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Gemma’s birthday came around and if we didn’t know it, she certainly made sure we did because it was all she talked about. She wanted balloons and streamers and a pink strawberry cake with lots of icing. I promised her she would get all of that if she remained on her best behaviour and aside from the incident involving Leni’s dollhouse she was. I only had suspicion and no proof of her involvement anyway so that evening I baked a pink strawberry cake for the first time while Clay hung balloons and streamers to prepare for her birthday party.

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Gemma was very excited when everyone arrived to celebrate her birthday. She loved being the centre of attention. I had to admit I was terrified of the type of teenager she would become knowing how difficult it was to deal with her during her childhood.

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She grew up to be a gorgeous young woman and I wasn’t surprised… she was a Sloane and my daughter after all.

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She was also very pleased that everyone we invited came out to the party. The only people missing were Phoebe and Landon’s daughters Maranda and Adalyn and their new baby boy Jakob. The kids were sick with the flu so they all remained at home with the babysitter. Jackson aged up the day before. Leni was glad to have a replacement playmate just in time now that Gemma was a teenager.

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Everyone was having a great time dancing, laughing and catching up on old times. I even got to hang out with my brother Ethan. We hadn’t seen each other in so long and I had missed him so much. But don’t let him know that otherwise he’d never let me live it down.

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As Gemma’s party was winding down she asked me to play a game of chess with her. I was surprised because she never wanted to play with me before. Every time I asked her to play she would always refuse opting to play with her dolls instead. I agreed immediately since I wasn’t sure if she would ask me again.

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She was a novice, of course, so I went easy on her but she was actually a pretty good player for a beginner. She almost checked me a few times. She told me she wanted to get better at chess and asked me to tutor her. In fact, she wanted to be good at a lot of different things. She even asked me to buy her an easel. It was a strange request coming from her since she never seemed to have an interest in anything artistic.

One of the things she asked for as a part of her present was a room makeover. It cost us an arm and a leg to get everything just the way she wanted it but she earned it having made straight A’s towards the end of elementary school.

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Not only did Gemma makeover her room but she promptly made over herself feeling that the sunglasses and baby doll dress were too over the top. She wanted something classy and sophisticated which didn’t sound like anything a typical teenage girl would want to wear since most girls her age wanted to push the limits. But overall, I approved of her look. She definitely looked classy which paired well with her new somewhat snooty attitude.

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Suddenly she had very refined tastes and felt the need to critique almost everything. She even tried to convince me to let her redecorate the living room because she thought it was outdated and tacky.

“I just think it needs a fresh and modern look, you know?” She reasoned.

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“I hear you Gem but we just spent so much money redecorating your bedroom, and Leni’s birthday is also coming up, and the wedding… I don’t think redecorating the living room should be a priority right now.”

“Oh Watcher!” She sighed loudly. “You mean I’m going to have to continue to entertain people in that horrid looking room? Ugh!”

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I supposed having a snob for a daughter was a lot better than her being rude and wicked all the time. Perhaps her sense of propriety was what kept her in check as she had not acted up in a long time.

“I’ll tell you what, after Leni’s birthday and after Clay and I get married I’ll come up with a budget and I’ll let you redecorate the living room as you see fit. Okay?” At least she stopped pouting when I made the suggestion. I could tell she was pleased that I gave her such a big responsibility.

“Mummy, Mummy! I got an A in school!” Leni shouted when she spotted me after returning home from her walk.

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“That’s wonderful. I’m very proud of you!” I said as I kneeled down to hug her. I didn’t need to look at Gemma to see she was scowling. Her feelings towards Leni were so erratic. One minute they were inseparable and the next she acted like Leni was nothing but an annoyance.

Sometimes I wondered if Gemma was jealous of how close Leni and Jackson had become now that she was a teen and they were the same age. In spite of how badly she treated her, Leni was her only friend and maybe she was a little resentful that Leni now had another friend.

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Clay and I couldn’t be happier. Even though we were engaged there was no rush to head down the altar. We decided to wait until the timing was right to have the ceremony because as far as we were concerned we were already married and enjoying our honeymoon.

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I baked a chocolate cake for Leni’s birthday. She didn’t want a big fuss just us family members celebrating with her as she blew out the candles.

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Leni grew up to look a lot like me but I saw so much of Stephan in her. She had his smile. There was no doubt about that.

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I missed him. As hard as it was to admit I really did miss him. I wished he could have seen the beautiful young women our daughters grew into.

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It appeared that my theory was right. When Leni became a teenager she and Gemma began spending more time together but it was not the way it was when they were children. They actually got along surprisingly well! They were always talking about fashion even though they had different tastes in style.

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“So what do you think about the dress?” Gemma asked Leni after showing her the picture on the phone.

“I like the black one more but the pink one might suit your personality better. We can go shopping at JFS tomorrow to pick out shoes?”

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“Yes, great idea! I also found some earrings there that I think you’d just love!”

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I was thrilled to see them finally getting along. They also belonged to the same clique of friends at school. One of them was a boy named Ayden. Gemma and Leni often went over to his house to hang out with him and his sister Anastasia. I suspected Gemma had a crush on him. Once when I dropped them off at his house I noticed Gemma staring at him with a smitten look on her face. He was a very cute boy with good manners so I didn’t blame her one bit for falling for him.

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Even when he’d come over they would spend a lot of time together one on one hanging out in the living room. I guess she didn’t mind being in the outdated, tacky living room so long as he was sitting next to her. I had never seen Gemma laugh and smile as much as she did whenever he was around.

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We were watching TV one evening when I noticed her checking her phone. It was the third time in the space of a half hour that she felt the need to check her messages. It was so obvious what was going on. “So, who’s the boy?” I asked knowingly.

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“What boy?” she asked, pretending not to know what I was talking about.

“The boy whose messages you are anxiously awaiting.”

“Um, there’s no boy… Actually yes, there is. It’s Ayden. I like him a lot but I think he just thinks of me as a friend.”

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“Have you told him how you feel?” I asked.

“No but I’m not sure if he likes me at all. I don’t want to embarrass myself by revealing I have a crush on him only for him to laugh in my face.”

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“Ayden’s a good kid and he cares about you. He won’t laugh in your face and I think you know that. But the only way to know how he feels is to tell him. But if you don’t think the time is right to confess your feelings then maybe you should take another approach.”

“Another approach? What do you mean?”

“Ask him out. Don’t say it’s a date but just ask him out. Look your best and be a little flirty and have a good time together. If he’s interested he’ll show you. No red-blooded male his age would be able to resist a beautiful girl like you batting her eyes at him unless he really isn’t interested and then you’ll know for sure how he feels. Trust me.”

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“I don’t know. Flirting with guys is Leni’s thing.”

I liked that I could talk to her so freely about boys without the conversation becoming awkward. My parents, my Dad in particular, used to be so embarrassed whenever I talked about boys or asked about woohoo. “You don’t have to come on strong Gem. Maybe you can hug him a little longer or compliment how he looks. It’s not hard. You already like him so it should be easy. Just relax and be yourself.”

“Maybe you’re right. I’ll ask him out. Thanks for the advice Mother.”

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She hadn’t stopped calling me ‘Mother’ since she was a child but that day there was a softness in her tone when she used the word that made me feel like it was finally a term of endearment instead of a term of contempt. I was thrilled that I was able to have a nice, one on one, mother-daughter moment with Gemma since it was the first of its kind.

I was happier than I had ever been. My daughters developed a good relationship and all seemed perfect in the world. Until later that day when I walked into Leni’s bedroom and was shocked by what I saw.

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“HELENA SLOANE! WHAT THE GNOMES IS GOING ON HERE!”

I was in shock! My daughter, my baby, my sweet Leni was in bed with a boy! No, no, no! She was only a teen! She was too young for this!

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I was even more shocked when I realised who the boy was. It was Ayden, Gemma’s friend and crush Ayden!

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“Mum it’s not what you think…” Leni said, wearing an uncomfortable smile on her face. “We were just messing around, we weren’t woohooing…”

“Helena this is not right! You’re too young, both of you!”

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“Relax Mum. Things have changed since back in your day. Everyone messes around and it’s not a big deal. Besides, Ayden and I are in love.”

“You don’t even know what love is. You’re both just…hormonal!” I didn’t even need to tell Ayden to put his clothes on and leave because when I glanced over at him he was fully dressed, mumbling that he had to go.

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“I didn’t think I needed to say this ever because I never thought this would happen but I don’t want to find Ayden or any other boy in your bedroom ever again! You and Gemma are not to be alone in your rooms with any boy, got it?!”

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Ayden was still gathering his stuff to leave not even saying a word. He was probably feeling embarrassed and possibly afraid of my wrath. I was certain he had never seen that side of me before and he was eager to get out of there before I turned my attention to him. Still though, if they were as in love as Leni claimed, wouldn’t he try to defend their relationship? Shouldn’t he have professed his love for her in an attempt to legitimise that big step they took just as Leni was doing? I had nothing to say to him as he wasn’t my child and I didn’t ask him to stay away from her because that was not what I wanted either. Doing that would only make Leni want him more. I needed to calmly express my concerns over the situation so I sat her down on the bed.

“Sweetheart I’m just trying to protect you here. I’m your mother and I don’t think you are ready for such a serious relationship yet.”

“Mum please. Grandma and Grandpop were our age when they fell in love.”

“Actually they were a little older than you and they didn’t get serious until after high school when they were adults!”

“I’m sure that’s the story they gave you but who knows what they really did. I thought you of all people would understand how I feel. I’m a romantic, just like you, and I’m in love with Ayden. Seriously, Mum. I love him so much and he loves me too. When you love someone you have to express it so why should I hold back my feelings?”

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Ayden left, closing the door behind him and I was still confused about why he still said nothing in his defense. “Are you sure he feels the same way? Because the way he said nothing and hauled out of here suggests that he might not be as serious about you as you think.”

“Come on, you don’t know anything about us. He loves me, he told me himself. He says it every day. He was just freaked out because my Mum saw him in his underwear that’s all that is!”

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“How did this even start with you two? He’s Gemma’s friend.”

“He’s my friend too. We hung out a lot with Gemma and Anastasia but then one time after school he and I went for ice cream and we just hit it off. We didn’t tell our sisters because we know how overbearing they are.”

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“You should have told Gemma. She likes Ayden, she told me so herself. She has a crush on him and now she’ll be crushed when she learns about you two.”

 “So this is why you’re upset? Because Gemma likes the boy that I’m in love with I have to give him up for her?!”

“What? That’s not what I’m asking sweetie.” I insisted wondering how she deduced that.

“Please Mum, you’ve always favoured Gemma over me. You want me to give up my first love so Gemma can have him. Well I won’t! I’m tired of bending over backwards for her, thinking about how she feels and what she wants… it’s not fair that you always put her first!”

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“That is not true. I never play favourites between my daughters. I love you both. I want what’s best for you both!” Why couldn’t they see that? I’ve known for a long time that Gemma felt like I loved Leni more than her but finding out Leni also felt the same way was a surprise. “Sweetie, you and your sister are my life. I don’t want Ayden to come between the two of you. I’m not asking you to give him up. I would never do that to you. I only want you to take your relationship with him at a slower pace because I don’t want you to end up with a broken heart. I fell hard and fast for your father and got hurt because I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did. I don’t want you repeating my mistakes. I also want you to tell Gemma that you and Ayden are a couple. She needs to know so she can stop pining over him and the best person to tell her is you.”

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“Ok fine. You’re right Mum. I’ll tell her and I’m sorry for being rude to you and I won’t have Ayden in my bedroom again.” Leni was an open book so I knew she was telling me the truth. She was always so sensible that I knew she would see reason. I was glad I was able to get through to her. I didn’t trust Ayden, not after the way he ran out of there leaving Leni all on her own. Leni wasn’t concerned about it but it irked me. I didn’t want my daughter to pin her hopes on a man who would run out on her when things got scary.

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After that incident I became worried about Gemma’s reaction. When Leni told me she told Gemma the truth I was shocked to learn that Gemma took the news pretty well.

“You’re really not mad at me?” Leni asked her.

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“I am a little. But it’s not your fault that he likes you instead of me.” Gemma responded.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I mean, don’t take this the wrong way but you’re like rocker-chic and I’m haute couture. We’re two different people and if his taste is you then I never had a chance. It hurts but I’ll get over it, don’t worry.”

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Gemma’s maturity in handling the news astounded me. I thought for sure she would flip out, call Leni names, destroy some of her things or even try to sabotage her relationship with Ayden but thankfully none of that happened. It was such a relief to me. I was so worried that something like this would permanently damage their relationship forever and I was glad to learn that it didn’t.

“I’m proud of the way you took the news about Leni and Ayden.” I said to her while we were playing chess later that day.

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“Of course you are because it’s better for you when I choose to let things go. Leni messes around with the boy I like under your roof and she gets no punishment. But if I yell at her for hurting me then I get in trouble. I’ll never win. So the best thing for me is to just play the game.”

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“Gem…” I started to talk but stopped realising there was nothing I could say to make her feel better. She was hurting and I couldn’t do anything to soothe her. We continued the rest of the game in silence.

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