5.27

After talking to my parents about it, Mango was buried on our family graveyard. I knew it was a little unconventional since we hadn’t been married and had hardly been spending our lives together, but I couldn’t imagine a more perfect spot for her. I no longer wanted Sierra to rest there, but wanted Mango to take her place. Even if we didn’t get to be together while we were alive we’d now be able to spent all of eternity together afterwards. Since she was the one woman I had genuinely loved all my life, the spot was rightfully hers.

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Mum even found an old picture of her and me that I hadn’t known existed. I faintly remembered the day, but only after Mum had told me about it. She had taken the photo in the park, roughly a week after Mango and her Mum had moved to Sunset Valley. Since she had been a shy girl she hadn’t made friends very quickly, but I had asked her out to play to make her feel accepted. Mum had taken the photo on what had been our first full day together as friends.

It wasn’t the usual couple photo all of my ancestors had behind their resting places, but it was just as fitting.

After Dad and I had told the police everything we knew, Sierra and her family had been locked up. All of them confessed happily, seeming very proud of everything they had achieved. At first I was wondering why none of them had bothered to try and lie their way out, but then I remembered Sierra’s full confession to me. How all of her siblings were involved, how her father was behind everything. Dad and I thought that they must have known that we knew the truth, and therefore wouldn’t have let them get away – lying would have been pointless. On top of that, my boss believed me without a doubt. He knew I wouldn’t have convicted my own wife without a reason.

The only one who had been allowed to go was Sierra’s mother. I wasn’t too sure about her involvement myself, but according to a colleague she had shown bruises and cuts on her body to prove that Hue had beaten her. She swore that she had only been used to give birth to his children, and hadn’t been anything more to him. The moment she was allowed to leave she packed her things and left for the airport to leave the country altogether – and no one blamed her.

Dad and I went to the morgue straight afterwards. As it turned out both of us recognised the woman who had pulled me out, but neither of us knew her name until they told us. Her name was Lily Whisp Lace – how ironic that she had the same last name as us – and I had seen her around the station many times. She had been a highly valued member of the police force, and apparently had been for a long time. But that wasn’t where Dad knew her from. Dad’s story was far more incredible.

I found it interesting that she had saved both of our lives, and had the same last name as us, but didn’t read too much into it until a letter arrived. A young vampire girl delivered it, and left with a sad smile as soon as we had accepted it. It was one of the most amazing things I had ever read, and it explained a lot.

Hello Seance,

you don’t know me very well, but I know you. A long time ago I made a promise to my mother – your great-great-grandmother Whisper – to look after this family. I’m sorry that we didn’t have a chance to get to know each other. I had the privilege to meet your father in Egypt, and am glad that everything has worked out well for him and Oracle. He is a good man, and I’m happy to see that he has adjusted so well.

I know my death might not mean anything to you, but please tell your father that I don’t want him to mourn me. I’ve led a very long life, and am looking forward to it ending. I have lived far longer than anyone should – while I could I have protected your family to the best of my ability. I am leaving you in the very capable hands of my daughter. She is the one who delivered this letter to you, and she is the one who will look out for you from now on. 

Love,

your great-great-great Aunt Lil

The letter brought closure to my Dad. He had been mourning her loss, but reading that she had been ready helped him accept it. We both decided mutually that she should be buried on our family graveyard, too. According to the letter, she was family after all, and she had done us all a big service. We couldn’t think of a better place for her than amongst her family. She had waited long enough to join them.

As for my own family…

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Everyone accepted and loved Cari. Honey especially had taken a liking to her, and was often looking after Cari like a Mum would. Cari, in turn, worshipped her.

When I had brought Cari home Honey had already been old enough to hear the truth. She had still been young, but I didn’t want to keep the truth from them for longer than necessary. At first she had been devastated, and hadn’t come out of her room for a few days, but once Mum had talked to her and reassured her that everything was going to be alright her mood had improved.

Shortly after she had come to terms with everything, she had asked me if it would be alright for her to join the drama club at school. She told me how she had always wanted to become an actress but hadn’t said anything because she knew that her Mum wouldn’t have approved. I was only too happy to sign her up right away.

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Ever since that day she spent a lot of time in front of the mirror practising her speech, revising her scripts for school plays, and even got up in the middle of the night to watch old movies she had always been interested in.

And, well, she was good! Her drama teacher was very pleased with her, saying that she had talent, which in turn made Honey very happy. She almost begged me to let her go to some acting school which wasn’t in Sunset Valley, but she was a little too young for that. We agreed that if she still wanted to become an actress once she had finished High School she could ask me again – until then I needed her to focus on school. She had also been asking me whether she could get a kitten, and while I wasn’t opposed to the idea she already had her hands full with school and Cari. I knew I couldn’t say no forever – the way she looked after Cari told me that she was very caring and up to looking after a cat – but for now she had enough to do as it was.

Honey wasn’t the only one who seemed to profit from Sierra being gone. The twins had still been children when their Mum had left – as a result I hadn’t told them the whole truth until they were the same age as Honey had been. I told them that their Mum had made a few bad choices and had to go away for a while, and it broke my heart to hear them say that they never saw her anyway.

At first they blamed Cari. I didn’t think that either of them really knew why, but they were old enough to know that Cari’s skin and hair was lighter than theirs, and that was enough for them to blame her. It wasn’t until they were officially teenagers that I told them the whole truth, and that they realised that they had been unfair to Cari. They both tried to make up for it by giving her a lot of their attention, but I knew that they also struggled with the truth about their mother.

Luckily, both of them found healthy outlets which helped them accept things.

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Salvia joined the swimming team at school. When she was home we could usually find her in the pool – nothing much had changed about that. She had always been swimming a lot, even when she had only been a child, but now she was practising jumps that I was barely brave enough to watch, and each day she pushed herself to swim a little longer. She also willingly got up early just to get some practice in before going to school, and before having breakfast, even. She was very dedicated, and I knew she’d manage to do whatever she set herself to do.

When our pool at home became too small she started going to the public pool in town. A little while ago it had received a big make-over, and amongst other things it had added bigger race lines in one of the two pools. Salvia couldn’t have been happier.

Her brother, Cameo, was a little more relaxed than she was, but just as dedicated.

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Similar to Honey he had asked me whether it’d be alright for him to join the art club at school. He said Sierra had always wanted him to work out like his twin did, but he had never enjoyed it as much. Painting, however, he loved doing.

I signed him up without a second thought, and told him he was welcome to use the old easel in the old study, and Cameo was over the moon. He had only painted during art class before, and I had always thought that he was talented, but Sierra had never thought of it as an important skill.

Painting wasn’t the only thing he loved doing, either. He read a lot, making full use of the bookshelf in our living room. I had a feeling it was only a matter of time before he started writing himself, but wanted to give him the space he needed to figure it out on his own.

The only one who took Sierra’s absence a little harder was Tacao. He was still too young for me to tell him everything, and I often worried that he blamed himself and that he spent too much time alone.

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Ever since I had told him that his mother had to go away for a while, he had developed sleeping problems. He had always been a light sleeper anyway, but now he barely slept through the night. I had made it a habit to check on him before going to bed myself, only to see that he was no longer in his bed.

Luckily, I always knew where to find him. He loved being outside, so when he couldn’t sleep he went into the garden to use the swingset. He never fought me when I told him that he had to go to bed, but I was worried that he was having nightmares that he wasn’t telling me about.

His age wasn’t far behind the twins, but I couldn’t help but feel that he felt left out. Honey, as the oldest, had always been looked up to by her younger siblings. The twins had each other, and Cari was too young to play with him properly.

He was a quiet boy, and I feared that he didn’t take his mother’s leaving as well as his older siblings had. I hoped that he would throw himself into a hobby like Honey, Salvia and Cameo did, but until he was old enough to hear the full truth all I could do was hope and look after him.

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In the meantime, I taught Cari all of life’s basics. Before I knew it she was walking – and she was fast, too! Now that it was warmer outside again I often took her into the garden to teach her how to talk, and she always seemed happier outside than she was inside. I couldn’t tell if she was like Tacao, who just loved being outside, or like Honey, who loved the warmth, but either way being outside during the summer put her into a good mood.

When I didn’t look after Cari her older sister did. I had a feeling that Honey was quickly becoming a mother figure for Cari, and wasn’t sure at first whether that was a good thing or not, but I eventually figured that as long as they were getting on well and Cari was loved it didn’t matter. She had someone she looked up to – if that someone was her sister I at least knew that she was looking up to the right people.

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Cari loved Honey, and was always smiling when her older sister entered the room. Salvia and Cameo were a little jealous, I thought, but they didn’t take it personally and adored their baby sister all the same. I just wished that Tacao would come around, too.

For the first time in a long while, I felt like things were finally looking up for my family again.

Everything was going to be alright.

I just knew it.

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And this marks the end of generation five. I’m sorry this has been going for so long, I hope it didn’t drag on too much for you guys 😦 The heir vote will be up tonight, and I will leave it running until Monday evening to give you all time to figure out who your favourite is. It’s a very good looking generation, so I understand that the choice might be difficult 🙂

In other news, generation five is now up for download 🙂 Another file which includes the upgraded house will follow later, too.

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5.26

“Mum? Dad? Can I talk to you for a moment?” I tried my best to be loud enough for them to hear me without scaring my daughter. It was cold outside, and she was snuggling into my arms for warmth. She was squirming about a bit, but I figured she was probably hungry. I didn’t know if Mango had had a chance to feed her, or if they would have let her.

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Just how was I going to feed her? Didn’t babies need their Mum’s to breastfeed them for a while? Would she be okay without that? Would she be okay without her Mum?

I closed the door behind me, and stroked my daughter’s small patches of light orange hair. Mango had been right, she had my purple eyes, but everything else was so much like her mother.

Would I be able to raise her without seeing Mango in her everyday? Could I be fair to her?

All the way back home from the hospital I had been wondering if I’d be able to be the same father to her as I had been to my other children. What name to give her. Mango hadn’t mentioned anything in the short amount of time I had been with her. All I knew was that our daughter looked a lot like her mother. I wanted to name her after Mango, but would that make it harder for me? Was it fair to my daughter if I-

“I’ll be there in a moment, Seance!” Mum replied. Around this time of day she usually prepared lunch for my kids, ready for when they came home from school. I felt like I had aged a lot over the last few hours. Seeing that it was still fairly early seemed weird and inappropriate. Mum was getting old, but she still cooked every day. Dad had often insisted she take things slow, but she had refused, saying she loved cooking for everyone.

I sighed, holding my little baby up to my eyes and trying to figure out if she’d be alright amongst her older siblings. “What am I going to do, Mango?” As if trying to help, my little girl laughed and gurgled in my arms. What if her older siblings were going to blame her for their Mum being gone? Her shade of orange was definitely lighter than that of the other four, they’d know that something was up. Especially Honey, who had just started High School. I had to tell them everything, but how could I?

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What if they were going to blame her? Their baby sister had had nothing to do with their Mum leaving -well, maybe Sierra wouldn’t have confessed everything she had told me if I hadn’t told her that I was having a child with Mango; in fact, I was pretty sure that Sierra wouldn’t have said a thing, and would have continued lying to me until the day one of us died – but how could I tell my four children that their mother was a criminal? That she had only been with me to destroy my family? That she had only had the kids because- just why had she had the children? There was nothing in this world anymore that could convince me that she had had them out of love. Were all four of them supposed to be part of her evil schemes once they were old enough? Was that all they were to her? Recruits for her father’s private army?

For the first time since Honey had been born I was grateful that Sierra hadn’t spent more time with them. Who knew what she would have taught them if she had had the chance?

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“I take it the little girl in your arms is the reason Sierra stormed out earlier?” Mum briefly looked at me, but her eyes went to my daughter very quickly and I couldn’t help but notice the small smile on her face. Even if her siblings weren’t going to accept her, her grandparents would. Judging from the look on Mum’s face her newest grandchild had already become her world, from that one first glance alone.

“She is.” My throat felt like someone had tried to knit it together in the middle.

“Where is Mango?”

I shook my head.

“I’m sorry, Seance. No child should have to grow up without its mother.”

“Where’s Dad?” As much support as Mum was to me already, I desperately wanted both of them to tell me that everything was going to be okay. That my daughter was going to be okay. That she was going to be loved, no matter what I told my other children.

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“He’s gone after Sierra, and to pick up the kids.” Mum sighed, for the first time peeling her eyes away from her granddaughter. “Seance, I’m not proud that you cheated on your wife, but I’m glad that she’s gone. She was a bad influence on you and this family, and she made no secret out of her intentions when she left.” Mum looked uncomfortable, the way she was shifting her weight told me that there was more. Even though I hadn’t worked as much as I had wanted to over the years, I could still tell when someone was hiding something from me.

Some of the time, at least.

“Why is he picking up the kids? Was their school bus cancelled?” The snowfall had been very heavy lately. Sometimes, if it snowed more during the day, their school bus wouldn’t drive after school if the driver decided that the roads were too dangerous. I didn’t think it was that bad, but I didn’t make the decision for him.

“When you were gone…” Mum looked a little uncomfortable, quickly stealing glances at the baby in my arms as if to make sure that she was still there. “Some men came. They said they were here to take the kids to their mother.” My heart dropped.

“Tell me they didn’t-”

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Mum quickly shook her head. “No, Seance. Your Dad was waiting for them. We don’t know why they didn’t go to their school first, but your father scared them off. He told them if they ever dared to set another step near the children they won’t get away with a warning, and told them to extend the same thread to Sierra. I’ve never seen him this angry, Seance. Your father went to the school right away to make sure everyone makes it home safe.”

I nodded. “Thank you.” I wasn’t sure what else to say. I kept thinking that if I had been more observant over the years I could have stopped this much sooner.

“One more thing, Seance.” I swallowed hard to get rid of the lump in my throat. Wasn’t this enough for one day? First Sierra’s confession, then Mango dies in my arms and then Sierra sends some men after our children- wasn’t it enough? I nodded, telling her to go on. “There were two casualties in that horrible explosion.” I looked up, trying to figure out how that was possible. Mango and I had been the only people there, hadn’t we? Had one of the men watching the building died for some reason? I knew that couldn’t be it, none of them were anywhere near the fire when the explosion had triggered.

Unless whoever had pulled us out had died? But they wouldn’t have had to go back in again once Mango and I were out.

I faintly remembered a pink flash, but wasn’t sure if that had really happened. Everything had happened so fast, it was possible that I had imagined it.

“Who were they?”

“Sierra’s father, and a woman. The police say she’s the one who pulled you out, but until you have identified her they don’t want to give us any names. They were only here for a short moment earlier, but they would like you to come down to the morgue to say if you recognise her from a photo. Do you remember seeing anyone?”

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“Sort of, but not clear enough to recognise her from a picture.” We were quiet for a moment, and I had a moment to think. Hue was dead. Some other woman had died, too – likely the one who had saved mine and my baby’s life. But why had she been there? I didn’t know any pink people. She couldn’t have been working for Hue – she wouldn’t have saved me if she did.

Maybe Dad or Mum would recognise her? Maybe one of us had seen her around town?

It just didn’t make any sense. Unless it had been a stranger’s random act of kindness? Given everything that had happened to me lately that seemed like the most ironic option.

Since I was going near the police station to identify her anyway I made the decision to report Sierra and her entire family. Dad now knew of another two men we could report. It had taken us years to uncover, but maybe we could finally put an end to this crime wave. To her family.

“What’s her name?” Mum smiled at the little girl who was beaming just as brightly at her grandma.

“I don’t know. Mango didn’t tell me what she wanted her name to be.”

“Why don’t you call her Mango? She looks an awful lot like her mother, wouldn’t you say?” I nodded, blinking away the tears that were forming in my eyes. She really did look a lot like her.

“I can’t just call her Mango junior. It doesn’t really suit girls.” Mum gave a little chuckle – a sound that immediately made my little daughter smile – and slowly stretched out her hands.

“May I?” I was only to happy to oblige.

“Of course.” Carefully I placed her into my Mum’s arms. “Do you think her siblings will accept her?”

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“I’m sure they will, in time. You have to be prepared for them being a little shocked at first, Seance. You can’t expect them to love her right away.” I nodded, feeling like my worst fears had come true just because my Mum shared my concerns. “On the other hand…” Mum raised my baby up and gave her a big kiss. “I’m sure once they understand who their mother was and that she didn’t leave because of the baby alone they’ll accept her. Who knows what Sierra might have done to this family if she had stayed another day. This baby might well have saved the family, Seance. Her siblings might be save because her birth caused Sierra to confess.”

I nodded, feeling myself smile genuinely for the first time since the explosion. I hadn’t considered it like this before, and while it didn’t change anything it helped a little. “I just hope she’ll be loved as much as she deserves. It’ll be hard for her growing up without her Mum.”

Mum nodded sympathetically, not taking her eyes of my daughter once. “I have a good name for her. Why don’t you name her Cari?”

“What does it mean?” I had never heard that name before, but it sounded nice. Cari Mango… It definitely had a nice ring to it.

“The name means “beloved”. It fits perfectly, don’t you think?” I nodded, giving my daughter a small kiss on her tiny forehead.

“Cari Mango it is.” And by saying it I felt like I was making a wish, too.

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“Good.” Mum said. “I like that.” Gently, Mum placed Cari back into my arms and gave me a meaningful look. “Looks like your Dad just got back home with Cari’s siblings. You don’t want to break the news to them like this, do you?” I shook my head, imagining what their reactions would be like if they found me with a baby in the hallway. “Go upstairs. I’ll talk to Finn, he’ll come to you when we’re ready to break the news to them. We can think about having another room build on later, for now take her upstairs. We’ll keep her brother away from his room until we’re ready to tell them.”

I nodded again, realising for the first time just how grateful I was for the family I had.

5.25

Note: I apologise in advance for the last picture. They would not do what I wanted them to do, and I was running out of time, so I had to take what I could get -.- Just imagine them covered, mkay? -.-

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The hospital was busy as always. I remembered which room Mango had been in when the doctor had taken her away to bring our daughter into this world, but wanted to make sure that she was still in the same room before going up. It was a big hospital, and I didn’t want to waste any time by trying to find her.

With a strange feeling in my stomach, I approached the reception desk. “Hello, would it be possible to see Mango Janna Pavlova?” The receptionist typed something into her computer, and gave me one of those looks moments later that made my blood run cold.

“You can” she nodded. “She’s on the second floor of the north wing, room 284. But…”

“But?”

The receptionist gave me a sympathetic look, and I knew. “If there’s something you want to say to her, say it first.” Tears in my eyes, I nodded, showing her that I understood. I wanted to ask about the baby, but figured that Mango most likely knew, and I preferred asking her while I could.

I wanted to hear her voice as much as possible before it was taken from me forever.

I rushed to her room, and stopped in front of it. I wasn’t sure whether I should knock or enter, and decided to knock softly first, in case she was asleep, and then enter.

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Mango was lying on top of her sheets, a weak smile spreading on her beautiful face when she saw me. The first thing I noticed was her flat stomach. The baby bump was definitely gone – now I just had to hope that the procedure had been a success, and that my daughter was resting in the nursery wing.

Away from her mother.

“Seance. You came back.” Her voice was quiet, weak, and clearly in bad shape from the excessive smoke inhalation. It was raspy, similar to how it got during a bad cold – but not as easy to fix.

I nodded. “Of course. I couldn’t just stay away, could I?” Hoping to make things easier for her, I smiled. A lump formed in my throat but I did my best to swallow it back for the time being.

“Do you remember what I asked you? About our daughter?” Her voice was so quiet I could hardly hear her.

“Is it okay if I…” I nodded towards the other side of her bed. I didn’t want to be rude and just assume that it was okay for me to sit next to her, but I didn’t want to constantly ask her to repeat things, either. Especially not now when talking was so difficult for her.

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“Please do.” A worn out smile answered me. A few moments later I was sitting next to Mango on her hospital bed.

“I remember.” I said as soon as I was comfortable. “Is she-” I didn’t dare ask.

“She’s fine. And she’s beautiful, Seance. She’s got your eyes.” I didn’t know what to say. It was getting harder for me to swallow back that lump in my throat, but I wanted to make this as nice for Mango as possible. She had a right to be happy while she could.

“Does it hurt?” Her eyes met mine, pain mirrored in them. “When you speak?” She nodded, and I pulled her into my arms. Small tears ran down her cheeks as I held her, my hand holding hers. “Don’t say anything, then. Let me talk to you instead.”

“Okay. One more thing. Seance?”

“Hmh?”

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“I spent most of my nights after I moved to China wondering what it would feel like to fall asleep in your arms. Would you hold me? Please?”

“S-sure.” Carefully, I helped her lie down, and joined her underneath the sheets as soon as she was as comfortable as she could get in her condition. My arms wrapped around her, and my hand found hers. She tried to squeeze mine, but there was so little energy left in her body that I barely felt it. “Is this okay?”

“Hmh. Seance?”

“Yes?”

“Do you think we could have been happy together?” My breath caught in my throat. Unable to speak, I pulled her closer to me while I was tying to blink back the tears.

“I think so. We still can. Sierra is gone.”

“I’m sorry. Was it my fault?”

“No. Turns out she was a bad person.”

“Seance?” Her voice was getting weaker with each word, but since my ears were so close to her I could still just about hear her.

“Mango?”

“Tell me what life could have been like?” Knowing that this was possibly the last thing I’d ever hear her say, I wasn’t about to refuse.

“Okay. But you need to stop talking now. I need you to rest your throat.” I knew it wouldn’t change anything, but I wanted her to be in as little pain as possible. Stroking her hair with one hand and holding hers with the other, I took a deep breath in, and told her a story.

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“I would have come after you, to China, and I would have pleaded with your Mum until she would have agreed for you to move in with me and my parents. We would have gone to prom together, but I wouldn’t have kissed you there. You deserved more. I would have taken you to your favourite place in town, on a date, and then I would have kissed you at night somewhen, with the moon in the sky. And then, soon after graduation, I would have asked you to marry me. You would have studied journalism at university and I would have gone through with my PI training. We’d meet up as often as we could manage, and eventually, once you had graduated from university, we’d get married. Your Mum would have come over from China, and we would have had a small ceremony in our garden because I know that you don’t like crowds. We would have started a family eventually, and would have had beautiful children. Our daughter would only have been the first, and she would have been the greatest older sister. And you would have been a fantastic Mum.

And every day, I would have told you that I loved you.” My arms tightened around her as I was finally gathering the courage to say it. “I love you, Mango Janna. Always have done, always will do.”

When she didn’t reply, I let my tears fall freely. My hand reached up to her chest to feel her heartbeat, but found nothing.

With tears blurring my vision I kissed her hand, her forehead, and finally cradled her in my arms.

She was gone. The one woman I had loved, and she was gone.

As I was lying there, holding her lifeless body in my arms, I wondered why we hadn’t done any of those things I had just told her about. Had she even heard what I had said to her? She should have been the mother of my children. All of them, not just one of them.

Why hadn’t I told her every day that I loved her?

I made a vow to visit her grave every day to bring her flowers. After all this, going to see her with her favourite flowers and raising our daughter was the least I could do.

5.24

I had been released from hospital after just one night, once the doctors had made sure that I was fine. I had been allowed to see Mango briefly, but her condition was much worse than mine so I hadn’t been allowed to stay with her for long.

When the explosion had been set off she had been right next to it. The pressure and heat had injured her lungs, and she had inhaled a lot more smoke than I had done. She was mostly unconscious, but had been conscious enough to order the emergency team to save her baby before she passed out. That’s what they had been about to do moments before I had left. She had been observed closely over night before her doctor had made the decision to bring the baby into this world. It was early, but not too early, and he wasn’t willing to risk her losing the baby in case she died before the baby was born. Leaving her at a time like this hasn’t been easy, but there was something I had to do before I could be with her.

I was going to tell Sierra that I had cheated on her, and that I was going to raise the baby. I knew she wasn’t going to be happy about it, but raising our daughter was the least I could do. She was my daughter, after all, and if Mango’s condition was really this bad… Our child should have at least one biological parent raising her – especially if that meant that I could tell her stories about her mother as she was growing up.

The moment I had been told that I could leave I had dashed home. My parents had been worried, but reassuring them that I was fine had to wait until after I had spoken to my wife.

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Sierra had come home early unexpectedly, and was already in our bedroom when I got back. She had texted me an hour ago, telling me she was back home now and asking where I was. I wasn’t sure if anyone had told her that I had been in hospital overnight, but I was guessing that they hadn’t. If she had only just come back home she would have been driving for hours before then, and most likely hadn’t checked her phone yet.

She was just getting ready for some much earned sleep when I entered the bedroom, my heart beginning to race.

“Hi, Sierra.” Even to myself my voice sounded heavy. Could she hear the guilt in it? I had no idea how to tell her what had happened while she had been away on business meetings. How did you just tell your wife that you had had sex with your old teenage best friend, who you had also been in love with for the last however-many years?

I had no idea where to start. Either way, she was going to be mad, and I wouldn’t hold it against her.

“Oh, hi, Seance. Listen, can this wait? I really want some sleep.” She sounded exhausted, but I couldn’t let this wait. As much as she had earned her sleep, I wasn’t willing to keep her in the dark any longer. Besides that I was meaning to go straight back to the hospital after I had told her. It would give her a little while to let the news sink in, and it would give me a chance to hear news about Mango’s and the baby’s health.

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Preparing myself for her inevitable reaction, I continued. “No, I’m afraid it can’t.”

Hearing the tone in my voice, she turned around. “Why, is something wrong?”

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I swallowed, taking a deep breath in. There was no easy way to say this, so I decided to just let it out and tell her the truth. “I understand if you can’t forgive me for what I’ve done, but you need to know.” Her eyes searched mine, growing concerned when I did my best to avid hers. With my heart beating too fast in my chest, I took another deep breath in, and explained. “A few months ago Mango came to visit me, and I- I slept with her. Yesterday we were in an accident, and she’s badly injured in hospital. She asked me to raise our child if she dies.” I didn’t dare look into Sierra’s eyes, but didn’t need to.

The atmosphere in our bedroom dropped immediately, telling me everything I needed to know.

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“What?” The worry was gone from her voice. Instead, I heard something that I hadn’t thought her capable off, but that I had heard often in the voices of criminals when I had been questioning them. It was hate, anger, and threat, all put together. All in my wife’s voice.

All directed at me.

“I’m sorry, Sierra. I didn’t mean to cheat on you, it just… happened. And now she’s pregnant, and I understand if you’re against it but I want to raise the baby if she-” The more I remembered seeing her in her hospital bed the harder it got for me to picture her living through this. Tears shot to my eyes, but I knew that I couldn’t allow myself to cry. If anyone had a right to cry, it was Sierra, not me.

Instead of crying, however, she reacted very differently to what I had been expecting.

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Her voice was so quiet I almost didn’t hear it. “Daddy was right about you.”

Feeling taken aback by her unexpected reaction, I stared at her confused  about what was going on. “What? What do you-” I had been prepared for her to slap me, to punch me, to kick me out, to demand a divorce even, but not for her to say something like this. What did Mr. Sizzle have to do with anything?

However, when she continued there was so much venom in her voice that the most deadly snake would have blushed in shame. “Do you know why I started going out with you? Because he told me to. Do you know why I married you? Because he told me to. Do you know why I agreed to have children with you? Because he-” Every word was hissed, her eyes sparkling dangerously. Her breath caught in her throat, but she was no more speechless than I was. Before I could fully make sense of what she was telling me, she continued with her hands clenched up into fists and tears glistening angrily in her eyes. “HE TOLD ME YOU WERE USELESS! HE TOLD ME YOU AND YOUR FAMILY DESERVE TO BE DESTROYED AND NOW I KNOW WHY!” She didn’t punch me, but it felt like she had. My mind felt empty, none of her words were making sense.

“What do you-”

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A terrible smile spread on her face. She was no longer shouting, but the venom was as deadly as ever, almost visibly oozing out from her eyes as she shot daggers at me. “Did you really think that I loved you? Look at you! I could never love someone as pathetic as you, but Daddy insisted! I only seduced you because that’s what Daddy had told me to do! I only married you because he wanted me to! And now look what you’ve done! You ruined everything!”

With her words slowly sinking in, I found my voice again. “How can you say that I ruined anything when you’ve been toying with me all these years?” Suddenly, everything that had confused me over the last few years became clear. Was that why she had rather spent time at work than home with our children? Did she not love any of them, either?

“That’s why Daddy had more children after me. Because he knew you couldn’t be trusted to play along. He never fully trusted me, either, so he had more children to replace me when I failed! You ruined everything!” My head was spinning. Mum had been right to be suspicious and paranoid – and I had a lot to apologise for. If I had believed her – if I had chosen Mango like Grandma Ivy had advised, her dysfunctional family would never have made their way into mine.

Slowly, I felt my own anger rising up. I had expected our conversation to end with her demanding a divorce, but instead it now looked like I would be the one demanding one. “What did you mean, my family deserves to be destroyed?” She had a lot to answer for before I kicked her out. Hate glistened in her wet eyes so strongly it put every criminal I had ever questioned into a corner.

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“My father loved your mother, but she chose that vampire of hers. Because of that, he married my mother and they had me, so that I could destroy her family’s life like she had destroyed his! That your little whore went to China when she did was a lucky coincidence, it allowed me to make my move much sooner than we had planned.” Something inside me broke as her words kept replaying in my mind. I thought I was undeserving of forgiveness because I had cheated on her? She was so much worse than me, and somehow, I was only just seeing it now.

Sierra had never loved me. She was only with me to destroy my family from the inside out. Our whole relationship had been nothing but a lie from the beginning.

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“Don’t you dare-” Insulting my family was one thing. Insulting Mango, who was only in this because I had been weak, was another.

“You’re going to defend her now, are you? I hope she dies from her injuries, like she was supposed to! I hope that baby of yours dies with her!” It took me a moment to realise what she had just said, but once her words had sunk in everything else made sense. In my mind, the pieces were slowly putting themselves together.

“Supposed to? Did you-”

“No, not me! Daddy did! She was getting too close to finding our main offices, so she had to be disposed of. We didn’t mean to get rid of you in the same day, but I suppose it didn’t work anyway. You’re alive, but she’s dying. It’s better than nothing.”

“It was you.” Something inside me shattered, but it wasn’t the same something as it had been when Mango had walked away from me. Sierra has been behind the crime wave. Sierra and her father, and who knew who else. How had I not seen this? How was someone I had loved – someone who I thought I knew – capable of so much evil?

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“Yes, idiot, it was me! We would have succeeded, too, if you hadn’t gotten involved! And we still will. I have a big family, as you know. You’ll never stop us all. And you’re not going to raise that bastard brat of yours. If you dare bring her into this house I’ll see to it that you regret it.” I couldn’t believe how deluded she was. If she honestly believed that I would still let her anywhere near this house or her children after everything she had just told me she was very wrong.

“And how will you do that when you don’t even live here?” My voice was surprisingly calm. Inside, my anger was boiling, but my voice was hiding it well. My own hands were balled into fists, my own eyes narrowed to mirror the hate I was still seeing in hers.

“The house is half mine, remember? You can’t just kick me out.”

“I can. The house still belongs to me and my parents more than it does to you. You can either leave now, on your own, or I’ll ask my Dad to escort you out.” I hated the idea of asking my Dad to kick her out for me, but who knew how strong she was? She had been working out in every spare minute she had had, and who knew what sort of tricks she had learned over the years. She quite likely had a chance against me, but she had none against him. Humiliating as it was, she had to leave this house, and I didn’t care who did it. If it had to be my Dad, so be it.

“You wouldn’t dare-”

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“Try me.” The calm in my voice was gone, each word shaking with anger, but it was nothing to the hatred her eyes were throwing at me.

“If you kick me out I’ll take the children. You’ll never see any of them ever again.” I didn’t know the extent of her evil, or who exactly she had behind her waiting to do as she commanded, but I knew that they had no chance against my father.

“I dare you. Set one more foot into this house and we’ll see who regrets what.”

You’ll regret this, Seance. I’ll make sure you regret this.”

“I’d love to see you try.” I knew that I was potentially making a horrible mistake choosing those words, but there was nothing I wanted more in that moment than to hurt her. She had infiltrated my family, tricked me, and all just to ruin us from the inside out. And at the same time she had robbed bangs, possibly murdered innocent people, helped steal from science labs, aided the faking of political poll ballots, and- and-

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know what else she and her twisted family had done over the years.

The woman I had married – who I had thought had loved me – had only done so to destroy my family because her father couldn’t get over my mother.

Knowing all that made my next decisions so much easier.

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“Get out. Now.” Realising that I wasn’t leaving her a choice, Sierra turned around on her heels and stormed out. I knew that she wasn’t done yet, but knew that I could leave my children in my parents’ hands for a few hours.

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For a moment, I simply stood there, stunned. How could I have misjudged her so badly? If I hadn’t been so set on making her happy when I should have been going after Mango, the woman I had loved all these years wouldn’t be in hospital now. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been so- so- blind. I had been trained as a PI to see through people like her, and yet I didn’t suspect her once. Maybe if I had worked more over the years, if I had progressed more, I could have stopped her years ago.

With another burst of anger I realised that the direction my career had taken had been her fault, too. Had she set it up just like everything else? Had she intentionally kept me at home, unable to progress as a PI, while she had been out terrorising innocents?

I wanted to stay with my children and make sure that she never saw any of them ever again, but knew that Dad wouldn’t let anything happen to them. He was home, and with his advanced vampiric hearing there was no chance that he hadn’t heard every word after her original angry outburst. He knew to be prepared. I also needed to inform my boss and see to it that Sierra and her entire family were locked up for the rest of their lives, but that would have to wait, too.

For now, I had to go see Mango and bring her and our daughter home.

5.23

It didn’t take long until I realised that my boss hadn’t been exaggerating. Seven months had passed since he had agreed to let me help with the case, and I had found nothing. Every now and again I thought I was on to something, but it always turned out to be a false lead.

Whoever we were up against, they had been doing it for a while, and they knew how to do it well.

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Now that I was officially working on the case, my boss passed new information down to me. With all the new details I was receiving it was easy to see that they were slowly stepping up their game. I wasn’t sure what exactly it was that they wanted, but it wasn’t just money.

A couple of months ago we had run elections for the new mayor of Sunset Valley. Two evenings before the votes had been meant to close the police had caught two men stealing the ballot boxes in an attempt to swap them with fake ones. They had been young, barely out of school, and they hadn’t given in easily. The police officers who had noticed them had been forced into self defence when both men drew guns and started shooting. One of the two officers survived with minor injuries, both thieves had died.

Three months before that someone had broken into the Moonlight Falls Science Lab. Sierra had been in Moonlight Falls for a meeting that week, but said that she didn’t hear about it until the next morning when she saw it on the news. I had hoped that she might have seen or even overheard something somehow, but it wasn’t that surprising that she hadn’t. The young vampire attempting to steal the formula had known exactly what she was doing, and had simply been unlucky to run into a security guard who had been late for work that night while she was trying to make her escape. Moonlight Falls was famous for being favoured by supernaturals, so over the years their government had come up with ways to stop supernaturals should it be needed one day. They were a lot harder to track down and arrested than humans were, so the preparations had been necessary and, as we had now seen, the right choice.

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Since Moonlight Falls also had two prisons – one for humans and one specifically engineered to keep all kinds of supernaturals from breaking out – the vampire had been kept there. Knowing that Sierra wasn’t going to be back for another three days yet, I had asked my parents to look after the kids and drove down to question her myself. She wasn’t very forthcoming – we still didn’t know who was behind all this, why they were doing this, and still didn’t have any names, but she did repeat one thing over and over again like it was a mantra. The formula she had been trying to steal was capable of turning humans into vampires. Her eyes had gone wide when she had told me, and she had looked every bit the insane criminal, but she had seemed very convinced that sooner or later vampires would seize leadership of the world and that, when that day eventually came, humans would either have to bow to them or join them.

I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, and wasn’t even convinced that it was connected to our local crime wave at all, but then the incident with the elections had occurred. The fake ballot boxes favoured the newcomer very clearly, but not clearly enough for it to have been a landslide win. Whoever did this wanted to win, but they didn’t want it to be suspicious when they did.

The man who would have won had they succeeded was still young. One of his many promises during the election speeches had been to make Sunset Valley a better place for supernaturals. It was a well known fact that both his father and wife were vampires, and although I hadn’t read anything into it at the time I was starting to pull together the strings now.

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What if that was their ultimate goal? If they were connected. What if they were aiming to create a world ruled by vampires enslaving humans? I was still missing far too much evidence to voice my ideas to my boss, but I felt like I finally had something to go on.

Now, finally, after seven months of searching, I had an idea where to start my investigation properly. With the latest pack of new information my boss had given me the address to an old and seemingly abandoned building. We weren’t one hundred percent convinced yet, but the PI who had come across it believed it to be one of their hide outs. One of my boss’s special teams had observed the building for weeks now, and had only seen someone enter and ext twice in all that time. Both times had been during the night, so we were fairly sure that they weren’t going to use it throughout the day.

I had asked my boss for permission to search the building, and he had agreed. I knew that he had told everyone else who was working on this case about the building as well, but even if all of us searched it – there was always a possibility that one of us noticed something everyone else didn’t.

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It was nearly two in the afternoon when I arrived at the shack. I hadn’t wanted to arrive too early in case someone left their hide out later than planned, but hadn’t wanted to take the risk of someone arriving early, either. I was hoping that I had gotten here at a good time.

Knowing that a few members of the special teams were still observing the area, I made my way over to the door, pushed it open, and entered. The air felt and smelled like the windows hadn’t been opened in a while, and dust was covering every surface. The furniture looked old, some pieces like the chairs and table even looked unsafe to use.

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Where should I start? I likely wasn’t going to find anything in the kitchen, so I decided to determine what each room was before starting the actual search. I was just making my way towards the nearest door, when I heard small sounds coming from the only other room.

I wasn’t alone. My boss hadn’t mentioned anyone else being here today, but he didn’t really have to inform me if someone else had decided to search the house at the same time as me. Now that I thought about it, it was possible that some PI’s didn’t inform my boss of when they were going to take certain steps at all, so it was possible that not even my boss knew about it.

Hoping it was one of my colleagues and not one of the criminals we were trying to expose, I gave the door a little nudge.

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“Mango?” She jumped around so quickly I immediately felt guilty. However, her startled expression wasn’t what caught my attention.

Her obvious baby bump, however, did.

I remembered her saying that she wasn’t seeing anyone when she had visited me. Her bump looked big enough to be-

Maker. It was big enough to be mine.

I had to tell Sierra if Mango was pregnant with m-

“Seance! What are you doing here?” Relieved to see that she didn’t look angry or upset with me, I decided to just tell her the truth.

“After you left I went to the police about the case you are here for. My boss agreed to let me work on it. I’m here to search the house.”

Mango nodded in understanding. “I’m here for the same reason. I didn’t know you were going to be here today, if I had known I would have-” Her unspoken words were as clear as her baby bump. I knew it was rude, but as hard as I tried I found it difficult to not stare at it.

“Are you- Is it-”

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“Have you found anything?” She was clearly uncomfortable with me being here and didn’t want to explain. I understood, and knew it wasn’t really the right place or time, but if I was going to be a father again I had to know.

“Should you be working in- with your-” I wasn’t really sure what to say. With each one of Sierra’s pregnancies it had been so easy, but this… This was something very different. I knew I couldn’t be sure that it was mine, but she had either already been pregnant when she had visited me without having a partner, or she had jumped into bed with the first man she had met after she had left my house. None of those options were like her at all.

“Seance, please.” Her eyes and voice pleaded with me to let it go. Mine pleaded with her to explain. After simply staring at each other for a few moments, she sighed. “I promise I’ll explain after this. For now we have more import- For now, we have work to do. So tell me, have you found anything?”

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Knowing that her promise was all I was going to get for he time being, I shook my head. “Not yet. I only arrived seconds before I came in here. How about you?”

She nodded towards the room I had just come from. “There’s a trapdoor underneath the table. It’s hidden under the carpet, but if you look closely you can see it.”

“You didn’t have a look to make sure?”

A small smile was gone again before I could really see it. “I can’t bend too well at the moment. Shall we have a look?” Feeling like an idiot for not considering her pregnancy better, I blushed and nodded.

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We stood around the table, and she watched as I pulled the carpet to the side. She had been right, there really was a trapdoor.

“Stay here, I’ll go have a look what’s down there.”

I moved the table to the side and was just about to open it, when she interrupted me. “Seance…”

“Hm?”

I noticed her blush more obviously this time, and just like before I had the urge to get up and hug her. Even now, on the job, she looked like the most fragile woman I had ever seen, and I wanted to protect her.

Before she could answer, she shook her head. “It’s nothing. Be careful, okay? You don’t know what’s down there.” I nodded, and lifted the handle.

Before I could as much as take one look down the ladder, a deafening noise filled the air. Everything went white, and the impact of heat on my skin was incredible.

When I opened my eyes and managed to see something again, there was smoke and fire everywhere. Mango was lying a few feet away from me, and she wasn’t moving. I tried to get up but I couldn’t find my legs, so I pulled myself closer to her.

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The dry old furniture was burning easily. I knew I only had moments to get us both outside to safety, but I couldn’t even stand up.

“Mango?” I coughed, and tried to feel her pulse. It was there, but I couldn’t tell if it was going too slowly or too fast or if it was fine the way it was. All I could tell for sure was that we were going to die if I didn’t regain control of my feet soon.

“Hmh.” Relieved to get a response from her, I continued talking to her.

“We need to get out. Can you stand up?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, Seance.” Instinctively her hands reached for her stomach, where she did her best to cradle the bump and protect it from the heat.

“You can tell me when we’re outside, Mango. Come on, let me get you out.” I made another attempt at standing up, but my feet weren’t obeying. Cussing, I fell back down next to her.

“If I die, can you-” Tears shot to my eyes immediately. I had only just found her again. I wasn’t going to let her die.

“You won’t die. I’m going to get us out, and you c-” The smallest shaking of her head shut me up.

“If I die, I want you to raise her. She’s our daughter. Can you do this for me?” Her voice was quiet, and weak, but I heard enough to agree without another thought.

I was having a daughter. With Mango.

The one woman I had loved for as long as I could remember.

She couldn’t die. I wouldn’t allow it.

Another explosion blinded me almost as badly as the first one had done. Something hit me on the head, and everything went dark just in time for me to see something pink flash past me and pick up Mango. I was faintly aware of someone picking me up, too, and of the smell of fresh air entering my nose.

I heard shouting, people calling an ambulance and feeling my pulse. I heard someone ask me for my name, and whether I was alright, but I didn’t remember how to answer. My whole body felt heavy, my mind only concerned with Mango.

Mango was pregnant.

With a girl.

I was having a daughter with Mango.

Sierra was going to kill me.

And then, everything went quiet.

5.22

“I-I should go.”

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Feeling oddly numb I did the only thing my body allowed me to do. I nodded.

Sleeping with Mango had been the best feeling in the world. I had never felt more alive, more complete, than I had done when I had held her in my arms. Yet the moment we had separated from each other that completeness had vanished, and everything around me had started to crumble as we had gotten dressed without saying another word to another.

Watching her getting ready to leave I realised that the thing I had feared the most was now coming true anyway. Running after her had achieved nothing.

I had only made things worse.

The possibility of leaving Sierra had occurred to me while we had still been embracing each other, but once the hot steams of the shower had dissolved I knew that leaving my wife wasn’t an option. We had four children together, and they needed their mother – even if she was hardly ever at home.

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There was only one chance for us. I knew it was hopeless, but I had to hear it from her before watching her leave me forever. “I want to stay friends, Mango.” I felt something inside me change. Where I had felt happiness at first and then guilt a dark void filled the space.

Predicting her answer, because it was the same as mine, that space became empty.

“No, Seance. You know that’s not an option.” Feeling defeated, I hang my head. I wanted to watch her walk away from me, as punishment, but I couldn’t.

“What will you do now?”

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“I will finish what I have come here for. Once the report is written I’m going back home.” Mango walked to the door without looking at me. Moments before opening, she turned her head for our eyes to meet one last time. I saw mirrored in her everything I was experiencing in that moment.  “Please don’t come after me, Seance. It’s better if we never see each other again.”

And just like that, she walked out of my life for good.

In the days that followed I was constantly torn between telling Sierra and not telling Sierra. I knew that the right thing to do would have been to confess, but I couldn’t bring myself to find the right words for it. My decision to stay quiet, at least for the time being, was made easier by the fact that she was still away on business in Bridgeport. If I was going to tell her I wasn’t going to be one of those berryholes who confessed in a text message, or with a phone call. Sierra deserved to be told in person, so she could slap me immediately afterwards.

What didn’t help, however, was seeing my children everyday. Acting normally was difficult, but it was made a lot worse by the ever growing feeling that I had betrayed them worse than I had betrayed their mother.

My parents were suspicious, too. Dad especially seemed to look at me differently, as if he knew that I had done something and he was trying to figure out what it was. Neither of them said anything, and I was immensely grateful for it.

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After two days I decided that I needed to do something to get back on track. I asked my parents to watch the kids, and headed straight for the police station.

I knew that my boss still had every right to refuse me, but I had been working as much as I could now that my children were older and knew that I had easily solved every case I had accepted.

If there was a crime wave in Sunset Valley, I wanted to help solve it. Especially because I had been completely oblivious to it. Had I always been this blind to things? Would I have noticed this years ago, before I had stopped working to look after my children instead?

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I reached his office just as he was about to go home.

“Seance! I wasn’t expecting you today! Have you come for more work?” Since I had gotten back into work I had made it a habit to phone him first before leaving the house, to make sure that there was something for me to do before driving all the way into town. Today, however, I had needed to get out too badly to give him a call first.

“I have. I was hoping you could assign me to a specific case, actually.” I watched my boss raise his eyebrow as he considered my words.

“Have you now? Why don’t you come into my office and sit down, I’ll see what I can do.” Hoping that he’d agree to let me take the case I followed his hand gesture and sat down in one of the chairs opposite his desk. “Now, what case was it that you were after?”

“I have recently heard that there is a crime wave spreading here in Sunset Valley, with possible connections to different cities. I want to h-” Before I could finish my request, he interrupted me.

“Who told you about that? That’s classified information!” My heart skipped a beat. Judging from his reaction, it was a lot worse than Mango had made it sound.

“I just heard a rumour.” I answered quickly, not wanting to make things between Mango and me even worse.  If that was even possible. “Is it true, then?”

With a frown, my boss nodded slowly. “It is. And you mustn’t tell anyone what you know!”

“That won’t be difficult, I know next to nothing.”

“You knew enough to ask me about it. Why do you want this case?” I could clearly detect worry and unease in his tone, but wasn’t going to let that change anything. I needed something to do, and this was perfect.

“Because I have been out of proper jobs for too long. I want an important case, and I want to help bring down whoever is behind this.” I knew it wasn’t the strongest argument I could have made, but I figured that it was for the best if I was being honest with him.

“Seance, my boy, it’s not as easy as that. We’ve had specialist teams on this for years! Do you really think that you can unearth something my best men haven’t been able to solve for so long?” For years… My heart sank. I hadn’t realised that it had been going on this long. While I had been teaching my children how to walk and how to say daddy, someone had been terrorising Sunset Valley.

And I hadn’t even noticed that something was going on.

“If you give me the information they’ve gathered so far I can try! The more people you have working on this the better, isn’t it?”

A deep chuckle escaped his lungs. “It is, Seance. And you are one of my best PI’s. But you have four children at home. Do you know how many of my specialists have died trying to solve this? How many have been injured?” I shook my head, feeling more than a little taken aback. People had died trying to discover the truth behind this case? For years?

Just who were we up against?

All the criminals who were in prison because of me had been idiots. Some of them had been more clever than others, but in the end I had still caught them all. They were always missing something, or forgot to cover their tracks. Most of them had crumbled in front of me once they had realised that they had been found out. In all this time, I had never been injured. A few people had tried to attack me while I was questioning them, realising what I was after – some had even set up traps in their homes – but none had ever succeeded thanks to the training all PI’s went through.

That people had gotten injured, some of them killed, was a very bad sign.

“Sunset Valley hasn’t seen organised crime like this in a very long time. They have robbed banks, killed whoever got in their way, and pulled of heists I’d rather not repeat to you right now. We have been trying to stop them for years, Seance, and we don’t have names, or know who is leading them. You have four children at home. I’ll give you another case, but not this one.” Without knowing it, my boss had provided me with the reason I had needed to convince him.

“It is for my children that I need to do this. I don’t want my children growing up in a town where organised crime has gone this far. Let me help you stop them. You know I can do it.”

My boss sighed, looking very unhappy about all this. “Seance, you have been an invaluable addition to my team ever since you joined us. I’d rather not risk losing you. Is there no way I can change your mind?”

“No, sir. None.” The more I was trying to convince him the more I was talking myself into it. Even if I didn’t manage to completely unearth everything, I would still have something to do. Something important.

Something that would make the years I had spent training worthwhile.

“I could still simply refuse you, you know. But you’ll start looking into this whether I give you permission or not, am I right?”

“Yes, sir.”

Again, he sighed. “It is true that we could use the help. Fine, I’ll give you the few details we have managed to gather so far. But Seance, if you die in this, I’ll never forgive myself.”

“I won’t sir, I promise.”

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Feeling like I was finally getting somewhere in my career again, I left with the thin folder he had given me, and started researching the case right away.

5.21

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“Hi Seance.”

“M-Mango?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right there, in front of me, in my front door, stood Mango. The girl I had wanted to marry when I had been a teenager. The girl I had wanted to take to prom. And she was still as beautiful as I remembered her.

“I’m sorry, I should have called, shouldn’t I? I’ll call you later, Seance, I’m sorry, if you want to catch up we can discuss a time over the phone. I’ll be g- It was nice to see you.” She turned on the spot and with her face flushed she started walking away from me.

Again.

“Wait!” The words were out before I could grasp a clear thought. I knew somewhere deep down that arranging somewhere over the phone and meeting up for a coffee in public was probably for the best, but now that she was here, right here, I couldn’t let her walk away from me again. “Did you want to come in?”

“Oh! Erm, if it’s alright? I don’t want to force myself on you.” My head felt empty, and I swear everything was starting to spin. “I mean, I can’t just- I don’t want to be a bother, Seance.” Her voice was so shy and so quiet that I had to strain my ears to hear her. The crashing of the waves against the beach didn’t help.

“It’s fine.” Feeling completely lost for words, I stepped aside as to allow her to come in. “Come inside, we can talk in the living room.”

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I led the way as she quietly followed me, clearly uncomfortable. I remembered her to be shy, but now she just seemed entirely out of place. Like she didn’t think she belonged here.

I had never wanted to hug her so badly.

“Your house looks nice. You had it renovated.”

Not sure what to say, I nodded. “Yes, we did. Sierra wanted it done.” Without really knowing why I immediately regretted my words. There was nothing wrong with admitting that my wife, Sierra, had wanted a few renovations to be done inside the house. It was our place now. There was no harm at all in openly admitting that I was married to Sierra.

“Hmh.”

“Why don’t you have a seat and I get you something to drink? We got orange juice in the fridge, or I could make you tea or coffee if you like?”

Mango shook her head slowly. “I’m alright, Seance. Thank you.” I nodded, taking a deep breath in. Should I sit down next to her? Should I stand up? Should I get another chair from the dining room and sit on that?

She may have been feeling out of place, but she wasn’t feeling any more caught off guard than me.

“Don’t you want to sit down?” Grateful to have an excuse to do something, I sat down next to her and immediately moved to the other end of the sofa. There was something about having Mango here, in my house, that made me feel incredibly nervous.

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“So, erm… What brings you to Sunset Valley?” Usually I was good at making small talk. I was used to questioning witnesses, doing small interviews and even interrogating suspects on rare occasions, but I had never been lost for words.

Until now.

“My job. If you remember I studied literature in China?” I nodded, remembering very well how our communication slowly broke down until I hadn’t heard from her again. “I’m a journalist. My boss has sent me here to investigate a local crime wave.”

“My colleagues are working on the same case.” I hadn’t thought much of it since we didn’t know that much about it, and had thought that it was just some petty criminals getting lucky one time too often. A few banks had been robbed and our boss thought that all three banks were connected, even though they were all in different cities, none of them here in Sunset Valley. We had a few murders which we hadn’t been able to uncover, but since I hadn’t been working in so long no one had been telling me any details.

Mango nodded to show that she had been informed. “What are you doing now? You’re a policeman, then?”

“No, I’m a PI. I do help the police with cases they can’t solve, but I haven’t been working properly for a few years.”

“Why’s that?”

“I had to raise my children.” Mango’s expression looked very far away.

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“Children… How many do you have?”

“Four.” A small smile spread on her lips, but it was gone before I could really notice it.

“Well done, Seance. I know you always wanted to be a PI. How come you couldn’t work for so long? Can’t Sierra help you raise them?”

“Her job is very demanding. She’s hardly home these days, so it’s just me.”

“And your parents?”

“She doesn’t want them to be too involved.” For the first time I realised just how wrong that sounded.

“Oh.” I turned to look at Mango – something I had been trying to avoid since she had turned up on my doorstep. Her light orange eyes looked sad and tired, her face looked older but still beaut- young. Her hair was just as I remembered it.

She hadn’t changed one bit.

“Congratulations.” Her voice was so quiet I barely heard her. “For getting married. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”

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“Why did you stop replying to me?” The words were out before I could change my mind. I didn’t like asking like this, so suddenly, but I had to know.

“I’m sorry, Seance. I know that was wrong, but I-” I noticed that she was trying her best to avoid meeting my eyes. It was a habit I had observed often from people who were hiding something.

“So why?” I hated to pry like that, but what if she left and didn’t come back? Again? I had to know before that happened!

Her voice so quiet I wasn’t sure if I had heard her right, she answered, her eyes directed towards the floor. “Because I was jealous.” I felt like my heart was breaking into a lot of pieces. She had been jealous. Of me and Sierra. But did that mean-

“Why?” For reasons I couldn’t explain, my heart was racing in my chest as I waited for her to tell me the truth.

“Because… I’m sorry, I should be going. It was rude of me to just come here and expect you to-” She was already on her feet when I got hold of her wrist and pulled her back down.

“Please, Mango. Why?”

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For the first time since I had asked her inside, our eyes met. “Because I loved you.” Her words were shaking from the tears that were slowly building in her eyes. “I had loved you all throughout High School. Moving away from you was awful, but hearing that you were marrying Sierra I just- I know I should have been there on your wedding day, but I was so mad at you for choosing her.” When I didn’t reply, she blushed the most beautiful shade of red. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said any of that.” Said any of what? Her first words were still repeating in my mind. She had loved me.

Shehadlovedmeshehadlovedmeshehadlovedme.

All I could do was stare at her. Her sad eyes found mine, and I had to fight back the need to take her into my arms and hold her. I had never seen anyone so fragile. I had never wanted to protect someone besides my four children this much.

As if a switch had been flicked I realised with a bolt of guild that I still loved Mango every bit as much as I had done when I had been a teenager. Always had done, always would do. I had only convinced myself that I was over her for Sierra’s sake. For my marriage’s sake.

Sierra, the mother of my children. My wife.

I tried to mentally slap myself into thinking straight again, but the longer Mango was looking into my eyes the harder it got.

I still loved Mango.

And I felt horrible for admitting it to myself, but I wanted her. Badly. And to make things worse, I wanted her more than I had ever wanted Sierra.

“Seance?” I realised that I was still staring at her. Feeling guilty for thinking any of this, I turned my eyes onto the wall where I couldn’t get distracted so easily.

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“What about you?” I asked, hoping that small talk would make things easier before I made a huge mistake. “Do you have children?”

She shook her head. “No. It’s just me and my Mum. I tried dating once but I didn’t love him, so I broke up with him when he proposed.” I realised that this was what I should have done. Instead of proposing to Sierra I should have broken up with her. I should have been on the next plane to China.

But it was too late for that now. What was done was done, and I was not going to-

“I loved you, too.” Loved. There was no harm in admitting that I once had feelings for her, was there?

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Her eyes were bigger than I had ever seen them before. Her cheeks flushed, and her orange eyes sparkled with dried tears. “You did?”

I nodded, unable to speak.

“Then I should go. I have no right to be here.” Before I could do anything about it she was on her feet, heading for the front door. Against my better judgement the fear of losing her again flooded me, and I rushed after her.

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When I finally caught up with her she was already in the entrance room, reaching for the door handle.

Instinctively I grabbed her wrist, pulled her around-

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…and kissed her.

And it felt like life itself was coursing through me. Never had a kiss felt so good before.

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When I realised that I was making the second biggest mistake of my life, when I was about to pull away from her, Mango kissed me back with so much passion that I forgot everything else around me. The room we were in disappeared, all its colours merging into one until they all exploded into one big, bright ball of light which completely engulfed me.

Kissing Sierra had been nice. Kissing Mango was everything. For a brief moment her surprised eyes met mine, and I wrapped my arms around her as I pulled her into the bathroom right behind me.

Nothing existed besides her and me. Not even Sierra. The only thing that made sense was her in my arms, and the shower next to us. I locked the door, and did the one thing I had sworn I’d never do.

I slept with the one woman I had loved for as long as I could remember.

And in doing so, I betrayed my wife and every vow I’d ever made.