“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. :)