It’s Time to Go

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. ~Gilda Radner

My dear readers, I have taken the decision to end both Feelings & Memories and Tenebridge effective immediately. Know that I do this with a heavy heart but it’s something I must do.

Let me explain.

I’ve found it harder and harder to write both stories this year. I had a brief spark with Feelings & Memories, even managing to finish the first season but now I feel both stories are holding me back writing-wise. I want to develop my writing skills and decide where I’m going with this whole thing.

But that’s not the main reason.

When I started this wonderful journey of blogging the insane ideas in my head, I was a naive 16-year-old kid with no experience of the world. I made mistakes, both within my writing and with the relationships with my online friends. Since then I’ve left school, found a job I loved, watched my family break down and came out as gay. Quite a lot to process in five years, huh?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve changed too much. I associate these stories with a stage of my life that I feel more and more is coming to an end. That’s the transitional stage from child to adult, if anyone is wondering. I’m nearly 21 and I’m just beginning to realise that I don’t know everything and I’ve got this whole ‘journey’ (which sounds cheesy as hell) that I need to go down. There are things that I haven’t figured out, like where do I go from here? What the hell happens to my writing career now?

When I say I ‘haven’t figured things out’, that was a lie. I have ideas in my head, although I’m not really ready to announce them yet. I want to take a creative writing course and get the rules of writing down before I can break them. I need to learn how to structure a story properly, how to organise my thoughts into a proper plan and how to deviate from that plan. I need to learn to make my stories as compelling as they can be – if they’re boring me, why should I expect you to be enthralled? Most of all, I need a break. A long one.

As we speak, I have a story in my head, or rather several stories. I guess we can use the term ‘soap opera’ for it although I don’t know whether I like that. I want it to be a culmination of stories set in a small community with some real heart to it and a few laughs as well. Nothing’s decided yet but I’ll let you all know if and when I decide to publish. Believe me, it won’t be yet.

In the meantime, if you want to follow me, I blog for the TV listings website Digiguide, doing occasional reviews and commentary on life in the TV world. You can find that here.

So there’s one thing left to say. And that’s ‘thank you’. Thank you to all of you who read these stories, commented, offered me words of encouragement and even some valued friendship. Without you all, I wouldn’t have had the courage to get my ideas out there in pure story form. I hope to entertain you all again one day.

Until then…

Episode 27: The Waiting

Previously:
Dina admitted she’d had an affair with Eliot Bachelor. She later received a single rose from him. Robert offered Don a deal — if he seduced Dina, Robert would track down his father for him. Lilith vented to Mary-Sue about Daniel. Mortimer was hit over the head with a baseball bat.

A low buzz of chatter pervaded the waiting room at the hospital. Close family members and friends of one Mortimer Goth sat on hard chairs, stood by the vending machine or, in Dina’s case, paced endlessly. The silence imposed itself upon them like a guest uninvited.

Cassie was the first to snap. “Would you stop your bloody pacing?! You’re driving me insane! Where the hell is Hathaway anyway?”

“He’s not a private doctor,” Darren reminded her. He’d come as moral support, a much needed backbone. Their last conversation had yet to be brought up but he considered his presence the least he could do after what Cassie had done for him. “I’m sure he’ll tell us something before long.”

Nina strolled over from the vending machine. “What happened, anyway? Is the tumour back?”

“I don’t know,” Cassie said. “Perhaps it is the tumour. Didn’t that operation have a low success rate?” Another thought came to her and she leant forward, resting her head on clenched fists. “Where’s Brandi? She must have noticed something, surely.”

“She wasn’t at the house,” Dina said. “Her shift probably hadn’t started yet.”

“Or maybe it did and she’s skiving. We should get someone else. She’s too unreliable.”

Dina sighed, not wanting to get into it with Cassie. “I’m going to see if I can find the doctor.”

The slow walk down the corridor helped her feel as if she was regaining her sanity. So much was happening and none of it was good, the coming baby being the exception.

As if the universe enjoyed teasing her, another complication was coming towards her.

Don waved at her, seeming unsure of himself. “I’d heard about Mortimer. Came to see how you were doing.”

“You shouldn’t be here.”

He rolled his eyes. “Are we really going to let our history get in the way again? You need some support.”

“You hate Mortimer, remember? Go home! You’re no use to anyone here!”

Dina backed off as two more people she recognised rushed towards them. Later it would seem strange that Robert and Mary-Sue had arrived, considering one was an acquaintance and the other hated her husband’s guts. But she didn’t question it.

Mary-Sue’s presence was answered partly when Cassie got up and hugged her. “Thanks for coming.”

“I’m your best friend. And I’ve been neglecting you lately. How is he?”

“We don’t know. Here comes the doctor now,” Cassie pointed out.

The doctor’s slow walk down the corridor towards them seemed to take forever. The silence hung over them again, and tension rose in Dina’s heart. She wasn’t supposed to get stressed for the baby’s sake.

“How is he?” Dina asked once the doctor had approached them. “Is it the tumour? Has it grown back?”

The doctor answered the question with a question. “Was anyone with him at the time of the accident?”

“No,” she admitted. “I found him but I don’t know how long he’d been there.”

“I ask because the injuries sustained to his head look like the results of a major assault.”

The mood quickly turned into confusion. “Assault?” Cassie asked in disbelief.

“Is he awake? Did he say anything?” Dina added.

“Mortimer is still in a coma at the moment. The next 24 hours are critical. With the brain operation he had a few months ago, we’re still not 100% sure how these two events in conjunction might affect him. We’ll be checking on him every half an hour. He is responding to light being shone in his eyes however. There’s a chance he could wake up today. Or…”

The rest was left unsaid. “My god,” Cassie said. “He didn’t want to be a vegetable. That’s why he didn’t want to have the operation. Now look what’s happened.”

“We have a chaplain at the hospital,” the doctor continued. “If you need any support, he’ll be available. And if you’re not religious, we also have a counsellor.”

“I don’t understand,” said Dina. “He was alone in the house. At least as far as I know.”

“We’ll be monitoring him carefully. Two visitors may be allowed to see him for now. I don’t want to overwhelm him if he wakes up.”

Cassie got up. “We should probably go in,” she told Dina.

“Do you want me to call Alex?” Mary-Sue asked. “I don’t think I have the number for the boarding school.”

“No. I don’t want to worry him,” Cassie said. “Let’s wait for a bit.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Don asked. Dina had forgotten he was still there.

“Go track down Brandi,” Nina told him. “Find out if she was with him. Although I can’t imagine why she would assault him.”

“I’ll text you when I’ve talked to her.” And with that, Don was finally gone. Dina looked at her rival who gave her a weak smile. Together they entered the hospital room.

***

Don sighed as he got into the car and turned to the woman next to him. “Think we can make another detour? I need to talk to Mortimer’s nurse.”

“Why?” Serena asked.

“He’s been assaulted. She might know something. It’s not much to go on but…”

“That’s terrible!” she said as she started to pull out of the car park. “There’s some nasty people out there.”

“Tell me about it. Thanks for driving me by the way.”

“No worries. You wanted to support Dina. Not sure what that says about me though.”

“You’re an angel,” he smiled and kissed her cheek.

“Don’t sweet talk me,” she laughed. “Besides I’m enjoying you being all sleuth-like. I thought I was the private detective here.”

He looked at her, wondering how he managed to meet a woman like Serena.

***

Half an hour later, Serena was dropping Don off onto Woodlands Drive. “I’d go in there with you but it might overwhelm her. Call me later if you need picking up or anything.” And with that she drove away.

A teenaged boy was on the front porch smoking. “You alright, mate?”

“Does Brandi Broke live here?”

“Who wants to know?”

“I’m here on behalf of Mortimer Goth.” The words didn’t come easily to him considering how he loathed the man. “There’s been an accident.”

“He dead?”

“Coma. I need to speak to your mother.”

The boy sized him up. Then he burst out laughing. “You think she hurt him or something? Fuck off! She couldn’t crush a bug! Eh, you won’t believe me though so I suppose I’d better let you in.”

“Thank you.”

The house was dirty. A single crusty old armchair wilted in front of a TV that looked like it had been purchased in 1976 and last cleaned a day after it was bought. Flies buzzed around and around a mouldy pizza.

“She popped out to the shops,” the boy said. “She’ll be back soon. Do you want anything to drink?”

Don winced when he was sure the boy wasn’t looking; he may not have had the highest standards of cleanliness but compared to this place, his condo may as well have been nominated for a best-kept house award. “No thanks.”

“I need to finish my cigarette. Don’t steal anything.” And with that, the boy closed the door.

He took a further look around. Homes like this made him grateful for his condo, even if the rent was sky-high. He could barely fathom how anyone could live in this kind of poverty, even if it wasn’t of their own choosing.

As he was lost in his own thoughts, the door opened and Brandi walked in with a young boy he could only presume was her son in a stroller. “Who are you? Did Dustin let you in?”

“Yes,” Don replied. “I’m sorry to intrude like this but something terrible has happened. Mortimer is in a coma.”

She looked at him, aghast. “What happened? Something to do with the tumour?”

“No actually. The doctor reckons he’s been assaulted.”

“Wow.” She put Beau in his crib, her every move slow and mechanical. “Is he going to be alright?”

“We don’t know. It’s a bit of a waiting game right now. Brandi, I have to ask. Do you know anything that might help us?”

“No I don’t think so. Didn’t Mortimer have some enemies? He always mentioned this Robert guy.”

“Robert Mayes?”

“Maybe.” Brandi shook her head. “I’m not exactly an expert on the Goth family. Unless… you think I did it?”

Don backed away. “That’s not what I said.”

“Look, I would never do anything to hurt my patients. Mortimer may take up a lot of my time, my hours may suck but that doesn’t mean I’m going to bash his head in or whatever. I really think you should leave now.”

“I’m going. I just thought you should know.”

After Don went, Brandi closed her eyes, threatened by the beginnings of a headache.

***

“Cassie!” Dina called quietly. Mortimer’s daughter had retreated to the far side of the room, strangely hesitant for someone of her nature. “I think he might be coming round.”

For just a second ago, the hand she was holding had squeezed her. And now moans emitted from his mouth.

“Hey!” she smiled. “You’re in the hospital. How are you feeling?”

He smiled at her. That was good, he was recognising her. “What happened?”

“We think you were assaulted,” Dina said. “Try not to worry too much, I don’t want to cause any more damage.”

Mortimer looked confused and Dina could tell he was trying to remember. “That doesn’t make sense. I was in the bedroom, at my desk. I was alone. Someone must have snuck up on me. Unless I went out or something and don’t remember it.”

“Don’t worry about that now Father,” Cassie said. “We’ll get the police to look into it.”

“Cassie. I’m sorry about shouting at you. Can we put all this unpleasantness behind us?”

“I’d like that, Father,” Cassie smiled.

“Good. We must go up to Cliffside sometime. Now I need to speak to Dina alone.”

She nodded. “I’ll tell everyone outside you’re awake.” And in a moment, she was gone.

“Dina,” Mortimer turned to her. “Do you know who was behind this?”

“No of course not! Why would you ask me that?”

“With one notable exception, most of my enemies seem to also be your lovers. Do you think Don finally snapped? Or is Eliot back in town?”

She faltered, realising she’d never got round to telling him that part of the story.

“Dina!” Mortimer said a little more sternly. “Is Eliot back in town?”

“Yes.” she whispered. “And he isn’t happy.”

“Isn’t happy as in brooding over what he’s lost? Or isn’t happy as in willing to assault and nearly kill me?”

“I don’t know. I’m sure he wouldn’t do that.”

“He’s Michael’s son, remember? It could have been Robert that did this to me, I grant you. But I don’t understand why he’d do that now. Eliot on the other hand…”

“Are you angry with me?”

“Yes I’m angry with you! I give you every chance to be faithful to me and you screw it up like you always do! Just get out of my hospital room!”

With tears in her eyes, Dina did as she was told. She could only hope that Mortimer would look on her with more sympathy once he had the chance to calm down.

***

Mary-Sue saw Dina storm out. She saw Nina take her sister in her arms and lead her over to the chairs. “You were right, Robert,” she whispered. “This was a bad idea. We’re in the way.”

“You’re not,” Cassie said. “Mortimer would love to see you, I’m sure!”

Robert turned to what he now considered as his new girlfriend, disregarding the pedestrianism of that term. “Do you want to stay, love? You look exhausted.”

“You can go if you want,” she tried to smile. “Mortimer means a lot to me. I should probably go and see him.”

“You probably should,” Robert smiled. “I will go and get a coffee. Cassie, would you care to join me?” It was lucky he had a poker face – the thought of having coffee with Mortimer’s daughter made him feel sick.

“I’m going to go back to the manor and pack some necessities for Father. Doubtless Dina will forget. I’ll see you in a bit.” And with an embrace between Mary-Sue and Cassie, the latter left.

“Let me know if you need anything,” Robert told her and with that, he too was strolling down the corridor in search of the canteen, wishing with all his heart that he could be a fly in the wall during Mortimer and Mary-Sue’s conversation. There was a bond between the two he’d been unaware of. How could he have missed it?

***

Brandi was troubled by Don’s visit and her sons weren’t exactly going to be any help in comforting her so she thought she’d turn to the one person who seemed to be on her side recently. She picked up her phone and dialed the number she knew off by heart. “Darren? Hi, it’s me. Do you want to come round for a quick chat?”

As she listened, she couldn’t help but compare his voice to a sweet evening drink; silky, smooth and comfortable. The thought distracted her so much, she could barely focus on what he had to say.

The thought drew her eyes to the picture of Skip. He’d always had a rough accent, matching his upbringing in Texas. She’d fallen in love with her husband for many reasons but his voice hadn’t initially been one of them. Through the years she’d gotten used to it but she wouldn’t have purchased an audiobook if Skip was reading.

So lost was she in her thoughts, it took her a moment to realise Darren had stopped speaking. “Sorry Darren, I was miles away. Half an hour? OK I’ll put the kettle on.”

Her heart skipped a beat once she put the phone down. She felt like a teen girl who had been asked out on her first date. Maybe it was time to move on, she reflected, looking at the pool outside. She never had got it filled in.

***

Eliot could still hear the sickening thump of the baseball bat against his victim’s head, the way Mortimer had slumped onto the desk before his body lost balance and slumped to the floor. He had desperately tried to keep the vomit in but had to rush to the toilet instead.

It was too far, he thought, far too far. He’d had his suspicions then but he’d gone along with it.

No one had seen him when he’d exited the mansion, he was sure of it. He’d gone round the back, having heard the slam of the front door, signalling someone’s return – Dina probably. Lucky for him, she’d made her way straight to the bathroom, allowing him enough time to escape quietly through the back door and make his way round to the front of the house.

He’d felt awful by the time he’d got back to his rented apartment, both physically and mentally. Globules of sick still hung to his nose and mouth so he’d washed his face but after the last remnants of vomit were washed away, the moral implications of what he’d done had hit him. The only time he’d moved since was to go into the bedroom and hide.

A female voice disturbed him from his sleep. “You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

“It’s too late, Ophelia. I’ve already done it.”

Rumour had it that no one could keep Ophelia Nigmos locked away for long. In this case, it had been proven true. She’d beaten up both her prison guards and took their van, finally abandoning it thirty miles from Pleasantview where she’d got in touch with Eliot. He wasn’t sure how much he liked it that she’d called him first but she was good company and great in bed so he hadn’t complained much.

“Look,” she was saying. “This was only a suggestion. Now hopefully Robert will trust you again.”

“I don’t know, Ophelia. I really don’t know.” He relented slightly by letting her crawl in next to him. In no time at all, he was on top of her making her moan with passion and lust.

***

Nina was surprised when Lilith had called at the front desk asking to speak to her. She hadn’t had too much contact with Daniel’s children, and there had been a distinct coolness between father and daughters since the wedding. Perhaps Lilith had thawed.

“You wanted to see me?” Nina asked, trying to look as casual as possible as she walked through the lobby.

“Yes,” Lilith said. “This isn’t easy but I wanted you to hear this and not Daniel.”

The fact she’d said ‘Daniel’ and not ‘Dad’ surprised Nina. “Shall we go through to the lounge? It doesn’t look like there’s anyone in there.”

Once they were seated in the black leather armchairs in the lounge, Lilith continued. “I want no further contact with Daniel.”

“OK. May I ask why?”

“It’s just one thing after another with him. First he cheats on Mum, perhaps multiple times. Then he takes up with a woman who could be his daughter, no offence.” Lilith waited for Nina to indicate there was no offence taken before she continued. “And now I’m hearing you’ve both gambled away your money.”

Nina winced. Had the gambling really been the final straw? “Look Lilith, about the gambling. That was all me. I blamed Daniel because I was ashamed of how much I’d lost. I’m not usually that out of control.”

She could see the information had genuinely shocked Lilith; there was a slight pause in the conversation for Daniel’s daughter to regain her bearings. But then she said “It doesn’t change anything.”

“Have you thought about telling this to Daniel yourself? I think you owe it to him to tell him this.”

Lilith’s face darkened. “I don’t owe him nothing! He’s the one that ripped our family apart! He’s the one that broke Mum’s heart! She’s only just moving on again now.”

“I’m sorry, I could have phrased that better. I’m not an expert on family mediation. Otherwise I guess I’d have the perfect family.” This at least got a small smile from Lilith. “I’ll tell him but he may still want an explanation from you. I can’t see Daniel letting this drop, in all honesty. However I do respect your decision. Just know that I’m sorry for the part I’ve played in ripping your family apart. In hindsight, I could have waited a bit longer before pouncing.”

“I don’t blame you,” Lilith said. “Not really. I just don’t want him doing the same to you. This may shock you, Nina but from what I know of you, I actually like you.”

“Thank you. And just know if you ever change your mind, we’ll be here for you. Both of us.”

Then something unexpected happened. They hugged. “Thank you,” Lilith said, her voice wavering a little. “This means a lot to me. I don’t know whether I want this to be permanent yet.”

“You’re still hurting. It’s understandable.”

Once Lilith left however, Nina’s support turned to worry as to however she could tell her new husband that his daughter no longer wanted to speak to him.

***

“What’s the prognosis?” Mortimer asked as Dr. Hathaway finished reading the neurological scans that had been carried out. Cassie and Mary-Sue were both with him, holding hands and hoping for the best.

“Not too bad,” Hathaway said slowly. “Better than I thought actually. It’s proving to be quite hard killing you, isn’t it?”

That got a smile out of everyone. “Believe me, doctor. I’m not complaining,” said Mortimer.

“You’ll be in the wheelchair a while longer I’m afraid. Any progress you made will be hampered. I’m also noticing that your motor skills aren’t what they should be. You’ll be seeing a significant loss of balance, physical and mental fatigue, and maybe a shortened attention span which could lead to memory problems. I don’t know how long this will last.”

Mortimer smiled weakly. “Thank you, doctor. You’ve been a tremendous help.”

“If you’re up to it,” Hathaway said. “The police want to question you about the attack. I said it was best to seize the opportunity while you’re awake. You’ll be sleeping a lot more in the coming months and years.”

“Fair enough. Send them in. I guess you should both leave for a bit,” he addressed Cassie and Mary-Sue.

“Are you sure?” Mary-Sue asked.

He only nodded. Hathaway was right, he was exhausted. He felt like he’d done a marathon every day this week.

Two police officers entered, one a woman who showed all the signs of a robot pretending to be a human. The other a man who was so generic, Mortimer forgot his name instantly when he told him.

“We just want to ask you a couple of questions,” the woman officer said. Lorna, he thought her name was. “Did you see the attacker?”

“I don’t think so. The last thing I remember, I was at my desk reading the paper. I don’t think I ever turned round.”

Lorna nodded. “Can you remember anything suspicious or unusual before your attack?”

“Generally yes. My wife’s… ex-lover, I suppose you could call him, Eliot Bachelor is back in town. He apparently made threatening remarks or something. I can’t quite remember. I don’t know where he lives. Dina might.”

“Very good. We’ll let you get some rest now unless there’s anything else you need to tell us?”

Mortimer thought a moment but shook his head. The only other possibility was Robert and this wasn’t his style. “Thank you officers.”

After they’d gone, he lay there wondering whether he would ever be able to enjoy life in rude health again.

***

Brandi was so comfortable in the arms of another man after so long that she became rather annoyed when her bedfellow turned to her and said “We shouldn’t have done this.”

It was to be expected really. She knew Darren long enough to know that his heart would always belong to Darlene. But it boggled the mind that they hadn’t had a mutual agreement to move on after an appropriate mourning period should anything happen to them. It was something Brandi and Skip had decided straight away, albeit after an evening of heavy drinking.

“We’re both free agents,” Brandi groaned. “Why shouldn’t we do this?”

Darren looked up at her, the way Beau would sometimes look at her when he wanted something. It unsettled her that she was comparing her now-lover to her toddler son. “I love Darlene.”

“I love Skip,” she replied without hesitation. “And I always will. I understand what you’re going through, Darren.”

“Really?” he said. “Because it sure as hell doesn’t seem like it. You were practically seducing me.”

She fought to keep her temper under control but it was quite a battle. “I had just been accused of doing Mortimer Goth in with a baseball bat. Oh it’s alright, last I heard, he was alive. And no I didn’t do it. Do I look as if I have that sort of upper-body strength.”

“I didn’t say you’d do anyone in with a baseball bat, Brandi. I said you weren’t grieving your husband properly.”

A comeback was making its way up her throat but the hand was faster. Before she knew what she was doing, she had slapped him so hard he’d fallen off the bed. “How dare you tell me I’m not grieving my husband properly. I miss him every single day. I miss him so much that it hurts physically and mentally. I have to raise Beau knowing that he will never know his father. I have to live inches from where he committed suicide because I can’t afford to live anywhere else. I have to live without him, Darren. Every day I have to wake up and make a conscious choice to live without him.”

They were both crying now. Darren had got up and come round to the other side of the bed towards her but she didn’t want him anymore, she didn’t want anyone, only Skip. “I can’t do it anymore Darren,” she cried. “I can’t. I’ve been so strong.”

“I’m sorry.” He was a little more together than she was but that wasn’t saying much. “That wasn’t fair of me to say.”

They continued to cry into each other’s shoulders. Then they laughed that they couldn’t stop crying then they cried some more. It helped, at least a little.

Finally Brandi looked at him, holding his gaze. “I don’t love you,” she said, her voice shaky. “I don’t know if I’ll ever love anyone again. But I need you right now.”

When she kissed him, he didn’t resist. She relaxed slightly, melting into his cool muscular arms like hot button on toast.

***

“What did Brandi say?” Serena asked Don when he got back to his condo and the hot tub. She usually kept things a little more casual but she’d never dated a guy with a hot tub before. Now she sat relaxed with a glass of wine in her hand.

“She didn’t do it. I told her about Mortimer. She was genuinely shocked.”

“Not just acting?” she said.

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. If she acted that well, she’d be in movies.”

“So do you have any more suspects?”

Serena couldn’t keep her eyes off his lean tanned body as he stripped down to his boxer shorts. His troubled face stopped her from making a move on him though.

“There is one thing,” Don said. “If I tell you this, will you promise to keep this secret.”

“I wouldn’t be a private investigator if I couldn’t keep things secret.” she promised.

“Robert Mayes summoned me to his offices the other day. He struck me a deal: if I seduced Dina then he would help me track down my real father.”

Serena grimaced. They hadn’t been serious but it hurt that he seemed willing to seduce Dina again. “Have you done it?”

“I thought about it but no. Maybe Robert got tired of waiting and bashed Mortimer in.”

She took a sip of her wine and thought carefully. “From what I’ve heard of Robert Mayes, he doesn’t seem like the type of guy to do this. Which leaves us two possibilities. Mortimer either has a new enemy, someone we haven’t heard of or someone who’s turned on him. Or maybe someone Robert’s hired gone rogue on him.”

“What do you think I should do?” Don asked her.

“Stay away from him. I’ll take it from here. Now if you get me some more wine, I could find a way to thank you.”

That stupid goofy yet incredibly sexy smile appeared on his face. “Message received and understood. I’ll be right back.”

Suddenly a thought occurred to her. “Don?” He turned around to face her. “I could also help you track down your real father.”

“You’d do that for me?”

“It’s kind of my job? But I’ll do you a deal,” Serena said with a devious smile. “I’ll take this case on for free if I can have unlimited use of the hot tub.”

Don smiled back at her. “Deal! And thank you for doing this.”

“My pleasure!” And then maybe Don wouldn’t be so tempted to seduce Dina Caliente-Goth again.

Writing Prompt: The Diary

So writer’s block seems to have hit me on both my stories and I’ve got hardly any writing done the last fortnight. I’m trying to ease myself back into the process again and I don’t like leaving both blogs without some sort of update so I thought I’d share a couple of scenes I wrote today. The idea behind this prompt is simple. Using completely random words from here, you try and make up a story. I haven’t marked the words because I’m too busy in the writing zone but some may stick out. Hope you enjoy!

They found his diary under the bed. It was old and smelt like it had gone off, like it had been there for some time.

“Open it!” Barney rasped.

Barney was the leader of the small gang, the prankster and the troublemaker. He’d once been bullied for being named after a pink cartoon character. The bully had left school in tears and never came back.

Karl’s hands shook as he obeyed his friend. What they were doing was going beyond a simple joke. It was invading someone’s privacy.

15th July 1955

A woman was hanged a couple of days ago. Some say she’ll be the last. She died because of a crime of passion – she apparently shot her lover with a Smiths and Wesson.

How I wish I’d been there, to see her struggle against the rope. The bitch had it coming. They should have drawn the death out. Torture or some sort of poison. Missy next door tells me that you can die a slow death from lead poisoning sniffing the paint Farmer Gray slapped on the new barn but I haven’t tested this out on anyone.

“Holy shit, this is messed up!” Barney said but his expression was full of delirious delight. “Did Kaitlyn actually write this?”

“Can’t have done, idiot,” Karl sneered. It felt good to make Barney feel stupid for once. “Look at the date. Does Kaitlyn look over sixty to you?”

“Well…” Barney said but a look from Karl silenced him.

Just then the girl they’d been talking about entered the room. “My Mum said she’s taking us out to the steakhou… are you searching through my things???”

Barney just stood there and smirked so as usual it was up to Karl to try and diffuse the situation. “Calm down, Kaitlyn. We were just exploring. Didn’t mean to offend you.”

“And what were you hoping to find, may I ask? My god, I knew he was low,” she fumed, pointing at Barney. “But I thought better of you.”

Karl stood there shamefacedly as Kaitlyn turned her back towards him, picking up the flute she’d been playing for their entertainment moments before. “We should go, Barns,” he muttered.

As they rushed downstairs, Barney continued to smirk. “You just got your ass kicked!”

“And whose fault is that? She’ll never let me get to second base now.” Whatever that was. Karl was at the age where he’d stopped believing girls carried contagious illnesses and started seeing them in a different light. He wasn’t sure what that meant nor what his urges were telling him to feel but he sure thought a lot about Kaitlyn.

Which was why he didn’t like deceiving her. Or maybe not deceiving exactly. But still he should never have gone along with Barney’s plan.

***

Kaitlyn put down her flute and looked around the room. They hadn’t touched much, just that moth-eaten diary of her Grandad’s. And an old Barbie doll they’d stripped naked. It was nothing she hadn’t done as a kid – she’d always preferred cars to dolls.

She’d felt sorry for Karl as soon as he left. He was a nice kid; always hanging back, a little shy. For a moment guilt had gnawed at her for telling him off like he did but he was always so gullible, letting Barney bait him like this.

“You look nice. Elegant even.”

A scream nearly tore out of her lips as the deep voice rushed through her body and nearly caused her to pass water. Luckily it was only her father.

“Whoah! Steady on there, girl!” he laughed. “You look like you’re mobilised to attack.” She relaxed. “You look like a small angel, do you know that? Like your Mother when she was a little girl.”

“I know Daddy. You told me this before.”

“Did I? I don’t remember.” These memory losses seemed to be happening more often. “I saw those boys run out. They weren’t giving you any trouble, were they?”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

“Good. I want you to grow up to be a strong woman. Which means you need to learn how to handle men. Who knows, maybe being around Barney will be good practice.”

“He’s so annoying, Dad! He always thinks he’s right about everything. All men are like that, my dear. You’re looking at the exception.”

That moth-eaten diary was still there, in the corner of her line of vision. There was something enchanting about the book. How it had managed to sit under her bed since her family had moved here three years ago and yet she’d taken it for granted. How it had survived 60 years, seeing her Grandad grow up, then her Dad, then her. It had given her a sense of comfort to know some things could stay the same.

Now though she was curious. She had read some of the extracts and was intrigued; she couldn’t reconcile the man writing the diary with her Grandad who used to give her chocolates and sweets every time she visited him in the nursing home.

“Dad? What was Grandad like as a young man.”

She felt him stiffen, his breath catch. “Why do you want to know?”

“I found something. This.” She handed the diary to him and watched his features change from happiness to anger when he took the sight in.

“Have you read any of this?”

“Only the beginning,” she said. “I stopped at the swearing.”

“Good girl,” he smiled. “All you need to know is that your Grandad loved you very much.” But his voice choked and his eyes looked far away. “I’d better get downstairs. Your Mum might be about ready to go out now.”

Kaitlyn watched him go, replaying in her head the conversation that had just happened. It was obvious even to a young girl like her that her father was hiding something. Totally weird thing happened, she texted Akari. You free to talk later?

She barely noticed the reply or the dinner in the steakhouse or the rest of the day go by. She could only wonder what secrets her father and grandfather held.

Liebster Award

Apologies for the wait on the next post which I haven’t even started yet (eek!). My laptop has been a little unreliable to the point where I just decided to get a new one. To tide you over until then, I was awarded something called the ‘Liebster Award’ about ten days ago (EEEK!).

The idea of the award is to help under-read blogs with under 3000 followers get some new ones. It’s also a pretty cool way for readers to discover new blogs. I don’t do these meme things often (read: at all) so I’ll indulge this once. Thanks again Pinkfiend1 for nominating me. And sorry this is so late! Her blog is here.

The rules!

1.) Post the award on your blog (check!)

2.)Thank the blogger who presented the award and link back to their blog. (check!)

3. Nominate 5-11 bloggers whom you feel deserve this award and have fewer than or equal to 3,000 followers.

4. Answer 11 questions posted by the nominator, and ask your nominees 11 questions.

My Nominees:

Quick note: I’m not sure who’s been nominated and I’m too lazy to check. So sorry if anyone’s been nominated twice. Also this is more of a list of some of my favourite active Sims stories since some of the sites don’t have a follower count.

The Kingdom of Naroni: An epic saga about the crazy inhabitants of Naroni. Most of them are called Searle.

In Verona: Winter’s version of Veronaville. I haven’t fully read through yet but this looks mega awesome!

The Edith Prescott Mystery Series: As expected, a mystery series revolving around the life and loves of private detective Edith Prescott.

The Cavalho Legacy: A rather intriguing new medieval legacy.

Dragging Blue Lake: Pen’s version of Pleasantview, set 25 years after the events of TS2. Not updated for several months but still worth checking out nonetheless.

Dayes of our Lives: A legacy promising to try out everything (yes, EVERYTHING!) TS3 has to offer. A scary prospect!

Now for the questions!

1.) What is your favourite movie?

Already so many to choose from… For drama, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a fantastic drama about the eight year old son of a Nazi officer who makes friends with a Jewish inmate at a concentration camp. For (admittedly mindless!) comedy, Freaky Friday is a hilarious look at a mother/daughter duo who is forced to swap places for the day. I’ve watched this hundreds of times and it STILL makes me laugh. (Also proof Lindsay Lohan could once act. Yes I went there. Sorry!)

2.) What is your favourite book?

I almost want to wimp out and say ‘anything I’m currently reading’, the only problem being that I’m between books at the moment. The one book series I keep coming back to is ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ by George RR Martin (the original Game of Thrones although I’m sure you all knew that!) and my favourite book in that series is ‘A Storm of Swords’. That book just cannot be put down, especially after the halfway mark when SOMETHING HAPPENS!!! (I’d be more specific but anyone who hasn’t caught up will kill me. I’m taking risks as it is here 😉

3.) Which character in your story have you liked least?

In terms of current plot, Daniel is really pushing his limit with me but Angela trumps him. For some reason her character came off as TOO bitchy, catty, goody-two-shoesish. I don’t like that in a human; I’m not going to tolerate it in a character. Admittedly that was part of the reason why I wrote her out of the story (at least for now).

4.) If you were in Sims 3 which 5 traits would you have?

(Confession: I’ve never got round to playing the Sims 3 so I need to research this). Assuming the titles are self-explanatory. Bookworm because I’ve always got my head in a book (or a book on my phone because I’m 21st century), Ambitious: I don’t want to be a CEO or anything (fat chance of that happening!) but I’d like to make a bit of money, Cat Person for obvious reasons, Loner because I usually hate people unless they prove worthy, and socially awkward. I have about as much charisma as a… penguin.

5.) What song do you have stuck in your head at the moment?

Currently this song by Home Free but all their songs are awesome.

6.) How many Sims have you killed deliberately and why?

I am the world’s wimpiest Simmer. I just feel so bad when a simmer dies. I have tested out the Insim suicide methods for Sims 2. I promise you this, a character in this story WILL die by satellite. I don’t know how or when or even who but it has to happen.

7.) Is there any aspect of the Sims 3 you haven’t played with yet that you want to for a example a trait career?

As I’ve said, I’ve not played TS3 so can’t really answer that question. But on a similar note, the reason why I never got the game was because I didn’t like the idea of story progression mode. TS2 gives me total control which is why I’ve stuck with it all these years.

8.) If you had to learn another language what would it be?

German. Then I can converse with one of my best friends in her home language.

9.) What food do you dislike most?

Beetroot. Even thinking about it makes me want to hurl.

10.) What is your guilty pleasure?

I am a massive Disney fan. Which is unfortunate because most people I know in real life hate Disney. So that’s my guilty pleasure. But don’t tell anyone! I have a reputation to uphold!

11.) Who do you most admire and why?

Part of the reason this post is so late is because I don’t really have an answer to that question. Is that bad? I admire lots of people in totally different ways. I admire some of the traits my parents have and how I can learn from them, I admire my sister who’s starting to become her own person, I admire my friends who are the strongest people in the whole world. And then there are the obvious famous people like Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King. So I don’t know whether I can say if I admire someone more than someone else.

And now my 11 questions.

1.) What motivated you to start your own Sims blog?

2.) On a similar note, how did you get into writing in the first place?

3.) What’s your favourite thing about running your own Sims blog?

4.) And what’s your least favourite thing?

5.) What’s your favourite book?

6.) What are your other hobbies?

7.) How much time do you devote to your blogging (that includes the writing, taking picture etc)?

8.) How many hacks do you use and how reliant are you on hacks?

9.) Are you actively jealous of how awesome someone else’s story is? (or is that just me? Don’t answer that one!)

10.) Who’s your favourite character?

11.) And what’s your biggest regret story-wise?

Episode 26: Commitment

Previously
Dina had a fling with Eliot Bachelor, Michael’s son in Sacramento. He returned to seek revenge when she left him. Mortimer had an operation to remove the tumour, leaving him wheelchair-bound and colder emotionally. Don decided to track down his real father after a throwaway comment by Mortimer. Nina and Daniel started having marriage problems. Darren admitted to Cassie that he hit Dina with his car drink-driving. She covered for him, alienating herself from her family in the process.

“I had an affair with Eliot.”

Mortimer Goth had expected some sort of pronouncement from his wife, had even anticipated an affair of some sort. But somehow the fact that it was her stepson hurt more.

Of course it did! It was disgusting!

“I should have known.” His lips curled. He was seated at the dining room table facing the woman who betrayed him at every turn. “You could never resist a chance to open your legs, could you?”

He could see that the words hurt her. The old him would have backed down. But that was before the tumour. When Bella was still around.

“Can you blame me?” Dina screamed. “You never paid any attention to me! Always focusing on other things.”

“I had a family and a bloody brain tumour to worry about!” he roared.

“I have a pregnancy!”

“Yeah, your sprog with me or Don Lothario. Let’s be honest, it’s probably the latter. You were with him more than you were with me, you opportunistic tramp.”

Dina turned away, sobbing quietly. Still when she left the dining room, it was with a slight air of composure, something she must have picked up since moving in that first time. “You need to be a bit more careful with people, Mortimer. Carry on like this and you’ll have no one left.”

***

The next day brought a cool breeze. Robert had the windows in his office wide open; the wind rustled his papers and every now and then, he would place a hand over them as if he could stop their rustling through touch alone.

When the door opened, he glanced up and immediately shifted his features into a genial smile. “Don! I’m glad you could make it! Please, come in!”

“I’m not sure what you might have to say to me. Unless you’ve changed your mind about tracking down my father.”

The man opposite him held a wary expression on his face. He didn’t appear to be gifted in brain cells. And his beard looked manky. Robert could not understand how girls were fawning over him.

“Ah yes,” the senator replied. “I may have been a bit hasty the other day. Stress of the office and all that. But I would like to help you. I’ll get my people to look into it. I have contacts in various places. And it won’t cost you a single simolean. However I need you to do a favour for me in return.”

“Yeah sure. Anything!”

Robert made a fuss of looking over his notes although he knew the situation by heart anyway. “You were having an affair with Dina Goth until very recently, right?”

The wary expression returned. “Yes. But I’m not sure what that’s got to do with-”

“And the baby that she carries is either the product of your affair or her marriage to Mortimer Goth, correct?”

“Yes. Nothing has been confirmed yet. Forgive me but what’s this got to do with-”

“I want you to seduce her.”

Don stared at him for a second. Then he laughed. “Yeah right. I’m not going down that road again.”

“What exactly are you blaming her for? It takes two to start an affair, you know. No, don’t bother explaining what happened. I just realised I don’t care. Now will you accept the deal?”

“I suppose it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. But why?”

“My reasons are my own,” Robert said. “I trust that you will be discreet? You will regret behaving otherwise.”

“Is that a threat?”

“It’s a fact. Now run along. I’ve got an appointment in five minutes.”

The door closed and Robert sighed. Absolute cretin. No wonder Mortimer couldn’t stand him. In that they shared a common bond.

That and their love for Bella.

You’ll get what’s coming to you he promised.

***

About an hour later, Don was propping up the bar of the Crown, a new pub that was quickly making its mark in Pleasantview as well as becoming one of Don’s favourite haunts. He’d used this place often after Kaylynn had left and he’d broken things off with Dina.

“I’ll have another rum and vodka please,” he told the bartender. There was a red-haired lady a couple of seats down, a file open in front of her. “And get the lady whatever she was having.”

The lady looked up in surprise. “Are you hitting on me?”

“Would it be a problem if I was?” Don winked. The alcohol was making him bold.

She laughed. “Some might call it creepy. But since you’re offering, I’ll have a Stella.”

“Rough day?” Don asked the lady as he handed the money over to the bartender

“And then some. I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you.”

“You don’t. My name’s Don. Don Lothario And you are…?”

“Serena. Serena Sloane.” She held out her hand and he shook it. “So Lothario by name and by nature?”

“My reputation precedes me!”

They continued to flirt for a while. Don got so into the exchange that he’d forgotten about Robert’s proposition. It had been a while since he’d played the field.

Once he downed the rum and vodka, he started to make his move. “Listen, I’m going to head off now. You could stay here with your files. Or you could come with me. We could both have a nightcap over at mine. I’ve got a hot tub.”

She laughed. “Smooth guy! You know what? Why the hell not! This lot can wait till the morning!”

And so for the first time in a couple of years, Don found himself leaving a bar with a girl on his arm.

***

“Hey!” Dina greeted her sister as she walked into the lobby of the Cliffside Hotel.

“Dina!” her sister exclaimed, hurrying around the desk she was sitting at to hug her. “I’d heard you were back! My god, you’ve gotten big. When are you due?”

“In a month! I’m so excited!”

The sisters continued to gossip while Nina worked, interrupted by the odd customer checking in or querying something.

“Daniel’s been different since we got back,” Nina said. “It’s like this place is bad for him. It’s almost like he’s reacting how I should be reacting to this place. And yet I’m the calm one here.”

“That doesn’t make sense. Doesn’t he have a wife and family here?”

“Ex-wife,” Nina laughed. “I’m his wife now. But not for much longer if he keeps this behaviour up.”

“I’m having a similar problem with Mortimer,” Dina admitted. “Ever since I got back, he’s been really cruel towards me.”

“I’m not on his side or anything but can you blame him? You had an affair, you broke his trust and you left for god knows where,” Nina said. “No wonder he’s angry.”

She sighed. “I know. I’ve been horrible to him. I just want to prove to him that I’m committed.”

“You haven’t seen Don since you got back?”

“Once. I made it clear that I didn’t want to see him and he respects that. I think he’ll stay away now.”

“Good! There’s nothing stopping you and Mortimer then.”

“Actually…” Dina bit her lip and looked away.

“What?” her sister asked, concerned.

“Eliot’s back. When I disappeared? For part of that time, I was sleeping with him in Sacramento. And now he’s in Pleasantview on some sort of revenge mission.”

“No wonder Mortimer’s angry,” Nina said, crossing her arms. “He can’t trust you! Do you really think you could make a marriage out of that?”

“I have to. I might be carrying his baby. Plus I like the stability!”

“You like his money, more like,” she scoffed. “You haven’t changed at all, Dina. You married Michael and he hit you. Did you not learn anything from that? After what I did for you!” she whispered.

“I’ll always be grateful for that,” Dina pleaded. “But-”

“I need to finish my shift,” Nina said coldly. “I’ll see you around.”

Dina saw that this exchange with her sister was proving to be futile so she turned around and left, hoping that she hadn’t just burnt all her bridges.

***

When Cassie had gone round to Darren’s house, she had fully envisaged screaming at him, asking him how could he be so selfish as to let her take the fall for the hit & run. She knew the outburst was irrational but she didn’t think she could plan her next move without it.

However when Darren opened the door, she saw that he’d been crying. “What’s wrong?” she asked with concern as he let her in.

“Nothing,” he replied with the demeanour of a surly child. “It’s nothing.”

“Looks like it!” She moved closer, taking his hand in hers. “Whatever it is, you can tell me. You can tell me anything, you know.”

“I don’t want to get you into any more trouble. In fact I should tell Mortimer that I hit Dina.”

“No!” Cassie said before she could hurt herself. “If the legal system doesn’t chew you up and spit you out, Mortimer will. I got away with it because I’m his daughter and even then he isn’t speaking to me. You can’t handle something like that.”

“It’s not fair on you though, is it?” Darren said gently. “You’re looking after me and I’m grateful for that. But who’s looking after you?”

“I-” He was stroking her face, smooth downward motions that made her heart flutter. “I’m just being a friend.”

“Is that all?” he whispered. When had his face become so close to hers? When had he closed the distance? “What you’ve done goes beyond friendship.”

“I-” She couldn’t finish the sentence though because his lips were on hers. It was thrilling how strong his grip on her was, a hand on her cheek, the other making its way down her back.

When he released her, she felt dizzy. “I have to go. I’ll talk to you later.”

She tried not to look at his crestfallen face as she rushed out.

***

The next morning saw Lilith sigh in frustration when her text message wouldn’t send.

“What’s wrong with you?” her mother asked from the kitchen as she poured some Cornflakes into a bowl.

“Bloody phone. And I’ve got that exam today. Mrs Carver is a right bitch.”

“Language!”

“Whatever.”

Mary-Sue sensed her daughter was in a sullen mood so she backed off. It wasn’t that long ago that Lilith had been rebelling against her and making stupid decisions. She did not want to go back to that era.

Instead she decided to change the subject. “Have you heard from your father lately?”

“Yeah he wants me to go to dinner with him and Nina. Did you know they’re basically homeless now?”

She sighed. “Yeah I heard something through the grapevine. Didn’t they lose all their money gambling?”

“Every cent. Idiots,” Lilith pronounced. “I’m not going by the way. He makes horrible decision after horrible decision and he just doesn’t understand the impact on anyone!”

Mary-Sue smiled wryly. Her daughter and her ex-husband were more alike than Lilith could possibly imagine.

“Have fun at college today, sweetie. I’m off.” Another small smile played at her lips when she saw her daughter cringe at the use of the word ‘sweetie’.

Life was good for the moment. Even the awkwardness of seeing Robert had disappeared. She wondered how long this illusion of perfection would last.

***

Frustration ebbed away inside Dina like a tide washing away grains of sand on a beach. At her last appointment back in Sacramento, the doctor had told her to try not to get stressed. She wondered whether that doctor would be advising the same thing had he been in her shoes.

No one seemed to understand why she stayed with Mortimer. Hell, part of her was unsure why she was doing this. To provide stability for her baby? Or to just roll in the money, a painfully honest voice said deep inside her.

No! I’ve changed! I’m not like that anymore. I’m not a gold digger!

She made her way up to the front door, returning from Cliffside. If Nina was going to be that antagonising all the time, she wouldn’t be going back anytime soon!

An envelope lay on the front doorstep. She bent down to pick it up, moaning as she did so. It was addressed to her.

Eliot! She wasn’t sure how she knew it was him. It could have been her aunt bothering to write from Spain for all she knew. But no that would be too random.

She opened the envelope. Inside was a single rose and a note folded around the stalk. It read ‘A rose for every day we were together’.

Dina’s heart fluttered in panic. Mortimer could not know about this! She ripped the note into pieces and hurried around the corner where she put the envelope and its contents into a public bin.

That solved today’s problem. But she just couldn’t see how she could cope with a rose sent daily from her former lover.

***

So engrossed was Mortimer in reading that day’s edition of the Pleasantview Tribune that he didn’t notice the man behind him until it was too late. The noise of the floorboard creaking so alarmed him that he would have jumped even if the mystery person in question had been his wife or family.

It wasn’t.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Mortimer barked.

The other guy didn’t respond, only glared menacingly. The last thing Mortimer saw was the baseball bat hurtling towards him. He didn’t feel the impact, only melted into oblivion.

Episode 25: Giving My Secrets Away

The next morning at Goth Manor found the head of the household sighing in frustration at the knock that came again at his door as his stairlift took him slowly down the stairs to the wheelchair below.

“I’m coming,” he yelled but the stairlift was in no hurry. Unlike whoever was on the other side of the door apparently.

When he’d manouvered himself into the wheelchair and finally opened the front door, there was no one there. Just a ‘We Missed You’ card from Amazon detailing the location of the delivery.

“Why can’t the bastards wait?” he grumbled as he closed the door.

He heard the stair creak and his daughter come into view. “Was that my order?”

“Missed it. They didn’t wait long enough.”

She sighed in frustration. “Great. Do you want some toast?”

“That would be lovely. Thank you.” He followed her into the kitchen. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you actually.”

“Oh?” He watched the daughter take out two slices of bread from the packet and deposit them in the toaster.

“Dina’s back. She stayed here last night.”

She froze, hands halfway to the fridge to get the butter. “Right.”

Mortimer winced. It wasn’t like his daughter to be so distant. “Are you alright with that?”

“No but I doubt I can convince you to change your mind.”

“I want us to have breakfast together. All of us. I want you and Dina to start to get along together. Or at least act civil. Do you think you can do that?”

Cassie nodded. “I will if she does.”

“Good. Then we have a deal.”

***

To say that Dina was nervous when she walked downstairs was an understatement. Facing her husband and Cassie was a daunting prospect that had not aided her sleep. Added to that how uncomfortable it was to sleep with how big she was and she was exhausted.

Mortimer was the first to see her. “Good morning, my dear. Would you like some toast?”

“I’m not too hungry. I’ll just have some coffee.”

Then to her amazement, Cassie turned to her. “Welcome home. Must feel nice to be back.”

“Thank you, Cassie,” she said with more than a hint of hesitation in her voice. “It does.”

From her seat, she tried to work Cassie out. What was going on? Was she being nice to her because of what she’d admitted? Dina had wrestled with whether she would ever tell Mortimer who was behind the hit and run but now she wasn’t sure she would. He didn’t need to know. Things were complicated enough in the family as it was.

“So,” Mortimer began once they were all seated. “What are you both up to today?”

Unsure how to answer, Dina focused on sipping her coffee. She truly hadn’t thought beyond breakfast.

“I have some hotel business,” Cassie said. “Need to train Nina up for starters. Then a couple of meetings. Busy day.”

Dina wasn’t sure she’d heard correctly. “Is Nina back?”

“She is. She and Daniel are staying at the hotel. You two were really not in touch the whole time?”

She lowered her head, focusing on the coffee again. “I wasn’t speaking to anyone over the past three months.”

“Where were you?” Mortimer asked. “Was it so hard to get in touch? To not speak to your own sister….”

“I was travelling.” The lie came easy to her, it was something she’d composed last night. “I stayed in New York for a bit then I decided to go west. See Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Fran. I suppose I just needed to clear my head.”

“Not surprising,” Cassie commented.

“What’s that supposed to mean,” Dina asked with more bite than she’d intended.

Cassie looked at her father, a silent pleading in her eyes and then focused back on Dina. “Just that you’ve been through a lot the past year. We all have.”

“Really? And what’s been going on with you the past few months?” She couldn’t help herself; anger burned white hot. “Hired any more hit and run drivers recently?”

Mortimer, who had been trying his best to stay out of the brewing argument, leaned forward at this point. “What do you mean?”

“Your precious daughter,” Dina spat. “Hired someone to kill me. She’s psycho.”

“Is this true?”

Cassie slammed her mug down. Coffee began spilling out over the table. “You know what? I tried to be civil I really did. Enjoy your marriage, father.”

She stormed out and a moment later they heard the front door slam. Mortimer then turned to Dina. “How long have you known?”

“Since just before I left. There was never really a chance to tell you.”

“OK.” He drank his coffee and Dina was stunned. She thought he’d be angry at her, throw her out again.

“Aren’t you going to say something?”

“What do you want me to say, Dina? Secrets are par for the course with you. What’s one more?”

They finished their breakfast in silence.

***

“You’ll never guess who I just saw!” Lilith Pleasant announced as she walked back into the house from… wherever  she’d been. She had said but Mary-Sue hadn’t really listened at the time. The headache was threatening to engulf her. She lay on the sofa with the curtains closed.

“If I let you tell me who you just saw, will you shut up about it afterwards?” she moaned.

Lilith just laughed. “Hangover that bad, huh? Now you know what not to do at your 50th.”

“Please don’t mention my age again,” Mary-Sue said but with a chuckle “Who did you see?”

“Dina Goth. She’s back and heavily pregnant. Mr. Goth must be more forgiving than I thought.”

Mary-Sue groaned. “He must be.” she said. “Where were you again?”

“At college. Early class. Do you want a glass of water?”

“I want to be able to die in peace,” she was saying when the doorbell rang. “But it looks like that’s not going to happen.”

Lilith had already gone to answer the door and when she opened her eyes again, a shadow filled the room.

“Robert!” she greeted. “What are you doing here? And how much of a fool did I make of myself last night?”

“You were quite amusing,” he chuckled. “Especially when you offered to lap dance when I put some music on.”

Her daughter added “I believe threatened is the better word.”

Mary-Sue mock-glared at her. “Don’t you have homework to do or a boyfriend to chat up?”

“OK! I’m going!” she laughed and a moment later she heard her walk upstairs.

Once she was gone, Mary-Sue sat up, still feeling strangely dizzy despite the pill she’d taken. She kept a hand on her head. “I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have accepted the wine at all. It’s just I don’t drink much so my tolerance is down and once I start…”

“It’s perfectly alright,” Robert smiled. “I came over to see how you were. I take it you won’t be showing your face at work.”

She groaned. “Can’t even think about it.”

“I’ll make your excuses. But there’s one other thing I think we need to talk about.”

“Oh?”

“Yes.” There was a pause which worried Mary-Sue. Robert seemed a little uncomfortable today. She’d put it down to him seeing her in this state.

“You kissed me,” he said.

She hadn’t been expecting that. But now she thought back to last night, there had been a moment. As she was about to leave, she’d grabbed him and… “Oh god.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” he laughed. “But you’ve been a little off with me for months now. And I just want to know where we stand? Did something happen?”

Yes Robert, something happened. I just kissed your old enemy, that’s all! And she wasn’t sure she had the strength to lie but somehow the words came out of her anyway.

“You’ve got to understand. I’m still getting over what happened with Daniel. And it’s going to take a long time for me to trust anyone in that way again. I like you, Robert but I don’t know whether I could handle a relationship with you.”

“So we keep things casual,” he replied. “Go on a couple of dates, enjoy each other’s company. Keep things on your terms.”

“I don’t know how long it’ll be…” she admitted. Truly she hadn’t thought of being with another man after her marriage ended. She’d thought that was it. But now…

Robert sat down and took her hand. “I won’t lie. It’s not been easy for me either. Ever since my wife died, I didn’t think I’d find anyone. But now I’ve met you. I don’t want to scare you by telling you how deeply I feel for you but I don’t want to let you go either. So casual dating for now?”

She squeezed his hand. Her hangover felt a little better. “I’d like that, yes.”

In the back of her mind, a stubborn thought came to her. If Mortimer is taking Dina back, I can move on as well!

***

Nina Caliente was already exhausted. And she was only on her lunchbreak. She wasn’t used to a full-time job. And it didn’t help that Cassie was in a bad mood, making her induction painful and afraid to ask questions. She was sure she’d made a couple of mistakes in phone protocol already and she still wasn’t sure how to put anyone through.

Her husband entered through the front door and looked at her. They hadn’t spoken after their argument last night. “Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” she whispered back. Things between them felt awkward, strained.

Desperate to fill the conversation, Nina said “Did you hear? Dina’s back.”

“I didn’t. Have you been to see her?”

“How could I? I’ve been working, remember?”

Another strained silence.

“How did the meeting go?” she asked. “Are they going to take you back at the club?”

“They’ve found a replacement.” Daniel said. “So thanks to you, I’m now unemployed as well as broke.”

“Excuse me? I told you last night, no one forced you to go to Vegas with me!”

The beginnings of their argument was interrupted by a customer. Nina saw to her while Daniel scowled.

“Could you not look like that?” Nina asked him once she’d gone. “You’ll put off all the customers!”

“I’ll be in my room,” he growled. His exit was a relief to her.

***

Another day spent in the armchair watching the world go by. Mortimer used to enjoy sitting here merely observing but he seemed to enjoy the pastime more when his outlook on life wasn’t so bleak.

His carer stood awkwardly next to him. “Did you hear me, Mr. Goth? We need to begin your physical therapy.”

He heard her alright. Physical therapy was a daily humiliating ordeal in which he tried to get his stubborn legs to move again. He could stand but only for a moment before a frustrating wave of exhaustion threatened to overpower him. Walking would take time. If he was ever able to manage it at all.

“Come to torment me again, have you Brandi? Why don’t you face the fact that I’ll never learn to walk and pour me a bottle of wine?”

“Because you know drink isn’t good for you! You’ve got to keep yourself motivated, Mr. Goth!”

That was easier said than done when his legs felt like wood. “Better make me into a real boy then.” When his carer’s expression became one of confusion, he sighed “Just start the therapy already.”

***

An hour later Dina had come downstairs and was skimming a romance novel when the doorbell rang. Mortimer and Brandi had gone up to the third floor to concentrate on the therapy and he had made it clear to Dina that he was not to be disturbed so she answered the door.

A good thing too since Eliot was on the other side of it.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

If Mortimer was to find out about this as well… She wasn’t sure her husband could take one more secret.

“I just wanted to talk,” Eliot said.

“I think we said everything we had to say back in Sacramento,” Dina said. “Please Eliot, just go. Whatever we had, it’s finished.”

“Does your husband know about us? Thought not!” Eliot grinned when he saw the look on her face. If Dina hadn’t been a gazillion months pregnant, she would have slapped him.

She blocked the door with her foot to stop him from entering. “Please. Don’t tell him. He’ll never forgive me.”

“You can’t help yourself, can you? You just bounce between men like a beach ball. First my father. Then Mortimer. Then Don. Then me. Have I missed anyone out?”

“I’m trying to make my marriage work now,” she hissed. “I’m trying to change. And I would succeed a lot more if you went away.”

“On the contrary,” Eliot smirked. “I think I’ll stay here and enjoy the shitstorm you’re bound to create without my help. That will be ample revenge enough for rejecting me.”

Dina stared at him for a moment. “Whatever did I see in you?” Then she closed the door.

Her heart was beating so fast she was having palpitations. She still wasn’t convinced that Eliot wouldn’t take action against her. How could she possibly prevent Mortimer finding out about their affair?

***

That night Nina stared at her husband’s form in bed. It was technically early morning but she didn’t care. She couldn’t face getting into bed with him.

She didn’t know what had changed. Maybe it was Pleasantview. Maybe the place was toxic for their marriage.

Or maybe it was the fact that they’d got married at all. Maybe they’d rushed into it.

Only now when she looked at him, her heart was filled with regrets she couldn’t quite explain.

She only hoped that this was just a rough patch.

***

The apartment hadn’t changed in all the time Eliot had been away. The landlord must have been desperate for someone, anyone to live there. It took barely any persuasion for Eliot to move in. Same day as well.

It felt emptier though, like it had since Ophelia had been arrested. She may have been batshit crazy or whatever but she sure wasn’t boring. He couldn’t deny his attraction to her but nothing would come of that now. The last he’d heard, she’d been sentenced to life in jail.

He looked out at the lights of Pleasantview through the small grimy window. The town was dead at half three in the morning. The heavy oppressive silence filled the air. It was more than just a lack of sound, it was a sense. Something that had always made Eliot uneasy; he’d grown up with parties almost every night courtesy of his father.

He should have called a hooker or something. He felt lonely and vulnerable. Looking out through the darkness, he saw the tall roof of Goth Manor. Dina would be in there, perhaps in bed with her husband. Perhaps she had her arms curled around him, her heavily pregnant belly resting on his hip.

That should have been his baby. They may not have started off on the best foot but his feelings for her grew every day.

He only wished she knew that.

***

Cassie had intended to sleep at her desk. But every time her eyes closed, nightmares haunted her.

She’d snuck a bottle of wine in from the kitchen and had drunk her worries away. Now she felt calmer, more light-headed but not worryingly so.

“Fuck you everybody,” she said. “Fuck you all.”

The declaration made her feel easier with herself. After all, she only had the hotel now. She may as well revel in the fact that she hadn’t quite lost everything.

***

The night wore on as friend and lovers sat or lay back contemplating the situations that made up their existence. Perhaps the most surprising situation occurred at the Dreamer house.

Darren had once again seen Brandi. And once again she had looked miserable. So he’d invited her inside for a bit.

They’d got talking straight away, bonding over their love of curry. Brandi’s sister-in-law and Darleen apparently made the best curries. Although Brandi had struggled with the spiciness of his chili con carne. Perhaps he had made it too hot.

Laughter had filled the house like it hadn’t in years. They were drunk off each other’s company.

“It’s sad really,” Brandi laughed. “But she’s such a mess. She disappears for months on end and then she turns up and he just lets her stay. Doesn’t ask her where she’s been or anything. Doesn’t suspect that she must have been playing around.”

“Or perhaps he does,” Darren pointed out. “And he was afraid to ask her.” His expression darkened for a second. He covered it by drinking a bit more wine. “Are you sure you should be talking about your patients this way?”

“Absolutely not! It’s your fault for being such good company!”

“Oh I am sorry! Next time I’ll sit here all sullen with my arms folded!” he said.

“That’s normal for me! I have a teenage son, remember?”

The surprise for him had come at the end of the evening. She was putting on her coat and was just about getting ready to leave. “Thank you,” she said. “This was totally worth paying the nanny a bit longer.”

“Couldn’t Dustin have looked after Beau?”

“Only if I wanted to find him on the floor with his nappy filled up and empty bottles of milk all around him.”

“Which one?”

Brandi thought for a moment. “Either!” And then she’d leaned in for a kiss.

And god help him, he’d kissed her back!

The blood gushed from his wrist. The warm flowing river felt good as did the pain. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed as the knife cut again. A thick red line criss crossed the other and Darren felt dizzy. “I’m so so sorry!”

***

The next morning, Mortimer opened the door. Don looked down at him, holding a “We missed you!” card.

“What are you doing here?” Mortimer asked.

“I heard Dina was back,” Don said. “I came to see if the rumours were true.”

“Who told you?”

“Nina mentioned it on Facebook. And before you say anything else, she doesn’t lie.”

Mortimer sniffed. “I wasn’t going to say that. Nina’s the truthful one of the pair. I was going to say that it’s none of your business if Dina is here or not.”

“Morty? Is that Don?”

Mortimer sighed and turned to face his wife. “Are you sure you want to see him?

“Just give me a moment with him,” Dina said. “That’s all I want.”

“Fine!” Mortimer wheeled himself out of the way. “I’ll be in the kitchen. Don’t be long.”

Once her husband was out of sight, Dina turned to Don. “What do you want?”

“To see you,” he said. “Blaming you for Mortimer’s stubbornness… I don’t like resenting you that way. So I won’t. I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted. What are you going to do about your father?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “What can I do? I’ve gone twenty-five years not knowing who he is. I can survive longer.”

“Don’t give up,” she said. “You never know what might happen.” She turned to go but something stopped her. “Incidentally, to go against everything I just said, if you want to start anything up again, I can’t do it. I’m staying faithful to Mortimer. Trying to be honest with him.”

“I can’t say I’m not disappointed,” Don grinned. “You’re the most beautiful woman in Pleasantview. But for what it’s worth, good luck. You’re going to need it!”

Dina smiled at him. “And what do you mean by that?”

“Oh just that our lives are completely fucked up.”

“You’re right there!”

After she’d said goodbye to Don and closed the door, she thought for a moment. ‘Trying to be honest.’ Now was as good a time as any to follow through on her words. And if Eliot was really going to be a threat….

“Morty?” she called, walking into the kitchen. He was in the adjoining dining room, listening to some Mozart on the radio. “Could you turn that off please? There’s something I need to tell you.”

Episode 24: Lingering Questions

Previously
Mortimer hinted to Don that he knew who his father was but wouldn’t let on. Don went to Robert for help. Darren struggled with his wife’s death. Lilith started seeing Jack, a guy at college who turned out to be Robert Mayes’s grandson. Jack invited her to dinner, saying his Grandad would like to meet her. Mary-Sue and Mortimer shared a kiss. Daniel and Nina returned from Vegas married but with no money. Brandi got a job as Mortimer Goth’s carer after his brain tumour left him weak and in a wheelchair. Mortimer hired Sloane to track down Dina. He ordered Sloane to question Nina again upon her return to Pleasantview. Eliot proposed to Dina.
“He knows who my father is,” Don Lothario said, hands waving wildly in the air. “And he won’t tell me anything.”

Robert Mayes exhaled, winding a pen between two fingers. An hour ago, the appointment had seemed promising but potential had given way to boredom; it had been the third time Don had made that point.

For the third time, he tried to explain. “Look, I understand that you have residual anger over this. And believe me, I’d usually jump at the chance to get one over on Mortimer Goth. But I’m not sure if I want to get involved in something so personal.”

“I thought you’d want to help me! I thought you’d jump at the chance to get revenge on that old man!”

“Ordinarily yes but…” But what? He sighed in frustration and wished he could open the window. It was still raining out there and the wind was getting stronger. In contrast, it felt a little stuffy up here in the office. The damned air conditioning must have turned itself off again. “But I’m far too busy a man to engage in petty vendettas,” he settled on finally.

Don stood up – he’d only sat down for a few seconds – and stormed out but not before saying. “I thought you at least might help me!.”

Once he’d gone, Robert picked the pen up and squeezed. The glass broke and ink came rushing out of the nib.

***

The cool atmosphere of the Sacramento river bank may as well have not existed to a flustered Dina Caliente who stood gaping at the young man who had just dropped down on his knee before her, holding out an extravagant wedding ring in a small velvet box.

“Eliot!” she tried to grin. “Don’t be silly!”

A mahogany colour made its way onto his face into the form of an unpleasant flush. Passers-by stopped and stared at the situation as they perceived it: the handsome man in an expensive shirt and jacket being turned down by the pregnant girl.

“I thought I-” He stammered trying to get the words out. “I thought you loved me! Why did you move all the way out here otherwise?”

Because I was sick and tired of living in my dead husband’s townhouse, coping with a pregnancy on my own, and looking for a job which by the way includes me being looked down on by Michael’s friends who are also former acquaintances of mine. The rage was so unexpected but she didn’t want to say that in front of the passers-by. They must have thought her a freak anyway without all that.

“I can’t do this,” Dina said and waddled off. It was lucky that Eliot remained kneeling there, looking completely shell-shocked because in any other circumstance, he would have chased after her and demanded an explanation she didn’t want to give.

***

The bottle of pills called out to him like a Siren wailing on the raging sea.

Darren was powerless in its lure. He felt completely out of control as his soft slippers travelled downstairs, taking him towards the domain of the kitchen, still full of the aroma of the chicken curry he had cooked himself.

Darleen had enjoyed cooking. He remembered the early days of their relationship. Him struggling to sell a painting, her try to boost his spirits by cooking the casserole that only she could make. They’d bond over the meal and somehow they’d find themselves in bed afterwards, caught up in the passion that they felt for each other.

Christ, how had he managed to cope this long without her?

It was the easiest thing in the world to open the bottle of pills. Even more so to get a glass and fill it with water from the sink.

The pills were a gateway to a peaceful night. Every time a doubt urged him to go ahead and flush them down the toilet, that was what he kept reminding himself.

It had been worse since Dirk had gone. The house had been quieter. Darren could hear every noise; the wind rustling through the oak tree outside, the loud whirring of the planes flying by, the cars driving past. He felt like he was in an open prison some days.

Desperately he tried to wish away the feeling as he swallowed a couple of sleeping pills and chugged down the glass of water after.

***

“A dress! Things must be serious!” Mary-Sue’s head popped out of the kitchen where she was making dinner for one. Lilith rolled her eyes at her mother’s banter but without aggression. A major change from a year ago.

“Funny!” her daughter called out to her. The bathroom door closed behind her.

Mary-Sue shook her head. At least one of them was having some success in the love department. Things had stalled with Robert since what had happened with Mortimer.

She had relived that time endlessly. How she’d been fiddling around in the garden when she’d seen Dina Goth storming away from her home, suitcases in her hands. She had been filled with concern for how Mortimer was and next thing she knew, her feet had carried her right up to the front door of Goth Manor, past the unlocked door which she closed with a loud slam that reverberated throughout the house, and into the front room where she saw Mortimer slumped against the wall. Why hadn’t Dina helped him?

She called out his name and her heart sank when he looked at her and murmured. “Bella? Am I dead?”

“We’ve been through this before.” She had her hands on her hips and knew she looked much sterner than she felt. “I’m not Bella.”

She could see the disappointment in his face, even if it remained for only a few seconds. Her own brand of disappointment raged up inside her but she fought it back down. The doubts that she somehow wasn’t good enough for him were inappropriate. They had nothing. They would always have nothing and Mortimer would always be in love with his wife. It was the way it should be.

Nothing? Since when had she acted like an obsessed lovesick child around Mortimer? What were these thoughts?

The disappointment lasted only a moment however, on both counts. “Mary-Sue? What are you doing here?” There was a strange tone of admonishment in his voice.

“I saw Dina storming out. I was in the garden and…” she decided he didn’t need to hear the banality of an explanation. It only made her sound foolish. “Well, I just wanted to make sure you were alright.” Obviously not, you idiot.

“I’m fine,” There, you see? He’s fine and he obviously doesn’t need your help!

“Evidently.” He was shivering. “You’re freezing! You’re like the dead.” Idiot! “I could have phrased that better.”

“Don’t worry. I soon will be dead.” There was a stark coldness to his voice.

“Don’t talk like that!” she scolded.

But he carried on. “The doctors gave me a choice, you know. It was go for this stupid operation where I could die anyway or be a vegetable or something or just give up now. Honestly what’s there to fight for?”

Mary-Sue doubted that the chances for surviving the operation was that bleak, otherwise what would be the point of offering it to him? Besides there were several reasons and she found herself verbalising each and every one of them. She told him of his daughter, insecure and looking for his approval, of his son, the possibility of his being orphaned at 11. “And then there’s the baby.” The look he gave her told her that she shouldn’t even have mentioned it. Colour rose in her cheeks; she felt like an oven turned on too high.

“Probably not even mine,” he brooded.

And then there’d been the kiss.

“I’m not Bella,” she’d told him 

“I know.”

“Mum? Mum!”

Lilith’s voice took her back to the present day, to the kitchen where she could smell burning. “Oh shit!” she swore as she saw her TV dinner was burnt. “Ugh! Looks like I’m ordering takeout.”

“Why don’t you come with us?” Lilith asked. She looked way too grown up in a formal black dress with make up.

“I don’t want to cramp your style,” she said.

“You’ll hardly do that,” Lilith said. “You can make conversation with Jack’s mysterious Grandad, take some of the focus off us two. Please, you’ll be doing me a favour.”

She didn’t know why she nodded but as a smile crept onto Lilith’s face, she knew she couldn’t back out now.

***

“Dina?” Eliot shouted. “Dina!”

There she was, in the bedroom, curled up on their bed. Eliot was in no mood for dramatics. Not after that humiliating scene by the river. “Do you want to tell me what the fuck that was about?”

No answer. He might as well not exist for all the attention she gave him.

“Do you know how much this stupid engagement ring cost?”

That roused her. “I didn’t tell you to get me a fucking engagement ring, did I?”

“I thought we were stronger than this,” he said. “I thought we were long-term.”

“How could you think that?” She got up, on the opposite side of the bed to him. Her pregnant stomach jutted out in an unflattering pose. “I was married to your father.”

“Yeah for money! This is for love.”

“I don’t love you!” she screamed. The words hung thick on the air for a few seconds, the implications of the sentence hitting both of them with the subtlety of a punch from a heavyweight boxer. In a softer tone, she said “This was fun and a great distraction but I don’t love you.”

Eliot sat down, his legs shaking. The woman he loved – his fucking stepmother if this wasn’t sick enough – came round to his side of the bed and tried to put her arms around him. He brushed them off.

“Honey, it’s impossible. I’m already married. I’m pregnant by one of two men. I don’t need any more complications.”

“Better get out then, hadn’t you?”

“What?”

“Go on,” he shouted. “Pack your bags. Get back to your fucking harem!” 

He walked out, away from his apartment, away from her, praying that he would never look upon her face again.

***

The departure lounge was crowded full of family and friends ready to embrace their loved ones after their holiday in Vegas. Nina and Daniel were part of the latter crowd, both struggling with the weight of the cases.

Cassie stepped forward and even her eyes bulged when she saw how much they had with them. But she didn’t say anything. Instead she nodded. “How was your trip? Apart from the money issues.”

“It was good,” Nina replied curtly.

Cassie glanced sideways at her as they started walking. “And how do you feel being back here? With everything that’s happened?”

Her husband stepped in. “I’m not sure we want to talk about that,” Daniel said.

“No wait,” Nina stopped him. “You believe me?”

Cassie shrugged. “You have no reason to lie, have you? If you wanted to exploit the rape, you would have done that by now. And you don’t strike me as the type of person who makes accusations up like that.” Not like your sister, she silently thought.

“Thanks!” Nina said although she wasn’t sure why she was thanking her.

“Have you got anywhere to live?”

They glanced at each other. In truth the best offer they had was squatting at their old condo, assuming it hadn’t been sold yet.

“I’ll take that as a no then,” Cassie said. “Well, I’ve got a deal and it doesn’t involve money but an exchange of favours.”

“What is it? 

“Come stay at Cliffside. It won’t cost you a penny. A good room, free service, meals provided, you name it. On the condition that you, Nina, come work as a receptionist. We’re one short since Shelley went on maternity leave and it doesn’t look like she’s returning.”

“I don’t know.” Nina said. “That place…”

“It’s where the incident happened,” Daniel said. His demeanour was cold and Cassie found herself wondering whether something had happened.

“Oh of course!” Cassie said. “I’m sorry if that was out of line. The deal’s still on the table. At least come to Cliffside tonight and see what happens. If you can cope with being in the place tonight then maybe you could get used to it if you’re living there on a permanent basis.”

They’d reached the entrance of the airport and Cassie guided them towards a cab. Nina struggled with her hair blowing in front of her face,the wind roaring and gusting.

Once they were inside, Nina asked Cassie “Why are you doing this for us? Don’t you have a grudge against my sister?”

“I do,” Cassie admitted. “But I hope we’re both adult enough to keep that grudge and our relationship separate.”

Nina smiled and nodded as the cab pulled away towards Cliffside.

***

It had been a holiday. A temporary holiday.

That was the thought which occurred to Dina as she sat on a bench overlooking the now dark and gloomy river. The temperature had plummeted and, despite the coat that she’d wrapped around herself, she shivered.

She had nothing. The money was all gone. Not enough to check herself into a hotel for the night. And the shelters were all full. She had no idea where to go next. She certainly didn’t intend to sleep on this bench – maybe find a park somewhere. But that was where the druggies and the properly homeless people went.

People passed her by all the while, most now rushing to get home. They all looked at her, open stares of pity and sorrow mingled with the sharper edges of judgement and condescension.

Only one person came to talk by her. She was a woman in her late forties, with long dark-blonde curly hair and kind eyes hardened by years of experience. “Are you alright, love?” she asked.

Dina honestly had no idea how to answer that question.

“Have you got a phone?” At the wince of hesitation which felt like a stab to Dina’s guts, she added “I’m not going to rob you. I need to call someone. You can dial the number if you like.”

That was when, in the confines of Goth Manor where Brandi was trying to get Mortimer to do his muscle-strengthening exercises, amidst much shouting from the latter and pleading from the former, Mortimer Goth got a phone call from the last person he’d expected to hear from that evening.

“Mortimer?” Dina asked. “I need your help.”

***

Mary-Sue, Lilith and Jack all walked towards the townhouse where Jack resided. The two teenagers walked in front, whispering to each other and holding hands while Mary-Sue held back a little, observing them.

In the couple of months that she had known Lilith’s new boyfriend, she’d found him to be nothing but polite to her, seeming to take a genuine interest when they were left to chat as they waited for Lilith to finish getting ready to go out. Dirk had been awkward during these exchanges, and when Dustin had dated Angela, Daniel had forced him to wait outside, such was his distaste for the boy.

Jack was doing all the right things as well. He’d complimented Lilith on her dress, her hair, her make-up but had also told her not to be so worried, that she would be great at this sort of thing, that she had a wonderful personality as well. There were not many teenaged boys who were focused beyond looks.

“Here we are,” Jack called out, Mary-Sue guessed for her benefit. He fumbled with his key for the moment – Mary-Sue had the strangest memory of being drunk and walking to her home, fumbling with her key to the extent that the jangling must have woken her parents up; her father had looked at her with disbelief and disappointment on his face. Even now it filled her with bitterness after what he’d done.

There was none of that fumbling with Jack, merely a quick murmuring “Come on, you stupid-” and then the door opened and light shone. The two bounded in, Mary-Sue a little more hesitant.

“I hope you don’t mind, Grandad!” Jack called out. “But we’ve got one extra.”

“Of course not. The more the merrier! As long as it isn’t that awful Ricky of course…”

She knew that voice. And mory worrying still, she had no trouble placing it. But it was the last voice she expected to hear tonight.

Her daughter failed to hide her surprise. “I know you, don’t I?” And she imagined Robert shifting his eyes to her, the very example of courtesy.

It was too late to back out now. Both her daughter and Robert’s grandson (He’d not mentioned that he had a grandson at work!) would wonder where she’d gone and she didn’t want to spoil their dinner by making them worry.

So she chose the only other option available to her. She walked forward into a large but comfortable sitting room and observed the man sitting in the armchair. “Robert Mayes! I didn’t expect to see you tonight.”

And yet when he kissed her hand, she couldn’t help flashing back to Mortimer, his lips on hers…

***

Brandi Broke was exhausted. Three months into her old job as a carer and she was sick and tired of the hours, of her employer, of being treated like a maid, of being shouted and screamed at.

When she wondered why she was letting herself be treated in this way, a picture of Beau entered her mind. He’d start school soon. She couldn’t let him down. Sometimes he looked so much like his father, it hurt.

As for her eldest…. Dustin had started doing some jobs on the side. She’d pretended not to notice but he was earning more and more, first $100 then $500, putting it into the family pot which they used after Brandi had been forced to close her bank account. She’d opened it again when she’d found work and not touched any of the money.

She walked home, taking care to put one foot in front of the other. Her feet felt like two bricks weighing her down. Her hair was greasy, unwashed. She felt as if she had little lice running all over her body.

Tears unbidden came to her cheeks. Skip had been stealing too, a little money from the bank to help them survive. And now she couldn’t stop Dustin doing what amounted to the same thing. She was failing them. She was failing them all.

Tired and weary, she sat down right there on the curb and sobbed into her arms. They were cold, ice cold. As was the tip of her nose.

“Are you alright?”

A man was standing there, in a black jacket and jeans. He had a deep voice and looked like a middle-aged more experienced version of a science nerd on one of those rubbish comedies.

“Oh ignore me!” Brandi laughed. “I’m just being silly.”

“Doesn’t look it. Here.” He took off his coat and gave it to her. She accepted it gratefully, her arms even more so when she wrapped the coat round her body. He was wearing a blue jumper underneath. “I’m Darren.”

“Brandi.”

For a moment she thought he might say something else. But instead he backed away.

“I hope you feel better soon.” He then hurriedly walked off.

“Thank you!” she shouted after him, not knowing whether he could hear her.

It took a minute or so for Brandi to realise she still had his coat.

***

“We’re relying on charity then,” Daniel said as he reclined on the double bed.

“It’s not charity,” Nina snapped. “I’m working there.” Her husband had been in a bad mood since they’d landed in Pleasantview.

“For this?” he asked, glancing around the room. It wasn’t the nicest room – they hadn’t been given a sea view and the bathroom was tiny – but it was better than nothing. Or so Nina thought.

“Stop being so damn ungrateful!” She couldn’t look at him as she brushed her hair in the mirror.

“We shouldn’t have left for Vegas in the first place,” he muttered. “Look where that landed us.”

“Married?” Nina said.

It was the first argument that Nina could recall but she was glad. Ever since the wedding, Daniel had been a little more passive-aggressive each day and she couldn’t help but respond in kind.

“With a shitload of debt! A couple of years ago I had a home and a family and now I’m here.”

“Oh I’m so sorry I’m not Mary-Sue!” she snapped back. “If I recall correctly, you fucked that up anyway. One word, Daniel. Kaylynn!”

“All I’m saying is that it’s been one thing after another. And it’s like it’s never going to end!”

“Fine while we’re apologising, I’m also sorry I got raped!” Luckily the sarcasm came through and hit Daniel with the necessary impact. “Anything else you’d like me to apologise for?” She was being irrational, she could feel it. After all he didn’t mean that. But she couldn’t help looking for hidden meanings. It was a trait she sought to rid herself of.

His voice softened. “Neens…” He’d been calling her that a lot lately and she wasn’t sure she liked it.

“You know, that’s all you ever seem to see me as lately. A great big disappointment or a rape victim. Newsflash. I’m your wife. I’m the person you fell in love with. Why can’t you see that?!”

The phone rang then. Nina didn’t usually answer numbers she didn’t recognise but she was desperate for a distraction. “What?”

“Nina? Hi! Serena Sloane here. I know it’s late but-”

“You’re right. It is.” That was all she needed, a private investigator breathing down her neck again. “I couldn’t help you the first time. Goodbye.” She ended the call and turned the phone off.

But now she’d lost the distraction and had to focus on her husband. He was nothing like the man who had made love to her this afternoon, a quick passion-filled encounter before they’d left the hotel. Now he had his back to her, and she hated herself for admiring his smooth back.

She wanted to confide in him how angry she was with her sister, abandoning them all like that. But something stopped her. The distance between them perhaps.

Blinking back hot frustrated tears, she got into bed and turned away from him to face a room drenched in unfriendly shadows.

***

What had he been thinking? Nearly taking a woman back to his house?

Darren stared at Darleen’s grave for a while, trying to make sense of it all. The soil was still wet after the rainfall they’d had up until a couple of hours ago. Sometimes he could still feel her presence, could still see her warm smile if he stared extra hard but tonight no vision appeared to him.

It was cold – the wisps of air that blew out of his nose told him that much – but he felt hot and muggy. The encounter with Brandi had shaken him. He’d only popped out to get some air…

It wasn’t even like the yearning he had for Cassie. In that yearning was a certain comfort that Cassie would never look upon someone like him, that he wasn’t good enough for her. And so it felt alright to look upon her and love her from afar if not necessarily right.

But he hadn’t gone near any other woman. It had been years since he last thought about someone in that way.

Yet something stirred when he thought about this Brandi – and that something troubled him.

He turned away from his wife’s grave, back towards the house and the bottle of pills.

***

When Brandi got back to her house, it was to find Dustin watching TV in the armchair. Beau was on the floor, playing with a toy keyboard.

“Nice jacket, Ma!” he marvelled. “Where’d you get it?” She wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or genuinely asking.

“Never you mind!” She thought about going straight to bed but someone had to feed, clean and put Beau to bed first, and god forbid Dustin step up and help.

Before that though, there was something she should have done long ago. “Dustin, turn the TV off. I need to talk to you.”

Dustin lazily turned the TV off with a swipe of the remote. It was still on standby. She resisted telling him to switch it off properly.

“I don’t want you doing no side jobs anymore,” she said.

“Eh?” Dustin asked. “You seemed fine with it. You haven’t said anything.”

“Yeah well I’m saying it now. I got a job so there’s no need to continue.”

“A job you hate!” he argued. “You come home bone tired after a long day at work. And they can’t even guarantee the hours. Look at today! You thought you’d get the afternoon off then come five o’clock, Mortimer Goth is ordering you round his house again. Do you really want to live like that?”

“No! But I’d rather that than see you go to jail because someone caught you doing something you shouldn’t. They caught your father.”

“Only after he died!”

“But they still caught him! He’d be locked up now if it weren’t for that…” she was too tired to talk about Skip as it was, let alone him dying. Damn the man. “I’m off to bed!”

It felt childish going to her room, going to bed. Along the way Beau reached up at her. But not tonight. Dustin could do it, he could bloody well do it all for one night. She needed her sleep.

I bet that Darren has it easier. God I wish I was with him right now.

The thought took her by surprise. They’d only just met and she was thinking of… that?

Pull yourself together, Brandi. Honestly she thought as she finished undressing and settled underneath the covers.

But those carnal thoughts wouldn’t leave her. They even haunted her dreams.

***

The doorbell rang and Mortimer tensed. So she was here. He was about to get up and answer the door himself when he remembered he couldn’t. Stupid legs of his.

He was about to call Brandi but realised she’d already left. No matter because the door closed and footsteps arpproached.

“Morty?”

He closed his eyes and sighed at the pet name that Dina had bestowed upon him. He’d never had a nickname before. Unbidden, memories came rushing up 

“Dina, I gave you an engagement ring as a token of my affections to you. But that isn’t enough. So I went out today and got this.”

In the box that he had just produced, lay a beautiful tiara.

“So Dina, will you do me the honour of wearing this to the wedding.”

“Morty, it’s beautiful. Of course I will wear it for the wedding.”

He opened his eyes. There she was, eight months pregnant and twice as beautiful, smiling down at him.

“How did you get in?” he murmured.

“How do I usually get in? With a key!”

They’d had the same conversation the morning after he’d proposed.

“Let’s get one thing straight, so things aren’t awkward,” he began. It was a well-rehearsed speech composed during months of brooding. “I don’t know whether I can forgive you for your infidelities. It happened and nothing can change that. But I want to be there for you and the baby. So let’s focus on that.”

She nodded, still smiling. “I need to unpack. Where do you want me?”

“Alex’s room.”

The pain shone in her eyes but what did she expect? Just because he’d invited her back to his house did not mean he was ready to forget everything that happened.

Although he couldn’t stop a small smile from spreading across his face after she’d gone.