My brother became a distant memory for all of us. Another quiet three years had passed with Sergio turning down job opportunities in bigger cities so we could stay on our little islet. We didn’t need the money – our garden was steadily producing and Sergio made more than enough for our small family.
Ella grew up as all children do. She looked just like her father, from her glossy black hair to her dark, soulful brown eyes. She was a quick study and a little too smart for her own good.
Our little family was happy and threat-free. My mother and Jeremie had even stopped keeping up their nightly vigil, assuming that my brother had finally given up. I agreed with them, but there was always a nagging fear that entered my heart whenever the darkness descended on our land.
One morning I was up early, getting ready for one of Brayden’s school trips to the beach. Mother came in and began making coffee quietly, something brooding about her demeanor. I never asked about her relationship with Jeremie, but lately something about it had been really bugging me.
“Mom,” I began quietly, “remember that night you came back? When you were in the family plot?”
She smiled softly, turning my way. “Of course, dear. It was my first time seeing you as an adult. Your first time seeing me.”
I swallowed. “You told me not to trust anyone. Not even you. What did you mean?”
Her face darkened and she shook her head. “No need for drudging up the past, little one.”
“What?” I laughed in disbelief. “I think it’s a pretty significant thing! Don’t you think you should explain yourself?”
She glanced back toward her bedroom, where Jeremie was still sleeping, I supposed. “Keep your voice down,” she hissed. Her eyelashes fluttered for a moment before she snapped, “I can’t talk to you about any of that. It was a warning that seemed like a good thing at the time. Ignore it.”
I didn’t let it go, though. “You can explain it to me or get the hell out of my house,” I replied coldly. “I can’t have anyone here I can’t trust with my family.”
She shook her head, pale hair fanning around her face for a moment. “My will is not my own,” she finally murmured – darkly. “I was raised from the grave by a Puppet Master – I am his poppet. I am his tool, his toy. Anything he wants of me, I do.”
I swallowed. “How so?”
She looked away. “Haven’t you wondered where Damon has been?” she said calmly.
I narrowed my eyes. I hadn’t seen him in four years at least.
“He angered his Puppet Master. He is no longer of this mortal coil,” she said gently, her gaze softening. “Jeremie gave us life and he can take it away in an instant. Anything he wants of me, I will do. Even if it means raising a hand to my own kin.”
My eyes were wide and I was shocked to find tears in them. “What?”
“He wants you alive, and your kin alive,” she added. “You are in no danger from him… as of this moment.”
My mouth fell open. Was she insinuating that…
“Get out,” I whispered.
“Layla, you’ll only make things worse by-“
“I want you both out by the time I come home,” I whispered. I turned away from her and headed upstairs to wipe away my tears and get Brayden ready for the field trip.
We stayed at the beach long after Brayden’s classmates were picked up by their parents. I didn’t want to go home, afraid that mom and Jeremie might still be there. I had called Sergio to tell him what happened and he assured me he would make sure they were gone before I came home.
When my phone began to ring around 7, I answered it instantly.
Sergio said the sweetest words I could hear at that point. “All clear. They’re gone and so are their things. I have a locksmith on the way out the change all the locks and we’ll have security installed tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks, babe,” I murmured before hanging up. To the kids I mustered the biggest smile I could. “Ice cream on the way home?!”
The excitement was enough to make me push aside my fears for a while.
When we got home, the kids were worried about ‘Grandma and Grandpa’ not being home. We explained that they moved to their own home so that they could spend more private time together, which was a lie we were too eager to tell.
The kids seemed to forget their upset feelings as soon as ice cream, toys, and X-Box 360 were broken out. Sergio and I stayed up all night, anxious and concerned about vengeance which never came.
The next morning, our security system was installed.
A few months had passed with only myself and Sergio to look after the kids. It was getting tough to take care of Ella while still taking care of the land – damn near impossible, in fact.
And that was when it occurred to me – I had missed my period this month.
“Sergio,” I called out. He poked his head around the corner, an eyebrow cocked. “I think… I might need to go into town tomorrow. To see a doctor.” Before he could get concerned, I rubbed a hand over my belly.
He instantly understood and looked just as worried as I felt. “I… I’ll take Ella into the precinct with me tomorrow. Just… call me when you know.”
Another positive. Our lives were about to get a lot harder.
That night when I got home, I made a few phone calls. It was time to get some professional help around the house just so I could have time to work in the garden. My life, and my children’s lives, depended on that land.
The live-in nanny, Frieda, was everything I could have hoped for. We took out the bathroom that had been built beside Ella’s room and turned it into a small room for the nanny, a newly graduated teen who was in need of a place to stay and money. She became like the family.
During those nine months of pregnancy, we celebrated three major milestones.
The first was Sergio turning 35 and becoming officially an ‘adult.’
Brayden also grew into a self-absorbed teen – very much like his biological dad. Evidently nature did triumph over nurture.
Despite his superiority complex, he loved his sister to death. Ella aged into an even more gorgeous young lady just weeks before my due-date with her future brother or sister.
That night, I awoke them all with my shouts as the pain started. I had awoken in a cold sweat in a puddle of blood. Fear sprang into my throat – the baby was coming, now, and something was wrong. Very wrong.