June 26, 2017

Intermission: Back in Sunset Valley, 2

Macy was humming as she mixed up a nice family salad.  She liked taking care of her family.  Her Dad kept trying to convince her to go out more, to date a little more, but she preferred to stay home.  It was just too difficult to put herself out there.

This, her family, it was safe.

"I'm going to beat you!" Jackson cried out across the room. 
She glanced over into the living room and saw Jackson and Jeremy getting into a video game. 

"No! No! No!" Jeremy called out with frustration, tapping his controller desperately in an attempt to beat his boyfriend.  She could've told him there was no way he could win.  Not with as much as Jackson "practiced" every day!
She chuckled under her breath, finishing off the salad with a low-fat vinaigrette. 

Then, the phone rang.
"I've got it!" she called out, setting aside meal prep.  Wiping her hands on her jeans, she hurried to the desk and grabbed the phone. 

"Hello?" she asked with a smile.
The voice on the other line filled her with dread.  "Lacie... oh my plumbbob," she whispered, horrified at the unwelcome reality check.  Her hand shook as she lifted her hand to cover the speaker and called out,  "DAD! It's Lacie!"

She heard a hiss from the phone, and lifted the receiver back up to her ear.  "Lacie?" she asked, relieved to hear the dial tone.

Jason's steps pounded on the stairs as he raced down.

"Is it Lacie?" he asked, worry and strain thickening his voice.
Macy faltered, dropping the phone back into the charger.  "She... she hung up..." she stuttered, looking away from the devastated look he shared with Moudy.  "I.... I'm sorry..."
"She hung up?" Jason asked, bracing himself.  "Well, this is good, right? She reached out to us.  It's the first step to getting her the help she needs, right?"  Jason turned to his friend, Moudy.  "Right?"
Moudy nodded.  "That's right. She heard you," he assured Jason. 
Jason's shoulders drooped.  "I just feel like I failed her," he said regretfully.  "I failed my baby girl.."
It killed Macy to see how much her Dad still suffered because of Lacie.  She'd argued with him about trying to reach out and contact her twin.  Unfortunately, he thought Lacie needed help and maybe some meds.  Macy knew deep down that Lacie was rotten to the core. 

She blew out a shaky breath and massaged the back of her neck.  But, still, nobody listened to her...

Unable to stand it a moment longer, she pushed past Dad and Moudy, racing upstairs to her room.  She paced for a few minutes, feeling such hopelessness and helplessness. 

With a frustrated shudder, she brutally wiped the tears from her eyes.

She was done crying.  She was done being helpless.

Slipping her phone from her back pocket, she thumbed through her contacts until she reached his number.

She only hesitated a moment before selecting the number.   She chewed her lip nervously as she waited for him to answer.   He answered the phone with a curt greeting.

"Hi.. This is Macy... Macy Black-Wolff..." she stuttered anxiously.  She gathered her newly-found confidence around her like a blanket.  "Can we talk?"

"Are you sure you can't come?" Jason asked with a strained smile.  She could tell Dad was trying hard to put on a happy face and act like nothing was wrong. 
"Yeah, I just wanted to hang out at home.  Maybe watch a couple of chick flicks," she lied.

Jason grimaced playfully.  "You're on your own on that one!" he teased.

Macy licked her lips and laughed, her gaze darting towards Jackson, who was watching her carefully.  "What?" she asked.
Jackson kept his gaze on her as he shrugged.  "Nothing," he said slowly, drawing the word out.  "Have fun!"

Macy couldn't help but feel like he saw through her.  How could he possibly know what she had planned?  One word from Jackson and it would all fall apart...

"Come on, Jackson! Let's go get Jeremy!" Moudy called out from the kitchen after shutting the dishwasher.  He smiled at Macy as he looped his arm around his son's shoulder. 

"Are you sure?" Jason asked again, hesitating a moment before adding, "We'll just be at the Winter Fair.  Feel free to meet us there!"
Macy waved as the boys headed out.  "I'll text if I change my mind!" she told her dad, anxious for them to leave.  It felt like it took them forever to leave!

Not long after they'd left, there was a slight knock on the door.  Macy batted down the fluttery feeling she felt at the sound. 
The door swung open and Macy stepped back to allow Leo to step inside.  "Th... thank you for coming..." she said nervously. Swallowing past the lump of unease was difficult since her mouth was so dry. 
Leo looked at her impassively.  "You said you wanted to talk?" he pressed, getting down to business right away.

Macy nodded tightly.  "I... I did." 

His lack of aura still bothered her.  Every one else she had run into had some sort of aura surrounding them.  Sometimes it was a deep color, indicating strong feelings of some sort.  Other times it could be a thin, light color.  But, there was usually something.
Apparently he was done waiting for her to get to the point.  Leo grasped his glasses off and pulled them off, leveling her with his straight-forward gaze.  "So? Talk."

Macy's mouth abruptly starting watering.  She shifted uncomfortably, feeling caught in his sights.  "I... it's about Lacie..." she said, reminding herself of the reason she called him over.

She was done being helpless.
Impatient, Leo prowled through her house, cataloging everything.  There was nothing that seemed to escape his laser gaze. 

She watched him move, likening his body to that of a panther in her mind.  He moved with a constrained grace, an economy of movement. 
He glanced over his shoulder and caught her staring.  She blushed brightly.  "Great picture," he said without emotion. 

Macy cleared her throat, determined to see this through.  Leo could help her.  "She called today," she began, trailing off when Leo turned to face her, taunt and ready to pounce.

She shook her head.  It must be her imagination.  Leo was a private investigator.  He'd offered to help.
He surprised her when he reached for the phone and quickly flipped through the last called log. 

"It was just her cell phone.  She didn't answer when Dad tried to call back," she said apologetically.

Leo nodded, setting the phone back in place.  "And you called me because?..." he trailed off.
"I... well... I was hoping that you could help find her.  I..." she hesitated, feeling it gauche to bring up money this early in the conversation.  "I don't have much money saved up, but I have a trust fund.  I can afford to pay you whatever you ask."

At this, the first sign of any sort of emotion cracked through.  Leo's eyebrow raised and his lip tilted, as if she'd amused him.  A light yellow pulse of aura crackled around him for moments before blinking out.  Macy's mouth dropped open. 

"We can discuss details later," Leo responded, putting her off.  "I'll get back to you after I've done a little investigating."  He turned to leave without another word.
"Wait!" Macy called out suddenly.

Leo paused mid-stride and focused on her again.  His piercing stare made her stomach flip.
"Be careful," she whispered, thinking about how dangerous her twin could be.  She would hate for something to happen to Leo because of her.

Leo's gaze shot up to her own.  He considered her steadily, as though waiting for her to say something more.

Macy felt like a fool.  Of course he was going to be careful.  He probably thought she was a simpleton!  She looked down at her feet, her cheeks heating with embarrassment.

Looking down, she missed the light swirl of green that shimmered around him for just seconds before fading into nothing.

Leo hit the call button on the phone as he drove away without a moment's hesitation.

"Yes?" The sound came in crisp and clear over the car stereo, thanks to the miracle of bluetooth technology.

"I have a lead," he replied. 

A pause.  "Good.  Very good."

Jackson knocked on the door and then stepped inside.  "Alright, so tell the truth," he said.  "What are you up to?"

June 24, 2017

Raven: Week Thirty-Five, Day Seven

Raven scowled at the number on her phone as she hid in the sitting room, as far from Daryl as she could manage. He was already worried about her because of her little temper tantrum with the TV.  Every time he looked at her, he telegraphed his concern loud and clear!  His usefulness as a baby caregiver and a cover was slowly starting to grate...

If only her idiot father hadn't smeared her pictures all over the evening news!  The Black-Wolff Widow was splashed across all the headlines.  What was he thinking?!

She stabbed the 'call' button and impatiently waited as the phone rang.
She heard her pick up and Raven's mood sunk even lower.  "Hello?" the bitch asked, sickly sweet as sugar.

"It's me," she snapped angrily.  "Leave me alone!"

She heard her gasp. "Lacie! Oh, my plumbbob!"  Her sister's response became muffled, as though she were holding her hand over the mouthpiece.  "DAD! It's Lacie!"

Raven scowled.  "LEAVE. ME. ALONE!" she hissed, hanging up the phone quickly, before her father could reach the phone.

As if she wanted anything to do with her bleeding heart family.  She scowled angrily at that thought.  NO! They weren't her family.  They were Lacie's family!  And Lacie was dead.  DEAD!

Fuming, she stomped her foot on the floor.  Her father was ruining everything for her!  Everything!  

She fought the urge to throw her cell phone across the room.  That would be too hard to explain to Daryl...

"Babe?" Daryl called out, pausing a moment to see if he could hear her in the quiet house.  "You okay?"

No answer.

He could've sworn he heard her yelling.

Ever since they'd found out she was pregnant again, Raven had been acting... off...    Understatement of the year, he thought with a sigh.  He'd found her muttering to herself angrily a number of times and she absolutely refused to fix the TV, nearly losing it when he'd suggested they call out the repairman.  She also didn't want to leave the house.  Not for prenatal appointments, not for movies out.  It was almost like she was scared to step outside...

He cocked his head, listening.  He'd heard movement from the sitting room on the second floor. 
 "Babe?" he called again, hurrying up the stairs. 

Cautiously, he poked his head in the door, just in time to see her slip her phone in his pocket.  "Hey babe, you okay in here?" he asked, trying hard to sound light-hearted.

Raven grimaced at the untimely interruption.  The last thing she wanted to do was have Daryl fawning over her!
"I'm fine!" she responded, her voice hard as flint.  "I'm not some weakling that needs to be watched over!" she snapped angrily, turning around to pin with him a piercing glare.

Daryl nodded, attempting to placating her.  "I know, babe. I know!"  He'd found that she was hard to talk to when she was in this mood. Nothing he said right now was going to go over well.
Unable to meet her eye, he lowered his gaze to the little belly bump that couldn't really be seen unless you knew it was there.  "And how's my little girl this morning?" he asked, reaching out to lay his hand on her belly.

Raven smirked.  "How do you know it's a girl?" she asked, crossing her arms.

Daryl looked back up, a smile lingering on his lips.  "Well, we already have a son.  A little girl would be perfect," he told her.  "A beautiful little girl with your pretty eyes!"

"Well, that's not the way simbiology works!" she snapped, frustrated again with him.  Why did he have to be so... so... simple!  
"Come out with Onyx and I to the town fair," he asked her suddenly.  "It'll do us all good to get out in the sunshine!  We can stop for ice cream on the way home!"

Raven started to shake her head.  "No, I don't want to go out in public."

"Just for a little bit, then we'll come home," he pressed.  "I really wanted to get a family picture."

Raven thought of the family pictures lining the wall in Sunset Valley with a pang and allowed herself to be persuaded.

"Fine. But we leave when I say we leave!"

Thankfully the fair was pretty empty.  They grabbed the family photo, Raven complaining the entire time, and then wandered around. 
"Ugh! This place is so boring!" Raven bitterly complained, casting a bored look around the fair. 

Daryl pulled a book of the diaper bag.  "I'll hang out here with Onyx and catch up on this pregnancy book.  Do you want to sit with us?"

Raven scoffed.  She could've told him not to waste his time on that drivel!  Pregnancy books told you nothing about being pregnant!   "No!" she said with a huff.  She looked around him, searching for anything else to do.  "I'm going to go get some food." 
Daryl let his breath out slowly after Raven stormed off in the direction of the food vendors.  It must be the pregnancy hormones that were making Raven so unreasonable.  Sometimes he felt like he didn't recognize her anymore.

It would be better after their child was born, he thought, full of hope.  Hopefully the baby would change everything!

Raven approached the food vendor, suddenly ravenous.  She'd had more cravings with this pregnancy than the last one.  She desperately wanted a peanut butter banana sandwich.  You wouldn't think that would be that hard to make, but her idiot husband couldn't even manage that.  He offered her a peanut butter jelly sandwich!  If that was what she wanted, she would have made it herself! she thought with frustration.  Sometimes she was so disgusted with him she could just kill him!
 She settled on some chili cheese fries and headed to the picnic table to eat.

He watched her from across the way, riveted by the sight of her, as always.  The past few months had been hell.

I should just go home, he tried to convince himself.  But, he was already striding towards her, as though pulled by some unknown force.

It should have disturbed him.  He was a principled man that depended upon wit and logic, not superstition and emotion.

But there was just something about her..
He slid into the seat across from her.  "Raven," he breathed in greeting, his eyes darting across her face, taking in her beauty.  If anything, she looked even more beautiful than the last time he'd seen her.  There was almost a glow about her...
Raven choked on her food, surprised by Nathan's sudden appearance.  She gasped with surprise, glancing over his shoulder.  "What are you doing here?" she whispered.

"I've missed you," he told her simply. 
Raven narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips as she gazed at him, as though she were searching the very depths of his soul.  It made him slightly uncomfortable, wondering what it was that she might see.  A weak man, he thought with self-disgust.

Then, after only seconds, her face cleared as she smiled seductively at him.  "I've missed you, too" she admitted in that husky, sultry voice.

Nathan breathed with relief.  He'd thought he'd ruined everything because he'd bungled the morning after.  In his defense, her unexpected pregnancy had thrown him off...  as well as the urn...

"Can I see you again?" he asked.

Raven glanced behind him, towards the fountain once again before meeting his gaze.  "I'm with someone else," she told him hesitantly.

Nathan squeezed his eyes shut with defeat.  "I know," he admitted heavily.  "Is it serious?"

"I'm pregnant," she said slowly, gauging his reaction.

Nathan felt the words hit with the force of a physical blow.  She'd moved on.  He jerked to his feet.

Raven scurried out of her chair quickly, glancing behind him again.  "Wait!" she called out softly, reaching her hand out to stop him.
He stopped, squeezing his eyes shut and waited... hoping... desperate... wanting...
Raven hedged, biting that pouty, kissable bottom lip.  "I made a mistake..." she whispered, a glint in her eyes. "Can we talk sometime? Maybe at your house?" she suggested with another glance over her shoulder.

Nathan's shoulders dropped.  He knew what she was suggesting and it finally dawned on him why she kept glancing over her back. He glanced behind him and saw the man with the baby at the fountain.  Her husband.

But he already knew his course of action.

He nodded, quick, concise and irrevocable.

It was the hardest thing she'd done in ages - walking away from Nathan with his need and desire thrumming in her head.  She'd chosen Daryl because he was easier to control and would care for the mewling baby and help her blend into the community.  But something about Nathan set her on fire.

"I'm ready to go," she snapped.

Daryl nodded, glancing up with a smile.  "Sure, just let me finish this page..."

She folded her arms across her chest and frowned.  "You said we would go home when I chose!" she hissed angrily.  "And I want to go home, now!" She could feel Nathan's pensive gaze following her every movement.
Daryl anxiously fumbled with the pregnancy book, trying to put it away as quickly as possible.  She could feel his confusion and his tender butt-hurt feelings.

Getting him out of the house would be easy!

As we walked away, she glanced behind and her eyes made contact with Nathan.

Soon, her eyes promised him with a little smile.

"You deserve a day off," Raven said as Daryl laid Onyx in his crib.  "You've been taking such good care of the kid and I."

Daryl chuckled.  It seemed to amuse him when she called the kid anything other than his name.  He seemed to think she was being cute.  Really, she just thought the kid was a helpless drain on her life.  She'd never wanted to be a mother and soon she would have two brats well before she was even twenty.

He turned to face me.  "I don't know..." he hesitated.  Raven could feel him grappling between his need to work on his craptastic book and his desire to be there for her.

She forced a smile to her face.  "Really, I'm fine," she promised.  Just go. Just go. Just go, she chanted in her head.

"Seriously, go!" she snapped, struggling to rein her temper in.  "I mean, I could use some time to myself."

Daryl swallowed thickly and nodded hesitantly.  "Okay, sounds good," he said with false cheer.  "I'll head down to the cafe and work on my book."

Raven nodded, all but shooing him from the nursery.  "Great. Go! Have fun!" 
He'd already made it out of the room when he turned around quickly and pressed a kiss on her lips.  "I'll see you in a few hours, babe."
"Take your time!" Raven called after him with a smirk.

Daryl felt guilty as he settled down at the table in the Lonely Literary Cafe and opened up his work in progress.  Since meeting Raven, he'd really struggled with writers' block.  He thought that it must be because of all the life changes he was going through. 

He took a sip of his chai tea, then took a deep, clearing breath.  Opening his eyes, he drummed his fingers lightly on the keyboard.  So far, his main character, Roland, had just discovered the woman he was entranced by was actually a werewolf. 

And that was where his story was stuck.  For some reason, he was having trouble encouraging Roland to enter Theresa's world of werewolf intrigue.  He kept cautiously hanging back on the fringe of something more.

As he re-read the draft, trying to sink into his story, it struck him how much Roland's love interest reflected Raven...

He sunk his head into his hands. 

"Come in," Nathan said nervously after answering the door.  His gaze dropped to the baby in her arms.
He glanced away, uncomfortable.  Raven could sense his indecision, then smiled, knowing that his desire was greater than his misgivings.  "I just can't stay away," he said under his breath, miserably.

"There's something I have to tell you," she said softly, licking her lips.

He nodded, leading her into his kitchen. 

 Unable to work on his book, he'd headed outside and agonized over his relationship.  Remembering that he'd tucked the pregnancy book into his laptop bag, he pulled it out to finish.

Reaching for his hands,  Raven forced a tear from her eye, telling him how scared she'd been to be a single mother, finding herself pregnant shortly after being widowed.  He'd hurt her after yelling at her the morning after they'd made love so she'd turned to another man. 

She lowered her lashes.  "But I made a horrible mistake," she whispered.

Hope flared in Nathan's eyes.

It didn't take much convincing to find herself wrapped in his strong arms.

After all, you never knew when you might need an Option B.

Darryl shut the book with a heady sense of peace.  The pregnancy book had a chapter devoted to a woman's surge of hormones during pregnancy.  That must be why Raven had been acting so erratically! he thought, closing his eyes with relief.

"I've got to get home!" he said under his breath as he jumped up and hurried to catch a cab.  He'd been worried about their relationship and considering a divorce.  He wanted to kick himself!  But, it was just a normal stage of pregnancy!

"Can you go any faster?" Daryl asked the cab driver. 

The cab driver scoffed and threw a disgusted look over his shoulder.  "It's storming out there and you want me to go faster?  Plumbbob, they don't pay me enough for this job!"  he muttered under his breath.

Daryl sunk back in his seat and waited anxiously.
The moment they stopped in front of their home, he threw some cash at the cabbie and darted inside.  The front gate banged shut behind him.

He flew inside.  "Raven?" he called out, listening.

He didn't hear any movement that would indicate where she was.   The house felt empty and quiet.  He began to worry.  Did she leave him?  Is that why she'd wanted him out of the house?  His stomach clenched with fear.
"Raven?"  he called again as he raced up the steps.
He burst into the bedroom and let out a relieved breath.  She didn't leave him!  He gazed at her, thinking what an angel she looked like as she slept. 
Raven's eyelids fluttered as she slowly opened her eyes, peering up at him in feigned confusion.  "Daryl?" she said huskily.  "What's wrong?' 

The truth of the matter is that she'd just gotten home and threw herself into bed when she heard the front door slam open. 

"I'm sorry I woke you...  I just wanted to tell you that I lo..." he said haltingly.  He paused when he heard Onyx crying upstairs. 

Raven rolled back to her side and closed her eyes tightly.  Daryl's thoughts were bouncing off the walls, making her feel strangled.  "Will you get him?" she asked, waving him from the room.  After spending the afternoon with Nathan, Daryl's neediness seemed stifling.

"Of course," Daryl nodded, slipping from the room silently, hoping Raven would be able to slip back to sleep.

Daryl hurried up the stairs to the nursery.
"Hey little man," he said in greeting to his stepson as he entered the room.  "Mama's sleeping, shhh..."

Onyx turned at his voice.  "Da!" he called out happily.  "Da! Da!"
Daryl grinned widely.  He scooped Onyx into his arms and tossed him in the air a few times.  "Did you have a good afternoon with mama?"

Onyx laughed as he flew up in the air.  He started babbling about his day in incomprehensible snippets.  

"Oh! Sounds like fun!" Daryl murmured in response.  "Time for bed, little man."

"NOOOOO!" Onyx protested loudly.
Daryl chuckled.  "Shhh, mama's sleeping," he said, slipping Onyx into his pajamas.  "And it's time to get some sleep."

He settled Onyx into the crib and kissed the top of his head.  "Sleep well, little man."

After peeking in on Raven and finding her fast asleep, Daryl headed into the study.  He browsed the internet, looking up recent news.  He shook his head when he saw the articles about the run-away Black-Wolff Widow.  He hoped she was found soon.  Sounded like she needed some serious meds...
He scrolled past the pictures to the Politics section, then stopped suddenly.  Something in the picture had caught his eye.  Scrolling back up, he clicked on the image of Lacie Black-Wolff to enlarge the image.

His eyes widened when he found himself staring back at a blonde Raven.  As blonde as Onyx...

Clicking the back button, he selected the article, delving into the mystery of the Black-Wolff Widow and working out a timeline...