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. :(