I had trouble sleeping after Stephan left. It wasn’t the same sleeping in the bed without him next to me. I knew I had to get used to it but I didn’t think it would be so hard. Especially since everything in that room reminded me of him. Even the scent of his cologne lingered for days after he left.
I called Clay and told him everything I knew – everything. I thought I would lose my badge since I had knowledge of some of Stephan’s crimes and I didn’t report it right away however Clay assured me that he would vouch for me with the DA. I got a stern warning and was required to take some unpaid leave which was fine by me since I just had a baby.
Stephan was on the run. He was last seen in Newcrest but the cops there found no other leads. Another detective was put on his case and I cooperated as much as I could but I already washed my hands of him. However, I couldn’t deny that I still loved him dearly.
Aside from filing for a divorce from the man I loved, the hardest part was telling my family the reason why he left once they returned home. Dad and Felix were shocked since they both really liked Stephan and had not a clue of what was going on between us. Gemma was very upset and I expected no less. When I told her Stephan was gone she immediately ran up to her bedroom in tears.
“Gemma sweetie, it’s going to be okay.” I said reassuringly.
“No it won’t! I want my Daddy! Why did he leave Mummy? Where did he go?”
I couldn’t tell her the whole truth. She was too young to understand and I also didn’t want to ruin Stephan in her eyes. She loved him so much and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that her father was a thief and a murderer. I thought a child would be too young to know such things so I told her that he just went away. “I don’t know where he is Gem but I’m here. I’m always going to be here for you. I promise I’ll never leave you, okay?”
“I know why he left. It’s all her fault!”
“Whose fault?” I asked.
“That dumb baby Helena!”
“No, it’s not your sister’s fault Gem.”
“Yes, it is!”
“No, it’s not. She’s just a baby…”
“He left the day she was born. She made him go away from me with her stupid crying! Now she’s gonna make you go away from me too!”
I sighed in frustration. Dad told me that a little rivalry was normal between siblings. Add that to the fact that her father left soon after her sister was born, it was unlikely that Gemma would immediately warm up to Helena. Now in addition to picking up the pieces, I’ll have to get her to understand that it’s not her baby sister’s fault that her father was not going to be in her life. Truthfully, it was mine. I was the one to report him and I let him get away. But I couldn’t tell her that as she was too young to understand my position and she would only end up hating me.
“Come here, Gem.” I said as I pulled her into a hug. “Like I said I’m not going anywhere.”
“What if you love her more?”
“I could never love your sister more or less than you Gemma. But you are my first baby girl and no one can change that. That means you’ll always have a special place in my heart.”
That appeared to be enough to soothe her and lighten her spirits for the while. Gemma was a very precocious child who was very sweet at times. She had a normal childlike innocence but there were moments when she would be…aloof? Cold? I couldn’t describe it. It was just a way about her which made me very concerned whenever she was alone with Helena. I had a gut feeling that I would have to keep a closer eye on her.
Helena wasn’t as much trouble as Gemma would make her sound. She was actually very well behaved and hardly ever cried. She helped to make the separation from Stephan easier for me as I chose to focus more on her and Gemma rather than think about my failed marriage. Unlike Gemma, Helena looked a lot like me but I could still see so much of Stephan in her. It hurt to know that Helena would never know her father the way Gemma got to know him.
Sometimes I worried about him, wondering where he was and if he was still alive. A man like that had to have enemies and being on the run left him vulnerable to those wanting to harm him. Every now and then I would feel a little guilt for his situation but then I’d remind myself that he made his own bed. He was paying for his own bad choices and as I looked at my daughters I knew I had to only make good choices going forward.
Dad and Felix really helped out with the transition. Dad was thrilled to have another grandchild to play with.
Even Felix was helping out more with Helena than he ever did with Gemma. I figured he felt sorry for me and wanted to help me out as much as he could. He even christened her with a nickname. “I don’t know why you chose the name Helena. It’s such a mouthful! I’m going to call her… Leni. Yeah, Leni sounds cute.” Right after he said the name Leni she giggled and we all knew she liked it. And so Helena became Leni.
Going back to work after everything that happened was strange. My confidence as a cop was shaken even though my job was secure. I was embarrassed that people now knew that I was married to a criminal given my reputation for being a dedicated crime fighter. Sometimes I wondered if the other cops at the station were laughing at me behind my back for being so naïve.
Clay called me into his office under the pretext of giving me my new case assignment. “How are you holding up Danielle?”
“Trying to cope.”
“Well, I know you’re a brave and strong woman. You can handle anything thrown at you.”
“Look at you being all friendly with a subordinate.” I teased him.
“I’m just trying to be a good guy here.”
“I know and I really appreciate it. Thank you Clay.”
“It’s nothing.” He shrugged.
“No, I mean thank you for talking to the DA and for understanding what I was going through.”
He surprised me by hugging me. It was an odd thing for him to do since he was always so professional with everyone at the station, especially me.
“I’m here for you, just know that. If you ever need to talk or just a good ear, okay?”
Clay’s support and encouragement made me eager to get back out on the field. Unfortunately, homicide cases would never be the same for me. Before I was always detached from those cases simply because I never personally knew anyone who was murdered but it was different now. Stephan never told me where he left his sister Alisa’s remains. I wanted to believe he at least gave her a proper burial. I didn’t know her well and even though she threatened to kill me and was involved in the scheme against me from the get-go she didn’t deserve to die by the hands of her brother. There’s nothing worse than being killed by someone who was supposed to love you.
After returning home from a long first day back at work, I saw Dad over by Gemma’s playground. “Hey sweetie,” he said to be with a hug, “how was your first day back?”
“It was good.” I lied. It was actually an emotionally exhausting day and I was very tense.
“There’s something I need to tell you. Gemma’s teacher sent a note. She has detention for the rest of the week for biting another student during recess.”
“What? Why would she do that?”
“She said the girl was being mean to her. Don’t worry I already explained to her that what she did was wrong and she knows it.”
Dad was a great father to me and my brothers when we were little. He was kind of like our best friend. Mum on the other hand, was the disciplinarian. She was the one who would give us timeouts while he would sneak us cookies and toys to make the time go by faster. Having him around to help me look after my daughters was a blessing since most people my age don’t have their parents around anymore. But my father was as much of a pushover as Stephan was when it came to Gemma and judging from his happy mood I was sure he didn’t truly discipline her for her actions. Gemma probably pouted and made a sad face to get him to sympathize with her but those shenanigans of hers never work on me. As a single mother, I couldn’t afford to allow them to work on me. “Where is she?”
“She’s in there, inside the pirate ship. I’m going to water the plants. Don’t be hard on her, okay?” He walked off towards the garden area.
I chose to take his advice and not be too hard on her but I won’t let her get away with that kind of uncouth behaviour while I’m around. “Gemma, get out here now!”
She came out of the pirate ship and stood before me. “What is it Mummy?”
“Are you a rabid dog?! What is this I hear about you biting someone at your school?!”
“She tripped me Mummy and tried to say it was an accident but I knew she did it on purpose. Then she called me a twerp. Now she’ll know better than to wave her finger in my face and call me names!”
“Gemma that was not the right thing to do! You should’ve told your teacher…”
“That lazy old bat wasn’t going to do anything and I was not going to cry to teacher like some goody-two-shoes! Kayla deserved that bite and I’d do it again!”
“Gemma!” I couldn’t believe my ears. I never knew Gemma could get into such a rage over something so small or even say such things about other people. I especially didn’t like the look in her eyes when said she would do it again. I calmed down realising I shouldn’t get so angry myself otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get through to her. “Gemma you will write Kayla a note apologising for what you did…”
“No buts! You will write that letter and give it to her tomorrow. Don’t you know that what you did was assault and that’s considered a crime! Fighting is never the solution to solve a problem and I won’t tolerate you getting into any more fights with anyone. Is that clear?”
She was seething with rage while giving me a look I could only describe as a death stare. But I remained firm in my decision. Gemma was too spoiled and she needed to get under control.
“Fine.” She said before stomping away angrily towards the house. I was tempted to call her back and reprimand her for the attitude but I decided it would let it go. At least I won the battle for now.
A few hours later after having dinner, I decided to check on Gemma since it was now dark and she was still outside by the pool area still writing that letter to Kayla. “Are you almost done with the letter?”
“Gemma, I know you’re upset because of your father… I just want you to understand that it’s not okay for you to act out like this. Hurting someone is never the solution to any problem.”
“Okay, Mother.” I felt a little hurt by the way she said ‘mother’. She never called me mother before. I was able to see the letter and she practically repeated everything I said about fighting being wrong. She was truly a good listener but the letter wasn’t genuine at all even though she said the words ‘I’m sorry’ at the top.
“I’m done with the letter now. Can I go to bed now, Mother?”
I nodded allowing her to leave. It was clear to me what she was doing. She was trying to manipulate me just like Dad and Stephan by pretending to be angry with me so that I would try to get back into her good graces, forgetting that she did something wrong. Well, I was smarter than her. She could call me ‘Mother’ and give me cold stares for as long as she wanted because I was not going to let her misbehave and get away with it.