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The Bachelor Experiment : Day Sixteen

After Elimination the night before, Corey immediately wandered off to bed, feeling a mixture of emotions.  He was sad to have let Roskva go – he would miss his new friend – but also sure that the decision he made was the right one.  And as he drifted off to sleep, he thought of the two women remaining, and wondered how he ever would choose between them.

Shrewdly, Namika suspected that Corey might feel this way, and hoped to give him a little push in the right direction – the “right direction” being her direction, of course.   And so she waited until she heard his snores from the hallway, and crept (as usual) into bed beside him as he slept.

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She slipped gingerly under the covers, careful not to wake him. Her nightly “bonding ritual” had worked for her (more or less) so far, and as she touched her chilly toes to his warm feet, she felt certain it would only bring them closer.

Meanwhile, somewhere far away in the great expanse of the mansion, Jessamine also climbed into bed, none the wiser to her third wheel status.

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Oblivious to the shenanigans going on two floors above her, she dreamed peacefully of what the next few days would bring.


 

On the morning of Day Sixteen, Corey is the first to wake.  He is startled at first to find Namika in his bed, but truthfully, he’s gotten used to her night-time company.  He looks down at her pretty face, sleeping peacefully, and smiles.

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Nonetheless, there are only two days left in this competition, and today, Corey will leave Namika behind.

The next two days will consist of 24-hour overnight dates with each of the remaining women.  This time, all bets (okay, most bets) are ON – woohoo is now allowed, and the “ask to be girlfriend” interaction can be initiated by Corey only, IF he rolls a whim to do so.  The only thing that is still not allowed is engagement.

Since Corey wakes up with a whim to flirt with Jessamine, I take this as a sign that her date should come first. He immediately flips into a confident mood, perhaps working himself up to his impending date, and goes off in search of breakfast.

Namika rises soon after, and she has rolled two whims for Corey – one to “be friendly” and one to “flirt.”  But today is not her day (my goal is to fill Corey and Jessamine’s needs and immediately send them to their destination), and besides, Namika is feeling energized and heads directly for the treadmill.  She jumps on and begins to run in a show of feigned nonchalance – no way in hell will she let anyone see her nervousness, or her heaven forbid, her jealousy.

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When Jessamine finally wakes, she is in a flirty mood, but it lasts only seconds (wonder what she was dreaming about!).  She is feeling happy, at least, and I send her off to tend to her needs bars before her overnight date will begin.  This includes giving her a new outfit (Namika will get one, too), since I really like styling the women and decide this last date should be their last chance to put their best foot forward.

I send Corey to the computer to plan his date with Jessamine, and the two of them are promptly swept away to the surprise destination.

Alone in the house, Namika lets out a groan of dismay.

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The stress has finally caught up with her, and she breaks out in a rash of unsightly hives. She scratches at herself, desperate to soothe the incessant itching, but all she can do is pray that it’s gone before tomorrow.


 

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When Corey and Jessamine arrive at their destination (Chinese-Asian Village by Zita1966), Jessamine stares in wonder at the beauty and charm of their surroundings.  She loves the outdoors, but the first thing she wants to do is hug Corey (autonomously), and when he heads directly inside, she follows him there.

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They chit-chat a bit (gloominess, dollhouses…you know, the usual), and Corey rolls a whim to kiss Jessamine.  I order him to initiate a kiss, but first I send them outside to take advantage of the beautiful scenery of this location.

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Corey doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet, and he goes in for the kill right away.  To his (and my!) surprise, Jessamine shoves him off in disgust!  I think she’s still mad at him for the Roskva incident, or maybe she’s just playing it up a little bit.  If we know Jessamine by now, we know how she loves drama.

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Poor Corey is humiliated, but Jessamine seems oblivious.  She whips out her camera to document his embarrassment, and I wonder what kind of sociopath this girl really is.

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Jessamine quickly moves on, laying down to take in some cloudgazing (solo) and Corey just watches her awkwardly.

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But when Jessamine stands back up, Corey can see from the look on her face that she’s feeling inspired – and now, so is he.  Corey decides to take another chance on that kiss, that maybe she’ll be more receptive after pointing out the heart-shaped clouds in the sky.

And luckily, he’s right.

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By now Jessamine is hungry, and Corey’s fun meter is declining a bit.  They both head inside, her to find lunch, and him to the television.  After she eats, Jessamine settles into the couch, sliding into the spot just beside him.  She opens – strangely – with a joke about divorce.

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Corey doesn’t make too much of it, though, because he laughs and rolls a whim to compliment Jessamine on her appearance.  It seems her new outfit has elicited the desired response.

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Jessamine, feeling flattered and sufficiently adored, rolls a whim to embrace Corey.  He’s back in her good graces now, it seems.

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But Corey needs to use the bathroom (terrible timing, Corey!), and Jessamine finds her way to the computer (located in the master bedroom) in his absence.  She must do some major soul-searching while she stares at that computer screen, because she rolls a whim to “ask Corey to be boyfriend.”  Ironically, Corey has rolled a similar whim – to “ask someone to go steady,” but without a specific name, Jessamine is plum out of luck.

Corey does roll a whim to hug her, though, and so I send him to initiate the friendly hug interaction.  In the bedroom.  As soon as Corey sees that bed, he flips into a flirty mood.

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Corey takes this as a sign.  He (autonomously) whispers seductively to her.  No coincidence, I think, that they’re standing two feet from the bed.

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But instead of inviting her to join him between the sheets, Corey lays it on thick with the romance.  He’s a gentleman, this one.

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In the middle of this cutesy little interaction, they’re startled by the ringing of a cell phone.  Corey feels his buzzing in his pocket, and impatiently glances at the screen, and grimaces.

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Anything important? Jessamine asks.

Not at all, he replies.  It’s no one.

He shoves the phone back in his pocket.  Now, back to the task at hand.

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But the spell, for the moment at least, has been broken.  Jessamine is still feeling inspired from her cloudgazing earlier, and enthuses animatedly about the outdoors.  She’s talking about her favorite kind of flower when suddenly, she sways, dizziness overtaking her.

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Corey steadies her, concerned, and asks if she’s okay.  Maybe it’s the stress, like Namika, or maybe she’s coming down with something, but there’s no way Jessamine is going to ruin this date because of a little cold.  She squares her shoulders and smiles broadly.  And then, on a whim, she asks him to join her outside for a little stargazing.

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Afterward, Jessamine rolls a whim to be mischievous with Corey, and so (naturally) she dares him to streak.  What’s the harm in getting a little peek of the goods? she thinks.  And Corey, who is no stranger to exhibitionism, strips down to his birthday suit and goes for a leisurely run.

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Jessamine, watching from afar, thinks she could do worse.  A lot worse.

But as she heads back inside, Jessamine feels a bit faint again.

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She gathers herself yet again. She doesn’t want Corey to see her like this, and sure enough, by the time he rejoins her, she’s back to her normal self.

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To really drive the point home, she even breaks into song, serenading a smitten Corey, who listens happily with stars in his eyes.

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But when time comes for bed, Jessamine doesn’t head for the master bedroom.

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Leave ’em wanting more, that’s her motto.  She climbs into a twin bed, alone, leaving no room for misinterpretation.

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She closes her eyes, but she doesn’t fall asleep.  Instead, she waits.  She waits until she hears the door creak open, until she hears his heavy footsteps on the wooden floor, and the rustle of the sheets as he climbs into the twin bed beside her.

She smiles, and she’s right to.  Because Corey has chosen to sleep, his broad frame crammed into a tiny twin bed, not to sleep with her, but to merely sleep next to her.

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The following morning, Jessamine wakes first.  She jumps out of bed, and tries not to wake Corey, but he hears the squeak of the bed, and blinks away the sleep.

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She looks beautiful, he thinks.  Especially in those cheeky little underwear!  He immediately rolls a whim to compliment her.

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There are only a few hours left in this date, and Jessamine intends to make it count.  She sure loves being admired, because once Corey has sufficiently complimented her beauty, Jessamine rolls a whim to embrace him.

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Corey flirts autonomously, and Jessamine compliments his appearance, telling him she likes his taste in clothes.

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They chat happily until the gnawing in their hungry bellies gets the better of them, and they take off in separate directions in search of breakfast – Corey wants pancakes, while Jessamine is in the mood for shish kebabs.

They sit down to breakfast together, however, and they chat and flirt as they eat.

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After breakfast, there are only two hours before Jessamine and Corey will return to the mansion.  Corey makes his way outside, where he hopes to take in some last-minute cloudgazing, but Jessamine has other ideas (I notice there’s a “kiss Corey” interaction in her queue).

Corey settles into the grass, but Jessamine beckons.

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With only minutes to spare, she leads him all the way up to the third floor – to the master bedroom with the double bed.

It’s here that she kisses him, and when she does, she melts.

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His kiss elicits a physical reaction – Jessamine is on fire, her skin burns to the touch.  She is thinking about rocket ship woohoo, but glances sideways at the bed and decides that it will do.

She pulls away from Corey, and watches as concern registers in his eyes.

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Jessamine looks down at her arms, covered in spots, and realizes – she wasn’t on fire.  She’s sick, and the bug she’s been fighting has caught up with her.  Embarrassed, she frowns, but Corey just tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, and whispers, Come on, now.  It’s time we get you home.


 

 

 

 

 

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The Bachelor Experiment : Day Four

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On the morning of Day Three, Corey wakes up and stands at the window of his third floor suite.  The view from here is fantastic, but if he’s learned anything over the past three days, it’s that this is nothing compared to the view downstairs.  These ladies sure do like to eat breakfast in their underwear, and Corey decides that this morning, he’s going to join the party.

He brushes his teeth and heads to the grill wearing his heart boxers.  If any of these women are feeling ambivalent towards him, they won’t be for much longer.  If there’s one thing Corey knows, it’s that ladies love heart boxers and hot dogs for breakfast.

Corey is manning the grill when he looks up to see Nakima on the other side of the window.  Unsurprisingly, she’s wearing a red lacy negligee.  And she’s staring at his hot dog.

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Corey blushes and looks down, and then he realizes….. Nakima is staring at an actual hot dog.  She must be hungry.  Still, Corey feels self-conscious, and he pulls on a pair of pants before taking the hot dogs to the table, where Nakima meets him with a plate of macaroni and cheese.

So she wasn’t looking at a hot dog after all…

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The two eat in companionable silence.  Or maybe it’s an awkward silence, I can’t really tell.  They don’t seem particularly comfortable with one another, but Corey can’t take his eyes off her.  Namika won’t meet his gaze, but maybe she just can’t look him in the eye after he caught her staring at his hot dog hot dog.

But when Paige catches wind of their private rendezvous, she makes a beeline to the table.  She’ll put an end to this little interlude real quick.

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Subtlety is not Paige’s strong suit.  She shoots a venomous glare at Namika, willing her to leave, but Namika is not so easily intimidated.  She stands her ground.  Even if she can’t speak to Corey right now, sitting with him in silence is better than not sitting with him at all.

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But Paige’s tactics backfire, and Corey politely excuses himself from the table.  This strange hot dog breakfast has only gotten stranger.

Besides, he has arrangements to make for today’s competition.

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Corey heads out to the yard and sets up an easel for each of the women.  He’s known them only three days so far, and yet Elimination #2 is on the horizon already.  Corey needs a better understanding of who these women are – their hopes and their dreams, what makes them tick – before the next elimination.  And what better way to do that, than through art?  Corey is sure that the paintings will provide him with the information he needs to make the right decision.  It’s also a fair way to decide who to ask on a one-on-one date tomorrow.

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The ladies join him in the yard and immediately get to work.  But one easel is decidedly empty.

Paige is incensed after her run-in with Namika, and she doesn’t take well to being summoned this way.  Men chase Paige, not the other way around.  She fumes in the kitchen and waits for Corey to come after her.  Only then will she join the others.

But Paige waits.  And she waits.  And she waits…

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to no avail.  Paige bristles.  She deserves better than this, but she won’t lose to these brainless bimbos.  She has a competition to win.

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Paige saunters up to the empty easel like she meant to be late.  She rolls her eyes at Namika’s icy glare, and takes a moment to scope out the competition.  Amateurs, the lot of them – nothing to worry about.  Paige scoffs – Colleen even has to copy off of Namika.  Not an original thought in that head, that’s for sure.

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One by one, the contestants begin to finish their paintings, and I take the opportunity to fulfill the whims they’ve rolled for Corey.

Colleen tells a funny story….

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Jessamine tells a joke…

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And Sandy gets friendly.

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Corey is definitely not thinking friendly thoughts when he watches Sandy walk away!  He gets the woohoo rocket ship thought bubble, and I just know his dirty mind is running away with him.

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But this is a best painting contest, not a best butt contest, and so Corey assesses the artwork.  This has to be fair, so the most valuable painting will be the winner.

Colleen’s done an okay job with her teapot painting, and it’s worth $94.  But Corey saw her copy from Namika, and while that’s not exactly against the rules, it certainly isn’t in the spirit of the competition.  Colleen’s painting tells Corey more about Namika than it does about Colleen, and leaves Corey wondering – if Colleen is so willing to steal ideas, what else is she willing to steal?

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Jessamine was in a flirty mood at the time I designated for the contest, and I decided she should paint accordingly.  I think this method worked well.  In future contests, any contestant whose current mood has an associated action will be instructed to use that action (i.e., an energized contestant in treadmill contest will use “energized workout”).

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Jessamine did an okay job with her painting, and it’s worth $120.  Corey laughs when he sees that she’s labeled the cats as “you” and “me,” and he blushes a little at the implication.

Corey moves on to Namika’s painting next – the original teapot.  He looks for metaphors and allusions, and decides that Namika is the cardinal – wild and free.  While the painting is merely okay, it is worth $107, and Corey decides he likes its message.  He has a soft spot for a free spirit.

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Next in line is Paige’s okay landscape painting, worth $88.  Corey looks up and sees that Paige has painted the view from her easel.  The painting lacks creativity and originality, and Corey is less enthralled with Paige’s painting than he is with Paige herself.

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Sandy’s painting, however, is more whimsical.  Corey isn’t sure if it’s a snail or an alien, but he likes how it highlights Sandy’s playful side.  The painting is worth $97 and is of okay quality.

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The last painting is Roskva’s, and Corey is highly impressed.  She’s done okay work, but at $134, Roskva’s painting is the clear winner.  Corey thinks her use of color and light are highly symbolic.  Just don’t ask him why.

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Corey proclaims Roskva the winner, and Colleen offers her roommate her congratulations.

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But it’s only when Roskva walks away that Colleen lets her true feelings show.  From the look on her face, I’d say she has plans for that painting.  Destruction or thievery, I’ll never tell.

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For the rest of the day, the contestants are left to their own devices.  I decide to up the ante, and I direct Corey to initiate one flirt interaction with each of the ladies.

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The women are all receptive to his advances, but Jessamine (our resident drama-queen-attention-monger) falls apart at the sight of Corey flirting with Paige.   How predictable.  Keep it together, girl.

At this point, Corey rolls a whim to skinny dip.  I think he’s hoping for Jessamine and/or Paige to follow along, but they’re not having any of it. I won’t deny him this small indulgence, though, and so I direct him to skinny dip on his own.

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Namika is dancing nearby, and it’s clear she notices Corey, because his face appears in her thought bubble.  Just this morning, she blushed at the sight of his boxers, but Namika is  feeling frisky tonight. She gets a good eye full. Namika knows exactly what his hot dog looks like now!

When Corey finishes skinny dipping, he heads straight back to the living room to find Jessamine and Paige.  What he doesn’t do is put his clothes on.

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Maybe he’s been drinking juice behind my back, because his inhibitions sure are low.  He walks his bare butt through the house and basically does the Naked Man for Jessamine.

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Jessamine seems uncomfortable, and needless to say, she’s unimpressed with his shenanigans.  Paige, on the other hand, is happy to indulge him and his hot dog.

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But Corey’s stomach is growing, and there’s a cheeseburger somewhere calling his name.  All this flirting sure has worked up an appetite.

So Corey goes outside to fire up his handy dandy grill…

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and promptly starts a fire.

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Luckily, our bachelor is brave and quick, and he sees this as an opportunity to demonstrate his heroism.

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Roskva’s squeamish side takes over, and she lets everyone know how disgusted she is by fire.  But still, she’s glad for Corey’s safety.  She rolls a whim to be friendly with him, and since since she gets the “house” thought bubble, I have her “boast about family” to fulfill the whim.

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Roskva thinks this is going well.  Corey wants a family, and she has one!  A perfect match, she thinks.

But this is when Corey rolls a whim to flirt with Jessamine.  This is the first time that anyone in the mansion has rolled a romantic whim that is aimed at a specific housemate.

Feeling confident from extinguishing the fire, Corey also rolls a (non-specific) whim to use a bold pick-up line.  Since both whims pop up at the same time, I send Corey to use a bold pick-up line on Jessamine.

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It goes swimmingly, as expected.

But elsewhere in the mansion, Roskva is deciding what to wear for her one-on-one date  tomorrow.  She rolls a whim : “Have First Kiss With Corey.”

Considering she doesn’t have a romance bar with him yet, this is rather ambitious.  But, as they say – where there’s a will, there’s a way.

 

 

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The Bachelor Experiment : Day One

I drop everyone on the lot, and they all immediately run off to do their own thing. So much for socializing. Sienna makes a beeline to the computer, Namika heads to the bathroom, and Colleen whips out her phone and starts texting no one, apparently, because the only people she knows are the the bachelor and the other contestants, right?

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Only Paige, Jessamine, and Sandy hang out long enough to make small talk. Unfortunately Paige starts off on the wrong foot with Jessamine. Apparently she’s feeling a bit snippy already. She mocks Jessamine right off the bat, and Jessamine naturally looks less than thrilled.

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But Sandy comes to the rescue and seems to smooth things over for them. Things get back on track, because, seriously – just look at that face!

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Corey makes his way out to the lawn, but he only hangs off to the side, watching the ladies like a weirdo. I think he likes what he sees, but he doesn’t seem to be making a move on his own.

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So I decide to send him off to introduce himself to all of the ladies. Of course, technically, he already knows them all (I forgot to set all of their relationships to zero. Note for next time.). Since he can’t use “Friendly Introduction,” I choose for him to use the “Get to Know” interaction instead.

He seeks out Sandy first, and things go well enough. He must make a joke, because she laughs, but by the look on her face, I don’t know if she’s laughing at him or with him. They would continue to chat, but I cancel the interaction. I’m directing Corey to make one identical friendly interaction with each lady, but I feel like allowing any resulting interactions would be cheating. I want to keep things fair here.

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So Corey moves on, and luckily, he gets a better reaction from Namika. I think he looks relieved that someone actually finds him funny. After he “gets to know” her, I cancel the interaction and send him on his way.

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Corey finds Colleen next, and as they’re chatting, he sidles onto the piano bench, trying to impress her. Too bad he doesn’t know how to play the piano, because Colleen gets a music thought bubble and I imagine she’s asking him to play her something. Now’s a good time to cancel their interaction. I wouldn’t want my bachelor to make a fool of himself already.

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Corey heads over to Sierra. I initiate “Get to Know” once, but she seems to ignore him. She’s too engrossed in her game to give him the time of day. I consider initiating the interaction again, but decide it might border on cheating, so I send Corey on his way and hope he’ll have a chance to talk to Sierra later. In the meantime, I remove all the computers from the lot.

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Corey heads to the next room, where he finds both Jessamine and Rosvka. He seems pretty happy to have these two beautiful blondes competing for him. I choose for him to “get to know” Jessamine first.

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It goes well, and then I cancel the interaction to give Rosvka her fair shot. I have no idea what happens next, because suddenly Jessamine is crying and throwing a tantrum (see the tears she’s shaking away?). Dramatic much? I guess she wasn’t too happy about being passed over for Rosvka. But Corey and Rovska don’t seem to notice, and they carry out their interaction happily until I cancel it for them.

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Corey heads outside now, where he finds the last contestant, Paige. She doesn’t seem too happy that she was left for last – there’s something about Paige that reminds me of a spoiled Southern belle. She’s definitely not used to playing second fiddle.

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But Paige goes after what she wants, and she is absolutely determined to get our bachelor’s attention. She quickly changes into her bathing suit – can’t hurt to show a little skin – and just as she predicted, Corey can’t take his eyes off of her.

But when Sandy senses the chemistry between the pair, she makes it a point to break up their party of two. Maybe sweet Sandy has a little more sass than I thought.

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Paige is obviously not pleased, but things are about to get even hairier because this is when I notice that Jessamine (who is currently wandering around the mansion somewhere unsupervised) has become flirty. She’s noticed the parade of bikinis around Corey, and we already know how she feels about being the center of attention. Jessamine has rolled a whim to swan dive into the pool…

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Which she does, with her hat on. Because a swan dive in a sun hat is a surefire way to turn Corey’s head.

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Unfortunately, no one seems to notice – they’re all too caught up in their love triangle drama to pay Jessamine any attention. Paige still has Corey twisted around her little finger, and Sandy’s temper is beginning to flare.

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She decides she’s had enough, and she gets up to leave. Neither of them even glance her way as she stands up and storms off.

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Sandy kicks over the trash can in a moment of anger. Sweet Sandy my plum! I didn’t know she had it in her!

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Meanwhile, back at the pool, Paige and Corey are interrupted once again, when Namika enters the scene.

Paige is obviously not pleased.

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She’s had enough of these inferior little girls getting in her way, and so she decides to leave them to it. Not like Namika is anything to worry about anyway.

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Namika is thrilled, because this means she gets some time alone with Corey. She talks animatedly, and he listens attentively…for about five minutes. Then comes out the phone. Corey clearly isn’t listening to anything she’s saying.

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Fed up with his nonsense, Namika stands up and leaves as well. Corey is too fixated on his cell phone to even notice. When he finally looks up and sees he’s alone, he gets up and heads back toward the house.

He’s steps away from the front door, when he is intercepted by Colleen, who has rolled a whim to cloudgaze with Corey.

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He’s happy to oblige, and they engage in some hardcore bonding.

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My plan was to end the first night with a dance party, but it’s getting late and everyone’s needs are plummeting, so I decide to leave it until Night Two and just leave them all to their own devices.  A few of the girls head off to bed early, but Corey gathers around the TV with Sierra, Namika, and Rosvka.  I’m hoping he’ll use the time to his advantage, since he has barely spoken to Sierra and Rosvka.  They sit there hopefully, waiting for Corey to unglue his phone from his hand.

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But the phone proves too interesting for Corey, and the girls settle for conversation amongst themselves.

Is Corey really this immature (he is childish, after all), or is he just really that uninterested in these three girls?

Until next time…

 

 

 

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The Orchid Cliff Chronicles 1.2 : Meet Mallory North

 

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My head is spinning.  This place is beautiful.  The old me would have loved it – the sailboats, the endless sea, the cliffs and the trees and the mountains on the horizon.  I should be happy.  I should be grateful.

I am grateful.  I come from a working class family – mom was a teacher, my dad an electrician.  I was fortunate and loved and I never wondered where our next meal would come from.  But never in my wildest dreams did I think that someday I’d wind up here, on the shores of Orchid Cliffs.  And if I did ever think it, it never would’ve occurred to me that it would happen under circumstances like these.  But there are benefits to marrying Greg.  Benefits that go even beyond his boyish good looks, his wicked sense of humor, and his undying, limitless support.  My husband is a kind and generous bleeding heart – a trait he inherited from his own parents, who are as wonderful as they are wealthy.

It’s because of my in-laws that I’m standing here now, looking out over the water, reminding myself to be grateful.  It’s hard sometimes, when my anxiety and my guilt consume me.  When the emptiness swallows me whole.

If it weren’t for my in-laws, Greg wouldn’t be taking a bath right now in the enormous jacuzzi in our enormous vacation home during our three month leave of absence from work.  We wouldn’t have this wonderful gift – this reprieve from reality to reconnect and relax and remember who we were before infertility rocked our relationship.  My in-laws are worried about us, I know.  About our well being and our future and our marriage.  I’m worried about those things too.

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I’m late again.  Greg grinned from ear to ear when I told him, which is exactly what I was afraid of.  He’s sure this is our month – just like he was sure last month, and the month before that, and month before that and that and that and that.

It’s never our month.

I shouldn’t have told him.  Now he’ll have his hopes up, just like he always does.  And just like always, I’ll let him down.  I’ll shatter his heart – this man who would do anything for me, who I love and adore and respect.  This man who should be the father of my children.  This man who was born to be a father, whose daydreams revolve not around sex or money or power, but around tea parties with his daughter, playing catch with his son.  I can’t bear to break his heart again.

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I think someday he’ll resent me, and in my darkest moments, I think about leaving him – letting him go so he can find someone else.  Some woman to do what I can’t – to give him the family he deserves.  I told him this once, and he laughed.  He squeezed my hand, and said “Never.”  He says I’m enough, but I can’t help but wonder. His life could have been so different.

I take one last look at the moon and inhale.  The pregnancy test is waiting for me inside, and despite myself I know I want to take it.  I’ve been fighting the temptation for days.  Some shred of misguided hope surges in my gut, and for a fleeting moment I think that maybe, this time, Greg is right.  I imagine a flutter in my stomach – is that a subtle wave of nausea?  Maybe it’s real this time.  Just maybe it is.

I close my eyes – I see tiny finger and tiny toes.  It’s a boy, I think, and we name him Gregory, after his father.  He plays with trains and planes, and he loves to read just like Mommy.

Just like me.

I’m reeling as I walk upstairs.  It’s like this every time.  I squat over the toilet, and I do it.  I pee on the stick, and I hold my breath.  And I wait.

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It isn’t our month.  I thought I was prepared for this, but I’m not.  I slide to the floor, pregnancy test in hand, and I cradle my head in my hands.  I feel like I’m crying – like I’m sobbing, like I can’t breathe – but there aren’t any tears.  I guess I’ve used them all up.

I mourn the son who never was.  I mourn his tiny fingers and tiny toes, and I mourn the planes and trains he’ll never play with.  I mourn the stories I’ll never read to him, and the name we’ll never give him.

It’s always like this.

And when, finally, I peel myself off the floor, I stand up straight.  I go to the mirror, where I practice my smile.  Because the hardest part is the next part, the part where I tell Greg.

I force a smile at my reflection.  I practice my act, the one I put on month after month.  My charade of positivity and optimism and hope.  I contort my face until it looks like the face of someone who isn’t devastated.  Someone who isn’t me.  Someone who has faith in the future.  I make my face a mask, so that Greg doesn’t worry about me.

(He worries anyway.)

I sigh – my smile looks fake.  I think it’s no use, but I try again.  I try for Greg.

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Okay, that’s better.

I find him in the living room, and his face lights up when he sees me.  He’s so handsome, and I think I’ll never get used to that face.  We’ve been married for seven years, but his eyes still take my breath away.

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“Hey, beautiful,” he says.  I know he means it – but I don’t feel beautiful (it’s hard to feel beautiful when you don’t feel like a woman).

I see his expression flicker – I didn’t tell him I was going to take the test tonight, but he knows me too well.  He knows everything just by the look on my face.

“I’m so sorry,” I say.  My voice catches in my throat, and suddenly I’m holding back tears.  I guess I didn’t use them all up, after all.  I fight them, though, and I find my mask.  I force a laugh, and I think it sounds pretty good.  “I’m okay, Greg, I promise.  There’s always next time!”  I show my teeth and hope it passes for a smile.

He pats the seat next to him and I go.  He holds my hand and looks at me with those eyes.  I nearly crumble.  I want to give him everything – I want to give him the world – and for the millionth time I wish my body would cooperate.  I wish my body would do what it’s designed to do.

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“Mallory,” he begins, and I’m sure I’m in for another pep talk, but he surprises me.  “There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.”

“Okay.”

“I know we both want to have a family.  But we’re a family already – the rest is just frosting on the cake.  You’re my wife, and I love you.  As long as we’re together, I’m a happy man.  I hate seeing you like this.  I miss you, and I miss us, the way we were before.”

He pauses and I open my mouth to speak, but he stops me.

“What if we just…stop?  Not forever, but for now.  Just for a few months, while we’re here in Orchid Cliffs.  We can go sailing, and go to the lake, and I can take you to Sheridan Lodge.  You can read, and I can paint, and we can go to the beach.  Do all the things we love to do – the things that make us us.  Can we do that, Mal?  Can we just live in the moment together?”

I nod, and as I do a weight lifts off my shoulders.  I’ve been so consumed by becoming that I forgot to be.  I want to be, I realize.  And I want to be with Greg.

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I stand and take his hand.  I lead him to the beach, to the spot where I stood and worried alone.  It was lonely here before, but Greg is with me now, and I feel warm just knowing he is here.  The view is the same as before, but it seems different now, with Greg at my side.  I look around and this time, and I appreciate the beauty.  I feel grateful to be here.

I feel grateful to be.

“Here’s to living in the moment,” I say, and he leans down to kiss me.

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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 Four : Take A Little Piece Of My Heart

Aurora awoke with a start. Palani was snoring beside her, but otherwise the house was still. The clock read 3am and the back of her neck was slick with cold sweat.

Go back to sleep, she told herself. It was only a nightmare.

She laid back down and closed her eyes, but sleep was elusive. Staring up at the ceiling, she listened to the nighttime quiet. Palani’s soft snoring, the hum of the refrigerator downstairs, the rustling of Axel’s sheets as he tossed and turned in the next room over.

Aurora sighed and threw the blankets off her legs.

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There would be no sleeping until she checked in on her children. Aurora loved her kids fiercely, and she always knew that becoming a mother would mean a certain level of vulnerability.  But no one ever told her how that love – that ever-present maternal instinct – would keep her up at night, night after night, just like this.  No one ever told her that to have a child meant to set a piece of her own heart free in the world, to makes its own choices, its own mistakes, to make her crazy with worry at 3 o’clock in the morning on a random Tuesday night.  She placed at protective hand over her belly – for now, at least, she knew that this little bean was safe and sound in her belly.  Teenagers, however, were a completely different story.

She tiptoed down the hall and cracked open the door to Axel’s room. He seemed restless, muttering something incomprehensible in his sleep, but he was tucked firmly in his bed. Aurora smiled softly and shut the door.

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Outside Sebastian’s room, she stopped and listened with her ear to the door. It was late, but her oldest boy was nothing if not a night owl. Sure enough, the familiar sounds of The R.E.F.U.G.E. drifted through the door – a clamor of virtual gunshots, followed by Sebastian’s frustrated voice (“Son of a plum!”). Aurora laughed silently and moved along.

She shuffled downstairs to the first floor, past the living room and the kitchen. She checked the lock on the front door, and reminded herself to pick up milk at the store first thing in the morning. Tomorrow was Coralie’s young adult birthday, and Aurora planned to bake an extra-special cake for the occasion.

She descended the second set of stairs, down to the basement that housed the family’s home gym and second set of bedrooms. Coralie had moved down here just days ago – a little more privacy for the future Hasslich heiress.

Flarn!” Aurora spat, stubbing her toe on the treadmill in the dark. “Plummit, Coralie!” There was one condition to Coralie’s move to the basement  – she’d had to promise to leave the hall light on at night (in case of emergency, Aurora wanted her daughter to have an easy, well-lit escape route).  Aurora fumed – one thing she’d asked – one simple thing! – and Coralie had dropped the ball on the second night.

Teenagers.

Aurora knocked sharply on the door, not caring that it was late, or that she was waking her daughter up. No answer came, and Aurora charged into the room.

Aurora: Coralie! I told you to leave the light on! What were you thinking? What if we had a fire or –

But as she flipped the switch and the room flooded with light, Aurora’s heart leapt to her throat. Coralie was nowhere to be found.

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“Coralie?” Aurora whispered softly.

The bed was still made, and a quick search through the room revealed nothing out of place. Coralie’s favorite purse was gone, and there was an empty space in her closet where her sandals should have been.  Otherwise, everything was as usual.

Aurora called out, louder this time. “Coralie?!” She would wake the whole house, but she didn’t care. Coralie was a good girl. She didn’t break curfew, she didn’t break the rules.

Yet it was 3am and her daughter was not where she was supposed to be.

Aurora tore through the house, calling her daughter’s name, and before long, light shone from every window of every room of the Hasslich household.

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Aurora called a family meeting. It was 4am by now, and the entire house was wide awake.

Axel had been put back to bed (“Don’t be afraid, honey, it was just a spider that scared Mommy. Everything is okay.”), and the rest of the family gathered in the kitchen.

Plans were made.

Aurora: Sebastian, I need you to stay here with your brother. He needs you, and if Coralie shows up I want you to call me immediately, ok?

Sebastian nodded. He wanted to argue, to go out searching for his sister, but he knew better. His mother was upset enough already.

Aurora looked at Palani and Tabitha. Palani squeezed her hand.

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Aurora: The rest of split up to go look for her.

Tabitha: We’ll find her, Aurora.  I promise.

And off they went into the night.

 


 

They didn’t find her. The night passed, the sun rose, and when the family regrouped at the kitchen table, it was with grim faces.

They called the police, and plastered missing signs all over Willow Creek.

They had no other choice.

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But days passed with no sign of Coralie. Her birthday came and went, with no word from the future heiress. In a show of feigned optimism, Aurora baked a birthday cake – strawberry cream with homemade icing – but the confection sat lonely and untouched until Aurora dropped it in the trash at midnight.

More days passed, and hope of Coralie’s return began to fade. Aurora called the police station – they knew her by the sound of her voice by now.

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Aurora: Any news on my daughter, Officer?

Officer: I’m sorry, ma’am. There’s no easy way to say this, but your daughter is classified as a runaway. There’s not much we can do except wait for her to come home.

Aurora: But Coralie is not a runaway! She loves her family! She would never just leave, she would never run away from home!

Officer: I know this is hard to hear, Ms. Hasslich, but this is a textbook case. I don’t mean to offend, but your family is rather well known in these parts and I’m aware that Coralie is in line to take over your legacy as the next heiress. How do I put this gently? That’s a lot of pressure for a young girl, don’t you think? And the timing – just before her young adult birthday – it’s telling, wouldn’t you agree? All that responsibility, all those restrictions – it’s a classic trigger, if you ask me.

Aurora hung up, stunned. She’d never considered the possibility that Coralie had disappeared by choice. But what if the officer was right? Had she failed as a mother? Had she pushed her own daughter away?

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Days turned into weeks, and the family began to move toward acceptance. Coralie was a runaway – she had escaped the Hasslich legacy like Palani had escaped the Amazon. She’d made her decision, and she’d left them behind.  What choice did they have but to respect her wishes and move on?  Only Aurora refused to believe, insisting they were wrong, that Coralie would never leave of her own volition, that something terrible had happened to her beloved daughter…

Yet Coralie was gone, and life moved on without her.

Axel aged into a teenager, gaining the snob trait, and his mother’s nose, along the way.

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But the celebration was somber. Two months had passed with no word from Coralie – and Aurora knew that it was time to accept the truth.  Her daughter had left, because she had wanted to leave, and she took a piece of Aurora’s heart with her. 


 

A few nights later,  Aurora, finally went into labor.  But as she lay down for the procedure, for the first time in her term as heiress, she wished – she prayed – for a girl.   She had failed her daughter – she couldn’t bear to fail Grainna’s legacy, too.

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At home after the delivery, as she held her newborn son in her arms, she kissed his forehead and held his tiny fingers.  Her love for him knew no bounds – there was nothing in this world she wouldn’t do for her youngest son.  But as she tickled his pudgy feet, a knot formed in the pit of her stomach. This little piece of her heart – this little piece of herself – was officially his own separate person.  Already the slow detachment had begun, and one day, just like Coralie, he would leave her, too.

But for now, all she could do was hold him tight and keep him safe.

“Happy Birthday, Xander Wahine,” she whispered.  She’d given him his father’s surname – Palani deserved to leave a legacy of his own.

But what about my legacy? she sighed despondently.  Without an heiress, she had no legacy.   Without an heiress, she would fail all the Hasslich women before her.

There was only one way forward, Aurora was sure.  But it would cost her the love of her life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chapter Seventy Two : In The Jungle, The Mighty Jungle

Days passed.

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Life went on.

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And Axel grew into a child, gaining the lazy trait along the way.

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But try as she might, Aurora could not forget Palani Wahine. His blue eyes (and biceps) invaded her daydreams and swam through her head at night. His face was the last thing she saw before she went to sleep, and when she opened her eyes in the morning, she imagined him in bed beside her.

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Aurora sighed and forced herself out of bed. This was ridiculously, vastly indulgent. She needed to be present for her children. She refused to turn into Andalie. She refused to put a man – or her own selfish desires – before her daughter and her sons.

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Tabitha: So….who’s the guy?

Aurora paused, shot her niece a cautious, sidelong glance. Tabitha laughed knowingly in response.

Tabitha: Don’t deny it, Aunt Aurora! We know there’s someone! You’ve been walking around here in a trance for days!

Aurora: What do you mean we know? Who’s “we?”

Tabitha: Just me….well, me and Coralie, I mean. Sebastian and Axel have no clue. You know boys – oblivious.

Aurora: Fine. There’s someone, sort of. I guess. I mean, I don’t even KNOW him! I just saw him one day. I’ll get over it.

Tabitha: But why should you get over it? It’s really none of my business, but wouldn’t it be a shame not to at least get to know him? Your duty to the legacy is fulfilled, there’s nothing standing in your way. You could be the first Hasslich heiress to find love before elderhood! This guy could be the love of your life, Aunt Aurora!

Aurora: My kids are the love of my life. I don’t need romance. Romance equals drama, and drama is nothing but a distraction from what’s really important.

Tabitha sighed.

Tabitha: Turns out your daughter knows you pretty well then – that’s exactly what Coralie said you would say.

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And so, when Coralie called and asked Aurora to meet her for ice cream after school, Aurora didn’t ask questions. She already knew what this would be about. She knew she was walking into an ambush – an intervention, even. She wouldn’t be surprised to see all (33!) of her Hasslich relatives waiting for her, ready to jump on the Aurora-finds-love bandwagon.

It turns out that she was right and wrong. It was an ambush – just not the kind she was expecting.

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Son of a plum.

An intervention, she could have handled. But not this. Her body was burning up already, and all she’d done was look at him! And now he was coming closer! He was talking to her! He touched her arm – and her skin was on fire.

Palani: Would you like a drink, Aurora? Or maybe you’d like some ice cream instead?

He raised a (perfect) eyebrow.

Palani: Your daughter told me you’re a fan of mint chocolate chip.

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Aurora: Of course Coralie would be behind this. How did she find you?

Aurora was surprised at the sound of her own voice – shocked that she could formulate actual words, that her voice wasn’t trembling like her hands.

Palani: She didn’t find me. I found her. I’ll be honest – you made quite an impression on me. Your family possesses a unique brand of beauty, Aurora – it doesn’t take a genius to see the resemblance between mother and daughter.

She could feel her head swimming. Palani was so handsome, so sexy – and he knew just what to say to heighten her interest. She eyed his tattoos again, wondering where she’d gotten them, and imagining – not for the first time – his mysterious “Amazon” home. He seemed so sweet and so gentlemanly, but Aurora sensed an underlying edge to him. A hint of that bad boy magnetism that only intensified her longing.

She took a breath and shook her head, breaking herself out of her trance. A sudden sense of urgency overwhelmed her – she needed to get away from him.

Aurora: I’m sorry, Palani. I have to go. My daughter….she was mistaken about all this.

She turned to go, forcing herself not to break into a run. She couldn’t trust herself with him, she couldn’t go down this rabbit hole! There would be no going back and she’d be useless as a mother! – it would be Andalie all over again! No – she had to get away from him – it was the only way.

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Her phone chirped in her pocket and she pulled it out as she walked. Coralie. Of course.

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“Mom – I’m sorry for tricking you, but you should give him a chance. I know you’ll want to run from this, and I know why. But you’re nothing like her – you could never be like her. You love us so much. Maybe you can love him too? You’ll never know if you don’t try.”

Aurora slowed to a stop – her daughter knew her even better than she’d realized. She paused, staring at her phone, considering. And then she turned and looked back. Palani was still there, watching her. He hadn’t moved – too respectful to follow her against her will but not quite ready to give up on her, either.

And so she put her phone back in her pocket and walked back toward him.

He looked at her quizzically, waiting for her to speak first. And then she smiled.

Aurora: I guess I can’t resist that mint chocolate chip, after all.

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—————————————————————————————

Their date passed by in a whirlwind, and Aurora found that the more she got to know him, the more she liked him – and the more she was able to relax around him, too. With every tidbit of information she gleaned, Palani became more and more human. He became more real to her, more than just a pretty face.

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They talked about his childhood, the perks and pitfalls of growing up in an Amazon tribe. Aurora hadn’t known that such a society even existed – but she was glad he escaped the fate of a slave and had found his way to Willow Creek. And it turned out that Aurora was right about that bad boy vibe she’d picked up on – Palani had been a slave so long that he had grown into a dastardly rebel with a Public Enemy aspiration – but Aurora was far from bothered. To the contrary, she found the flaw endearing – it was proof of his imperfection, proof of his humanity. Palani was no longer a fantasy, held up on a pedestal of her own creation. He was real, and Aurora knew that her feelings for him were real as well.

And as their conversation continued long into the evening, they discovered that they each had suffered the loss of their mothers, which naturally led to talk of the Hasslich legacy, and Aurora’s role as heiress. She told Palani how Grainna had begun the whole thing so long ago, and how the responsibility of continuing the family line had landed squarely on her shoulders. She told him about the one-child-per-daddy rule and she told him how her mother’s erratic, neglectful behavior had impacted their family, and she told him how she’d vowed to be a better mother to her children than she’d ever had herself. Aurora heard the words tumbling out of her mouth, and amazingly, she did nothing to stop it. Palani was easy to talk to, non-judgmental, and she found herself telling him things she’d never said out loud before.

Aurora: At the risk of sounding presumptuous, the whole legacy thing also means I can never get married. Well – I could get married, but I’d have to be done having kids first. That’s why most of the Hasslich heirs never got married, and the ones who did didn’t do it until they were already elders.

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Palani: Correct me if I’m wrong, Aurora, but doesn’t that mean you could get married anytime you want now? I mean, you do already have a daughter…

Aurora: I never really thought about it before, but yeah, I guess I could. I’ve just always assumed I’d have as many children as possible and marriage would be a non-issue…

Palani didn’t say anything for a moment, and the silence hung meaningfully in the air between them. They both knew that something special was happening, that this date was the beginning of something wonderful. But Palani held his tongue – no need to rush things. Instead, he took her hand..

Palani: Come with me, Aurora – there’s something I want to show you…

She should have thought it was creepy, walking off into the bushes with a dastardly (and dangerously sexy) man.

Maybe it’s some kind of Amazon thing, she thought to herself. He must want to show me some basil bushes or something.

But there were no basil bushes. Palani just wanted a little privacy for their very first kiss…

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…..and a selfie, naturally.

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Maybe it was an Amazon thing, after all.

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Chapter Seventy One : Handsome Devil

With Addie out of the house, things had been quiet – too quiet, as far as Aurora was concerned. Sebastian was obviously missing Beau – he still saw his best friend and partner-in-crime every day after school, but he the absence of his 24-7 playmate was keenly felt. And so as Aurora’s due date drew near, she looked forward to expanding her family, and to the arrival of a new sibling for Sebastian and Coralie.

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When the big moment finally arrived, Aurora went off to the hospital on her own. Mathias hadn’t actually ever called her again, and Aurora knew she was more than capable of handling the delivery on her own anyhow. She was a self-sufficient kind of gal, after all.

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The delivery went smoothly, and before long, Aurora welcomed her second son into the world.

Happy Birthday, Axel Hasslich!

((Note: Aurora did go to the hospital to have the baby, but I’ve been plagued by the hospital delivery bug. After hanging around the hospital for 3 hours doing absolutely everything but giving birth, I had to send her home to deliver the baby.))

—————————————————————————————

The days following Axel’s birth were more hectic than she’d anticipated, and soon Aurora found herself wishing for those quiet days she’d been so eager to leave behind. With Addie gone, Aurora was the only adult in a house with a fussy infant, a heartbroken teenager, and a rambunctious little boy. Aurora realized she was in over her head – and she needed help.

Luckily, Aurora knew exactly who to call in her time of need. Her big brother would know just what to do!

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Aurora filled Milo in on the debacle with Addie, but it turned out he had already heard all about it from Roxas – who had heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. News sure got around fast in this family!

Milo: For what it’s worth, Rory, I think you did the right thing, asking her to leave. You have a legacy to run, and a family of your own to raise. They have to come first, no matter what.

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Aurora: Well it turns out, despite her flaws, I kind of needed her help. Now I’ve got three kids, and a full-time job, and I’m all on my own! I’m completely overwhelmed, Milo!

Milo: I think I might have an idea….

Milo hung up with Aurora, and went inside to find his wife and daughter.

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Milo: So, Tabitha – how would you like to go stay with your Aunt Aurora for awhile?

————————————————————————————–

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Three days later, Aurora opened the front door to find Tabitha smiling on the front porch, suitcase in hand.

Aurora launched at her, drawing her in for a tight, grateful hug.

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Aurora: Just look at how big you are! You’re all grown up! And so beautiful! You look a lot like your grandmother, has anyone ever told you that? Oh, Tabitha, come in – I’m just so glad you’re here!

This is Tabitha Piper-Hasslich in CAS. She is the daughter of Milo and Juliana, making her Aurora’s niece and first cousin to Coralie, Sebastian, and Axel, as well as to Sylvie and Abe’s twin boys. Tabitha is a young adult and she is squeamish, family-oriented, jealous, and gregarious with the Party Animal aspiration.

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————————————————————————————–

Over the next few days, Tabitha settled into the household. She seemed to get along well with her cousins, and immediately assumed the gardening responsibilities. And when Aurora tasked her with painting the family portraits, Tabitha was more than happy to oblige, and took to improving her artistic technique in her free time.

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And so it came as no surprise that when Sebastian’s teen birthday rolled around, Tabitha was on hand to help Aurora prepare for the festivities. Together with Coralie, they baked a cake, wrapped the gifts, and sent out the invitations. Despite Coralie’s grumbling, they even sent one to Addie in a gesture of goodwill and family unity.

“You don’t have to forget, Coralie, but someday, you will have to forgive her.” Aurora had said gently. “She’s family above all things, and her family is your family too. If you cut out Addie, you’re also cutting out Beau, and her two beautiful twin baby girls. Don’t you want to get to know Addie’s daughters, Coralie? Wouldn’t you like a relationship with little Morgan and Ada?”

Coralie did want to know her cousins, as it turned out. And so, however begrudgingly, she agreed not to tear Addie’s hair out if she turned up at the party.

And turn up at the party she did, streamers in hand, and ready to celebrate.

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Here is Sebastian in CAS. He acquired the childish trait, making him both childish and self-assured. With his mother’s nose and Marvin’s body type, Sebastian is kind of a goofy looking guy, which actually seems to suit his personality well.

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—————————————————————————————

Meanwhile, Tabitha’s help around the house had allowed Aurora just a bit of time to herself, which she chose – predictably – to spend at the gym.

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It was just after her weekly yoga class, as the sun began to set and a chill tinged the air, that first saw him.

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He was gorgeous. Different. She could tell just by the look of him – the way he dressed, the way he walked, those strange tribal tattoos – that he wasn’t from around here.

Could it really be true? Had the Watcher answered her prayers?

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Aurora gravitated toward him involuntarily, her feet moving her closer of their own free will . She watched as his muscled form dropped to the ground for another set of push-ups, and fanned herself as a parade of scandalous images marched through her head. Aurora had been to bed with men, of course, but always – and only – to serve a purpose. She wanted children – and woohoo was a necessary step to creating them – nothing more. But this man – this man stoked a fire in her. This awakened something primal in her, something lustful, animalistic. This man would be her downfall.

He jumped up abruptly and she startled as their eyes met. He’d caught her staring at him. She felt the heat rising in her cheeks.

The handsome blonde held her gaze as he approached, and Aurora felt dizzy. When he stopped before her, he did something surprising. Ever so slightly, he bowed.

“My name is Palani Wahine,” he said. “I have just come to this town from my Amazon home. Your beauty is…..exotic.”

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Well that answered one question – he was from out of town! She’d never heard of this Amazon place – was it another city? Amazon could be a different country, or a whole different planet – Aurora didn’t know and she didn’t care. As far as she was concerned, this beautiful man had been dropped straight from the sky into Willow Creek, chosen carefully by the Watcher, just for her….

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He was perfect. And he thought she was beautiful! -or did he? He said she was exotic. That could be a compliment – or it could be a euphemism. Or it could mean nothing at all.

Aurora shook her head.

It DID mean nothing.

Just listen to me! she thought. Ruled by lust just like my mother! Well I won’t be tempted! I won’t allow it! I’ve fulfilled my duty to the legacy already, and family comes first, always. No matter WHAT my va-hooha says!!

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Chapter Seventy : Too Late To Apologize

Weeks passed, but the chill between Addie and Coralie had yet to thaw. Unsurprisingly, Coralie was crushed, the loss of her fantasy – of what could have been – heavy on her heart. And unsurprisingly, Addie happily flaunted her relationship in her cousin’s face. Aurora did her best to comfort her daughter, but Coralie’s teenage heartbreak was still too raw to heal.

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Aurora: I’m so sorry you’re going through this, sweetheart. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but this is a normal part of growing up. Your first crush, your first heartbreak – it’s a learning experience. Who knows – Brennan might come around one day, once he sees Addie for who she truly is. And if he doesn’t, well – there’s plenty of fish in the sea.

Coralie nodded in silence, hearing her mother’s words but unable to believe them.

Aurora: You have to try and forgive Addie, okay? She’s family. I don’t know why she does the things she does, but if anyone is going to see the best in her, it’s us, right?

—————————————————————————————

Meanwhile, Addie had been spending more and more time with Brennan. He was wrapped around her little finger, that much was obvious, and Addie was high on the power that came with that.

In the weeks since they’d met, Addie had seen Brennan nearly every day. He kept inviting her out, and each time she accepted. It had nothing to do with enjoying his company – of course not. It had nothing to do with those deep brown eyes and soft, tousled hair. It was a game, she told herself – to see how long she could keep him chasing her, how long he’d stay on her hook. And so Addie and Brennan had been to the theater, to a soccer game, out dancing, and to the beach. They’d gone fishing and admired art at the museum. He’d taught her the basics of computer programming, and she’d actually read that book he liked so much. Brennan was smart, Addie knew – just not smart enough to see through her charade.

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She breezed in and out of the house, wearing her relationship with Brennan like a badge of honor.

“Off for dinner with Brennan!” she’d call over her shoulder in Coralie’s direction, as she strutted out the door. Callous, entitled – the mean girl she’d always been. The mean girl she’d always be.

But somewhere in the back of her mind, something felt different. She worried. She worried about Coralie, knowing that she’d hurt her cousin’s feelings. And she worried about Brennan, too. She worried he would catch on to her antics, that he’d find out what she was, that he was being used.

She pushed the feelings aside, brushed away her ever-growing guilt. Coralie was young and beautiful, and as a Hasslich heiress – she’d have plenty of men lined up, she’d be able to pick and choose at will. Did she really need Brennan too?

Kind, sweet Brennan…whose beautiful brown eyes were currently gazing into hers with such adoration that it took her breath away.

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It wasn’t that she actually liked him – of course she didn’t actually like him – right? Addie didn’t like men – she used them. And Brennan was no different. Just because he was smart and handsome and funny and sweet – just because he was a gentleman, and treated her with respect – didn’t mean that she had feelings for him. She was Addie Hasslich, resident mean girl – and Addie Hasslich had feelings for no one.

Brennan’s voice brought her back to the present.

Brennan: I think I’m falling in love with you, Addie.

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—————————————————————————————

The next day, Addie and Brennan were scheduled for a date at the spa. It was something they had yet to experience together, and Brennan had generously sprung for massages and facials for them both.

After her facial, Addie hurried to the locker room. They’d made her take all her makeup off, and she didn’t want Brennan to see her without it. But he was already there, and waiting for her. She buried her face in her hands.

Brennan: What’s wrong, beautiful?

Addie: Nothing – just – don’t look at me!

Brennan: What? Why?

Addie didn’t respond, and turned her back to him. She heard him sigh, and felt his hands on her shoulders. He turned her around to face him, and then he gently removed her hands from in front of her face.

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Brennan: You’re gorgeous, Addie. Now I’m going downstairs. That yoga instructor is the head of the Books for Tots charity I volunteer for, and I have a few things to run by him. Meet me in the sauna in ten?

Addie sighed heavily. I love you too, she thought.

And ten minutes later, as steam filled the sauna, Addie submitted to her growing feelings for Brennan. There was no denying it now – he was more than a pawn in some game she was playing. For better or for worse, she had fallen in love with him.

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Afterward, Addie quickly excused herself to the bathroom, a bag of mixed emotions. She needed to collect herself. She’d set out to hurt Coralie, that much was true, but she’d never meant to take it this far. She never meant to fall in love, to care about Brennan’s feelings. She was mean Addie, nasty Addie – but if that was true, then why did she feel so bad?

She felt a rumble in her abdomen, and it was then that she knew. Beau was going to be a big brother.

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Addie promptly vomited – whether it was nervousness or guilt or morning sickness, she would never know. Coralie would never forgive her for this. And Brennan – she could never tell Brennan. She couldn’t drag him further into this, further into her twisted ways and warped schemes. He deserved far better than this, better than her. She’d lied to him and used him. Losing Brennan, she realized, was exactly what she deserved.

She changed out of her towel and walked straight out of the spa without looking back. Brennan would be better off without her.

————————————————————————————–

Addie had meant to avoid Brennan forever, but that turned out to be impossible. He’d sent text after text, worried about her, concerned for her safety.

Where are you? he asked.
Are you okay? he asked.
What’s wrong? he asked.

And finally, when her phone rang for what seemed like the millionth time, Addie caved and picked up.

Brennan: I don’t know what I did, Addie! Why are you ignoring me?

Addie sighed. He was right – she did owe him an explanation. She’d put him through enough – and it was time to come clean. It was late – the sun would be coming up in just a few hours – but there was no point in waiting.

Addie: Meet me at the dock in half an hour. We need to talk.

————————————————————————————–

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Addie heard his footsteps before she saw him. She took a deep breath.

Brennan: What’s going on, Addie?

Addie: I owe it to you to be honest. Brennan – I’ve been lying to you all along. The truth is… Coralie has a huge crush on you. She told me about you – that you worked at the library. She didn’t order that book or try to set us up. I went behind her back, and went after you, and I did it because I knew it would hurt her. Because I was jealous, I think… I’m a bad person, Brennan. I always have been. You should hate me – my own mother would be ashamed of me. I used you to hurt my own family. I’m not the person you think you love.

Brennan: You…. used…. me? Why are you telling me this now?

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Addie: The thing is – well – I went after you because I wanted to hurt Coralie, but somewhere along the way…. I fell in love with you, Brennan. I couldn’t lie to you anymore… you deserve better…and especially after yesterday, in the sauna… Brennan – I’m pregnant.

Brennan: PREGNANT?! We’re having a baby!?

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Addie: No, Brennan, WE are not having a baby! I am having a baby! You’re the father, yes, but you should RUN from me! I’m a terrible, awful person! You shouldn’t be with someone like me! You should be with someone like…. like Coralie! Someone sweet and nice and agreeable and who doesn’t intentionally hurt the people who love them! I hate myself for being this way, Brennan, but it’s who I am!

Brennan looked at her, silently. He looked her up and down, and just when Addie thought he would turn and walk away, he took her by surprise. He reached out, caressed her arm. Touched her hair.

Brennan: Addie – you don’t think I knew that Coralie had a crush on me? She wasn’t exactly subtle… of course I knew.

He chuckled quietly to himself, and Addie looked at him, dumbfounded. Why wasn’t he running, screaming?

Brennan: But the truth is, Coralie is a kid. She’s a great kid, but she’s still a kid. I’m too old for her, she’s too young for me. I could be put in jail just for looking at her the wrong way! And besides that – I don’t want sweet and agreeable. I want you, Addie. I won’t tell you it’s okay that you went out of your way to hurt your cousin. But people can change – and it’s obvious that something’s changed in you. I love the honest, caring Addie Hasslich. Just promise me that the conniving and scheming is over….okay?

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—————————————————————————————

Addie may have worked things out with Brennan, but she knew she wasn’t off the hook yet. She still had to go home and work things out with her family. She owed Coralie an apology.

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Unfortunately, Coralie was not as forgiving as Brennan had been.

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Coralie: How could you, Addie? You KNEW how I felt about him! You did this JUST to hurt me! When my family has let you stay in this house, even after all the terrible things you’ve done!

Addie apologized, over and over again, but Coralie’s usually quiet voice only increased in volume, and soon enough, Aurora came running to see what the commotion was about. She heard Brennan’s name, and the words “baby” and “lies,” and it didn’t take long for her to catch on.

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Aurora: Addie, I appreciate your honesty, and I believe your apology is sincere. It takes a lot of courage to come clean, and to ask for forgiveness, and I’m proud of you – and I think your mom would be too. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I just can’t subject my family to this kind of drama anymore. It’s just…. this is just too much. I’m sorry.

Aurora walked away, shaking her head sadly, and Coralie stalked off in the other direction. Addie just hung her head in remorse.

—————————————————————————————

The next morning, Brennan called to ask Addie to meet him at what he now referred to as “their spot” out on the dock. Addie, having nothing else to do and nowhere to go, was there in record time. Brennan was there waiting for her.

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Addie knew she still had a lot of work to do to repair her relationship with her cousins. But at least now she knew that whatever would come, she’d have Brennan at her side. And as she hugged him tight, filled with love and gratitude, she cast her eyes to the sky and thanked the Watcher for bringing him into her life. Because despite the pain and chaos their love had caused, Brennan Summerfield had changed her for the better.

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Chapter Sixty Nine : Crazy For You

Sebastian was born only one day before his cousin, and so it wasn’t long before Beau followed him into childhood. Growing up with Addie for a mother didn’t leave him untouched, and Beau had grown into a gloomy child – but unlike his mother, he didn’t have mean bone in his body.

Sebastian and Beau were inseparable, much like their uncles before them. Where you found Sebastian, you would also find Beau – and where you found Beau, Sebastian was never far behind. They were rambunctious and imaginative, and their daily adventures ranged from dramatic pirate attacks to archaeological digs a la Simdiana Jones. But in one thing they were always consistent – whenever anyone asked, the boys would insist that they were brothers.

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Meanwhile, Coralie was busy navigating her first steps into her teen years. She was an exceptional student and most of her free time was spent either working out, or tucked away at the library under a pile of books. And whenever she wasn’t on a treadmill or lost in a novel, Coralie could be found with her best friend (and distant cousin) Kierra Pancakes-Hasslich.

Though the two were thick as thieves, Kierra was very different from Coralie. Where Coralie was generally shy and reserved, Kierra was outgoing, popular, and more than a little boy crazy. But Kierra was most certainly a good egg, and her bouncy, uninhibited attitude helped to draw Coralie out of her shell.

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Kierra: Omigod, Cora – did you SEE Roman Benson today? He is SO. TOTALLY. HOT.

Coralie: Yeah, I guess he’s okay….

Kierra: He’s OKAY!?!? That boy is smoking!!! You just wait till he asks you out… I’m telling you, Coralie, he’s got it bad for you!

Coralie: You’re crazy, Kierra! But honestly, even if he did…. He’s nice and all, but… I just don’t like him like that! He seems a little…. immature or something….

Kierra sighed in exasperation.

Kierra: Well if you don’t want him… All the better for me! I guess I’ll go ask him out then!

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Kierra had meant to rile her friend, but Coralie only nodded agreeably. In truth, Coralie was not uninterested in dating – she was just uninterested in dating the boys she knew from school – the boys who thought farts were hilarious and that quoting lines from dumb movies made them smart and interesting.

And so it wasn’t until one morning at the gym when she met a boy – no, a MAN – who caught her interest.

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When Coralie spotted him across the way, she felt her heart leap in her chest. Those eyes! That hair! Who was this dashing creature?! She sauntered up to him, trying to project an air of maturity and sophistication. If she was going to attract his attention, she’d have to make him see her as Woman with a capital “W.”

She introduced herself, feigning confidence where she felt none, suddenly wishing for a bit of Kierra’s je ne sais qua. But Coralie was a better actress than she realized – and the magnificent man before her seemed not to notice her shaking voice or wobbly knees.

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He merely flashed a dreamy smile (her heart nearly exploded) and introduced himself as Brennan Summerfield.

Brennan: It’s very nice to meet you, Coralie! I’m new to Willow Creek, just got a job at the library, in fact –

A librarian?! He couldn’t be any more perfect for her! This is love, Coralie thought, this is what Kierra’s always going on about! Sure, he was a few years older than her, but age is only a number! Love knows no bounds!

Fragments of fantasies raced through her head as he spoke. Their first kiss at the movie theater… He’d hold her hand and walk her home…. He was a gentleman, of course, and would wait patiently until she was old enough to take that next blissful step…. High school graduation, that breathtaking smile in the crowd… Then him on one knee, a sparkling ring, a white dress, their wedding night, a picket fence, two kids – no three –

His lips were still moving, but Coralie couldn’t make out the words. By the time she returned to reality, Brennan was asking a question.

Brennan: So maybe I’ll see you around?

Coralie nodded voraciously, smiled her most flirtatious (and awkward) smile, and waved goodbye. She sighed dreamily.

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He wants to see me around! she thought. I knew we were soul-mates!

—————————————————————————————

Over the next week, Coralie spent more time on the town than ever before, constantly on the lookout for Brennan, always hoping to “accidentally” run into him again.

But when she finally saw him again at the Town Square, the most she could manage was to wave hello, and a few nonsensical words strung together in something that vaguely resembled a sentence.

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Luckily, Brennan was friendly and made easy conversation for the both of them. Coralie learned all about his life, and where he came from. She learned that he had a twin brother (she swooned at this – ANOTHER man who looked like Brennan? SIGH.), and that his love for technology led to his career in library science.

Coralie squeaked out a few words in response. She told him about the Hasslich legacy, and how she was the only girl, which put her in line as the heir. She talked about her favorite class, which she immediately regretted. She wanted him to see her as a woman grown – not as a silly school girl.

When Coralie returned home that evening, she was a mixed bag of emotions. Her love for Brennan had only grown, but she worried that he’d never take her seriously.

As she turned the corner to the kitchen, Addie greeted her with a saccharine smile.

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Addie: What’s got you down, cousin?

Coralie paused, unsure of how to respond. Addie was the last person she wanted to talk to about Brennan – she’d much rather wait to talk to Kierra – but Kierra was at soccer practice and Aurora was at work, and Coralie found that the words just tumbled out of their own volition.

Coralie: It’s this boy – well, a man, really. Addie, he’s gorgeous. And smart and kind and wonderful….

Addie: And who is this boy-man?

Coralie: He’s new to town, he works at the library. His name is Brennan Summerfield.

She said his name as a deep, dreamy sigh.

Coralie: He’s my soulmate, Addie – I just know it! But I don’t think HE knows it. He’s older than me, and I think he just sees me as a kid…. I don’t know how to make him see me as a woman.

Addie patted her cousin’s arm and launched into a riveting inspirational speech about self-confidence, true love, and taking charge of your own life.

But even as she spoke – as she assured Coralie that Brennan was sure to come around eventually, that he was bound to feel what she felt – Addie was scheming.

——————————————————————————

It didn’t take long, of course. Addie had never been the patient type. She waited until Coralie had gone to Kierra’s house, and then she slipped on her highest, sexiest heels, and headed off to the library.

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Addie hung back, watching Brennan work from a distance before approaching. She sure could see what Coralie saw in him. That was going to make this a whole lot more fun.

Addie: Hi, I’m Addie Hasslich – I’m picking up a book?

She batted her eyelashes as Brennan looked up at her. He reached under the desk for the book she’d requested. It was his favorite, Addie knew – Coralie had mentioned it earlier.

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Brennan: Good choice! Hans Heidrich is a genius, if you ask me – his work is so nuanced… – hey, did you say your name is Hasslich?

Addie: Addie Hasslich, yes.

Brennan: I’m Brennan Summerfield, I think I may have met your little sister –

Addie: Coralie, yes. She mentioned you, actually. She’s my cousin, not my sister, though.

Brennan: She’s a sweet kid! She was the first one to welcome me to town!

Addie smiled innocently, willing herself to blush.

Addie: Yeah… The truth is SHE sent me here… She’s the one who ordered the book…. Coralie said she wanted me to meet you, that you and I were “soul mates” or some such nonsense. Crazy teenagers, you know?!

Addie laughed flirtatiously, and then sighed in feigned exasperation.

Addie: Coralie thinks she’s Cupid or something, always trying to set up her poor single cousin! Ridiculous, isn’t it?

She held his gaze just a moment too long, then stared demurely at her hands.

Brennan: I don’t think ridiculous is the word I would use…. Addie – would you care for a cup of coffee? I’m off work in 15 minutes…

————————————————————————————–

Fifteen minutes later…

qre

ghy

yui

And just before midnight, Addie’s scheme came to fruition. Brennan, completely enchanted, finally uttered the words she’d been waiting to hear.

Brennan: I know this seems crazy fast, Addie, but I think Coralie was onto something with us. Would you… uh… will you be my girlfriend?

ssx

Addie smiled as the flash went off, and then opened the Simbook app on her phone.

————————————————————————————–

Meanwhile, at home – Coralie’s cell beeped an alert from her Simbook account. Her heart dropped at what she saw.

bii

“Addie Hasslich is in a relationship with Brennan Sumnerfield.”

vgt

————————————————————————————–

A big thank you to Pammiechick, who submitted the dashing Brennan Summerfield, who comes to my little story from the Summerfield Legacy. Brennan was the second place winner in my Hasslich Baby Daddy Vote – look for him in upcoming chapters of the Hasslich Legacy!

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Filed under hasslich, legacy, prettacy, SimLit