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Phoebe came to visit and she and I went out for a jog. When I was younger I rarely exercised, relying on my youth and high metabolism to manage my weight and keep my figure trim. Now as a mature adult I noticed I was easily gaining weight so I asked Phoebe to help me get a jump start on my workout routine.

“So I haven’t received my invitation to your wedding as yet.” Phoebe stated abruptly.

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“What are you talking about? Clay and I aren’t getting married…as yet. Who told you we planned the wedding?”

“No one – that’s the point! When are you two gonna get hitched already? It’s been so long since you got engaged.”

“We’re waiting for the right time.” I simply said.

900

“Don’t wait too long cause neither one of you is getting any younger.”

901

I didn’t really consider the fact that Clay and I were really getting older. Clay would become an elder in a short while from now and soon I would follow. I was so distracted by work and the kids that I didn’t cross my mind that our time might have been running out.

“I have to talk to you about something.” I said to him the next day after work.

902

“What’s up?”

“I think we should start planning our wedding. What do you think?”

“Oh hell yeah! I mean…of course, I think it’s a great idea!”

903

I laughed at his enthusiasm. “You’re really excited about this, huh?”

“Dani I’ve just been waiting for you. I would marry you tomorrow, hell I’d elope with you right now if you say yes.”

I kissed him deeply. Although I was tempted to take him up on his last offer, I wanted my family members to be a part of the celebration.

904

Work began on our ballroom that we constructed during the last renovation but never used or decorated because there was no need at the time. Gemma helped out greatly with the décor. I even had my dress prepared and everything was on schedule for us to have a Sunday afternoon wedding.

905

Leni wanted to invite Ayden to the wedding but I wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea after Gemma’s reaction. As far as Leni was concerned, Gemma had no problem with the two of them dating but I knew differently. She would avoid being in the same room with them whenever he came over making up excuses for why she had to leave. I had hoped Leni’s feelings for Ayden would fizzle out but it seemed to only get stronger.

907

They were pretty much inseparable and Ayden came over practically every day since they brought their relationship out in the open. Ayden really wasn’t a bad kid and maybe I was being overprotective but I was concerned about Leni and how hard she had fallen for him.

906

I also became concerned about Leni’s behaviour. I noticed something off in her. She was always fatigued and restless. She didn’t get enough rest at night because she would wake up with cold sweats. I gave her some over the counter medication which helped for a while but her symptoms got worse.

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There were times she would walk around in a daze and she couldn’t pay attention to anything for too long. She couldn’t even focus on playing music on her prized instruments. Then she started having stomach pains followed by diarrhoea that lasted for hours. She had to skip school for a couple of days.

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Finally when she began throwing up after every meal that’s when we knew something was seriously wrong.  I thought maybe she was pregnant but she swore to me that she and Ayden only messed around that one time and never got further than that.

910

The night before mine and Clay’s wedding we rushed her to the hospital after we found her unresponsive on the bathroom floor. I had never been so scared in my entire life. At first we thought it was the flu, then maybe a bout of food poisoning, but now we knew it was serious. Not knowing what was wrong with my child sent my nerves off the meter. Luckily Clay was right there with me showing support.

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Dr Reagan Alton attended to her and got her hooked up on intravenous fluids and performed various tests and scans on her while we waited outside. After a few hours, some mild anxiety attacks and snapping at the nurses in the waiting room, Leni’s condition was stable enough for Dr Alton to finally meet with us to discuss what was wrong with her.

“It appears that Helena has come into contact with an extremely rare and toxic mushroom called Phallodium Anamitus which is indigenous to Willow Creek. I have seen a couple cases of this type of mushroom toxicity so I was familiar with the symptoms and able to diagnose her right away. The tests confirm that it was not a large amount so we can rule out ingestion. I would say she probably touched it. The mushroom is so toxic that contact with the skin can be as deadly as if one were to consume it. It’s a good thing you brought her in when you did. One more day and it would have been fatal.”

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“I don’t understand doctor, how can she be poisoned by a mushroom? We haven’t been to Willow Creek since she was a child. I don’t understand how this could have happened…” I said in disbelief.

“Are you certain?” she asked. “Because this type of mushroom only grows in Willow Creek, it doesn’t grow here in Oasis Springs because the climate is too warm. This mushroom is also on the verge of extinction since the Willow Creek City Council began weeding these mushrooms years ago because of the threat it poses to Sims’ health. It seems unlikely that Helena would stumble upon it at a park or anywhere but the tests confirm it. We’ve given her the antidote so she should be fine by morning and then you can take her home.”

“Oh I’m so relieved to hear that she will be alright.” Clay said.

Is she going to be alright?” I asked sensing the doctor had more to say.

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“For now yes. But this type of mushroom poisoning has lasting effects. The poison has caused damage to your daughter’s brain.” She said plainly.

“Brain damage?”

“Not quite. As Helena gets older her mental health would start to decline. She will need to be medicated on psychiatric drugs in order maintain her mental stability but to be honest she will experience moments of erratic behaviour in spite of being medicated. She may also develop other health problems as well. We know of a few cases where female patients have experienced infertility. To put it simply, because of this poisoning, Helena has a 1 in 25 chance of conceiving without the help of fertility treatments. You should also know that this poisoning has weakened her immune system. There’s a 40 percent chance she may die of natural causes before reaching elder hood.”

Through my peripherals I saw Clay looking at me with concern. It was all so much to digest but one thing was clear – whatever happened to Leni, however it happened, was serious and my daughter would never be the same.

914

The doctor took us in to see her. She was administered a sedative so the antidote could take effect. “Don’t be discouraged Ms Sloane. She will be just as she was before. You’ll only see effects of the poisoning starting from when she becomes a young adult. Then I strongly recommend that you get her to see a psychiatrist. I can recommend a few reputed colleagues in the field.”

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“Thank you doctor for everything.” I said to her despondently. I was grateful that Leni was alive and healthy for now but hearing about all that would and could happen to her in the future made me feel sad, angry… and helpless.

We didn’t leave Leni’s bedside until morning when she woke up and we had to step out of the hospital room because the doctor needed to run more tests.

After the doctor discharged her we took her home but the antidote left her so weak so she slept practically all day. When she finally woke up it was late in the afternoon. “How are you feeling sweetie?” I asked her.

916

“Better, I guess. I’m not nauseous anymore. But I still feel like crap.”

“Why?”

“Because… It’s your wedding day, and I ruined it, that’s why.” She whined.

 “Oh honey, don’t worry about that. It’s not like we can’t get married some other time when you feel better.” Clay assured her.

“Exactly, you didn’t ruin anything. And we can leave the ballroom just as it is and when you’re 100 percent better, then we can get married.” I added.

“But on top of that I just found out that I’m gonna turn crazy when I become an adult and may not be able to have children.” She cried, “All because I made one stupid mistake….” Leni admitted to us back at the hospital that she cut class earlier that week to travel to Willow Creek with Ayden and some friends. But I still wondered how she got into contact with that mushroom when she insisted she didn’t go anywhere near any plants, not even to pick a flower, while she was there. Leni was not some nature loving person who would run up and inspect wild plants anyway. But somehow she managed to cross paths with it.

917

“Oh don’t talk like that. We’ll make sure you get the best treatment possible for both your mind and your fertility whenever you decide you want to start a family. Don’t lose hope Leni. You can still lead an exciting, fulfilling life!”

“But Mum…”

“Leni, sweetie, your condition will not define you. You will still be the same amazing person you have always been. Don’t fuss too much about the future that it affects your present. When the time comes, whatever happens, we’ll all be there for you because we love you.”

918

“Okay….” She mumbled. I know she didn’t feel any better about the situation but I hoped eventually she will. Aside from mental instability and having to be medicated for her adult life, she had a four percent chance of having a child naturally. All because of some stupid rare mushroom poisoning.

I admit that I began to question her eligibility as an heiress for our legacy. The time for me to choose which one of my daughters would take over the reins was approaching. As much as I dreaded the idea of picking between my girls, it was my responsibility now. It was an easy decision for my mother as I was the only daughter. It wasn’t going to be easy for me since I had two but I had to make a choice whether I liked it or not.

I went outside that night to talk to Mum and Dad. It’s something that I did on occasion to keep them up to date on all the happenings. I knew they really couldn’t hear me but it provided me with a sense of comfort that I needed during hard times. I knew Dad would have been freaking out over Leni being sick. He also would have insisted Leni stay away from Ayden, just so Gemma wouldn’t get hurt. He was always so protective of his granddaughters. I missed them both a lot.

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But just as I was about to go back into the house I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around to find a man approaching me. “Who are you? What are you doing on my property?” I asked sternly.

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But as I looked at him I felt a sense of familiarity, like I knew who he was and yet I couldn’t recognise him. He stopped in front of me and then it clicked. His clothes and hair were different but those eyes… those mesmerising brown eyes belonged to only one person…

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“I’m back, my darling…”

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