A/N: This chapter contains scenes that would either have been too hard or impossible to stage in-game. Thus, there are more building or landscape shots included than usual, used mostly to break up the text, but also to add effect. As a warning, some scenes are also somewhat graphic. Nothing major, but wanted to say this just in case. All that being said…I hope you guys enjoy.
“Mrrrrghh,” Marina groaned, curled up against her door and still sound asleep.
“Babe, we’re driving into Neverglade now,” I said in a slightly louder voice, shaking her gently. Marina groaned again, but slowly stirred, making a face as she stretched her cramped limbs.
“Ughhh, did I fall asleep in a box?” she mumbled, still half asleep as she tried to stretch out her legs. She yawned hugely and then looked over at me, blinking for a moment. “Wait, what did you say?”
“Neverglade. Look out your window,” I instructed, fighting back a smile. Marina turned toward the window and then jumped in surprise.
“Oh my….Reed! Reed! Look!” she cried out, her palms against the window and her nose nearly touching it as she tried to get as good a look as possible. “It’s so…so…green!” she exclaimed in astonishment. I couldn’t help but laugh at this pronouncement.
“Green? That’s what you have to say about it?” I asked.
“Well, look! Oh…I’ve never seen so much green before in my life…and I’ve seen your wardrobe,” she noted, turning toward me with a smirk.
“Har har, it just so happens green is a nice color!” I said with a slight roll of my eyes. “Go back to looking out the window!” Marina laughed and did just that, her eyes wide and her mouth slightly open as we rounded the bend.
“I can’t believe this is where you’re from…you left such a beautiful place,” she marveled, staring dreamily out the window. I held back a sigh as I looked out the window as well, watching the rolling verdant hills passing by, the silhouettes of the mountains in the distance, the sun shimmering upon the cool lakes and rivers that ran through here, so blue that sometimes it was hard to tell where the water ended and the sky began. It really was a paradise, I supposed, but it was with mixed feelings that I was returning.
Part of me really did believe that life would be easier for us here, but I couldn’t help but miss what we had left behind. Most of all, I already missed my job. I had known everyone who worked in my old building, and every single one of them respected me whether they liked me or not. No one would know me here. Suddenly the only friends I would have would be my family and Marina. How would I ever catch up? How would I ever regain what I had lost?
“You can do it,” Marina suddenly said softly, taking my hand in hers and giving it a comforting squeeze. I gave her a doubtful look, not even questioning how she knew what I was thinking about. It was probably obvious just looking at me.
“I hope so,” I said with a heavy sigh. I leaned back in my seat then and closed my eyes, my hand still in Marina’s as we drove deeper into the heart of town…back to my, home? No. Not really. Back to my parent’s house…where I had grown up. I felt strangely nervous. How much had changed while I was gone? I wondered what Amy was up to now. She was interested in politics back in high school. Was she still? High school…it felt like such a long time ago. …and what about Ginger? I still had that paper crane, even though it had already done its job…if you believed in that sort of thing, that is. It just felt…wrong to throw it out. Like bad luck. What was she up to? I didn’t even know what she had been interested in.
I had never really gotten the chance to get to know her.
I turned toward Marina then, tapping her on the shoulder to get her attention, and as soon as she turned I pulled her into a passionate kiss, one hand on her cheek and the other on her back. She kissed me back just as fervently and when we pulled away we were both slightly out of breath. I kept near to her, my forehead resting against hers and my eyes closed.
“What was that for?” Marina asked in an amused whisper, kissing my cheek softly and then resting her forehead back against mine.
“I just love you,” I responded in a quiet voice.
So, so much.
It wasn’t long after that that a familiar sight came into view on the horizon. A deep blue roof…the stark white outside…my old home. I took in a sharp breath and Marina squeezed my hand, although judging from the sudden nervous look on her face, she may have been doing that more to comfort herself than me.
Just as we came over the hill I saw them all- my mom, my dad, and Aspen, all waving excitedly by the sidewalk as our taxi neared the house. Well, here goes nothing.
“Reed! Honey I’m so glad you’re back!” my mom cried, pulling me into her arms as soon as I got out of the vehicle and hugging me tightly.
“Me too,” I said with a smile, slowly pulling away from her. Although she looked even older than the last time I had seen her, her eyes were still bright and her energy was contagious. She was definitely not letting old age get the better of her.
“Welcome home, son,” my dad chimed in, beaming as he gave me a hearty pat on the back. He too looked like he had seen better days, but he still seemed full of energy, just like mom.
“Thanks, dad,” I said. “I knew I couldn’t be rid of this place for good,” I said jokingly (half-jokingly?).
“Well your mom and I are happy about that…even if you’re not so sure yet,” my dad said with a knowing wink. Parents. How do they always see right through you?
“Aren’t you going to say hi to your little brother?” I suddenly heard from behind me.
I turned around and jumped slightly in surprise when I got a good look at Aspen standing there, smirking. Or at least, I was pretty sure it was Aspen! Sure I had seen the guy at Buttercup’s wedding and knew how much he’d grown but, well, he was wearing a suit then and his hair had definitely been er, neater. Was this how he normally looked?
“Diggin’ the new looks, I see,” Aspen remarked, an amused look on his face. “I felt it was fitting,” he said, a trace of pride in his voice.
“So you’re…a crazy inventor? Please name any future daughter you might have ‘Belle’.”
“Nice. Plus one for cleverness…but minus one for the Disney reference, which leaves you with…wah wah wahhhh zero. You did not inherit Dad’s talent for jokes.” Why did everyone always say that?!
“But yeah, I suppose you could kind of say that,” Aspen continued. “I do dabble in inventing, but I’m actually a scientist nowadays. I work down at the Landgraab Industries Science Facility—it’s amazing. I never could have imagined a more perfect job. I have my own place near there too, but mom and dad said you’d be here today, so of course I made the trip out.
“That’s actually pretty awesome, man. Congrats,” I said, unable to help being at least a bit impressed.
“Thanks,” Aspen said with a laugh. “ I’ve heard about your own success in the newspapers of course. CEO in Bridgeport, Chairman of the Board here, AND a daddy to be? Damn Reed, you’re outdoing me!”
“Tha- wait…no, that’s incorrect. I was transferred here as a CEO,” I said, feeling nonplussed.
“Oh really?” Aspen said, puzzled. “Newspaper write up said Chairman, but hey, they’ve definitely been wrong before.”
“Yeah….” I said, completely distracted now. Had I not been informed of something?
“But hey, you might want to save your girlfriend over there,” Aspen remarked, gesturing behind me. I turned around to see my parents fawning over Marina, giving her hugs and feeling her stomach, and talking up an overall storm around her. Oops.
“Uh hey, I see you guys met Marina,” I said, rushing over as my mom was running her hand through Marina’s hair in delight (“It’s so long and shiny! Look, Noah!”).
“Oh darling, she’s so beautiful!” my mom said, simply beaming.
“I know,” I said quietly, meeting Marina’s eyes. She blushed and averted her gaze shyly.
“Oh, you two are just so sweet together!” my mom cried now, actual tears forming in her eyes. What?!
“She’ll be okay,” my dad chimed in knowingly, looking at my mom and smiling. “It’s just good to see you so happy, son,” he said, his own eyes unnaturally shiny. I looked helplessly at Marina, who gave me a little smile and a shrug of her shoulders. Yeah, yeah, yeah. She probably thought this was adorable.
And I suppose it pretty much was. In all my time away, I guess I had kind of forgotten how loving my parents were, and to be honest…I was thankful for the reminder. There really was no better place to raise our baby than here, I was sure of it.
Of course, the place wasn’t exactly ideal for raising our baby yet. Unfortunately, it hadn’t really been changed at all since I’d been gone, still the small home where I shared a room with my brother and half of the upstairs was unfinished. It had clearly not been a priority of my parents, that’s for sure. I had half a mind to tear the whole thing down and build a whole new home in its place, but I knew that before I could do anything at all, I would have to discuss it with my parents…which I did.
To my surprise, they were all for it. Apparently, since Buttercup and her husband were living in Bridgeport and Aspen had his own place by the Science Facility, they had planned to sign the land over to, well, me.I wasn’t sure how I felt about this at first. Did I really want to spend the rest of my life in Neverglade? I wasn’t so sure yet, but my parents reminded me that I could still sign it over to one of my siblings if I changed my mind, or even sell it if I wanted to (though mom looked sad when saying that option), so in the end I said “Fine” and that’s how the deed to the land came under my name.
…this was also how I came to spend nearly all of the money I had earned in Bridgeport and then some to do exactly what I had wanted to—demolish the whole house and put a new one in its place (minus the garden that is, as my mom told me she’d hit me upside the head if I hurt it). I hadn’t originally planned to spend so much money, but it seemed so stupid and wasteful to do a half-assed job of it. I wanted the perfect home for not only Marina and I’s child to grow up in, but for many generations of Winters afterward as well. I wanted…a legacy.
Now I knew the house wasn’t completely perfect yet, and still needed some aesthetic adjustments and landscaping to be done, but despite that, I had to admit that this two story, five bedroom home was my proudest accomplishment to date.
The downstairs included a large kitchen fitted with full-sized windows to allow in as much natural light as possible, a spacious living room, my parents’ bedroom, the laundry room, and another full-sized windowed room where you could paint or even go for a run if you didn’t feel like going out that day.
Upstairs we had two guest bedrooms, Marina and I’s bedroom, a baby room, and four bathrooms. I may have gone a little overboard with the bathrooms, but only having one to share for a large chunk of your life kind of changes you….
Again, it was a work in progress and lots needed to be done to improve upon it, but I thought it was a good start. That and if I kept going with this I was going to bankrupt us…but hey, I’d earn it back! Or at least a good portion of it…seeing as how I was Chairman of the Board for Neverglade.
Yup, you read that right and yup, I wrote that right. After my conversation with Aspen, I had called up Doo Peas Corporate Towers (where I was set to start working) to, er “check my current status to make sure the transfer had gone smoothly” and discovered that yes, I had apparently been promoted during this move.
Although, now that I think about it, Mr. Howland never did explicitly say that I would be a CEO in Neverglade…I had just assumed that I would keep my former title. For once, I wasn’t entirely sure if I was thrilled about this. One part of me definitely was, I was just about as high as I could get in rank before being one of those Power Brokers or something—I had so much control, so much prestige, but the other part of me dreaded it because it would make this transition that much more challenging.
As such, it was pretty much no freaking surprise to me that my first day working at Doo Peas Corporate Towers went horribly. Twice I had been asked for coffee, having been mistaken for an unusually well-dressed and “clearly” new coffee courier, four times I had had my opinion overrode by people who “who had been here longer and so knew better,” and five times I had been asked by people who actually recognized me whether the rumors they had read in the tabloids were true or not. Fantastic. Absolutely spiffing.
Did I also mention that I got lost and was found by a fourteen year old high school intern who had to help me find my way back to my office? No? WELL I DID NOW.
It was all just so stressful. Now, I know I had expected it to be rough, but as I went back to spending countless hours at the office, little to no sleep, and nothing that even resembled a social life, I found myself missing my old job more and more. I had already been through this shit…why did I have to go through with it all over again?
But every time I felt like quitting, I reminded myself just how much work I had put into this to come this far and how much of a royal waste it would be if I threw it all away now, so I continued.
I also reminded myself of the little one that we would soon be sharing the house with. I wanted him or her to have the best life possible, and part of that was ensuring that we had enough money to do so. Plus, I wanted to be a good role model….what kind of message would giving up send?
On that note, Marina was getting bigger and bigger by the day…the due date was arriving faster than I could have ever imagined, although that was probably compounded by the fact that I spent so much time at work. Time was just breezing by.
While I was at work, Marina had taken to getting to know my parents more…although that was probably inevitable when they were the only ones around to talk to. Luckily, she really seemed to like them, and in return my parents seemed to love her, especially my mom, who Marina had taken to almost following around. She helped her out in the garden, with dinner, and they had many long chats with each other. When I asked Marina about it, she told me she was trying to learn how to be the best mom possible, asking my mom for advice on certain things and even trying to brush up on her cooking skills a bit so she could fix our kid something more than cold salad and mac & cheese.
Have I mentioned lately how much I love this woman? Because I do. I really and truly do, and now, soon enough, we were going to be raising a child together. Thing is, I hadn’t realized just how soon!
“Babe?” Marina asked in a strange voice early one evening, calling from the bathroom.
“Yeah?” I said, looking through the dresser for something comfortable, as I had just gotten home from work.
“I…I think it’s time.” I froze halfway through searching a stack of shirts and raced into the bathroom, my heart pounding.
“You mean…” my eyes darted down to her stomach and then to her face, which was scrunched up in a pained wince. “Are you sure?”
“I think so,” she gasped. “I thought they were just the Braxton Hicks contractions again, but these feel different. They hurt more and…and they’re more frequent,” Marina continued, her voice getting a little panicky. “I was ignoring them at first, but it’s getting really bad now. What if- what if I waited too long? I don’t want to have the baby here!” she said, beginning to get hysterical.
In my head I was screaming, panicking, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, but I could see how scared Marina looked right now so I fought the urge to freak out, trying to stay as calm as possible despite my now pounding heart.
“I’m sure you’re fine. We can go to the hospital now. Everything’ll be okay. Let’s just get to the hospital. I’ll get your bag,” I said as calmly as I could manage, starting to leave the room.
“No! Please, don’t go,” Marina cried, grabbing onto my arm. “Have someone bring it by later, please I- I think we need to get to the hospital now.” She let out a cry then and doubled-over, trying desperately to breathe, but her breaths were coming out in short, panicky puffs. Oh god, was this normal? Was there something wrong? Was Marina okay? Was the baby okay? Why hadn’t I taken the time to read the baby books?!
My mind went into overdrive and as soon as the contraction passed I helped Marina to the car as quickly as possible. I realized then, on the way to the hospital, that the sounds of Marina in this much pain were the worst thing that I have ever heard in my life. Please, please, don’t let something be wrong. Please let this be normal. Please, please.
I felt like I was moving through a dream as I helped Marina out of the car and into the hospital, although Marina walked ahead, clearly convinced she was about to give birth at any second. I ran in after her, trying to get her a room as quickly as possible. Luckily, (well, after some panicked yelling from me including using my secret weapon– “Do you KNOW who I am?”) a wheelchair came immediately and we were rushed away. I hastily texted my mom, desperately wanting her there and telling her to tell everyone else the baby was coming.
“How far apart are the contractions, honey?” a nurse asked patiently as Marina breathed in and out in short breaths, tears streaming down her face.
“Um, I don’t…fast. Four minutes? Maybe closer…” she managed to get out. The nurse nodded and immediately left to call for a doctor, but I was too distracted by Marina at this point, feeling horribly useless.
“It’ll be okay,” I whispered, holding her hand tightly. “This really, really sucks right now, but it’ll be okay.” Marina took a deep breath and nodded, and then suddenly squeezed the living daylights out of my hand and yelled as another contraction hit her. This was way closer together than four minutes. Oh god, this was horrible. Horrible.
“We’re going to need you to push now, okay?” I suddenly heard. My breath caught in my throat and I looked around the room in a panic. When had the doctor gotten here? What was wrong? Why did everyone look so anxious? I was snapped out of my thoughts though when Marina squeezed my hand again and I bent down to sweep her hair off her face, meeting her eyes for a moment. Everything is going to be okay.
“You can do this, just one more, you can do this,” I kept telling her after every push. Although in my mind I was more scared than I had ever been in my entire life, on the outside I was the calmest and strongest I have ever been. I needed to be there for her. …and it wasn’t long afterward that I suddenly heard that cry, a loud, but healthy cry and I gasped, my head snapping in the direction of the sound to see the doctor holding a shrieking baby. Our baby. Our absolutely perfect baby.
“It’s a boy!” the doctor called out happily. A boy. Oh my god. A boy. I had never seen anything more beautiful in my entire life! Daniel. We would name him Daniel. We discussed it before, “Daniel” if it was a boy, “Tamara” if it was a girl. Daniel…our perfect baby boy!
“Babe, it’s a boy! It’s a boy!” I cried out happily, looking down at Marina…but she didn’t look so good. Too pale, too weak. “Marina?” The room practically exploded with activity at that point and I was pushed back from her, the last thing in that moment that I wanted. “Stop!” I yelled angrily. “What’s wrong with her? What’s happening?” I cried. Oh god, why was she bleeding so much? Was that all hers? No no no.
“Sir, we need you to leave the room, now,” I heard firmly. But I couldn’t leave! I couldn’t! Marina was here and she was so pale and there was so much blood and everything was crashing down around me. “Sir…you need to leave now.” The words were said in slow motion, the room narrowed into nothing but a tiny pinprick of color. Marina’s bed. Surrounded by nurses and doctors. People rushing in. Me being forced out….
And then I was in a hallway that was too damn white, and too damn clean, and I didn’t know what was up or what was down. I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t get Marina’s face out of my mind!! No, no, no, this wasn’t happening. This wasn’t reality. We had gotten to the hospital and I had panicked so much I must have passed out and now I was having some unusually terrifying nightmare.
But if this really were a nightmare…why was I feeling so much pain?
And most of all, why wasn’t I waking up?
A/N: My first real cliffhanger and it feels so…bad D= I’m really sorry guys, but I had to end it here! I’ll try to update as soon as possible, but it might be after the weekend. I’ll do my best o_o;