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Running a store was difficult. Every day I had to stock the displays, dress the mannequins, fill out requisition forms, scold Angelina for being late for the umpteenth time, and not to mention mopping the floors and wiping down the displays. All those dirty fingerprints people left on the surfaces as they inspected the goods were so gross. I was beginning to wonder why I needed Angelina in the first place since I was practically running the place all by myself. Eventually, I fired her. Her uselessness was becoming redundant. Despite all of this, I loved my store.

1082

I’ve always had many different interests and fashion was always one of them. Nothing excited me more than browsing through racks of stylish dresses and tops. The smell and the feel of the fabrics made me feel like I was in heaven. I loved being there every day. The only thing I disliked was being forced to do it on my own. Zachary helped out where he could and even Dad recruited some people to help me, but I didn’t like any of his suggestions. They were all thugs with no finesse or people skills to do well in sales. I was also beginning to question Dad’s judgement in choosing accomplices. Gunnar’s task was to cook the books, but a lackey named Vincenzo was responsible for delivering the cash daily. One evening I noticed the amount he brought was significantly less than I was expecting.

1083

I did the math and realised that for the last couple of days the amounts I was receiving had decreased. It was possible that Dad was sending over less money to launder to avoid suspiciously steady sales margins, but I knew he would have told me if that was the case. I chose not to ask Dad anything nor did I mention it to Zachary as I wanted to investigate the matter myself.

I went over to Zachary’s place which was also the hideout for all of the other accomplices, including Vincenzo. I didn’t expect Zachary to be there at the time but when I arrived he was returning early from work. I made up a story about wanting to surprise him to explain my presence. He believed it and we went up to his bedroom to be alone.

“I’m glad you came. You’ve been so busy at the store that we haven’t been able to spend time together since I met your parents.”

1084

“I missed you too.”

“Do you want to go out for dinner? I can take a shower and be ready in a few minutes.”

“No, I don’t have a lot of time. I have to get back to the store. I just wanted to spend my break with you.”

1085

“I love you, sweetheart.” He said as he took my hands and led me to sit on the bed with him. We made out for a few minutes and for a moment, I was tempted to go back on my decision to wait until my wedding night, but I couldn’t allow myself to give him free milk without buying the cow. Of course there’s no way I am a cow, that’s just the saying.

1086

Afterwards, I told Zachary I had to go back to the store. After we said goodbye I waited outside his bedroom door until I heard the shower running before I headed to Vincenzo’s room. He wasn’t home when I arrived, but I heard the sound of large footsteps walking down the hall when I was still in Zachary’s room. No one else walked as heavy as he did so I knew for sure it was him.

“Vincenzo.” I greeted him, catching him off guard.

“Wha..um… Gemma, what are you doing here?”

1087

“Excuse me? It’s Miss Sloane to you. I’m not your friend, I’m your boss’ daughter so show some respect!”

“Sorry, of course, Miss Sloane. What…uh…what brings you here?”

“Why are you so filthy?” He reeked and was covered in dirt. The odour was palpable. I resisted the urge to gag.

“I had an accident, no big deal.”

Gross!

“I’m going to cut to the chase.” I began. “Where’s my money, Vince?”

1088

“Uh… what do you mean? I..uh… I dropped it off last night. Everything was there.”

I knew he was lying. I could tell by his nervous twitches and stuttering. “Don’t give me that crap. You’ve been sneaking a little off the top, haven’t you?” I kept my tone as calm as possible and he became more rattled by the minute.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about ma’am, I… AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!” He screeched loudly as I touched him with my electroshock device. I kept it to fend off muggers in case I was ever attacked. Who knew it was also perfect for torturing someone to get information?

1089

“You’re going to give me back every single cent otherwise I’ll report you to my father and I’m sure you very well know how he deals with people who betray him. Is that clear?”

“Y-y-yes, I’m sorry, I-I’ll give it back, just p-please s-top!”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his helplessness. It was so hilarious. The look on his face as the electric shocks ran through his body was priceless. “Very well.” I managed to say in between bursts of laughter. I could’ve let Dad deal with him instead, but Dad would have killed him or something and I didn’t want that. Vincenzo was a fool who just needed a wake-up call and I gave it to him. He won’t be a problem anymore. In fact, it might work out better for me if these dumb accomplices believed that I was not someone to mess with.

1090

I got home a little late that evening missing Uncle Felix’s birthday party but just in time to see my stepfather’s demise. Clay passed away in the dining room right in the middle of dinner. Everyone was so upset crying over him but I was so tired after such a long day that I went straight upstairs and took a warm shower. No one noticed when I came in so I was able to get away with it and I was grateful for that because then I’d be forced to shed some crocodile tears over his corpse.

1091

Mother was very upset from what I heard. Leni was too. She just got home from rehab since the doctors got her back on track after her incident. Even Uncle Felix and Jackson were all crying as Mother begged the Reaper to spare Clay’s life. He didn’t listen to her and took Clay anyway. Good thing too, because this house had too many people living in it so one less unnecessary person residing here was alright by me.

1092

“You look like you’re holding up pretty well.” Zachary said to me. It had been two days since Clay died and everyone at home was still torn up about it. My darling boyfriend decided to take me out to cheer me up. He was so sweet to me and I liked how concerned he was even though it was unnecessary. I was fine.

1093

I’m not completely cold-hearted so I understood why everyone was sad. He was nice to me on occasion and generally not a bad person, but I didn’t like him because he was the reason why my parents couldn’t get back together so I didn’t grieve for him at all. Mother was still crying herself to sleep at night and Leni was right behind her. I pretended to be sad when people were looking but overall I wasn’t bothered.

“I am doing as well as one could in this situation. We weren’t close but he was still my stepfather and I cared for him a lot. I miss him already.” Lie.

1094

“Come here.” He pulled me into his arms, rubbing his cheek against mine, tickling me with his beard. Whenever he did this it always had a surprisingly calming effect on me. He always smelled so good, even when he didn’t use cologne. Even the deep sound of his voice rang like music to my ears. Was this love? Was I finally feeling it? I wasn’t sure as I hardly felt much for anyone other than Dad but I certainly felt something for Zachary.

1095

He suddenly stood up, pulling me up from the bench as well. “What is it?” I asked.

“There’s something I have to ask you. I didn’t think the timing was right because of your stepdad’s death but I can’t wait any longer…” He cleared his throat and took a step back and I already knew what was coming.

1096

“Gemma Sloane,” He got down on one knee. “You are everything I have ever wanted in a woman. You are intelligent, passionate, and the classiest, sweetest person I have ever met…”

Sweet? Really?? I didn’t know I came off that way.

“…when I think about my future, I see you in it as the one I spend the rest of my days with. I love you with all my heart. Will you marry me?”

1097

“Yes!” I blurted without hesitation. The ring was gorgeous – a 4-carat flawless cushion cut diamond on a gold band. It was the most beautiful ring I had ever seen in my life. Everyone I knew would be so jealous once they saw it.

1098

He swept me up into his arms, grinning from ear to ear. His love for me was evident and true and I made sure to convince him that I felt the same way even though I wasn’t sure if I did. I decided not to dwell too much on that. I would not go into this marriage like a love sick puppy with dreams of happily ever after – that’s for saps!  Marriage is a commitment that required open communication, trust, and respect to last and we had that covered. Whether or not the feeling of love would eventually come, I knew one thing for sure – I was happy.

1099

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In Loving Memory of Clay Bouchard. You brought joy and laughter into our Danielle’s life and you were a great father figure to her daughters. You will be missed.

Clay Tribute

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