Monday, 23 June 2014

Chapter 2.9 - Confessions on Dark Times

   The room was silent, save for the soft, nearly inaudible whirring of the fridge and the other electronic devices. Sam’s eyes were distant, focused far-off on some sort of scene that only he could see; a scene forever locked away in the dark memories he so loathed to talk about. The silence between them was heavy, but the unspoken topic hanging in the air was too big, too raw for either of them to broach lightly.

   “Is it true, what she said? Were you really a criminal?” Chantia asked in a deceptively calm voice that belied her true feelings.
   It shouldn’t have been possible, but the silence became even heavier. He dropped his chin slightly in something like shame, or regret maybe. She couldn’t tell. Generally, she could read him like a book, but there were some times he was so guarded that no amount of effort or knowledge could help Chantia read him, and this was definitely one of those times.
   “A thief,” he confirmed in a voice so soft she could barely hear it. “It’s not something I proud of, but it is true, and no matter how much I wish I could change it, I can’t.” He sighed and closed his eyes, and for the first time since they began the discussion, Chantia could clearly read the regret – and pain – on his face.

   “Are you still one?” she asked bluntly, unwilling to dance around the issue.
   He shook his head in silent refute, and the way he firmly met her eyes made Chantia believe him completely.
   “I gave up that life when I left Bridgeport,” he swore. “I’ll admit, for a while I enjoyed it, but the truth is I never wanted it in the first place. The only reason I ever started was because I was afraid of what Valeri would do if I refused her. She is…she doesn’t make idle threats.”
   Chantia stilled as she remembered Valeri’s implied threat.
   “Then, Arienne really is in danger from her?” she asked, unable to dismiss the coil of fear snaking in her heart.
   Sam sighed and buried his hand in his hair. “She might be, yes,” he agreed, disheartened. “I didn’t handle that confrontation very well. She might be even more determined to get back at me now.”

   Chantia leaned back and folded her arms, unable to make sense of the half-answers she was receiving.
   “But why?” she asked. “Why is she so obsessed with you?”
   It was several heavy silence-filled seconds that passed before he finally provided her with an answer.
   “To understand what it is that drives Valeri means you have to understand what kind of person she is,” he stated hesitantly. “It’s not…It’s not something that can be explained in a couple of sentences. I think the best way to explain will be to tell you what it was like to grow up with her.”
   And so, after waiting for so long, Chantia finally got to hear everything about her husband’s past. He told her everything: how he grew up with Valeri and made the mistake of befriending her -
[“I’m Valeri,” she introduced herself with a bright smile. He latched onto her smile, searching for an anchor in the sea of loneliness he was stranded upon]

- how she manipulated people into fulfilling her desires by making liberal use of subtle (but undeniable) threats and blackmail –
[“You won’t leave me again, will you, Sammy?” The torn slips of glossy paper that had once depicted his mother’s face were strewn on the floor around her. She had torn it apart, and the box of matches lying beside his only remaining photo of his parents was a clear warning of what would happen the next time he abandoned her]
- how she forced him to start stealing –
[“Mary from school had a new necklace around her neck today. She said it was a gift from her father. It doesn’t look good on her chubby neck.” She shot a glance at him, her eyes clearly telling him what she wanted. “It would like good on mine, don’t you think?”

He considered refusing, but the lighter she flicked playfully through her fingers stared accusingly at him. He didn’t want to lose the only thing he had left of his parents]
- how he came to find solace in stealing –
[For several days he lived in constant fear that someone would call him out, unmask him for the thief he was, but it never happened, and the next time Valeri told him to take something, he did it with less reluctance. By the third time, he realised he enjoyed stealing; he found the feeling of danger and the rush of adrenaline at the action to be rather addictive.
So he continued doing it. Stealing allowed him to stay away from Valeri as much as he could; provided he gave her the fruits of his labour, or course]
- how she tightened her hold over him –
[“You burned it,” he mumbled as he stared at the smouldering remnants. The smell of burning paper and ink irritated his nose and eyes (it wasn’t tears. He was twelve years old – he was too old for tears. And it was just a stupid photo anyway).
She tilted her head and smirked. “It was just a stupid photo anyway,” she unknowingly parroted his thoughts. “You can’t tell me you actually cared for that thing.”
He did. It was just a stupid photo, but he did care for it. It was the only thing he had left of his parents. Now it was gone, its ashes scattered on the floor.
Now it was gone, and with it, any hold she might’ve had over him was gone as well. Or so he thought. She was quick to prove him wrong.
“I know your secret now, Sammy. You’re a thief; a criminal. I wonder what the police would say to that?” 
His latest acquired loot hung heavy in his pocket, and from her ears emeralds sparkled; ones he had given her.
He wasn’t free from her. He could never be free from her.
She winked and walked away, leaving him to stare despairingly at her metaphorical shackles around his wrists; the shackles that would always keep him chained to her]
- how he got the chance to break away from her –
[“Why did you steal from my shop?”
He didn’t answer. How could he? Valeri was part of the reason he stole, but it wasn’t the only one. How could he explain to the man that it was not the spoils that drove him, but the thrill, the excitement, the sense of life that accompanied each thievery? The little trinket he had attempted to lift from the shop wasn’t even particularly valuable, but it would’ve kept Valeri off his back for at least a week.
The sound of a chair scraping on the stone floor recaptured his thoughts. The man in front of him leaned back in the chair, regarding him with sympathetic eyes.
“If you want me to help you, you will have to talk to me, boy,” the man coaxed. “Or do you want me to go to the police with this matter?”
“No!” His desperate, instinctual protest reverberated through the room. He hung his head in shame, unable to maintain eye-contact with the shop owner. “Please, don’t go to the police. I won’t do it again.”
“Do what again? Steal? Or steal from my shop again?” 
He knew what the man wanted him to answer, but he still hesitated. He hated lying, and the answer the man was looking for was not the one that was true. In the end, his hesitation spoke for itself.
“So you’ll just continue stealing, just not from my shop,” the owner murmured softly and hung his head, sighing heavily. “I guess I’ll have to go to the police after all.”
“Please sir, don’t do it. I won’t steal again. I promise.”
- and finally, how he got the opportunity to go to Sunset Valley.
“Can I keep you to that promise? If I were to arrange for you to go to a boarding school where someone will be able to constantly keep an eye on you to make sure you keep your promise, would you still make that promise?”
He felt his heart skip a beat. It was probably meaningless talk from the shop owner’s side, but if it wasn’t…if the man was actually serious…then he’d be able to get away from Valeri. He’d be free.
His answer was given confidently and without hesitation.
“Yes. I promise.” Please, he begged silently, please be serious. Please get me away from this hell. Please get me away from her.
The shop owner closed his eyes. “Then I’ll keep you to that promise; in Sunset Valley. I have a grandson there, Ethan, who can keep an eye on you and…”]
    “…make sure I didn’t break the promise,” Sam concluded the tale, much, much later in the safety of the kitchen. “And I didn’t. It was hell to wean myself from the constant urge to steal, but I did. I haven’t stolen a single thing since I came to Sunset Valley. With Ethan and his grandfather’s help, I managed to have the kind of life I always thought would be forbidden to me. In the end, Ethan’s grandfather did go to the police, but he managed to secure a full pardon for me, on the provision that I complete several hours of community service, which I completed back in high school.”

   Silence filled the kitchen again as Chantia mulled over his tale. It answered so many questions and Chantia thought she finally understood (somewhat) why Valeri was obsessed about Sam. He was ‘the one that got away’, and if she understood the scenario correctly, Valeri wouldn’t stop hunting her family until she got what she wanted – whatever that might be.
   Chantia squeezed Sam’s hand, wordlessly conveying her gratitude at finally being told the whole story.
   Thankfully, Valeri left them alone for a while. Chantia had no idea how long the peace would last, but she appreciated it nonetheless. She still remained cautious whenever she left the house, but since she was pregnant again, she stayed at home most of the time, playing with Arienne or reading up on case files.
    Arienne was fascinated by Chantia’s steadily growing belly. Chantia tried her best to explain to the little girl what was going to happen, but Arienne’s natural inquisitiveness resulted in some awkward questions Chantia didn’t really know how to answer.

   “Why is he in Mommy’s tummy? How ‘id he get there?”
   Chantia froze at the question, trying to find the best way to answer it. She had been anticipating the question, but she still didn’t know how to answer it.
   “Well, that’s where babies grow,” she attempted. “You were also in here once upon a time.”

   Arienne frowned cutely and pouted at her mother, clearly not satisfied by the answer. “But why?” she insisted again.
   Oh dear Plumbob, Chantia thought, she’s reached the ‘but why’ stage. How am I supposed to answer that?
   Luckily, she was spared the need to answer, thanks to her daughter’s ease of distraction.
    “’e’en!” Arienne squealed at the sight of the orange ghost (who had most likely come to pester Chantia once again) and clumsily clambered down from Chantia’s lap. The ghost let out an undignified noise that sounded suspiciously much like she was trying her best not the shriek in fear and immediately turned around and melted back into the shadows where Arienne couldn’t find her.

   Chantia couldn’t help but feel both amusement and relief at the sight. She’d made less progress with Helen’s case than she wanted to, and Helen wouldn’t stop pestering her. If Arienne’s overabundance of energy managed to keep the ghost away just a little longer, Chantia really had no problem with pointing her daughter in Helen’s direction. (She felt a little guilty, but the amusement factor far surpassed that.)
   Arienne absolutely adored the ghosts. Even if she couldn’t interact directly with them, she always lit up with joy whenever one of the ghosts entered the room. Unsurprisingly, Charlotte was her favourite. The ghost loved singing to the toddler and Arienne would often attempt to sing along, her childish voice mixing surprisingly well with Charlotte’s silver one.  
   Chantia was busy preparing some baby food for Arienne when the first contraction pains hit, signalling the imminent arrival of the newest Marquel. She calmly put down the plate on the counter and stared mutely at it, waiting to see if it was just a false warning or not. Her water broke, confirming that it was indeed time for her son to be born.

   “Sam,” she informed her husband, “my water just broke.”
   “Oh, okay,” Sam replied distractedly, his attention fixed on moving the clothes from the washing machine to the dryer. The next instant her words registered in his mind, causing him to drop the bundle of wet clothes on the floor in shock. “What? Oh! Oh. Right. Uhm. Right. Hospital,” he stammered, trying to figure out what to do. Arienne decided at that moment she had waited long enough for her food and started hitting the table, loudly screaming for food.

   The chaos proved too much for Sam to handle, causing him to stare blankly at Arienne, unable to figure out what to do. Chantia rolled her eyes in exasperation.

   “Just pick her up and bring her with you already!”
   Her words broke him out of his stupor and he immediately obeyed her demands, picking Arienne up and shifting her to his hip before helping Chantia get to the outside.

   They arrived at the hospital without further incident where Chantia was immediately referred to the maternity ward. Sam followed her, but awkwardly paused before the door, suddenly unsure what to do with Arienne, realising she couldn’t be present. Luckily a nearby nurse took pity on him and showed him to a nearby play-area where Arienne would be safe and out of the way.
   Several hours later, Renard Marquel finally made his appearance. Chantia was exhausted after the birth and immediately collapsed into bed the moment she returned home, leaving Sam to make sure their children were put safely to bed.


This chapter is a little shorter than I prefer and the end is a little awkward, but it was the only place I could find to end it. :/
I hope the part about Sam’s past made sense (or at least, answered some questions). Valeri’s a mean, manipulative b***, who tbh creeps me out a bit. I know she doesn’t seem that severe in the flashback, but she’s older now, and thus a lot more dangerous.
I’m really happy the second child is a boy. I usually prefer girls, but boys bring an interesting dynamic to a house. Now Sam won’t be the only male in the house anymore. :D
Also (shameless self-advertisement ahead >_<), just look at that pose (the one with Arienne and Chantia). Isn't it adorable? <3 If anyone is interested in it, it's available on the 'Creative Corner' page. :)

Monday, 2 June 2014

Chapter 2.8 - Unwelcome Revelations

Warning: bad language in this chapter.

   Chantia considered the ghosts she shared the house with as her closest friends. She had known them her entire life; she knew their likes and dislikes, the things that made them sad or happy and she knew most (if not all) of their eccentricities. Sometimes though, she had to admit they could be really overbearing.
   “I told you Helen,” she repeated for what felt like the tenth time, “it’s not that easy. The case is more than thirty years old. I’m doing my best, but there is a lot of red tape to plough through. If you’ve ever had anything to do with bureaucracy, you’ll know it takes time to get things done,” she tried to explain patiently. Ever since the party on Full Moon, Helen had been pushing Chantia to make good on her promise of helping Helen; and Chantia was trying. She wasn’t lying when she said it. She had tried to reopen the case, but it was proving to be incredibly difficult.

   Helen frowned unhappily. “It’s already been a week,” she complained with a slightly petulant tone. “Surely it cannot take this long.”
   Chantia sighed tiredly and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She had tried to explain to the ghost that, yes, she was trying, and no, a week wasn’t enough time to reopen the case and conclude it, but Helen just didn’t want to listen.

   “Again, Helen, it takes time to get anything done through bureaucracy, and unfortunately, this case belongs to the police department, so it has to go through bureaucracy,” Chantia tried to explain again, hoping the ghost would by some stroke of luck actually listen this time. “You’ve waited a long time for this. Can’t you bear with it for just a little while longer?”
   Helen sniffed indignantly and crossed her arms across her chest. “I have waited long enough. I want to move on, Chantia. I grow weary of this…detestable world.”
   To Chantia’s relief, Charlotte came to the rescue. “Just let her do her job, Helen,” the girl mildly reprimanded the murdered woman. “If Chantia says she’s doing her best, then she’s doing her best. Pestering her won’t change that.”
   Surprisingly, Helen backed away at that. She frowned unhappily and a slight hint of a pout appeared on her face, but she backed away nonetheless, deferring to Charlotte’s authority. It was something that had always bemused Chantia slightly. Charlotte appeared to be the youngest of the ghosts, yet all of them deferred to her, for reasons not known to Chantia.

   The next moment something hit Chantia’s legs like a cannonball, causing her to let out a small grunt of surprise and look down. She wasn’t surprised to identify the cannonball as her recently-turned-toddler of a daughter.
   At the sight of the little toddler, Helen melted away back into the shadows. Apparently Arienne unnerved the orange ghost somewhat – the child was just a little too energetic for Helen’s tastes. Chantia didn’t blame the ghost at all; Arienne was a little ball of energy. Both Sam and Chantia constantly had to be on the outlook to make sure the girl didn’t do something like –
   – like eating the dog food.

   “Arienne, get away from there!”
   Arienne pouted unhappily, but thankfully listened to her mother and abandoned the dog food. Chantia promptly snatched her up and directed her to the xylophone instead, sighing in relief when the toy sufficiently managed to capture the toddler’s attention.
   “I swear, one day you’re going to give me a heart attack,” Chantia muttered under her breath to her child.

   At that moment, Sam rushed breathlessly into the room, his eyes searching anxiously for Arienne. He sagged in relief against the doorframe when he noticed the girl playing happily with her xylophone. His muttered comment of “can’t even go to the bathroom in peace” made Chantia break out in laughter.
   Immediately, Arienne abandoned the xylophone and repeated the cannonball act with a shout of “Da’!”, luckily this time on Sam and not Chantia. Chantia loved her daughter, but she didn’t really appreciate a mass of more than 10 kg barrelling into her legs. Sam scooped the toddler up and into the air, causing delighted squeals and giggles to fill the air.
   “Mo’! Mo’!” Arienne demanded when Sam stopped. Sam smiled warmly at his daughter, but he didn’t acquiesce to her requests.
   “Not now, sweetie,” he refused gently. “We’re already late for the meeting with your granny,” he informed her. Sam and Chantia had promised to meet Evelyn at the park after the woman had called them and demanded a family outing with her granddaughter. The day was warm for a winter day and Arienne was finally old enough to be able to enjoy the outing, so they were all looking forward to spending the day outside.

   Before long, they arrived at the park where Evelyn and Gustave were waiting for them, both elders by now.
   The day was slightly colder than everyone had thought, but they still enjoyed the outing. Evelyn couldn’t get enough of Arienne and Sam spent the time to catch up with Gustave, talking about recent events and exchanging stories. Sam was slowly but surely getting more recognised in the world as an author and as such, he often had to do research for his stories. Gustave, with his extensive knowledge of folktales, was an ideal choice to talk to.

   But things just couldn’t stay simple.
   “You have a beautiful child.”

   Chantia looked up, trying to identify the speaker. She felt the blood drain from her face when she recognised the person in front of her as the woman Sam had warned her about (Valeri) and inadvertently took a step backwards, trying to create space between them. The movement drew the other woman’s attention, causing her to tilt her head slightly and regard Chantia with eyes gleaming with curiosity. The action was small and nonthreatening, but Chantia couldn’t help but read the danger lurking in the gleaming grey eyes.
   “Are you scared of me?” the woman asked curiously, her eyes holding a hint of incredulity and intrigue. “Why on earth would you be scared of me?”
   Chantia didn’t answer. She wouldn’t give the woman an opening to walk into her life. This woman was dangerous; Sam had warned her for a reason. She refused to let this woman threaten her family. Anything she might have to say was bait and Chantia refused to give the woman the satisfaction of accepting the bait.
   Her silence wasn’t enough to deter Valeri from taking interest in her. If anything, it seemed to encourage her interest, much to Chantia’s dismay. She could almost see the gears spinning in Valeri’s head as the woman seemingly tried to solve the puzzle presented to her.

   She leaned closer, deliberately intruding into Chantia’s personal space. She studied Chantia’s eyes for a hint to the puzzle before blinking and retreating to an upright position again as she seemingly got her answer.

   “I see,” she declared softly (dangerously) and a satisfied little smirk appeared on her face. She glanced away, breaking eye contact, but Chantia could clearly read the satisfaction on her face. “It was Sammy, right?” She shook her head and tut-tutted in disapproval. “He really should know better than to talk poorly about me.”
   “Don’t call him that.” The retort was out of Chantia’s mouth before she could stop it (she blamed Mia for that ingrained response), and she immediately regretted speaking at all, silently berating herself for opening her damn mouth. Valeri’s eyes immediately locked onto Chantia’s again, the dangerous gleam in her eyes intensifying slightly, and the corner of her mouth twitched in satisfaction.
   “Why not?” she challenged Chantia’s retort. “It is his name, after all.”

   “His name is Sam, not Sammy,” Chantia retorted, her temper fraying at the edges. She didn’t want to talk to the woman at all, but once the first words were out she couldn’t stop talking, and the more she talked, the angrier she got at herself.
   That slight tilt of Valeri’s head appeared again as she regarded Chantia with interest. “Hmm. Really? How very interesting,” she murmured in a voice barely loud enough to hear. “Since when is that, I wonder.”
   Chantia kept her mouth shut, refusing to rise to the bait again. She had done enough damage already. Maybe Sam (thank goodness he’d seen them talking) would manage to get the woman to leave them alone.

   “Why the hell are you here, Valeri?” Sam demanded through gritted teeth. “Why the hell won’t you just leave me alone?! Are you really this desperate to control me?”
   Valeri flicked gleaming sharp eyes to him; eyes not unlike those of a predator fixated upon its prey.
   “Did you really think you could escape me?” she reciprocated. “Don’t forget, Sammy, you’re mine.”
   “You don’t have any hold over me, Valeri,” Sam declared vehemently. “Whatever hold you might have thought you had is long gone. You can’t control me any longer.”

   Valeri crossed her arms and regarded him with sharp eyes glimmering slightly with dislike. She clearly didn’t like being challenged. Sam seemed to read something in Valeri’s eyes that Chantia couldn’t as he suddenly grabbed Chantia’s hand and squeezed it in silent warning that she won’t like whatever Valeri was about to reveal.
   “So you’re saying you don’t care what the police will think about your little secret?” Valeri asked threateningly. “You know which one; the fact you’re a criminal.”
   The words caused Chantia’s head to spin as her mind rapidly clued the hints together, solving the puzzle presented to her over the years: Sam’s hesitance to talk of his past, Charlotte’s suspicion, Ethan’s comment at her wedding…it suddenly all made sense. If Sam really was a criminal…then it made her question everything she knew about him.
   He squeezed her hand again, silently asking her to continue trusting him for at least just a little longer.
   “That’s old news, Valeri. The police have known for years,” he declared. “Besides, I haven’t committed a single crime since I left Bridgeport. You have no hold over me.” 

   It was clear Valeri didn’t quite agree with Sam.
   “Hmm, well, I’m sure I can always find something else.” Her eyes flicked away from them and came to a rest on something that had Chantia’s heart freeze in her chest. The smirk playing on Valeri’s lips did nothing to appease Chantia’s sudden fear.
   “She’s such a happy child, isn't she?” Her eyes flicked back to Sam’s, and there was no mistaking the sinister challenge in those overly-sharp eyes and smirking lips. The muscles in Sam’s jaw tightened as he was sent over the edge at the implied threat and his eyes burned with hatred as he grabbed the front of her clothing and yanked her closer.
   “You’ll find I’m not that easy to control anymore, Valeri,” he warned her in a low growl. “I’m warning you. Stay away from my family. If you dare to harm even a single hair on their heads, you’ll find I can be just as dangerous as you, if not more.”

   His declaration did not impress Valeri. Her upper lip curled in disgust and she pushed his arm away from her, breaking his hold on her shirt.
   “Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens, hmm?” she asked in a dangerously quiet voice. “But I’ll say it again: you’re mine. And I always take what is mine.” With that she turned her back on them and walked away, leaving Sam to stare after her, bristling with anger.
   Chantia couldn’t figure out how she felt about the things the conversation had revealed. She should be terrified of the veiled threat Valeri had delivered regarding her husband and daughter, but for some reason she could only focus on the ‘criminal’ part of the conversation.

   Why had he never told her? His best friend clearly knew about it (it explained his comment at her wedding), so why not her? Did she mean so little to him that he would trust his biggest secret with his best friend, but not his wife?
   Betrayed. She felt betrayed. Of all the things she had ever felt for him, betrayal had never been amongst it.
   “Do I deserve answers now?” she asked in a deathly quiet voice, unable to completely hide the bitterness in her voice. To make it even worse, she couldn’t completely suppress the sharp pang of satisfaction she felt when she saw him flinch at her question.
   “I…yes. Yes, you do,” he agreed with resignation in his voice, but he didn’t get the chance to say anything else as the moment was broken when Arienne suddenly ran into his legs again, causing him to give a small step backward to keep his balance. She laughed happily at the response she got from her father and lifted her arms, wordlessly demanding to be picked up again.

   Chantia sighed. They really needed to talk, but the topic was too serious to broach in public, or to talk about around a toddler. She was almost sure than at some stage or another during the discussion they were going to fight, and she didn’t want Arienne to see it.
   “We’ll talk later,” Chantia informed Sam in a low voice. “Tonight; after she’s in in bed. For now, let’s just focus on keeping her happy.”
   Sam nodded in agreement and picked Arienne up, giving in to her demands for attention. Arienne laughed and clumsily clapped her hands together before throwing her arms around Sam’s neck to give him a hug. A tender smile appeared on Sam’s face at the motion and he responded by patting her back reassuringly. Almost against her will, Chantia felt herself smile at the scene as well.

   She wasn’t sure about her relationship with Sam anymore, but at least she still knew he loved their daughter.
   Despite promising to talk that night, they didn’t get the chance. Chantia got called for an emergency job by the police department and by the time she returned home, Sam was already asleep. It was an ungodly hour in the morning to be awake, so instead of waking him, Chantia went to sleep as well. They’d get chance to talk later.

   Except they didn’t. By the time Chantia woke up and got out of bed, Sam was already awake and so was Arienne, which meant that once more they had to focus on keeping the toddler out of trouble, which left very little time for talk. To make it worse, Chantia found herself suffering a very familiar experience once again.
   It was terrible timing. Her date with the toilet meant one of two things – either she was sick with something like food poisoning, and would therefore be unable to focus properly on a conversation for several days, or she was pregnant again (which, if she was being honest with herself, seemed likely to be the case). In that case, she was going to be all hormonal again and have terrible mood swings, so once again she wouldn’t be able to focus on the pending conversation with a clear head.

   She didn’t mind having another child, but really, it was just terrible timing. She just wanted time to talk to Sam, but between her work and recent events, it felt like she was never going to have the chance at all.
   Luckily for Chantia, she wasn’t the only one wanting the conversation to occur. Sam wanted to resolve the issue just as much as she did, so while she struggled to keep her head above water, he made plans to ensure they got a chance to talk.
   “Arienne is staying with your mother for the day,” he informed Chantia when she entered the kitchen where he was waiting for her. “I think it’s time we talk.” Chantia blinked in surprise, then felt like hitting herself for not thinking about the option that had been available the whole time. Of course her mother wouldn’t mind taking Arienne for a couple of hours.

   She took a deep breath before seating herself at the table. The conversation was likely going to be a long one.
   “You’re right,” she agreed. “We need to talk.”

I love Ari. She’s just so adorable. <3 I keep forgetting how much I love the toddlers until I have some in my game.
And Evelyn got old. :(