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Breaking the news about Stephan to Gemma was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It broke my heart to see her tears of sadness. When I tried to comfort her she wouldn’t let me and she went straight to her bedroom asking to be left alone.

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I gave her space knowing she was different from most children. Gemma always had an independent spirit. She didn’t need coddling as she understood things better than most children, most adults even. But I worried a lot about her. Helena was not as emotional as Gemma was over the news and I wasn’t surprised. She never knew Stephan so there was no way for her to miss someone who was like a stranger to her. Sometimes I feel a little guilt for that but I knew deep down that the choice I made in sending Stephan away from our family was the right thing.

That afternoon Gemma was sitting in the kitchen when Leni came and sat next to her.

“Don’t bother me right now Leni, I’m not in the mood to hear about your lame make believe stories and ideas.”

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“That’s not it. I just wanted to talk about… our Dad.”

“Oh. What about him?”

“What was he like? I mean what kind of Dad was he? I don’t remember him.”

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“Well he was the best. He always bought me the best toys. He played sea monster with me and he always listened to me. Everyone else wanted to treat me like a baby but he always made me feel grown up. He would tell the best stories about bank robberies and mobsters. They were very funny.”

“I wish I knew him.”

“Yeah…”

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I honestly thought Gemma wouldn’t answer Leni’s questions about Stephan at all so it surprised me when they continued to talk about him for hours. As much as I tried over the years, it took Stephan to be the one to bring them together even if it was just for a short while.

I used writing as an escape. Whenever I felt sad over Stephan or Dad I would write. I even managed to complete a sci-fi novel during the grieving process. I killed my main character at the end. I guess my sadness influenced me to pen a morbid conclusion to the story. I self-published it and it sold really well, bringing in a good chunk of my royalties.

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Clay, being so sweet, tried to cheer us all up with jokes at dinner. Only Leni laughed at his jokes. Gemma was quiet and I was still very sad over losing Stephan. Luckily Clay understood my feelings. Even though Stephan was my ex, Clay knew I still had feelings for him and wasn’t threatened by that. How did I get so lucky to find a guy like him?

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He even took it upon himself to buy Gemma and Leni gifts the next day to cheer them up. When I got home from work he took me to Gemma’s room to see the dollhouse he bought for her. “Oh honey, this is too much. I mean I know she’ll love it but… it’s a bit expensive don’t you think?”

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“Money well spent so long as she likes it.” He simply responded.

Gemma came into her room and appeared to be very surprised but instead of thanking Clay for his gift she went ahead and started playing with her new toy as though we weren’t even in the room.

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She didn’t have to suddenly like him or anything. A simple thank you would have sufficed to show her gratitude. I did not raise her to be that way. “Gemma, don’t you have something you want to say to Clay?”

“Um, no. Well, yes, I really wanted the pink one instead but I guess this will do.”

“Gemma! You know better than that! You need to thank Clay for being generous enough to get you a gift not criticise it!”

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“Ok fine, mother. I like the gift. Thank you Clay.” She said with as much sarcasm as she could muster.

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The girl was making my blood boil! Why did she have to be that way?! I knew she didn’t like Clay because he was my boyfriend but simple courtesy and respect towards him was all I asked of her. She acted entitled to the dollhouse as though it was his right to buy it for her. I had it in my mind to take it away and see how she liked that. Clay was probably reading my mind when he sat down next to me.

“Relax Dani. Try to keep a cool head.” He said calmly. “And you’re welcome Gemma. But next time I’d appreciate less sarcasm in your ‘thank you’.”

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Just then we heard Leni squealing from inside her bedroom. We all rushed to see what was happening. Leni had just walked into her room and was surprised to see a dollhouse sitting in the middle of it.

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It was the exact same dollhouse Gemma received only hers was a pink. I knew Gemma would not like that Leni got the colour that she wanted and my assumption was correct after seeing Gemma storm off when she got a look at Leni’s dollhouse.

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“Oh thank you so, so much Clay. You’re the best! I love it.” Leni squealed excitedly.

“You’re most welcome, kiddo.” He said to her. “Hey let’s get your dolls and play a game. What do you say?”

“Sure!”

The two of them sat on the floor playing with her dolls and the dollhouse until it was past Leni’s bedtime and even then she begged to stay up longer so she could continue her game with Clay.

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“I’m glad the girls like the dollhouses.” He said to me later after we put the girls to bed. “I think I won a lot of points with Leni.”

“Leni’s always liked you. Gemma’s the one you’re gonna need to win over.”

“She’ll eventually like me when she sees how happy I make her mother.”

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“You do make me really happy.” I said to him.

“Good, because there’s something I need to ask you.” He said as he got down on one knee.

“What are you doing?” I asked, surprised and a little hopeful.

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“Danielle, I love you so much. I never had much luck in relationships and I never thought I would ever find someone who makes me feel the way that you do. I want you to be my wife. I want to be a father figure to your daughters. I want us to be a family. Will you marry me?”

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His proposal caught me off guard. We didn’t even discuss marriage as yet so to me it seemed to come out of nowhere. Obviously Clay had been thinking about it for a while. But in spite of it being a complete surprise I knew the answer to his question was yes.

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“Yes, I’ll marry you.”

He slipped the ring on my finger and we shared a kiss.

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The next morning we made the announcement to the family. Everyone was happy to hear we were engaged. Even Gemma congratulated Clay during breakfast which shocked and confused me because just the night before she was giving him attitude. I wondered what spurred her change in heart.

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But later on that day there was an accident involving Leni’s dollhouse. I heard her crying from all the way downstairs and when I got to the room she was crying profusely over the ruined dollhouse.

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“What happened to your dollhouse?” I asked her as I tried to calm her down.

“It…um… it fell apart.”

“What? These things don’t just fall apart Len.”

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Looking at her face and at the condition of dollhouse I knew for sure it didn’t just fall apart. Someone deliberately smashed it.

“Leni, sweetie, tell me the truth. What happened to your dollhouse?”

“I… I left the window open. The breeze probably knocked it over. Or maybe a bird flew in…”

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I saw the look on her face and I knew she was lying to me. Leni was good at making up stories. She was so creative in that way. But I was her mother. I always knew when she was lying and I had a feeling she wasn’t lying to protect herself, but to protect someone else from getting into trouble.

Clay swooped in when he heard the commotion. He immediately got out his tools and got to work trying to fix the dollhouse for her. I don’t think he knew what he was doing since he admitted to me a long time ago that he wasn’t very handy. But his effort was appreciated.

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I sat Leni down on the bed so I could get her to confess what really happened. “Helena Sloane you’re going to get into big trouble if you keep lying to me so tell me the truth right now!”

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Maybe I should’ve been more delicate and not lose my temper but I had a feeling that Gemma was the one who did it. No one else in the house was capable of doing such a thing except her. Leni probably saw Gemma doing it and wanted to protect her from getting into trouble, or worse, Gemma threatened her into silence. Either way she didn’t give it up sticking to her story of finding it that way.

“Voila! It’s as good as new.” Clay chimed when he was finished.

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“Yay you fixed it! Thank you, thank you, thank you so much! You’re the best Dad ever!”

Both Clay and I were shocked when she called him ‘Dad’. I knew it made his day to have one of my children think of him that way. Clay told me that he was married before but his wife divorced him when they learned he couldn’t father children. He’d always wanted to be a Dad and now he finally had the chance.

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Afterwards we all went downstairs to grab some lunch. Leni told us a well detailed story idea she had about dragons and fairies. I told her she should become a writer but she insisted that she wanted to be a violinist when she grew up. Gemma entered the kitchen and grabbed a bowl of the garden salad I prepared. I asked her to join us but she chose to eat in the dining room instead, away from the rest of us.

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I knew she purposefully smashed Leni’s dollhouse but as good of a detective as I am, I couldn’t get Leni to tattle on her big sister for all the dollhouses in the world. Leni was either really loyal to Gemma in spite of her harsh treatment or really afraid of her. Still there wasn’t anything I could do. All I had was suspicion and no real proof that Gemma really did it so I couldn’t punish her as it would be sending a bad message.

She was so strange though. That morning she was happily congratulating Clay and me on our engagement, and then she went and did something so awful, and then Leni covering for her … I don’t think I’ll ever understand my daughters.

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