Gemma’s birthday came around and she aged up just before breakfast one morning. I was glad she was finally a child so she could feed and clean herself because I was having difficulty managing a baby, career and a second pregnancy all at the same time.
She was even cuter than she was as a baby with those round brown eyes and bright smile. But don’t let her cute looks fool you – she was quite the little scamp! I always knew she would be going back to when she would kick non-stop while still in my belly. Seeing how active she was as a baby I knew I definitely needed to buy her a gymnasium and some monkey bars for her to use work off some of her energy otherwise she’d be prancing around the house making mischief.
She was a total Daddy’s girl just like I knew she would be. I admit I was a little jealous at how she was always so excited for him to come home that she would rush out to greet him with a hug but barely noticed when I would walk through the doors. I tried not to let it bother me too much since I was also closer to my father than my mother when I was her age. I wondered if my mother used to feel the same way I felt.
That afternoon when Stephan joined us at the table I noticed Gemma giving him attitude. I didn’t intervene as I wanted to see it play out.
“What’s wrong, Gem?” Stephan asked.
“You said you were gonna buy me the blue stuffed dinosaur.”
“That was only a few hours ago and I didn’t go out anywhere since.”
“Why didn’t you go get it yet? I don’t have any toys to play with Daddy!”
“Alright Gem, when you’re finished with your apple pie I’ll take you to the toy store and you can pick out the largest blue dinosaur you want, okay?”
“Okay. Thank you Daddy.” She said, but her frown didn’t leave her face as yet and I knew it wouldn’t until she got her hands on that dinosaur. I knew I should’ve stepped in and corrected her for acting entitled but honestly it was kinda nice seeing her be upset with Stephan for once.
Just then, Ethan came and sat down by the table. “I have an announcement to make. I’m moving out.”
“What?” I asked in shock.
“Yes. I’m moving to Willow Creek. I’m gonna live with Bentley and Aunt Chloe. Bentley needs a lot of help now that Uncle Chris passed away and Aunt Chloe’s slowly but surely losing her marbles. She keeps leaving the tap in the bathtub running flooding out the bathroom or forgetting things on the stove so…”
“You don’t have to leave Ethan. Gemma can continue to sleep in the cot we set up in our bedroom until the renovations take place.”
“Nah, you were right before – as much as I hate to say it. You have a growing family and I don’t want to be an inconvenience. Besides the next baby can come any day now and you’ll need the space. I already told Dad and Felix, I was saving you guys for last. I want to move, trust me. Besides, Bentley really needs some help. And the guest bedroom there is really sweet and I’ll have my own bathroom and I’ll get to use the unused office space.”
“So when are you moving?” Stephan asked.
“Today actually, I know it’s sudden but it’s not like you’re never going to see me again. I’ll be just a phone call away.”
“Ethan I… I’m gonna miss you little brother.”
“Same here… nerd!”
“You’re the nerd…!” I laughed. I couldn’t get mad at him for teasing me then. Now that we wouldn’t be living together anymore, we wouldn’t be able to bicker as often. As messed up as that was I had grown to enjoy our little spats.
The day after Ethan moved to Willow Creek, Dad and Felix decided to take a trip to Granite Falls. I had fond memories of the family trip we took when I was a teenager and also a few scars from mosquito bites that never went away. Unfortunately I couldn’t go this time because I was so close to my due date. Gemma insisted on going with them which was a good thing since I didn’t want her to be home alone when Stephan and I would have to go to the hospital. I was now on leave from work and had nothing to do since Stephan was at work and everyone else was gone. I tried to write but I had little inspiration so I thought a nap might help get me energised enough to do some chores around the house.
I slept for a lot longer than I expected and when I woke up it was nearly 6 pm. Stephan should’ve been home by then so I went downstairs looking for him. I heard a female voice talking to him in the living room so I walked in there to find out what was going on.
When I saw who he was talking to I was shocked!
It was Aileen Webb. The perpetrator from my very first case was standing in my living room arguing with my husband. They didn’t even notice when I entered the room.
“You are a traitor! The game was to marry her, knock her up, and when a girl is born you get rid of her so you can have control of the legacy and the estate. That’s what you were supposed to do but no, you got her knocked up again! What’s wrong with you Stephan?!”
“I told you a long time ago that I was done. I didn’t want to be a part of this plan in the first place. Now if you don’t get the hell out of my house this minute I’m gonna make you wish you never crossed me Aileen.”
“Cross you? You fall in love with the heifer who put me and Ma away and you think I shouldn’t be upset about it? She sent the woman who raised you to jail and she never recovered. She died in that hell hole! You were supposed to avenge us not make a comfy life for yourself with miss thing!”
“And what about Alisa? She’s been missing since you got married. She told me she was going to expose you to your wifey. I’m sure you offed her, didn’t you? Your own sister! You turned your back on all of us Stephan.”
“You shut your mouth before she hears you!”
“It’s too late.” I said, making them aware of my presence. “I already heard everything.” The pain of his betrayal felt like a knife to my chest. I could barely breathe. “YOU SON OF A LLAMA!!!” I yelled at him so loudly my own words rung in my ears. “You used me THE WHOLE TIME!!! This was all A GAME?!”
“Shut up! I don’t want to hear another word!”
“LET ME TALK!” He growled and the look in his eye frightened me a little.
“You’re a thief, a liar and a murderer so why should I listen to you?”
“I love you Danielle, my darling, everything I’ve ever done was because of my love for you!” He pulled me into his arms, locking me into a tight embrace so that I couldn’t push him away. “I did some horrible things, but I’m different now.”
“Different, yeah right. He’ll never change.” Aileen said. “He’s a thug and he’ll always be one. He may really love you since you’re still alive. But he’s ruthless. It’ll only be a matter of time before he turns on you just like he turned on the rest of us.”
Stephan roughly let go of me nearly making me lose my balance as he turned his attention to her. “Dammit Aileen, I told you to shut up!”
He started hitting her, punching her. She fought back too until they were both on the ground beating each other up. Stephan was overpowering her. I could tell in spite of the blurriness of the scuffle that he was hurting her badly. I yelled at him to stop but he didn’t listen.
Finally when it was over Aileen barely stood on her feet. She was beaten, bruised and was stumbling like she couldn’t see straight. “Now get the hell out and thank the watcher that you still have legs to carry you out my door!” Stephan threatened.
Aileen limped out of the house as quickly as she could just as I was running out of the room and going upstairs. Stephan called out to me probably wondering where I was going but I couldn’t stop. In all the excitement I didn’t realise that I had gone into labour. The pain in my heart distracted me from the pain of the contractions but the baby was coming and there was no time to get to the hospital. I finally made it upstairs as I stood by Gemma’s old bassinet we decided to use for the new baby.
Stephan followed me into the bedroom. “Oh, you’re having the baby!”
“Oh really? Thanks Sherlock, I didn’t realise what was happening!” I screeched sarcastically between short breaths. The pain was terrible and I wished I was able to go to the hospital for an epidural. Then I grew concerned. Perhaps the pain indicated something was wrong. Maybe there was a complication just like there was with Gemma’s birth.
My concerns were put to rest once I heard the baby’s cries. It was another girl! Another healthy, bouncing baby girl.
She looked up at me with her bright green eyes and cooed. I fell in love and was so happy that in that moment I forgot everything that happened earlier.
Stephan moved to hold her for the first time. “We make beautiful babies together. What shall we name her?”
“I like the name Helena. In Greek it means ‘light’. I think it’s perfect since she was born on such a dark day for me and she’s the only bright part about it.”
“We need to talk.” He said so simply.
“Do we? What is there to talk about Stephan?”
He put her down in the bassinet and took a seat on the bed. I acquiesced and joined him, curious to hear his explanations. He told me the whole story, the whole truth he claimed.
His parents worked in the mob and they were killed by a hitman for ratting on the boss. His sister Alisa raised him with the help of Ma Mayfield who was his godmother. Alisa helped Ma manage her girls. Aileen was one of Ma’s girls and Alisa tried to protect her from getting arrested by me. I suddenly remembered that day, long ago, when two women tried to stop DeWayne from giving me information about Aileen. Alisa was one of those women! That was why she looked so familiar when she attended our wedding.
Ma was like a mother to Stephan and Aileen was his on and off lover and accomplice. He was the one who enlisted her and Ma to vandalise the library. But it was only a distraction. My intuition was right all along. Ma and Aileen recovered a tablet belonging to the Mayor’s wife in the upstairs office that contained incriminating pictures of her and her secret lover. The pictures were to be used to extort money from the Mayor’s wife only they didn’t realise her husband was pushing for the culprits in the vadalism to be caught. They all blamed me for Ma and Aileen getting put away so Alisa came up with a plan to get revenge against me. Our family legacy was public knowledge in this town so Stephan was to seduce me, impregnate me and once I had a girl, he would dispose of me so he could have control of the estate until our daughter became an adult. But the plan backfired when he fell in love with me. He said he genuinely fell for me before he proposed and cut off all ties with the rest of them. Ma died in prison around that time and Alisa felt like it was Stephan’s fault. She came to our wedding to give him one last chance at redemption otherwise she would get rid of me herself. Stephan said he had to choose between me and her, and he chose me. So he killed her and that’s why he was gone for hours on our wedding night. He also admitted to still being involved in crime even after we were married. The stash I found contained items from a heist he pulled the night before. He didn’t quit when we started dating, but he did quit for good after I caught him. His manager job at the store was real and he was serious about his promise to me.
I sat there listening to him pour his heart out, finally telling me the truth. Not saying anything other than asking questions for clarification. When he was done we were both silent for a while until he asked, “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking you murdered your own sister and Watcher knows how many others. I’m thinking you are not the man I thought you were. I thought in spite of being a thief that you were a good person. I was so wrong. You are… you’re…”
“Evil? I’ve heard that my whole life and it’s probably true. That must be why I was so good at being a criminal, why it was so easy for me to do the things that I did. Loving you is not easy but I try so hard every day to be the kind of man deserving of you.”
“I believe you Stephan. It might be stupid of me but I really do believe you’re telling the truth about your past, your reasons for your scheming, your love for me and our family. I believe it…. it’s just not enough anymore.”
“What are you saying?”
“Your intentions are not enough anymore. Your love for me or my love for you is not enough anymore. The fact that you’re the father of my children is not enough anymore.”
“Darling I promise you I’ve changed…”
“You proved to me today that you can’t change when you beat the pulp out of Aileen. I saw the menacing look on your face while it happened. You enjoyed it, you enjoy hurting others.”
“I’ll do anything. Danielle I love you! I know you love me too!”
“I do. But I told you before that I can’t be with a criminal.”
I didn’t need to say it thankfully because he understood what I was trying to say. I saw the look of longing and regret in his eyes but it didn’t sway me. He was a thief and a hustler. He was a murderer who killed his own sister. He beat up Aileen and threatened her life. He lied to me from the moment we met. The man sitting next to me was a stranger. I already made up my mind and there was nothing he could do to change it.
“I’m going to feed Helena. When I’m done I’m going to call Clay and turn you in.” I looked at him hoping he would get the hint. Call me an idiot but I still didn’t have the heart or the energy to arrest him myself.
“Tell the girls that I’m sorry I couldn’t be the father they deserve.” There it was, the one moment where he genuinely showed remorse for something.
He went over to Helena who was fast asleep and touched her hand gently before walking out the door. A part of me wished I was different and I could’ve ignored everything and stand by my man. But it’s not who I am and it’s not the example I want to set for my daughters. When I heard the front door downstairs shut behind him I knew he was gone. He was gone and we were over.