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Mandy sat on her bed, crying while Frank had his arms around her, trying to console his upset wife. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. “Why Frank? Why would she destroy everything my mother and I worked so hard for? I just don’t understand it!”

“She’s doing what she thinks is right, Honey. You taught her that,” Frank murmured gently, rubbing her back. Mandy just sobbed even louder.

“How? How can this be right? It’s not what my mother wanted! There is a man and his daughter living here that are not a part of the family bloodline! Why is it that I had to kick out my nephew, whom I adore because he wanted to adopt children and Matilda can just move in whoever she wants? It broke my heart to let Christopher go, Frank!”

“I know,” Frank sighed, hugging his wife close. “But Thaddeus is good to Matilda. She’s finally picked herself up from what happened to her and learned to trust someone. That’s incredible, Mandy.” Mandy sighed.

“It is, but with this house at the bursting point again, I’ve come to a decision. I think you and I should move to our own little cottage. It will free up space here and allow our children to grow their families. We were the second generation. Our job was to give birth to the third generation and raise them well, while being successful in our careers to give them financial stability for when they take over. Look at them now, Frank. They’re starting families of their own and climbing their own career ladders. We’ve done our job. Now it’s time for us to step aside and let our children take our place. I’m not thrilled with the idea of leaving Matilda in charge, but I have to at some point and trust that she isn’t going to destroy this family.” Mandy looked at her husband with a worried expression, as if afraid he’d argue and become upset. She was relieved when he smiled.

“Those are the wisest words I’ve ever heard you speak,” he told her with a kiss.

“Mom… don’t leave…” Matilda begged, as Mandy and Frank walked out the door with their bags packed. Mandy hugged her daughter tightly.

“Matilda, you’re my daughter and I will always love you, but what you’re doing to this family… it’s too much for an old woman like me to handle. I think I’d be better off away from it all, relaxing in a nice cozy little cottage with your father by my side. Besides, we need to leave to make room for the next little heiress,” Mandy smiled, patting her daughter’s belly. Matilda blushed a furious red and brushed her mother’s hand away.

“I’m not pregnant, Mother,” she snapped.

“I know, but I can hope for a grandchild from you, can’t I?” Mandy sighed. With that, she said her goodbyes to the rest of the family and was out the door. Marina started crying in her father’s arms.

“Gwammy… Gwampee…” she cried, reaching for them. Parker smiled and snuggled his daughter.

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“It’s okay, Sweetie. Grandma and Grandpa will come visit. You’ll still see them a lot,” he assured her, but Matilda could tell he was missing them, too. Matilda excused herself as soon as she was able and sat on her bed with her head in her hands. Thaddeus came in a few moments later and put his arms around her.

“I know your mother puts a lot of pressure on you, but you know we don’t have to, right? I don’t want to until I know you’re ready,” he murmured softly. Matilda sighed and nodded.

“I know,” she muttered. They had talked about this before. Thaddeus had made it clear to her that he didn’t expect sex from her and was willing to wait as long as it took to build her trust enough to get to that point. Right now, anything more than kisses and hugs scared her. Thaddeus knew this and never crossed that line. She would tell him when she was ready to go further. “Thank you. That means a lot to me. It must be frustrating having to wait for me, not knowing if I’ll ever be able to at all.” Thaddeus pulled her close and kissed her cheek.

“You’re worth it. I’d wait forever for you,” he whispered.

Matilda nervously smoothed out the wrinkles on the new bedspread she bought for the master bedroom. She looked around the room in approval, eyeing all of her brother’s old furniture that had been placed in the bedroom and examining the elegant but still young and fresh decor of the room. Thaddeus walked in and smiled. “Juliana’s going to love this, Matilda,” he beamed. “I can’t believe you would give my daughter the master bedroom in your house and decorate it all yourself just for her. This is going to mean so much to her. She’s been through so much,” he sighed, shaking his head.

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“I really want her to like me,” Matilda admitted. “I wanted to do something for her to show her that I think of her as family and not just a nuisance that came with you. She deserves her own space like everyone else in this family.” Thaddeus frowned.

“You know, you’ve taken on a lot, being with me,” he told her. “You’re with someone who has a teenage daughter from a previous marriage. That causes a lot of complications, especially for a family that runs the way yours does.” Matilda raised an eyebrow.

“My family runs however I decide it should be run, Thaddeus. Don’t worry about my mother’s elderly angst. Besides, I genuinely like Juliana. I want her to feel like she’s a part of this family. Also, I wanted to cushion the blow for when she finds out we’re dating,” she added with a sharp intake of breath. She was nervous to tell this thirteen year old girl that she was dating her father so soon after her mother left them. Thaddeus tried to reply, but there was a knocking on the door.

“Dad? Are you in there? What’s this surprise you said you had for me?” Juliana called through the door. Thaddeus opened the door and smiled at his daughter.

“Actually, Honey, Matilda made this surprise for you,” he told her. “She put it all together herself.” Thaddeus led her into the room and showed her everything. “Matilda thought you were getting a bit too big to be sharing a room with me, and since her parents moved out, that left a spare bedroom for you to move into. Matilda redecorated everything from top to bottom just for you.” Juliana walked around the huge room with her mouth hanging open slightly.

“All of this… is for me?” she mumbled in disbelief, looking around at everything. The walls and her bedspread were a beautiful flower pattern and she had her own section of the balcony to sit out on. Matilda nodded.

“Do you like it?” she asked hopefully. Juliana’s face split into a wide smile.

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“I love it! It’s awesome! This bedroom is like the size of my old house,” she grinned. Thaddeus cleared his throat.

“I’m glad you like it, Juliana, but there’s something Matilda and I need to tell you. Maybe you’d like to sit down on your new bed to hear it?” he suggested. Juliana gave her father a suspicious look but seated herself on the new bedspread all the same. Matilda and Thaddeus stood across from her, each giving the other nervous glances. Thaddeus finally cleared his throat and knelt down to put his hands on Juliana’s shoulders. “Sweetheart, you know I love you very much, right?”

Juliana nodded, her eyes still narrowed.

“Look, Juliana, I know everything that’s happened lately has been really hard on you. Leaving home, being thrown into a house full of strangers, your mother and I splitting up. I’ve been trying my best to make things easier for you, but I know that’s hard to do. You’ve been so good with everything, but I need to ask you to accept another change. Matilda and I have found that we really care about each other, and we’re in a relationship with each other.”

There was a long silence where no one said anything, and then Juliana’s suspicious expression turned into a scowl. She leaped off the bed, her cheeks an angry red. “So all of this was just to bribe me into being okay with this?” she demanded, waving her arms around the room.

“No, Juliana. I redid your room because I wanted you to have your own space and feel like a part of this family. I did it because I like you and want you to be happy here,” Matilda said quietly. Juliana glared at her.

“Well, I don’t like you! I hate you!” Juliana screamed.

“Juliana!” Thaddeus snapped sternly.

“You ruined my life! You took my mom away from me so you could have my dad all to yourself and now you’re taking him away from me, too! You’re just a trampy homewrecker!” she yelled, tears spilling down her cheeks. Thaddeus stepped forward and grabbed his daughter’s arm with a firm grip, yanking her away from Matilda.

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“Juliana, I will not have you talk to Matilda that way!” he yelled at her. “You don’t have to like her, but you do have to be polite and civil towards her! You’re living in her house because she was kind enough to let us stay here! You owe her some gratitude! You’re too old to be spanked, but if you keep this up, I will spank you, you understand me?”

“Yes…” Juliana mumbled sourly. Thaddeus let go of her arm.

“Now go do your homework. Being angry isn’t an excuse to let your grades slip,” he told her sternly, leaving her in her room to cool off. Matilda put a hand to her forehead.

“That didn’t go well,” she mumbled. Thaddeus sighed and pulled her into a hug.

“No, but I expected it. She’s always been over-emotional. She gets it from her mother. She’ll get over it eventually. I just hate that in order for me to be happy, she has to be miserable,” he muttered. Matilda rested her head on his shoulder.

“Maybe for now, but she won’t be miserable forever. She seems strong. I’m sure she’ll be able to pick herself up from this,” she assured him.

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