"I don't know that I can do this," Jessie whispered as she lay her hand over her swollen belly. "You deserve better."
She shouldn't have gone to the funeral, but she couldn't help it. She wanted to say goodbye to him, to everyone, but it was too hard. It wasn't the time for them to find out about her secret, though it appeared Wanda had already figured it out.
It was time to go.
Sighing, she scoured her wardrobe for something that would fit. There wasn't much left that she could squeeze into, but right now she didn't care about looking good. She just needed to be dressed.
As soon as she was dressed she quickly packed her bags and made the call she'd been dreading.
It was time to leave.
One month later
"Sit with me," Stephan said, scooting over on the piano stool. He patted the space next to him. Zady tried to force a smile.
"I really don't feel like it."
"Babe, please. Join me, just this once," he said, reaching out to her.
Zady knew he was hurting too, and she knew she'd been shutting him out.
"Okay," she eventually replied, sitting next to him.
Life after Xander's death had been difficult to adjust to, and a month on, it was still hard. Zady still found it hard to believe that her son was gone. She took it minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.
She smiled softly as she watched Stephan pound the keys with mock ferocity, knowing he was hamming it up for her benefit. Even after all these years, even with the silver in his hair and the wrinkles, he set her heart pounding.
"Thank you," she whispered, as she watched him play.
"It's all part of the service," he growled, pretending to sneer and snarl as he continued with his Tortured Artist act.
It was moments like this that helped her get through the dark days. She felt like she'd aged overnight and had seen Stephan wilt before her eyes. The pain she felt was reflected in his eyes, but he held strong for her.
Zady turned and saw that Sadie had escaped the watchful eyes of her older sisters.
"What are you doing up here pumpkin? You should be getting ready for bed," she said as she stood up.
"Wanted more cuddles," Sadie said, reaching up for her mother. Zady smiled and held her arms out. She could never get enough of her children's cuddles, even more so now.
"Let's put you to bed, my darling," she said, kissing Sadie's forehead.
"I'll be down soon, babe," Stephan said, scooting back to the middle of the stool. "I'll run a bath for us while you're with the girls."
"I'd like that."
While Tilly and Unity got Faith and Grace ready for bed, Zady changed Sadie into her pyjamas and put her to bed. Was it really that long ago that she was gazing down into Landy's bright, trusting eyes like this?
How had a lifetime moved so quickly? she wondered as she kissed Sadie goodnight.
She couldn't help but wonder what she would have done differently, if she'd known how it was all going to turn out.
Looking into Sadie's eyes, she knew that she wouldn't have changed a thing, though it meant she'd never see Xander again. She would rather have him for as long as she did, than not at all.
"High five, mama!" Sadie begged, causing Zady to laugh. It was part of their goodnight ritual. Zady lightly slapped Sadie's palm with her own.
"Goodnight, my little pumpkin butt," she said, somewhat wistfully, before moving to say goodnight to Faith and Grace. It hurt. It always hurt, but she was learning to survive it, moment by moment.
"You're hogging the bubbles again," Stephan teased as he soaped her arms.
"You should sit in the front then," Zady retorted.
"But I like being behind you," he said, nuzzling her neck as his arms slid around her waist. They may be getting older, but his desire for was still evident.
Zady smiled softly, immediately knowing what it was he wanted. They hadn't made love since before Xander's passing, which was a very long time for them. Stephan understood her disinterest in sex, and while he made no secret of his interest, he made no moves to pressure her into doing more than she felt able to. His love and support was a rock solid certainty in her life, which helped her be able to face each moment of darkness as it came.
"It's time to start living again," she whispered to herself. She knew Xander wouldn't want her to fade away into her pain.
"Hmm? What was that, babe?" Stephan asked as he kissed her ear.
"Nothing, just thinking out loud," she said as she leant back against him. "This is nice. We should do this more often."
Stephan chuckled. "You'll get no arguments from me."
"What do you say we take this to the bedroom?" she asked.
"No, you goose. You know what I mean."
"I do indeed. Let's get these old bones of ours moving."
Laughing, they helped each other out of the tub before drying off. Wrapped in their bathrobes, they walked to their bedroom hand in hand.
"I love you, Stephan," Zady said, wrapping her arms around him. "I hope you always know that."
"Indeed I do, my lovely wife, and I love you, too."
Denial had been Sarah's coping mechanism of choice: Xander wasn't dead, he was just Away. He was Gone, but he'd be back. She didn't go to classes or hand in assignments and now she was facing academic probation. That wasn't the only news she had to tell her parents, but she wasn't sure which they'd think was worse.
Denial had worked for a while but the painful truth that everything was falling apart around her was too much to ignore, which was why she decided to face it all head on, starting with her parents.
Alexander and Chris were home, as she knew they would be. Their lives ran with military routine, with every minute of the day accounted for and this was the hour for visitors. She knocked on the door and let herself in.
"Hello mother, hello father," she said as she walked in.
"Sarah-bear, what a nice surprise," Alexander said with a smile from the couch as he stood up to greet her.
"So you've finally come visit us," Chris said once she finished playing. Sarah grimaced.
"I haven't been in the best frame of mind lately, mother. You know that," she said softly.
"That's no excuse to avoid family. You were expected here for dinner on at least three occasions."
This wasn't going to be easy. Taking a deep breath, she rubbed the back of her neck as she prepared to drop the bombshells on her parents.
"I have some things I need to talk to you and father about. You might want to sit down."
Alexander shot Chris a look, warning her to hold her tongue, as they sat on the nearby couch. Sarah took a deep breath and stood in front of them.
"You know the last month has been hell for me," she started.
"Language, Sarah," her mother chided. Sarah frowned.
"It has been hell, mother. Since Xander...went, I haven't been able to study or go to classes. I haven't been feeling very well, physically or emotionally."
"What are you getting at, Sarah-bear?" her father asked.
"I'm on academic probation...and I'm pregnant. With Xander's baby."
Chris leapt from the couch, arms flailing and voice screeching, as Alexander sat there in shock.
"How could you be so stupid? You're pregnant? How could you do this to us! You're not even married! You're going to ruin the Goth name," Chris spat.
"You're failing school? After all we've done for you?" Alexander gasped once he was able to find his voice.
Sarah shook her head. Their reactions were about what she expected.
"Please, calm down. I wanted to talk about this with you, to let you know it was under control."
"You better mean you're getting rid of it," Chris hissed.
"No, mother, I'm not. I'm going to keep it. I was going to marry Xander. I was going to be his wife. We didn't plan for this baby, but I'm glad that I still have him with me like this."
"You'll be a lousy mother. You don't know anything about taking care of children."
Sarah blanched at her mother's harsh words.
"I never expected you to be pleased with this, but I didn't think you'd be so cruel, mother."
"You're being foolish. You're young and stupid and letting those hormones and wishful thinking take control. I don't want to hear about it any more. You need to fix this. I think it's best you stay away until you have."
"And that includes your grades, Sarah," Alexander said as he stormed upstairs.
Sarah watched her father walk away. They had never been that close, certainly not as supportive as Xander's parents, but this was not the outcome she had expected. Did they love her at all, if they could so easily turn their backs on her?
"How could you just walk away from me like this, mother? No one's perfect, least of all you. I don't see how my being pregnant and failing college is any worse than what the family has already been through," she said, referring to the dramas her grandfather Mortimer's second wife Dina and her sister Nina had caused. "If the family can get past your history...why can't they get past this?"
Chris had been walking away, but she froze in place.
"I don't know what you're referring to, Sarah, but if you want to remain a part of this family, if you want us to continue to support you, then you had better fix this now," she hissed before walking up the stairs with icy precision.
"I'll make things right, mother, but I won't "fix" them," Sarah muttered angrily.
If she had to do this alone, she would. No one was taking her baby away.
Another day, another hour with tears for Wanda. Tim looked on helplessly. He tried every day to console her, to support her, to help her through each moment, but he never felt like it was enough.
"Why don't you come to bed for a while?" he asked as he changed into his pyjamas. She rarely got out of hers. It had been a long day of study and classes, and now he just wanted to relax.
"No, I can't sleep," she replied, as she found herself walking over to where the fight had happened. She stared at it for hours every day.
"I didn't say anything about sleeping, Wanda. We can just cuddle if you like. I just want to help you."
"I know that, Tim, and you do help, you help so much. You've been practically living here since...since it happened. Thank you," she said, wrapping her arms around him.
"We could make it official, you know," he said. "Maybe find another place together, make it our own."
"I...I don't know if I could leave here."
"You wouldn't be haunted by these memories in a new house."
"I'll be haunted by these memories wherever I am, Tim," she said softly, pulling away.
"You know what I mean. You don't like to sit in the lounge any more. You're not happy here, sweetheart. A new start might be good for us. They say change is good."
"I don't think I can. I'm barely hanging on as it is. Leaving here...would be like giving up. It would be like leaving him."
"There's much more to Xander and his life than that one night, darling," he said carefully. "It's better to celebrate his life than focus on that one day."
Wanda pulled away more; Tim let her slip out of his arms.
"Maybe you're right. Maybe some change would be a good idea. But not moving. Not yet."
And he did understand, but it wasn't easy. Wanda had thrown herself into her classes and assignments, turning up to lectures and exams even when she'd been given an exemption. No one could talk her into having a break.
"I'm going to take a shower," she said. She had some supplies in the bathroom that were exactly what she needed.
Tim wandered around the house while Wanda was locked in the bathroom, trying to keep himself occupied while staying nearby. He hoped she wasn't doing anything foolish.
There she was, she was back. Now she had her real hair colour back she felt like herself. She looked like his sister. She was ready to start facing the world again.
"Tim? Can you come up here?" she called out as she walked out onto the landing.
"I'm right here darl...whoa-ho-ho you look fantastic!" he said as he bounced up the stairs. He stroked her cheek lightly. "And not just because you're naked."
Wanda smiled and shivered at his touch.
"You know what you said about memories here? I'm ready to start making some new ones," she said, leading him to the nearby couch. "Including having you live here officially."
"Are you sure?" he asked. They hadn't made love anywhere except in bed since the accident.
Wanda slid onto his lap. "I'm sure."
"Mama, I'm fine," she said, pacing the room as she talked. "I really am. Tim has been a huge support to me. And...he's moving in officially now. I've coloured my hair back to black, I bought some new clothes...I'm adjusting."
"I've just been so worried about you, sweetheart," Zady said, and Wanda could hear the sadness in her mother's voice.
"I know, mama. But I'm okay. I know Xan would be happy for me, and probably make a crude remark or two about everything, but I know this is right. It's like the dark clouds are finally starting to break up, you know?"
"Oh, I do. I really do. I'm glad you're feeling better. Will we see you this weekend?"
"Yeah, we should be able to come over."
"I'll let the kids know. I'll see you then, Wanda. I love you."
"I love you too, mama. Give my love to everyone else."
"Will do, sweetheart."
Wanda ended the call and held the phone in her hand as she looked over the railing at Tim, who was studying downstairs. She loved him, she really did. She was lucky to have him. Smiling, she placed the phone back on the cradle and decided it was time to do something.
"You hungry?" she asked, as she walked behind him.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, I could eat something."
"Grilled cheese sounds good right about now," she said as she started pulling ingredients out of the fridge. The doorbell rang, startling her for a moment.
"Works for me," Tim agreed. "I'll get the door."
It was George, the third of the Goth triplets.
"Hey, George, what's up?" Tim asked. He liked George, who was the gentleman of the family.
"Have you heard from Sarah lately? She hasn't been home and I'm a bit worried."
"No, she hasn't been by at all. Maybe she went back home?"
"Well, she did, but mother won't say what happened other than Sarah is a big disappointment and that she won't be coming back until she fixes things. I don't know what's going on with her."
"Come in, maybe Wanda knows something."
"Do you want some lunch? She's just fired some up," Tim said as they walked into the kitchen. Wanda waved hello, as her mouth was full.
"Sure, sounds good."
"George is looking for Sarah, has she called?"
"No, I haven't heard from her...not for a few weeks. Is she okay?" she asked.
"I don't know. I hope so," George said, picking at his sandwich. "I'm sure she will be, but, well, you know what she's been going through. And then she had a fight with our parents, so I don't know where she might have gone."
"Oh, no," Wanda said, frowning. "I hope she's okay. I should have called her more often."
"Babe, it's okay. You've been going through your own hell," Tim said, lacing his fingers through hers. "She'll come home soon."
"Tim is right," George said, pushing his plate away. "I'm sorry, I'm not as hungry as I thought I was. I think I'll go check with more of her friends. Call me if you hear from her?"
"Absolutely," Wanda said, getting up to hug him. "I still care for the two of you a great deal, you know."
"I know you do. I'll see you later," he said, before letting himself out.
Gathering the plates together, Tim started washing up while Wanda put the leftovers in the fridge. He was glad she was starting to shine again, and though he was worried about Sarah too, he knew having someone else to focus on could be good for Wanda.
"A man who likes to help out around the house...very sexy," Wanda teased as she watched him.
"All part of my charm," he said with a smile as he turned to pull her into his arms again.
"You're pretty sexy too, you know," he said as he kissed her softly. "I'd like to show you just how sexy you are, but we've got class."
"Don't remind me," she groaned, though she followed him outside.
"Tim?" Wanda said as she walked behind him.
"That's my name."
"You've got a great ass."
"It matches my face."
Despite her efforts at moving on, she was still hit by moments of darkness. It was difficult for her to spend time in the lounge room, knowing that's where it was he died. There was no sign anything so devastating had occurred there, but she knew it had.
"I'm soh...sorry," she sobbed.
"It's okay, babe," Tim said, cradling her in his arms. "There's no need to apologise for your pain, or for having days where you feel it less. Xander's always going to be part of you, with you."
"It's...it's just here. It always gets me."
"I know it does. And that's okay."
Tim held her while she cried. He didn't want to take away from her pain, but he thought now might be the best time to change her memories for the lounge room.
"Thank you," Wanda said as she wiped her eyes, once her tears stopped. Tim brushed the last few tears off her cheeks.
"Wanda," he began, "you know I love you, right?"
"Of course I do. I love you, too."
"Then you should know that I want to spend my life with you."
Wanda's heart started thudding loudly as he dropped down to one knee.
"I want you in my life, by my side, for always and forever. I want to share the highs and lows with you, I want to travel the world with you and make your wishes and dreams come trueI want to make you happy and let you know you're loved, every day, for the rest of our lives. Would you please do me the honour of becoming my wife?"
She gasped in surprise at the ring he held before her. Suddenly overwhelmed by emotion, she was unable to speak. She nodded instead, and he slipped the ring out of the box and onto her finger.
"Oh, Tim, this is...this is so amazing. I wasn't expecting this. I...I'm ready for this. I am. I know I am."
- YAY! I hope you're as excited as I am to have this going again. Did you miss me? Please tell me you did.
- I finally fixed Sarah's glitch problems, though that involved killing her off a few times and moving her back home. I'm SO relieved to have fixed her, I didn't want to lose her completely. I was going to bring in a clone if she wouldn't work right, but I'm glad I didn't have to do that either. I have no idea what was wrong with her, it was like my game was allergic to her.
- I like having Wanda back with her natural colour again, I think it suits her more. She cut and dyed it after the Phillip fiasco, and now she needed it to help ground her again.
- In case you haven't read Dear Diary or you've forgotten, Chris's history is mentioned in this entry (summed up in the notes), where she'd been a teen prostitute.
- I hope to be playing and posting more again. I have missed it :)