Author’s Note: This chapter begins with some catching up on old characters, including extended family. If this does not interest you (in which case, I wouldn’t blame you lol), please scroll until you reach the cat whiskers divider where the story mainly starts.
Dear Diary, by now, you know pretty much everything there is to know about my five siblings, parents and myself. We are loud with a lot of commotion, everybody talking at the same time, laughing and fighting, too. Add in the rest of the brood from all corners of the world, and you’ve got yourself a mess…. and Grandpa Leo’s Christmas party.
I met relatives I didn’t know I had and because I’m familiar with our family lines, I could pretty much keep it straight. Boy, did I feel sorry for Xalen, though! I tried to warn him, but he insisted on coming.
As soon as we arrived, the twins disappeared as everyone wanted to hold them and love them up. Xalen took it all in stride and in the end, I was really glad he was there.
You’ll see in the pictures it wasn’t what you would call a white Christmas. But nothing is ever conventional in this family.
Grammy Leela and Grandpa Leo looked terrific! And finally, I met Grandpa Leo’s sisters Rachel and Daylynn. I guess this was especially meaningful to Grandpa because this is the first family function Daylynn has ever attended.
Great-aunt Daylynn never married or had children. But great-aunt Rachel married Grandpa’s music partner, Josh. This is their family.
From left to right: Phyllis, great-uncle Josh, great-aunt Rachel, and Thea.
Great-uncle Josh and grandpa are retired now from the music business. They composed many movie scores and have won countless awards. Yes, I’m proud.
Phyllis is rather quiet yet nice to talk to. She is a second-grade teacher. Once she starts talking about “her kids,” she opens up a lot.
Thea is less personable. I never did find out what her line of work was, only that she married a rich doctor who wasn’t there with her. Momma says she’s had “a lot of work” done to her face and that she’s never been very nice.
I know these people of course. This is my uncle Leo (he is momma and aunt Ruby’s little brother), his wife, aunt Wilda…. and Theo who they adopted.
Theo used to be my best friend in all the world. Looking at him today, I have nothing against him, still, I’m so glad things didn’t work out between us. It was a painful episode in my life but if things hadn’t worked out the way they did, I might never have met Xalen.
Whenever I find myself looking at uncle Leo, I can’t believe how much he looks like grandpa!
Uncle Leo and aunt Wilda have turned their farm into an orphanage of sorts and they take parentless children in from the mainland.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that aunt Ruby and my cousin Gloria were there!
Aunt Ruby is still the elementary school’s principal. Gloria is still a chatterbox and has her own talk show on TV! It seems like the perfect career for her. (I’m putting a note here to remind me to set the DVR to record her show! Don’t forget, Marty!)
I couldn’t believe all my siblings were able to come. I can’t remember the last time we were all together. It warmed my heart to see them.
My oldest brother Charles married Zoé Bernard who we’d all known since childhood. Their son (my nephew!) is named Charles Bernard Larochette. Isn’t he cute? Charles and his son help daddy work the farm.
Momma and daddy look so good, too, don’t they? I didn’t realize how much I missed them until they hugged me and kissed my cheeks.
Of course, these people are Laurent, Carrie, Lissie, and Susan.
Laurent remains on the island working with momma’s longtime best friend Alice Millet. He did leave the island to get a medical degree and I hear he and Alice have a nice setup there in Winchester healing people and delivering babies.
Can you even believe Carrie and Lissie have dressed alike? These are the twins who declared their hatred of all things identical! Back in the day, they couldn’t wait to leave the island in order to have their own lives apart from each other. I guess times have changed, though, because they both eventually returned to Winchester. They live together and, despite their age, enjoy fooling people into thinking they are each other.
Isn’t Susan a vision in her red dress? I think that color really suits her. She has become my dearest friend.
(Story begins here…)
And here we are for the family photo. Even though I haven’t given Xalen an answer yet about joining the Neptune Foundation/The Inheritance, he’s stayed true to his word about making things work out for our little family.
He hasn’t pressured me at all which I find incredibly refreshing. Even though he’s busy with his work, the kids and I see him nearly every day and he continues to prove himself a worthy father.
Rosetta and Holden were glad to be back in our arms after all the passing around.
Just before we left to catch our flight, I grabbed the mail. On the plane, as I was sorting through it, I noticed an envelope from the hospital lab. Quickly, I shoved the letter into my purse. My heart was beating a million miles a minute and my hands were shaking. I know I should have opened it right then but what if the DNA test came back to say Beckett was my children’s’ father? Xalen said it didn’t matter to him, that he’d still be there for us. But I was still scared. Would I have to tell Beckett even though he was in prison now?
My nerves were frayed from it all until I watched the kids.
They didn’t care what a piece of paper said, of course. As far as they knew, Xalen was their daddy.
When some of the commotions of everyone arriving had died down, grandpa said, “I seem to owe you an apology. I’m so sorry you were locked in that vault.”
This made me laugh and hug him again. “If I’d talked to you at the time, you would have gotten an earful. It’s true what they say, though. You do kind of forget the pain of childbirth after a time.”
“Well, I’m just glad everything worked out for the best. You have a really lovely family, kiddo.”
As we chatted, I glanced over to see Xalen was staring at me. If every person in the world had someone to look at them the way Xalen looked at me… well, it leaves a fulfilled coziness inside of me that I can barely describe. I never in a million years thought I would have this kind of love in my life.
Granpa Leo couldn’t stay away from the kids forever. Between him, Leela and my parents, I think they were held and tickled the entire time.
Grammy Leela was so taken with the twins she forgot she had pumpkin bread in the oven. Soon, the house filled with smoke and grammy shrieked for someone to take the burning bread out of the oven! Luckily, there were no fires during this weekend trip.
Xalen was keen to talk to great-uncle Josh about Accidental Therapy, a fact that Josh was more than happy to accommodate.
“I’m wearing a band t-shirt under my sweater now,” Josh said.
Grandpa, who was standing nearby sang a few measures of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” to which Josh laughed and said, “You know it!”
Finally, I was able to spend a few minutes with momma.
As she watched Xalen and grandpa with the twins, she said, “I’m so happy for you, Marty. I really wish you’d told me about what you were going through, though. I would have been there for you in a second.”
Wiping a stray tear from her cheek, I said, “I know that. Please don’t cry. There was a lot I had to work out on my own.”
“Considering how I ended up in Winchester, I can understand that. I’m really emotional today, seeing my entire family together. You can’t imagine what this means to me.”
Embracing her, I became more of a sentimental hearted person than I’ve ever been. Seeing this day through momma’s eyes forever changed the way I view family reunions.
Yes, days like this are overwhelming. We eat too much, argue, laugh, smile and cry, but these people are who I am and where I come from. And I’m so proud of that.
After a while, I was able to introduce myself to Charles’ wife, my sister-in-law, Zoé. She was a natural beauty if I’ve ever seen one. We chatted about island life and their son Charles Jr. who I found out is thirteen years old and a strapping lad who is a great help to my father and brother on the farm.
It’s a huge relief to me to know my parents will be looked after in their old age and they won’t have to leave the farm since my brother and his family live there with them.
Gloria. Oh, Gloria! She is as funny as ever. She had me rolling with behind the scenes stories of her talk show. I didn’t realize show business was so calamitous!
“… And then, they had the wrong cue cards up so I was introducing a topic we weren’t even doing that day!” she giggled.
That would have been my worst nightmare. But not for Gloria. She took everything in stride and made jokes about it on camera until they straightened it all out.
After a time, the twins needed naps and I needed a break. Xalen was more than happy to escape it all for a few minutes, too. Grammy Leela showed us where we could put them down, then I excused myself for a breather.
I found myself in a bedroom not far from the babies. It was dimly lit and quiet. Just what I needed.
“Grandpa and Grammy have such a nice retirement home, don’t they?” Momma asked as she slipped into the room. “I’m sorry if you prefer being alone. I could use some time away and saw you come in here.”
Smiling, I said, “Of course I don’t mind. In fact, I have something I need to talk to you about.”
“What is it?” she asked, concern clouding her bright green eyes.
“It’s Susan. I’m really worried about her. She told me how that boyfriend of hers came to the island to meet you and then told you she has some kind of eating disorder.”
Momma’s posture drooped as she thought about it. “What a disaster that was. The way things were left, I was afraid she wouldn’t be here today. I was so relieved when I heard she was staying with you. Are things going all right?”
“Susan and I get along great,” I said. “But, Momma, her weight goes up and down. Really fast! Please, tell me what happened and what you think about it.”
She sighed and stared off for a moment as if watching the memory replaying. “It was terrible. Susan and Theo had a bad breakup. Daddy and I didn’t approve of their relationship because he’s essentially a cousin.”
“I remember you telling me that much on the phone all those years ago.”
Nodding, she continued, “Theo ended up breaking it off. At the time, he said he didn’t want bad feelings in the family and after speaking with his parents decided he couldn’t marry Susan. She was heartbroken and angry. Daddy and I thought we should give her some space to work out how she felt. I think she blamed us, though, because that same night, she left the island and we didn’t see her again until she and Victor came to visit several years later.”
This didn’t sound like common sense, logical Susan at all. Did it? I thought about how she’d called, desperate to visit. She needed a place to stay because her life had fallen apart.
“Susan said they were in Winchester to get married. But her beau Victor had a different story. While Susan was calling on old friends, Victor told us she had an eating disorder and that he’d already been through that with his brother, he couldn’t go through it again. He came to the island to make sure she got home all right and that her family would take care of her. I do think he wanted to love her but couldn’t face what it all meant.”
Victor’s brother had an eating disorder? I’d never before considered that a guy could have that problem. Shows what I know.
“So, she was left in a devastating way again.”
“Yes,” momma said. “It was terrible. Daddy and I tried to talk to her about it but she became upset and angry and left in a hurry. Later, I heard she was with you in Alpine County.”
“Do you think she has a problem?”
“I’m not sure, Marty. I know her weight has been a huge concern to her since she was a kid. I think it’s a strong possibility. Why would Victor come all the way to Winchester only to tell us this? Susan said it was because he’s a jerk. But I think he wouldn’t have gone to all that trouble if he was a jerk.”
She had a good point.
“You’ve spent more time with her. What do you think?”
Since Susan told me her version of what happened with Victor, I’d been observing her. It wasn’t easy to hide the fact that I was watching either because Susan was very sensitive.
“When she first moved in, I thought he must have been mistaken because she was eating just fine. She even told me it wasn’t like she throws up or anything.”
“And since then?”
“I don’t think she lied. I’ve never seen her throwing up. But there are stretches of time when she doesn’t seem to eat much at all. She’s good at hiding it, so I’m never sure if she really ate or not.”
“What does your gut tell you?”
Momma was all about intuition which made me wonder if that’s where I got that ghost seeing thing from.
Taking a deep breath and holding it for a moment, I finally said, “I think she has a problem and I’ll do everything I can to get her help.”
We talked some more about what we could do to help Susan without making her defensive and I came to understand this was going to be a huge undertaking. But I’m strong and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my baby sister.
As if on cue, right after talking about him, I ran into Theo in the hallway.
“Are your ears ringing?” I joked.
“Ah, you were talking about me,” he grinned. “You know, Alice Millet told me when I was a kid that if your ears ring, you’re supposed to pinch your earlobe.”
“What happens then?”
“Whoever’s talking about you bites their tongue!” he laughed.
As soon as he said that, I laughed, too, and remembered Alice telling me the same thing.
“We had some good times, didn’t we?”
He smiled softly. “We sure did, Marty.” After a slight pause, he said, “I was hoping I’d see you today. I wanted to tell you how sorry I am that I didn’t… well, I didn’t know you had feelings for me other than just being friends.”
In this world of people hiding their feelings and never saying what they really think, Theo’s words made me miss Winchester even more. There was no beating around the bush there. If someone was angry with you, they let you know it. The opposite was true, too, for the most part. People on the island appreciated one another, loved one another. The speak was plain but true.
Blushing a little, I said, “Don’t sweat it, Theo. That was a long time ago and I have a terrific little family.”
“I’m glad you’re happy.”
“I am very happy,” I repeated. “Is something bothering you?”
Now he was staring at his feet and his cheeks were red. “Well… yes. I know you’ve heard I broke up with Susan.”
“Uh, yeah, that was years ago, too. I think she’s over it.” I wasn’t too sure Susan was over it, but he didn’t need to know that.
“I never wanted her to get hurt. You see, I was hurting, too.”
“Honestly, the whole cousin thing has me wondering. I mean, you’re adopted, so was it really wrong?”
“I know that’s what you heard. That I broke up with Susan because of the cousin thing.”
Raising an eyebrow, I was all in now. “Spill it, then. Why’d you do it?”
He took a huge breath and held it until I thought he was going to pass out. Whatever it was, it was big. At least to him, it was.
Finally, he exhaled. “I never liked girls. I just thought it was expected of me to get married and carry on the family line. The whole time, I was just denying who I was.”
“You’re gay.” It wasn’t a question, it was a realization that meant, at last, Theo was making some sense to me.
He awkwardly shrugged and nodded at the same time and my heart went out to him.
“There’s more,” he mumbled. “I’ve always had a crush on Laurent.”
“Well, how does Laurent feel about it?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never said anything to him.”
“Well, either way, looks like you still have the cousin problem. But sheesh, Theo, so much pain could have been avoided if you’d just fessed up.”
“Do you really blame me for keeping it to myself?”
“I would never blame you for that but it sure makes a whole lot of sense. I can’t believe I never realized.”
He went on to tell me that my uncle Leo and aunt Wilda knew and they were the ones who encouraged him to break off his engagement to Susan. He said they were supportive and wanted him to be true to himself.
What a disastrous mess it would have been if he’d married my sister! Giving him a hug, I wished him well and thanked him for telling me. I’d not had a bad thought about Theo in ages. Now, I could truly wish him the best life could give him.
I needed another break. Some people smoke or drink or read a book. I just need to get out of the room for a moment to recharge.
This was not how I wanted to spend my five minutes respite, though.
“Holy hell!” I yelled when I saw her.
The teenage ghost girl floated inches above the floor, bobbing very slightly. Instead of being offended or upset, she giggled. Her laugh tinkled through the room like glass clinking in a toast.
“Who are you?” I ventured, my mouth drying and my heart thumping. Would I ever get used to this?
“Concentrate harder,” ghost girl giggled again as if I was being completely silly.
What did she mean concentrate harder, anyway? Trying to comply, I closed my eyes tightly and tried to clear my mind.
As my thoughts cleared, I began to feel a warm spot over my heart that began pulling me in a new direction. Gradually, I had a picture in my mind of a dark-haired girl with freckles and light blue eyes like Susan’s.
The girl was at the beach laughing at a red-haired boy and playing in the water. The boy splashed her back and tried to dunk her but they both ended up going under. As their heads bobbed above the water, I saw the boy’s face up close. He had green eyes like momma.
Slowly, I opened my eyes. The dark-haired girl was in full form now…
… although she was still floating above the floor.
“Are you Jilly? Granpa Leo’s twin sister who died in the car crash?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “I’ve waited so long for someone to see me! As soon as you came into the house, I knew it would be you or your handsome dark-haired man.”
‘OMG. I am talking to a ghost,’ I thought. ‘And its grandpa’s Jillybean!’
“You’re supposed to ask me why I’m here,” she chided.
“Oh right. So, uh, yeah… why are you here?”
She took a moment to laugh hysterically before saying, “I have a message for my brother and you’ve been volunteered to play delivery girl!”
“Okay.” It was the least I could do for my grandpa and it looked like I didn’t have a choice anyway. “What did you want to say?”
“I’m so glad you asked,” she said brightly, making me laugh a little. I could see why grandpa missed her so much. “Two things. One, please tell him once and for all the accident that killed me was not his fault. Two, tell him the ring is in his old comic book box in the top of his closet.”
Ring? That was interesting. But back to business. “You know, I think he realizes now the accident wasn’t his fault.”
“Tell him I said so anyway. I’ve been trying to get it through to him since the accident happened but he’s about as perceptive as a block of cheese.”
I laughed again. “Yes, I’ll tell him. Is that everything then?”
“No, I have something to say to you, too, Marty.”
Because she knew my name, I began to feel somewhat self-conscious. Had she been watching me? And if so, for how long.
“Focus, Marty, I’m fading!”
“I wanted to tell you that the paper in your purse doesn’t matter.”
“What do you mean?”
“The DNA test does not matter,” she said, emphasizing every syllable as if I was too slow for her.
“Um, but it kind of does,” I said.
“Not really. Look at the report if you must but I’m here to tell you that you already know who the father of your twins is. In your heart, you know.”
“That doesn’t make sense, though. I did the test in the first place because I don’t know.”
“Who has been there for you, helping you care for the babies? Who loves you and the children?”
“Xalen, of course. Beckett’s rotting in a prison cell.”
“You don’t need a piece of paper to tell you who the father is,” she repeated.
“It’s an interesting point, and I appreciate it, really I do. I still have to know what the paper says, though.”
“What paper, honey?” grandpa said as he came in the room. “You have a little boy who’s hungry.”
“Oh thank you,” I said. Turning back toward the window, I saw that Jilly was gone.
Craning his neck all around, he asked, “Uh, who were you talking to?”
At first, I was reluctant to tell him. In the end, though, if Jilly wanted him to know, I figured she wouldn’t leave me alone until I told him. And so I did.
At first, his face registered disbelief, then pain, then bewilderment. All of a sudden, he flung open the closet and pulled an old ratty shoe box down from the top shelf.
He took the lid off and began carefully removing old comic books until he gasped. “Oh, boy.”
With shaking hands, he took out a beautiful ring and before I could say anything or ask any questions, he slid it onto my finger.
“This ring was given to my mother by her mother-in-law Phyllis. She was going to give it to Jilly because she was supposed to be the heir that continued the journal. When Jilly died, she gave it to me to hand over to Blue at the appropriate time but I lost it. It’s been in this box the whole time.” With love in his shiny green eyes, he smiled at me. “Now it belongs to you.”
The sun was setting on a crazy day as I explained everything that had happened to Xalen.
I even told him I had the test results.
“Did you look at them?” he softly asked, his voice catching.
Nodding, I looked into his eyes and took his hands. “The DNA conclusively states you are the twins’ father.”
Pulling me into his arms, his lips met mine. I could feel his tears against my cheek and I think I was crying, too.
Author’s Note: I’m sorry this was so long. I needed to get a lot in! If you are struggling with an eating disorder please contact the National Eating Disorders helpline: 1-(800) 931-2237.