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had come back and she was hired. It was her first day and she was both excited and nervous. She had already toured the building the day she had applied for the job. It was now time to meet the children.
As Desmond read the children a story, she stood back with Molly, who told her their names and a bit of background for each child.
“Maureen Aspir is a lovely little girl who rivals Alfred for watching over everything and letting us know if anything is awry. Her sister Pauline helps out two days a week after school and they have a younger sister, Janine, who just started attending last week. Their parents are Victor and Elizabeth and their grandfather Luis will also come get Maureen occasionally.”
“You met Alfred Mole the first day you came in. He and his twin Alistair are here two days a week. Their father John travels out of town frequently and they are taken care of by their nanny, Mallory, while he is gone. She brings them by a few days a week so she can get errands done. Their mother is Sharon Wirth. She is authorized to pick them up but seldom does.”
“Justice and Mario are brothers also. Their parents alternate weeks picking them up and are sometimes late. We have a late policy in place, specifically for them, though it doesn’t seem to be changing their behavior. You’ll probably only see them rarely since they usually come after 6:00.”
“Rachel Contrary is a bit of a shy little thing. It’s a terrible story there. Her parents were murdered and she was found at the scene. Her brother Rick takes care of her. He does a good job, but he has to work too, so she spends quite a bit of time with us.”
“Penelope is a bright child. She never leaves the activity table. Building blocks or drawing are all she wants to do. Keep a close eye on her as she’s been known to throw a tantrum if she has to move away from it. She is another who is picked up at 6:00.”
“Markie is a ringleader and can often get the older children to play one game or another together. She tends to become bossy if let go though. I can set a clock by her parents as they’re so punctual. They’re here every day at 5:11 on the dot.”
“Angelica and Bryson are my and Desmond’s little monsters. I think they’re perfect and love them to pieces, but I’m biased,” she finished proudly.
Lily’s days at the Castle were busy and tiring, but also fulfilling. She found she had a good rapport with the children and was becoming good friends with Molly and Desmond.
Her first weekend off was time for further exploration of her new home town. She thought of going to the art museum, the sports park, and the park, and finally decided on the art museum.
She made her way through the exhibit, marveling at both the quality and quantity of artwork it held. She even purchased a replica of one of the pieces that struck her fancy.
She took a moment to relax in the outdoor garden and look at the sculptures there too. Soon enough, a shadow fell over her and a dark haired gentleman sat down beside her.
“Are you enjoying the exhibits?” he asked. “Yes, immensely so,” she replied.
“You’re new to town,” he said, more of a statement than a question.
“Yes. I’ve only been here a short while,” she replied. “How did you know?”
“It’s a small place, and you’re very unique. I would have noticed you before.”
Lily was a bit taken back by this pronouncement. It hadn’t been offered with any malicious intent, but was instead very matter-of-fact. She turned her head to get a better look at him, trying to judge whether he would be a threat or not. She was generally a good judge of character. It was a gift she possessed, something that came naturally to her. Deciding he wasn’t, she held out her hand, “Lily Doran,” she offered.
“Ah, you must be the ‘Miss Lily’ I’ve been hearing so much about,” he said as he took her hand. “John Mole. Alfred and Alistair are my sons and they have nothing but good things to say about you. You’ve made quite an impression on them,” he finished.
“Your boys are wonderful,” she confirmed. “Are they here today?”
“They’re waiting for me by the swings. I had some…business… to conduct here at the museum this morning,” he said contemplatively.
He hesitated a moment longer before asking, “you wouldn’t know the response if I told you ‘beware the canine with the lutescent eyes’ would you?”
She laughed and thought for a moment. “I’m sure the answer would be along the lines of ‘the winged lepidoptera crawls no more’. None of it really makes sense, does it?” Of course, it wasn’t the correct response. His contact must have been waylaid in some manner or another. However, he was intrigued by her response.
“We’re headed to the park next, would you like to join us?”
“Sure. I was headed there anyway.” She playfully slipped her arm in his and they walked down the sidewalk together. She noticed his slight hesitation but chose to ignore it, getting the distinct impression that he needed some spontaneity in his life.
John sat on the park bench in a comfortable silence with Lily. They had made small talk on the short walk to the park, mostly about the weather and Desiderata Valley. She was sitting on the grass beside him, and he was half keeping his eye on the boys’ antics and half lost in thoughts and memories.
The memories were faded, like the lost tendrils of a dream. In fact, they were so insubstantial that John wasn’t really sure if they had actually happened or if he had dreamed them.
His Grandmother had never been very forthcoming when it came to talking about his parents. He knew that she was bitter and laid the blame at his father’s feet for their deaths. He wasn’t sure what he believed about what had occurred those many years ago.
The vague memories he had were of two people who loved each other and him very much. In his research, he had found photographs and paintings locked away, cracked and dusty. They had confirmed his feeling that his father could not have been the catalyst that caused their deaths.
Further research with his SCIA contacts made him even more suspicious of the entire situation. Sure, they were able to find files that confirmed their spy activities, but at a certain level things were classified to a ranking that few agents possessed anymore.
Lily lay back on the grass and watched the clouds cruising slowly across the sky. In their brief acquaintance, she realized that John would never join her down there; it would compromise his position too much and he wouldn’t be able to see things. She didn’t really mind though. It was one of his quirks and she was beginning to understand. It was cute, and she found it endearing.
“Do you ever wonder if they’re looking down on you?” she blurted before thinking.
“Hmmm?” he murmured as he snapped out of his reverie. How could she know that he had been thinking about his parents? There was no way she could have known.
“The cloud shapes. Do you ever think they’re looking at us, wondering what we’ll get up to?” she asked him again.
He couldn’t help but chuckle, “I guess I never really thought about it.” “Oh, come on! Not even when you were a kid?” “I…I didn’t really have a typical childhood,” he stammered softly, the smile fading from his face.
She sat up and brushed the hair from her face and stared at him thoughtfully. “Well, let’s remedy that. We’re here at the park, we’ll take advantage.”
Lily stood up and grabbed his hand. He allowed her to tug him off the park bench and reluctantly trailed behind her toward the swings. “Hop on. I’ll push you. Then, when you get high enough, you can jump off!”
He looked a little skeptical at the thought of jumping off, but settled into the swing in an effort to humor her. He grabbed the chains on either side and felt himself move backward as she pulled him up from behind. With a triumphant shout, she immediately put her hands on the small of his back and pushed as hard as she could. Soon the pattern of moving forward and returning to her oddly reassuring touch was established and he felt exhilarated. He turned his face up toward the sun, basking in its warmth and the pure childish joy of the swing’s apex.
“JUMP!” she shouted, and he couldn’t help but obey. He landed squarely on his feet and stood up with the hugest grin she had seen on his face yet.
“C’mon!” she said as she ran toward the merry-go-round, where she proceeded to spin it until they both felt sick to their stomachs.
They walked off the dizziness, looking for Alfred and Alistair along the way. “I have played on the playground before, you know,” he told her. “I do have two small boys. It’s somewhat unavoidable.” “I know,” she said. “But it was fun, wasn’t it?” she asked as she leaned into his shoulder a little closer. “Yes. It was fun.”
“Would you like to go out sometime? Just you and I, for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat or something?” he blurted before he could rationalize his way out of it. Asking the question was the most spontaneous thing he had done in a long time. Maybe forever. “I’d like that,” she told him softly. “I’d like that a lot.”
With the details of their pending date worked out, they turned their attention back to finding the twins and rounding them up.
Lily left the park in an exceptionally good mood, whistling a jaunty tune as she strolled towards Gustav’s Grocery.
She was perusing the offerings that Gustav had available, particularly the newest cheese imports, when the hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she shivered. Someone was watching her. She could feel it.
She turned and looked behind her but didn’t see anyone. As she turned back to the wheel of Gruyere she had been contemplating purchasing, she nearly bumped into a young man.
“Oh, excuse me. I didn’t see you there,“ she said in an apologetic tone. She didn’t notice the brief flicker of annoyance that flashed in his eyes before he offered his hand. “That’s alright. Rick Contrary,” he said. “You must be the new teacher at the Castle.” She would have to get used to everyone knowing she was new in town. “Lily Doran,” she told him, trying to remember why his name sounded familiar.
“You’ve probably taken care of my little sister then. Rachel? She goes to the Castle while I’m at work.” “Ah, yes,” she said, remembering the toddler’s sad story. “She’s a sweetheart.” “She is,” he said matter of factly, then hesitated as if he wanted to say something more.
Lily waited a moment before returning to the selection in front of her.
“I’m rather partial to the Roquefort,” he told her as she reached for the Edam she had finally decided on.
“I haven’t tried that yet. I cannot seem to figure out what to pair it with.”
“It’s great with thinly sliced apple and caramelized onions. Layer them all on the bread and grill it right up,” he said supplying a quick recipe for her. She tilted her head and looked at him, “how do you know so much about grilled cheese?” she asked.
“Oh, back when…uh ehm, well a while ago, Natasha brought meals to us. To me and Rachel, I mean. Miss Una is a bit of a strange lady. She eats nothing but grilled cheese and spends her days in her art studio. But she’s really nice,” he shrugged. “She would bring by several varieties of grilled cheese to make sure we were ‘getting our recommended dose of toasted cheesy goodness’ as she put it.”
Lily filed the information in her mind for future reference, “I’ll have to look her up. I can always use more recipes for grilled cheese.” Disappointed that the conversation had turned away from him, Rick spoke up once again, “Maybe I can make you some sometime.”
Lily was surprised. “I…”
“How about a cup of coffee then? Tomorrow night?” he pressed her a little further.
Lily hesitated briefly, “I’m busy tomorrow, but how about the day after?”
Rick couldn’t hide his disappointment, but was able to mask his anger quite well. “This is the only coffee spot in town. Should we meet here then? Around 7:00?” he asked her.
“Sure, that will work just fine. I’ll see you then.”
Lily picked up the cheese she had finally decided on and added it to her basket. She walked away without looking back and couldn’t help feeling that the entire situation was awkward. How was she going to handle an entire evening of conversation with him?
He felt so lighthearted, he almost wanted to do a jig down the sidewalk on his way home. What a day. It was wonderful! Her smile, the wind lightly lifting her hair. The way she brushed it softly away from her face. Absolute perfection. His plan was back on track after the slight derailment it had suffered. He’d found her. He’d have her eventually. Another to add to his macabre collection.
Lily gave herself one last look in the mirror, picked at a piece of lint on her shoulder, and called the taxi to take her to her date with John.
She and John had briefly discussed their interests and hobbies, and neither had ever really cooked much, so she was curious when John had told her their date would be at Copur Kitchen Cook-Off.
“I thought this would be something new and interesting for both of us,” John told her. “Are you hungry?”
“A little,” she told him. “What is this place?”
“Well, it’s set up for cooking classes and competitions. They also serve full course meals on certain days of the week. It’s usually quite good, given the level of instruction and skill of the different competitors. I’ve never been disappointed.”
They made their way inside and signed up for the next competition and were shown to separate kitchen areas where they could prepare their entries.
Although Lily’s recent cooking abilities consisted mainly of grilled cheese, she drew on one of the specialties from her younger days. Her family had really enjoyed her berry pies and she hoped John and the judges would too.
John, knowing how much Lily like grilled cheese, tried his hand at toasting some. Adding a few secret ingredients, he hoped she would enjoy it. If the judges did as well, all the better.
They submitted their entries, along with two other competitors, and awaited the judge’s decision.
Lily was quite surprised when the judge stopped in front of her dish and leaned forward, placing a blue ribbon on her entry card.
They both celebrated Lily’s win and grabbed a dish from each other’s entry.
“You were right,” Lily broke the silence that had fallen as they savored the dishes that had been placed in front of them. “This is fun. I don’t think I ever would have done this on my own.” “I’m glad you like it,” he replied.
They exchanged small talk and ate quietly for a while before Lily asked the question she felt she needed an answer to. “What happened to the boys’ mother?” She knew that the question was deeply personal and that asking it could put an abrupt end to their evening. She also knew that she had to know the answer or she would not be able to pursue a relationship with John, and she was finding that she really, really wanted to build a relationship with him.
John wasn’t sure if he expected the question to arise or not, but to his credit he looked her in the eye and answered honestly. “Her name is Sharon Wirth. She lives here still with her sister and brother-in-law and their children. We were both young, single and enjoying each other and life in general.”
“She called me one night and told me she was pregnant. We had never talked about kids, had never thought that far into the future. We had never even thought of marriage, let alone talked about it. I did everything I could think of to do right by her. I proposed several times and every time she refused to get married.”
“One day, toward the end of the pregnancy, I went over with the intention of convincing her that marriage would be the right thing for us. She would have nothing to do with it. We had a huge fight. She told me that she would never get married. That just because she was pregnant didn’t mean she had to tie herself down for the rest of her life to an uptight jerk like me. She told me not to worry about it, that she would take care of the baby herself and that she didn’t need me in her life anymore.”
“I was devastated. This was my kid she was talking about and telling me that I wouldn’t be a part of their life. It nearly broke me. I walked away and never went back. “
“When the boys were born, I contacted her sister. I made arrangements with her to see them when Sharon wasn’t around. I didn’t want to see her, didn’t want a scene, didn’t want to deal with her and the never ending drama that followed her everywhere. But I had to see my boys.”
“When they were about a year old, I came home from work one day and she was there at my door. She hadn’t realized how hard it was to raise two babies. She missed her old life. She knew I was visiting when she wasn’t there. She knew I loved them. She knew I could take better care of them and give them a better life. She left them with me that day and hasn’t been back since.”
“How sad for your boys. I’m sorry you’ve all had to go through this. It must be difficult,” Lily said sympathetically. “It’s not so bad,” John shrugged. “They’re very well-adjusted. Being twins helps. They know they have each other to lean on in a crisis. They take care of each other. Sometimes it’s eerie how closely wired they are.”
“Come on,” he said, getting up from his chair. “Let’s see what other trouble we can get into here,” he finished in an effort to change the subject and regain some of the care-free spirit their date had had up until this point.
“John? I thought that was you.”
At the sound of his name, John turned to see Violet Joque coming over.
“Violet. When did you get back from school?” he asked as he greeted his friends’ daughter.
Turning back to Lily, he introduced her, “Lily, this is Violet Joque. Violet, Lily Doran.”
Violet’s eyes lit up at the name Doran and she greeted her with enthusiasm, “so very nice to meet you.” “Same here,” Lily returned. “So, you’ve just graduated college?”
“Yes. I got back about ten days ago. Been job hunting since. I think I finally have something lined up though.”
Turning back to John she told him, “you probably want to talk to Mom about some recent developments. If she hasn’t told you already, that is.” “I’ll give her a call tomorrow,” he said. “How is she handling retirement?”
“She hasn’t got too bored yet. We’ll see how long that lasts though,” Violet chuckled.
“Well, I’ve got to get going. Just finished my cooking lesson and I have a date,” she smiled. “It was really nice to meet you Lily. Maybe we can all get together sometime.”
After Violet left, Lily turned to John. “She seemed very nice.”
“She’s a great kid,” he told her. “I’m glad to hear that she finished college. She had her fair share of tragedy while she was there.” “What happened?”
“There was a murder at the University and Violet was a key witness. There was a party at the dorm, Violet’s best friend disappeared. Violet went to look for her and found her, but it was too late.”
“We still don’t have a viable suspect, though we do think there is a connection between her murder, the murder of the Contrarys, and a fourth one in Sim City.”
“Are you still working on the case?”
“I’m not the lead investigator, but I have assisted. They’re doing everything they can to try to catch the killer.”
“I’m glad you’re still on the case then. I feel safer with you around,” Lily smiled at him. “Now, weren’t we on our way to find some trouble to get into?” They wandered around, found the trouble they were looking for and finished their evening on a high note after the serious discussions they’d had earlier.
Lily spent the next day catching up on some reading, watching television, re-connecting with her siblings on the phone and meeting new people as they strolled by her house.
One of them was Natasha Una. As she had anticipated from her conversation with Rick Contrary, she found she really liked Natasha.
Natasha was a grilled cheese aficionado and shared a number of recipes with Lily.
They also shared an interest in arts and crafts. Both found they had high levels of creativity and a deep appreciation for nature.
They ended their day with Natasha inviting Lily to come to her house and work at the studio, which Lily assured her she would do.
Lily had another date scheduled for the evening, but she was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to be as much fun as the evening she had spent in John Mole’s company. She was a little apprehensive, but she had said yes and so she would go with the mindset that she would make her excuses early and leave after an appropriate amount of time had passed.
She chose to walk to meet Rick Contrary at Gustav’s, where the only coffee bar in town was. Rick was already there, seated at a small table, when she arrived. He stood and greeted her. “I’m so glad you made it,” he told her as she took her seat.
“I met a friend of yours today,” she began. “Natasha Una walked by my house and we were able to have some grilled cheese together and talk. She’s a very nice lady.”
“She is,” agreed Rick. “I’m glad you got to meet her so soon. Would you like something to drink?” he asked her. “Sure, I’ll just have a decaf though. Gotta get up early in the morning, you know. Those kids can take a toll if I’m not rested,” she finished with a smile.
Rick came back to the table with her decaf and put it in front of her. “You don’t have to convince me,” he replied. “Rachel is usually up screaming to get out of her crib by 6:30. She keeps me running.”
“Is it hard,” Lily asked him, “raising her by yourself? “
Rick hesitated a moment and answered a little vaguely, “it’s not too bad. She’s a really great kid.” He continued with some fervor, “what makes it hard is that it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Sometimes I resent that I had to leave college early to come home and raise her. I resent that my parents and I didn’t get along very well. I resent that they kept her existence from me while I was away at school. I resent that they weren’t smart enough to avoid being killed. They should be the ones raising her.”
Lily was a bit taken aback at his last statement and was not quite successful at hiding it in her expression. She knew though, that it would not be wise to call him on it and pursue the conversation further. Something was telling her to let it go and she had long ago learned to listen to that something. Call it intuition, she liked to think that it was a residual power from her ancestors.
Changing the topic, she asked, “so, what do you do? I mean, I know you work because Rachel comes to the Castle.” Rick seemed to brighten up a bit as he warmed to this topic, “I’m studying dance. I would love to be a ballet dancer eventually. Right now, I help teach classes in Sim City.”
“Tell me a little bit about Lily Doran,” he said next.
“Well, I used to live in Sim City with my mother, brother and two sisters,” she answered quietly, remembering. Mentally shaking herself out of her reverie she continued, “I decided to come to Desiderata Valley because it seemed like a peaceful place and I needed a change.”
Rick nodded, “I’m glad you chose here. I hope you find you like it.”
“Oh, I do so far. The people are so friendly and it’s beautiful. I was a little worried about finding things to occupy my time, but I haven’t been bored yet.”
He nodded, “Most people have hobbies that they pursue. There are several clubs around town where we all meet and discuss our hobbies or work on projects together.”
Lily noticed at that moment that Rick seemed to tense and his gaze drifted toward the door. Turning to look, she saw Violet Joque come in. “Excuse me a moment,” Rick said as he got up and headed over toward her.
Lily, now alone at the table, sipped her coffee and watched the conversation taking place. Judging by the body language, it was not a good conversation. She grew concerned when she overheard Violet tell Rick to leave her alone and decided that she would make her excuses to end their date when he returned to the table.
It turned out she didn’t have to. Rick returned to the table obviously upset. “Please forgive me,” he told her. “Violet and I have had some issues in our friendship. I hope you don’t mind if we end this evening a little early.”
“Not at all,” Lily told him with a feeling of relief. Rick threw some simoleons on the table. “Thank you for understanding,” he said and quickly headed for the door.
Stunned, Lily sat and finished her coffee. She was almost ready to leave when Violet approached her and sat in the chair that Rick had left so abruptly. “Sorry about that,” she offered.
“Not your fault,” Lily told her.
“Rick and I were good friends in high school and it went awry when we got to college. He wanted exclusivity and I didn’t. He’s still mad about it.” “You don’t have to explain to me,” Lily said.
“I know,” replied Violet. “I just…I liked you when I met you the other day with John. I don’t want this little scene to cloud your impressions of me before we get to know each other. I’d like to be friends one day. Rick, well, Rick has issues. He has for awhile.”
“This isn’t jealousy talking, believe me, but I have to warn you about him. There’s something going on with him. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something happened to him when he was at college. He changed.”
Lily blinked, speechless. This evening had turned out nothing like she had imagined. Granted, she had felt almost no chemistry with Rick, so Violet’s warning was unnecessary. At the most, she considered him a friend.
“Oh! I probably did it anyway, didn’t I? Ruined the first impression?” Violet worried, instantly diffusing the situation.
“No,” Lily laughed. “I’ll admit, I was a bit taken aback at first, but you’re obviously a very straightforward young woman. You remind me a bit of my sister.” Lily cocked her head to the side, “stop by my house some time. We’ll talk more. Right now, I really need to get going. I’ve got an early morning tomorrow.”
Lily’s days continued on much as her first week had. She worked, she played, she kept up with her new found hobbies and her newly made friends.
She and John had also gone on more dates. Some were just the two of them and others included John’s sons.
One such date occurred at John’s home on a bright, sunny afternoon. John and the boys had set out a lovely picnic lunch in the backyard under the fruit trees.
They sat and ate, laughed and played for a while. With a discreet nod from John, Alistair got Lily’s attention.
“Miss Lily, we have a question for you,” the boy indicated with a sweep of his hand toward his brother and father.
Alfred’s turn was next. “We wanted to know if you would mind if we didn’t call you ‘Miss Lily’ anymore.”
John pulled her to her feet and dropped to one knee. “Lily,” he began, reaching behind him and pulling out a black box, “in the past few weeks, I,” he paused and looked at the two boys’ faces, “we have found a new light, a new joy in our lives. You bring color into my black and white world. You’ve made me laugh, made me see possibilities that I never imagined. I’m so in love with you I cannot imagine life without you. Will you marry me and join our little family?“
Alfred quickly added, “and we can call you Mama!” in the excitement of the moment.
Lily threw her arms around John’s neck and squeezed him tight, her answer a resounding, “YES!” “What did she say Dada? What did she say?” Alistair asked unable to contain himself.
Lily turned and addressed both boys, “I would love nothing more than to marry your Dad and become a part of your family. Are you sure that’s okay with you?” “Miss Lily, it is very okay with us,” came the reserved reply from Alfred.
“Totally,” Alistair agreed with a jump in the air.
Lily knelt and gave both boys a hug.
“Can we call you Mama?” asked Alistair.
Lily considered this for a moment. “I would love if you called me Mama, but remember you do have a regular mama too and I don’t want to upset anyone. I will leave it up to you to decide. You can call me Mama or you can just call me Lily,” she told them.
Both boys were satisfied with that answer and skipped off toward the pool to spend some time playing Marco Polo. John turned to Lily and pulled her into an embrace. “Thank you for that,” he told her.
“For what?” she asked.
“For making them a part of this. You’re as important to them as you are to me.”
“I love them too, you know,” she said.
“I know. So, when shall we make this all official? Do you want to move in here or do you want to wait for the wedding, because I’ll be honest, I really, really want you to move in right away,” he laughed. “I’ll move in after the wedding,” she told him. “There are two young, impressionable boys here, and I am a bit old-fashioned. But,” she continued “we’ll have the wedding soon. Very soon.”
Lily, John, Alfred and Alistair will leave off here. They’re pretty busy at this point making wedding plans, which they will share with you in the next update.
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