“What are we going to do, Parker?” Katie whispered to her husband late one night in their children’s bedroom. It had been several years since the birth of Melinda and Marina was now in elementary school while Melinda was a gurgling toddler. One thing hadn’t changed; the strain on Parker’s and Katie’s marriage. Marina and Melinda were fast asleep. Parker sighed and ran his hand through his brunette cherub curls.

“You lied to me, Katie,” he muttered. “That hurts more than you can imagine.”

“Why does it bother you that I’m older?” Katie asked him, being careful to keep her voice a whisper so their children wouldn’t wake up.

“It doesn’t. I don’t care how old you are, Katie,” he told her. “If you had just been honest from the beginning and told me your age, it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I still would have fallen in love with you and asked you to marry me and be the mother of my children. It’s the fact that you lied to me that makes me angry.”

“I’m sorry,” Katie whispered. “I want to make this work. We have two beautiful children together. We have to at least try to fix our marriage for their sake… I love you,” she told him, tears welling up in her eyes. Parker walked over to his wife and put his arms around her.

“I love you, too,” he murmured. “But I don’t think we’ll be able to resolve this. Not while we’re living in Charm Manor.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s too hectic here, Katie. Everything distracts us from us. On top of my job, I’m always worried about my sister and trying to take care of her, along with helping her keep track of the family finances and investments in Sunset Valley’s businesses. I’m just so used to being the one to take care of her, but now she has Thaddeus to do that. On top of Juliana and Margaret in the house, this place is a zoo. It’s not the right environment for us to work on our problems and raise our family.” Parker told her. Katie bit her lip.

“But… this is your home. Your estate,” she whispered. Parker shook his head.

“No. This is Matilda’s home and estate. She’s the heiress. She owns everything. Everything’s in her name. I only stayed because I wanted to take care of her like I’ve been doing since we were kids, but she’s a grown up now. We both are. I need to let go and let her live her own life so I can live mine.”

“Do you really think moving is going to help us fix our marriage?” she asked. Parker shrugged.

“I don’t know, but I know that I need to do everything in my power to save us, for Marina and Melinda,” he muttered.

Naturally, Matilda was sad when she heard the news that her big brother was moving away, along with her sister-in-law and nieces, but she knew Parker needed to focus more on his family and less on his sister. She hugged him tightly when the cab came to pick them up and take them to their new house; a charming little bungalow by the beach. “Stay in touch,” she whispered through her tears. Parker held his baby sister even tighter and nodded.

“I will,” he promised her. “I love you, Mattie. If you ever need me, just call.”

She then proceeded to hug her nieces and Katie and before she knew it, her big brother was gone. Charm Manor was once again nearly empty. Thaddeus walked over to his wife and put his arms around her. “He’ll be okay, Honey. You need to focus on your family now,” he told her softly. Matilda nodded.

“Mom, she won’t stop crying! I don’t know what to do!” Juliana cried, running down the walkway holding her wailing half-sister. Matilda took her daughter into her arms and bounced her up and down.

“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” she asked. Margaret sniffled and wiped her nose, leaving a runny mess all over her sleeve.

“Meena an Meleena bye bye! No one to pway wif!” she cried. Juliana chuckled and stroked her sister’s hair.

“Hey, no worries. I’m still here to play with,” she told her. Margaret just gave her big sister a disappointed look before burying her face in her mom’s shoulder. After all, Juliana was a big kid and big kids were no fun to play with.

The house was suddenly so empty. It reminded Matilda of when her cousin left and her grandfather died soon after. She had grown up in a huge family and didn’t like seeing so many empty bedrooms in the house. She would talk to Parker every day on the phone. He would tell her how Marina was doing in school and what new words Melinda had learned that week. He and Katie were on the mend; they’d been going to marriage counseling and although Parker was still struggling to trust his wife again, things were getting better. Matilda would tell her brother all about the things Margaret got up to and about her and Thaddeus’ work. She’d talk to him about how wonderful Juliana was to have around and how much she loved her as her own daughter.

Since Margaret’s birth, Matilda’s mental health had improved. She had started to heal after the breakdown she had following her miscarriages, much to the relief of her family, who were all worried about her trying to hurt herself when they weren’t paying attention. For the most part, Matilda seemed normal again, except for the fact that she would visit the family cemetery every evening and talk to her children she’d lost. It worried Thaddeus. He had threatened to have the graves removed once, but she had broken down in a hysterical fit and tried to choke herself, so he gave in for fear of pushing his wife over the edge.

As long as Matilda could talk to her deceased children in the cemetery and as long as she had Margaret with her to keep her sane, Matilda remained fairly normal, but her husband and step-daughter knew that her fragile state could crumble at any time.

“Honey? It’s getting cold. I think you should come inside. You can visit them again tomorrow,” Thaddeus told his wife gently one evening. Matilda shivered as a sharp breeze bit through her thin nightgown, but she shook her head.

“No. I haven’t said goodnight to them, yet,” she whispered. “They’ll be scared if I don’t sing them to sleep. It’s dark out here, you know. Maybe we should put lights up here,” she mused softly. Thaddeus took his own coat off and draped it around her shoulders. Thaddeus had learned not to argue with her when she said odd things like this. It would only agitate her and she did scary things when she was stressed.

“I’ll have a hot cup of tea ready for you when you come in,” he told her, kissing her forehead. “I love you, Sweetheart,” he murmured. Matilda smiled softly.

“I love you, too,” she told him, before kneeling down beside Nathaniel’s grave and gently running her fingers over the tombstone. “Your daddy’s so sweet, isn’t he, Nathaniel? I hope you’re being just as sweet to your brothers and sister out here. You’re the oldest; they look up to you. You need to be a good big brother and take care of them.”

Juliana looked up from her book in the living room when her father walked in, shaking his head. “She’s still talking to them, isn’t she?” Juliana asked with a frown. Thaddeus nodded.

“She’s sick, Juliana, and I don’t know what to do to help her,” he muttered. Juliana bit her lip and adjusted her reading glasses.

“I guess just keep trying to make things easier on her. Apart from the creepy night-time graveyard chats, she seems okay right now. It’s when things get bad that she starts unravelling.” She still had nightmares about the time she had caught her step-mother about to jump off the west wing’s balcony.

“Do you think we should… get her professional help?” Thaddeus asked.

“You want to throw Mom in a nut house?”

“… No…” Thaddeus admitted with a sigh, leaning back. Juliana closed her book after bookmarking her page and rubbed an itch on the tip of her nose, thinking carefully about how to respond.

“I don’t think we should start throwing therapy and hospitals into the equation just yet,” she said. “She seems okay right now, at least mostly, and I have a feeling accusing her of being crazy is only going to make her crazier.” Thaddeus nodded and hugged his daughter.

“You’re right. Let’s just hope nothing happens to cause another breakdown,” he told her.

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