Round Robin Generation Nine: Part Four

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Round Robin Generation Nine: Part Four

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Round Robin Generation Nine: Part Four

  1. 1. Marcus did come over as soon as he could, right after sundown.When he tried to take me in his arms, I stopped him. “No,” I said. “It’s already 7:30. Go play with the kids whilethey’re still awake.”
  2. 2. He reached out again, but stopped himself. “Right. The kids.”
  3. 3. The rest of that evening was spent in family time in the living room. I brought the mat and dangly toys in for Lily toplay with while Marcus read the older kids a story, Desdemona in his lap and Grey curled up as close to his side ashe could get.
  4. 4. Lily was the first to fall asleep, unsurprisingly. When Desdemona yawned, Marcus glanced at me, then closed thebook. “I think it’s bedtime for all little girls,” he said.Desdemona shook her head. “Not sleepy!”“I think you are,” I said. “If you’re very good and get onto your mat, I bet Daddy will be willing to finish the storyupstairs.”She seemed to turn this over in her mind. “Okay,” she said, lifting up her arms. “Daddy carry.”
  5. 5. I put Lily in her crib while Marcus carried Desdemona to her mat.“More story!” She clapped her hands.“Only when you lie down,” I said. She frowned at me, but obeyed anyway. Grey sat down on the floor next to hermat and Marcus opened the book again, finally finishing the story.By the time it was over, Desdemona had fallen asleep and Grey was yawning.
  6. 6. I looked at Grey. “I think you need to sleep too.”He shook his head frantically. “No, please, I want to spend time with Dad.”“You’ll have more time in the morning,” I pointed out.“But I want to see Dad. He wasn’t here this morning and who knows when the vampire council will call again? Dad’shere now, I want to spend time with him now.”
  7. 7. I raised an eyebrow at Marcus. I think he would have blushed if his body allowed for it, but instead he looked away,avoiding my eyes.“Please, Mom?” Grey asked again.“Alright,” I said. “You can spend another hour with your dad, and then it’s bedtime for you.”“Thanks, Mom!” He hugged me, then grabbed Marcus’s hand and dragged him out of the room. “Come on! I wantto play Don’t Wake the Llama!”
  8. 8. Grey happily set up the game on the table on the back porch. “Do you want to join us?” Marcus asked as hewatched Grey.I looked at Grey, then shook my head. “I think I’ll let you two have some father-son bonding time.” Grey grinned atme, and I knew I’d picked the right response.
  9. 9. I left them to their game and headed back into the office to look at lists of new restaurants in the city and pick somefor my upcoming reviews. I’d meant to do this during the day, but three children was that much more work thantwo, and I just hadn’t managed to find the time.
  10. 10. After an hour, I stood up, stretched, and headed out to the porch. Marcus and Grey were in the middle of a rousinggame of Don’t Wake the Llama.I waited, watching as Grey carefully, thoughtfully, put one of the sticks down. When it was balanced, he slowlypulled his hand back, then grinned. “Your turn, Dad.”Marcus was not as careful as Grey, and when he placed his stick, the whole pile came crashing down.Grey grinned. “I guess I win.”Marcus smiled at him. “I guess you do.”
  11. 11. I cleared my throat and both of them turned to look at me. “Bedtime,” I said firmly.Grey sighed, but he stood up anyway. “Tuck me in, Dad?”
  12. 12. After we put Grey to bed, we headed back down to the second floor and checked on the girls. Both Desdemona andLily were still sleeping.
  13. 13. Marcus took my hand and led me back to my room, then began kissing me.I pulled away again. “Not tonight.”“But–”“No, Marcus. I’m completely exhausted. I woke up when you left last night and didn’t manage to fall back asleep atall, and the kids have run me ragged all day. I just want to climb into bed and get a full night’s sleep.”
  14. 14. I was completely exhausted, but to tell the truth, I also wasn’t certain I wanted to woohoo with Marcus right now.We’d argued the night before, and sleeping with him would be…it would be condoning how he’d been acting,condoning his choice to leave me and the kids and go to the vampires.He nodded slowly. “I’ll see you in the morning.”“See you then.”As Marcus left the room, I climbed into bed and went to sleep.
  15. 15. I hate to say I had no faith in Marcus, but I honestly wasn’t expecting him to still be there when I woke up the nextmorning. But he was – in fact, he was feeding Lily a bottle.He smiled at me when I entered the nursery. “She woke up about ten minutes ago. I figured I’d let you sleep.”“Thanks.”
  16. 16. Desdemona woke up then, stretching and looking around. “Daddy!”I scooped her up before she could crash into him. “Yup, Daddy’s still here.”There was the sound of running feet on the staircase, and then Grey was in the nursery with the rest of us. Hegrinned at Marcus. “Dad. Hi."
  17. 17. I handed Desdemona to Marcus and took Lily so he could hug Grey and Desdemona. Then he looked outside. “Thesun is close to rising, kids. I need to go.”Grey frowned, but nodded. Desdemona pouted when Marcus placed her on the floor. Grey leaned down. “Don’tworry, Desi. Dad’ll be back tonight.”Marcus smiled, then suddenly turned into a bat and flew out the window, headed for his apartment.
  18. 18. I blinked. “Well. That’s new.” ***
  19. 19. Time passed, as it does. Marcus came over fairly often to see the kids, and to see me, though I didn’t let him intobed more often than not. I was just so tired lately, and I had a sneaking suspicion as to why.
  20. 20. Grey continued to do well at school, while Desdemona enjoyed her toys.She also discovered Lily, and seemed to enjoy making funny faces at her little sister.As long as it kept her from bothering me while I worked, and didn’t hurt either of them, I was fine with it.
  21. 21. And then, sooner than seemed possible, it was time for Desdemona to become a child.I waited until the evening to have the cake, so that Marcus could come.I held Desdemona and helped her blow out her candles while Marcus and Grey blew horns. Rainelle chose to watchLily, who had already fallen asleep, rather than coming to the birthday celebration.“Go Desi!” Grey yelled, then blew his horn again.
  22. 22. We all ate cake afterwards, and then the kids dragged me and Marcus out for a rousing water balloon fight, eventhough it was already evening.We played until they were exhausted enough to fall asleep without arguing too much.
  23. 23. Grey went up to his room, and Desdemona got to see her new room for the first time. She was very excited, andvery happy with the decorations so far, though I could tell she planned to add some more pictures and such when itwasn’t the middle of the night.
  24. 24. After checking on Lily, Marcus and I headed back to my room. I wasn’t completely exhausted, so when he kissedme, I led him to bed.
  25. 25. This time, when I woke up in the middle of the night, it wasn’t because of Marcus leaving.It was because my stomach had just moved and my sneaking suspicion as to why I’d been so tired lately had beenconfirmed. I was pregnant. Again. “Crap,” I muttered.
  26. 26. Marcus looked up groggily at me, then seemed to notice my stomach. He blinked a few times, then sat up. “Is thatwhat I think it is?”“Another pregnancy? Yes, yes it is.”“How did – no, I know how that happened. Do you have any idea when?”“My guess is right after Lily was born. I’ve been pretty exhausted since then.” Not to mention how rarely he’d beenin my bed.
  27. 27. I sat down again. “We’re going to make this work, right?”He nodded slowly. “Right. We are.” He scratched his head. “But I’m not going to be around the next few days.I’ve got vampire council meetings, and I can’t miss them. I’ve missed enough of the relatively unimportant thingslately, I can’t miss the important ones.”“You’ll stay long enough to say goodbye to the kids today, though?”“Of course.”“Okay.” I took a deep breath. “Okay.”
  28. 28. Marcus did say goodbye to Grey and Desdemona the next morning. Neither of them were happy to know hewouldn’t be back for at least a week if not longer, but they accepted it, albeit with much grumbling.
  29. 29. It was only after Marcus left, when we were eating breakfast, that Desdemona asked about it.“Mom, why is Dad gone so much?”I closed my eyes for a second. “He’s trying to keep us safe, Desi. The vampire council has a lot of power, so he hasto listen to them and go to meetings.”She frowned. “That’s stupid.”“Don’t – it’s not safe to say that, okay? Promise me you won’t insult the vampire council.”
  30. 30. Desdemona pouted. “I don’t want to. They’re stupid and they suck and they’re mean and I want Dad to be here.”“Please don’t, Desdemona. Please.”Grey looked at me, then looked at Desdemona. “Desi, you know Mom’s got a good reason to want you to be quiet.She wouldn’t ask like that if she didn’t. So…please?”She crossed her arms. “…Fine.” Then she left the room.
  31. 31. I rubbed my forehead. Grey patted my arm. “She’ll be quiet, Mom.”“I hope so. Look out for her at school?”He nodded. “Of course I will.”I smiled weakly. “Thanks.”Then the school bus honked its horn outside, so Grey kissed me on the cheek and headed out. I made sureDesdemona also caught the bus, then collapsed on the couch in the living room.
  32. 32. “Desdemona’s going to get herself in trouble if she keeps talking like that,” Rainelle said. I looked up and saw thatshe was sitting on the couch by my feet.I nodded as I sat up. “I know. Believe me, I know.”
  33. 33. We sat in silence for a while, then Rainelle sighed. “I hate to say I’m happy, but…”“But you’re happy that Marcus isn’t going to be around for a while.”“Yeah. Sorry.” She shuddered. “Vampires, though…they’re just scary.”“What do you know about the vampire council, anyway?”“Not a whole lot, but I know they’re not kind to people who cross them. There were a few reports, when I was alive,of people disappearing or showing up maimed because of something they said or did, always related to thevampires.”“Marcus has told me stories.”
  34. 34. She nodded. “I’m sure it’s much the same now as it was back then.”“Why do they scare you so much, anyway? They can’t touch you – you’re dead.”She shrugged. “They just feel wrong. I don’t know how to explain it better than that, but it’s like…it’s like they’renot complete somehow. They’re broken.”“Not physically or mentally.”“No. It’s something in the soul, their essence.”“Hm,” I said thoughtfully. I didn’t know what Rainelle was feeling, but I also knew she was telling the truth as shesaw it. Her reactions were too real for her not to be.
  35. 35. A noise came from upstairs and we both looked up. “I think Lily’s awake,” I said.“You’d better go give her a bottle, then.”I looked at Rainelle. “Why don’t you feed her?”“Me?”“You’ve gotten better at keeping things solid. Why don’t you try?”“You’d trust me?” I nodded and she beamed. “Thank you.”
  36. 36. I did stay in the room while Rainelle fed Lily her bottle, just in case. If she dropped my daughter, I wanted to bethere to at least attempt to catch her.But she didn’t drop Lily while feeding her or cuddling with her, and she looked positively radiant when she was done.“I did it!”“You did. Now hand me my daughter, I want some cuddling time.” ***
  37. 37. Luckily, the vampire council meetings – whatever they were about – took a break the day of Lily’s birthday, soMarcus was able to make it to the…well, the not-really-a-party.
  38. 38. Though Lily’s coloring all came from me, she seemed to have a mix of features from both of us, unlike her oldersiblings, who each looked much more like one of us than the other.She was also much quieter than either of them had been.
  39. 39. She loved spending time with all of us, but she was equally happy to spend hours playing on the xylophone alone.Of course, Grey and Desdemona didn’t leave her alone very much; when they were home, they took her into theircircle and showed her how to draw and build block towers and play with the dollhouse and the toys in the toy box.
  40. 40. But when they weren’t home, she would happily draw while I wrote my restaurant reviews and wait until I came overto show me what she’d done.
  41. 41. “Look, Mommy,” she said one afternoon when I came over to the drawing table. “I dwawed you and me and Gweyand Desi.”“That’s a lovely picture, Lily,” I said, looking at it. The figures were vaguely human-shaped, but I admit I wouldnever have recognized who was who if not for the coloring – Lily and I were drawn in green, Grey and Desdemona inpeach, Grey and Lily with red hair, Desdemona and I with black – other than that, the figures didn’t quite look likepeople and all had similar heights and hair lengths. “But where’s Daddy?”She shrugged, handed me the picture, and thoughtfully chewed on a crayon. I waited for an answer, but it nevercame.
  42. 42. After chewing on the crayon for a while, Lily crawled over to the dollhouse and began to play with a mother doll anda baby doll. She ignored the father doll.I stood up, stretched my aching back (the floor is not the most comfortable place to be sitting during a pregnancy)and went to the phone.
  43. 43. It rang. And rang. And rang some more. After eight rings, an answering machine finally picked up. “You’vereached the phone of Marcus Jones. I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now; please leave a message and I’ll getback to you as soon as possible.”“Marcus, it’s me. How much longer are you going to be busy? I’d like to see you, and the kids…it would be good forthem, to have you here. Call me back as soon as you can.”
  44. 44. Then I hung up and dialed another number. This time it was picked up immediately. “Hello?”“Lisa? It’s Roxanna.”“Hey, what’s up?”“Have you seen Marcus recently?”I could almost hear her shaking her head. “Not for a few weeks now. Why?”I sighed. “Come over? We can talk better in person.”“Okay.”
  45. 45. “So what’s going on?” Lisa asked me twenty minutes later.I put Lily’s drawing on the table. “Lily drew her family today.”“Those are people?” She looked more closely at it. “Well, if those are people, that’s got to be you, that’s Lily, that’sGrey, which makes that Desdemona.” She looked up. “Where’s Marcus?”“I asked her and she shrugged. I haven’t even seen him since Lily became a toddler. He was getting better, but…”
  46. 46. “Could it actually be something important?”“What could be more important than your family?” I forced myself to try to calm down. “I’m sorry, Lisa. I’m notmad at you, I just…”“It’s okay. I get it.” She rubbed my shoulder. “How are the older two handling everything?”“Desdemona is not happy that her father is never around, while Grey is almost too mature about everything. I left amessage on his answering machine, but who knows when he’ll get it?”“Look, you’ve done everything you can. Hopefully he’ll stop being an idiot and come around soon.”“I hope so.”
  47. 47. The front door opened and Grey and Desdemona came pelting through the house. “Look, Mom!” Desdemonabounced up and down. “I got an A plus!”“Congratulations, sweetie,” I said.They’d come running through the office to the kitchen, and Lily had left her dollhouse to follow them in. Grey put hishomework down and leaned down. “Hey, Lil.” He tickled her and she giggled happily.
  48. 48. I leaned down and scooped Lily up. “Alright, kids, it’s homework time.” Grey and Desdemona groaned in unison. Ilooked at them sternly. “Get your homework done quickly, and you can spend the rest of the day playing.”“Yes, Mom,” Grey said. He picked up his homework and put it on the table, then sat down. Desdemona grimaced,but followed.“Oh, and Desi?” She looked up at me. “No copying off Grey. Grey, no letting her copy.”“Mo-om,” Desdemona moaned. I just watched her, eyebrows raised, until she nodded. “Fine.”
  49. 49. I left them in the kitchen to do their homework, then I put Lily on the ground in the office. “Grey and Desi have todo school stuff for just a little bit longer. Can you play by yourself until they’re ready to play with you?”“Okay, Mommy.” She crawled back toward the drawing table and began a new piece.I stood up and gestured for Lisa to follow me. We made our way out to the front porch.
  50. 50. “Do you want me to try to reach him?” she asked.“Would you?”“Of course. I’ll check by his apartment, talk to his landlord.”“And I guess I’ll try calling again. Maybe he’ll pick up when it’s closer to dark.”We hugged, then she left, walking down the street toward Marcus’s apartment. I went back into the house.
  51. 51. I made sure to make the phone call where the kids couldn’t hear me, but Marcus didn’t pick up even when it wascloser to dark – or even after dark, when I tried a third time.I tried not to show I was worried as we had family playtime, then dinner, then bedtime. I put all three kids to sleep,tucked them in, edited a restaurant review, sent it in to my editor, and then headed to bed myself. ***
  52. 52. I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night.I sat up and froze. Someone was in the room, and whoever it was was much too tall to be one of the kids.
  53. 53. “Roxanna?” a voice said.I took a deep breath. “Marcus, you scared me! Turn on the lights, will you?” He did, then he came to sit beside meon the bed. I rubbed my eyes. “Sorry, I’m not really awake yet. What are you doing here, anyway?”“You called me.”“Oh. Right.”
  54. 54. “What did you need me for? I have important things going on, and I managed to get a couple of hours off, but Ishould go back soon.”“You should see your kids.”“Are we arguing about this again? You know I’m trying to do what’s best for our family–”I cut him off. “You may think that but the kids miss you.”“I’m sure it’s fine…”
  55. 55. I climbed out of bed and went to the dressing table, where I’d put Lily’s drawing. I handed it to Marcus.“What’s this?” he asked.“Lily drew it today. See if you can guess.”He looked closely. “I think those might be people?” I nodded. He looked more. “That’s you, then, and Grey,Desdemona, and Lily.” He looked back up at me. “I’m not sure what you want me to see.”
  56. 56. “Where are you?”“What?”“You’re not in the picture, Marcus. I asked Lily why Daddy wasn’t there and she just shrugged. You haven’t evenseen her since she became a toddler, so she’s not including you in her life.”
  57. 57. He placed the picture on the bed with shaking hands. “I didn’t realize.”I took his hands. “This is your chance to improve, Marcus. You need to be here more, even if it’s just a couplehours in the evening before you head off to the vampire stuff. I know it’s important, and I know angering thevampire council is a really bad idea, but it’s even worse when your kids forget who you are.”
  58. 58. “I’ll check in on them all before I have to go.”“They’re asleep, but I don’t think any of them will mind being woken up to see you. Let’s go check on Lily.”He nodded and we headed to the nursery.
  59. 59. Lily smiled at me when we came in and held out her arms to be picked up, but when Marcus bent down she shylyducked behind my leg and peeked out at him.I raised my eyebrows at him. He shrugged.
  60. 60. I picked Lily up. “Don’t worry, sweetie, it’s only Daddy.”“Hey, Lil,” Marcus said. “Sorry I haven’t been around much.”She buried her face in my shoulder.
  61. 61. Since Lily wouldn’t let go of me, she came with us when we went upstairs to say hi to the older kids.Desdemona was very happy to see her father – happy enough that her shriek of joy was followed by Grey burstinginto the room. “What’s wrong?” he asked, then looked around. “Dad!”While Lily was a bit reluctant to hug Marcus, the older two certainly weren’t. Grey and Desdemona almost dogpiledhim.“It’s okay, Lily,” I said quietly as we watched them. “It’s Daddy.”
  62. 62. I jolted as I felt something. “And you can go to Daddy, okay?” She nodded slowly. “Marcus.”He must have heard something wrong in my voice because he came over immediately. “What?”“Take Lily.”He didn’t ask any stupid questions and just took the toddler, which was very very good.
  63. 63. Because as soon as Lily was in Marcus’s arms, I went into labor.
  64. 64. And when it was done, we had a third daughter with my hair and skin and the same mysterious blue eyes as Grey.I held her out to show the older kids – Lily now had her head buried in Marcus’s neck. I glanced at him and henodded.“Grey, Desdemona, Lily, I’d like you to meet your little sister Fortunata.”
  65. 65. Grey and Desdemona both cooed happily at her, while Lily finally leaned over tentatively and waved at her sister.Grey looked at his sisters. “Desi,” he said, pointing at Desdemona, then Lily. “Lil.” He turned back to Fortunata andpursed his lips, thinking. “Nata.”Desdemona tilted her head. “I like it. Hi, Nata.”
  66. 66. Lily yawned and I looked at the kids. Grey and Desdemona both looked like they were fighting off yawnsthemselves. “Back to bed,” I said. “You’ve both got school tomorrow.”There was grumbling, but they kissed Fortunata, Lily, Marcus, and me, and went.
  67. 67. Marcus and I carried the girls downstairs, fed them both bottles, then put Lily on the mat and Fortunata in the crib.They both fell asleep immediately, and we stood watching them for a while.Finally, he turned to me. “Roxanna–”I sighed. “You have to go?”“I’ll try to come back more. I promise.”“I’ll hold you to that.”And then he was gone.
  68. 68. I stroked Fortunata’s head once more.Then I went back to bed. ***
  69. 69. After that, Marcus was able to come over on more days, but for shorter times. He tried to make it over either beforethe kids went to bed or after they woke up, but that wasn’t always possible. All of us got used to being woken up atodd hours to see him – though I was already up in the middle of the night tending to Lily and Fortunata quite oftenanyway.
  70. 70. As I had noticed before, adding one more new kid to the mix made things that much harder. At least this time Iwasn’t pregnant, as Marcus and I hadn’t actually woohooed since Fortunata’s birth – we simply hadn’t had the time,and I hadn’t really had the inclination.Luckily, Grey was fairly self-sufficient, and Rainelle helped, but Desdemona continued to be demanding (though atleast she’d gotten a bit better since Marcus started showing up more often), and Lily and Fortunata both needed meto feed and change them, and also to cuddle.No matter how much help you have, let me tell you, being a single parent to four kids is not easy.
  71. 71. We all spent time in my office, as the kids played with the various toys and Nata played on her mat – and I wroterestaurant reviews. Lisa, Kathy, Jean, Terri, and Helen all watched the kids sometimes when I had to go out to try arestaurant so I could review it, though Jean had started refusing to watch them by herself anymore.“I don’t know how you manage,” she told me one evening after I’d come home and we’d put the kids to bed. “Fourkids is a lot.”I shrugged. “You do what you have to.”“Well, I’m making Helen help next time. She has grandchildren.”I grinned. “Go ahead. I think the kids will enjoy having you both around.”
  72. 72. Another night, I got home to find Kathy cleaning up after dinner.“Did you actually manage to get them to go to bed?” I asked. “I’m impressed.”She laughed and shook her head. “No. Well, I got Fortunata to sleep, and Lily’s playing quietly upstairs. I sentGrey and Desdemona outside to play tag for a while to work off some energy. I’m glad you’re back though. Thosekids are more exhausting than a Friday night at Londoste.”I laughed. “Yeah, they are. You go home, I’ll get this.”“Thanks.”
  73. 73. I called the kids in and sent them upstairs to get ready for bed. Then I went upstairs myself and picked up Lily, whowas enjoying the xylophone, and carried her into the nursery.I stopped short when I opened the door.“Look, Mommy,” Lily said. “Nata fly!”
  74. 74. I knew powers ran in my family, but could Fortunata be showing one when she was still a baby? I’d never heard ofthem showing before toddlerhood, if it even happened that early.I put Lily on the ground and carefully approached the crib.“Rainelle?” I called.She popped into the room. “What?”I shook my head. “So that’s not you. Is there another ghost here?”“I don’t think so. I would know, right?”“I have no idea.”
  75. 75. By the time I actually got to the crib, Fortunata was lying down again, with no sign that she’d done anything odd atall.“What was that all about?” Rainelle asked.“Didn’t you see it?”“See what?”“Fortunata was floating.”She shook her head. “No. You thought it was another ghost?”
  76. 76. “There are powers in my family, but…”I picked Fortunata up and examined her. She seemed perfectly normal, as far as I could tell, but was I really thebest judge of normal? I was part alien, part elf, dating a vampire, had dealt with zombies, had a coven of gypsiesprotecting me with a magical bracelet, and I could talk to ghosts. No, I definitely wasn’t the best judge of normal.“She looks okay,” Rainelle said, bringing me out of my thoughts.“Yeah,” I said. “I hope so.” ***
  77. 77. Soon after that, it was time for a big birthday party – or as big as we ever had. I’d warned Marcus, so he couldmake sure to reserve the evening for us, and he’d come over to celebrate all the birthdays.Desdemona was a bit annoyed that the focus was on everyone but her; Grey was due to become a teenager, Lilywas due to become a child, and Fortunata was due to become a toddler, leaving Desdemona as the only childwithout a birthday. She pouted rather impressively until she realized there would be three cakes, at which point shedecided she was okay with it all as long as she got to eat a slice from each.
  78. 78. And so, after sunset, once Marcus had arrived, we lit the candles and watched as they all grew up.Fortunata was a good mix of the two of us, though her coloring all came from me (or some distant ancestor of mine,anyway). Lily seemed extremely happy with her new height, and Grey was very ready to be a teenager. Thebirthdays themselves went well.It was afterwards that everything went to hell.
  79. 79. Once we’d all finished our cake (and yes, Desdemona did manage to eat three slices), Marcus took my hand and ledme out onto the porch. He looked me up and down. “You’re getting old,” he said.“I am the mother of a teenager,” I pointed out.“But I’m the father of a teenager, and I’m not.”“That’s because you’re a vampire. You don’t age.” This wasn’t exactly news, so I wondered why Marcus wasbringing it up now.“But you do. I feel like one day I’m going to look at you and you’re going to be…old.”
  80. 80. I shrugged. “I don’t know what to say to that. Aging happens, Marcus. It’s not exactly a reversible process.”“But it’s stoppable. You could stop aging. You could become a vampire.”“Are we having this conversation again? I already told you I don’t want to be a vampire.”“You didn’t have anyone to take care of the kids. Grey is old enough now, to watch the girls during the day. You’dbe fine.”
  81. 81. I gaped. Then I forcibly shut my mouth. “Marcus. No. Grey is a teenager, yes, and he’s good at taking care of hissisters, this isn’t news.” We both glanced through the window to where we could see Grey setting Desdemona andLily up at the drawing table, then showing Fortunata how to properly hold and use a crayon. “But he’s a teenager.He needs to go to school, have a life, be a kid. He doesn’t need more responsibility. Even if he is more of a fatherto the girls than you are sometimes,” I muttered.“What did you just say?”“I said that Grey is more of a father than you are. He’s there for the girls even when you’re not, even when he’smissing you. Even when he needs his father.”“I am there as much as I can be.”
  82. 82. I shook my head. “You’re really not, Marcus. You’re here more often, but you’re always in a hurry to leave, to goback to the vampires – to the privileges and the politics and everything that that gives you. You enjoy the goodparts of parenting and never deal with the bad. You’ve never grown up.”“You know nothing–”“I know nothing? How the hell do I know nothing? God damn it, Marcus, I’m the strict parent. How the hell I endedup the strict parent, I have no idea, because I always thought I would be the fun parent when I was growing up, if Ieven had kids in the first place. But no, you’re never around, and someone has to do it, so here I am, setting rulesand enforcing them and being mature in ways that you are not at all. You haven’t just stopped aging physically,Marcus. You’ve stopped aging mentally too.”
  83. 83. “I have not.”“Yes you have. What’s your biggest concern? The next party you can go to?”“That is not at all fair, Roxanna.”“One day, Marcus. One day you are going to wake up and look for your kids and realize that you missed their entirelives and you’ll never see them again because they will be gone. There is a curse on my family and our kids are assubject to it as I am. Sometime – and it’s coming sooner than you think – they will have to leave. It won’t happenuntil Fortunata is a teenager, but it will happen. You’re going to realize how much you missed by focusing on thevampire council and your parties and there won’t be a chance to get it back.”
  84. 84. “How do you know they’ll have to leave? Maybe it won’t happen.”“It will. It always does. It has ever since my many times great-grandmother Carli was a teenager. She had to runbecause the elves wanted to kill her. They still want to kill us, and they’re not the only ones who do. I’ve dealt withzombies, my mother dealt with witches, and there have been others in our past. It’s – I want to spend as muchtime with our kids as I possibly can before I have to let go of them, and it hurts that you don’t realize that. I don’twant you to miss everything, Marcus, but you will if you keep going like you have been.” My voice broke at the end.I’d started out angry, but now I was just sad. I didn’t want him – or the kids – to miss that time together, but everytime I’d told him that, nothing had changed. They were growing up so quickly, and he was missing so much,and…there was no way to get it back. And he didn’t seem to realize that at all.
  85. 85. We stood in awkward silence for a moment, not looking at each other. I looked through the window again; while thegirls were happily drawing away, Grey had grabbed a book and was sitting at my desk reading it – or more likely notreally reading it, considering how frequently he was looking up to glance at us through the window.
  86. 86. “So there’s no chance of you becoming a vampire.”That brought the anger back, full-force. I almost slapped him. “No.”“What about when Fortunata becomes a child? They’ll be able to handle themselves a bit more then; you won’t haveto be around during the day.”“Marcus, there is never a chance of me becoming a vampire. Every single reason I mentioned the night Lily wasborn still exists. I don’t want to be at the beck and call of the vampire council, I don’t want to scare Rainelle, I don’twant to miss a single moment with the kids, and I don’t want to stop aging.”
  87. 87. “But why not? Stopping aging is amazing – never having to grow old, never having to die.”I shook my head. “Never getting a chance to see those who have already died,” I said quietly.He looked at me questioningly.“I told you my twin died when we were teenagers.” He nodded. “If I become a vampire – if I never die – I give upany chance of ever seeing her again. There is something after death, and I…I have to hope she’s waiting for me.”
  88. 88. “You’re suicidal. You want to die.”“What? No. I mean, yes, I want to die, eventually. Not now. Not while I have something to live for. But one day,when my life has run its natural course, when our children have left to live their own lives, I want to die and find mysister again.”“So you’re saying that your dead sister is more important than me.”“God, would you just get over yourself? Listen to yourself, Marcus. You’re being an idiot. There are more importantthings in life than fun, and it makes me sad to know that you still haven’t realized that, even after all these years.”
  89. 89. “So you’re not going to become a vampire,” he said again.I rolled my eyes. “At the risk of repeating myself, no, I’m not going to become a vampire.”“I can’t watch you age. You’ll be old, Roxanna.”“I will.” I looked at him. “I guess we’re at a standstill. You can’t watch me age, and I can’t become a vampire.”“You won’t become a vampire. It’s not can’t.”I shook my head. “It’s can’t. Physically, yes, it’s possible, but the reasons not to are so much stronger than anyreason you’ve ever given me to. If it were a reversible process, well, maybe I’d consider it. Maybe. But it’s not.Once you’re a vampire, there’s no going back. I can’t do that, and I won’t.”
  90. 90. We stared at each other for a moment. “I’m sorry,” I said finally, “but I think we need to break up.”The words hung in the air between us, an almost physical presence – the elephant in the room. We’d finally stareddirectly at it, brought it to life, and now it would destroy us. I think he knew that as well as I did.
  91. 91. “But I love you, Roxanna.”“And I love you too, Marcus. But where are we going? We’re at a standstill on the aging and the vampirism and thekids and the parenting. Neither of us is going to change our point of view. Sometimes it seems like all we do is fightanymore. This isn’t working.”“I don’t want to break up.”“I think it’s the right thing to do.”
  92. 92. He nodded slowly and I closed my eyes briefly, then opened them again. “Marcus?” I said.“Yes?”“You should still come over. See the kids as often as you can. You’re still their father and you always will be. Saygoodnight to them before you go.”He nodded again. “Alright.”
  93. 93. We went back into the house and he kissed the kids goodbye, then left. I stood at the door watching him until Icouldn’t see him anymore.
  94. 94. When I returned to the office, Fortunata had put down her crayon and was yawning widely.“I guess you’re tired, huh?” I asked.Grey put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll take her up, Mom.”“Are you sure?”“Of course.”
  95. 95. I nodded. He hugged me, then picked Fortunata up and took her to the nursery. Desdemona hugged me as well,then followed him up the stairs.I yawned and stretched and looked down when I felt a slight tugging on my hand. “Mom?” Lily asked.“Yes, sweetie?”“Where am I supposed to sleep?”
  96. 96. Crap, crap, and double crap. With everything that had happened, I hadn’t thought about a bedroom for Lily.I forced a smile. “Why don’t you share with me tonight? We’ll figure out the bedrooms tomorrow, okay?”She smiled back. “Okay.” ***
  97. 97. The next morning I managed to get everyone downstairs and mostly ready for school in time to eat a familybreakfast. Rainelle was feeding Fortunata, who seemed to enjoy the invisibly floating spoon, while the rest of us ate.I finished my cereal and put my spoon down. “Alright, kids. It’s time we had an important discussion.”
  98. 98. Grey looked at me, then seemed to think twice about what he’d been planning on saying. “What about, Mom?”“Bedrooms.”“Bedrooms?” He sounded confused, like he’d thought I meant something else.“Bedrooms,” I confirmed. “Last night, after you took Fortunata upstairs and Desdemona went to bed, Lily asked mewhere she was going to sleep and I realized we hadn’t set up a room for her, so she shared with me. That, however,is not going to be a permanent situation. We have four bedrooms and five of us.” I turned to the side. “Sorry,Rainelle, but you don’t sleep, so for the purposes of this discussion you don’t count.”She smiled. “That’s fine.”
  99. 99. I turned back to the kids. “Since we have more people than bedrooms, that means someone has to share. I am notsharing my room. I am the parent, I need my own space. Grey gets his own room as well. That leaves you threegirls.”Desdemona crossed her arms. “I don’t want to share. How come we have to share anyway? Why can’t you orGrey?”I raised an eyebrow. “I’m the adult. That’s not up for negotiation. As for Grey, he’s the only boy, and a teenager.That’s not up for negotiation either.”
  100. 100. “But why?”I sighed. “Desdemona. Do you want to share a room with Grey?”“No.”“Why not?”“Cause he’s a boy.” She paused for a moment, suddenly seeming to realize what she’d just said. “Oh. Fine. I stilldon’t want to share though. I like having my own room.”
  101. 101. Lily tentatively raised her hand. “I don’t mind sharing, Mom. If you replace the crib with a bed, I can share withNata.”“You’re sure you’re okay with that?”She nodded.I looked at Lily, then Fortunata, then Desdemona, who was definitely satisfied with this solution. “Alright,” I said.“We’ll pick out a new bed and other furniture for you today after school, then.”She smiled. “Okay, Mom.”I glanced at the clock, then clapped my hands. “Alright, kids. Time to finish getting ready for school.”
  102. 102. Desdemona and Lily ran out of the room and up the stairs to brush their teeth and get their bags, while Rainellepicked Fortunata up and took her back to the nursery for a diaper change.I had started to gather the bowls and spoons from breakfast when I noticed that Grey hadn’t left. “Don’t you needto get your books ready?”He shrugged. “I brought them downstairs already, Mom. And yes, I brushed my teeth. I’m ready to go wheneverthe girls are.” He went to the sink and started washing the breakfast dishes I’d already put in it, though histhoughts were clearly elsewhere.
  103. 103. “Is something wrong?” I asked as I placed the rest of the bowls on the counter next to the sink.“You tell me.” I looked at him and he sighed. “What happened with Dad last night? He didn’t stay.”I didn’t want to tell my kids this.But I knew they were going to find out anyway. We weren’t going to act the same as we had before, and they wereall old enough to pick up on that – well, maybe not Fortunata, but the other three definitely were.
  104. 104. The silence dragged on and when the dishes were finally done, Grey looked at me again. “You broke up, didn’tyou?”I nodded. “We did. It’s…we wanted different things out of life, and it just wasn’t working. I’m going to try to keepas much the same for you kids as possible. Your dad is still welcome here, welcome to visit and see you and dowhatever you want. He’s just not welcome in my bed anymore.”“Mom, I do not need to know the details.”“Good, because you’re not hearing them.”
  105. 105. We listened to the noises of Fortunata playing upstairs on the xylophone while her sisters finished getting theirschool things together.Grey bit his lip. “I hope Dad keeps coming.”“I hope he does too,” I whispered.
  106. 106. Desdemona and Lily came pelting down the stairs, and all three kids kissed me before heading out to catch the bus.I watched them go, then went upstairs.
  107. 107. Playing with Fortunata was soothing.Yes, I had things to do – articles to write, restaurants to research, a house to clean – but I needed time to find somepeace after what had happened the night before. Spending time with my youngest child helped. ***
  108. 108. That afternoon, we somehow ended up with many many children and teens at our house.From what I was able to determine from talking to my kids, Grey had met a couple of people on his first day of highschool, so he’d invited them over. Lily had met another girl on her first day of elementary school, so she’d invitedher over. And Desdemona, not one to be left out, had invited all of her friends over.I managed to find out that Grey’s friends were named Joyce, Genevieve, and Dexter, while Lily’s was namedEglantine, but the mass of children running around in the backyard…well, they remained a mass of children who, Iadmit, I could vaguely recognize the names and vaguely recognize the faces, but matching the two? Well, thatwasn’t going to happen.
  109. 109. The kids continued to come over, and we all soon got used to it.They all learned to be quiet while Fortunata napped – or at least to be loud outside of the house. It was one of thefew rules I enforced strictly, as Fortunata tended to be quite grumpy when she didn’t get her nap.I did insist on sending the children home before dark, as well. In this town, with vampires roaming the streets, Ididn’t want helpless children (or even slightly less helpless teenagers) wandering around after dark.
  110. 110. Also, sending their friends home allowed my kids to get their homework done before they had to go to sleep.All of us went to bed early most nights – allowing us to spend a few hours awake in the middle of the nightwhenever Marcus came to visit.We did manage to gently break the news to the girls that we weren’t together anymore, but I can’t honestly say thatany of my kids reacted all that well.
  111. 111. Grey fussed over the rest of us. He acted even more as a parent than he had before, and did everything possible tomake Marcus happy whenever he was around.Desdemona acted out. She threw more tantrums than she had before, especially when Marcus was around – butdefinitely not only when Marcus was around.Lily got quiet, but avoided being alone whenever possible. She followed Marcus around whenever he was at thehouse, and often stayed with me, Grey, or Desdemona at other times. I think she liked sharing a room withFortunata for that reason: it meant she was never alone.Fortunata was the only one who didn’t seem to notice that anything was different, probably because she’d barelybecome a toddler when everything changed. She smiled at Marcus when he came to visit and smiled at him whenhe left, and smiled at the rest of us all the time.
  112. 112. I also kept up with my job. I kept visiting restaurants and writing reviews. Even though Grey was a teenager now, Istill asked my friends to babysit when they could. I wanted Grey to have the freedom to be a teen, to not beresponsible for his sisters, to be able to spend time doing what he wanted instead of taking care of them. Once in awhile I did have to leave just the four of them alone (or well, almost alone – Rainelle was there but couldn’tcommunicate without me) but I tried to avoid it whenever possible.I mostly wrote reviews while the older kids were at school. Fortunata was possibly the most self-sufficient toddler ofthe four of them, and Rainelle was now able to help with the immediate needs, which she hadn’t been able to before.Also, I wasn’t pregnant, which made a huge difference.
  113. 113. But restaurants had to be visited at night, and so it was on one Wednesday afternoon that Helen and Jean cameover to watch the kids while I went to dinner at Bernard’s Botanical Dining.“Thanks for coming,” I said when I opened the door. “You’re lifesavers.”“It’s no problem at all,” Helen said.
  114. 114. We walked into the office, where Lily, Eglantine, and Fortunata were playing at the activity table – Fortunata withblocks, while the older girls drew.Eglantine looked up and smiled. “Hi, Miss Helen. Hi, Miss Jean.”
  115. 115. Jean smiled down at her. “Hello, Eglantine. How are you today?”“I’m good! I’m drawing a cat.”“And how is your mother?” Jean asked.“She’s good too. Are you all going to come over for dinner soon?”“Well, we’ll have to check with your mother, won’t we?”Eglantine shrugged. “I guess.”
  116. 116. I frowned at them. “Do you all know each other?” I asked.Eglantine nodded. “Aunt Terri lives with Miss Jean and Miss Helen.”Helen smiled. “Terri is actually her mother’s aunt,” she said to me. “But yes, we all know each other.”I thought about that, then shrugged. There was nothing wrong with my daughter’s best friend being related to oneof the women who watched over me.I left them all there, chatting away, while I went to remind Desdemona and Grey that their friends needed to leaveby sundown. Then I took a quick shower, touched up my makeup, and gathered my notebook and pen so I couldtake notes at dinner.
  117. 117. When I came back downstairs, I saw that Helen had cornered one of Grey’s friends at the bottom of the stairs andthey were having a quiet conversation.“But why won’t you?”“Cause I think witchcraft is stupid? I’m happy with my friends, Grandma, okay?”“I don’t like that group.”“You don’t have to. They’re not your friends.”
  118. 118. Helen began to speak, but the girl – I recognized her now as Grey’s friend Joyce – interrupted her. “Look, I have togo. Mom freaks out if I’m out after sundown.” She turned and left the house, while Helen watched her go, a wistfullook on her face.I came down the rest of the way, pretending I hadn’t heard. It wasn’t my business. “Helen,” I said.She turned to me, a false smile on her face. “Roxanna?”“I’ve got to go. You’ll be fine?”“Don’t worry about us.” ***
  119. 119. When I came home that night, I found that my kids had actually willingly gone to sleep (probably because they knewtheir father was supposed to come over that night) and Helen and Jean were talking quietly on the living room sofa.“Thanks again, Jean, Helen,” I said as I sat down on the loveseat. “You don’t know how much I appreciate yourhelp.”Helen smiled. “It’s no trouble at all.”“Do you want any coffee or anything? We could chat for a bit – it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to talk to either ofyou without the kids around.”“That would be great,” Jean said.
  120. 120. I made coffee and got out some jello (I’m really not much of a cook) and we sat in the kitchen and chatted as weate. It really was nice to spend time with Jean and Helen.At one point, Jean looked at my wrist – or, really, at the bracelet on my wrist. “Good,” she said, “it’s still working.”“Would it stop?”“Not likely, but you can’t guarantee anything.”
  121. 121. I looked at my wrist as I thought. “You said, when you told me what this was, that it’s something you can only doonce.” They both nodded. “So there’s no way you can make these for my kids?”Jean and Helen looked at each other, then at me. They shook their heads. “No,” Jean said, “I’m sorry. We can’t.As we told you, it’s something that can only be done once by our coven. If there were another coven in the area, wecould ask them to, but it would have to be a choice they’d make of their own free will. And unfortunately there isn’tanother.”“We’re trying to form one,” Helen added. “Lisa’s learning from us. But she doesn’t have anyone to work with yet.I’m trying to get my granddaughter to learn, but Joyce is being…well, I don’t like that group she hangs out with.”
  122. 122. I frowned. “You don’t mean Grey.”“No. Grey is a lovely boy. No, I mean the rest of that group. I don’t know what it is, but some of them are abit…they’re a bit shifty. And it’s not like her parents care.” She sighed. “I love my son, but he is extremely involvedwith his work, and I don’t think it’s been so good for his kids.”I wasn’t quite sure what to say to that, and I could tell Jean wasn’t either. She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry,Roxanna, but we can’t. If we can find another coven, we will, of course, ask them to. But it’s outside our powers.”I nodded, accepting but wistful. It would have been nice.
  123. 123. After we finished our coffee and jello, they headed out, while I checked the clock. It was already midnight. Idecided not to bother going to bed quite yet, and instead went into the study and started typing up my notes.They were not positive notes. The food at Bernard’s Botanical Dining had been good, but the layout was abominableand the roof leaked. A wet reviewer is not about to write a positive review, no matter how good the fruit tart mightbe.I’d made the right choice. Just after the clock struck one, the front door opened. I looked out into the living room.“Hey,” I said.Marcus smiled tightly. “Hi. I’m here to…” he trailed off, then gestured at the stairs.I nodded. “Go ahead.”
  124. 124. He went up the stairs, and five minutes later I heard an excited squeal that could only have come from Desdemona.I put my head in my hands. Lord, this was awkward. We’d broken up, and I was more sure than ever that that wasthe right choice, but I still wanted my kids to be happy, and that involved their father. If I could just drop them offwith him it might be easier, but that wasn’t possible.I’d seen his apartment. He couldn’t have fit one of our kids there, never mind all four.On top of that, he was regularly called away for the vampire stuff. I didn’t want to leave the kids without an adult towatch them, and I didn’t trust him to find a sitter if he suddenly had to disappear.So all of that meant that he had to come to my house to see the kids, which, while it was great for the kids, wasn’tso great for me. It meant I had to let him into my house, which upset Rainelle, which upset me. And it wasawkward. Very awkward.
  125. 125. It was just as awkward when he finally left around four, and then I had to get the kids back to sleep to try and getanother three hours before school.Then I finally went to sleep myself, for that same three hours. I was going to need a ton of coffee the next day. ***
  126. 126. Soon after that, Grey began to ask for a car.I’d never felt a need for a car. In fact, the last time I’d actually been in a car was when Seren, Ma’or, and I had leftViper Canyon. I’d left the car with them and never looked back, taking buses to the city and walking once I washere. Everything we really needed was walkable. The main reason the kids took buses to school was safety, notdistance.When I asked Grey exactly why he needed a car…well, it was the first time I’d truly seen him act like a teenager. Hehemmed and hawed and finally admitted that he thought it would be cool.
  127. 127. And so I gave in. We went out looking to see what cars were available.I didn’t get him the sports car that made his eyes light up. There was no way I could afford it. Instead, we bought afairly cheap fixer-upper that I told Grey would be his once he fixed it.He took the deal and immediately organized a “fix my new car” party for all of his friends. It took a weekend of hardwork from all of them, but at the end of the weekend, he had a shiny new car and the jealousy of all his friends.
  128. 128. There was one other thing he had by the end of that weekend: a girlfriend.I was completely surprised when, after Fortunata’s nap, as I carried her into the kitchen for her afternoon bottle, Isaw Grey and Joyce making out in the corner, with Rainelle watching them.
  129. 129. Fortunata clapped her hands. “Kiss!” she said happily. I was mildly surprised; Fortunata wasn’t much of a talker,but evidently she knew the words. I guess she just liked being quiet.I raised an eyebrow as Grey and Joyce broke apart. “So this is a new development,” I said.Grey blushed a little. “Uh, yeah.”I looked at him, then at Joyce, who was trying in vain not to look embarrassed. I let them stew for a little as I putFortunata on the floor and got her bottle from the fridge.I winked at Rainelle, who grinned back.
  130. 130. Then I turned back to Grey and Joyce. “Be careful, kids. I am far too young to be a grandmother.”“MOM!” Grey shouted as he turned bright red.I grinned. “I don’t have a problem with you two dating, but do be careful. You don’t want to go too far too fast.”“Uh, thanks, Ms. Doran,” Joyce said. “We’ll be careful.”“And you still have to go home before dark, Joyce. It’s not safe out there.” Both of them nodded, then left the roomand quickly went up the stairs. I admit I laughed. I honestly didn’t see any need to freak out about my kids dating,but it was kind of fun to freak them out by being okay with it.
  131. 131. Rainelle laughed as well. “You really had them going.”“What, did they think I wouldn’t approve?”She shrugged. “You know how teens are. They think we’re so old we can’t understand any of that sort of thing.Imagine how shocked they would be to learn that adults like it too.” She smiled wistfully. “I do miss it. Beingphysical, being able to relate to people. I can touch now, yes, but…no one but you knows I’m here. And I’m notattracted to you in that way.”I didn’t know what to say to that, but she understood what I meant when I smiled sadly at her.It was just as well she wasn’t attracted to me, though; I wasn’t attracted to her, either. There was nothing wrongwith liking people of the same gender, of course – I was raised by two mothers, after all, and Astraea had been in arelationship with Susanna. But it wasn’t something that I, personally, was interested in, no matter how much I likedRainelle as a friend.
  132. 132. A couple of hours later, Grey said goodbye to Joyce before she headed home. I wasn’t trying to chaperone, but Icould hear them – I was working on an article in the study and they were right near the front door. They were beingquiet, though, so while I could hear that they were talking, I couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying.And I especially couldn’t hear them once Desdemona came barreling into the room, followed by a much quieter Lily.“Mom! Grey and Joyce are kissing in the living room!”“Yes they are.”“Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!”
  133. 133. Lily shrugged. “I think it’s kind of sweet. Don’t you think it’s sweet?”“No! It’s gross!”I laughed. “You’re going to change your mind soon enough, Desi. You’re almost a teen.”She crossed her arms. “I will not.” I smiled and shook my head at her, and she grumbled and stalked off.Lily looked at her, then me, then Grey saying goodbye to Joyce – the front door was finally open – and sheshrugged. She sat down at the dollhouse. “Nata, wanna play?”Fortunata grinned, crawled over, and played dolls with her sister. ***
  134. 134. Soon enough, it was time for another birthday. I wanted to hold the party during the day, so all the kids’ friendscould be there, but I also didn’t want to make Marcus miss it. When I talked to Desdemona about it – Fortunatawasn’t old enough to really understand the discussion – she insisted she wanted her dad to be there, but also herfriends.And so I relaxed my rule about kids staying after dark – there were adults coming as well, and Grey promised todrive the other kids home and come back, in his car, immediately. He knew as well as I did just how stupid it was tobe outside alone at night in this town.I did, however, insist that anyone who stayed after dark had to have permission from their parents.
  135. 135. It ended up being a large party. We had two cakes and first Desdemona, then Fortunata, grew up.
  136. 136. After that, everyone broke up into smaller groups, hanging out, chatting, and eating cake.I was highly amused when I went to put my plate in the sink and caught Desdemona in the kitchen, making out withone of her friends.“So,” I said, “kissing is gross?”They broke apart, the boy blushing while Desdemona looked defiant. “Mo-om,” Desdemona moaned.I just laughed. “Have fun, kids, and don’t make me a grandmother yet.” Then I left the kitchen.
  137. 137. Of course, considering all the doors were arches, I could still hear them even after I was out of the room. “Yourmom is cool,” the boy said.“I guess,” Desdemona grumbled.“Hey, it could be worse. She could forbid you to kiss me, which would be a true travesty.”“Cory.”I listened for a moment longer and realized they were kissing again – which was probably as good a way as any toget Desdemona to be quiet for once.
  138. 138. I wandered around the party, chatting with various people, making sure everyone had everything that they needed.Everyone had come – all of my former housemates, even Shelly, Marcus, as many of the kids’ friends as could makeit, a couple of my coworkers from the Sim City Times, a few of my former coworkers from Londoste, and evenRainelle had stayed long enough to watch the girls blow out their candles before disappearing into the backyard.
  139. 139. As I walked through the living room, I noticed Helen speaking quietly to Joyce again, but the discussion seemed togo nowhere before Joyce stomped off, grabbed Grey, and pulled him up the stairs.Shelly, meanwhile, was having an intense conversation with Grey’s friend Genevieve, while Kathy was happily tellingLily and Eglantine a story about something that had happened the night before at Londoste.
  140. 140. When I went outside for a breath of fresh air, I saw that Marcus and Fortunata were on the porch near the stairs,looking at the sky. She had a book open and was using it to identify the stars. He looked happy – not in a rush tobe off somewhere.I smiled and left them to it. ***
  141. 141. This time, I had planned ahead, and when the party was over and everyone had left, I tucked Fortunata into her newbed, still in the same room as Lily. Neither of them seemed to mind sharing, luckily, and they hadn’t even arguedabout how the room should look – instead, they had simply decorated their sides the way they wanted and come toan easy consensus on the things in the middle.
  142. 142. It was just as well, as their older sister was very definite about doing things her way, as I determined very quicklywhen I walked in on her dyeing her hair green one day.Well, not entirely green – black with green streaks.
  143. 143. I think I freaked her out a little when the only problem I had with her dyeing her hair was the fact that she hadstolen her brother’s alarm clock to use as a timer. But I knew my children, and Grey did not like when his thingswent missing, usually due to one or another of his sisters, and Desdemona tended to be the prime culprit.
  144. 144. The truth was, it was her hair, not mine, and if she ever decided she didn’t want it to be dyed anymore, dying it backto black was easy. I never had wanted to be the strict parent, as I had told Marcus, and while there were times Ihad to be – my children were going to keep up with their homework, thank you very much – this was a situationwhere it really wasn’t important.There were things worth fighting for and things that weren’t, and this was one that wasn’t. ***
  145. 145. Now that Fortunata was a child, it was easier to take the wholefamily places. We spent time at the park, at the shops(Desdemona begged until I allowed her to buy a cellphone),and at restaurants. We even went bowling a couple of times.It was nice, getting to spend time as a family, though I knewall the kids missed their father and wished he could join us.
  146. 146. We also seemed to end up at the grocery store even more often than I would have expected with five people in thehouse – even if one of them was a teenage boy.“Where is the food going?” I asked one Saturday morning, when I opened the fridge yet again to find that it wascompletely empty other than the condiments, an almost-empty carton of orange juice, and one very sad lookingapple crammed into the back corner of the fruit drawer. “I went shopping on Wednesday!” On top of that, I couldhave sworn I’d seen some leftover Chinese food in the fridge the night before – I’d been at a restaurant for a review,so Lisa had come over and ordered Chinese with the kids, as she was even less interested in cooking (and less goodat it) than I was. When I’d come home, I’d had a glass of juice before bed, and I knew I’d seen a couple ofcontainers of Chinese food. And now they weren’t there.
  147. 147. I sighed, then went into the living room, where Desdemona was practicing piano, Grey was reading a book, and Lilyand Fortunata were playing some sort of clapping game. “Alright, kids, who wants to go grocery shopping?”
  148. 148. We ended up at Fresh Rush Grocery, where Lily and Fortunata quickly ran offto play on the playground, Grey went to look at the cologne, and Desdemonabegan flirting with a boy she met in the candy aisle. I, meanwhile, gathereda basket full of food.Hopefully, this time, it would last longer than three days. ***
  149. 149. The food situation did get better after that, though it still disappeared faster than I thought it should – but I figuredit must have been because the kids and their friends were having snacks in the afternoons.Speaking of which, the kids kept bringing their friends home.
  150. 150. Lily spent almost all of her time with either Eglantine or Fortunata – and more often with both. The three of themwere a tight group, playing, talking, or just hanging out.I noticed that Fortunata tended to be fairly quiet, letting her sister and their friend do most of the talking…untilsomething inspired her, at which point she would say something that always had an effect. Sometimes it wasprofound, sometimes it was hilarious, sometimes it was sarcastic, but Fortunata had a talent for knowing the exactthing to say to get the response she wanted.
  151. 151. Grey wasn’t quite as exclusive as his younger sisters – while he spent the vast majority of his time with Joyce, healso hung out with Dexter and Genevieve quite a bit.His car was quickly designated as a space for him and his friends, not to be entered by his younger sisters.
  152. 152. But while Lily and Fortunata spent most of their time with Eglantine and Grey was almost always with either Joyce orhis small group of friends, Desdemona constantly brought new people home with her. A few were girls, but mostwere boys.As far as I could tell, she flirted with every single boy she met, though she didn’t always go farther. Sometimes,however, she did.
  153. 153. There was one exception to that rule: her closest friend, a boy named Flynn. She treated him just like she treatedGrey.I realized why, one day, when I caught the two of them gossiping about how hot their new math teacher was.Clearly Flynn was just as interested in boys as Desdemona was. ***
  154. 154. One day, when I was asked to review Oresha Family Dining, a new restaurant in town, I decided to take the kidswith me.It was a stupid idea, I knew it was a stupid idea – I remembered quite well the unmitigated disaster that trying toturn a part of my job into a date with Marcus had been – but at the same time, there was a reason.Oresha Family Dining was specifically oriented to families; how could I properly judge it without seeing how childrenreacted?
  155. 155. Of course, keeping the kids on task wasn’t very easy.There were swings outside, a game of myshuno in the lobby, and a photobooth by the door, all of which were verydistracting for my kids.
  156. 156. We did manage to get through the meal, which let me see howthe waiters interacted with the kids, but soon after that theyall four, in unison, declared me to be boring and ran off to doother things. By the time I finally paid the bill, I saw that Greywas calling myshuno for a bunch of other kids who had alsofinished their meals, Lily and Fortunata were on the swings,and Desdemona had a whole pile of funny photoboothpictures, some alone, some with other people, not all of whomlooked like they actually had any interest in being in thephotobooth with her.
  157. 157. I just shook my head and steered the kids out, allowing Grey to drive us home even though it was only a few blocks’walk from our house. ***
  158. 158. Sooner than I could have imagined, it was time for Lily to join her older siblings in teenhood. She asked if the partycould be small – just me, Marcus, the kids, and Eglantine – and I had no problem with that.Desdemona seemed utterly confused at the fact that Lily wanted a small party, while Grey and Fortunata bothseemed to understand that while it wasn’t necessarily their preference, it was Lily’s.
  159. 159. And so that small group gathered one night (Eglantine was staying over, I’d arranged it with her mother, and thusshe wouldn’t have to go home alone in the dark) and wished Lily a happy birthday.
  160. 160. She seemed to enjoy her small party, far more than she would have enjoyed a large one.“Thanks, Mom,” she said, hugging me after we had our cake.“Of course,” I said. “You’re happy?”“I am. I’m very happy.”“Good.”
  161. 161. I checked on the girls, later that night, listening as Lily, Eglantine, and Fortunata chatted quietly in their room – thegirls in their beds, Eglantine in a sleeping bag on the floor between them.I smiled sadly. It wasn’t long until Fortunata would become a teen. And at that point…well, who knew what wouldhappen? ***
  162. 162. After Lily and Eglantine became teens, things both changed and didn’t. They didn’t seem to have a problem withFortunata tagging along, but she did it less anyway.I asked why, one day, when she’d told Lily and Eglantine to go hang out upstairs, not to worry about her, she wouldread in the living room.
  163. 163. Fortunata put down her book and shrugged. “I don’t want to make them feel weird.”“What do you mean?” I asked. I sat down next to her on the couch.“I’m not a teen. They like to talk about boys sometimes, I think, but they’re both too nice to not include me in theconversation when I’m there, so I like to let them talk about the stuff they like sometimes. Besides, I like to read.And I’ve had my eye on this book for a while.” She patted the book gently.
  164. 164. “You’re not worried they’ll abandon you?”She shook her head. “Why would I be? They’ll include me later, and when I’m a teen, I can talk about boys withthem too. Or all those other teen things that I don’t get yet.”
  165. 165. I hugged her. “You’re a good kid, Nata. You know that, right?”“Thanks, Mom. I love you too.”I laughed. “I love you, as you know quite well, I see. Now, I’ll leave you in peace to read your book, but if youdecide you do want some company, I’ll be writing a review in the office.”She smiled. “Thanks, Mom.” ***
  166. 166. Late one evening, I got a call from my editor.“Roxanna, would you mind terribly if I postponed your latest review until Monday?”“I guess not. Why?”She hesitated. “There was a murder near Crypt O’ Night Club. We’re shrinking most sections of tomorrow’s paperother than the front page, so we can tell the full story.”I gasped. “Of course. That’s fine.”
  167. 167. I made sure to look at the paper after the kids left for school the next day, reading the report on the murder.When I read the article and learned what had happened, I stared at the paper in shock. How could that havehappened? And who had done it?
  168. 168. I tried to do other things the rest of the day, but I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking about what the paper hadsaid, about the murder, about the victim. They hadn’t identified her by name, but I knew her quite well.It didn’t look like she’d been killed by vampires – and I didn’t think the vampire council would be so stupid as toleave a body right by their club. But could I be certain?Please, I thought, please don’t let it have been Marcus.
  169. 169. That afternoon, the kids came home from school with a bunch of friends, as usual. When I saw who was – andwasn’t – there, I closed my eyes for just a moment, then opened them and tried to smile.“Hello, everyone.”Grey frowned at me. I think he was surprised to see me just sitting on the couch – usually I was busy withsomething else when they got home from school. “What’s wrong, Mom?”I looked around at the large group. “Did anyone see the paper this morning?” They all shook their heads.
  170. 170. I took my copy of the newspaper and handed it to Grey, who sat down to read it.When he saw the picture, he gasped. “Oh no…”“What’s wrong?” Joyce asked urgently.He passed the paper over and she covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh my god. Genevieve…”
  171. 171. The paper made its way around the kids, everyone stopping to look at the picture and read a bit of the story.Genevieve – their friend Genevieve – was dead, and had been found the night before. No one knew who had killedher. There wasn’t a whole lot of concrete information, but the paper went over every bit of that information, lookingfor her murderer.
  172. 172. The shock was palpable, so I made hot chocolate and brought it into the living room, passing it out. They sat anddrank and didn’t move.“Something has to be done about this,” Joyce said.“But what?” her brother Ben asked. “We’re just kids.”Her eyes narrowed, then she stood up. “Come on. We’re going home.”“But–” Grey said, looking up at her.Her smile was brittle. “We’ve got your sister’s birthday on Sunday, right? I’ll be there.”He started to say something, then stopped. “Alright. See you then.”
  173. 173. The two of them left, and others slowly followed, eventually ending up with just my kids and Eglantine still there.Eglantine had the paper on her lap. “I hope they catch whoever did it.”Lily nodded. “Me too. This is terrible.”
  174. 174. Fortunata leaned against Lily. “I hope it doesn’t ruin my party,” she said in a small voice. I knew she’d been lookingforward to that party for a while. It was the first time in her entire life that she’d have one completely to herself,with no one else sharing the birthday.Lily put an arm around her shoulder and held her close. “We’ll make sure it doesn’t, okay?” I nodded at her, and Inoticed Grey and Desdemona doing the same. We were all determined to make sure Fortunata’s special day was asspecial as her siblings’ had been.Fortunata took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said, snuggling farther into her sister’s embrace. ***
  175. 175. And that’s that…for the moment! I’m sorry for the hiatus, and I hope you’re enjoying this so far.Before you go, I have a request to make. Part 5 is going to need a number of sims of different varieties, and Ithought it would be fun to use imports rather than make a whole bunch of random sims. Therefore, I need sims thatfit two categories – your sims, other people’s sims, link me to anyone who works!First, I need vampires. Any sim who is a vampire, has been a vampire, will be a vampire – I could use them all! Iespecially want sims who are still vampires in game, or who died as vampires and didn’t come back. Sims who aremore than one supernatural (such as black sheep) are totally fine – it’ll give me some variety, which is nice.Second, I need sims who have died. I would strongly prefer sims who died any death other than old age, thoughfeel free to also include sims who did die of old age if you don’t have any who died unnatural deaths. Please tell mehow they died when you submit them! In addition, the sims must still be dead and must not currently be zombies –it’s fine if they were zombies at one point and are now dead, however. Ideally, their urns should still exist in yourhood, but it’s okay if they don’t.
  176. 176. For a variety of reasons, I think it’s best to include one more piece of info here: stats about the kids.Grey Doran Desdemona DoranAries, 7/8/5/1/6 Taurus, 8/7/5/6/6Pleasure, LTW: Celebrity Chef Popularity, LTW: 20 Simultaneous Pet Best FriendsGrey is named after Dorian Gray, though spelled differently. Desdemona is named after the Shakespeare character.Lily Doran Fortunata DoranAquarius, 7/1/5/10/8 Cancer, 10/7/6/2/10Family, LTW: Graduate 3 Children From College Knowledge, LTW: Education MinisterLily is named after the flower. Fortunata is named for fortune, luck, or fate.In case you’re curious, the naming scheme this generation was things related to death. Dorian Gray tried to defeat death, Desdemonais known for her death, Lily is a flower associated with death, and Fortunata is fortune, luck, or fate, all of which control who dies. Andthat’s all. See you all for part five!

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