Chapter 6.10

Liam

I was miserable. It was like someone kept punching me in the gut and there wasn’t any way to stop them. I kept seeing Mala kissing that asshole over and over in my mind and then my eyes would water and…shit. I couldn’t take this. I needed to get some time to myself. Usually on Sundays, I’d spend it with my siblings, playing with them, watching a movie or going to the dog park with our little puppy, Dolly. But I didn’t feel like doing anything. So I slept in until noon, ate a little, played on my keyboard and now, I got on my trunks, wanting to lounge at our pool in the backyard. By myself.

“Hello, stranger,” Mom said, noticing I’d been hiding out in my room all day.

My siblings were playing quietly, but I got a pang like I should be helping. Dad still wasn’t home. Next flight, my ass.

“Going swimming?” she said in a weird, perky way. Mom sometimes over did things to compensate for what was going on wrong around her. If she felt like crap, she’d throw on an over the top, happy smile which did the opposite in making anyone feel better because we knew it was an act.

“I was thinking about hanging out back but if you need help, I can stick around. Does Brandy want to eat? I’ll whip something up for supper.” Mom hated to cook. Even mac and cheese.

She threw me a plastic, Barbie smile. “No, bud, I got this. I’m the mom. Remember? You go have fun. Stop worrying about me.”

But catching a few rays didn’t help the awful, heavy feeling in my chest. I tried to distract myself on simstagram, but then I scrolled to Mala’s to check up on her.

She didn’t post anything since I stood her up yesterday. That was something. And she didn’t wipe me from her pictures. I whipped through the whole two years of who we were as a couple. My eyes blurred. What the hell? Did she not see how perfect we were together? I’d do anything for her. Did anything for her. Would that douchebag, Oliver, run back to school to get the books she’d forgotten to bring home? No way. But I did. So many times, I was picking up the purses she’d left or her cell phone she’d abandoned on counters at a store, a restaurant, the mall. I’d make sure she got to her piano practice on time–even if we were hot and heavy in her room. I did it all. Just for her. And she didn’t care.

She hated my guts.

And now, she was probably at the lake with that sorry piece of shit…God! Why did I care so much?

I hated myself for not ditching my mom and taking Mala to the beach like I’d promised. If I had, everything would be normal. She’d probably be here right now nuzzling my neck while I held her smooth, awesome body in this pool.

God, I’m such a jerk.

“Aww…looky at our mascot,” I heard one of my friends, Drew Hoff, say above me. “So serious. This is not allowed. Not on a gorgeous clear day.”

I squinted and saw him, Kaden Vargas, and Kai Kaluah, looking at me. And they were dressed in their swim suits. How’d they get the message I was brooding in my backyard?

“You know, your face will stay that way if you’re not careful,” Kaden said, his sunglasses glinting at me.

“I think he needs a dip in the pool,” Kai challenged. “That float is mine.”

This perked me up. Nothing like my best friends to clear my head. “Come on, dude. What are you waiting for? I bet your ass is in the water before mine.”

“Seriously?” Kai laughed. “You’re on shaky ground, my friend.”

He kicked my float, shoving me backwards. “Oh noooo!” I yelled.

I splashed into the water. My friends jumped in with me.

“Take that, losers!” I hollered, splashing them as hard as I could. Drew got the brunt of my onslaught.

“Dude! Chill! I’m not the one who launched your ass in the water.” Drew held up his hand, but I kept pummeling him with sheets of water.

“Boys. They’re sooooo predictable,” a girl’s voice rang out above me.

I stopped splashing immediately and looked up to see six gorgeous girls all dressed in slinky swim suits. Had I died and gone to heaven?

Three of them were my friends’ girlfriends–the ones standing. Carlee Langosta was Kaden’s. Justine Hawk was with Drew, and Ally Michaels and Kai had just made it official last week. The other three (who were stooped by the edge of the pool) were their friends: Rosalin Owen, Ginny Malcom, and Destiny Hoff (Drew’s sister).

“Why didn’t my boyfriend tell me he was having fun at a party?” Drew’s girl, Justine complained. “I had to hear it from Ally. Her boyfriend was kind enough for the invite.”

Ally put her hand on her cheek in a coy way. “I’ve got the best one of the bunch, girls. I’m sure you’re sooooo jelly.”

“You’re right, Justine, Drew is an awful boyfriend,” Drew’s sister, Destiny, moaned, making a face. “Why don’t you dump him?”

Ignoring the sibling rivalry comment, I asked, “Party? What’s going on?”

Drew snorted. “Surprise! It was your mom’s idea.”

“Now stop wallowing, Liam, and start having fun. Okay?” Ginny shot me a look. It was like I saw her for the first time. Big blue eyes or were they green? Long, shiny auburn hair. Cute as hell freckles. Rocking body. Had she always been this pretty or had I been in a cave this whole time and didn’t notice?

I arched an eyebrow at her. “Oh…you haven’t seen wallowing yet. I’m the owner of the wootube channel, Heartbroken Anonymous. You should check it out.”

She giggled, showing that trademark gap in her front teeth. I’d seen her smile in math class like a gazillion times, but why did it look so cute right now?

“Listen,” Kai waved his hand up at Drew’s girl, Justine. “I don’t want to be the reason for another break up. Drew was going to tell you.”

“Honest, babe,” Drew said. “Come here and let me make it up to you.”

“There’s only one way you can do that,” Justine said. “Come here and rub my feet.”

“After you play a round of chicken,” Drew countered.

I laughed. They’d been a couple for over a year and it showed. Although Justine liked to think she was in charge, Drew always got his way.

So, I found myself with Ginny Malcom’s legs surrounding me as I flung her at Justine.

“That’s it, Liam!” Kai cheered. “Way to make the most of Ginny’s arms!”

“Time to give up, Hoff. Ginny’s a fighter.” I didn’t know it, but she actually was!

She clasped onto Justine’s hands like a boa constrictor. “Help me out a little here, Liam!”

“On it!” I swatted at Drew’s head as I charged forward.

“Not fair, dude!” Drew yelled, struggling with the weight of Justine on his shoulders. Dude was way stouter than I was but I had a tiger on my team. “Just stay back!”

“Might as well give up, Justine. You’re about to go down!” Ginny pushed Drew’s girl hard.

“Oh my GOOOOD!” Justine howled. I watched gleefully as they plunged backward into the water.

“Way to go partner!” I slapped Ginny’s hand.

“Woop! All right, Team Giam!” Kai hollered.

“Ooooh, sounds like a ship name to me,” Ally cried. “I’ll board.”

My stomach plunged at the thought. I was still smarting from Mala. No way in hell was I going to get into another relationship no matter how hot Ginny was.

Just then I realized Ginny’s arms were wrapped around me. “Good job pushing Justine,” I said as my cheeks burned. “Didn’t know you were such a bruiser. Remind me never to make you mad.”

“You weren’t so bad yourself. Hitting Drew on the head was a stellar move.” Her lips were so close, it made me uncomfortable. I pulled her arm away.

“Hey! What was that for?” she cried, splashing me with water.

“I don’t bite!”

“That’s what happens when you cheat!” Drew called out to us.

“They didn’t cheat, babe. Liam’s just stronger than you.”

She looked up at me with a sexy gaze. Holy shit. What was she doing to me right now? I totally didn’t need to get tangled up with another girl. My heart was already mincemeat. A bleeding, bloody mess.

But damn. I didn’t know if it was the sparkle in her gorgeous green eyes or the pink in her lips but I couldn’t stop looking at her. And there was a moment like the world had stopped and it was just me and Ginny.

Ginny Malcom.

A girl I’d never even glanced at in math. She was always the gangly, studious teacher’s pet I knew growing up. Not this sex goddess making my head feel like it was stuffed with pillows.

And then my world shattered with the voice of an asshole.

“Uh…YO! Liam?”

I turned around to see the Murdick boys staring at me.

Dusty crossed his arms. “The party has just arrived. Where’s the food?”

Shit.

Mala came, too. And she was wearing the bathing suit I’d picked out with her at the mall only two weeks ago.

“Can we talk, Lee Lee?”

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Chapter 6.9

Liam

As soon as we got home, I booked it to Mala’s. Sure she was mad at me but I’d bet all the money I saved for my jeep that she’d cooled down by now.

I scrolled through how I was going to approach her. Wished I’d brought flowers but maybe that was a bit cliche. Begging. Dropping down on my knees. Pleading. Those were the things Mala liked. Yeah. Done that more than once but she was worth it.

I peeked through the door and saw no sign of her. Maybe she was in her bedroom.

Her brother, Uriah, came to the door followed by Dusty. Still hated their guts but they’d been decent to me lately. They left me mostly alone.

Surprise, surprise, Uriah stuck his hand out. “If it’s not the kid of the next Sarvel superstar. Let me shake your hand.”

Was there some snark behind that compliment? Uriah always gave me shit. “Cut the comedy, Uriah. Is Mala home?”

“No, I’m serious, dude. That’s like totally mind blowing your dad got a sweet gig like that.”

“So true,” Dusty said. This was the first time the guy did something other than smirk at me when I came over. “And to think we might become relatives if you and Mala get hitched.”

Hitched? I’d have to crawl out of the doghouse first. “Speaking of Mala, where is she?” I asked.

Uriah shrugged. “Dunno. Guess she’s in her room. Dusty and I just got home from working out. We haven’t seen her. But hey, come over any time, dude. Let’s hang out, okay?”

I did a double take. Uriah Murdick was asking ME, the biggest geeky loser, to hang out? (I think those were the terms he used for me the last time I’d visited.) He must have had a fever. Or caught the Flamer sickness. My Dad’s fame was already getting annoying and he hadn’t even accepted the job yet.

Uriah patted my back then took off for the kitchen. They guy could eat the contents of the whole refrigerator and then complain he was still hungry.

The door was open, so I peered in and…

I was blasted with the scene of my FUCKING girlfriend making out with Oliver Treadstone–a super popular dude from our high school.

“What the FUCKING HELL IS THIS?” I shouted.

They pulled apart like the guilty assholes they were.

“Oh, God, Liam. Why didn’t you knock? You know that’s rude.”

“How could you?” was all that came out of my mouth. My body was literally shaking and I felt like puking.

She looked away. “Y-You…made your choice. So…I’ve made mine.”

“Yeah, so get out of here, loser.”

“You couldn’t wait a few hours so we could talk?” I shook my head. Oliver was right. I was the most worthless loser on the planet. She just treated me like a piece of garbage.

Things didn’t get better when I got home. I wanted to scream, cry, punch things, tear my hair out, but instead, I got another face full of someone cheating. I was so sick of this shit! Didn’t anyone have any integrity anymore? I mean, come on!

Well, maybe cheating was a harsh word for what Mom was doing with Mr. Clavane. They were just talking and watching a movie.

But Mom hadn’t looked this happy in months.

I wanted to kick the guy’s ass right there but it wasn’t my place.

I could read his sneaky, wormy mind though. Since Dad was gone (and HE was in the doghouse like I was with Mala), this idiot thought he could sweep Mom off her feet.

But not on my watch. I had to do something about it. I certainly didn’t want my parents to split. And having Mom cheat? No fucking way.

I got up to my room, trying to figure out what to do. I mean, I didn’t think Mom would cheat but if things kept going like this, who knew what might happen? Mom was lonely and she was so miserable about what Dad was doing maybe half the world wouldn’t blame her.

There was only one thing I could do. Call Dad.

“Hey, Bud! How’s it going? This is a great surprise,” Dad’s cheery voice rang in my ear. “What’s up?”

“Nothing good. Do you know who’s sitting in the living room with Mom, watching a movie?”

“Hmm…her dad made a surprise visit?”

“Does Cory FUCKING Clevane ring a bell to you?”

I didn’t hear anything and then he said, weakly, “Her ex-boyfriend?”

“Yeah, so if you don’t want a trip to divorce court, I expect you to get your ass home. Pronto.”

“I know your mother. She’s just good friends with him. Always has been. You’re worrying over nothing, son.”

“Oh yeah? Want to bet? Because it wasn’t your shoulder she was crying on last night. She’s miserable, Dad. You should have seen her. And if you pulled your head out of your ass now and then and paid attention to your family, you’d know this. So, I’m giving you a warning and if you don’t want to listen then you’re a bigger asshole than the one who’s occupying your space on the couch next to Mom.”

I heard a scratchy sound like a moan. “She’s that upset, huh? No wonder she wouldn’t pick up when I called today.”

“Yeah. She’s hot. Like smoldering mad. I’d wear a teflon suit when you do come home. And a shield might help as well.”

“I hear you loud and clear, son. I’ll catch the next flight out.”

When I got off the phone, my misery overwhelmed me. My girlfriend cheated on me. My mom’s making goo goo eyes at her old high school boyfriend. And I had to threaten my dad to come home or lose his wife.

My life sucked.

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Chapter 6.8

Lexie

I felt like I’d magically teleported back thirty years. I couldn’t believe I was standing next to my high school boyfriend of ages ago.

“Lexie! Wow. What are you doing here?” Cory said. Why did he have those cute freckles still? Didn’t those go away with wrinkles and old age? And why the HELL did he look so damn hot?

But then my mind caught up to me and yelled. Hard. “Lexie,” it said. “You’re MARRIED! And to one of the hunkiest men alive, I might add. Sure, he’s never around anymore but that doesn’t matter. GORL! Wake up!”

Fumbling over my words as my heart beat out of my chest, I said, “J-Just taking the kiddos out for a fun, fantabulous Saturday morning at Freezer Bunny Park. You know what Freezer Bunny says. If you’re not hoppin’, you’re boppin’.” Oh God. I sounded like one of those goofy Simsney cartoon commercials.

“Hey, me, too! I’m here with…”

EEPS! So, Cory had kids? Well, of course. He probably had a whole football stadium full of them. And I bet he was the greatest father in the world, too, and his kids made him trophies that said, “BEST DAD” out of toothpicks or popsicle sticks. I noticed a little girl who was about three that was with him. Super cute. And a teen. I blurted, “You…uh…want to meet mine? They’re right over there. All three of them. I’m kinda proud, if I do say so myself, they’re the best kids on the planet. W-Well, next to yours, of course, since you probably think that anyway.” My mouth was like someone had detached it and it was going a mile a minute on its own.

“Sure. I’d love to meet them.” He was such a sweet person, exactly how I’d remembered. And he was wearing cute “Dad” shorts and a vest. Omg!!! WHY WAS I LOOKING AT HIM LIKE THAT? I had to get myself under control.

“Uncle Cory, who’s that?” A girl came up from behind him.

“Lexie, this is my niece, Aleyna,” Cory said. “Aleyna, this is Lexie Day. We used to go to high school together.”

And…he left out the part where we dated. Nope. We didn’t need to go there. Very smart thing since I’m a happily married woman. Um…well married anyway.

YIPES! Why did he have to have that cute blonde stubble on his cute chin? I so needed some sunglasses that blocked out EVERYTHING. You have a hubby, I chanted. And then a devil on my shoulder whispered, who doesn’t care about you. But I screamed in my head, You have a hubby, damn it!

“Nice to meet you, Aleyna,” I said. And then the devil on my shoulder asked him, “So…this isn’t your kid?”

His niece laughed. “Uncle Cory isn’t married and he doesn’t have children. But he likes to say we’re his kids. Right, Uncle Cory?”

Cory smiled. “That’s right.”

*******

Liam

“Who’s that, Lee Lee?” Brandy pointed at Mom talking to some strange dude.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe he’s the tickle monster.” Then I pressed my fingers into her tummy, making her giggle.

Mom walked up to us with a strange grin on her face. “Kids, I want you to meet someone.” I recognized Aleyna Cummings from school, but the old guy next to her I didn’t know. Maybe he was her father?

I nodded. “Hey, Aleyna. Long time no see…what…it’s been a day?” I had Aleyna in my computer class. I didn’t know her very well since we hung out in different crowds, but we’d been in school together for like forever.

“Hi, Liam. This is my uncle, Cory. Uncle Cory, this is Liam. He…He’s in one of my classes.”

The guy’s face and neck turned red which was weird. “Nice to meet you, Liam. You sure look a lot like your father.”

Ah…must have been a Flamer back in the day.

I did a head bob then said, “Yeah, I get that a lot, especially since Dad now does the acting thing.”

“Oh, Cory,” Mom squealed. “Do you see that bench over there? It looks exactly like one of those skateboards you used to have. Come look!”

Mom practically pounced on the poor guy and rushed him away.

Aleyna shot me a quick smile. “So…your mom and my uncle knew each other in high school it seems.”

“Really? That’s cool.”

And then silence erupted around us. I swallowed awkwardly and said, “SO…um…is that your little sister?”

Lexie

In the next fifteen minutes Cory and I didn’t shut up, filling each other in on the past eighteen years. I told him all about my kids and sidestepped my problems with James.

He actually lived in San Myshuno and was taking a vacation here in Brindleton Bay, staying at his sister’s house for the summer. His band, Surf’s Up, broke apart shortly after they’d made that first tour when The Heartthrobs split. They had a one hit wonder, but pressures of traveling (and their songs not doing that well) forced them to seek other options. He helped produce for a while and now, he just filled in as a background singer and an instrumentalist for many bands the record company he works for produces. He also painted instruments for side money.

“That’s so cool! I never thought you’d be an artist!” I gushed.

“You got me started. Art club?” Our eyes locked for a moment too long which made me a little uncomfortable. So, I started blabbing.

“WELL…remember when we were at the skateboard park and Wyatt Roth used the ground as his own personal kleenex? I thought he’d broken his nose!”

Cory laughed. “Yeah…poor guy. He wasn’t very coordinated.”

Thinking about how big Wyatt’s nose grew made tears come out of my eyes, I was laughing so hard. “Oh, God! And I thought you were going to bite it, too. I got so worried watching you sail over those skate pipes. Geeze.”

He had to wipe his eyes as well. “Yeah, I wasn’t going to tell you I faceplanted a time or two. You would have burned my skateboard.”

“Hee hee! You know it!”

“Those were the days, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said, loving the feeling of laughing so hard my stomach hurt. Hadn’t done that in a while.

After we’d settled down, the breeze picked up, swirling around us. Cory asked, “So, Lex…are you…happy?”

And that one question was like someone hitting me in the face. My eyes watered but not from laughter. I sniffed. “Yeah…sure…um…I’m happy.”

But Cory didn’t believe me. Although all those years had passed, I was still the same person–an incredibly AWFUL liar. He stared at me for a while, probably processing on how he was going to react. I prayed he wouldn’t say anything. Let me go in peace and leave my troubles to myself.

He sighed then dropped his head in his hand. “I have a confession to make. I came to Brindleton Bay on purpose. I was hoping to see you.”

My eyes narrowed. “To see me? Why?”

“I…read a magazine with James on the cover. Someone dropped it off. A coworker of mine. He was making fun of me for dating you back in the day. I got so mad, I hit the guy.” He shook his head. “You know I’m not like that but…anyway. I got fired because he was the producer’s son.”

I covered my mouth. “God, Cory…I’m sorry.”

He shrugged. “I’ll be okay…I actually have another company who’s asking for me to work for them, but I needed some time off. I couldn’t help myself. I kept thinking about you, wondering if you’re okay. According to the magazine, it’d said you and James were having trouble, but you know how those things are. I just had to see for myself. Are you okay? Is James treating you well? I know it’s none of my damn business and if you want to, you can tell me to go to hell but…”

He sighed. “You don’t know how many times I stopped myself from going to your door, though. So, I didn’t. And I wasn’t going to see you. But…well…here we are.”

I wanted to tell him that things were bad, but I couldn’t. I was married. I’d said my vows. Words of love. To one man. To James. And I knew I wasn’t ready to give up on us. But…then something Cory said just registered with me. “What magazine are you talking about?”

“It was in Simstar. You haven’t seen it?”

I noticed a magazine peeking out of the diaper bag he was carrying. I pointed. “Is that it?”

He nodded slowly. Swiping it out of the bag, I seethed.

Unbefreakingbelievable! It was happening all over again. James and me on the covers of magazines. And just like back then, I was the butt of jokes.

“How the hell did they know I wasn’t on board with him being Robotron?” I hissed. “I’d just found out about it last night.” They must have made the whole thing up or James let it out that he thought I wouldn’t like it. Who knew? But the more I’d read, the more it was obvious the paparazzi was here, spying on me. They got shots through my windows. I was going to have to beef up security. And probably was going to have to hire body guards again. What was he thinking with this?

“He’s going to be Robotron over my dead body!” I proclaimed like throwing a gauntlet. Too bad my husband wasn’t here.

But when James did get home, he was going to suffer under the wrath of Lexie.

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Chapter 6.7

Lexie

I felt like the worst mother on the planet. How could I have just left Brandy alone like that last night? But I was in total panic–like my marriage was crumbling right in front of me when James told me his news. I mean, he knew how I felt about his acting career. He fucking KNEW I hated everything celebrity stood for and yet he didn’t care. But I shouldn’t have let him get to me like that enough to ignore my children. Inexcusable. And like holy HELL it wasn’t going to happen again. I’d make sure of it despite what my husband did.

I sat Brandy down by her playhouse and walked over to my sons.

Crap. They were in a fight to the finish, racing cars on some video game. “Hey…Liam? Can I speak with you a sec? It’ll only be a minute.”

“Sure, Mom,” Zack answered instead. “He’s getting his ass kicked.”

“Language, Zack,” I said. Being “the Mom”, I couldn’t let cussing slide, although no one in this house listened, including me. I just hoped Brandy wasn’t going to get voted in her preschool as the one most likely to become a sailor by kindergarten. Talk about embarrassing.

I waited for a few minutes and watched Zack blast Liam’s car with a ton of turtle bombs. “Liam, Zack’s right. You’re getting your ass kicked. Now come on.”

“In a minute, Mom,” Liam said, mashing on the controller. “I’ve got one trick up my sleeve.” He hammered random buttons, and I wondered if he actually knew what he was doing. His younger brother was creaming him at the moment. Liam never was one for video games. That was Zack’s thing. When he was that age, you’d find Liam in a tree reading Henry Puffer for the thousanth time or playing with his wizard set in the backyard.

With a smirk, Zack’s fingers fluidly glided over the controller. “And that’s how it’s done.”

Zack’s car shot out a super blast, making Liam’s go out of control and off the side into an abyss. “SHIT!” Liam moaned.

Zack let out a scary laugh like an evil villain. “Muahahahaaaa!”

Liam

After my ass got wiped up and down the video track, I didn’t have an excuse to side step my mom. Honestly, I knew what she was going to say. And it was going to be awkward af.

She was going to talk about her meltdown last night. Apologize like she’d done in the past. And maybe give me some money. Money was cool. Lame talks were not.

She side-eyed me as I stepped toward her. Geeze. I really hoped she wasn’t going to give me the “divorce speech”. Wasn’t that supposed to be done when Dad was home so both parents could tell you how sorry they were?

I sunk into the cushion next to her, tempted to check my phone so I didn’t have to deal. Distraction was key when trying to avoid what came next in your life.

“So…it’s a nice day, huh, Liam?” Mom started. God. This WAS going to be the divorce speech.

“Okay, Mom, cut the bullshit. I know what you’re going to say. You and Dad are finished and we’re all going to divorce court. You want me to tell the judge what a crappy father he’s been while not mentioning the fact that you sometimes neglect all of us. Is that it?”

She looked at me like I’d just tatooed an alien on my face. “Uh…Liam. Your father and I aren’t getting a divorce. I just wanted to know if you’d like to come with me to Freezer Bunny Park. It just opened last week. You know that’s Brandy’s favorite show and I thought…you’d like to go to?”

“I can’t, Mom. I’m taking Mala to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch then we’re going to hang out with the gang at the beach.”

“Bring her along! I’ll pay for a Freezer Bunny plushie, too. Mala likes those. Right?” Mom had that hopeful look in her eye and with what she’d been through with Dad lately, how could I say no?

Lifting the side of my mouth, I yelled, “Let’s hop on over!” I cleverly quoted the stupid line Freezer Bunny always said in that preschool show. Weird thing. Most teens my age watched it too. I didn’t get it. My IQ dropped by 100 points whenever I saw it.

*****

In my bedroom, I grabbed my phone to call Mala, noticing her Simstagram notification. She tagged me in her latest selfie post: GOING TO THE BEACH WITH MY BAE. AREN’T I LOOKING SUPER CUTE??? #boyfrienddreams #beachboyfriend #arentyoujealous

God. Her heart was set on the beach. And I did promise. But this was for family. Hopefully, she’d understand.

I pressed her number and flicked the phone to my ear, tapping my foot nervously.

“Hey, sweet baby,” Mala cooed on the line, “what time are you picking me up? My butterflies have butterflies. I’m totally going to rock your world today.”

I swallowed. Hearing that was…too much. I wanted to tell my mom no and my girlfriend, hell YEAH! But…responsibilities. Adulting sucked.

“Hey…there’s a change in plans. How would you like to go to the best, newest, most spectacularly awesome park in Brindleton Bay? It’s on anyone who’s anyone’s bucket list. Not gonna lie, this IS your lucky day.”

She almost growled into the phone, “Tell me you’re joking.”

“Listen, my mom’s been having a hard time lately and so…she kind of needs me to be with her. Brandy can be a handful and Zack will be running off playing at the arcade there, so…”

“So, you promised to go with her? Liam August Sanderson-Day, you promised ME first. Or did you forget what you said to me yesterday? Was it all a lie?”

I pulled the phone away from my ear, she was yelling so loudly. “Um…no…? But I just can’t…”

“Yes you CAN, Liam,” she spat. “God! You let your mother manipulate you. When are you going to grow a pair and stand up to her! She’s a grown woman in her forties for God’s sake! She can handle a four year old at a fucking park!”

“I know…but…”

“Okay. Fine.” She cut me off. “You’ve done this to me for the last time, but I’ll let you make your choice. It’s either me or them. Got it, Liam? And if you’re not here by noon, we’re over!”

I winced when the phone went silent. What the hell was I going to do? Mom was in such a state last night, she needed me. And maybe I could talk her though her problems with Dad.

And the more I thought about Mala’s ultimatum, the angrier I got. Who was she to order me around? I mean, yeah, I’d bailed on her more than once lately, but I had good reasons. She was just being stubborn. And that was a weak threat anyway. She wouldn’t really break up with me. Would she?

Lexie

Liam had been quiet ever since he got in the car. He looked like someone had taken his whole collection of Henry Puffer gold edition books. “What’s the matter, bud?” I asked. “Are you okay? You didn’t have a fight with Mala did you? Is that why she couldn’t come with us?”

He looked away and shook his head. “No. We’re good. Don’t worry.”

But I did worry. I worried a lot. He was hiding something from me.

The park was so stinkin’ cute, I couldn’t stand it! And Brandy squealed all the way through it. It was freaking hard for me to keep up with her. I was so glad to have Liam here, although if it’d made trouble with Mala, I would have liked to know. He didn’t have to come. I’d just wanted to be with all my kids. Together.

Mala toddled straight to the make believe simulator. Liam turned on the pirate sim.

“You man the ship, Captain Brandy,” Liam said, in pirate speak, arching an eyebrow. “I’ll defend against ruffians!”

“You couldn’t defend against the pirate’s parrot,” Zack chided. I would have gotten onto him for that, but I loved their brotherly banter–something I never had growing up. My siblings were much too young. I was always the elder sister–almost like a parent.

Ignoring Zack as he walked toward the arcades, Liam laughed maniacally. “Ahoy! I think I sees them landlubbers! Captain Brandy! What should we do?”

“Walk the plank!” she cheered.

Those were the magic words. The sim placed cartoon images on Liam as he pretended to “fight off” landlubbers. So cute. I loved my kids so much. A niggle nagged at me, though, thinking James should be here to complete the scene…but…I wasn’t going to ruin this day with those thoughts.

“Arrrgh!” Liam yelled. “And don’t come back, ye shark bait!”

Brandy squealed and clapped. The sim’s engines whirred and Liam turned it off. “Let’s go slide. Okay, baby girl?”

She nodded and raised her arms to be picked up. God, Liam was so good with her. He was going to make a spectacular dad.

As he helped her climb the ladder, my mind strayed back to my husband. Look at what he was missing. Was his career that important? We had enough money to live on if both of us quit our jobs. I just didn’t understand. And living in Del Sol Valley was definitely not the same. I didn’t want my kids around all those celebrity snobs.

Ugh. My eyes started to tear up again. I felt trapped. Like I couldn’t get out of this hole James had created.

“Mommy! I’m coming!” Brandy broke me out of my thoughts.

“I’ll catch you, baby!” I said.

“Wee!”

“Got you!” I said, looking into her sweet face. If someone could die of cuteness overload, I’d be six feet under by now.

“Hey, Mom,” Liam called. “Let’s go to the other side of the park. I saw some cotton candy.”

“Want some cotton candy?” I asked Brandy.

She nodded and clapped.

On the way, I made them pose for some pics.

I’m sorry, but I had the most beautiful kids. But I guess Moms always think that.

“Mom,” Liam said, nodding. “The cotton candy is over there behind you.”

I turned around, looking for it.

And then my limbs felt like noodles and my mouth turned to cotton.

“Cory?” I whispered.

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Chapter 6.6

I walked in almost an hour late, cringing because I thought Mom would be at the door, fuming. Instead, I found my siblings playing in the middle of the living room. Alone.

What was Mom thinking? Yeah, sure, Zack was almost ten but if Brandy had found a random knife laying around and put it in a light socket, he wouldn’t even look up. The kid was that clueless.

“Hey, Zack. Where’s Mom,” I asked as I walked up to them.

“Upstairs,” he said. Still…he was a great big bro. I knew he’d rather be playing with his Voidcritter station than dolls.

“Up! Up!” Brandy cried, waving her arms.

Her face was so cute, I couldn’t say no to her.

Then she leaped into my arms and squeezed. “I love you, Lee Lee.”

When Mala called me that way back when, it was annoying, but with Brandy, it melted my heart. “I love you, too, baby girl.”

Standing, I couldn’t believe that Mom tried to get out of dealing with my siblings today. She’d never been this bad before. I remembered when I was a kid, she was always there, taking care of everything. But ever since Brandy was born, things had changed. I just didn’t get it. Sure, Brandy was a pain in the ass at times, but she was also adorable. And Zack was really smart. Some of the things that came out of his mouth would sometimes blow me away. I knew I never thought about thermodynamics when I was nine. But his brain was wired for science. Always thinking.

Instead of searching for her (because I knew Mom would be at her computer as always), I decided to start dinner. Grilled cheese again. God, I needed to start following recipes. I was like totally bored with the menu of a toddler.

As I carried Brandy into the kitchen, anger flickered. I was going to have it out with Mom. Someone needed to give her a kick in the ass. If Dad wasn’t here to call her out, I would. She shouldn’t neglect her kids.

I plopped Brandy in her chair and made my way to my own grilled cheese feast.

But then my mind spun. I mean, yeah, Mom chunked my siblings on me during the week, but she did spend time with them on the weekends. And it was unlike her just to ghost on us especially when I’d been late. “Hey, squirt. Did Mom say why she went upstairs?”

He shrugged. “She just got a phone call then ran upstairs. Haven’t seen her since.”

“So…she didn’t ask you to watch Brandy?”

Zack shook his head. “Nope. I saw her run up the stairs and so I figured I’d keep an eye on Brandy. You think something’s wrong?”

“No,” I lied. “I’ll go check on her later. Why don’t you eat that work of art I just made you? It took me tons of time slaving over that hot stove.”

“Yeah right.”

I wanted to bolt around the house to ask Mom what was up but Brandy needed to be put to bed.

I read her some bedtime stories. Her favorite–Simmy Tales. 

Then kissed her goodnight. I hoped she didn’t pull her stall tricks tonight. She usually asked for water fifteen times before she settled down.

But I got lucky and didn’t hear a peep out of her when I shut off the light.

I searched for Mom in her office but she wasn’t there. Then I went to the media room, the garden room, and even her bedroom. Nothing.

She usually never went into the game room anymore. It was kind of Dad’s hideout with his keyboard and his old posters of his Heartthrob days. Whenever we watched movies as a fam, we’d do it in the media room or hang out downstairs.

But I found her there. In the game room.

My heart jolted.

She was crying.

She didn’t notice me. I stood there bewildered, not knowing what to say. Did someone die? Something happen to Dad? What?

“Mom?” I squeaked out. “Are you okay?”

Wiping her tears, she just nodded and said, “Yeah, sure. I’m okay, Liam.”

I crossed my arms. “Did you know you left Brandy all alone? Don’t give me that bullshit, Mom. What happened?”

Tears trickled down her cheek. “Oh God! I’m sorry!” She sniffed, staring down at the floor. “Is she okay?”

“Yes, Mom. Zack watched her, thank God. I’ve fed her and put her to bed.”

“Thank you, Liam. I…um…I’m just…God. I’m the worst.” She wouldn’t look up at me. Just sat there, twiddling her fingers.

After a minute of her doing nothing–not owning up to what was going on, I walked over to the couch and she moved, making room for me. “What the hell, Mom? Tell me what’s the matter.”

And then I heard Dad’s voice. It was coming from the TV. He was nuzzling his costar. It was an old rerun. I had no clue why the hell it was playing. It was some kind of law that Mom never watched his shows. Especially ones where he was making out with the lead.

“Dad called,” she said. “He’s not coming home. Not for a while.”

My throat tightened. “Are you…?” I couldn’t even process it. Yeah, I’d thought they might split about a thousand times in my life, but I never thought they’d actually do it.

When she didn’t say anything, I forced myself to say it. “Mom, please tell me. Are you and Dad getting a divorce?”

Setting her jaw, she said, “He told me he’s trying out for the part of Robotron.”

I blinked. “Robotron? The kick ass robot slash dude from the Vindicators?” My heart sped up. This was a time for celebration if he got that part. Robotron was the coolest of all the Sarvel superheroes. And Mom LOVED that world. “That’s great news! Why are you acting like someone died?”

She shook her head, pulling into herself. “You don’t understand what it means. I’ve been trying my hardest to break out of that prison cell and now he wants to thrust us back into it. NO! I won’t do that again.” Her shoulders shook as she sobbed.

I rubbed her arm, not understanding what she was saying. “What prison?”

“Fame. It’s a prison. I won’t go back, Liam. I won’t.”

I’d heard from them about the glory days of Dad being a Heartthrob and Mom being some Velvet’s Secret super model. And yeah, some people were still fans now–especially for Dad since he had a show on Simflix, but they weren’t super famous. They were back in the day though–they splashed every cover of every magazine. Paparazzi stalked them. Guess it was a nightmare. I’d never experienced that since we lived in the country away from the limelight, and Dad toned down all his stuff. But it was obvious he couldn’t stay away for long.

Holding Mom, I said, “Maybe he won’t get the part.”

“He will,” she breathed into my chest. “He always gets what he wants.”

Holding her, I didn’t have the words to comfort her. I just rocked, wanting to make her feel better even though I couldn’t.

“I just wish…” she said then trickled off.

“You wish what?”

She sniffed then went on, “I just wish he wanted us.”

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Chapter 6.5

Liam

When little Brandy hit the scene, I was so stoked. She was a living, breathing doll.

And I thought I was the big shit since Mom wanted me to watch her a lot.

Well, maybe more than a lot.

After Brandy was born, Mom’s smiles diminished and she slept a little.

What was I saying? No. She slept like most of the time.

But I didn’t mind. Being a big bro to a sweet sis like her wasn’t too much to handle.

Dad said it was because Mom got postpartum depression which meant she’d lock herself in her room most days or scream at the drop of a hat. Dad would take care of all of us (when he wasn’t working.)

Then, little by little, she crawled out of her cocoon.

I had been worried about my parents since it seemed like almost all my friends’ parents were either not together anymore or were getting a divorce. But I shouldn’t have been concerned. They seriously acted embarrassing in front of my eleven year old self–always kissing and gazing at each other. I kind of hated it but liked it all at the same time.

But then one weekend, they got into the biggest fight. Usually, when they argued, if I was in the room, they’d stop and retreat to their bedroom. But not this time. They didn’t even notice I was there.

Dad said we needed to move to Del Sol Valley where he wanted to start his acting career. Seemed a series on Simflix thought he’d be a hit as a hot, older detective.

Mom said she didn’t marry an actor. And by the way? No FUCKING way.

I’d never witnessed either one of them so angry at each other before. I could see it from both of their perspectives. Dad needed to work. And he wasn’t happy doing the WooTube stuff anymore. Hell, he wasn’t even himself–he had to act like a woman. I didn’t blame him.

But on the other hand, Mom didn’t want us to move to a big city. Brindleton Bay was better for raising a family. I personally didn’t want to leave my friends. Sure I hated the triplets (at the time,) but they didn’t bother me that much. And I had too much to lose to want to move anywhere else. Plus I didn’t figure relocating with a new baby was wise either.

They were at a stand still for quite a while. But then Dad gave in.

Sort of.

He was still going to be an actor, but he’d commute from Del Sol Valley. Series work was done in seasons, so he’d leave for a few months when he would shoot the episodes, then come home for a few months.

Fast forward four years, Mom got a job with a 3 D animation company, and Dad’s series took off, so guess who was left to babysit my siblings?

You guessed it. Yours truly.

It was so weird sometimes. I was more like a dad to them than a brother. And Brandy loved me way more than Dad when he’d come home. She was totally attached. Which got a little annoying at times, not gonna lie.

But I had the time so I didn’t mind. Too much.

Until today.

My girlfriend, Mala Murdock, swept me up into her beautiful brown eyes at the end of school. Yeah, I couldn’t stand her when she was that annoying barnacle always calling me Lee Lee and shit like that. But my mind got blown when I looked up one day and noticed she was a real live goddess, ten out of ten. Damn. So yeah. I warmed up to her real fast.

“So, babe,” she said, pooching her soft wet lips. “Carlee and Kaden want us to go to the Freezer Bunny with them after school. Make me the happiest girlfriend and say yes!”

God. Why did she have to wear that shirt with the plunging neckline? It should be outlawed.

“Look, I’m sorry, babe. You know I’ve got to babysit after school. I’ll make it up to you this weekend. I promise.”

She grimaced. “When are your parents going to get a nanny? They’re rich enough. It’s not fair to you.”

I caressed her back, hoping to soothe her wrath. She was a goddess in more ways than just her looks–when she got mad, it was like hell on earth. Trust me. “Hey…we’ve talked about this, right? I agreed to watch them and they’re paying me double. I’m going to be able to buy the car I want and then you and I can take off to the beach whenever and not have to rely on your parents.” My folks didn’t believe in spoiling me, so I had to pay for my own car, clothes, everything. And in order to do that, I needed cash. It was a good deal for me and them.

Her eyes pinched to slits. “It’s not like your mother CAN’T watch her children, Liam. She works from home. And it’d be only for an hour. What harm would it be? Tell her you’re doing a make up test or something.”

I sighed, contemplating. She was right. Mom could watch them for a little bit. The daycare service brought them home and she did take breaks until I got there. Sometimes it felt like she was married to her job or something. She was their mother. It wouldn’t kill her to watch them for an hour.

Stroking Mala’s silky hair, I relented. “Oh…okay, I guess. But only for an hour.”

“Really?” she asked like I’d just promised to take her to her favorite rock concert.

“Yeah,” I said, laughing.

Then she laid a huge kiss on me that made me not regret a thing.

“I’m gonna get the new unicorn sprinkle cone,” Kaden said as we approached the ice cream shop.

Freezer Bunny was a hit show on Simslodeon and now they had ice cream stores across the country. Pretty good ice cream. I was surprised.

“What are you going to get, pretty girl?” I asked, lifting her hand like I was going to twirl her.

“I don’t know. They have so many choices!”

As we walked up to the counter, I could already smell the sugar from here. My mouth watered.

It was a beautiful day in Brindleton Bay. Made me want to just lay out and soak up the sun. I squeezed my girl’s hand. I was having a blast already. I never wanted to go home.

Mala studied the menu like it was a final exam. She was right. They had something like 100 flavors of ice cream. I already knew what I was going to get–strawberry cheesecake. My favorite dessert.

“Ohhh!” Mala cried. “Should I get Chubby Hubby or Urban Jumble? The choices are ridiculous!”

I smirked. She was so cute when she talked about food. And she was a great cook already. Her mom and dad were barely home so she’d have the run of the kitchen. Sometimes she’d bake me cookies or surprise me with cupcakes.

“I’ll have the schweddy balls, please,” Carlee said, raising her finger. That was a good one. It was filled with fudge-covered rum and malt balls

“I’m sorry, but that flavor sounds so wrong to me,” Kaden said. “Makes my balls sweat just hearing about it.”

I busted a gut. “I know, right? But damn, it tastes good.”

“Carlee, why are boys so gross?” Mala said while I was laughing. She always got offended if Kadan and I even tried to tell a dirty joke.

Luckily, our order arrived before she could bust MY balls about it.

“Hey, have you heard they’re going to revive the old superheros called the Vigilantes?” Kadan said to Carlee. Kadan, Carlee and I were huge comic book fans.

“I did.” I pumped my fist. “Holy shit, I’m going to be the first in line when it comes out.”

I could almost feel Mala prickle beside me. Her parents were total LARPing freaks which the superhero realm kind of fit in. She’s all about NOT taking part in anything like that.

She used to like Henry Puffer when we were young (I still secretly did) but now, she wanted nothing to do with fandom of any kind. Says it’s beneath her.

She gingerly sucked on her ice cream, saying nothing.

*****

The sun was beating down, making my whole body tingle. We’d decided to go to the park to hang out a little before I had to get back home. My mind drifted to a place where there were no toddlers or little brothers or moms or dads. It was just me in total relaxation mode. Ahh…I could have stayed there all day. Until I felt a jolt of searing cold on my cheek.

“What the hell?” I yelled. I almost got mad until I saw a goddess looking down on me.

“Wake up, sleepyhead. It’s time to go.”

I was such a lucky shit. Mala had curves in all the right places. And I could put my hands on all those places whenever I wanted. Right now I grabbed her just-big-enough ass.

She pushed me. “Hey! It isn’t time for a groping session. We’ve got to go!”

But I held on tighter.

I might have been a little on the skinny side, but I was still stronger than her. Pulling her on top of my lap, I held her legs but she didn’t try to get away.

She rubbed my face, making me go crazy. I wanted her. Right there. In the park. I didn’t care if anyone was around. Yeah. I had it that bad.

And she knew it, too. Teased me like this all the time. Smirking, she said, “My poor baby. We could always go to my house. My parents aren’t there.”

Damn. I so wanted to take her up on that. Her dad would kick my ass if he found out what we did at his house. Like a lot. But I was probably on the verge of getting grounded by my mom. I was late already. So I plopped her off my lap (unfortunately).

“Hey! What’s that for?” she cried.

Hopping back on top of her I whispered, “I love you, Mala, but like you said, we’ve got to go. You don’t want me to get in trouble, do you?”

Mala just looked up at me knowing she possessed some super power over me. I was hers. She knew it. I knew it. I guessed we’d always be together like this. Forever. I could see our future. We’d often talked about it. We’d have the dream. I’d be selling some shit from home (definitely was going to steer clear of ANY type of famous crap job) and she’d be a part time doctor–pediatrician. She wanted the luxury of us being able to raise our kids ourselves. No nannies. No babysitters. No using the oldest kid to do your job. And if she was really successful, I’d be a stay at home dad. I didn’t mind.

My life with her was going to be perfect.

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Chapter 6.4

Liam

My Henry Puffer party was literally the worst. But what hurt more was Mom and Dad didn’t even care. It seemed like I was always by myself these days. Mom was pregnant and usually tired, so I was left to deal with Zack half the time, and Dad was always out of town, doing something. Tears dropped on my pants as I made a huge sniffling sound.

“Um…Liam?” My best friend, Kadan Vargas, walked up to me.

I felt kind of embarrassed for crying in front of him. I thought I was alone. So, I acted like I didn’t know he was there. Maybe he’d go away.

But he didn’t get the hint.

He sat down next to me and sighed. “You know it stinks having those creeps at your party.”

I nodded, watching a crab poke its head out of a tiny hole in the sand.

“But if it were me and Henry Puffer actually visited my party, I sure as heck wouldn’t be upset.”

It took a minute for my brain to process what he was saying. “Henry…Puffer?” I asked.

“Yeah. And he told off those assholes for you, too. Me and Carlee filled him in on why you left.”

I drew in my eyebrows, I was so confused. “You’re not playing a trick on me, are you? Henry Puffer. THE Henry Puffer is here.”

“Would I lie to you? Yes. THE Henry Puffer. The actor, Randall Dancliff. He’s here and he wants to meet you.”

I gave him a look. “W-Why…would he come here? To MY party?”

Kadan shrugged. “How the heck would I know? Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

My heart lurched as we both stood up and I spotted a teenager who looked a lot like Henry Puffer. But still. There’s no way it could really be him. I glared, wondering if someone was pranking me.

“Hey, Randall. I found him for you!” Kadan said, beaming like this guy was the real deal.

But then he answered, “Right, mate. Thanks a lot. Hello, there. I’m Randall…er…Henry Puffer. You must be Liam.”

I’d recognize that voice and British accent anywhere. He WAS Henry Puffer!

My heart sped so fast I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I asked, “W-What are you doing here? I thought you lived in England!”

“No, mate, I’m actually living in Del Sol Valley, working on another movie. Your dad asked me to come out and it fit in with my schedule, so…here I am.”

“Oh my gosh…would you do me a HUGE favor? Can I have your autograph? Pretty please with magic wand sprinkles on top?”

“Of course. I happen to have a picture handy just for you.”

Swooning, I almost screamed. This was the BEST day of my life!

I couldn’t believe I was actually in the presence of THE Henry Puffer. THE Randall Dancliff. It was almost too much to take.

As he was signing, he said, “So, you want to head back to the park? I’d love to play Crossing Wands with you.”

Omg. Randall Dancliff just asked me to play Crossing Wands. I thought I was going to be sick.

“Yes, I’d like to do that! And I’ll even let you win!” Henry Puffer could never lose to a goofy kid like me.

Still scribbling, he said, “No…we play fair and square otherwise, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

When he was done, he handed the picture to me.

“Thank you so much!” I held the photo like it was made of glass and could break into a million pieces.

Next we took some pictures together. I’d remember this day forever!

I could tell he was about to head back to the park, but I didn’t want to share him with my friends just yet. I asked, “So, before crossing wands, would you like to play hide n seek?” Oh, what was I saying? Of course he wouldn’t want to do that.

“How did you know it’s my favorite game?”

And before I knew what was happening, I was hiding my eyes as I heard him shuffle off.

He was pretty bad at hiding though.

I spotted him instantly.

And he was super slow, but I had fun anyway.

Thankfully, after I’d had a great time at Crossing Wands (I beat him five times!), I said good bye to all my friends, and Aunty Elara took her monsters inside my house, leaving me alone with Randall.

We sat together and he asked me a whole bunch of questions about myself, really wanting to get to know me. I ended up blabbing about my troubles at home. How my mom and dad don’t seem to care about me. Not enough anyway.

“Look mate, I get it. Having another sibling creates a lot of stress, but I can tell you this. Your parents really love you. Why else would your dad go through the trouble of asking me to visit?”

But I knew the real reason Randall was here. My dad’s famous, and Randall is probably a big fan of my father. Dad was a superstar like a million years ago when Randall was my age. “I bet you’re disappointed my dad isn’t here, aren’t you? I’m sorry about that.”

He shrugged. “Okay, I’ll admit I came as a bit of a favor to your dad. And true, I’m an absolute fan of the Heartthrobs. I actually still have a poster of your father in my closet. When I was your age, I was a true blue Flamer…but…after spending this afternoon with you, I think you’re an amazing kid. In fact, I’d fancy another visit, if you’d wish it.”

Randall Dancliff wanted to visit me again? I thought I was going to cry. But I didn’t. I couldn’t be that lame in front of him.

When it was time for him to go, I couldn’t help it. I jumped up and gave him a hug.

He didn’t seem to mind.

And when I got back to my house, even jerk-face Dusty Murdick couldn’t annoy me.

Because Randall Dancliff, THE Henry Puffer, was my friend.

And no one could take the memory of this day away from me.

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Chapter 6.3

Liam

My friends finally came to my party and the loser Murdicks were playing on the playground at Henry Puffer Park, leaving me alone.

“Do you got any revealing spells, Kadan?” Carlee Langosta asked. Her mom had dropped her off, rolling her eyes at my hat and telling her she’d better not come home with any weird party favors because she didn’t want that crap trashing up her house. Party favors? Oops. I forgot to get any. Well, I had some extra Henry Puffer wands I could give out. But then Aunty Dom would get mad at me. She HATED Henry Puffer worse than Mom.

Brindleton Bay had built this cool Henry Puffer Park three years ago. It was kind of expensive to go, but worth it. Dad bought it out for the day. Too bad he wasn’t here like he’d promised. But most of my friends came. Well, except Destiny Hoff. I totally thought she wanted to come but I bet she was just being nice when I’d asked.

Carlee drew a card and winced.

“Bad news?” I asked, smirking. I’d already gotten enough cards to make a death spell so I was basically winning already.

Fumbling, she pulled out her imperious curse card and flipped it onto Kai Kaluah. Poor Kai. I almost laughed at her brilliance, but Kai was one of my best friends and I wouldn’t do that to him.

“That leaves you with the win, Lee Lee baby!” Mala yelled out making my face heat up one thousand degrees. Why couldn’t she go play with her jerkface brothers and leave me the heck alone?

Kai glared. “Stupid move, Carlee. Now look what you did.”

Mala was right. I produced my death spell cards and obliterated everyone.

“I win, suckers!”

*****

We’d been playing Crossing Wands for a while and it was down to me and Mala for the championship. I’d been preparing for over two months for this. I knew all the spells. Knew what would beat what. The only problem was that Mala was like a genius when it came to the game. She could somehow pull out just the right spell to defeat you. She was sooooo lucky! But I could beat her. I had to or she’d gloat for the rest of the day in her sickening sweet, clingy way.

My heart beat hard in my chest as I bowed, signaling the start of our bout.

Mala bowed as well but she looked like she was going to puke. Maybe I was gonna win after all!!!

My mind spun with all the choices. There were exactly thirty five spells to choose from and depending on what your opponent produced, it seemed like it could go a million different ways.

“Onde, dose…” we counted in our wizard speech. “CONFUSE!” I blurted.

But she said, “MUFFLE!” at the exact same time which totally defeated my spell.

“Way to go, Mala!” Carlee whooped. Girls. They always stuck together.

“Dude…you should never lead with Confuse,” my friend, Todd Monteira said. “It’s like totally cliche. You gotta be creative.”

He was right. God, how stupid could I be. So on the next round, I hollered, “Expell!” as she ranted, “Release” which did nothing to me. So I got her. We were even–one to one.

Last bout and I was sweating. This was for all the marbles.

Raising my hands, I yelled, “Incinerate!” but she countered at the same time with, “Agua!”

How did she know? The fire I cast was totally doused with that water spell.

Damn.

“Really?” Todd said. “You didn’t go for the death spell. Come on, Liam!” Todd hated girls and couldn’t stand getting beat by them. Since I was one of his best friends, he took it personally. (I really believed he liked girls but wouldn’t admit it. I liked them, too, especially Destiny Hoff, but would I ever tell him that? NO THE HELL WAY!)

“Muahahahaaa!” Mala laughed. “I’m the Queen of the Castle. Bow down to me, serfs!”

God. Why did the winner have to be Mala of all people? She was taking the win even worse than I’d expected.

“Geeze, Liam,” my best friend, Kadan, groaned. “Now we’re in for it.”

I face palmed. How stupid could I be? A death spell would have defeated a water spell, but no. I chose wrong. And now we had to kneel at her feet until she tapped on our heads, releasing us. But knowing Mala, I bet she’d make us stay like that forever.

*****

Lucky thing, though, Mala loved cake more than her win, so she tapped us immediately and said, “I’m hungry.”

I was, too. The cake and other food had been delivered. It was my favorite in the whole world–zombie brain cake. When you cut into it, it was like eating real live brains! I know. Wicked cool, right?

But when we got to the picnic table, I couldn’t believe my eyes. “What the hell, Murdicks!” I hollered.

“Heh,” Uriah laughed. “You snooze you lose, Liam.”

Kaden glared at the jerk, but he didn’t care. He was eating the last piece!

There was nothing but crumbs on the cake platter.

Dusty came over, eating probably his third piece. “There’s still some left. You don’t have to cry about it, dorkface.” They both were dressed like the evil minions in the latest Henry Puffer movie. It fit. They were villains in real life.

I sat next to the half eaten piece. They did this on purpose, trying to ruin my party. I’d had enough. I didn’t care if I got in trouble. I wasn’t going to let them get away with it.

Getting up, I hissed, “I’m gonna tell your mom and dad. You’re in trouble.” I knew Aunty Brooke and Uncle Nat didn’t know what they did. Well, they were Aunty Elara and Uncle Lord Bloodmoon today, but still.

Taking another bite of cake, Dusty whined, “Are you gonna cry now, baby? Go ahead and cry. Wah, wah, waaaah!”

I pushed him. “Don’t call me a baby!”

He pushed me back and it was all out war. I punched him then he tried to choke me.

“Boys!” Aunty Elara yelled. “Stop it this instance!”

But I didn’t want to stop. This asshole had it coming. I’d tear that pumpkin mask right off him so I could see him cry.

Finally, she broke us apart and said, “I’m disappointed in you, Liam August Sanderson-Day. I will be on the phone to your mother today. Attacking innocent boys will not be tolerated.”

Innocent? That was it. I pointed at her. “Your DEMONS aren’t innocent. They’ve totally wrecked my party!

“And they’ve been mean to me this whole time. I hate them and wish they’d drown in Brindleton Bay.”

Before she could catch me, I ducked and ran as far away from my party as I could.

I ran and ran until my lungs pinched and my legs burned.

And then my face heated up and I couldn’t help it. I cried like a baby.

Today was supposed to be so much fun. Dad and I’d planned it all out. He was supposed to be here. Not my parents’ friends babysitting me, bringing along those awful triplets.

And why didn’t Mom stay here either? Didn’t she love me? I just wanted to crawl under a rock and make everyone and everything go away.

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All Henry Puffer stuff you see is from the Henry Pufferhead Stuff Pack–a free fanmade pack by MLys. Get it here: Henry Pufferhead Stuff

I’ll be publishing the Crossing Wands Posepack set on my discord channel. You may follow along there as there will be posepacks I’ll be publishing in the future. All posepacks will be released first there. THANK YOU!

Chapter 6.2

Lexie

Oh. My. God. If I could obliterate all the mirrors in this house, I would. How did I get this freaking big? I didn’t remember ever being this huge with the other two. And I was only in my second trimester!!!

Sometimes I’d look in the mirror and wonder how I arrived at this stage in life. I mean, back before I got married, I never thought I’d be a mother of three, unemployed, overseeing two cats and a dog and just aimlessly wandering around wondering who I was half the time.

I had such big dreams of being a 3-D animator. Of one day owning my own studio or becoming a director of a huge cartoon production or directing the CGI parts of movies.

But that didn’t happen.

Don’t get me wrong. I adored my kids. And I wouldn’t trade them in for the most glamorous animation job, but sometimes, I wondered. Who was in charge of my life? I felt somehow I got steamrolled by an even bigger personality who made most of my decisions for me. And I was powerless to stop it.

*****

“Hey, sweetie! You’re looking so good! Goodness! You’re practically glowing!” Brooke gushed. Oh how I’d missed my dear friend!

“Yeah, ” I answered, “I guess you glow when you’re the size of the sun.”

“Pshaw!” she tutted then her eyes grew as she wiggled her fingers. “Can I?”

I didn’t understand what it was about the pregnant belly but everyone, including elderly strangers at Simmart, HAD to touch it. It was some kind of law.

“Go ahead,” I said, sticking out the ginormous basketball that used to be my flat stomach.

“Aww…you’re so cute!” Brooke cooed. “It’s a girl, right?”

“Yep. And it’s a good thing, too, because James threatened we were going to try for a fourth if he didn’t get his sweet little girl fix. This baby doll has literally saved our marriage,” I joked.

Brooke threw angry darts at her husband. “See? James wants more children. Why can’t you be more like…”

Nathan broke in and said, “So, Lexie, you won’t have to worry about a thing. We’ll take care of Liam and make sure his party goes off without a hitch.”

I couldn’t say I blamed Nathan. He had three children for the price of one. And from what I saw, all were little hellions. Brooke was in her own little world when it came to them. She never saw any of their flaws.

*****

Liam

Today was the day I was going to die.

For real.

I mean, no one cared about me. If they did, at least ONE of my parents would have stayed home for the biggest event in the life history of Liam A. Sanderson-Day.

But instead, they dropped THREE jerks into my room and left.

One of the jerks, Uriah Murdick, (okay, his last name was Murdock, but Murdick fit him waaaaay better) lifted the side of his mouth and said, “You’re the biggest fucking dweeb on the planet. Like who drapes their walls in Henry Puffer that isn’t three years old?”

“You said it, Uriah. God, how long are we going to be tortured here?” his asshole brother, Dusty added. “The whole weekend?”

“No one’s asking you to stay,” I hissed. “Do me a favor and jump off a cliff.”

His sister, Mala, interjected, “Don’t listen to them, Lee-lee! I LOVE Henry Puffer!”

Mala always called me some weird pet name and it changed every time she talked to me. I didn’t get it. It was like she was TRYING to annoy me. “Just leave me alone!” I yelled at her.

“Stop being nice to the douche-for-brains, Mala,” Uriah said. “Let’s play on his computer and ignore the ignoramus.”

“Sorry if we’re upsetting you, Liam. Put her there.” Dusty offered his hand.

Like an idiot, I automatically took it without thinking.

A painful electric shock tore through my hand and up my arm. “Yiiiiiiii!” I howled.

Laughing, Dusty said, “Oh my God, you’re such a loser! You think I’d really want to be your friend?”

I stared at him thinking about how I wished I was Henry Puffer. I’d turn him into a pile of jello and stomp. “Get out of my room, asshole.”

“And who’s going to make me? You?” The jerk stared me down.

My hands balled into fists. I wanted to punch his face so bad. But I knew I’d get grounded. My dad was strict about no fighting. I once pounded a bully in third grade for hurting a girl and I was the one who got in trouble. Since then, I avoided fighting. But today, it might be worth the punishment.

“Lee lee, honeybee, let’s play Harnocks Houses. Okay?”

“Yes, Lee Lee Honeybee,” Uriah crooned in a sickening high pitched voice, happy that his sister was annoying me.

“You’re just lucky I don’t want to fight,” I spat at Dusty, “otherwise, I’d put you in the hospital, asswipe. Now get out of my way.”

“Lee Lee Sweetpea, come on! Just ignore them.”

“I’d love to see you hit Dusty,” Uriah goaded with an evil gleam. “Go on. I dare you.” For some reason I bet he really did want to see me hit his brother.

These were the worst kids I’d ever met in my entire life. I didn’t understand it. I liked their parents. Aunty Brooke always baked me cookies and Uncle Nat liked to play games with me. And their kids were nice to me up until a few years ago when they turned nasty for some weird reason. It was like an evil switch went off in their brains.

Mala was the best one but she could be mean sometimes, too. I sat down and said, “Look, Mala, I’ll play with you. You just have to cut out calling me weird names.”

Lip quivering, she said, “But I like calling you names. I love you, my Lee Lee doll.”

Uriah snorted behind her.

God. I was counting the minutes until my friends showed up, hoping I wasn’t going to hang myself before they got there.

*****

Lexie

“Oh my goodness! That couldn’t be Zackary, could it?” Uncle Beau shouted when I sat Zack down as we entered my dad’s place. It’d been a long flight and I couldn’t wait to get off my feet.

“It’s me!” Zack answered, jumping up and down. Uncle Beau was so good with kids. My sons adored him.

“But you’re so big. My grandson is a little guy. Are you SURE you’re Zack?”

“I’m Zacky. It’s me! I promise!”

“Oh…okay. In that case, I bet you’d like some mashed mud with a side of bugs to eat.”

Zack laughed. “Ewww…no Grandpa!”

“Sure…that’s your favorite.”

“And don’t forget the worms!” Dad said, making Zack erupt in giggles.

I hugged everyone, so glad to be with my family.

“Hey, sis,” Asher said, wrapping his arms around me. “It’s been too long.”

He’d grown a foot since I last saw him. He looked exactly like Dad except he was a little short like Beau.

I dropped my pregnant self into one of the couch cushions, listening to my teen siblings rant about their lives and what they’d been up to.

But somewhere in the middle of Aria’s story about how her teacher debated her on who should be president, I zoned out.

My mind drifted to when I used to live here in San Myshuno, when I took care of my brother Brayden. The triplets hadn’t even been born yet. Oh my God. I hated kids back then. And now…I was about to have my third. That was so long ago.

“Lady bug, are you okay?” my dad interrupted my thoughts and brought me back to the present.

“Oh my GOD! Lexie’s not listening to every word I’m saying?” Aria joked. “What is this world coming to?”

She reminded me so much of my teen self, it was eerie.

But I was so tired, I wasn’t in the mood for jokes. “I think I’m not feeling well. Maybe I just need some fresh air.”

After a ton of protests from Aria, Dad ushered me out to the back balcony. It was a beautiful clear night. Sometimes my siblings could be overwhelming. I needed calm.

“So…what’s wrong, sweetheart?” Dad poured me a virgin mojito. My favorite.

“Wrong? Nothing’s wrong, Dad. I’m almost six months pregnant and need a bit of fresh air is all.”

He put away the lime juice and stared at me. “Lexie. I know you. There’s something up. Come on. You can tell me. It’ll make you feel better.”

I stared back at him. Did I really want to do this? No. I didn’t. “Drop it, Dad. Let me relax. I just got here and need to settle in.”

Not listening to me, he asked, “Is it James? Are you two doing okay?”

That’s all it took. Just a little prodding from my father. It was like the floodgates opened and I spewed out everything I’d been thinking and more. “And so…it’s like I don’t even know who I am anymore. And I second guess the choices I’d made when I was younger. Like how meeting the Heartthrobs totally threw me off my vector. I mean, look at me, Dad! Would you have guessed I’d be a stay at home mom and pregnant when I’m pushing forty? God…and I hate that I feel like this! I don’t want to. I love my kids. I love my husband. What is wrong with me?”

He listened to every word I spit out until I was reduced to a hormone induced ball of tears. Taking me by the hand, we sat down on the floor like we used to do when I was younger. He stroked my hair and said, “Have you thought about counseling? I think you’re depressed, sweetheart. It’s not good for you or the baby.”

Wiping my eyes, I said, “Yes. James and I have talked about it. But he’s been too busy and so have I. I run Liam and Zack around everywhere that I forget about it until the heaviness hits me.”

“Have you thought about moving? Beau and I could help if you lived closer.”

I sighed. That was a fight James and I had many times over the years. And guess who always won? “That’s not an option.”

I felt stuck. And I couldn’t get myself out of it.

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Chapter 6.1

Ages of characters: Liam–10, Zack (his brother)–3, August & Beau, Briar: 55, Lexie, James: 38, August and Beau’s four children: Brayden: 20, Triplets: Asher, Abby, Aria: 15, Seth: 81, Siobhan: 79 (yes, the great grandparents are still alive!)

Liam

I couldn’t wait. Tomorrow was Henry Puffer’s birthday and I’d been planning a real live birthday party for him. Sure he’s a fictional character from the best fantasy book this century, but I got the idea from a Henry Puffer message board. Thousands of kids all over the world were celebrating his birthday tomorrow. And I bet mine would be the most special of them all. Mom hated Henry Puffer. She said the author sold out when she marketed everything to make a fast buck. Her words. Not mine. She thought authors should be above capitalism. It’s all about the art, not money. Money dirties everything. But the way I see it, authors have to eat too, you know?

04-29-19_11-35-52 PM

I mean, take Dad for instance. HE’S a washed up musician/singer. Okay, he’s sort of famous (well, both my parents are), but no one buys his stuff anymore. They play a lot of his songs from like a hundred years ago before I was born, but he doesn’t even do that for a living now. So where’d his art get him? Huh?

Now, he dresses up as his “sister”, Jenny, and does WooTube videos all the time. People actually take advice from him on how to dress, what makeup to buy and junk like that. I think it’s totally crazy that people still debate whether Jenny is really James Sanderson. Seriously. Do they NOT have eyes? He looks like a guy trying to dress up as a girl. He wears WAY too much makeup which makes him look OLD! Without all that glop on his face, he’d just be a dude in a goofy wig and high heels.

Luckily, today, school was closed because of rain. RAIN! I loved Brindleton Bay. It floods when the clouds even look like they’re going to sprinkle. Heh. And so, I’m rereading all five Henry Puffer books so I can win at Crossing Wands. You gotta know all the best spells if you’re gonna take home the hardware.

Ah…I could see it now. I was going to finally slam all my friends and impress Destiny. I hoped she’d show tomorrow. I gave her an invitation and she said she’d ask her parents.

Yep. Tomorrow was going to be a glorious day in the life of Liam A. Sanderson-Day.

*******

Lexie

“Oh God. That’s NOT what I think it is.” James held out a huge mug of hazelnut cappuccino. A peace offering. Whenever this happened, what he was about to tell me was never good. Add that to the fact he was in Jenny garb and I definitely knew I wasn’t going to like it.

Palming the back of his neck, he winced. “Seems I got my weekends mixed up. The WooTube convention is THIS weekend. I’ve got a flight in one hour. I’m already late.”

Taking the hot mug from him, I arched an eyebrow. “And WHO is going to tell Liam that his Henry Puffer birthday party is cancelled cuz yeah? It’s not gonna be me.”

Wrapping an arm around me, he said, “Babydoll, you’ve got to stay home. Liam’s been looking forward to this for months. I’ve ordered the cake, the party favors…I’ve even arranged for the actors to show up as a surprise! We can’t back out now. You’ll just have to reschedule. Your dad will understand.”

I could feel heat rising in my gut–and it was more than the baby. Fury. That’s what it’s called. Taking a deep breath so my pregnant self wouldn’t explode, I asked, “Okay…who got their schedule mixed up?”

“Uh…me?”

“That’s right. So who’s the one who needs to cancel their schedule? I’m having a hard time following your logic.”

“It’d be WooTube suicide if I backed out now, Lex. Do you know what the fandom would call me if I didn’t show? Social media is a nightmare these days. Worse than when we were the it couple. Seriously, baby, I can’t not go. But August and Beau will understand. Hey, maybe they could come out and visit you instead.”

Shaking my head vigorously, I countered, “No! They can’t. Both of them have jobs. My siblings have school. Come on! You know I’d planned on staying a few weeks. This isn’t fair, James. I’ve already backed out on them three times. And there’s only so much time before I have this baby, too. I want to see my family in San Myshuno. It’s been too long. You’re cancelling. End of story.”

Rubbing my back, he said, “Hey…don’t get so worked up, babydoll. Just get someone to watch over Liam. He’ll be the master of ceremonies at the party anyway so anyone could do it. One of your friends would love to see Liam. Call them.”

I sighed. James always got his way no matter what was going on around him. It was so infuriating sometimes.

He added, “Look…if you don’t want to call one of your friends, I’ll have my assistant hire someone. Okay?”

I shook my head, already caving into him. He had me wrapped around his manicured finger. I hated it when I gave in. “No…I’ll get someone. I don’t want a stranger watching Liam.”

“Okay, baby.” Then he whispered in my ear, “I love you.”

*******

“Lexie!” Dad said when he answered the phone, “we were just talking about you!”

My stomach twisted as my heart pounded. How was I going to get out of this without hurting his feelings? “Hey, Dad! How’s tricks?”

Oh shit. That wasn’t smooth.

“We’re all looking forward to seeing you. When’s your flight coming in tonight?”

I heard one of my sisters yell, “She better not back out or tell her I will personally kill her!”

It was Aria. She would, too. Ugh.

I heard Beau say, “Guest room’s all ready for her. And tell her I’ll keep little Zack with us so she can sleep in. We got out all the old toddler toys. Potty. High chair. Everything!”

Guilt hammered me. How was I going to tell them I couldn’t come? “Um…well, there’s been a change in plans.”

“Oh?” Dad asked, worry peppering his voice. “What happened, ladybug? Did one of the kids get sick?”

“I KNEW it,” my other sister, Abby, hissed. “I told you she wasn’t coming. We’re not famous enough for her.”

“It’s always been like that, sis,” I heard one of my brothers, Brayden, say. “Why are you shocked. I’m not.”

Listening to their disappointment hurt me. I’d been an asshole in not visiting enough. They were right. Damn it. I couldn’t back out. “Dad, tell my ungrateful siblings they’re wrong. I’m coming. Just on a later flight. Okay?”

“Oh good,” Dad said. “Text me the details. Can’t wait to see you!”

“Me, too,” I said, cringing inside. “Bye, Dad. Love you, too.”

Now what was I going to do? My friend, Gabby, was out of the country. Carly just had a baby. Dom HATED Henry Puffer even more than I did. I could just imagine the sarcastic retort I’d get if I’d asked her. Who else did I know who wouldn’t mind…

Just then my stomach sank. Oh God no. No, Lexie, you are not going to ask her. No way. Liam hated their children even more than I did. They’d ruin his party. But what choice did I have? It was either I asked or he didn’t have the party at all. I’d have to fly him out with me for the weekend until James got back.

I dialed the number and listened to it ring. Maybe she wouldn’t answer and it’d be decided for me.

Just then I heard her voice say, “Hello?”

“Hi, Brooke. Long time no talk!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Alexis, dear, but Brooke isn’t here right now. This is Elara Dragonborn. How may I be of service?”

Shit, shit and double shit!

Of course Brooke wasn’t there. It was always my luck. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d even spoken to “Brooke”. It was like Elara had swallowed up my sweet friend whole. And now she’d even changed her name. She said her “group” did a ritual that turned her into part dragon or some such stupidity. “Um…hey, Elara. You’re probably too busy to watch Liam this weekend for me, right? So I won’t bother you with…”

“Oh, of course, we’d love to visit with Liam, my darling sweet friend! Tell us when and we’ll be right over!”

I heard Lord Bloodmoon squeal with delight in the background. “Roadtrip!”

Damn. I just hoped my son would be speaking to me sometime this century after I did this to him. I wasn’t going to win Mother of the year anytime soon. “Um…okay, Elara. That’s so…nice of you. Can you be here in the morning? That’s when my flight leaves.”

“Of course, darling. We’ll be there bright and early. Have our specific food ready. You know we’re vegan now.”

“Right. I’ll order food for you right now. Thank you.”

I had no idea why I was going through with it but it was either face Liam’s wrath or my siblings. I figured my kid wouldn’t hate me forever. Would he?

Yay! This story is officially BACK! I’ve missed all these crazy characters. And Liam will add to the craziness. 😉 I will try to update twice a week sporadically (not on set days).

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