did tell Marcus.  What would be the point?  They weren’t in love, and Lola wasn’t interested in marriage anyway.  No need to force parenthood on him, too.  No need to tie him down – to burden him like she was.  Marcus still had a life to live, whereas she…. well, she had a baby to deliver.  She had bottles to buy, and a crib to assemble.

It wasn’t the future she envisioned, that was for sure.  Her days of adventure and whimsy were behind her. The future was planned out, settled, written in stone. Surprises were a thing of the past, and spontaneity, she knew, would be next to impossible once the baby was born.

Lola sighed, and placed a hand over her belly. “Turns out you were my last big surprise, baby boy.” And there was no doubt in her mind that’s exactly what he was.  Boys will be boys, as they say, and her son had gotten a head start already – bouncing around her womb at all hours day and night.  He was a rambunctious little scamp, and Lola knew her work was cut out for her.

As if in response, a tiny limb jabbed her on the inside.

“Calm down in there, would you?” she pleaded. “Do you ever sit still?”

Of course not, she thought – like mother like son. And anyway, who could sleep through all this racket? It started two weeks ago now – the pounding and the hammering and never-ending drilling.  She’d had a headache for four days straight.

“They must be tearing this house down around us,” she told her belly, wishing – not for the first time – for a pregnancy-friendly pain killer. But to venture out of her room to see for herself felt like far too much work, and so the source of the commotion remained a mystery.

And so, when the phone rang a few nights later, Lola only knew it was ringing because she felt the vibration.  She could barely hear Joaquin’s voice on the other end.

“The Spin Masters are getting together tonight,” he said hopefully. “Can I count you in?”

“Maybe next time,” she mumbled.

“You said that last time.”

“But I’m pregnant. Pregnant people don’t spin, Joaquin.”

“Well I don’t see why not. You have to get out of there sooner or later,” he argued. There was a huge clatter from the other room, and Joaquin hollered over the noise to be heard. “What the plum is going on over there?! Sounds like an earthquake!”

True enough, Lola thought. Maybe it was time to get out of the house after all. At least she’d get a break from the demolition team in the basement.

She found her headphones under the bed, and dusted them off. They hadn’t been used in weeks. She hung them around her neck and looked down at her belly.

“Come on, Diego,” she said to her bump. “It’s time for you to learn something about Mommy’s favorite hobby.” He jigged around inside of her, and she pictured his small body dancing, his tiny fists pumping in the air.  He definitely was her son.  And for the first time, she smiled at the thought.

 

Lola wobbled down to the station, and stared wistfully out the window as the train sped down the tracks.  She was excited to see her friends, and she yearned to get inside the DJ booth again.  The party was in full swing by the time she got there, and Joaquin waved to her from across the dance floor.

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“Glad you could make it!” His grin was genuine, and he gestured toward the DJ booth.  “Ready to get back on the horse?”

Lola nodded excitedly, but as she crossed the dance floor to the booth, a sharp pang shot through her abdomen. She pursed her lips and cocked an eyebrow, shooting her belly a look.

“I take it you have other plans?” she asked the bump bemusedly.

Another contraction was her response.

“You are just full of surprises, little man.”

She pulled out her cell phone and made two calls – one for a cab, and one to her sister. The Spin Masters would have to wait.


 

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Lola pushed and pushed, while the machinery whirled around her.

Coralie held her hand, whispering encouragement, and Lola was reminded of her mother. There was so much of Aurora in her sister – Lola could only hope she would find some shred of that maternal instinct in herself.

“You’re doing great!” Coralie told her. She breathed in dramatically three times, and then out hard once. “Remember to breathe! Just a little longer, Lola, you’re almost there! I can see the head….!”

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Lola felt a wave of relief, and the baby wailed.

“It’s a healthy baby boy!” the doctor announced, and Lola smiled as an unexpected wave of motherly love washed over her.

“I’m not surprised,” she said, smiling as she watched the doctor place him in the bassinet. “His name is Diego Hasslich.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “Well I hate to tell you, Miss Hasslich, but it’s not over yet.” He threw his hands up with a shrug and a nervous grin. “Surprise!!! Are you ready to do this again?”

Lola’s eyes widened. TWINS? Panic set in, but there was no time to contemplate. There was another baby coming, and she had to push.

The second time was easier.

“Congratulations!” The doctor laughed, holding up her newest baby. “Ten fingers, ten toes, and a va-hoo-ha! You have yourself a daughter!”

Lola looked at Coralie, and Coralie stared back at her, slack-jawed.  What were the chances they would both have twins? Coralie let out a laugh, and suddenly, Lola was laughing too.

“What will you call her?” Coralie asked. Lola thought for a minute. She’d never considered she might need a name for a girl.

“Libby,” she said finally. “Her name is Libby Hasslich.”

She shook her head and started to laugh again when another jolt of pain sliced through her. She stared at the doctor, incredulous. He shrugged and threw up his hands with a familiar nervous grin.

“Don’t tell me – ” Lola growled, but she already knew.

Triplets.

One more time she pushed, and with that, her third baby was born.  “Is it over?” she asked, throwing her head back in exhaustion.  “Please say it’s over!”

The doctor chuckled.  “It’s over, Lola.  And it’s a girl.”

Lola looked at Coralie, pleading. “You name her, Cora. I’m too tired to think.” She leaned her head back and closed her heavy eyes.

Coralie thought for a moment.  “How’s Celia?” she asked, and Lola nodded wearily in agreement. “Then it’s official.  Her name is Celia Hasslich.”


 

Later that night, Lola stood before her babies and stared down at them in disbelief.  If one baby was anchor, then three…. well three were an anchor for an ocean liner.

 

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Triplets, she thought, shaking her head.  Who would’ve guessed?  And here she thought her days of surprises were behind her. Maybe motherhood wasn’t so predictable after all.

Happy Birthday, Diego Hasslich

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Libby Hasslich…

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And Celia Hasslich!

01-11-16_8-59-50 PMLola tucked the babies into their bassinets and headed off for a relaxing bath.  After a long soak in the hot, bubbly water, she pulled herself out of the tub and trudged back to her bedroom.  Sleep when the baby sleeps, they say.  In her case, it was sleep when the babies sleep.  And right now, they were sleeping.

She was only steps away from her bedroom door when Coralie intercepted her in the hallway.

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“Lola!” she beamed.  “Will you follow me?  Kody’s been…. what I mean is, there’s something we want to show you.”

Lola hesitated – her eyes were drooping and her muscles ached – but Coralie was beyond excited.  And so Lola nodded, and followed her sister down the hall.  They passed under the stairs, back towards the huge walk-in storage closet.  Only now, Lola saw, there was no storage closet.  Instead, there was a large, black double door that glowed from floor to ceiling.

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Lola’s jaw dropped as the realization dawned on her.  “So this is what all the noise was about?  You really were tearing the walls down around us!”

Coralie grinned at her from over her shoulder.  “Well, I wasn’t tearing anything down.  It was all Kody!” She beckoned for Lola to follow. “Now come on!”

Lola walked through those big black doors, and her eyes lit up in delight.

 

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“What is all this?” she squeaked.  “You guys….you did all this for me?”

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There was a bar, and a piano, her very own DJ booth and a brand new guitar.  Lola was speechless.  She was stunned, shocked, utterly surprised.

“It was all Kody’s idea!” Coralie beamed up at her.  “Do you like it?”

“It’s amazing.” She wiped a tear from her eye.  “I…. I don’t even know what to say.”

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“We thought you could use a pick-me-up,” Kody said.  “We wanted you to have a place to go, to practice your music and hang out with your friends!  You might not get to go to Windenberg every night anymore…but why not bring Windenberg to you?”

Lola threw her arms around Kody’s neck, hugging him tight in gratitude.

02-04-16_9-01-49 PM“Just because you’re a mom now doesn’t mean your life is over,” he said brightly.  “You have your whole life ahead of you!  And it will be full of surprises.”02-04-16_8-56-24 PM

 

 

 

“Thank you, Kody.  Thank you both.” Lola laughed.  “I really lucked out on this whole brother-in-law deal, huh?  Now when is this wedding exactly?”

Coralie hugged her sister. “Well that all depends – when are you free to DJ?”

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Chapter Eighty Two -Written In The Stars

Pregnancy is exhausting, Coralie thought as she snuggled up on the couch. Why doesn’t anybody ever tell you that pregnancy is exhausting?

Every pregnant woman she’d ever known, including her own mother, acted like pregnancy was some kind of heaven on earth.

I loved being pregnant! they said.

I never felt better! they said.

It’s just so amazing growing a new life! they said.

But none of them were growing an alien baby.  Maybe human babies didn’t cause unrelenting indigestion, aching hips, sleepless nights,or constant nausea.  Maybe human babies tickled your insides like a feather, or produced some kind of baby-bliss hormone.  Not that she would know – her baby was an alien.  All Coralie knew was that she was in desperate need of a nap.

Closing her eyes –  just for a minute – she reminded herself to be grateful.  Not that conceiving had ever been difficult for the Hasslich women, but Coralie knew that it wasn’t always so easy.  With any luck, her little diabolical little monster would be a girl monster.  She rubbed her tummy affectionately.  A diabolical little girl heir monster.

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She only meant to rest her eyes a moment, but when a knock at the front door jolted her awake, Coralie realized she must have nodded off. She sat up slowly, carefully, and peeked over the back of the couch and out the window. She didn’t want to be seen.  She couldn’t take that chance.

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Kody.

She dove back into the sofa, out of sight, and held her breath as he knocked again. This wasn’t the first time he’d been by the house, and it wasn’t the first time she’d hidden from him. His calls and texts were easily avoided, but these unexpected house calls were trickier. Her mother said she couldn’t dodge him forever, but Coralie begged to differ. Avoidance was her only option.  She just couldn’t bear to see him – to see the hurt on his face when he saw her big pregnant belly, to watch him crumble at the thought of her betrayal.  He’d never believe the truth – who would? What would she say?  There’s no one else, silly.  I got knocked up by an alien, is all!  Want some coffee?  No, she couldn’t put him through that. And she couldn’t bear the rejection.

And so she hid.

Coralie lay frozen with her eyes squeezed tight until she heard his footsteps descend the porch steps, until she heard them fade far into the distance. She sighed, pulling herself out of the couch cushions, and cradled her head in her hands.  She missed him.  She wanted to be with him.  But there was nothing to be done.  She took a deep breath and went upstairs to change. A good workout would make her feel better – it always did.

Coralie headed upstairs to change, and was headed out the door when she ran into Xander.  He was humming with excitement, a ball of boundless teenage energy, but he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the look on her face.

Xander: That was Kody at the door again, wasn’t it?

Coralie grimaced by way of an answer, and Xander mussed her hair affectionately.

Xander:  Chin up, big sister! There are plenty of fish in the sea. And when I say plenty, I mean PLENTY! I’m going fishing right now, if you catch my drift, and I’m a plum good wingman! You should come with me, catch yourself a Kissing Gourami! Get it? Ha ha!

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Coralie couldn’t help but smile at her goofy little brother. Xander fancied himself quite the ladies man, but she never could tell how much was fact and how much was fiction.

Coralie: Maybe next time?  I’m just feeling kind of…off.

Xander: Suit yourself!

He shrugged and took off down the sidewalk. Pausing briefly on the corner, he inhaled deeply, a smile playing on his lips. It would have been fun to have Coralie along, but he was fine flying solo, too.  Nobody to cramp his style that way.

It wasn’t long before he ran into his cousin Ada, along with a cute blonde Xander had never met before.  He didn’t like Ada much, but quickly decided he could tolerate her long enough to meet her friend, whose name turned out to be Sherry L’Amour.

L’Amour, Xander thought. Well that’s very convenient.

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They chatted for a bit, Xander making the requisite small talk until he got an opening to make his move.  Unfortunately, Xander’s distaste for his cousin was returned twofold – Ada shot him a look to kill, and then turned Sherry’s attention back to herself.

Ada:Hey Sherry, can you show me that picture from Tony’s party last night?  You know, the one you were talking about?

Sherry shook her head in confusion, her eyes still on Xander.

Sherry:  I wasn’t talking about any–

Ada: Yes, you were!  Um, you know that one?  Maybe if you show me your phone, it’ll jog your memory?

She glared again at Xander.  Her eyes were clearly ordering him to leave immediately.  But Xander was not easily deterred.

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Sherry pulled out her phone for Ada, but as Xander dropped to the ground for a set of push-ups, he could feel her eyes on him.  Oh yeah, he thought.  This one wants the Xan-man!

He stood up and brushed himself off.  Now, he would casually wave goodbye (Later, babe), and saunter off without looking back – the absolute epitome of cool.

Except, his phone buzzed in his pocket.  Couldn’t hurt to check the text before he left – let Sherry think (no, know) he was in high demand.  And then he would saunter off without looking back.  But when he glanced at the text, his purple skin blanched.

He looked up at the girls, terror written on his face.

Xander: My sister’s in labor!

And with that he ran off.  He didn’t need to remind himself not to look back.


 

It was morning by the time Coralie felt ready to go to the hospital.  Coralie hated hospitals – they reminded her of something, but she wasn’t sure what.  She only knew she didn’t want to be there any longer than necessary.

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This plumming HURTS! Coralie thought as she walked up to the hospital alone. Why doesn’t anyone ever tell you how much this HURTS?!

She hunched over as the next contraction came over her in a wave.

Aurora had watched from the doorframe, wringing her hands, as Coralie left for the hospital on her own. Her baby was having a baby, and there was nothing she could do to help. Coralie insisted she go by herself, and despite her mother’s emphatic protestations, Coralie was adamant. There was no father (or if there was, he was probably somewhere on Sixam, the big sherb), and she was going to do this – all of it – on her own.

But as she stood outside the hospital, gasping for air between contractions, Coralie began to question her decision.  She ordered her feet to move, willed her legs to carry her inside.  Nothing happened. She inhaled deeply, and tried again.  Still nothing.

Maybe she needed her mother after all.  She pulled out her phone and dialed Aurora’s number.  She listened as it rang, praying her mother would answer.  It rang once, twice, and with each ring, it sounded closer.

And when she heard her mother’s voice, it wasn’t over the phone line.

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Coralie: Mom! What are you doing here? I was just calling you, to see if – to ask if… I wanted you to come.

Aurora blushed.

Aurora: I just couldn’t let you do this by yourself, honey.  I know you can do it by yourself.  But you don’t need to.  And I wanted to be nearby.  You know – just in case you needed me.

Coralie smiled through the pain.  Yes, she was going to be a single mother. Just like all the Hasslich heirs before her. But just like them, she wasn’t alone.  Not really.  And with her mother’s support and reassurance, Coralie found she was ready.

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She checked in at the front desk, and the doctor led her down the hall to the delivery room.

And a few hours later, Coralie cradled her first child – her adorable, sweet, diabolical little monster – in her tired arms.

It was a boy, and his name was Leo.

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Happy Birthday, Leo Hasslich!


 

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Chapter Eighty – Tom (Un)Locke(d)

 

 

I love my job. When I’m in the suit, leading llama cheers and shooting hot dogs into the stands, that’s me at my my best. The dancing, the jokes, the slapstick – I love very second of it. I make them laugh til they cry, and I do it without ever saying a word. They watch me, goofing around inside the suit, but they don’t see me, not really.  And that’s just the way I like it.

The first time I saw Tabitha I thought my heart would explode. She was so beautiful, and she made me so nervous. Most people make me nervous, actually. But Tabitha? Well – Tabitha was something else.

I stared at her, blinking, trying to think of something to say. She looked back at me with those big blue eyes, and as I searched desperately for the right words, I wished – not for the first time in my life – that I could wear my llama suit every day, everywhere I went.  Tabitha  would love Llama-Suit Tom! Llama-suit Tom would make her laugh.  Llama-suit Tom is irresistible.

Regular Tom?  Not so much.  Mercifully, she spoke first. The words flowed from her lips so easily, so effortlessly that I couldn’t help but feel jealous.  I mean – she just opens her mouth and words come out!  To me, this particular trait is very impressive.  I’ve never been good with words. I jumble them, mumble them, say the wrong thing.  It’s not easy sticking my size 10 foot into my mouth, so most of the time I just keep quiet.

Unfortunately, Tabitha asked me a question.  Which, naturally, required an answer.

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What do you do for a living?  she’d asked. A simple question, really, with a simple answer.

Unless you’re me.

A little of this, a little of that.

That’s what i said to to the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I cringed. A little of this, a little of that?! That wasn’t even true! I had a job – ONE job – to BE A LLAMA!  A little of this, a little of that.  Not. Even. Close.  I tried desperately to find something to say, some way to keep the conversation going, but words – as usual – escaped me.

So, Tom….tell me about yourself, she said.

I panicked – she was moving onto open-ended questions now!  So you know what I said to her? I like French fries. French fries! For real, Tom? French fries!? I could have told her that I love to cook. That my favorite Saturday night begins and ends with Simflix and a gourmet meal of my own making. I could have said that I like chess, and that even though I’m quiet, I actually have a wicked sense of humor. But no. I tell her I like French fries.

She got up to go then – some nonsense about her hair – and I can’t say that I blamed her.

But panic struck as she walked away. What if I never saw her again? It took every ounce of courage I had to chase her down and spit out the one sentence that would set the rest of my life into motion.

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Can I call you? The question spilled out before I had time to think, time to back down.  And for the first time in recent memory, I didn’t regret my words.

You realize that would actually require you to talk to me right?

I said nothing, stupidly, but by some small miracle, she took my phone and punched in her number anyway. Not that I’d be calling, technically.  If you haven’t guessed, texting is much more my speed.


 

It turns out that I can hide behind texting the same way I can hide behind the llama suit.  Through text, I can be charismatic, funny, and on a good day, maybe even a little flirty.  And over the next few days, I’d never been more thankful for modern technology.  Once I gathered the courage to send off that first text, it wasn’t long before I scored a date with Tabitha.  How I did it, I’ll never know.

Of course, a real live date presented a new set of challenges, and since I’m told llama suits are inappropriate date attire (thanks, Brennan!), I knew I would have to go as Regular Tom.  Regular Awkward Tom.

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You know how they say that if you have stage fright, you should imagine the audience in their underwear?  I didn’t do that, but I did imagine MYSELF in the llama suit.

Whatever I did, I must have done something right, because today was my lucky day.

Maybe Tabitha just really needed a date for her aunt’s upcoming wedding.

Or…… maybe I really didn’t need the llama suit to be charming or funny.  Or maybe, somehow, Tabitha saw past my awkwardness.  Maybe she saw me, the real me, even outside of the llama suit.

I didn’t know, and quite honestly, I didn’t care.  All I knew was that she was hugging me, and I sure wasn’t going to go sticking my foot in my mouth now.

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When Aurora’s wedding rolled around a few weeks later, I put on my new suit and checked myself in the mirror.  No broccoli in the teeth, no noticeable nose hairs.  I sprayed on some cologne and drove to meet Tabitha.  Tabitha, my date.  My date, Tabitha. Because I was dating Tabitha.

When I saw her, my jaw hit the floor.  She was stunning in that little black dress, and I smoothed my shirt, suddenly self-conscious.

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The truth is I barely remember the wedding.  A whole bunch of people I didn’t know, pretty flowers, blushing bride, blah blah blah.  A couple of shots to soothe my nerves.  I’m sure I had a great time.  But the whole thing pales in comparison to what happened after the wedding.

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The cool thing about woohoo is that nobody expects you to talk.

The cool thing about woohoo with Tabitha is that… well, it’s woohoo.  WITH TABITHA.


 

Unfortunatley, I didn’t hear from Tabitha for awhile.  Days passed, and my texts (even the charming, funny ones!) went un-returned.  I agonized over what I did wrong – I must’ve SAID something after one too many shots, or maybe I was a let-down in the woohoo department?  When you’re quiet like I am, you don’t get much practice in that respect. Maybe she just didn’t feel the fireworks like I did.

I was mortified, but more importantly, I missed her.  I missed her smile, her no nonsense attitude, and the way she laughed at even my lamest jokes.  Tabitha was outspoken – she says what she means and she means what she says.  And that’s why her silence was so troublesome.

So when Tabitha showed up on my doorstep with a beach ball under her shirt… well, you can only imagine my surprise.

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It’s yours, she whispered. I’ve been afraid to tell you.

I heard baby head smells good. 

Here we go again, Tom.  Where is that llama suit when you need it, anyway?  Baby head smells good?  Seriously? How creepy can I be?  What I wanted to do was cheer, to yell, to do my favorite llama chant! To take her into my arms, to kiss her, to tell her what a wonderful family we would be.  To drop to a knee and propose on the spot.  But no, I’m over here talking about baby heads.  Right.

I cringed, and looked away, trying to force the words from my lips.  Why can’t I ever just say what I mean?  Why can’t the words just come out the way I think them? Why can’t I tell her how I feel?

But when I looked back at Tabitha, what I saw was the one thing I never expected.

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Don’t ask me why I’m doing this, she said.

She shook her head irritably, as if she didn’t quite understand it herself.

We barely know each other and of course there’s that whole not talking thing, which I swear is super annoying, Tom.  It’s not like I can’t do this baby thing on my own!  I’m a Hasslich woman, plummit, it’s in my blood!  But there’s something about you.  You’re weird, don’t get me wrong.  And you’re sure not an open book. But I have a funny feeling you’re one worth reading.  So how about it, Tom?  How about the three of us make a go of this as a family?

Of course, I said yes.  Well, I didn’t actually say yes. I nodded.  True to form.



 

So here I am now.

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Nontraditional wedding attire, that much is for sure.  But it’s the only way.  If there was ever a time to tell her how much I love her, it’s now.  It’s today, on our wedding day.  And as I walk down to meet her, standing there beautiful as ever, I can feel the power of the suit.

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What on earth are you wearing? she says, but she’s laughing.  She looks gorgeous, as always.

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You know it’s hard for me to express myself.  But when I’m in the suit, it’s so much easier.  And you deserve to hear it, Tabitha, today of all days.  I’ve loved you since the first day I met you, and I love you more every day.  I love that you accept me, for who I am, and that you allow me to be myself.  I love your sense of humor, and the way you’re always direct in the things you say.  I admire you for that, and I promise to try to tell you more often, that you’re amazing and beautiful and that you mean the world to me.   You’re my everything.  There is no one I’d rather spend the rest of my life with, and I’m honored to call you my wife.  My very own Mrs. Llama Suit!

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Now go take off that llama suit, Mr. Llama Suit, she said.  You won’t need to talk where we’re going!

I beamed at her, my beautiful wife.  I grabbed her hand, and headed towards our new home.  Toward our bedroom.

And I never said a word.

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Chapter Seventy Nine : Baby You’re A Firework

On the morning of her mother’s wedding, Coralie woke with a smile. The sun was shining through her bedroom window, a light breeze fluttering the curtains. It was a perfect day for a wedding. And a perfect morning for a run.

Coralie tied on her sneakers, crept down the stairs, and tiptoed out the front door. The kitchen was already a hub of activity – she could hear the photographer asking questions, Lola bouncing around the room in her childlike excitement, the clatter of plates as someone (Xander, probably) washed the dirty dishes. Aurora’s voice – serene and composed – floated above the chaos, happiness infused in every word.

Coralie closed the door quietly and jogged down the sidewalk. She was a bridesmaid, along with Lola, but her bridesmaid duties could wait an hour longer. She breathed in the fresh air as she ran, basking in the warmth of the sunlight.

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These were the things she missed while she’d been gone, the little things that filled her dreams of home, when she was stranded on Sixam where the night never ends.

But today, she was home.  And today was a good day.  She hummed to herself as she ran, full of cheerful energy.

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This is the best day ever, she thought. It doesn’t get better than this.

She scanned the horizon, enjoying the scenery, when her gaze settled on a vague, dark figure down the road. The hair on the back of her neck stood up and she stopped dead in her tracks. She was being watched – she could feel it. Coralie gasped, panicked – her stomach sank.

And then, the figure waved.

Cheerily waved. Right at her!

The figure began to move towards her, and the closer it came, the more familiar it looked. She squinted. Was that….? It was! She grinned, relieved, and laughed. But what was he doing here?

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Coralie: Kody Wells, what the plum are you doing here?!

She was grinning ear to ear. She’d met Kody back before the “incident,” at Roxas’s wedding to Beth Elstree. Their meeting had been brief, but Coralie smiled at the memory. There was a spark, maybe even a mild flirtation – but Kody was an Elstree cousin, and the Elstrees rarely left their hometown. Coralie had never expected to see him again – but by some stroke of fate, here he was in Newcrest!

Kody: I just moved in, actually.  Right down the street…

He gestured to the house he’d come from.

Coralie:  I just can’t believe it!  Your town is so….tight-knit, you know?

Kody: You know, seeing Beth so happy with Roxas like that – it lit a fire in me, I guess. Why should I let someone else plan my life for me? So…. here I am.

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Coralie reached out and touched his arm before she could stop herself. She blushed.

Coralie: Well, I’m really glad to see you, Kody. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Kody: Thanks, Coralie – that means a lot. It’s been a little lonely coming here alone, but I’m getting the hang of things.

Coralie had an idea. She paused, mulling it over in her head.

Coralie: Say, Kody – how would you like to come to my mother’s wedding with me? It’s tonight, so I know it’s short notice, but maybe you’d like to get out of the house a bit? Meet some new people, make some friends?

Kody: Go to a wedding? With you? Like….a date?

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Coralie cast her eyes to the ground, blushing furiously.

Coralie: Sure….yeah…like a date.

She looked up at him hopefully, and Kody grinned.

Kody: Abso-plummin-lately!  It’s a date, then!

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As the hour drew near, Aurora studied herself in the mirror, smoothing her gown and fixing her veil.

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It was a surreal feeling, seeing herself like this – all dressed in white, the epitome of the blushing bride. Aurora never imagined this for herself – she never played “wedding” like the other little girls or dreamed of color schemes or centerpieces. She never wished on a star for some fairytale love, or for her knight in shining armor. It wasn’t that Aurora didn’t believe in love – it just never seemed to fit with her vision of the future. True love was for Enrique and Emmeline, for Roxas and Beth, even for Addie and Brennan. It was for Sylvie and Abe, and Milo and Juliana, for her grandmother, for her sons, and hopefully one day for her daughters. Love was for the people she loved, and Aurora drew her own happiness from theirs.

And she was happy. There were so many types of love, and Aurora had been blessed to know so very many of them. She’d experienced the vulnerability of motherly love, and the sheer, boundless devotion of sisterly love. There’d been the harsh complexity of her love for her mother, and finally, the undeniably passionate love she felt for Palani.

But still, as she gazed into the mirror, her reflection now blurred by the fine netting of her veil, Aurora wondered if she was making the right choice. She was a whole, happy person long before Palani came along – was it really fair to marry him, when she didn’t need him?

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Aurora shook her head and smiled at herself.

Cold feet, she thought.

But why? It was true – she didn’t need Palani. But she loved him. And wasn’t that better? To marry a man, not out of need, not to make her life whole or to fulfill some silly girlhood fantasy, but because deep down, she loved him? Wanted him?

Aurora grinned.  She wasn’t marrying Palani because she needed him.  She was marrying him because as wonderful as her life already was, Palani made it better.

Her heart flip flopped in her chest as she looked at the clock – it was time to marry the man she loved.  The man she didn’t need to complete her, but who she loved completely, with her whole heart.



The guests congregated at the church, abuzz with excitement and eagerly anticipating the arrival of the bride.

Palani was dashing in his tuxedo, though he found the suit too restrictive for his taste. Growing up in the Amazon, he hated wearing a shirt at all, let alone a cummerbund and tie! But such was the tradition in this part of the world, and Palani was determined to give Aurora the fairytale wedding she deserved.

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Coralie graciously worked the crowd, welcoming guests and cracking goofy jokes. As a bridesmaid, it was her duty to keep everyone comfortable until the ceremony began. She said hello to her brothers and her sisters-in-law, and made Beau laugh with one of her infamously bad impressions.

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She said hello to every friend, relative and random plus one, until she could delay the inevitable no more. It was time to greet Addie and Brennan. She plastered a smile to her face.

Coralie: Addie! Brennan! How good of you to come, lovely to see you both, of course…

She faltered. What the plum was she supposed to say to these two? Hi, Addie, you stole my first love right out from under me and I’ll never forgive you? Hi Brennan, I’m mortified by your rejection and you broke my fragile teenage heart?

But in that moment, Coralie realized that neither of those things were actually true anymore. She’d forgiven them both already, even if she hadn’t realized it until now. Addie had changed, any fool could see that. And Brennan had never been for her in the first place.

Coralie turned to face Brennan.

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Coralie: It really is good to see you both. You have a good girl here, but I’m sure you know that already!  But, Brennan, would you excuse us for a moment? My cousin and I have a little catching up to do…

Coralie laughed out loud and grasped her cousin’s hands tightly in her own.  As the two women chatted animatedly, Brennan spotted Tabitha across the room, pleased to see that she’d brought a date.

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He wandered over to greet her.

Brennan: Good to see you, Tab! Looks like things are going well with Tom, then?

He looked at Tom, who only smiled agreeably before sidling up to the bar. Tabitha turned to Brennan.

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Tabitha: He sure doesn’t say much. But there are worse things than a guy who knows when to keep his trap shut.

Brennan guffawed.

Brennan: Well, you two look great. Have fun! And don’t forget to tip your local matchmaker!

And with a wink, he was off.  He’d just spotted Addie when the unmistakable chords of the traditional wedding march began to play.

The bride was in the building, and it was time for the ceremony to begin.

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After the ceremony, the real fun began.

Guests tore up the dance floor…

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Cousins caught up over drinks…

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Sisters documented lasting memories…

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And while one date went south…

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And as the reception drew to a close, Aurora took a step back to take it all in.  She watched as Lola did the robot, and as Coralie flirted with her date.  She saw Tabitha scowling at Tom, but Aurora smirked – Tabitha wasn’t fooling anyone.

It might be our wedding, Aurora thought excitedly, But sparks are flying for more than one Hasslich lady tonight!

True love or fizzy juice-fueled fling, it didn’t matter. Her family was happy – and so was Aurora.

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The next morning…..

Tabitha proved Aurora right…

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And Coralie came down with a mystery illness…

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She pushed the hair out of her face.  Was she sick? She certainly wasn’t hung over, she’d only had one drink! Or maybe there was something in the food? Obviously this couldn’t be morning sickness – she’d never even woohoo’ed before!  Even her date last night went no further than a sweet kiss goodnight on the front doorstep. There was no way she was pregnant.

Right?  Right.  Must be food poisoning.  Or maybe the stomach flu.

Coralie stood and stared at herself in the mirror.  She pictured Kody’s face and sighed dreamily, remembering the kiss they’d shared before he walked her home.

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What a gentleman, she thought, stars in her eyes.  I just really hope I’m not contagious!


 

My notes:

First, a big thank you to Sabreene for allowing me to introduce Beth and Merri’s cousin Kody into my story!  Kody first appeared at Roxas and Beth’s wedding over on her WordPress, Distractedly Daydreaming.  If you haven’t checked it out, GO NOW!  It’s a fantastic, well-written story with great characters and a whole lot of heart!  As a sidenote, Kody is supposed to have strawberry blonde hair.  I forgot to download the CC before playing out the wedding, so don’t be surprised if he turns up next time as a strawberry blonde…

In other news, Generation Five is upon us!

Back In Generation Two, we did an heir vote to determine the Generation 3 heiress. I really loved the way it turned out and how it forced me to go in a direction I didn’t plan on. So I’ve decided that from here on out, every other heiress, will be decided collectively by vote – starting now!

Usually my rule is to wait until the youngest eligible heiress is a teen – but in this case I’m really liking the element of the unknown. Is Coralie pregnant? And what will Lola’s teen spin bring?

Stay tuned…. The heir vote poll will be posted shortly!


 

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Chapter Seventy Eight – The New Normal

When Aurora brought the antidote to Coralie the following morning, her daughter was still sleeping soundly.  Aurora hesitated, as a pang of doubt shot sharply through her gut. What if she’d been wrong to trust Niko? What if the antidote didn’t work after all?  But there was no use in waiting – it was time to find out, for better or for worse.

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Aurora administered the antidote, carefully studying Coralie’s still face, watching, waiting for a flicker of movement – for some sign that the strange elixir had done its job.  It felt like hours – in reality, just minutes – before Coralie stirred. She groaned, her eyes flickering open and adjusting to the morning light.

When her gaze landed on her mother, her eyes lit up, and she launched herself at Aurora, throwing her arms around her neck.

Coralie: It worked! Our plan worked! Oh Mom, I’m so glad to be home! Where’s Niko? Is he okay? Have you seen Jaz?

Aurora sighed in relief. The antitode had worked – just like Niko said it would.  Her daughter’s obvious kinship with Niko and his wife put her at ease, validating Niko’s story and erasing Aurora’s lingering doubts about his character.

Aurora: Niko is fine, honey. We met him last night, but he had to leave to find his wife.

Coralie’s eyes widened in surprise, and Aurora didn’t miss the concern reflected there. Jazlyn’s separation had clearly not been a part of their plan.

Coralie: What do you mean, find her? Jaz was supposed to be with us…

Aurora patted her shoulder reassuringly.

Aurora: Its going to be alright, Coralie. He’ll find her. And one day, we’re going to help him find his mother, too. But for now I want you to relax. You’ve been through a lot.  You have to recover –

Coralie nodded resolutely – she agreed one hundred percent.  When the time was right, they would help Niko find his family.  But she knew that for the time being, the most important thing – the only thing – to do was to lay low.  They’d talked about this part, she and Niko.  The aftermath.  And they’d agreed – the only way to proceed would be to resume life as usual.  Coralie was absolutely overjoyed to be home – and she was all too happy to stick the plan, especially when the plan was normalcy.

She threw the blankets off of her, ignoring her mother’s insistence that she lay back down.

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Coralie: I’ve been gone for – how long have I been gone? I don’t even know! I’ve missed out on everything, Mom!  All day, every day, all I did was wonder what was happening at home!  How you were, how Sebastian and Axel were.  The last thing I want to do is relax! Tell me everything I missed!

Aurora: I don’t know, sweetie – shouldn’t we talk about…. about what happened?

Coralie shook her head.

Coralie: All I know is that Niko and Jazlyn took care of me. They were good to me, and they brought me home. Other than that, I don’t remember. I don’t know how I got there, or why, or what happened before Niko. All I know is I’m home now, back where I’m supposed to be, and I want to be with my family.

And so, over waffles and coffee, Aurora told Coralie about about her engagement, about Axel’s new girlfriend and Sebastian’s new bachelor pad. She told her about her brother Xander, and her baby sister Lola.  Coralie grinned.

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Coralie: I have TWO new siblings?! And you’re engaged?!

Aurora blushed.

Aurora: A new sister, and a new brother, yes – it’s a lot to take in, I know, sweetheart. But at least now you won’t be forced into the heirship, right?

Coralie: Forced? I never felt forced – why would you say that?

Aurora sighed in relief.

Aurora: We thought you ran away. Because you didn’t want to be the heir…

Coralie: Mom! I would never leave my family by choice! I’m not exactly sure how I feel about being heir, but I would never run from it.

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She smiled broadly and changed the subject, eyes wide with excitement.

Coralie: So…. Where are these new siblings of mine?

Aurora: Well Lola is upstairs sleeping, and Xander is at school, of course – it’s Thursday morning, in case you were wondering. But tonight is a special occasion – it’s a triple birthday. Axel is becoming a young adult, Xander is becoming a teenager, and baby Lola – well, she won’t be a baby much longer. We’ll just have a small family dinner, though, honey, so don’t worry. I don’t want to overwhelm you – we’ll just keep things low-key.

Coralie: Low-key? Low-key my plum! I’m back, and I want to celebrate!  I want to throw a party of epic proportions!

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Aurora laughed.  Her daughter’s spirit was unbreakable.

Aurora: Well in that case, I better get to work! And maybe get an extra birthday cake – we may have missed your young adult birthday, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate it, together.

With that, Aurora scampered off to start the party plans, and Coralie bounded up the stairs to meet her baby sister.

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Later that night, friends and family alike descended on the Hasslich household.  Sebastian and Beau were in attendance of course, as well as Isaac, Auggie, Addie, Rosemary, and of course, Peyton Holiday-Scott.  There was an unmistakable air of excitement and curiosity surrounding Coralie’s return. But Aurora was adamant – tonight was to celebrate the birthdays – not to turn her romantic, goofball, lone-wolf oldest daughter into a spectacle.

 

Lola was the first to age up, catapulting from her crib just in time for the festivities. She had just enough time to snap a selfie with her big sister before Coralie ran upstairs to change for the party.

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Being a geek, her first inclination was to disappear behind the computer screen, but the excitement of the party was too much for the bouncy little girl to bear, and Lola soon found herself in the thick of the action.

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Xander was next, transitioning as gracefully into his teenage years as he had transitioned into childhood.  As a teenager, he had acquired the neat trait.  Combined with his bookworm tendencies, Xander had grown into an intelligent and responsible young man.

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But he was a teenager, through and through, promptly pulling out his cell phone for a selfie for his new Simbook profile picture.

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Finally, it was Axel’s turn.  He blew out the candles, spinning into a young adulthood full of creativity, snobbery, and laziness.

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And as the party went on around him, Axel made a beeline for his love – his Peyton. If he’d learned anything from his sister’s disappearance, it was that life was short, and anything can happen.  He had a ring in his pocket and he was more than prepared to use it.  Little did he know, his girlfriend had other plans.

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Peyton: I love you, Axel. I know we’re young, and I know that the future is never certain. But I don’t want to waste a minute not being with you. This is right – we both know it – so why wait? Will you marry me?

His answer was obvious, of course, and after a round of congratulations from their friends and family, they dashed upstairs (to his mother’s bed, no less!) for a private celebration of their own.

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Downstairs, the party continued and Coralie climbed into the hot tub beside her mother. She turned to Aurora and smiled knowingly, squeezing her hand gently.

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Coralie: So what about your wedding, mom? Why wait?




 

Note:  I didn’t want to break the flow of the story to include the CAS screens for Xander and Lola.  I thought they were better suited here at the end, just for reference in case anyone is interested.

Lola:

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Xander:

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AND, just for fun: if Xander had been XenaAlthough I doubt her chest would’ve been that perky had she actually been born a Hasslich girl.

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Chapter Seventy Seven – Without A Trace

“Coralie!” Aurora screamed, throwing her arms around her daughter. Tears streamed down her face in rivers, hands trembling uncontrollably with shock. “I thought I’d never see you again…”

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Aurora felt the surge of gratitude, the flood of relief as it washed over her in waves. Her shaking hands gripped her daughter with surprising force.  She’d lost Coralie once – but here she was now, flesh and blood, so close that Aurora could smell her hair, hold her hand.  This time, Aurora was never letting go.

She sobbed, and reached up under the dark hood, but as she looked into her daughter’s blank, emotionless eyes, Aurora’s heart stopped. Time stopped. Something was wrong with Coralie.  Very wrong.

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Aurora froze, suddenly aware that they weren’t alone. She turned on the stranger, fierce and protective. When she spoke her voice sounded strange – shrill, animal, and increasingly louder with every word.

Aurora: What have you done to her?

She lunged at him, anger and hatred coursing hot through her veins. He’d done something terrible to her daughter, she was sure – a million awful scenarios ran through her head.  Her fists made contact with his hulking form, but the stranger was bigger and stronger and he quickly restrained her. He clapped a hand roughly over her mouth.

“Shush, woman,” he hissed. “Get yerself inside!”

He didn’t wait for her to answer, instead shouldering his way through the door, pulling Coralie and Aurora forcefully in behind him. Aurora dove for for the baseball bat, her mind racing – her baby upstairs, her family in danger…

She raised the bat and faced him. The man only exhaled heavily, shaking his head, frustration and sadness etched into his face.

“I’m not gonna hurt ya, woman. Yeesh. Just put the bat down now, ya hear?”

Aurora hesitated, unsure. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Coralie wandering aimlessly through the living room. She seemed lost. Her eyes were empty – unseeing. She hadn’t spoken or reacted, or even made eye contact. Coralie was here…but she wasn’t.

“What have you done to my daughter?” Aurora growled, waving the bat in the air.

The stranger moved toward her cautiously, slowly.

He came closer, one step at a time, and looked her dead in the eyes. His voice was soft, gentle. He put a hand up, steadied the bat with his hand until Aurora lowered it.

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“My name is Niko,” he said. Slowly. Calmly. “Niko Hasslich. I’ve come to bring your daughter home.”

Aurora eyed him suspiciously. Niko Hasslich? Who was this man? Could he really be who he said he was?  It wasn’t possible….. or was it?  And what did he have to do with Coralie?

There was a cacophony on the stairs as Palani rushed to her side, fear and adrenaline coursing through his body, with Tabitha at his heels.  Palani charged, overtaking Niko in one swift motion.

Aurora: Wait, Palani! Let him go. I want to hear him out.

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She turned to Niko, face set in cautious resignation.

Aurora: If you’re lying, I’ll know. Now tell me – who are you and what did you do to my daughter?

 

Coralie was sitting at the computer desk now, staring intently at the blank screen.

Niko: I didn’t do anything to your daughter! I brought her home…I smuggled her out, hence the disguises, ya see? I’m green, sure, but I’m sure I’m no alien –

Aurora: Home from where?

Niko: From Sixam, of course –

Aurora: And you say you’re a Hasslich?

Niko: Niko Hasslich at your service, ma’am.  My mother is Elphie Hasslich…

Aurora bristled.

Aurora: LIES! Elphie Hasslich has been dead for over a hundred years! Her son would be long dead by now!

Niko’s eyes flew open.  Was that fear she saw on his face?  Was he afraid of them?

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Niko: Time is different on Sixam! I swear!  It’s…slower, somehow. My mother is still alive, my brothers and sisters too… at least I hope they are… Ask Coralie when she wakes up! She’ll tell you everything!

Aurora: Wakes up? What do you mean by that?

Niko: Coralie’ll be fine, I promise ya that. We made a plan, her and I. A plan to escape, to get back here… But I had to drug her – she was afraid she’d get nervous and blow our cover. She took it willingly, afore you go accusing me, and the antidote is in a pocket in that hideous robe she’s got on….She can take it in the morning, after she gets some sleep.  She’ll be good as new.

Aurora: Escape? You mean….you’re telling me Coralie didn’t run away?

Niko: No, ma’am. You’re daughter was taken. Just like my ma, and my sisters after that. It’s a mystery to me, why they took ’em exactly, except they wanted to destroy my ma’s legacy. First they took my ma – we thought she ran away, like you thought your Coralie did. But then Philomena disappeared – she was the heir, of course.  And after that they came for the rest of the girls – my little sister Luna, and Bianca and Maisie too.

He hung his head despondently, and Aurora saw that he was fighting back tears. He pulled a worn and shredded photo from his pocket and laid it on the coffee table before them :

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(Left to right: Luna, Bianca, Niles, Niko, Elphie, Maisie, Nolan, Philomena)

Niko: This is us, see….it was so many years ago – before I lost them all. We all should be dead by now, together in the Netherworld, with a legacy to carry our name, just the way my mother planned.

He paused, shaking his head.

Niko: Maybe they are dead, I don’t know.  My brothers – well, we went together to Sixam to bring them all home. My wife too – she wouldn’t let me go without her, stubborn as she is. We split up, to find them faster, but I never saw my brothers again… And my sisters, and my ma….I searched high and low, but they were gone without a trace…

Niko signed heavily with sad nostalgia. And when Aurora looked into his eyes, she found she believed him.

Aurora:  I’m sorry about your family.  But what does all of this have to do with Coralie?

Niko: She’s a Hasslich, of course. I reckon it has everything to do with her, and with you, too, for that matter. I found her wandering around in the Quill Fields on her own. I felt bad fer yer girl.  She didn’t know where she was, or how she’d gotten there.  So I brought ‘er back to my wife. My Jazlyn – she’s a smart one. She’d been trying to invent a wormhole for – what, years?  I don’t know how long.  She wanted to go home, and understandably so. But I never wanted to leave without my family.  It was a point of contention between us, in truth. But when Coralie came – well she and Jaz get along like gangbusters. And Coralie must’ve learned a thing or two from her auntie – Sylvie, was it? – because when those two put their heads together, next thing you know the plum wormhole is up and running. All we had to do then was get our disguises and sneak through the thing without any of them noticing.

Aurora frowned.

Aurora: So…..you left your family behind?

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Niko: I don’t rightly know if there’s anyone left to leave anymore…

Aurora remembered something Sylvie had said many years ago. Something she’d brushed off as fantasy, the result of an active imagination.

Aurora:  Niko – a long time ago my Aunt Emmeline was involved in a rocket ship crash. The family didn’t talk about it much, but I could swear my sister said something about Elphie being involved. We thought it was funny at the time – we always thought Elphie’s disappearance was just a myth…. Something about a woman on the radio who said she was Elphie – and that she needed help.

The green flush drained from Niko’s face.

Niko: Then there’s hope, however small. Aurora, I need to go find my wife. Take care of Coralie and make sure she takes the antidote in the morning. I’ll be in touch.

He was walking out the door.

Aurora: But what do we do now?

Niko: Just keep your head down. Everything will be fine. They don’t even know we’re gone, so we’re not in any imminent danger. But if you see anything strange – anything out of the ordinary – call me immediately.

And then he was gone.

Aurora turned to Palani.

Aurora:  We have to help him find his family, Palani.  Our family!  I don’t understand it, but I believe him – and if it’s all true, then that makes him family.  We can’t just abandon him after he brought Coralie home to us.

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Palani:  Okay.  I promise – we will do everything we can to help him.  But you heard what he said, Aurora – for now, all we can do is continue our lives as usual.  Coralie is home. Let’s just be grateful for that for the time being, and take the rest as it comes.

Aurora knew he was right.  She needed to help Niko find Elphie.  She could never repay him for bringing her daughter home safely – helping him in his time of need was the least she could do – but for now, all she could do was tuck her daughter into bed, kiss her forehead, and count her blessings.  Her daughter was home.

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Chapter Seventy Six: Silent Night

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.

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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.

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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.

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Interestingly, Xander’s skin tone changed once he entered childhood.  He here is in CAS:

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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.

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Peyton – like her cousin Tabitha Piper-Hasslich – was the granddaughter of Dean Holiday-Scott.  No matter – Axel was smitten.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!


 

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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.

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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!

 

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