Chapter 3.15 – Career Woman

As of around halfway through this chapter, I started using Ephemera’s Fresh skins (previously I was using Ephemera’s Natural skins), so you may notice a slight difference in character appearances.  As always, I welcome feedback, so if you have a particularly strong opinion on the new look, please share!


In the days after Luc and I returned from our honeymoon, I in particular noticed a definite increase in time spent with the kids.  This was mainly due to the fact that I was no longer working, as I would be heading back to university in a few weeks’ time to finish my degree.  For now, I wanted to use the time I had to catch up on being a part of my children’s lives.

Hugo and Hope, at a little over two years old, were well on the way to learning to walk, but twin toddlers were turning out to be more of a struggle than I had anticipated.  When they weren’t happy to play together, Luc and I were forced to pick one twin each to entertain on their own, which was exhausting work, to say the least.  Hope – who was looking more an more like her father every day – was the more energetic of the two, and a Daddy’s girl through and through.  Luc was always the one who could get her to calm down when she was upset, or pick her up when she refused to be touched by anyone else.

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Hugo, on the other hand, was more quietly enthusiastic, and, in contrast to his sister, had grown into blond hair and blue eyes exactly the same shade as mine.  While Hope was more adventurous, Hugo was more concentrated on achieving his own small goals, which currently included walking and learning to throw a ball.  Sometimes, I felt like he and I understood each other much better than I did my whirlwind of a daughter.

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Since outgrowing his crib, Gabriel had moved into Flynn’s old room, which we had not yet found the time or money to redecorate.  He seemed to have inherited my passion for studying, much to Luc’s amused exasperation, and spent a good hour every evening dutifully completing his homework at the desk in his bedroom.  Sometimes, if a question was particularly difficult, he could be persuaded to come downstairs and allow me or Luc to help him, but he would be proud to say that those times were few and far between.

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Gabriel was a gentle child, and had adored Ash since he was a tiny baby.  Now that he was old enough to help with chores around the house, he delighted in showering her in baths, brushes and cuddles whenever she needed them – and sometimes when she didn’t.

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Speaking of showering people in affection, Luc still made a point of surprising me with hugs, small touches and kisses whenever we were together or even passed each other in the hallway – a habit which had increased significantly since our wedding.  I had the feeling that he was missing the time on our honeymoon when it was just the two of us.  I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t enjoy it, but I sometimes felt a little embarrassed when he did it in front of my parents – or the maid.  Still, he was an excellent kisser… so I let it slide for the most part.

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The morning of my departure to university, Luc and Mum followed me and my suitcase out onto the front lawn to say goodbye.  The kids were still in bed, since it was around five in the morning, but I had said goodbye to them the previous evening, promising that I loved them and would be home soon.

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Which I was, relatively speaking.  My second and final semester at university – I had chosen to accelerate my degree dramatically, having already wasted many more years than I would like not climbing the career ladder – sped by with little incident, especially since this time around, I had decided to devote myself entirely to achieving the best grades possible.   Four months later, consequently, I returned home still wearing my graduation robes and clutching my new political science degree in one hand.  I could barely believe that, after all this time, my dream was finally within my reach.

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Just like the last time, Luc was waiting for me when I got back.  I had barely stepped inside the door before I felt myself being swept up into his arms.

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“Missed me, huh?”  I grinned when we broke apart for air.

He shrugged.  “Just a little,” he said nonchalantly, but ruined the effect somewhat by winking.

The kids were equally excited to see me back home again – though they did not express their enthusiasm in quite the same fashion.  The twins, I discovered, had made great progress in learning to talk and use the potty while I had been away, and were currently obsessed with a xylophone and peg box in the nursery that we had bought for Gabriel when he was their age.

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Gabriel, meanwhile, had approached me on the morning after my return home to discuss ‘a matter of great urgency’, as he put it.

“I was wondering whether you and Dad had thought any more about redecorating my room,” he began, carefully.  “I asked Dad while you were away, but he said I should talk to you when you got back.”

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I had expected this question, though this was a little sooner than I had hoped, and had my answer prepared.  “Honestly, honey, we don’t have enough money right now.  But I’m hoping to get a new job soon, and if that works out then I promise we’ll decorate your room however you want, and you can even come with us to help choose the wallpaper.”

Gabriel, whose face had fallen when I explained about the money, brightened up at once.  “I can come with you?” he repeated eagerly.  I nodded.

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He nodded slowly, solemnly.  “Then it’s a deal,” he said.

I smiled down at his excited face, and shook the hand he offered me.  “It’s a deal.”

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As it turned out, the hoped-for job arrived sooner than expected, a few weeks later, in the form of an open position as a campaign worker.  According to the job description, I was to assist in planning and executing an election campaign for a woman named Amelia Jefferson, who was hoping to be elected to the town council for the fourth year running.

My first morning on the job, I was so nervous it might as well have been my first job ever.  Amelia had her own office on the second floor of an office building near City Hall, which she shared with the other members of the town council.  I knocked firmly on the door in an attempt to sound more confident than I felt, and a woman’s voice invited me inside.  My knees were shaking badly as I approached the desk.  The sooner I could sit down and get this first meeting over with, the better.

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I glanced at the woman in front of me, who I presumed was Amelia, as I sank into the chair facing her.  She was younger than I had expected, and undeniably beautiful, but there was a coldness in her eyes as she smiled that did nothing to ease my nervousness.

“You must be Diana.”

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I did my best to return a friendly smile as I nodded.  “I’m Diana Hunter.  Thank you for offering me this position.  I look forward to working with you.”

“For me,” she corrected.

“I… sorry?”

“You will be working for me.  The person you will be working with is not me but my assistant, Celia.”

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I turned my head in the direction she indicated and saw a young woman with long, braided hair smiling encouragingly at me from the couch in the corner.  I suppressed my sigh of relief – here was one person, at least, who appeared friendly.  I was no longer alone.

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“Celia will get you settled into your new working space,” Amelia went on.  “The two of you will be working together over the next six months to invent and carry out a successful campaign for my re-election to town council next February.  This will have as much impact on your career as it will mine – succeed, and you get to keep your job.  Do you understand?”

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“Yes, Ame- ma’am.”  I had intended to address her by her first name, but the strictness of her manner did not invite such familiarity.

“Good.  In that case, you may go and get settled in.  Celia will direct you.”

I stood up and followed Celia into the next room, where two desks stood facing one another.  One was crammed full of papers and personal items, the other neat and bare.  “That’ll be your desk,” Celia told me, indicating the latter.  I nodded and sat down, unsure what to do next.

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“Have you ever worked a campaign before?”  she asked me, with another reassuring smile.

I shook my head.  “Never,” I admitted.  “I just finished the second part of a university degree in political science.  Before that I was working jobs at City Hall that didn’t need qualifications, and living out various… personal events.”

“Like marriage?”  Celia asked bluntly, her eyes on my wedding ring.

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I smiled, thinking of Luc as I stroked the ring absentmindedly, and nodded.  “And kids.  Children weren’t a part of my life plan originally.  If I’d had my own way, I would have been here many years sooner.”

“But you love them.  You wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“No…”  I murmured, surprised at her insight.  “No, I wouldn’t.”  Then I started, as though coming out of a trance, and cleared my throat uncomfortably.  I liked Celia, but talking about my personal life and feelings with someone I had just met was… strange, to say the least.  “So, um… how does campaign management work?”

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“Oh, it’s a lot easier than it seems, trust me,” she said encouragingly.  “The first thing we need it a campaign plan, so we know what we’re doing.  That includes stuff like our goals and aims, budget, fundraising, how we plan to get people to vote for us, etcetera.  Then we can see what direction we’re going and which steps we need to take next.”  She pointed to a large cork board standing near the wall.  “That’s where I’ve been planning it out so far.  Once we’ve got our basic idea down, we can start writing it out properly.”

I nodded, feeling the old determination to succeed rising in me as she spoke.  “And it’s just the two of us working on this?”

Celia shrugged.  “We can recruit other people later if we want to, to help with canvasing and that sort of thing, but for now, yep, just us!  And Amelia.”

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I bit my lip at the mention of our boss’ name.  Before I could stop myself, I asked, “Is she always like that?”

“Like she was in your interview, you mean?  Nah.  She gets a bit better once you get to know her.  She’s always strict with new employees.  I guess she feels it’s like being a teacher, you know?  Be strict at the start, and you have their respect from the get-go.”

I supposed that made sense, even if it felt quite unnecessary.  Reminding myself that we had more important things to worry about, however, I tried to push Amelia’s attitude firmly from my mind.

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I arrived home six hours later, feeling accomplished but also so physically and emotionally exhausted that I could easily have collapsed where I stood.  Instead, I collapsed into the waiting arms of my ever-faithful husband.

“Hard day?” he asked sympathetically.  Too tired to form coherent words, I nodded.

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With one arm around my waist, Luc supported me up the stairs and into my bedroom, where he gently removed my dress and the mountain of pins holding my hair in place.  When both of us were lying side by side on the bed, I forced myself to recount the day’s events.

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“That Amelia woman sounds like a piece of work,” was Luc’s brusque comment.

I laughed and shook my head.  “She’s not that bad, really.  Just a bit hard to get along with.  I’ll get used to it…” I yawned, “… Eventually.”

“Well, I’m glad there’s someone looking after you over there, anyway.”

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I nodded, too tired to talk much more.  I leaned sideways to plant a gentle kiss on his cheek.  “As long as I have you looking after me here, I’ll be okay,” I told him, making him smile.  I turned out the bedside light and rolled onto my side.  As I drifted off, I thought I felt his hand gently stroking my hair, soothing me into sleep.

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Chapter 3.14 – As Long as We Both Shall Live

 

– Two years later –

The first tinkling notes of music were my cue.  I took a deep breath, and stepped through the gauzy white curtains which had been put up to maintain the tradition of the bride not being seen before her first entrance.

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I had practised this walk at least twenty times already, just to be sure, in the hallway at home, but that was without Luc standing at the end of the aisle, watching me with a slight grin on his face and a look of adoration in his eyes that turned my knees to jelly.

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I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as I walked down the aisle, but I didn’t look at any of them.  If I broke eye contact with Luc for even a second, I would lose the wonderful sense of calm that was temporarily holding at bay all my fear, excitement, anxiety, anticipation and a happiness so great it threatened to spill out my eyes.

As I neared the front row, I chanced a glance to my left, where Gabriel, Hugo and Hope were beaming at me, looking almost as happy as I felt.  I smiled at them – Hugo waved happily, and Hope burst into excited giggles.

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When I turned to look forward again, I found my whole world right there before my eyes, looking more wonderful than ever.  He smiled – were those tears in his eyes? – and took my hand in his.

There was no third party present to conduct the legal part of the ceremony.  I didn’t want to be married by a stranger and we didn’t know anyone personally who was authorised to perform a wedding, so we had taken care of that part of it the day before at the courthouse in town.  Today’s ceremony was all about celebrating with our family and friends, and (most importantly) with each other.  Vows, therefore, were to take place today.

“Luc…” I took a deep breath, and clutched the ring more firmly in my trembling fingers.  Oh God, please don’t let me forget my own vows.  “I… I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that, from the first time we danced together, you changed my life… for the better.”  I tried to look him in the eyes as I spoke, but found it almost impossible to do so without crying.  “There has never been, and never will be, anyone for me but you.  My heart, my body and my mind are yours forever.”  Drawing a ragged breath, I slipped the ring onto his third finger with shaking hands.  ” ‘I give this ring, in pledge of my love and devotion.  With this ring I thee wed.’ ”

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As I finished speaking, I looked up into his beautiful green eyes, shining with unshed tears.  He smiled at me, and my heart melted.

“Diana,” he began, almost in a whisper.  His voice was quite steady, but the hand that gripped mine was shaking slightly.  “The first time I saw you was the first time I really fell head-over-heels for anyone.”  He paused and chuckled.  “I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s the truth.  For as long as I’ve known you, you have been the most important person in my life.  I’m so grateful that I’m the person you chose to spend the rest of yours with.  I promise to love and treasure you forever, no matter what we come up against, and the harder it gets, the tighter I’ll hold on.  I give this ring in pledge of my love and devotion to you, my beautiful genius.  With this ring I thee wed.”  The cold metal felt foreign on my finger, but at the same time, it felt right.  “I now declare us husband and wife,” he announced.  Everyone laughed.  “May I kiss the bride?”

Laughing, I nodded.  The last rays of the setting sun danced off the water behind us as Luc threw his arms around me and pressed his lips hungrily against mine.

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I smiled against his lips as I kissed him back with equal enthusiasm.  I could hear the laughter and cheers of our family and friends echoing around us, but all my attention was focused on the man in front of me.  “All okay?” he asked as he pulled away, softly so that only I could hear.  I nodded, a funny noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob escaping my mouth as tears continued to trickle over my cheeks.

“I’m so happy,” I choked out, and his grin widened.

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His arms settled around my waist and I reached up to cup his face between my palms.  I opened my mouth, but before I could say anything I heard a familiar riff drifting over from the other side of the pier.

The sun is so hot,

The drinks are so cold…

I laughed.  “Really?”

Luc nodded, still grinning.  “Shall we dance?”

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…We’re gonna stay up,

Ain’t gonna lay low…

I rolled my eyes.  “Just for this song,” I warned jokingly.  The amusement in his eyes told me that he remembered as well as I did the first time I had said those exact words.

“Come on then,” he said, and, grabbing my by the hand, led me back down the aisle I had walked just half an hour ago as his fiancee.

One by one, our guests rose from their seats to follow us onto the dance floor.  Mandy, my maid of honour, bade goodbye to best man Flynn (with whom she had sat for the duration of the ceremony) to go find her husband, Ethan.  Behind them, I noticed Mum and Dad, hand in hand, making their way up the aisle towards us.  Before long, a crowd of guests had gathered around the speakers, which were still blasting ‘our song’.

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As the night wore on, I noticed Emily, ever the party animal, dancing with Pat and our cousin Carolina.  It made me smile reminiscently to think of the wild parties she used to throw in our basement as a teen.  I hadn’t seen or heard much from her at all since she had moved out, so I was glad, though mildly surprised, that she had found the time to return for my wedding.

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The rock song we had been dancing to faded out, and a slow ballad took its place.  Those of our guests who had come with dates started to sway gently together to the music, while others, such as Emily, merely grabbed whoever was closest and introduced themselves.  I caught Pat’s eye over Luc’s shoulder and threw him a smile, which he returned only half-heartedly and moved away towards the buffet table.  Frowning slightly, I looked away.  Was something wrong with Pat?  Perhaps I should talk to him about it when I got back home.

“Having a good time?”  Luc asked as he drew me into his arms.  I turned my attention back to him and smiled slightly.

“I’m offended that you even have to ask me that.”

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He chuckled slightly.  “Are you as happy as I am?”

“Happier,” I responded.  He grinned, and leaned in to kiss me.

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“I highly doubt that.”

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First of all, I’d like to issue a huge apology for how late this chapter’s been in coming, especially considering how short it was.  I’m having a lot of trouble plotting out Di’s story, aside from a whole bunch of real life crap that I won’t bore you with.  Also I’ve been getting distracted (read: procrastinating) catching up on everyone else’s stories, lol!  I would have made this chapter longer, but I felt that this was the most appropriate place to end it.  HOWEVER, as it is a wedding chapter, you’ll be getting lots of bonus picture spam, and also I’ve been working on the promised “Teen Emily” special so we’ll be seeing that pretty soon as well.  

Also, I’ve been kindly nominated a second time for the Unique Blogger Award by The Windsor Legacy, so if that kind of thing interests you I’ve updated the original post to reflect that and also recorded my answers to the accompanying questions.

And now, onto the wedding pictures that didn’t fit in the chapter!


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… Then my game crashed.

TAKE TWO:
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Crashed again.

THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM:

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Guest list, and their relationship to the Bride:

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Diana’s best friend Mandy and Diana’s brother Flynn, Maid of Honour and Best Man respectively.

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From left to right:  Diana’s friend Patterns, her sister Emily Hunter, and her cousin Ethan Hunter (Cody’s son, and Mandy’s husband)

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Diana’s cousin Terrance Korby-Hunter, and his parents (Diana’s aunt and uncle) Violet and Aidan Korby-Hunter

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Diana’s sister-in-law August (Flynn’s wife – I know, they sure didn’t waste any time), and Diana’s paternal uncle and aunt Herbert and Tyler Striker

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Diana’s cousins Chana, Carolina and Charlie Striker (Tyler and Herbert’s children – Carolina is the eldest, Charlie is the youngest)

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Diana’s first cousin once removed, Dorian Meir (Jamie’s son – below) and Diana’s cousin Deanne Hunter (Cody and Vivian’s youngest daughter)

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Diana’s cousin Jamie Meir and her husband, Javed Meir, and Diana’s cousin (Bridie’s son) Alfonso Hunter

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Diana’s cousin Iris Luck and her husband, Isaac Luck, with their daughter Heather

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Diana’s aunt and uncle Vivian and Cody Hunter, and their son Ron Hunter

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Diana’s parents Bianca and James Hunter, and Bianca’s twin sister Bridie Hunter

 

For further details, if you’re interested, take a look at the Family Tree.

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(The baby Jamie is holding at the far left of the picture above is her daughter, Sheree Meir)

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And finally, a bridal dressing room, which I made but didn’t use in the end because of routing issues 😦

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So there you go.  I hope you enjoyed, and I intend to see you all again very soon!

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Chapter 3.13 – Fool Me Twice

Unannounced hiatus over – I’m back!  Yaaaay!  Back in Australia at last.  It’s been more than a month, and I’m very sorry for that, but here we are.  A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!  I hope you enjoy 🙂


Whenever you think you have everything all planned out and in order, life has a funny way of turning your plans upside-down in the most unexpected of ways.

I wasn’t stupid – I had been through this before, and knew what random bouts of nausea were most likely to mean.  But, knowing how careful we had been since Gabriel’s birth, I prayed that it wasn’t the case.  I couldn’t afford another distraction.

So, in the weeks that passed, I went to work as normal, ignoring the concern of Luc and my parents and their suggestions that I should stay home and rest, still in the hope that my temporary illness was just that – temporary.  Some days I was more tired than others, but I managed to struggle on – at first without too much difficulty, but the tiredness and the nausea combined eventually became too much for me, and I (quite literally) collapsed.

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I awoke what must have been hours later, because I had left work at three in the afternoon and it was now almost sunset.  I took my phone out of my pocket to check the time, and found that I had five missed calls from home.  I cursed under my breath.  Luc must have been worried sick.

I arrived home fifteen minutes later and found Luc upstairs, sitting on the floor of the nursery with Gabriel.  I couldn’t help smiling as I watched Luc attempting to teach our son a nursery rhyme, while Gabriel ignored him completely, staring curiously around the room instead.  His eyes lit up when they landed on me.  “Mama!”

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Luc turned, too, but frowned at me as I moved forward to greet Gabriel with a kiss on the forehead.  “Where were you?” he hissed.

“Later,” I mumbled.  “Let’s get Gabe to bed first.”

Luc nodded, getting to his feet and scooping Gabriel into his arms.  He lowered the toddler into the crib a few feet away and bent down to kiss him goodnight.  “Night-night, my boy,” he murmured against his soft hair.

“Night-night!”  Gabriel echoed cheerfully.

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Once he was sure that Gabriel was settled down and ready for sleep, Luc straightened and turned back to me.  “Well?”  he said.  “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

I nodded, with half a glance at our sleeping son, and whispered, “I think… I think I might be pregnant.”

“What?!”  His shock was evident, but I had hoped he, at least, would be pleased with this development.  “When?  How?  I mean…” he bit his lip.  “We’ve been so careful!  Are you sure?  How do you know?”

I held up my hands defensively against his rapid onslaught of questions.  “I’m not a hundred percent sure,” I admitted.  “But… there’ve been a few signs.”

“What signs?  I haven’t noticed…”

I sighed, and recounted that afternoon’s events, along with the unusual tiredness and vomiting I’d been experiencing in recent weeks.  I had expected Luc to be angry, but to my surprise he simply pulled me into his arms and held me close.

“Why do you insist on doing this to yourself, Di?” he sighed sorrowfully in my ear.  “Why do you push yourself to the limits until you break from the strain?”

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I shook my head.  “I don’t know,” I whispered.

He sighed.  “I worry about you, you know.”  He turned his head to kiss the side of my neck.  “Promise me you won’t push yourself too far.  Promise you’ll stay at home and get some rest, at least for a few days until we can get someone to confirm the situation.”

I knew he wouldn’t let up until I promised that I wouldn’t put myself in harm’s way again.  And, deep down, I knew he was right.  “I promise.”

Several days later, after four weeks of unrelenting fatigue and nausea, Luc drove me to the hospital in town for a doctor’s appointment, at which my worst fears were confirmed.  I was pregnant, again.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love Gabriel dearly, or even that I didn’t want a family with Luc.  It was just that right now wasn’t the best time for it to happen.  Still, I never gave a second thought to the idea of aborting my pregnancy.  This was my baby, and now that it was here, come hell or high water I would bring it into the world safe and sound.

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Although I was now on maternity leave from work, and in daily fear that I would lose my job altogether if I didn’t get back to it soon enough, being pregnant wasn’t all bad.  One of the few bright sides was that it meant I had hours every day to spend with Luc and Gabriel, which I took full advantage of, to the best of my stunted capabilities.

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Mum and Dad were over the moon when I told them about my pregnancy.  I suspected that they had always yearned for more grandchildren, and since Flynn was barely eighteen and none of us had heard from Emily in years, the burden of their hopes had largely fallen to me.  Both of them promised to do whatever they could to support me and Luc in the months ahead, and after the babies’ birth.

Yes, you read that right.  Babies, as in plural.  As in twins.  I was a bit wary of the idea, honestly, but Mum made up for that by being more excited than the rest of us put together.

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This pregnancy progressed much more smoothly than the last, owing largely to the fact that, this time, Luc remained firmly by my side every step of the way.  His excitement at the idea of watching and aiding in the preliminary growth of his children was so great it rivalled Mum’s.  I had rarely seen him in so good a mood, in spite of my ridiculous cravings and constant need for backrubs and foot massages.  He spent all his spare time reading all the pregnancy and childcare books he could get his hands on, or search online for things like “What to do when your girlfriend is pregnant with twins” and “How to be a helpful dad during birth”.  I couldn’t help but laugh every time I caught him at it.  Who knew that the boy who skipped school to vandalise public property had such a side to him?

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“You alright, babe?” he asked me, on one particularly trying evening when I was having difficulty even standing.

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I frowned.  “Not really.  I feel like a beached whale and my back hurts like hell.”

He smiled sympathetically.  “I can fix that,” he said, motioning for me to turn around.  His fingers settled lightly on my shoulders and started to knead and press the muscles there.  It hurt at first, but gradually the pain receded and I began to relax.

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“Better?” he asked as I stood up and stretched like a cat.

“Better,” I agreed.  Then, catching sight of my reflection in the mirror behind the dining table, I groaned.  “I still look like shit, though.”

Luc chuckled a little behind me.  “You look beautiful to me,” he whispered, leaning in to give me a gentle kiss.  I couldn’t help but smile when he did that.

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As he made to pull away, I reached up to cup my hands around the back of his head, keeping him close.  His hands settled on my waist and he smiled.

“I don’t know how you put up with me,” I told him.  “But thank you.”

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He kissed me again.  “Because I don’t care how bad you get, I love you more than I’ve ever loved anything in my life and I couldn’t imagine ever being with anyone else.”  The sincerity in his tone brought tears to my eyes.  “And on that note,” he continued, stepping away from me again, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

The implications of that statement, both good and bad, weighed heavily on my mind as I waited with bated breath, while Luc dropped to his knees and reached around to fumble in his back pocket, still grinning at me.  I held back my tears with extreme difficulty.  If this was what I thought it was… then I saw the velvet box, and couldn’t help the gasp that escaped me.

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“Diana,” he said, locking his eyes on mine, box at the ready.  “Feisty, beautiful, genius, mother of my children and love of my life… there hasn’t been a moment since I met you where I was able to imagine my life without you in it.  I’ve been thinking about this for a long while.  I love you, and I want to spend forever with you.  So… marry me?”  He finished this speech with a cocky smile, that didn’t quite hide the enormous grin he was trying (unsuccessfully) to suppress.

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“I could never marry anyone else,” I whispered.  “It’s always been you, Luc.  As soon as I’m one person again instead of three, I’ll marry you.”

He laughed as he stood up, drew me into his arms and hugged me tight.  “I love you,” he murmured in my ear.  All I could do was nod, but Luc understood.

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The remaining few months of my pregnancy passed in a happy blur.  Luc had read in one of his books that talking to the baby (babies) was good for its development, and put this into such rigorous practice that I sometimes felt as though he spent more time talking to my stomach than to me.  But I didn’t mind all that much, and the jokes and antics he put on for our babies’ benefit constantly had me in fits of laughter.

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At other times he would simply caress my stomach gently, hoping to feel even a small flicker of movement, and then there’d be a kick and he’d gasp and smile at me.  And I’d smile back.

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It happened early one morning as I was relaxing downstairs watching T.V. (the pregnancy had my sleep cycle all over the place).  It began as a small ache low in my abdomen.  Dread and excitement in equal measure filled me.  I recognised the signs.  The aches came more painfully and more frequently for the next hour, until television was no longer a worthy distraction.  I was on my feet clutching my belly in pain when Luc appeared at the foot of the stairs.

“Luc!”  I gasped through gritted teeth.  “Car… hospital… quickly!”

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Luc immediately dashed back upstairs and returned fully dressed and with car keys in hand.  “Come on, Di.”  He led me gently by the hand to the car, supporting me whenever a contraction hit.  We reached the hospital with minimal difficulty and I was rushed straight to the maternity ward in a wheelchair.

Eighteen gruelling hours later, our babies were born.  A boy and a girl.  We named the boy Hugo, and the girl Hope.

I was cleared to leave the hospital after two weeks, and Luc and I returned home in the cool of the evening with our two youngest children.

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Luc unpacked our bags when we got inside, while I attempted to quieten Hugo and Hope, who were both whining and whimpering.  “Shhh… we’ll feed you in a minute,” I told them.  Luc handed me one of the milk bottles we’d brought with us from the hospital, and raised his own in a mock toast.

“To family,” he said with a grin.

“To family,” I echoed, and lowered the teat of the bottle into Hugo’s desperate mouth.

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Chapter 3.12 – Good Things Come in Unexpected Packages

Luc…

I walked towards him as though in a daze, and, though every particle of my being yearned to be in his arms again, stopped about a metre in front of him and waited.  For all I knew, he might have come to say goodbye, or to drop off a box of stuff I had left at his place.  It was best to let him speak first and avoid humiliating myself.

“Di,” he said at last, “I’m sorry.”

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Wait, what?  He was apologising?  “I’m sorry,” he said again.  “For walking out like that, I-”

“Shh!” I cut him off, glaring.  He wasn’t the one who needed to apologise.  “You have nothing to be sorry for!” I said, ignoring his shocked expression.  “Luc, I’m sorry.  For everything.  I shouldn’t have yelled at you.  I shouldn’t have made you leave.  You’re sorry for walking out?  I didn’t exactly give you much choice at the time!”  Luc opened his mouth again, but I hurried on.  “I didn’t mean it when I said I never wanted to see you again, I swear I didn’t!  I…” I swallowed.  I had never been the best with expressing feelings, but he had a right to know how I really felt.  “I can’t imagine my life without you,” I finished earnestly.  “I should never have avoided you, and lied to you.  I should have told you from the start about… about the baby.”  Gathering my courage, I looked up at him for his reaction to that last part.  To my immense relief, he had a slight smile on his face.

“Well, I sure would have liked to know,” he said.  There was nothing accusatory in his tone, but I felt wretchedly guilty regardless.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.  “I’m so, so sorry for everything.”

“Hey,” he said gently, reaching up to stroke the back of his hand over my flushed cheek.  “It’s okay, Di.  I forgive you.”

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“You… you do?”

“Of course,” he said, looking surprised that I would ever doubt such a thing.  “God knows I’ve made enough mistakes of my own.  I couldn’t imagine life without you either, Di.  In fact, I plan to stick around for the rest of my life, if you’ll let me.”

I gasped.  He had basically just proposed.  Losing all restraint, I burst into tears and threw myself into his arms.  Luc caught me and stroked my back gently, making soothing sounds in my ear while I sobbed into his shoulder.

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After a few minutes, I managed to calm down enough to ask him the other question that had been plaguing my mind ever since I had seen him at the door.  “And… the baby?”

“What about it?” he asked.  “I’ll stay with you and help, of course.  I love you, Di, and I love the idea of having a family with you.  I know this is a lot sooner than either of us planned, but…” he grinned almost shyly at me.  “I’d like to give it a go, if you’re willing.”

“As if I wouldn’t be,” I said, rolling my eyes slightly but returning his smile.  Beaming as though he’d just won the lottery, Luc lowered his hands to my waist and pulled me close.  From the moment his lips touched mine, I was whole again.

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Luc moved in with us a few weeks later, bringing Ash with him.  With him around to comfort and reason with me, I was finally looking forward to having this baby.  I already knew that Luc would be a top-notch father just from the way he looked after me during those last few months of pregnancy, from countless backrubs to midnight grocery runs to satisfy my ridiculous cravings.  When the time finally came for our child to be born, it was Luc that drove me to the hospital, and held my hand throughout the whole long, difficult process.  He never left my side for a second.

Since it was my first pregnancy, the doctors kept me in the hospital for several weeks before I was finally cleared to go home.  Of course, Luc was there, packing suitcases and fitting car seats and generally never allowing me to lift a finger to help with anything.  He drove all three of us home from the hospital – him, me, and our son.  Gabriel.  Our little angel.

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As I’ve heard is often the case with newborns, neither Luc nor I had time or energy to think about much else for the first few months after Gabriel’s arrival.  Having my parents and brother around was an absolute godsend, since there was always someone to step in when it all just got too much to handle.  Flynn absolutely adored his nephew, and took any chance he could to play with or feed him, which was a real weight off my shoulders a lot of the time.

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Luc was perfect, of course.  Right from the outset he was by Gabriel’s side almost as much as I was, feeding and soothing, never shying away from even the nastiest of dirty diapers.  He and Gabriel were so clearly infatuated with each other that I was almost jealous.

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And Mum, predictably, was so thrilled with her first grandson that she hardly ever left him alone.  Sometimes it was helpful, but a lot of the time I felt like she needed reminding whose child Gabriel actually was.

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The bright side was that, after six months of diapers, blankets, bottles, cuddles and tears – lots and lots of tears, only some of which were Gabriel’s – things had settled down enough that I was able to start thinking about going back to work.  Since my university degree was only half complete I couldn’t make much use of it yet, but I figured even a low-level position would help me to get a foothold in the political scene.

“How do I look?” I asked Luc anxiously on the morning of my first day on the job as a polling officer.

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“Gorgeous, as always,” he responded sleepily from his position on the bed, though still with the teasing grin I loved.

“You’re just saying that.”

“It’s true that I would say you were gorgeous even if you were wearing a garbage bag,” he admitted, lying back against the headboard, “But that doesn’t mean I’m not telling the truth.  You could be wearing nothing at all – actually,” he added with a wink, “That’s not a bad idea…”

I groaned in frustration and scrutinised my reflection anxiously.  “I don’t have time for this.  Everything has to be perfect today!”

Taking pity on me, Luc got up from the bed and walked over to wrap his arms around my waist.

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“You’ll be fine,” he told me soothingly.  “You look beautiful.  Just be your intense, hard-working self and they’ll love you.”

“If you say so,” I said doubtfully, but I did feel a little better.

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As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about – everything was fine, just like Luc said.  The day went by without incident and I returned in the evening, exhausted but feeling more fulfilled than I had in months – my sense of ambition once again alive and kicking – to spend a few precious minutes with my little son before his bedtime.

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That day was the first of many I spent in the same routine over the next eighteen months.  Go to work, work hard, come home just in time to kiss Gabriel goodnight.  I was back where I wanted to be in spite of everything – in fact, I was in an even better place than I had pictured in the past, as Gabriel was a blessing like nothing I could ever have imagined.

It seemed to me like only a few weeks had passed before we were celebrating Gabriel’s second birthday.  Luckily for me, it was a weekend, so I was perfectly at leisure to set up a little party in the kitchen and help Gabriel blow out the candles on his homemade cake – courtesy of my dad, the five-star chef.  As he grew up, I heard a small sniff from behind me – it was Mum.  She reached out and took Gabriel gently from my arms, staring into his little face with misty eyes.

“What’s wrong, Mum?” I asked her, concerned.

She turned towards me, smiling sadly.  “He looks just like your grandmother when she was younger,” she said.  “Her hair… and her eyes.”

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I had never known grandma with anything other than white hair, but, recalling old photos I  had seen of her over the years, I could definitely see what Mum meant.  He certainly hadn’t got that colouring from me or Luc.

Now that Gabriel was older, I was neglecting my work a little in favour of spending as much of my weekends as I could with him.  He was a bright child – Luc liked to say that Gabriel had inherited my brains.  He was certainly a remarkably quick learner, and an eager one as well.  Brains or no, he had doubtless inherited my passion for learning.

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Luc, too, was spending every spare moment playing with Gabriel.  I knew that Luc loved me, but there was a special smile on his face every time he looked at our son that I had never seen there before.  Whenever I watched the two of them together, work seemed suddenly much less important, as if nothing could ever make me happier than what I had right in front of me.

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And when Luc and I weren’t with Gabriel, Flynn was.  The poor little boy rarely got a moment to himself.  Flynn adored his nephew as much as ever, and had many hours to spare now that  he had finished school and his eighteenth birthday was approaching.  I suspected that he wanted to spend as much time with Gabriel as he could before moving out to live on his own.

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I also noticed that he was hanging around with Mum and Dad a lot more lately.  It was true that they were getting on in years, and Flynn probably wouldn’t be staying at home much longer to see them.  I think Fort Starch had grown him up quite a bit, and he was starting to feel that it was time for him to make his own way in the world.

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Flynn had his birthday one quiet morning, while Dad and I were both at work.  I almost didn’t recognise him when I came home – it was as though he had turned into a man overnight.

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As I had suspected, Flynn was not planning on staying at home much longer.  As soon as he found a suitable place to live in town, he would be moving out.  Mum cried, but I, having caught on to his plan months ago, just gave him a tight hug before he left.

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“Be careful out there, little bro.”

“I always am,” he said, and I grinned.

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Life after Flynn’s departure went on as usual.  Luc took on primary childcare duties, while I went back to pursuing my dream job in politics.  Now that the election was over, I was working on collecting, analysing and recording data on public issues for the local council.  I left for work early every morning before most of the family was awake.  Luc, although a late sleeper by nature, always made sure to see me off with a kiss before I went.

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One evening when I arrived home from work, Luc was waiting for me in the front hall.  The moment he saw me walk through the door, he pulled me into his arms for a tight hug, which I gratefully returned.

“Thanks,” I murmured in his ear.  “I needed that.”

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“Hard day?” he asked as he drew away.

I shrugged.  “It wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy the work.  But yeah, it was difficult.  Difficult and exhausting.”  Luc squeezed my waist sympathetically.  “Where’s Gabe?”  I asked him.

“Playing with the chess set,” Luc chuckled.  “I swear he’s going to turn out a little genius just like you.  Straight A’s and all.”

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I rolled my eyes giving him a light poke in the chest for making fun of me.  Then I crossed the living room to where Gabriel, sure enough, was sitting at the chess table, poking at the pieces with a look of great concentration on his face.  I scooped him up into my arms and he giggled happily.

“Have you been playing chess all by yourself?” I asked him.  “Was Daddy playing with you?”

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Gabriel turned around and pointed at the discarded chess pieces, plainly not listening to a word I was saying.  He leaned away from me, trying to get back to playing with them, but I shook my head and pulled him back into my arms.

“Sorry, baby, but it’s bedtime now!  You can play with the chess pieces again tomorrow,” I promised him.  I expected him to cry, but Gabriel seemed fairly happy to be carried up to his crib and tucked in.  Perhaps he had realised how tired he really was.

“Goodnight, sweetie,” I said as I bent down to kiss his little head.  “See you tomorrow… I love you.”

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Then it was Luc’s turn to kiss Gabriel goodnight, while I retreated downstairs to finalise some reports I would be needing tomorrow.  Ash leapt onto the chair with me and curled up in my lap, purring softly.  I smiled.  It seemed like everything was finally working out for the better.  I had Luc, and I had Gabriel, and I had a promising job that I enjoyed – this was where I was meant to be, I was sure of it.

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Of course, that was before the afternoon a few weeks later, when I was forced to pull over on my way home from work to vomit my  guts out all over the footpath.

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I’ve been feeling like everything was a bit emotionally heavy lately, so I hope you guys enjoyed this little family-life interlude as much as I did.  We will return to your regular scheduled programming of dramatic events in the next chapter.  Happy events this time, though.  Poor Di and Luc deserve a break.

Chapter 3.11 – Into the Fire

It had been six weeks since Luc and I had… since we’d had our date at the park.  Emily’s birthday had come and gone, Flynn was home from boarding school for good, and I was expecting a visit any moment now from Mandy Best, now Mandy Hunter, who I hadn’t seen since her wedding to my cousin Ethan.  The doorbell sounded suddenly, and I practically ran to answer it.  There, on the threshold, stood my old best friend.

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“Mandy!” I yelled excitedly, public decorum forgotten as I threw myself into her arms.  She laughed and hugged me back tightly.

“It’s good to see you too, Di!”

The two of us made our way through the house to a back room, where we sat down together on a vacant sofa to catch up.

“So,” said Mandy.  “What’s been going on with you?  How’s things between you and Luc?”

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I couldn’t help but blush, remembering… recent developments.  Mandy, ever perceptive, saw it and gasped.  “Did you…?” she asked excitedly.

“What?”

She giggled like an overexcited schoolgirl.  “You slept with him, didn’t you?”

“W-What?!” I spluttered.  “N-No, I… well… yes,” I admitted, flushing scarlet.  She gave a little shriek and jumped to her feet, clapping her hands.

“Ha ha!  I KNEW it!!”

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“Mandy, calm down…” I said hastily, worried that my family would hear her and think something was wrong, but Mandy wasn’t listening.

“So?” she prompted.  “How was it?”

I could literally feel the heat radiating from my face.  “That’s private!” I gasped.

She rolled her eyes.  “Oh, please.  What are best friends for?  I’ll tell you all about my honeymoon,” she added with a wink.

“No, thank you,” I said firmly.

“Aww, come on, Di!”

“No.”  I cast around for a topic to distract her.  “But you can tell me how things are between you and Ethan.  How’s marriage treating you?”

She scowled at my refusal to give in to her prying, but let it go with a sigh.  “Pretty well, actually,” she said, smiling.  “Everyone was warning me about the ups and downs and so on, but so far it’s only been ups.  You know, Ethan’s a pretty quiet guy, so we don’t really fight or anything like that.”   I snorted, thinking of the contrast between that and my own relationship, which seemed to be nothing but ups and downs.

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“What’s so funny?”  Mandy asked curiously, sinking back onto the couch beside me.

“Nothing,” I said.  “It’s just that Luc and I fight all the time.”

I sighed.  It wasn’t exactly my ideal state of affairs.

Mandy nodded.  “I believe you,” she said emphatically.  “You two used to make sparks fly whenever you got together.”  She giggled.  “The chemistry was unbelievable.”

I rolled my eyes at her, smiling.  But a sudden sickening lurch in my stomach had me on my feet a second later, one hand clapped to my mouth, the other holding my abdomen.

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“I’ll be right back,” I muttered hurriedly, then sprinted to the bathroom next door and dropped to my knees next to the toilet.  Heaving and panting, I spent the next several minutes emptying the contents of my stomach into the bowl.  When I had choked out what seemed to be the last of it, I washed my hands and wiped my mouth on a tissue before heading back to where Mandy waited, looking concerned.

“Are you okay, Di?” she asked worriedly.

“Fine,” I said.  “Sorry, I think I might have some kind of bug.  It’s not the first time that’s happened.”

Mandy just stared at me, looking thoughtful.

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“Di…” she said slowly.  “How long have you been sleeping with Luc?”

I frowned.  “Mandy, I told you I wasn’t going to talk about-”

“Please,” she cut me off.  “Just humour me for a bit.”

I sighed.  “About six weeks, why?”

“And in that time, have you, um…”

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I suddenly understood what she was asking, and almost said “Of course!”, but something stopped me.  Thinking about it, I wasn’t so sure.  In fact… I was at least two weeks overdue already.  But surely, that didn’t mean…

“Di?”

I looked up at her with wide eyes, shaking my head.  “I can’t be,” I whispered.

Mandy looked sympathetic.  “Is it a possibility, though?” she asked gently.

I shook my head firmly.  “No.  I mean, yes, but no.  It’s impossible.  I can’t be pregnant.  I’m going back to university in a few more months, and then I’m going to get a job at City Hall!  We haven’t even been sleeping together that long!  I can’t be!”  My voice was desperate now.  I felt like crying.  This wasn’t happening.  It couldn’t be.  Mandy leaned forward and drew me into a soothing hug.

“It’s going to be okay,” she murmured in my ear.  “It’ll be fine, I promise.”  I didn’t see how that could possibly be the case if I really was pregnant, but I allowed her to comfort me all the same.

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I felt slightly better by the time she drew away, but Mandy still looked concerned.  “I think you should go to a doctor,” she said.  “Just to be sure.  I could come with you, if you like.  Or Luc.”

I shook my head.  “I want to do it alone.”  And it had to be now.  I couldn’t spend any longer not knowing what was going on.  Mandy nodded understandingly.

“Okay, well, you have my number, right?  Call me when you know what’s what,” she said.

I nodded, already feeling around in my pocket for my keys.  “Thanks, Mandy.”

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Mandy smiled and gave me a last hug before leaving.  The moment her car was out of site, I jumped into my own and sped towards the hospital in the city.

A quick visit to the doctor’s office confirmed what, deep down, I had known already.  I was pregnant.  With Luc’s child.  What the hell was I going to do?

The next two weeks I spent hiding at home, watching TV with Flynn and eating whatever took my fancy, trying not to think about anything and pretending that everything was still just the way it had been a month ago.  Soon, I would go back to university, complete my communications degree, and return to Starlight Shores fully equipped for the political career I had always dreamed of.

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There was no way I was really pregnant.  Mandy, the doctor… they had just been making it up.  Never mind the morning sickness, the cravings, the slight swelling of my belly… none of it was out of the ordinary.  False pregnancies were a thing, right?  This was just one of those.  Nothing to worry about in the long term.  I had plans for my life, and I would not allow something like this to ruin them.  No way.  Not ever.

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Luc called a few times, and I became very good at making up excuses not to hang out.  I was happy to talk on the phone, but I was too busy to go out.  I had work to do, I had to take Flynn to the doctor, my parents were out of town and I had to stay home with my brother, I was studying to prepare for the new semester at university… the list went on and on.  But I couldn’t afford to meet up in person.  Luc always saw right through me, and I couldn’t deal with his honesty right now.  Not when I was trying so hard to bury my own head in the sand as deep as it would go.

Eventually, as the weeks stretched into months, his calls became less frequent, but every time he called now he sounded increasingly worried.  Soon, I took to turning off my phone for most of the day so I didn’t have to take his calls.  I told Luc that it was getting old and kept running out of battery power, and my charger was nowhere to be found.  I could tell he didn’t believe me, but as long as he stayed away, I didn’t care.

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After a while, however, the fact of my pregnancy had simply grown too ‘big’ to ignore, such that even I could no longer find excuses for dismissing it.  A fact was a fact… but that didn’t change the way I felt about it.  I told my parents what had happened and explained the situation to them, but still refused to see Luc, in spite of the fact that I was frankly miserable without him.  The hormones didn’t help much, either.  But this was his fault, I told myself.  My life had crumbled to pieces, and it was his fault.

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He didn’t just call, of course.  He came to my house a few times to talk to me in person, no doubt trying to understand why I was avoiding him.  Every time I heard him at the door, heard him calling my name, the pain in his voice broke my heart.  I pleaded with Dad to lie to him, tell him that I was asleep, or out, or anything to get him to go away.  Dad did this readily enough, since he himself was feeling pretty angry with Luc over the whole situation.  In Dad’s mind, Luc was the one to blame for getting me pregnant, causing me to sink into a depressive slump over the loss of all my hopes and dreams, and breaking my heart to boot.  Though I knew deep down that this was unfair, I didn’t bother to correct him.  Dad was the main thing standing between Luc and me at the moment, my primary protection against the possibility of being forced to face my fears head-on.  As long as I didn’t have to see Luc, didn’t have to talk to him about what was going on, I could still pretend that nothing was.

The day eventually came, however, when Dad was no longer around to protect me.  He was at work, Emily was God-knew-where, and Mum was at the lake with Flynn, teaching him to fish.  I was relaxing on the couch in the entrance hall when I heard a knock on the door.  I stood up quickly and glanced out the window, hoping against hope that it wasn’t Luc.

It was.  I didn’t have time to hide.  The moment I stood up to look out the window, our eyes locked, and his face lit up with a strange mix of joy, relief, and pain.  My own heart ached with the knowledge that I was the cause of that pain, but I ignored it.  I had no choice – trying not to think about what Luc would say or do once he saw me, I walked to the door and opened it.

The moment the gap was wide enough, Luc slipped past me into the house, as though afraid that I was going to shut it again in his face.  With shaking hands, I closed the door behind me, then turned to face him.  “Luc… I can explain.”

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He frowned.  “I sure hope so.  What the hell is going on with you, Di?  Why are you avoiding me?  Lying to me?  Refusing to even talk to me?!”  The pain in his voice broke my heart.  “Do you have any idea how worried I’ve…”

Luc’s voice died as his eyes finally landed on my stomach.  There was no way to miss it, and no way it could be mistaken for anything other than what it was.  His mouth opened, but no sound came out.

The silence was deafening.

It was several minutes before Luc managed to regain his power of speech.  “Diana…” he croaked, his voice hoarse.  “Are you…?”

“I can explain,” I whispered, again.  I tried to meet his gaze, but he was refusing to look me in the eye.  A confused series of emotions was flitting across his face.  Fear… bewilderment… sorrow… happiness… confusion… anger?  But why would he be…

“It…”  Luc swallowed uncomfortably.  “It is… mine… isn’t it?”

I stared at him.  How could he possibly believe otherwise?  “Of course it’s yours!” I said, disbelieving.  I felt anger bubbling up inside me at what he was suggesting.  “Do you not trust me at all?”

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“Well,” he snapped, his temper rising, “You haven’t exactly given me much reason to, these past few months, have you?”

I couldn’t believe him.  “Hold up,” I said.  “You think I’ve been avoiding you… because I slept with someone else?”

“Well, did you?”

His question was like a stab through the heart.  I felt tears well up in my eyes almost instantly and start to spill down my cheeks.  Damn pregnancy hormones.

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“Of course not!”  I almost shouted.  “How could you even think that?”

“Well, like I said-”

“Luc, I haven’t even been out of the house in months!  To even suggest something like that… is that how little you think of me?  I was so afraid of telling you, afraid of how you’d react – that’s why I was avoiding you! – and now this!”  I was furious now.  “I didn’t plan for this to happen, okay?  It’s your fault!  You knew how much my dreams meant to me!  How much you meant to me!  I thought you understood!  I thought…”  I was finding it difficult to speak… I kept choking on my own sobs.  “I can’t believe… that you would do this.  Any of this!”  I paused, breathing deeply, fighting to keep my temper under control.  I couldn’t believe we were doing this again.  Damn it, I didn’t want to fight with him all the time!

But my temper refused to be calmed.  He had practically accused me of sleeping with someone else!  Clearly, he didn’t know me – didn’t trust me – at all.  I meant nothing to him.  Chest heaving with emotion, I made sure to look into his eyes when I spoke again.  “I never want to see you again.”

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Luc’s face turned pale.  “Di-” he gasped.

JUST GO!!”  I screamed.

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He went.  Without another word.

But as long as I lived, I would never forget the look on his face as he turned… or the suffocating pain in my heart as I watched him leave for the last time.

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The weeks that followed were the most miserable I had ever had to endure.  Unless I was very much mistaken, I had, somehow, just broken up with the love of my life.

I had regretted it the moment I saw him walk out the door.  Why hadn’t I called out to him?  Run to him, apologised, begged him not to leave?  Perhaps, if I had… well, it was too late now.  I knew Luc, and he was too proud for second chances – once I had said it was over, which was more or less what I had said, it was over.  No returns.  But that didn’t stop it hurting like hell every waking second.  It didn’t stop me replaying the scene over and over in my head, torturing myself endlessly for hours at a time.  And it didn’t stop me wandering around aimlessly at all hours of the day and night, too agonised to sleep, too exhausted to do anything else, unable to think of anything but him.  His eyes… his laugh… his voice… his smile… his breath on my ear… his lips against mine… his arms around me, pulling me tight, making me feel like nothing and no one could ever hurt me as long as I was with him.  Gone… All of it, gone.  I would never see Luc again.

And I was having his child.

I was lying on the couch in my parents room one stormy afternoon – my own was too full of painful memories – staring dully at the ceiling when there was a soft knock on the door and Mum came in.  I got up slowly.  I had seen the growing worry in her face every time she looked at me over the previous weeks, but couldn’t bring myself to care.  I didn’t care about anything much anymore.  So I didn’t bother to say anything, knowing she was just going to try and coax me into eating something, or going outside, or talking to her and Dad.  Until she spoke.

“Diana, honey,” she said softly.  “There’s someone downstairs to see you.”

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I stared at her.  Something in her tone seemed to hint that there was more significance to this visitor than her otherwise casual statement would suggest.  Yet there was only one thing I found significant at the moment, and she knew that perfectly well.  And it wasn’t… it couldn’t be… him.

“Mum,” I whispered.  “It’s not…”

She nodded, silently, smiling.

“That’s impossible,” I told her, not daring to believe it.  “We broke up.  He doesn’t want to see me.”

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“In that case, you’ll have to tell me what on earth he’s doing in our living room,” she said, a hint of a grin flickering across her face.  “I certainly didn’t invite him.”  Then she grew serious, reaching out a hand to rest on my shoulder while she looked kindly into my eyes – her eyes.

“Di, baby, that man is crazy about you.  Anyone can see it.  And we both know there’s nothing in this world that means more to you than he does.”  She leaned forward to kiss me on the cheek.  “The poor boy looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks, and it’s not hard to guess what’s behind it.”

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Was it possible?  There was only one way to find out.  I managed to smile gratefully through my tears.  “Thanks, Mum,” I whispered, and I meant it.

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Never had a walk been so painfully long as that from my parents’ bedroom to the front door.  My entire body was shaking, and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears the whole way.  My sweaty hands slipped on the railing as I stumbled down the stairs, and out of the corner of my eye I could see a familiar figure standing in the hall below.

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I paused where I was on the staircase and looked down.  My eyes met his, and my heart immediately started thumping against my ribcage so powerfully that I thought it would burst out of my chest.  He wasn’t smiling, but he had that look in his eyes – the look he only ever had when he looked at me.

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I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t breathe.  The world stood still.  A single word fell from my trembling lips, a word that meant everything, and more, to me.

Luc…

Chapter 3.10 – Out of the Frying Pan

Warning:  This chapter contains sim nudity and *AHEM* ‘adult themes’


 No one was around when I got home.  I was glad, since that meant there would be no questions.  I made my way up to my room alone, closed the door, and collapsed into the chair with my face in my hands, while the tears continued to fall.

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Surely – surely – this wasn’t the end.  It couldn’t be.  After everything I had gone through with Luc, after everything we had said to each other… God, the things we said.  The things said!  The things I did!  My body shook with sobs as the events of the evening flashed across my mind.  How could I have done that to Luc?  How could I have walked out on him like that?  Of course he would hate me for what I had done.  If the situations were reversed, if he had kissed another girl… I felt a stab of pain through my heart at the mere thought.  I wasn’t sure I would have been able to forgive him if that been the case.  It didn’t matter what he had done years ago – he was right, this was entirely different.  Entirely unforgivable.

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Of course, he would never want to see me again.  It was my fault.  had ruined everything.  With that thought, I could feel my heart breaking.  I couldn’t bear it.  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t stand to be alone a second longer.  With trembling fingers, I extracted my phone from my pocket and called the first person I thought of.

Ten agonising minutes passed before he arrived.  In that time, I had stood up, paced back and forth across my room, had a drink, paced some more, taken several deep breaths… and collapsed again on the floor beside my bed in a fit of tears.

Finally, I heard the click of the front door opening.  Footsteps sounded on the stairs, growing louder as they approached my room, then the door was thrown open and Pat was kneeling at my side, his face sad, eyebrows knitted together in concern.

“Di…” he said gently.  “Di, what’s happened?”

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I could do nothing but continue to sob, tears streaming over my cheeks and soaking my hair.  Pat reached out to comfort me, but instinctively I cowered away from him, afraid to let him touch me.  “No…” was all I could whisper.  “Please…”

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“Di, please.  Tell me what’s wrong.”  He looked as though he was about to cry himself, but made no move to touch me again.  I buried my face in my hands and shook my head.  I couldn’t speak – it felt as though I was being crushed by the pain.

“Is this about Luc?” he asked, gently.  Surprised, I lifted my head to look at him, and nodded.  I bit my lip to stop it trembling, still struggling to form a coherent sentence.

Pat scowled at my admission and started to stand.  “That’s it,” he said furiously.  “I’m going to kill him for this.  I told him… I wouldn’t… but if he’s hurt you-”

I grabbed his arm to stop him, frantically shaking my head.  “No,” I croaked.  “Please, Pat… it wasn’t his fault.”

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Clearly fighting to stay calm, he sank to his knees again.  “Then what is it?  What’s happened, Di?  Tell me.  You know I’m here for you.”

Choking back my tears, I explained to him, as best I could, what I had done.  With Jake, and with Luc, and all about our argument that night.  I tried to leave out as much as possible of what Luc had told me of his past – that wasn’t mine to share.  When I got to the part about walking out the door, my voice hitched, and another sob caught in my throat.  What had I done?

Pat, who had listened calmly throughout, stretched out a hesitant hand to gently brush against the side of my face.

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“It’s going to be okay,” he told me, wiping the stream of tears from my cheek with his thumb.  “Okay?  I promise.  I don’t know Luc all that well, but I know you, and if- if you love him…” his voice faltered and a new sorrow filled his eyes, but he pressed on bravely, “… if you love him, he’s got to be a pretty great guy.  There’s no way he’s going to abandon you just like that.  Not after all that’s happened.”

“But…” I wasn’t convinced.  “Pat, everyone has their limits.  I cheated on him.  I kissed another guy.”

“You were drunk.”

I shook my head.  “That doesn’t change what I did.  Why would… why would he want me after… after that?”  I barely finished the question as the pain of what I had done rose up again inside me.  I threw my arms around Pat’s neck and pressed my face into his shoulder, drenching his shirt with my tears as I cried.  I felt his muscles stiffen under my fingers, but refused to let go.  This was all I had.  Without him here, I wouldn’t be able to bear it, I knew it.  He was all I had to cling to as my world fell to pieces around me.

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After a few moments, I felt his arms around my shoulders, drawing me into a tight hug, seeming to understand what I needed in that moment.  “Shhh…” he whispered, dropping his head down next to mine.  “Shh, Di… It’s going to be okay… I’m here… It’s going to be alright.”

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He held me like that for what seemed like hours, stroking my back gently, murmuring soothing words into my ear, until finally my sobs subsided and I hiccoughed myself into silence at last.

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When the tears had ceased, Pat stood up again, pulling me to my feet after him.  He took my hands reassuringly and looked me in the eyes.  “Okay, listen,” he said.  “Even if what you said is the case, you can’t know for sure how he feels until you talk to him about it.”

“But-”

“No, listen to me,” he said firmly, cutting my protests short.  “You have to talk this out.  It’s the only way to resolve it.  You love him, right?”

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I nodded.  “More than anything,” I whispered.

His jaw clenched slightly, but he went on,  “Then talk to him.  If he cares for you as much as he seems to, there’s no way he’s just going to leave you because of this.  It wasn’t your fault.  Once he’s calmed down a bit, he’ll understand that as well.”

For the first time, I allowed myself to feel a small hint of hope.  “Do you think so?”

“Of course I do.”  Then his expression softened.  “You’re an incredible person, Di,” he said earnestly.  “Luc is the luckiest man on Earth.  If he doesn’t see that, it’s his fault, not yours.”

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I bit my lip.  I wasn’t so sure about that.  But either way, I was definitely lucky to have Pat by my side.  I gave him a small smile, and moved forward to give him a hug.  “Thanks, Pat.  Thanks for everything.”

His voice sounded slightly hoarse as he replied, but he hugged me back and didn’t pull away.  “Anytime, Di.”

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In spite of Pat’s good advice, it took me a whole week to work up the courage to go see Luc again.  Throughout that time, I was completely miserable.  I turned over all possible outcomes of the situation again and again in my head until I was sure it would drive me mad.  Every day I woke up thinking that today was the day I would go back and talk to him, but by evening I was still telling myself that he would surely need more time.  Perhaps a part of me was hoping that he would call first, so that I didn’t have to.

By the following Saturday, I was fed up with moping around.  Enough is enough, I told myself.  This is Luc, for goodness’ sake.  What’s the worst that could happen?  Preferring not to think about the answer to my own rhetorical question, I steeled myself and headed down the street towards his house.  Luckily, it was only a few blocks away, so there wasn’t enough time to chicken out and run back home again.  Soon I was nervously climbing the steps to his front door, not certain why I felt the need to tiptoe.  I rang the doorbell, holding my breath as I did so, and waited.

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And waited.

I was about to turn around and go home (I must admit, with a certain amount of relief) when I heard scuffling sounds on the other side of the door.  A second later it was thrown open and Luc was there, standing on the threshold, staring at me.  “Di…” he breathed, looking stunned to see me.  “What are you…” he shook his head, as though confused.  “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“I didn’t expect to be here,” I told him honestly.  He smiled (which I took as a good sign) and stepped out onto the veranda, closing the door behind him as he did so.  I knew I had to be the first to speak – I was afraid of what he might say if I stayed quiet, so I took a deep breath to calm myself.  “Luc, I’m sorry,” I said, doing my best to look him in the eyes.  “I’m sorry for getting drunk, I’m sorry for hurting you, I’m sorry for yelling at you.  I… I hope you can forgive me.  I love you, Luc.  Please, I… Luc?” for a strange expression had suddenly come over his face.  “Lu-mmh!”

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The rest of my sentence was lost in his mouth as he stumbled forward, caught me around the waist and kissed me passionately.  For several moments I was frozen in place, too shocked to move, wondering what on earth had gotten into him.  I was still trying to make sense of the unexpected change when he eventually pulled away, still holding me in his arms, and smiled down at me.  I searched his eyes for a trace of anger or resentment, but saw nothing but love and… was it remorse?… staring back at me.  My knees went weak with relief.  He still wanted me.

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“Do you want to come inside, and we can talk?”  Luc asked, almost bashfully.  I nodded, allowing him to lead me back inside the house and over to the couch where we sat down together.  Ash, noticing my presence, leapt up onto the sofa cushion beside me and curled up in my lap, purring loudly.  Luc watched her with a hint of a grin playing on his lips.

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“She likes you,” he said.  Ash gave a loud meow and wriggled out of my arms, landing lightly on the floor again.  Luc and I both laughed.  “I think,” he added.  I grinned, but the smile was quickly wiped off my face by the memory of why I had come.  I cleared my throat nervously.

“Luc, I’m-”

“No,” he interrupted me.  “I’m sorry, Di.”

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I looked at him in surprise as he went on.  “I shouldn’t have yelled at you the way I did.  I was hurt, and angry.”

“Anyone would be,” I interjected quickly.  He grimaced.

“Sure, but I took it out on the wrong person.  It wasn’t your fault, Di.  If anything, it was mine.  I encouraged you to go out to parties and stuff while you were at uni…”

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“Luc, no!” I said, horrified.  “You didn’t tell me to get drunk!  None of this is your fault, you can’t think that way!”

He gave a small, grateful smile, but then frowned.  “In that case, it’s that filthy slimeball’s fault for daring to touch you.”  He got to his feet abruptly, fists clenched.  “I swear I’m going to kill that bastard.”

There he went again with his hot temper.  I stood up and laid a soothing hand on his arm.  “Luc, it’s okay.  There’s nothing we can do about it right now.”

Luc scowled.  “That makes it even worse.  I should have been there to protect you!”  He kicked the couch in frustration.  I quickly took his hands in mine to stop him from damaging anything else.

“You can’t protect me all the time, silly.  Yes, that guy took advantage of me.  I’m mad at him, too, if that’s any consolation.  But right now…” I took his face in my hands, forcing him to look me in the eyes.  “He doesn’t matter.  I don’t care about him.  I care about you.”  I pressed a soft kiss to his lips.  “You and I are what matters.  Please, stop thinking about that other guy.”  I kissed him again, longer this time.  Luc smiled down at me, and I was relieved to see that my words seemed to have calmed him down a little.

“I’m definitely not thinking about anyone else right now,” he said with a grin, and kissed me again, catching me off guard.  When we broke apart, he was still smiling.  “Go out with me,” he said suddenly.

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I laughed.  “I thought we’d covered that part already.”

Luc rolled his eyes, still grinning.  “I meant on a date, Genius.  Like a proper date, to the park or somewhere.  We haven’t gone out since you got back, I thought it’d be nice.  What do you say?”

Deciding it would be fun to tease him a little, I pretended to think about it for a few moments, and his face fell.  Without a word, I turned and started to walk away.  “Di?” he sounded panicked as he followed me to the door and outside onto the veranda.  Before I could walk down the steps, however, he grabbed my waist, stopping me.  “Di?

Grinning, I turned in his arms and pulled his face to mine, kissing him, making him gasp in surprise.  He responded immediately, tightening his grip on my waist to pull me towards him and kissing me back with equal enthusiasm.  As he made to deepen the kiss, however, I placed my hands on his chest and moved away, suppressing a giggle at the look of disappointment on his face.  I gave his lips a last peck, and winked.

“Meet me at the park at six.”

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The park up the hill from our house was a popular venue for hosting large events, although it was smaller than the one in town where the festival set up every year.  Since it was Autumn, however, and the day was unusually cold, there was hardly anyone there except for us.

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“Hey, look!” Luc called, taking my hand and pulling me to a wooden gazebo in a corner of the park.  “They have a karaoke machine.”

I raised my eyebrows, and he grinned.  “You’re not serious.”

“Yeah I am.  Come on, it’ll be fun.  I hear vocal talent runs in your family,” he added with a wink.

“It must have skipped a generation,” I laughed, but allowed him to drag me to the machine and press a microphone into my hand.

“What song are you picking?” I asked curiously, watching him scroll through the selection screen.  Luc shifted so that his body was blocking my view.

“It’s a surprise.”


A/N:  In case you’re curious, the song they’re singing here is actually the (English) version of the song below, which was in fact playing on the in-game speakers the first time Luc and Di danced together at Emily’s party.  You may want to listen to it as you read the next scene.


 

He straightened up and raised his microphone as the opening bars of the mystery song rang from the speakers.  They sounded oddly familiar.  I listened intently as he began to sing the first verse.  He wasn’t half bad either, I thought, impressed.

“The sun is so hot,

The drinks are so cold…”

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“I know this song,” I said slowly.

Luc skipped a few bars to reply.  “I certainly hope so,” he said with a grin, and went on singing.

I gasped in realisation.  “This is that song!  The one that was playing… at Emily’s party, when we…”

“Cause there’s so many fine women that my head is spinnin’…”  Luc belted out the chorus while I bent low to look at the screen.  This was the same song that Luc had got me to dance to, only the second time we met.  Grinning, I began to sing the second part of the duet along with him.

“Hey!”

“Na na na…”

“Hey!  Hey!”

“Na na na na…”

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I was laughing as I sang, thinking how cheesily romantic it was that he should have chosen this song.  Or maybe he just wanted to pick one that he knew I’d know, so we could sing it together… though his knowing grin suggested otherwise.

As we sang, I found myself loosening up and getting more and more into the song, just like that first dance at my sister’s party.  I was having too much fun to care how loud we were, or even that my voice was jarringly worse than his.

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When the song ended, it was my turn to scroll through the selections list for the next round. We sang through several more songs together until it started to get dark, at which point Luc pulled a packet of sausages out of the grocery bag he’d brought with him and suggested we have something to eat.

Luc grilled the sausages while I made a tray of drinks at the bar, since the stock cupboard had been conveniently left unlocked by whoever had last hired the gazebo for an event.

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When the sausages were done, we stuffed them into a couple of buns from Luc’s grocery bag and sat down at one of the picnic tables under the shelter to eat them.  Sitting there at night, with the person I loved most in the world beside me and the rain hammering on the tin roof above us, those hot dogs tasted like the most delicious thing I had ever eaten in my life.

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We stopped on the bridge on our way home to take a commemorative photo of the two of us together.  Luc insisted, although I hated getting my picture taken.

“It’s raining,” I moaned.

“It’ll only take a second.”  I rolled my eyes, but smiled so that he could snap a picture on his phone.

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“There, happy?”

“Very,” Luc replied, smiling as he gave me a quick kiss on the lips.  He checked his watch.  “It’s getting pretty late, actually.  Do you want to stay over at mine tonight?  I can sleep on the couch.”

I nodded gratefully.  “If that’s okay.”

We ran home together, since neither of us had brought an umbrella, holding tightly to each other’s hands.  When we reached the veranda of Luc’s house, we paused to catch our breath and brush some of the excess water off our clothes.  “I had a great time tonight,” I told him, smiling up into his eyes glowing with warmth from the porch light.  “Thanks for asking me out.”

He chuckled.  “Anytime.”

I stood on tiptoe to kiss him, holding my arms around his neck for balance.  The back of his neck was cold from the rain, but his lips were deliciously warm.

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His hands fell to my waist and he kissed me back for a few seconds before pulling away.  “It’s cold, we should get inside,” he said.  I nodded.

Inside the house was much warmer than outside.  I took off my sweater and scarf and placed them on the end table just inside the door; Luc did the same with his jacket.  I turned around to say goodnight, and found him staring at me with a strange look in his eyes.  Love, yes, but also… sorrow?  And something else I couldn’t quite place, but that for some reason made my legs shake and my heart beat wildly.  “… Don’t look at me like that,” I whispered.

Luc took a step towards me.  He raised one eyebrow and the corners of his mouth quirked up.  “Like what?”

“Like… like…” my brain didn’t seem to be functioning as well as usual.  He took another step.  “Like that!”  I cried hopelessly, pointing at his face.

“My face?” He walked the last few feet to where I stood and took me in his arms, still grinning.  I looked up at him with wide eyes.  I trusted Luc, but right now I had no idea what was going through his mind.  Yet I made no move to push him away.  He lowered his face to mine until our lips were inches apart, and I could feel his breath fanning across my face and see the flecks of gold in his familiar green eyes.  “You’re beautiful,” he murmured, and then his lips were pressing hungrily against mine and he was kissing me like he had never kissed me before, and it was all I could do to cling to him and stop my suddenly weak knees giving way completely.

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He spun me around and stumbled forward a few steps, so that my back was pressed against the wall behind me.  I reached up, tangling my fingers in his hair, and bit lightly on his bottom lip, making him groan and tug on my waist with his free hand so that my hips were pulled flush against his.

Almost reluctantly, his mouth drew away from mine in favour of trailing soft kisses along my jawline, down my neck and over my collarbone.  His lips found a sensitive spot on the side of my neck and began to kiss and suckle it, causing me to gasp in surprise.  “Luc…” I moaned breathlessly, and felt him smile against my skin.

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The hand at my back slid down to rest on the back of my thigh, pulling my leg so that it was resting on his hip, and I could feel every inch of him pressed against me.  I lifted my other leg to wrap it around him and he lifted me easily into the air, kicking the front door shut with his foot and starting to carry me towards the stairs.

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We were both panting by the time we reached the bedroom and I tumbled backwards onto the bed, still wrapped in Luc’s arms.  Both our shirts had been torn off and thrown somewhere on the stairs, and now I ran my fingers lightly across his chest, tracing the outlines of the colourful dragon inked into his skin.

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“I didn’t know you had a tattoo here,” I murmured, transfixed.

Luc grinned.  “I don’t think you’ve seen me without a shirt on since I got it done.  Public nudity is typically frowned upon, you see.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Smartass.”

He chuckled and bent down to kiss me again, but pulled away a second later, his eyes serious once more.  “Are you sure you… want this?”  he asked, sounding concerned.  “I know it’s all happening really fast.  If you’re not ready, if you don’t-”  I silenced him with my lips, pressing them hungrily against his, hoping to convey something of what I was feeling through the kiss.

I pulled back to smile at him.  “I’m sure, Luc.  I love you.”  I kissed him again.  “You’re the only one I want to be with.  It’s always been you.”

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Satisfied, he lowered his head to kiss my open lips, with so much love and passion it made my head spin.  He lowered me down onto the bed, breathing heavily, his gaze never wavering from my own, and in that moment, Luc… his eyes, his face, his body, his soul…  was my whole world.  Nothing else mattered.

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And nothing I had ever experienced in my life – physically or emotionally – compared to that night, and the sensation of falling asleep in the arms of the man I loved.

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Chapter 3.9 – Trouble in Paradise

This barely even warrants a warning in my opinion, but just in case:  This chapter gets a bit steamy around the middle (nothing more than kissing though).  If that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable, just skip over the parts with the kissing pics – you’ll know them when you see them.


I woke up in my own bed hours later with the worst headache of my life and no recollection of how I had got there.  I supposed Ashley or someone from the party must have taken me home.  I checked the time on my phone – almost five in the morning.  My throat felt so dry I was convinced no amount of water would quench my thirst.  Groaning, I sat up and climbed groggily out of the bed, vaguely registering as I did so that I had slept in my underwear – last night’s clothes were scattered haphazardly over the floor beside the bed.

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I dragged my feet to the kitchen and ran myself a glass of water from the tap.  As I refilled it, having drained it in one gulp, I checked the phone in my hand for new messages and noticed I had several missed calls from Luc last night.  Dammit, I’d forgotten that I promised to call him again yesterday!  I gulped down the remaining water and tapped his name in the contacts.  He picked up on the first ring, in spite of the lateness of the hour.

“Di?” he answered, sounding tired.

“Did I wake you up?”

“No, I couldn’t sleep,” he sighed.  “I was worried, you usually don’t forget to call.”

“Crap, I’m so sorry, Luc.  Last night, I, uh…”  I trailed off, not quite sure what to say.

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“Are you okay, Di?  Your voice sounds funny.”

I started to laugh, then stopped almost immediately.  The vibrations hurt my head.  “Yeah, I um… well I decided to take your advice, so I went to a party last night that a girl in my class invited me to.”

I heard him laugh on the other end, and my heart did a funny kind of flip at the sound.  “Let me guess.  You’re hungover.”

“I guess so?  I mean, I have no basis for comparison, but my head feels like a melon and last I remember was passing out, before I woke up this morning…”

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He chuckled slightly, though there was still a strain of tension to his voice.  “That’s so like you,” he muttered.  “Taking everything to extremes. I tell you to get out once in a while and next thing you go and get wasted…”

Blushing, I opened my mouth to defend myself, but no defense came to mind.  He was right, I had gone a bit far.  My stomach churned as, for the first time, memories of last night started to come back to me.  That’s right, I kissed… oh, God.  Without meaning to, I let out a kind of pained gasp.

“Di?”  Luc asked, concerned.  “Are you okay?”

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I gulped, and nodded.  “Y-Yeah…” I replied shakily.  “I’m fine.  I’m sorry, I have to go shower and stuff… I have class this morning.  Talk to you later?”

“Sure, later.”  I was about to end the call when he spoke again.  “Di?”

“Huh?”

“I love you.”

I smiled in spite of myself, though the guilt of what I had done last night was clawing at my insides.  “Yeah.  Love you too.”  I hung up.

The next few weeks passed by in a blur.  Before I knew it, exams had arrived, and I was spending night after night holed up in my bedroom, studying.

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At the time, I felt that I had done pretty well, though I had to continually remind myself not to keep stressing over results.  To this end, I avoided my classmates as much as possible in the days surrounding the exams; I went to the lecture hall, took the test in silence, then returned home to study for the next exam.

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My report card came in the mail several weeks later.  In spite of my mid-term, uh… distraction… I had managed to achieve straight A’s across all of my classes.  I would have to come back next semester to complete my degree, but for now at least I was assured of being able to continue classes when I returned.

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Being anxious as I was to see my family and Luc again, the shuttle ride home seemed to take twice as long as the journey to campus a few months previously.  When finally I and my suitcase were dropped off in Starlight Shores, I was so excited to be home that I practically sprinted through the front door-

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-and straight into his arms.

I dropped the suitcase by the door as soon as I saw Luc standing in the hall waiting for me, and threw both arms around his neck.  His hands fell to my lower back, holding me close.

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I sighed happily and closed my eyes.  I had missed this so much – his arms around me, his eyes, his voice, his smile.  Luc tightened his grip on my waist, and moved in to nuzzle his nose against mine.  “God, I missed you, Genius,” he murmured, a teasing smile playing on his lips.

I smiled up at him.  “Me too.  I should have called more often, I’m sorry.”

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He shook his head, rising onto his toes slightly to plant a kiss on my forehead.  “Nothing to be sorry for.  I’m just glad to have you home-”  he squeezed my hand, “-with me.”

I nodded, allowing him to guide me to the nearest couch where we sat down with his arm around my shoulders.  “Now,” he said with a grin, “I know you’re bursting with news, so tell me everything.”

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I went to Luc’s house for the first time the following Saturday.  Back when we were in high school, he’d never allowed Mandy and me to come over – I suspected it was all part of his ‘don’t get too close to me’ routine.  To me, the fact that he had invited me over of his own accord was a sign that he was finally starting to allow me into his private life… and that meant more to me than I could find words to express.

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As I entered, a grey tabby cat with shining turquoise eyes greeted me at the door.  “Hey there,” I said softly, bending down so she could sniff my hand.

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“That’s Ash,” said Luc’s voice beside me.

I nodded.  “Your kitten – I remember.  Though she’s not much of a kitten any more, are you, princess?”

Ash purred and licked at my fingers, making me giggle.

“Do you want something to drink, Di?”

I looked over at Luc.  “Nah, I’m okay,” I told him.  I stood up and went to sit on the couch; seconds later, he joined me.  I smiled at him.  “You know, I’m really glad you invited me to come over,” I said.  “Honestly, I was starting to think I’d never see this place.”

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He raised one eyebrow, looking confused.  “Why would you think that?”

I shrugged.  “It’s just… you’ve always been very secretive about your private life.  Sometimes I still feel like there’s a lot I still don’t know about you.”

“You know everything there is to know,” he said.

“You’re lying.”

Luc laughed.  “Yeah, okay.  But you know me a hell of a lot better than anyone else does, and that’s the truth.”

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I sighed, turning in my seat so that I could lie down with my head in his lap.  I looked up at him to see my own smile reflected in his green eyes.  “I missed you,” I murmured.

He  chuckled.  “I feel like we’ve had this conversation already.”

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“Smartass.”  I pouted, and poked his chest.  He just laughed harder and drew his arm around my shoulder, pulling me upwards to press his lips against mine.  I frowned, but didn’t push him away.

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Slowly, almost without realising it, I brought my hand up to cup the back of his head, tangling my fingers in his hair and tugging him closer.  His hand gripped my shoulder more tightly, pulling me into his chest as the kiss went on… and on.

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We parted for a moment, gasping for breath, and he shifted me off his lap and onto the couch beside him, leaning over so he could kiss me again, cradling my face in his hands.  I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and drew him towards me, running my tongue gently along his bottom lip.  At that, he let out a kind of pained groan and drew away, breathing heavily.

“Did I do something wrong?” I asked, slightly panicked that I had hurt him in some way.  Luc laughed slightly and shook his head, leaning forward to rest his forehead against mine.

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“No.  God, no.  You didn’t do anything wrong, Di, it’s just…” he sighed.  “There are some things I want you to know before this goes any further.  I don’t want to have any secrets from you if we were going to… you know…” he trailed off, looking at me imploringly.

I nodded, smiling, and shifted away from him slightly, hoping to make conversation a little easier for him.  “I understand.  What did you want to tell me?”

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Luc took a deep breath, presumably trying to calm himself, before he began to speak.  I could still feel my own heart pounding erratically in my chest.  “Do you remember that night we first met, how I said you weren’t like the people that normally hung around there?”

I smiled slightly at the recollection of our first meeting.  “Of course.”

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“And that time in the hot tub, at your place, when you asked me about that night and I said… all those things to you… do you remember that?  And then we fought, and you wouldn’t speak to me, and I couldn’t stand it, but-”

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“Luc,”  I interrupted him.  “Please, don’t torture yourself.  I remember everything.  What’s your point?”

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He sighed.  “My point is, I thought you wouldn’t understand if I told you about the stuff I used to get up to.  But now, I feel like I want you to know everything about me.  I want you to know about who I was before I met you.”

“Luc…” I whispered.  “You don’t have to-”

“I want to,” he said again, more firmly this time.  “Please, Di.”

I nodded silently, encouraging him to go on.  “I grew up in Bridgeport with my parents,” he began.  I smiled.  To think we had spent our childhoods in the same town, and I had never known it until now…  “Suffice to say we didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.  When I was about twelve I started doing odd jobs around town, mechanical stuff mostly, since that’s what I was good at, but also mowing lawns, washing cars, anything that would get me paid.  I saved every cent I made.  By the time I was fifteen, I had enough money to leave my parents’ house, start a new life somewhere far away.  So I came here.  Rented a trailer, enrolled in the high school, got a job at the tattoo parlour in town.”

“They let fifteen-year-olds work there?”

He shrugged.  “I guess so.  They never asked for I.D. or anything.”

“And your parents…?”

“I haven’t spoken to them since.”

He paused for a few moments, staring at the opposite wall.  I knew this had to be hard for him, sharing so much of himself all at once.  It would definitely have been hard for me in his position.

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“My boss at the tattoo parlour knew I was a student, though, so I could only work there in the afternoons.  I always hated school, I only enrolled in the first place to keep the law off my back.”  He sighed.  “I was bored.  I slept all day, worked at the parlour until six every evening, and then I started looking for ways to spend the night out on the town.  I could pass for seventeen or eighteen, perhaps, but not twenty-one, so my nightlife options were pretty limited.”  He glanced at me, as if to see how I was taking it.  I smiled at him, and he seemed relieved as he went on talking.

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“I started hanging out behind the school after hours, and well… turns out I wasn’t the only rebellious teen in town with nothing to do at night.”  I raised my eyebrows, but nodded to indicate that he could keep talking.  “Anyway, the other guys that hung around there were the first semblance of friends I found in this town.  They welcomed me into their gang-”

“Gang?!”  I echoed, alarmed.

“Not like a gang gang.  Just a group of young guys doing stupid things.  They let me hang out with them, shared their booze, and showed me the kind of stuff they got up to.”

I swallowed, deciding to ignore the part about underage drinking.  “And… what kind of stuff did they get up to?”

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He grinned.  “Do you remember the day the school was closed because they had to clean graffiti off every inch of the building?”

I gasped.  “That was you?

“Well, not just me.  I mean the other guys helped, but the actual artistic parts were all me.  Honestly, I was pretty disappointed they didn’t leave them up.”

“Luc…”  I frowned.

“What?” he grinned.  “It’s not like I do that kind of stuff anymore.  That wasn’t even the worst of it.”  He laughed at the look of horror on my face.  “Di, I understand this is way out of your territory.  But it’s over now.  That’s not me anymore.  I just wanted to tell you so you’d understand.”

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I clenched my jaw.  He was right.  The Luc sitting in front of me now wasn’t the same Luc that got drunk and vandalised schools at age sixteen.  But then… “What changed?”  I asked him.

Luc shrugged.  “You,” he said simply.

“Me?  I don’t understand.”

“After we met for the first time, and then at that party, I decided I wanted to get to know you better.  But the only things I knew about you were your address and the fact that you were crazy about schoolwork for some weird reason.  So even though I hated it, I started coming to school more often during the day, so I could see you.  And since I wasn’t spending my days sleeping, that more or less put an end to my nighttime wanderings.”

I can’t say I wasn’t flattered, but I was still a little confused.  I wasn’t that special, after all.  “But… why me?”

He smiled.  “The way you were with studying was something in itself, but on the rare occasions when I got to see you smiling, having fun, letting go, I knew there was a lot more to you than you let on.  I’d never in my life met anyone like you, Di.”  His gaze softened as he looked at me.  “Never then… and never since.”

He leaned in to kiss me again, and I almost let him.  I could feel his breath on my lips when I spoke.  “Luc… wait.”

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I placed both hands on his chest and gently pushed him away.  He looked at me in surprise, and what appeared to be fear.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.  “Is it…”

I shook my head before he could finish the sentence, knowing what he was thinking.  “It’s nothing to do with the stuff you just told me,” I said.  “There’s something I have to tell you, too.”

The momentary relief I had seen flash in his eyes vanished at my words.  He could tell it was serious from the look on my face.  “Di… what is it?” he whispered.

I swallowed, as though somehow it would get rid of the guilt that was plaguing me.  “At that party I went to, the one where I got drunk… I didn’t tell you everything that happened.  See there was this guy, one of my classmates, and like I said, I was drunk, and he… we…”

Luc looked terrified.  “Di… you didn’t…”

“No!”  I burst out, immediately understanding what he was implying.  “No, of course not, we just kissed… well, kind of made out, actually… I… I thought he was you, I… ”  I trailed off, looking at the expression on his face.  “Luc…?” I had never seen anything like the pain I saw then in his eyes, and I wished I could erase the memory of that look from my mind forever.

He stood up, and I followed.  “Luc…?”  I said his name again.  No response.  Just that look.

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“Luc, please, say something!”  I begged, tears welling up in my eyes.

“I can’t… believe it.”  His voice was less than a whisper.

I raised my eyes to his.  “What?”

“I can’t believe it,” he repeated, more firmly, and I winced at the pain in his voice.

I grimaced, still trying to keep the tears at bay.  “Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking for the past ten minutes.”

He scowled at me.  “This is totally different.”

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“Oh?”  I challenged him.  I was still feeling miserably guilty, but I wasn’t going to let him think that everything he had just told me about his past wasn’t going to affect me because of that.  “How so?”

He gritted his teeth in frustration and shut his eyes, refusing to look at me.  “That was years ago-”

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“-That doesn’t make a difference!”  I interrupted.  The tears were flowing in earnest now.

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“Look, I was young-”

“-I was drunk!-”

“-You still cheated on me

“-You still vandalised a school

“-You kissed another guy-”

“-YOU BROKE THE LAW-”

YOU BROKE MY-” he stopped himself abruptly and just glared at me, red-faced and breathing deeply, as though he had suddenly realised what he was about to confess.

We both knew what he meant.  The unsaid word hung in the air between us, an impenetrable barrier where seconds earlier there had been nothing but hot air.  I stood, frozen, staring at his face, tears streaming down my cheeks while he still refused to look me in the eye.  And I, terrified of what I might see there, didn’t want him to.

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I don’t know how long we both stood there, blood boiling, throats aching, too afraid to even look at one another – too afraid of hearing those dreaded words, that this was the end of everything.

Eventually I came to my senses and realised that there was nothing more that either of us could say at that moment that hadn’t already been said.  Without another word or glance, I strode past him and out the front door.  The last thing I saw was Luc’s back as he turned away, before I slammed the door closed with a thunderous crash.

I barely even heard it.

Chapter 3.8 – The Other Side of the Coin

After that long and unannounced hiatus, I am pleased to say that my exams are pretty much over, life has calmed down a bit and I’ve had the break I think I needed from sims for a while.  I’m finally ready to get back to writing!  A huge sorry for the unexplained absence, and thank you to everyone who stuck with me throughout.  Read and enjoy 🙂


True to my word to Luc, I began in the following weeks to stay back later after class in an unnatural effort to cultivate friendships with some of the other students.  Unnatural, because left to myself I probably would never have dreamed of it in a million years.  In all honesty, it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated; the students at Sims University were surprisingly welcoming and cordial compared to those I had known in high school.  After the initial awkwardness, I even found myself enjoying the company of most of them, from the ‘rebels’ to the ‘jocks’ and everything in between.

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A month or two before finals, one of the girls invited me to my first-ever college party at her dorm.  Ashley and I had become pretty good friends already, but remembering the wild parties my sister used to throw in our basement, I had some concerns about what this one might involve.  After days of convincing, against my better judgement but with my promise to Luc in mind, I agreed to go.  Just this once couldn’t do too much harm, could it?

Ashley made sure to inform me that I wouldn’t have to dress up for the party.  That, at least, was a relief to me… until she went on to suggest that I arrive in swimmers.  Supposedly, that was the outfit of choice for bonfire parties like this one was intended to be.  Although embarrassed, I arrived on her doorstep on the night dressed as she had asked (with a change of clothes stowed in a bag, just in case), and was greeted enthusiastically by a host of my classmates.

“Diana, you came!”  Ashley cried, beaming as she pulled me through the door.  I eyed the beer keg in the entrance hall warily as we walked past.  “Come on in and meet everyone!”

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I nodded mutely, and allowed her to pull me through the house to a recreation room packed with young adults, some more skimpily dressed than others.  Apparently the swimsuit thing was optional after all.  When I confronted Ashley about it, she laughed.

“Yeah okay, I lied, you don’t have to wear swimmers,” she admitted.  “But honestly, it would have been a waste otherwise.  You look super hot in that!”

I blushed, wondering if anyone else had thought the same thing.  No sooner had I set foot inside the room than a young man approached me, dark-haired and casually dressed, with crystal-blue eyes that spent more time trained on my chest during our brief conversation than I was strictly comfortable with.  After only a few minutes of idle chatter, I began scanning the room for an escape route.

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I waved at Ashley to get her attention.  “Hey, Ash?”

She was by my side a second later.  “What’s up?”

I leaned over to whisper in her ear, so the other party guests wouldn’t hear.  “Um… is it okay if I go change?  I’m feeling a bit… exposed.”

She nodded understandingly, though looking slightly disappointed, patted my shoulder, and sent me back through the door we had just walked through with directions to the nearest bathroom.  Relieved, I returned a few minutes later dressed in my usual clothes and ready to give this party a second chance.

A second later, the same young man appeared in front of me.  “I wondered where you’d run off to.  I’m Jake, by the way,” he said confidently, extending a hand in my direction.

“Diana,” I returned, with what I hoped was a friendly smile, though it might have come across as just nervous.

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Luckily, Jake didn’t seem to mind.  “Nice to meet you, Diana,” he smiled.  “Do you normally come to these sorts of things?  I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.  I definitely would have remembered if I had,” he added, looking me up and down with a hungry expression in his eyes that made my skin crawl.

I cleared my throat uncomfortably.  “Uh, no, I… usually spend my time at home.  This is my first party, actually.”

“First time?” His smile widened.  “Good to see you’ve come out of your shell.  A hot piece of ass like you shouldn’t stay cooped up for too long.”

I bristled, my temper beginning to rise to the surface.  “I’ll have you know-” I began, but didn’t get much further, since the next thing I knew his mouth was pressed against mine and an unfamiliar tongue was trying to worm its way between my tightly closed lips.

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It took all the strength I had just to wrench him away from me.

“Excuse you!” I gasped furiously, the moment I was free.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

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Jake grinned at my outburst, and winked.  “I like my women fiery.”  I raised a hand to slap the disgusting smirk off his face, and he blanched.  “Whoa there, sugar!  No need to get violent!”

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Ignoring his efforts to calm me, I allowed my hand to sweep across his face with a resounding smack, before turning on my heel and walking away, not bothering to even respond.  I found Ashley in a corner chatting with a few of our classmates.  “Hey, Ash?  I think I’m gonna head off now.”

“What?” she turned quickly, eyes wide with disappointment.  “No, Di, you can’t leave yet!  You just got here!”  She paused, thinking.  “Tell you what, come downstairs and we’ll crack open the keg together.  I need someone to help me with my keg stands.”  She giggled.  “Come on, what do you say?”

I hesitated.  On the one hand, I had never been inclined towards anything of the sort before in my life.  On the other… I had promised Luc that I would try to ‘let loose’ a bit while I was here.  And it was just a beer keg, it wasn’t like we were doing shots.  This was the kind of thing normal kids at university did.  Anything to get away from that Jake guy.  Decided, but not entirely convinced, I nodded.  “Okay, I’m in.”

Ashley beamed, grabbed my hand and dragged me downstairs to the entrance hall.  I had never lifted another person before, but I was a fast learner and Ashley was a cheerleader, so under her instruction I was soon able to support her upside-down in the air while she gulped beer straight from the nozzle of the keg.

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It was barely twenty seconds before she tumbled back down, grinning widely with beer dripping down her chin.  She winked at me.  “Now it’s your turn.”

Wait, what?!  I shook my head.  “Oh, no.  Nonononono.  No way.”  I had never had more than a few sips of alcohol in my life.

“Why?” she pouted.  “Come on, at least have a cup.  You don’t have to drink from the keg.”  I looked at her doubtfully.  “It’s just beer, Di.  It’s not going to kill you.  Come on, you’re at university!  Live a little!”

I sighed.  “Alright, one cup.”

Ashley grinned, filled one of the red party cups to the brim with beer and handed it to me.  I stared doubtfully at it for a few moments before taking a tentative sip.  Behind me, Ashley was already gulping down her own.

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All in all, I decided, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected.  Rather pleasant, actually.  I took another sip, deeper this time.  By the time the beer was half gone, I could feel a warm, cosy feeling spreading throughout my body, and started to relax.  I had to admit, this partying thing was… not too bad.

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As more of the other partygoers started to gravitate downstairs towards the keg, Ashley kept pressing me with refills.  Around the third cup, I lost track of how much I was drinking.  Though it wasn’t really my kind of thing, I was beginning to see why everyone else seemed to go in for this kind of lifestyle, particularly if you were someone like Emily.  Or even Luc.  I wondered if this was the kind of thing that he might enjoy if he wasn’t hanging around me all the time.  The thought made my throat tighten, and tears prickled behind my eyes.  Man, I missed him.  We hadn’t spoken since… how long ago was it now?  I couldn’t remember.  The crowds of people jostling around the beer keg pushed me this way and that, making my head spin as I struggled to regain control of my own body.

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Someone’s foot tangled itself with my own… I felt myself slipping backwards, and a pair of strong arms caught me.  I smiled and relaxed.  “Luc…”

He laughed in my ear.  “Whatever you want to call me, sugar, it’s up to you.”  I frowned at his voice… something wasn’t quite right, but in my drunken state I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.  I clung to him for support, trying to regain my balance as the room spun around me.

“Wah… why is the floor moving…” I mumbled confusedly.  He laughed, and before I could react had pulled me to him and claimed my lips with his own.

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I responded immediately, throwing my arms around him and kissing him back with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.  God, I had missed this… the sensations of his kiss, his arms around me, his lips on mine… for a few moments I stood, enthralled, lost in the moment, ignoring the small part of my brain that told me something wasn’t right.  Eventually that small part grew too prominent to ignore, and the realisation of my situation suddenly hit me.

Gasping, I gripped the front of Jake’s shirt and pushed him away as hard as I could.  “You… stop… how dare… no…” I mumbled incoherently, swaying dangerously on the spot.  I vaguely registered Ashley’s concerned face swimming in and out of focus, and heard her voice resound through my head, as if coming from a long way off.  At the same time I felt myself falling – at least I thought I did, honestly I couldn’t quite remember which way was up – falling, falling into darkness…  a sharp pain shot through my head… rowdy voices, laughter, Ashley’s face… something heavy tipped and sloshed nearby…

And then everything went black.

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Chapter 3.7 – Sims University

The shuttle ride to the campus was long and very boring.  I took the opportunity to read all the programs and information booklets the university had sent me, but pretty soon I had exhausted all forms of entertainment, and resorted to sleeping the rest of the journey away.

By the time we arrived at the campus itself, it was well into the afternoon.  A branded taxi conveniently delivered me right to the doorstep of my new house, a small one-bedroom I had rented for the semester.  Dorm living would certainly have been cheaper, but I had enough saved up for this, and besides, with my study habits, I was used to a certain degree of solitude.

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The house itself was pretty perfect.  I had only looked at images of it online before now, but was relieved to find that it was just as good as I had hoped, if not better.  There was an open living room with a T.V. and a small kitchen area in the corner, with a tiny bathroom through the door on the far wall.

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The bedroom was simple but pleasant, and happily equipped with everything I would be needing for my studies, including a desk and a mirror for practising my speechmaking skills.

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The first evening before classes began the next day was devoted to freshman orientation.  I wasn’t too interested in free stuff or invitations to frat parties, but I had heard that orientation was a good place to get acquainted with classes and professors, which I was definitely interested in.  So, after I had unpacked all my luggage, I cycled my rented university bike down the street to the Student Union building.

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Inside, I found, predictably, a bunch of booths set up advertising the different campus clubs, which were already surrounded by chattering students.  Since I had elected to compress the first two years of my course into one year, I doubted that I would have very much time for extracurricular activities, so I skipped the booths and the free posters and hacky sacks and headed upstairs instead.

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The upper floor of the Student Union was devoted to what appeared to be a common recreation room, with tables for pool and ping-pong and arcade games scattered around the walls.  There were several people around, two of whom I guessed were professors, based on how, well, old they looked compared to the students around them.  I hasted to introduce myself.

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Both professors were nice enough, but I soon discovered that neither was involved in the Communications faculty.

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Slightly disappointed, I decided that I would just have to wait until class tomorrow to meet my professors like everyone else.  I pulled my textbook out of my bag and sat down in a corner instead, determined to get ahead on some work this evening while I still could.

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The content was fascinating – I devoured the book with the passionate fervour I had become known for back in high school.  By the time I finally looked up from the pages, several hours later, and glanced out the window, the sky was already dark.

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I shivered, remembering stories I had heard about the sorts of things that happened on university campuses after dark, and decided to head home as quickly as I could.  I had parked my bicycle in one of the racks outside the building, so at least I had a reliable means of transport other than walking.

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It was fully dark by the time I reached home.  I made sure to shut and lock the front door on my way inside, knowing that Luc would go ballistic if he knew I was compromising my safety in any minute way.  The day had been more tiring than I had expected.  Glad that I had thought to go shopping when I arrived on campus the day before, I pulled a box of mac-and-cheese out of the cupboard and cooked for myself for the first time in my life.

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It wasn’t too bad, if I do say so myself.  Very little skill required in the making, but still.  After I had finished eating, I pulled out my textbook again for a bit of last-minute studying before my first class tomorrow.  Luc would have said I was reverting back to my old homework-obsessed ways.

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I smiled at the thought of Luc, and glanced hopefully at the clock.  It was really too late to call.  Although I knew he would want me to call him no matter how late it was, I was determined to let him get his sleep.

When my eyelids started to grow heavy and I found myself rereading the same sentence over and over again, I shut the textbook and put it safely away in my backpack ready for the next day.  I prided myself highly on my organisation, one of the few things about my overtly studious nature that being with Luc hadn’t compromised in some way.

He was my last thought as I got into bed, and drifted to sleep with a smile.

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Day Two.

7am was really an unreasonably early time to schedule a class, I decided as I left the house the next morning.  Granted, it was only 6am at the time – I didn’t know my way around yet, and I wasn’t taking any chances with tardiness on my first day.  Or any day, for that matter.

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By the time I had walked across what felt like the entire campus with my nose in a map searching for the right building, it was already 6:45.  Several of my classmates were already gathered outside the door waiting for the professor to arrive when I got there.

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I won’t bore you with the details of Political Science 101, especially since I can’t remember very much of the class myself.  The second and last class of the day was directly after the first – thankfully in an adjacent building – and ended around midday, which meant that I had the entire afternoon off to do what I liked.

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Knowing me, one might think that ‘doing what I liked’ meant a good, solid, six hour study session.  Ordinarily, that would be the case, but now I had better things on my mind.

“Hello?  Di?”

“Luc!”  Man, it felt good to hear his voice.  With everything that had been going on, the two days since we had last seen each other felt like an eternity.

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“Di!”  I could hear the smile in his voice.  “How’s it going?  How’s uni?  Tell me everything.”

Grinning from ear to ear, I did my best to recount to Luc everything that had happened in my first two days on campus, even pausing midway through to send him some pictures of the house.  He laughed when I told him about the previous night, and the sound did funny things to my heart.

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“I swear you spend more time studying than sleeping,” he said.  “Doesn’t it wear you out?”

I shook my head.  “It’s fascinating,” I told him sincerely.

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He chuckled again.  “If you say so.  Just promise me you’ll have some fun while you’re there as well.  I don’t want you to overwork my girlfriend.”

I blushed and smiled.  “I’ll try,” I promised.

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We talked on the phone for hours.  By the time we said our goodbyes and hung up,  it was past nightfall, and I hadn’t got any studying done.  I grinned.  Mission accomplished, Luc would say.

I hadn’t showered since the morning I had left home, so decided to test out the new facilities before getting an early night.  I would have plenty of time to study in the morning.

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Day Three.

First practical class.  My classmates and I borrowed radio equipment from the Communications faculty to practise our journalistic skills.

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It was not precisely within my area of interest, but I figured any practice in public speaking would be valuable in the career I wanted to pursue.  As I busied myself with an impromptu broadcast of campus goings-on, several passersby paused to watch in curiosity for a few minutes.

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When the class ended and most of us were in the process of putting away the equipment, a young man who I recognised from one of my lectures approached me.

“Can I help you?” I asked, trying to sound polite as we shook hands.

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“I just wanted to say hi.  I’ve seen you around in some of my lectures.  The name’s Pete.”

“Pleased to meet you.  I’m Diana.”  I smiled uncertainly in response to his cheerful grin.

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Pete and I chatted on for a bit, exchanging pleasantries and talking about how we were each finding the classes and professors.  I found out that Pete was also in the first year of his degree, but he was retaking a couple of classes to try and improve his grades from the previous semesters.  Privately, I became even more determined to get the best grades possible this semester so that I could be sure of not having to repeat anything.  My ambitious mind was already restless with big plans for the future, and I wanted to finish this course as quickly as I could.

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When I got home, having bought and eaten a sandwich at an on-campus cafe on the way, I sank into the armchair nearest the window and pulled my textbook out of my bag.  Much as I had loved talking to Luc, I couldn’t allow him to distract me for too long from my studies.  Surely he would understand – the sooner I topped this course, the sooner I could be back home with him.

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After the first few days, I started to settle into the rhythm of university life and relax a bit more.  Most afternoons were spent either poring over textbooks or staring at a screen for hours on end, trying to complete assignments on time.

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Unlike most of my classmates, I was finding the course highly enjoyable, and was always one of the few taking attentive notes in lectures rather than nursing a hangover or trying to catch up on hours of lost sleep.

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Because of this, I soon became a favourite with all of my professors.  I never considered myself much of a teacher’s pet, in spite of having the name thrown around me several times daily in high school, but I did work hard and if the teachers liked me for it, well, that was just an added bonus.

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I didn’t fear anything was wrong, therefore, when my Political Science professor came to visit me at my house on campus one evening.

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“Professor Cadence!  To what do I owe the pleasure?”  Okay, so maybe I was a bit of a suck-up.  Everyone has their weaknesses, right?

She smiled at me in return.  “May I come inside, Diana?”

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“Of course!”  I stepped aside to allow her into the house and shut the door behind her.  Once inside, she turned to face me with an unusually serious expression on her face.

“I realise you’re probably very busy with studies,” she said, eyeing the textbook on the coffee table, “so I’ll try to make this quick.  You know I love having you in my classes, Diana.”  I nodded and smiled, waiting for her to continue.

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“You’re a wonderfully intelligent, attentive student.  Your grades are absolutely exemplary, and you should be very proud of yourself.”  I nodded again, still silent.  Much as I enjoyed being showered with praise, I knew that couldn’t have been the only reason for her to take the trouble to come visit me in person.  She looked at my hopeful expression, and sighed.  “Be that as it may, I and some of your other professors are concerned that you are neglecting other important areas of your life at university.”

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I frowned.  Was there some coursework I had missed?  A practical lesson I had forgotten to attend?  Noticing my confusion, she continued, “To be precise, your social activities.”  I stared at her in surprise.  What did my social activities have to do with anything?  “Here at Sims University, we pride ourselves on both excellence and well-roundedness,” she went on.  “I am concerned that, in your pursuit of academic excellence, you have been neglecting to make friends or participate in any kind of club activities.  You must realise that while your studies are important, keeping your life here at university balanced is perhaps even more so.”

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I nodded, beginning to understand what she was talking about.  It was the same thing Luc had tried to tell me, when he made me promise to ‘have fun’ in the midst of all the studying.  For the first time, I began to seriously consider their point.

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“Do you understand what I’m saying?”  Professor Cadence asked me, gently.  I nodded, trying to smile.

“I understand, Professor.  I’ll do better, I promise.”

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She shook her head.  “It’s not a matter of ‘doing better’, Diana.  We just want to see you happy, and making the most out of your time here.”  I nodded again.  “Well, I can see you have a lot to do, so I’ll take my leave.  I’ll see you in class tomorrow?”

I grinned.  “Wouldn’t miss it, Professor.”

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After she had gone, I pulled out my phone and dialled Luc.  He picked up on the second ring.

“Hey.”

“Hey, Luc.  Is it too late to be calling?”

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He sighed placidly.  “It’s never too late for you to be calling, Di.  I miss you.”

“I miss you, too,” I told him sincerely.  “My professor just came to visit me.”

“Let me guess, to tell you how amazing a student you are?”

I laughed.  “That, yes, but also… she wanted to talk to me about social stuff.  She thinks I need to make more friends, get involved in clubs, that sort of thing.”

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“So, basically what I’ve been trying to tell you?”

“Uh… yeah.  Basically that.”

“So, are you going to listen this time?”  He wasn’t upset, but I still felt guilty for not keeping my promise to him.

“Yeah, I’ll try.”  I promised.  And I meant it this time.

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As the weeks went by, I kept my promise to Luc and the Professor, and put more effort into making friends in classes.  Not being a particularly social person by nature, I made it easier by telling myself that all this ‘networking’ would be useful later down the line.

To that end, I was also spending a lot of time nowadays in front of the mirror in my bedroom, practising my public speaking skills and trying to work out the best way to make a good impression on looks and manner alone.  It had never been my favourite thing to do, but I knew if I wanted to make a difference in the political scene I would have to be able to make speeches and introduce myself to strangers, hopefully while feeling as calm as I looked.

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And so I practised.

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On top of making friends in class, developing skills and keeping on top of all my coursework, I was still finding time to talk to Luc almost every afternoon.  He was my lifeline, a constant reminder of why I was here and what I had to look forward to when it was over.  And as much as I was enjoying university, there was a part of me that just couldn’t wait to be back home, with him.  The sooner, the better.

Chapter 3.6 – Departure

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me…

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Finally, this was it.  Today was the day I stopped being a teenager, and officially became a young adult.  No more public schooling – from now on it was farewell to high school, and hello to the joys of university life and the communications degree of my dreams.

The whole family, including Pat, was waiting for me when I got downstairs.  Since we had been inseparable in childhood, Pat had always shared my birthdays with me.  Both of us would be turning eighteen today.

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“Make a wish!” Mum reminded me as I blew out my candles.  I knew exactly what I wanted already… and I was going to get it.  Who needs wishes when you have hard work?

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Several weeks before my birthday, I had downloaded and printed a university aptitude test from the official Sims University website.  If I was lucky and scored high enough on that, I would be eligible for a scholarship grant to cover my tuition and accommodation fees.  Now that I was finally old enough, I lost no time in filling it out and sending it off to the university.  Even without the scholarship, I was going to uni, but it would be nice not to have to borrow money from my parents to pay for it.  Then it would really feel like had achieved it.

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Pat, meanwhile, had decided to move out as soon as he was old enough.  As he reminded me, my parents were not really his, and it was only their charity that had allowed him to live here for so long in the first place.

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While I fully understood his desire to make it on his own and stop living under my parents’ roof, I knew I was going to miss him a lot.  We had been the best of friends for as long as I could remember, and knowing that he wouldn’t be there to welcome me home from university would make the separation just that much harder.

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“I’ll miss you,” I told him as we hugged goodbye.  “Promise you’ll call?”

“Of course,” he said with a smile.  “I’d never leave you alone, Diana.”

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“My taxi’s waiting,” he added regretfully.  “I’d better go.”

I nodded, and stepped forward.  One last hug, a final wave – and he was gone.  Not forever, though, I reminded myself – and took what comfort I could from that fact.  We were still best friends, and I’d definitely be seeing him again when I came back from university.

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I soon realised that Pat’s was only one of many goodbyes I had to make over those final few months at home, and it wasn’t even the hardest.  The day after the results of my aptitude test came back, I had arranged to meet up with Luc at a park to share my success with him.  It was already mid-afternoon, and the day was warm, but the cool hints of early autumn winds made me shiver slightly as I waited, and I regretted not having dressed more warmly.

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I heard the sound of a car engine behind me, and a second later a taxi pulled up and Luc jumped out.  I turned and met his warm smile with one of my own, and immediately all thoughts of university and the weather and departures were swept away, to be replaced by the mind-numbing happiness I felt whenever he was around.

“Hey,” he greeted me.

“Hey, yourself,” I smiled back.

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“So, what’s up?” he asked me as we walked up the hill together.

I didn’t want to drop the uni-bomb just yet, so I shrugged.  “Nothing much.  It’s just been a while, I thought it would be nice to hang out together again.”

“Sounds good.  Did you have anything in particular in mind?”  We had reached the top of the hill and come to a stop near a small pond, surrounded by golden-orange maple trees.  Luc was at that moment occupied in admiring the view of the town below, so instead of replying, I seized my chance.  Grinning, I thrust my hand into the plastic bag I had brought with me and extracted a satisfyingly large water-filled balloon – which I then proceeded to burst against the back of his neck.

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“Ouch!  What the hell was-” he spun around angrily, caught sight of me dissolving in a fit of giggles with the remains of the rubber balloon still dangling from my fist, and let out a low whistle.  “Oh… Ohh.  You are so gonna get it.”

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“Bring it,” I giggled.  I scooped up an armful of water balloons and retreated about twenty metres away, where I stood poised and ready for battle.  “You’ll never defeat me!” I yelled triumphantly, taunting him into laughter with the silliest face I could muster.

“We’ll see about that,” he called back.  I hadn’t laughed this much in weeks.

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The battle raged on well into the afternoon.  One minute he would be beating me, the next a well-placed shot on my end would have him ducking behind trees for cover.

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At one point, he managed to get me with a balloon straight to the chest, the impact of which made me lose my balance and stumble over backwards.

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We ran for hours, shouted until our voices were hoarse, battled on until both of us were soaked and the grass around us was drowning in mud.  Near sunset we ran out of balloons and both collapsed, laughing, sprawled under a maple tree in a heap.

“That… was… incredible,” I gasped through my laughter.

“You’re telling me.  I haven’t had that much fun since… well… the last time we hung out, I guess.”  I met Luc’s eyes as he smiled at me, and was suddenly glad that we were sitting down.  At the same time I noticed that the evening had all at once turned unseasonably warm, in spite of the breeze and my still-damp clothes.

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“So, what’s really up?” he asked me seriously, after a few minutes of silence.  “There’s obviously something on your mind today.”

I had forgotten how easy it was for Luc to read me.  “Yeah, there is,” I conceded, trying to remain calm yet unable to fully contain my excitement.  I pulled the folded copy of my acceptance letter out of my pocket and handed it to him.  “I got in.”  I couldn’t suppress a wide grin as I said the words.  I got in… I was really going to university.

Luc’s eyes went wide as he scanned the letter, and my heart sank as I recognised a flash of disappointment in their depths.  But it was quickly replaced by the smile he gave as he reached out and drew me into a congratulatory hug.  “Di, that’s amazing.  I’m so happy for you.”

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Something seemed off.  “Are you really?” I asked him uncertainly.

“Of course!  This has been your dream ever since I’ve known you, and long before that.  It’s just…” he hesitated.  “I’m going to miss you, Di.  A lot.”

The sun had just begun to set when he took my hand in his.  The warmth in the gesture calmed me, even as I struggled to contain my own feelings of loneliness which threatened to spill over and overwhelm all the good that had come with being accepted into the course of my dreams.  I had been trying not to think about it too much, but I was going to miss him too… how much, I don’t think I had quite realised until that moment.

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“It’s not that I’m not happy for you,” he went on hurriedly.  “I’m so happy for you!  I just…” He took a deep breath.  “There’s something I have to tell you before you go.  I wasn’t going to say anything, but I can’t let you go without telling you, and then not see you for months and months and…”

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I had never seen him look so uneasy.  He groaned in frustration, turned away, ran his fingers through his hair the way he always did when he was stressed or confused.  Then he turned to face me, and something in his eyes made my heart stand still.  Without another word, he stepped forward…

Cupped my face in his strong hands…

And kissed me.

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Luc.

Kissed.

Me.

Luc kissed me.

For what felt like forever I just stood there, trying to make sense of things as a thousand feelings and thoughts and sensations bombarded my mind.  I had to stop this… had to tell him that we were just friends, that we couldn’t be anything more.  I had decided, I had promised myself.  Regardless of how I felt, or he felt, or… just friends.  I was too terrified of losing him for anything else.  But even knowing that, I…

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… I…

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… I…

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… never wanted this to end.

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I couldn’t have said how long it was before we finally broke apart – time seemed to have stood still in that moment.  I could feel my cheeks reddening under his steady gaze, but I had no idea what to say.  What could you say at a time like that?  Luc was the one who eventually broke the silence.

“I… wow…” he breathed.  “Di, I’m-”

“Don’t apologise!” I cut in, surprising both of us.  “… Please,” I added.  “Please don’t say you’re sorry.  Luc, that was… I’ve never… it was amazing,” I managed to admit.  I still couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eye, but I knew that teasing smile that did funny things to my heart would be playing on his lips right about now.

“Oh, yeah?” I could hear the playfulness in his voice.  “I could do better, if you want.”

I didn’t have time to gasp before his lips were on mine again, tenderly, determinedly.  This time, there was no room to feel surprised.  His arms were around my waist, pulling me against him; my hands reached up of their own accord and tangled themselves in his hair.  I could feel the erratic beating of his heart against my own chest, and he was closer than anyone had ever been to me before… and I never, never wanted to let him go.

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But I had to.

I didn’t realise I was crying until we both pulled away, panting slightly.  Luc’s thumb reached up and brushed at the dampness on my cheek.  “What’s the matter?” he asked me gently.

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“I…” I wasn’t quite sure what to say.  What was the matter with me?  Wasn’t this the best part of my life, where I was on the verge of achieving all I had ever wanted at once?  Wasn’t I about to take my first step on the road to success in the career of my dreams?

… So why would the tears continue to fall, regardless of all my efforts to stop them?

“Is it something I did?  I’m so sorry, if you want I’ll…” he trailed off, watching with concern as I shook my head.  “Then what?”

“I don’t want to go.”  I couldn’t do this.  I loved him, I loved Luc.  How could I go, now, knowing that?  How could I leave him and everything I loved behind in little over three weeks?  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t do it.  I was shaking as he drew me into his arms, allowing me to wipe my tears on his shirt.

“Hey… hey…” he cooed soothingly, stroking his free hand up and down my back.  “It’s okay, Di.  It’s going to be alright.”

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I shook my head, clinging to him like he was my lifeline.  “No, it really is,” he said firmly.  “It’s going to be okay.  Look at me, Di.”  He reached up to cup my face in his hands, and gently tilted my chin so I was forced to look him in the eyes.  “Do you remember the first time I met you?” he said.  “You got so mad at me for interrupting your study time.  I’ve rarely seen you without a book in your hands.  I had to make you stop studying at your own prom, for goodness’ sake!”  In spite of everything, he was smiling still.  “Now I’m going to do the opposite, because that’s what you need right now.  Di, this is something you’ve been working towards your whole life!  You may have forgotten it for the moment, but I know you want this more than anything else in the world.”

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I shook my head again.  “I want you.”

Luc closed his eyes, and let out a low groan.

“Believe me, Di,” he said, and I could hear the effort in his voice, “I’ve been dreaming of hearing those words from you for a long time.  I want to be with you, too.  But more than anything, I want you to be happy.  And going to university, achieving your dream, that’s what’s going to make you happy.  We both know that.”

At last, reluctantly, I nodded.  I knew he was right.

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Apparently encouraged, he went on.  “We’ll talk every day when you’re there, if you want.  You can call me and tell me all the exciting things about your classes and professors and how well you’re doing and how much they all love you.”  He was teasing me, but I could tell he was also serious.  And he was right, it made sense – it wasn’t like I couldn’t talk to anyone back home while I was away.  And I would be doing something I loved.

“And I’ll see you again when I come home for the mid-year break,” I added.

He nodded, wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close.  “And we’ll see each other when you come back home.”

Finally satisfied, I smiled, and allowed him to pull me into his warm embrace.  I knew that whatever happened, Luc wasn’t going anywhere… and that thought was the push I needed to keep me going.

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Those last few weeks were some of the happiest, and paradoxically the saddest, I had ever spent in my life.  When I wasn’t with Luc (and, let’s face it, those times were as few and far between as I could get them), I was catching up with Mandy, or bidding family members goodbye, or attending my graduation ceremony as class valedictorian.  When the big day finally arrived, Mum, Dad, Mandy, Luc, Emily and even Flynn were all there to see me off to uni.  And it didn’t matter that the weather was bad, or it was six in the freaking morning, or the air was freezing, or the taxi was cramped – I was finally at the point I had been working towards for my entire school career.  This was it – this was the moment.

And boy, was I ready for it.

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A.N.:  I’m sorry this chapter is a little shorter than some of the more recent ones have been.  I could have made it longer, but I felt that this was the most appropriate place to end it.  On the bright side, this update was on schedule!  Yay!  Here’s hoping I can keep this up from now on.  I know how upset some of you were at the end of last chapter when Di ‘made up her mind’ regarding Luc, so I hope you’re all happy with the new developments.  😉

Happy simming!

~ Fibi  ❤