She didn’t know when it happened.
But happen it did. The feeling started as a warm spark, somewhere deep in her belly, and as the days passed, the feeling grew and grew, developing into friendship…and then something more.
Allie was the happiest she’d ever been. Somehow, through all the tragedy and chaos of her life, she was making it after all – her own little family, her own little nest.
The days passed in a mind numbing blur. Life went on, as it always did, but the whole world was cast in shadow for Allie. She moved through the motions of daily expectation without thinking or feeling. The house on most days seemed so big and empty, and she still expected to see her mother around every corner and just past every door.
The drudgery seemed endless, but somewhere in the darkness of shadow, there was a spark.
Some days she found herself laughing, even, like today. Corbin liked to sit and read her the funniest bits out of the Sim Times as she prepared breakfast.
It was a pleasant routine, and Allie liked it more than she ever could have imagined. Things were so easy with Corbin, where everything with Weldon had seemed so hard.
He would harumph and turn the screen away, but Allie could tell it was only in fun. He was an Adventurer, he said, and though Allie didn’t quite know what to make of that, she knew it was the most interesting way to make money she’d ever heard of.
In fact, everything about him was interesting.
So, when he peeked into her room to see if she was alright, Allie didn’t protest.
And when he sat down, and put one hand on her arm, she didn’t protest again.
And when he leaned in to take her in his arms, Allie leaned in too.
The sun set on a beautiful day in Strangetown as Allie began to speak. The crowd was gathered to say goodbye to their beloved Mother, Grandmother, and friend, Bianca.
“Mother…Bianca…came to this town in search of family,” Allie began. “And she found that, and so much more. She found love, and home. And then she taught the rest of us how to find the same.
She endured so much…we’ve all of us, endured so much…but Bianca always did it with a smile and a hug.”
Allie took a deep breath as the words caught in her throat. “Mom gave the best hugs.”
“Now, if you’d like to come pay your respects, Caprice would like to play one of Mom’s favorite songs, so perfectly named…Home. It won’t be the same without you Mom,” Allie said, looking skyward. “We will all miss you so much.”
The crowd listened as Caprice played a tender rendition of her Mother’s favorite song, and slowly made their way to the grave plot to pay their last respects to the woman who was so loved by all.
As the sun dipped down below the horizon, the first drops of rain began to fall, and one by one, the guests left for the evening. Allie said her goodbyes, and gave many hugs, yet each hug only served to tug on her heartstrings a bit more, to remind her that she would never feel her mother’s warm, strong arms around her, not ever again.
As she turned to go inside, she realized she was not alone in her pain. Red stood, head in hands, crying silent tears. She started to go to him, but stopped short. He cried for more than Bianca, she sensed. He cried for Emmy, and for the fate of the DiPoteres. He cried because he felt so intensely the passage of time – after so long as an immortal Protector, each year felt like a day, and there was so much more to do. He cried for all of that, and more.
Allie went inside and sat in her mother’s newly redecorated kitchen. For her it was much more simple. She cried only for the loss of her mother.
To Allie, it felt like a simple shift in the wind. The world was warm, and then it was cold. She knew, though, what that cold meant. Fighting to keep calm, she turned to face the Reaper.
“We meet again,” it said. The voice was low and husky – not male, or female…not human at all. It was the sound of the end.
Allie stood her ground. “You can’t have her,” she said. “You can’t take her. I fought you off once, I’ll do it again.”
The Reaper stared at her hard, and shook it’s head slowly from side to side. A small, subtle move, but one that rocked Allie to the core.
“She wasn’t mine to take last time,” it said. “Now she is. There is no fighting Time.” In Reaper’s voice there was no emotion, no expression, and Allie knew – this time she couldn’t save her mother.
Leaving a wisp of black fog, the Reaper vanished, only to reappear next to Bianca. Corbin watched too, and Allie wondered what he thought of her conversation with Death. She hung her head and began to sob. For Bianca, there was no pain except that of leaving her family. She had a full and happy life, one that she had extended with magic again and again. It was her time, and she was ready to step into the Other, and to be with Joel again.
Caprice decided to break the news the day after Aniello’s transition. There were so many changes taking place in everyone’s life…
Corbin Gray had agreed to move in for the sake of Aniello. He doted on that little boy. Of course, they all saw the way he looked at Allie too…Well, all except Allie. She was either working her weird hours or had her nose in a book.
Plus, little Aniello wasn’t so little anymore. He was starting school today, and was so excited. Aniello was growing up, and didn’t need a 24/7 babysitter anymore.
Even her own mother was moving on. Bianca had taken up yoga and meditation again and could usually be found doing practice in her room or the front yard. The heavy weight of their father’s death seemed to have left her, and Bianca seemed truly happy once more.
Everyone had their thing but her, and she was starting to feel like a bum. She wasn’t even working on her art anymore, which had been the whole plan in moving back home in the first place. It was time to make some changes of her own. She also knew, if she didn’t try out a little bit of life on her terms now, once she was married to Tank she never would.
“Mom, Allie…there’s something I want to tell you,” she began.
“You and Tank are moving up the wedding date?” Bianca asked, a look of eager anticipation filling her face.
“No, Mom. I told you. Next year, maybe.” Caprice took a deep breath. “I’m taking the job at Graphx. I’m moving to Blackwater. Tank’s not going with me. I’m moving in on my own – not with Phebe – just me.” She took another deep breath and waited for the arguments to come.
“That’s nice dear,” said Bianca.
“You’re going to love it!” said Allie. “There’s so much to do in Blackwater – you’ll have a great time. Good for you.”
“You’re not…you’re not mad?” Caprice stammered.
Bianca tilted her head to one side, a quizzical look on her face. “Why would we be mad, sweetie?”
“Caprice, you’re all grown up now,” said Allie. “This is a good thing. You can’t figure out what you want if you don’t get out there and try some new things. And really, our family’s not exactly traditional, now is it?”
The three women laughed as Aniello looked around, confused. “What’s so funny?” he asked, and the three women only laughed harder.
Aniello transitioned on a warm sunny day. It was a family event – Allie and Corbin, Maria and her clan, Phebe, Caprice, and of course Tank. Bianca’s heart filled up to see her growing family under the same roof. She was so proud of her girls.
If only Joel were here to see this, she thought.
She had to be careful, with so many visitors, not to get found out. Her heart had been aching all day, and she knew she was due for another dose. She didn’t know if her girls would be mad or not, and she didn’t want to find out. They all had enough going on, each in their own way, to worry about their old mother.
Bianca snuck upstairs and turned on the shower, just to throw anyone who came looking for her off the trail. They were all so busy downstairs gabbing and celebrating that she wasn’t too worried, but still. No one needed to know.
She crept into her secret room. It was locked, in a way. Not physically locked, which would arouse suspicion. This room was locked with magic, it’s door covered with a deception spell. To anyone else, even to Allie, the room was simply an old, unused closet. But in reality, it was anything but.
Bianca had never forgotten her own long ago lessons from Miss Emmy, though she’d given up the search for the Curse when she handed the reins over to Allie. But magic came in handy for many things, especially for taking care of that nagging ache that came into her heart from time to time. She knew there were risks.
She knew one day, the magic potion would take it’s toll, that Grim would come for her. But until that day came, no one in her family need know just how close he was to calling.
Something was up.
Caprice straightened a loose hair for the hundredth time as she waited for Tank to arrive. He’d sounded so strange on the phone.
“Think positive,” she told herself as she watched the random hair pop back out of place. “Tank is NOT breaking up with you. Positive, positive, positive.” She was still muttering to herself as she heard Tank’s footfalls on the front porch.
“Hi babe,” he said casually as he walked into the house. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek. “You ready?”
Peck on the cheek? she thought. What the hell! He is breaking up with me! “Think positive,” she muttered to herself one last time before she looked up and smiled. “I’m ready. Where are we going?”
“I thought we’d try Londoste, over in Blackwater,” Tank said. “It’s supposed to be amazing.”
“Londoste? Tank, that’s so fancy! Are you sure? I don’t think I’m dressed for that place!”
Tank grinned and pulled Caprice in close. “You’ll be the best looking girl there, I bet.”
The restaurant was beautiful. And elegant. And chic. And it only served to make Caprice more nervous. Tank was still acting so strange, she didn’t know what to make of it. He was the perfect gentleman – ordering her food, selecting an excellent wine with the somalier, and chatting politely with the waiter. Still, something was off. He seemed so distracted. Distant.
“What’s wrong?” he said, an adorable crinkle emerging between his eyebrows. “Don’t you like the meal?”
“No, the meal’s…everything’s so great,” Caprice said.
“Oh good,” said Tank. “Because I want this to be special…just right for you.” She saw the flicker of anxiety cross his face for a brief moment before he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box.
“Caprice…I know you don’t know what to do with your life just yet, but I know I want to spend my life with you…whatever path you choose. Will you marry me?”
Her heart swelled up so full of love at that moment that she couldn’t speak. So Caprice just smiled, slipped the ring on her finger and nodded yes, as she grabbed Tank’s hand and held on tight. Her mom had been right, after all. Life would figure itself out as it went along.