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The Bachelor Experiment : Day Three (Elimination #1)

It’s day three, and most of the contestants have woken up with a whim for Corey.  Everyone wants to make a last good impression before elimination!  Jessamine heads straight for the grill, knowing that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

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But Corey is sleeping in, and the other girls gobble up the grilled fruit before he even gets out of bed.  Sandy, Jessamine, and Roskva chat nervously over their breakfast, speculating about which of them will be the first to leave the house.  Jessamine feels confident she’s staying (her swan dive and cloudgazing should have done the trick), and Sandy felt a connection last night during foosball.  But Roskva is uncertain.  Corey hasn’t shown much interest in her so far, and she thinks she could be on the chopping block.

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Likewise, Sierra mopes around the house all morning.  She seems to think that her future here is uncertain as well.

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Roskva and Sierra are right to worry.  Their relationships with Corey are the two lowest in the house.  But Corey likes them both equally, and he has yet to decide which of these two beauties he’d like to keep.  I decide to pin all the ladies’ whims for the time being, and send Corey out on a last ditch date with Roskva and Sierra.  There are only a few hours left until eliminations, so there’s no time to dawdle.

I send Corey, Sierra, and Roskva to the Von Haunt Estate in hopes that the beautiful scenery will encourage a little romance.  But things get off to a rocky start when – predictably – Corey pays more attention to his phone than he does to his dates.  What is his deal?  Roskva plasters a smile to her face as she waits for him to address them, but from the look on her face, I have a feeling her patience is wearing as thin as mine.

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Sierra looks unhappy as she gives Roskva the side eye.  Maybe she’s thinking Roskva has a better chance than she does, but Sierra is her own worst enemy.  She takes off once again, and walks directly to the chess table, where she seems delighted to play alone.  For someone who spent all morning seeming miserable, she’s certainly quick to ditch her date.

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Meanwhile, Roskva also tires of waiting for Corey and decides to explore the mansion on her own.  She’s creative, after all, and she wants to see the art work in the museum.  She goes to check out the kitchen exhibit when she walks in on two flirty ghosts kissing passionately.  If only Corey would look at her like that!

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At this point, Corey takes a break from his phone to use the bathroom.  He stares at himself in the mirror, and frowns.  I don’t think he’s looking forward to making this decision, or to facing the contestants at elimination.  He’s a good guy, our Corey – he’s not out to break any hearts.

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But this is the Bachelor, and heart-breaking comes with the territory.  Time is marching on, and our Corey has spent zero time with either of the girls.  Due to the lack of autonomous progress, I decide it’s time to intervene.  I select “go here” for all three of them, and send them out to the terrace.

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They talk as as a group for awhile, and Corey and Sierra gain quite a few friendship points.  I think we finally have a front runner, and Roskva seems to think so, too, because she heads off to the chess table, alone in defeat.  But Corey does something surprising, and for the first time during this date, he makes an autonomous action that seems to favor one woman over the other.

He leaves Sierra on the terrace, and joins Roskva in her game of chess.  Corey teases her a bit and cracks a blonde joke, but Roskva isn’t offended.  She laughs good-naturedly, and in the end she shows him who’s boss when she captures his king.

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Still, Corey’s relationship panel indicates no preference, and with Elimination just hours away, I need him to make a decision.  I choose to have him initiate the “Flirt” interaction with each of the ladies.

 

He approaches Sierra first, complimenting her beautiful dark eyes.

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She seems flattered at first, but she turns on Corey unexpectedly, brushing off his advances.

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Maybe she’s ticked off he ditched her for Roskva’s chess game, or maybe she just isn’t interested.  But the end result is the same – she loses several relationship points with Corey, and moreover, he’s humiliated.

I send Sierra home, and wait until Corey gets over her rejection to have him flirt with Roskva.  I don’t want him dying of humiliation if Roskva rejects him, too.

But Roskva is much more receptive than Sierra.  She’s more than happy to feed his wounded ego, and throws him a flirtatious wave.

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And so the date ends on a good note.

Back at the mansion, it’s almost time for Elimination.  Sandy and Jessamine knock back a few drinks to calm their nerves, and then it’s time to get ready.

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The contestants gather in the ceremony room, and wait anxiously for the Elimination to begin.  They talk amongst themselves, but when Corey appears at last – looking dashing in his light gray suit – the women fall silent.

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Corey is nervous but he does his best to look confident.  His decision is clear now, and he knows what needs to be done.

Colleen is the first to be called.  Their relationship is the strongest, and while he’s not sure if his feelings for her are romantic, he is eager to see where things go.  She happily accepts his invitation to stay, and hugs him before heading back inside the mansion.

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Jessamine is next.  She has definitely commanded Corey’s attention, and her efforts have paid off.  She gazes at him adoringly as he gives her the news, but Corey still isn’t sure if she likes him or if she just likes to win.  Only time will tell, and Corey seems happy to give her that time.

 

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Corey calls Sandy next.  She really impressed him during their foosball game, and Corey thinks she’s easy-going and sweet.  He hasn’t seen her temper yet, and apparently he doesn’t notice that she’s wearing a wedding gown to Elimination.  Regardless, Sandy can’t hide her excitement at being chosen to stay, and moreover, that she has been picked before Paige.

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But Paige is called next, and she saunters seductively up to Corey.  I didn’t think she’d take kindly to being called fourth, but she puts her game face on and graciously accepts Corey’s invitation to stay.  One thing is for sure, though – she will be upping her game before Elimination 2.

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We’re down to the bottom three now, and Namika is visibly relieved to hear her name called.  She’s so excited, in fact, that Corey practically has to peel her off of him as she clings to their hug.  He doesn’t seem to mind, though.  There are worse things than having a beautiful woman cling to you.

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It’s down to the last two women now, and Sierra and Roskva sit anxiously, hoping for Corey to call their name.

 

But their date this morning made things very clear, and Corey isn’t interested in pursuing a woman who has no interest in him.

And so it’s Roskva’s name he calls last.  She beams at him, thankful for another chance to win his heart.

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Roskva departs, leaving Corey alone with Sierra.

 

He calls her to the front to join him.  It’s clear from the look on his face that he doesn’t look forward to this awkward conversation.

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Corey is taken aback when Sierra begins to cry.  She rejected him earlier, after all.  He never expected her to react this way.

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“Why are you crying?” he asks her point blank.  “You never even seemed to like me!”

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“You don’t understand!” she yells.  “I did meet my soulmate here!  It just isn’t you!  And now I’ll have to go home to Oasis Springs, and I’ll never see my gardener again!”

Corey smiles, because he knows he has made the right choice.

And Sierra packs her bags and leaves the mansion.  Maybe she’ll go back to Oasis Springs.  Or maybe she’ll go find her gardener.

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Chapter Seventy Three : Under Cover Of Darkness

Aurora never expected to fall in love. Growing up in the Hasslich household, she never fantasized about a “soulmate,” or a wedding, or even a boyfriend. Sure, she’d seen the romantic comedies. She’d watched beautiful leading ladies meet muscled leading men, watched the stars form in their eyes during the whimsical (and ever-so-cliche) meet-cute. But that was fiction.  In reality, life goes on after the first kiss. And the movies never show what comes after – the fighting, the cheating, the inevitable breakup. No, men were for mating, plain and simple. To venture past procreation was to end up like her mother – a slave to her own lust, driven mad by the heartbreak of unrequited love.

But then there was Palani. More handsome than those muscled leading men – and even better, Palani was real. And, now more than ever, Aurora found that what she felt for him was real as well. Whatever misconceptions Aurora had about the meaning of love, Palani had changed all that in just a few short weeks.

He supported her dreams.

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He was kind to her children.

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He made her laugh.

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And above all, he stayed.

Palani treated Aurora like some kind of queen.  He took care of the garden, the cleaning, and the endless array of home repairs. He worked tirelessly night and day to ensure her comfort, catering to her every whim and desire – and when what she desired was him….well, that was even better

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But as Palani busied himself with the cleaning, gardening, and cooking, Aurora grew concerned.  Palani put her happiness above his own in all things – but why?

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Aurora: Palani, why don’t you come inside and let me make you a drink?

Palani: Oh no, my creator, let me make YOU a drink!

Aurora blanched at his subconscious slip. Palani had escaped the Amazon, but old habits die hard – and it seemed Palani’s slave mentality was no exception.

Aurora: I’m not your creator, Palani! I’m not anyone’s creator – unless you count my kids, I guess, but that’s beside the point. You’re not a slave here! The gardening and cleaning and housework – it’s a joint effort in this family. It’s not your job – you don’t even live here!

Aurora felt a tear slip down her cheek, and she buried her face in her hands. She had suspected as much, but she was unprepared for the cold hard reality. She’d been so sure of her own feelings, so content in their realness – but what about Palani? Were his feelings real? She’d never thought to ask.

Evidently not, she thought as she stifled a sob.

It wasn’t his fault, she knew. Palani came from a culture where men were subservient to women, where they were trained to obey and to please, to answer to a woman’s beck and call. To do a woman’s bidding. And in her own way, hadn’t she bade him to love her?

She looked up at him sadly, suddenly embarrassed. She’d assumed his presence here was his choice.

 

Aurora: You are no one’s slave, Palani – you answer only to yourself. You have no obligation to me or to anyone else. Your life is yours.

He looked at her, the confusion written across his face.

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Palani: Don’t you think I know that, Aurora?  I’m fully aware I’m not a slave…. That’s the whole reason I escaped the Amazon! You can’t really think I’d just forget I’m a free man, do you? I don’t do your yard work or cook for you because I think I have to – I do it because I choose to. Because I care about you, and want to help you. I love you, Aurora – but you sure as plum won’t ever own me.  I do the things I do because it’s what I want to do.  Palani does what Palani wants!

Aurora exhaled heavily, relief coursing through her – she’d misread the situation entirely.  She laughed, abashed, and then threw a coy glance his way.

Aurora: So, then, Palani Wahine – what is it you do want?

Palani raised an eyebrow and shot her his best come-hither smile. She snuggled happily into his arms, and looked up at him.

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Aurora: I mean it, Palani. You’ve spent your whole life doing what other people told you to do. What do you want?

He nestled his chin in her hair, then pulled away to look her in the eyes.

Palani: Truthfully, Aurora, there is something I’ve always wanted. In my tribe, men are executed after they mate – after they initiate a pregnancy, that is. Fathers never get to know their children – I never even met my father. I know you have a legacy heir already, and I won’t pressure you to marry me, but since you’re asking what I want – I would like to be a father, and I would like the chance to know my child.

Aurora giggled.

Aurora: Now that I can get on board with.  And for the record, Palani?  I could never say no to you – especially if you were down on one knee..

Palani grinned and grabbed her hand, and they ran off laughing toward the bedroom.

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Meanwhile…..

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Coralie was jolted awake by the abrupt chirping of her cell phone.

Meet at the park in an hour?

Kierra. Coralie quickly typed her response and then bounded upstairs to get changed.

When she arrived at the park an hour later, Kierra was nowhere to be seen. Coralie looked at her watch – she was a few minutes early, so she decided to wait.

Five minutes went by, and then ten and twenty, and Kierra was officially late.

“Coralie!” a voice called.  She looked up expectantly, sure to see Kierra walking her way. Instead, she was greeted by her distant cousin,Stefania Landgraab-Solomon.

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Stefania: Coralie! I thought that must be you! It’s been so long, but Hasslich women are hard to miss! What are you doing here?

Coralie: I’m waiting for Kierra, actually. You should hang around until she shows up – I’m sure she’d love to see you! But anyway, how have you been? I was so sorry to hear your mom passed away…

The minutes ticked by as the cousins caught up, but still no sign of Kierra. Coralie pulled out her phone to send her a text. She was beginning to worry.

You ok? Why so late?

As Coralie tucked her phone back in her pocket, Stefania nudged her elbow. She spoke softly and slowly, and Coralie realized that her cousin sounded suddenly nervous.

Stefania: Coralie? Who is that?

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Coralie glanced over her shoulder, and felt a chill run up her spine.  He did look creepy, she’d give Stefania that, but Coralie was sure he was harmless…right?  She laughed uneasily.

Coralie: No clue, just some random weirdo, I guess.  I mean, who wears a Star Wars costume out in public, anyway?

Stefania: He keeps staring at you. It’s freaky. I have to get going, Coralie, but why don’t you come with me? Something about that guy just feels….off.

Coralie felt a twinge in her stomach, but she brushed it off.

Coralie: No way! He’s just checking you out! I’m going to wait for Kierra a little longer, but I’ll be okay! Tell your brothers I said hi, okay?

Stefania walked off, worry etched into her face, anxiously looking back at Coralie as she went.

Coralie checked her phone again – still no word from Kierra. She checked her email (nothing) and her missed calls list (nothing again).  When she looked up, her heart skipped a beat. The creepy guy was still there, and this time, he was definitely staring at her. The hood hid his eyes, but he was staring – Coralie could feel it.

She flinched, but shook her head and chalked it up to paranoia. But just for peace of mind, she walked inside the park – closer to people, and further from the daunting figure.

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But it had gotten later than she’d realized, and there were less people in the park than she thought. Coralie suddenly felt uncomfortable, uneasy. Something told her it was time to go home, NOW,  Kierra or no Kierra.

But as she hurried towards the gate, Coralie felt the hairs on her neck stand on end. She shuddered – something was wrong.

He was here.

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No one knew what happened next.

No one heard her cry for help, the crash of her phone as it fell from her hand.

No one saw him lead her to the woods, the dark hooded figure and the dazed teenage girl.

But Coralie was gone, without a trace.


The next morning, a young boy playing in the park would find the phone she’d dropped.

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He would pick it up and see the unread message on the screen, and the sender’s name blinking in green: Kierra.

Late for what, C?

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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.))

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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…

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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?

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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.

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

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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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Chapter Sixty Eight : Fight For Your Right To Party

With all the new babies, the Hasslich household was filled to capacity. As much as Sylvie wanted to stay, she knew that the time had come for her and Abe to move out and make a home of their own.

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Aurora: I really wish you would stay, Sylvie! We’ve got plenty of space, really!

Sylvie: Oh, sweetie, you really are the best sister I could ask for. But I have TWINS! And I know you want more babies – if the four of us were to stay, you wouldn’t have room for your own family!

Aurora: But you are my family!

Sylvie drew her little sister in for a tight hug.

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Sylvie: Seriously, Aurora – we’re only moving down the block! We’ll see each other all the time, the kids will still grow up together. And I’ll always be around to put Addie in her place – since you insist on letting her stay here.

Aurora glanced around, making sure they were alone, not to be overheard.

Aurora: She’s family, Sylvie. I want to see the best in her, despite her…..short-comings. And where would she go, anyway? She has no money, Beau’s father abandoned her, and Roxas is out of town ….. Look, I don’t trust her as far as I can throw her. I’m not delusional – I know she’s not a nice person. But people can change, right? Besides – if she’s here at least I can keep an eye on her….

Sylvie nodded appreciatively.

Sylvie: Ahhhhh, you’re much more wily than I give you credit for, baby sister! I see what you’re doing here – keep your friends close and your enemies closer!

Aurora: No! That’s not what I’m doing at all! Addie’s not an enemy….

But Sylvie just smiled conspiratorially.

——————————————————————————

The day after Sylvie and her family moved out, Aurora woke up feeling lonely. She missed her sister – the house seemed empty without her, too quiet without the extra ruckus and hullabaloo.

But as she rolled over and pulled herself out of bed, it dawned on her that today was also a double birthday! Today was the day that Sebastian would spin into childhood, and the day that Coralie would officially become a teenager. And Aurora could think of no better way to celebrate than by throwing a party and filling her empty home with friends and family.

Of course the first person on the guest list was her sister, so she immediately picked up the phone to call Sylvie.

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Sylvie laughed on the other end of the line.

Sylvie: A party tonight? You just can’t survive without me, can you? Of course we’ll be there! This couldn’t be any more perfect – you know it’s my elder birthday today, and Abe’s too!

Aurora hung up the phone and slipped on her shoes. There was a lot to do if she was going to pull this party off in one day – she had errands to run.

After a whirlwind shopping trip in town, Aurora was passing the pool on her way home when she was approached by a handsome, and flirtatious, stranger.

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Okay – upon closer inspection, maybe he wasn’t actually as handsome as she’d thought. But at least they weren’t related, and that was saying something in this town.

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She checked her watch. Three hours to go until the party – which left plenty of time to work on another addition to her family. Coralie was at school, Addie had taken the babies to the park, and the house was completely empty. The timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Aurora: Would you like to come by my house for a glass of lemonade?

Mathias (that was his name, she had learned) jumped at the chance.

Aurora: Let me be clear. This isn’t ever going to be anything serious. I’m just after a bit of fun. Well, fun and a baby. But don’t worry! – if there’s a baby, your level of involvement in the child’s life is entirely up to you. Me and you, though – it’s just never going to be a thing.

Mathias shrugged. Aurora had expected more of a reaction, maybe a little protestation, some semblance of romance – but there was nothing wrong with a shrug.

Mathias: Works for me.

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Afterward, Aurora jumped out of bed to take the pregnancy test. Mathias didn’t seem to mind, as he was already gathering his things.

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Aurora: Well it worked! I’m pregnant!

Mathias shrugged.

Mathias: Works for me.

Man of few words, Aurora thought.

But then Mathias surprised her. REALLY surprised her.

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Mathias: I mean, it’ll be cool to have another little Goth running around.

Aurora froze.

Aurora: A GOTH?! You’re a GOTH?! My Uncle Elliott was the only Goth left! He was the heir! Uncle Elliott is….your dad?! You’re… MY COUSIN?!

Mathias: What?! NO! Chill, babe, I don’t have any cousins. And Elliott’s not my dad. I know who he was, being a Goth heir and all. But my pop’s name was Jaxon Goth, and my grandmother was Elisa Goth. My dad was some kind of a secret love child or something, says he had to stay hidden in the basement until he was like 30 or some plum. Anyway, we’re not related. Chill out.

Aurora heaved a sigh of relief, wiping the sweat from her brow. But, still, she thought – it was too close a call. And as Mathias headed for the door, Aurora cast her eyes skyward.

“I swear next time I’ll be more careful, I’ll do my research! But please, Watcher – next time, send me someone from OUT of town?”

She took a deep breath and pushed the whole thing out of her head. She had a party to throw.

——————————————————————————

The idea had been for Sebastian to age up during the festivities, but as eager as he had been to enter the world just days ago, he was equally impatient to leap out of his crib.

Aurora held him for the last time as a baby, and then it was time.

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Sebastian: Sorry, mom, I just couldn’t wait! No WAY am I spending half of my own birthday party stuck in a bassinet!

Sebastian’s first trait was self-assured – here he is in CAS:

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——————————————————————————-

Soon the guests began to arrive and the party was underway.

Roxas surprised everyone by showing up, even if he could only stay for an hour or so. But he had wanted to meet his nephew Beau, and so the men gathered around Beau’s cradle, cooing and tickling his soft tiny feet.

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Mackenzie had also brazenly shown up with Dante, and while Roxas had left before she even arrived, Milo took the opportunity to tell her exactly what he thought of her.

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Milo: Ballsy of you to show up here, Mackenzie! Does Dante know you used to date his cousin? I could tell him… but it turns out Roxas is better off without you anyway, so I won’t bother. He’s off traveling the world with his beautiful fiancé, Beth – see what adventures you miss when you marry for money?

Mackenzie stormed off, and Milo smiled mischievously to himself.

Meanwhile, Sylvie and Abe celebrated their spin into elderhood…

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And Aurora spent some time getting to know her son…

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Of course Lamont even showed up to see his baby girl grow up. He wasn’t exactly thrilled to see that Aurora was pregnant with another man’s baby, and so he spent most of his time passive-aggressively hurling horseshoes into the horseshoe pit.

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But before they knew it, it was time for Coralie to blow out the candles.

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Here is Coralie in CAS. She is a romantic goofball with the bodybuilder aspiration.

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———————————————————————–

Hours later, after all the guests had left and the family was tucked into their beds, Emmeline floated alone, unnoticed, in the backyard.

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“I tried to tell them,” she muttered to herself. “I tried to warn them, but no one believed me!”

She paced back and forth, on high alert. She’d seen the strange figure lurking around the house over the past week. She’d watched him as he had watched them.

Tonight she patrolled the perimeter, unseen, as the party raged on. She would protect them from harm. She would fight for them, fight to keep them safe. She would defend the legacy.

But tonight the figure was nowhere to be seen.

Emmeline bristled.

“Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Creepy has no idea who he’s up against.”

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Chapter Sixty Seven : Oh Boy!

Time passed slowly for Abe, as the only man in a house overflowing with pregnant women. He did his best to accommodate them all – he did the cleaning and the seemingly endless string of repairs. He tended the garden, prepared the meals, and catered to the whims and cravings of his wife, sister-in-law, and… well, whatever Addie was to him. He didn’t like helping Addie, not after she’d tried to drive a wedge between him and Sylvie. But he was kind to her regardless, as a favor to Aurora, who’d opened her home to him and his growing family.

Day after day, it was the same. Hormones abounded, bellies grew rounder, and feet swelled to epic proportions. But excitement filled the air as the due dates drew near, and finally, Aurora was the first to feel the indisputable pangs of labor. As she walked out the door and headed for the hospital, Grainna popped by to wish her luck with the delivery.

“Another girl in there,” she grinned. “I’m sure of it!”

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By the time Aurora arrived at the hospital, she could feel that her baby was more than ready to enter the world. The doctor hurried her into the delivery room, but no sooner was Aurora on the table than she was welcoming her new baby into the world.

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Happy Birthday, Sebastian Hasslich!

Aurora was thrilled to hold her very first little boy. Unlike the heirs of the past, she was genuinely happy to have a son. She had no underlying concerns for the legacy – there would be other girls in time, she knew – and she wanted a true family, filled with real children, who would grow into real people, with lives and families of their own. Aurora wanted more for her sons and daughters – she willed them to be more than just legacy pawns – more than heirs and spares.

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Of course Addie had no concerns over heirs and spares, but she was far more invested in the sex of her baby. It had to be a girl, she thought, a beautiful girl to show everyone what a better heir she would have been, how much more she had to offer the legacy than Aurora. But when her time came just the day after Sebastian was born, Addie found herself the mother of a strapping baby….. boy.

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“You were supposed to be a girl!” she wailed, holding her son up in front of her. “I don’t even know what to call you – it never even occurred to me you might be a boy…. You are rather handsome, though….so much cuter than that repulsive little Sebastian!”

She stopped and thought for a minute, studying the boy’s face, considering what to name him.

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“Beau,” she announced, finally. “We’ll call you Beau. And you’ll grow up to be smarter and handsomer than your ugly cousin, and the whole world will know what a mistake it was to leave the legacy on Aurora’s hideous shoulders!”

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Aurora’s face fell. She had heard every word.

————————————————————————————–

Sylvie was the last to deliver, and to say she was ready would be a vast understatement. Her due date came and went, but the baby was yet to make an appearance. Spicy spaghetti made no difference, and though Sylvie ran miles and miles on the treadmill, the baby refused to budge.

They had waited so long for their baby’s arrival that when the time came at last, the reality struck Abe with unprecedented force.

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He was going to be a father! He was going to be a FATHER!

As his paternal panic set in, Sylvie was escorted to the delivery room.

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She pushed and she pushed, and finally, her baby made its grand entrance into the world! Sylvie heard Isla’s voice saying something to her, something that sounded vaguely like, KEEP PUSHING! THERE’S ANOTHER ONE!

WHAT?!!!!

Minutes later, Sylvie and Abe greeted their second child. They now had a pair of beautiful twin boys – Abe’s panic mounted, but Milo, who had turned up in a show of support, managed to quell his fears.

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Happy Birthday, Auggie Hasslich-Lothario

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….and Isaac Hasslich-Lothario!

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—————————————————————————————

After the delivery, as Sylvie and Abe returned home, Abe said something that made Sylvie stop in her tracks.

Abe: I can’t believe that just days ago, I was the only man in this house! Now there are FOUR of us! You girls are outnumbered now!

He said it with a laugh, punctuated with his ever-magnetic smile. But Sylvie didn’t smile in return. Instead she froze, stunned into fear.

Sylvie: All boys. No girls. Abe…. do you think….? Could I have been wrong? Was Emmeline right? Is the legacy cursed?

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Chapter Sixty Six : Home to Stay

Sylvie returned from Sixam feeling more sure and clear-headed than ever. There was nothing to be found in the alien realm – no hidden connection to Elphie’s long-ago disappearance, no secret clues to follow. The alien had said as much, and that was all the proof that Sylvie needed. Perhaps Emmeline had gone crazy in her elder years, imagining conspiracy theories and spinning yarns that would never make any sense. There was no real proof that Elphie Hasslich had ever even existed! It was folklore, family legend – nothing more. The legacy was not in danger, and that was that.

And so, with the matter of Emmeline’s great mystery settled, Sylvie was ready to get on with her life. It was finally time for her and Abe to tie the knot – time to officially become Mrs. Hasslich-Lothario.

They invited their family and friends to the church in Newcrest, and the ceremony commenced.

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And of course, after the standard vows and kissing of the bride, the REAL party got started.

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But before long, the newlyweds were headed off for their very glamorous honeymoon – camping. No, Granite Falls was not Sylvie’s number one choice for a honeymoon destination, but it turned out they had no choice at all. Their travel agent seemed to know only the one vacation spot – the same place that all Hasslich newlyweds had honeymooned before them.

But Sylvie resolved to make the best of a rather disappointing situation, and Abe did his best to find a rental property that emanated romance rather than the rank stench of bear poo. Luckily for them, the cottage that Abe had reserved was more than perfect. Small and cozy beside a beautiful private pond, Sylvie was reminded to be grateful for all the wonderful things she had and most of all, for her kind (and handsome!) new husband.

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And of course, in the tradition of newlyweds everywhere, they kicked their honeymoon off the best way they knew how.

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————————————————————————————–

Meanwhile, as Sylvie and Abe celebrated their love in the great outdoors, life went on as usual at home.

Addie – who had attended her cousin’s wedding out of sheer spite alone – had decided that it was time for her to find a man of her own. Not that she actually wanted a man so much – not really. What Addie DID want was a baby. A beautiful, stunning baby girl who would one day grow into the most breathtakingly gorgeous Hasslich woman the legacy had ever seen.

Not that she actually wanted a baby, either – not really. What Addie DID want was proof. Solid, living proof that her mother’s line – her line – of the family had been the ONLY choice for the heirship.

Not that she actually wanted to be the heir, anyway – not really. She only wanted to prove that she SHOULD be the heir, that she COULD be the heir, that any child of hers would put Aurora’s little beasts to shame.

And so, Addie set out on the town in search of a sucker to father her child. He would have to be devastatingly handsome, of course – it couldn’t hurt to bolster the kid’s genetic pool, no matter how beautiful the mother. But he would also have to be stupid….malleable. Someone she could manipulate to her advantage, and who wouldn’t expect a commitment in return.

It took her all day to find a man with the right credentials (stupid men weren’t hard to come by – it was the “handsome” part that was trickier).

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His name was Stephen Santander.

Addie worked her magic on him – which meant keeping her usual nasty comments to herself, and assuming a sweet, flirty demeanor. It was an act, of course, but it was an act she did well.

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It wasn’t easy for Addie to play nice, but she managed to bite her tongue long enough to invite him back to her place.

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————————————————————————————–

When Sylvie and Abe returned from their honeymoon, Sylvie had big news to share with her little sister.

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Aurora: Congratulations! I can’t believe it we’re pregnant at the same time! This is going to be so great! They’ll all be able to play together all the time, and grow up with their cousins!

Sylvie: Aurora – I know that you want to have a big family, and I don’t want me and Abe, or our family, to get in your way. Don’t you think maybe we should move out?

Aurora: Move out?! Please don’t! Family doesn’t just mean children. You’re my sister, Abe is my brother-in-law AND my cousin for crying out loud! That baby in there is my niece or nephew! The more the merrier here. I couldn’t stand to lose you! And besides, this way we can help each other with the children.

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What the sisters didn’t know, of course, was that their cousin Addie had news of her own to share.

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Later that evening, Addie approached her cousins over dinner.

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Addie: It turns out that you two aren’t the only ones with buns in the oven! I’M pregnant too!

Jaws dropped all around the table. No one had believed that Addie could be nice to a man for long enough to actually conceive a baby. The shocked silence stretched out uncomfortably, until Sylvie spoke first.

Sylvie: I guess that means it’s finally time for you to move out, then!

Sylvie had no love lost for her cousin, and she often wondered why Aurora didn’t just kick her out of the house already. But Aurora was the heir, and she had the authority to say who would stay and who would go, and so Sylvie kept her mouth shut. Mostly.

Aurora: Addie doesn’t need to move out. Unless she wants to.

Addie feigned sweetness (she was getting better at this), but Sylvie saw straight through her, even as Addie began to cry.

Addie: I’d prefer to stay, if you’ll have me. The father…he left me! I thought he loved me! But when I told him I was pregnant, he ran. I’m all alone in this, now. I’m so….scared!

Aurora, being kind to fault and prioritizing family above all, could not bring herself to ask Addie to leave under the circumstances.

Aurora: You can stay, Addie. As long as you want. This is a good thing! All these new babies! A new generation of Hasslich’s, all under the same roof! But Addie – there can be no more mischief, no more drama. If I see or hear you stirring up trouble again, I will have to ask you to leave. I won’t have my children growing up in a negative environment. As long as you can get along nicely, you are welcome here for as long as you like.

Addie agreed, of course. Sylvie relaxed a bit, and the idea of all the children playing together overshadowed whatever residual resentment she held for her cousin. Aurora mixed them drinks (virgin for the women, of course, and a Flaming Zesty for Abe) and they celebrated their new arrivals long into the night.

But they were too excited, too secure, safe in their family home, to notice the dark figure lurking…watching… just outside their walls.

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Chapter Sixty Four : The Path To Happiness

With all the recent drama, Aurora’s first pregnancy passed by practically without notice. But when the time came to deliver, Aurora was bursting at the seams with excitement. She was more than ready to meet her very first baby, and to begin filling her house with children – and with the laughter and the joy (and chaos) they would bring. Aurora knew her duty as an heiress was to produce a girl to carry the legacy into the next generation – but she felt no nervousness over the gender of her baby. Boy or girl, it didn’t matter. With as many children as she planned to have, one of them was bound to be a girl! If this one was a boy, she would have plenty of other opportunities to fulfill her legacy.

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But it turned out that there was no need to worry. Like every Hasslich heiress before her, Aurora’s firstborn was a girl, and an eligible heir to the legacy.

Her name was Coralie – both in honor of Andalie, and as a reminder to Aurora to be a better mother to her children than Andalie had been to her.

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Welcome to the world, Coralie Hasslich!!

————————————————————————————–

Meanwhile, in a neighborhood across town, Roxas was enjoying his brand new home. He loved his family, of course, and even his sister, regardless of her mean spirit and unkind words. But the distance between them had served as a breath of fresh air, and Roxas was ready for a change.

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He sat in front of his new computer in his new office, and he researched the spa procedures that would create his new look. The spa’s website let him upload a current photo of himself and experiment with different changes, nipping and tucking to his heart’s content.

The new Roxas Hasslich would be classically handsome, well-built, with a strong, masculine jaw. His nose would be smaller – less pointy, but proportionate – and an eye lift would completely transform his down-turned Hasslich eyes. He struggled to choose a new skin-tone, and even added a pricey eye-recolorization into the mix.

In the end, he filled out the form for the highly reputed spa, ticking off the procedures he wanted as he scrolled down the page. He took another look at the computer generation of his “makeover,” cringed as he filled in his payment information (BOING!), chose an appointment time, and hit submit.

By this time tomorrow, Roxas Hasslich would look like this:

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…And have a body that would look like this:

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————————————————————————————–

The next morning, Roxas awoke with a knot in his stomach. He was having second thoughts about the procedures – but he quickly pushed his doubts aside.

This is the path to happiness, he thought. This is the change I need.

And so he put on his shoes and took a long look in the mirror.

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This was the last he would see of the “old” Roxas Hasslich. The last time he would see his mother’s eyes in his own reflection.

He reminded himself that this was a good thing. He tied his shoes, and walked out the door.

When he arrived at the spa, the receptionist instructed him to change into a robe. He laughed darkly, thinking how silly it was to make this surgery seem like “pampering.” As if going under the knife was as simple as a foot massage. His shaking fingers fumbled as he unbuttoned his shirt. For the first time, it occurred to him that this was probably going to hurt – he blanched at the thought.

Straightening his spine, Roxas gathered his courage.

This is a good thing, he repeated to himself. This is the path to happiness.

He walked slowly down the hall. One foot in front of the other.

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This is a good thing.

This is the path to happiness.

This is a good thing.

This is the path to happiness.
This is the path to happiness.
This IS the path to happiness.

A voice spoke beside him.

“What’s the path to happiness?” asked the voice.

Roxas stopped in his tracks, feeling dazed. Had he said that out loud?

“Hello? Are you okay?” The voice was gentle, soothing. Feminine.

Roxas turned and tried to regain his speech.

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He cleared his throat.

Roxas: Oh. Hi. Um – well, I guess you could say I’m here for a makeover. A few cosmetic procedures to, ahem….enhance my appearance.

The girl laughed.

Girl: And that’s the path to happiness?! Sorry, I just don’t get it! Why would cosmetic surgery be the path to happiness?

Roxas: I just – well, I mean, it’s only – and my sister said…. What I mean is, well – I’m ugly, anyone can see that. And I’ve decided to not be ugly anymore.

Roxas cast his eyes downward, avoiding her gaze. There was something about this girl, something that made him feel suddenly embarrassed of his own vanity. He waited for her response, braced himself for whatever would come next.

But she only laughed – a hearty, unbridled belly laugh that Roxas would never have expected from the owner of that sweet, soothing voice. She even slapped her knee once or twice.

UGLY?” she roared, still giggling to herself. “That’s not even a real thing! Not something you can fix with surgery anyway. I mean, how do you fix someone’s personality with surgery?! That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard!”

The sound of her laughter was infectious, and soon Roxas found himself laughing right along with her. An involuntary chuckle that quickly snowballed into a full-on laughing fit – Roxas laughed so hard he cried, harder than he’d laughed since his parents died, since… Actually, maybe he’d actually never laughed this hard. What was he even laughing at? He couldn’t remember – and the absurdity of the thing just made him laugh even harder.

Finally getting a hold of himself, Roxas formally introduced himself to the young woman in front of him.

“I’m Bethroot Elstree,” she replied. “You can call me Beth.”

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Beth: Look, I promise you that cosmetic procedures are NOT the path to happiness. Wanna know how I know that? It’s because I’m on the path to happiness! And I sure as plum am not getting any surgical procedures done! – I’m just here for a foot rub!

Roxas couldn’t help but smile.

Roxas: Okay, then, Bethroot – since you’re the expert – what IS the path to happiness?

Beth: It’s all about new experiences, Roxas! Travel! Meeting new people and trying new things! Opening yourself up to the world! It’s why I’m here – to experience all the world has to offer!

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Roxas: Even the ugly things?

Beth: I told you, Roxas. There’s no such thing as ugly. Do you look at me and think I’m ugly?

Roxas looked at her –really looked at her – for the first time, and felt his breath catch in his throat.

Beth was radiant, he realized – beautiful in a way that transcended the physical, the visual – the superficial. She laughed with abandon, and made friends out of strangers. She welcomed the unknown and found joy where Roxas saw problems. Beth forged ahead with unbridled enthusiasm, never stopping to worry what others might think. Carefree and vibrant, the world paled in comparison to Bethroot Elstree.

Roxas was enchanted.

Roxas: You’re…beautiful.

Oblivious to the adoration written on his face, Beth breezed on, never missing a beat.

Beth: Well, beautiful isn’t really thing either, Roxas. But if you mean my soul is beautiful, then I’ll accept that.

Beth reached out and touched his arm, a mischievous glint in her eye.

Beth: How about this – I’ll make you a deal. If you cancel your procedure and come on an adventure with me, I’ll show you the real path to happiness.

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And so it began.

They started simply, right there at the spa. Beth insisted they take a photo first, before their tackling their first joint adventure: yoga.

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Their afternoon adventure soon ran into the evening, and then far into the night. The next morning they met again, and then again the morning after that. Each day they set out on a fresh new adventure, discovering and exploring their world together.

It turned out there were lots of things that Beth had never done before. Their trip to the beach was the first time Beth had ever seen the sea, and the night they went dancing was the first time Beth ever drank juice. She had never seen a farm before, or hiked in the mountains, and she had certainly never seen a waterfall or met a real live hermit! And of course, everywhere they went, Beth made sure to document their escapades as they unfolded.

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When Beth admitted she’d never been fishing, Roxas determined to take her to his favorite fishing hole – a magical, secluded place deep in the forest.

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Roxas: I can’t believe you’ve never been fishing before! I mean, what, did you grow up under a rock or something?

Beth laughed, knowing he was only joking. But what he didn’t know was how close he’d actually come to the truth….

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Beth: Something like that! Let’s just say I lived a sheltered life until now. That’s why I’m here on this adventure with you! When my sister left home, I realized how much of the world I haven’t seen, how many people there were to meet! I just had to know what else was out there, you know?

She pulled out her phone and drew Roxas in for the requisite selfie.

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Beth: Speaking of my sister, I think she’d love to see what we’ve been up to! Not that I know where she actually is….

She sent the photo off, and turned back to Roxas.

Beth: You know, there’s something else I’ve always wanted to do…. Would you take me to a cemetery?

————————————————————————————–

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An hour later, Beth followed Roxas through the ominous wrought iron gates of the Newcrest Cemetery. A little nervous, she hung back and let Roxas lead the way. He did his best to seem brave, but deep down he was feeling a little jittery himself.

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Roxas: So legend has it that this place is haunted by the ghost of Victoria Newcrest. She was the daughter of Newcrest’s founder, Augustus Newcrest, and as a young woman she was jilted at the altar by her lover. No one knows for sure, but they say he was a Lothario – poor Victoria was so devastated by the rejection that she threw herself into the canal –

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Beth: BOOOO!!!!!!

Roxas screamed, shrill and high-pitched, like an infant or a little girl. In any other situation with any other person, Roxas would have been mortified – but the pair immediately devolved into laughter, and it never occurred to Roxas to be embarrassed.

I’m completely myself when I’m with her, he realized.

And in that moment, he knew – Beth was The One. And there was no turning back.

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——————————————————————————

A few nights later, Roxas called Beth and asked her to meet him at the most romantic place he knew. He gave her directions (of course she had never been there before!) and patted the tiny box in his pocket before heading out the door.

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Roxas: Bethroot Elstree, you are the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. You’ve helped me to become the very best version of myself – and with you, I know that’s more than enough. You were right all along – the path to happiness has nothing to do with looks or appearance. Beth – YOU are my path to happiness. I know you want a life of adventure – and all I want is to go on that adventure with you. Wherever you go, I will go too – as long as you’ll have me.

He looked up at her, hope in his eyes.

Roxas: Beth, will you marry me?

Beth nodded vigorously, unable to choke out the words.

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Beth: If I’m your path to happiness, Roxas – then you are my adventure.

She pulled him in close and whispered in his ear.

Beth: And as long as we’re on an adventure, there’s one more thing I’ve never done that I’m just dying to try….

xxc

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Author’s Notes:

First, a big thank you to Sabreene for sending Beth to Roxas!

For those of you unfamiliar with Bethroot Elstree – Beth is the sister of Merriweather Elstree, founder of the Elstree Prettacy. Beth and Roxas’s story will continue as part of the Elstree legacy (which you can check out here!).

Also…I have used quite a bit of gallery content in this chapter. I will update with lot names and creators as soon as possible!

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