Friday, October 17, 2014

Chapter 19: Another Offer

          Sasha was eager for not one, but two baby sisters. Soon, they would grow up and follow her every whim. She’d shape them like clay, creating perfect angels who’d play with her forever and ever. Each morning before school, she asked her mother if today was the day they’d age up. And the answer always seemed to be no. Sasha was beginning to run out of patience!

          Finley had her reasons for not aging up Ana and Nancy yet. Foremost, Nancy had only come into the world a short while ago, and she didn’t want to miss out on the bonding that came from feedings. She could simply have Ana’s birthday, but then there was the bed shortage. Finley had yet to purchase the additional beds her family would soon require. Money wasn’t an issue. Her hesitancy stemmed from laziness; she’d have to rearrange things upstairs, and she just didn’t feel like it yet. Sure, this might not be the most motherly reason, but at least it was honest.
          Of course, then there was Malcolm. His father passed soon after Nancy’s birth. Finley had never met him, but she had attended the funeral, bringing his only grandchild along. There, she met the woman her child was named after. Nancy Sr. wasn’t exactly friendly, but Finley hadn’t expected her to be at such an event. However, their subsequent meetings hadn’t gotten any warmer. Now that the head of their family was gone, Malcolm and his mother were pushier towards getting time with Finley’s youngest. She’d gotten them to concede to allowing her full custody while she was an infant, the only tradeoff being that her last name was now hyphenated. Nancy Harper-Landgraab. This wouldn’t appease them once she aged up though. Finley still wasn’t sure how she felt about her child spending nights over at that mansion with that family.

          Having had two births so close together again, Finley had allowed her body to get a bit out of shape. It wasn’t horrible though, and she was content to work on it at a leisurely pace. While it’d been great—almost empowering—to have a hot bod and an almost sexy look, Finley realized that she wasn’t exactly proud of the decisions she’d made since her makeover. She wouldn’t change any of them, since they had resulted in her daughters, but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t readjust her image once again.

          Finley didn’t only want to change her outside though. Ana and Nancy left her little time to herself, but, when one of her older kids were kind enough to volunteer babysitting services, she decided to use this time to improve herself. She enjoyed jogging over to the library and filling her mind with poetry. Sure, most of it went right over her, but she always felt a bit better upon leaving. More enlightened perhaps, or maybe just satisfied from having to use her noggin.

          During one of her trips to the library, she decided to conquer her computer illiteracy. Finley had never used one of those machines, but her children all did at school. They teased her about needing to get with modern technology, and she supposed that yes, she was a tad bit behind. Who needed a computer when there was a whole world outside to explore? Not to mention a creator who eagerly awaited more kids.
          Finley had only figured out how to make the monitor come to life when she was interrupted by someone taking the seat next to her. They tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she needed any help. It took her a moment to place him. He was that guy that she always seemed to cross paths with. What was his name? Bob?

          Accepting his offer of help, Finley expected him to help her understand what was so great about these computer things. Instead, she got relentless flirting, which seemed to be the only thing he knew to do around her. The man had a strange way of doing it too. Bob liked to compare her to his wife, pointing out numerous reasons why Finley was better. It didn’t leave a good taste in her mouth to be hit on by a blatantly married man, and she had to wonder why he didn’t just get a divorce if he was so miserable. Still, there was something about him. He was almost…adorable? Like a grumpy old man who is obviously just a big softie.

          Before letting her go, Bob took her hands into his own. “There’s something I’ve always liked about you. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to give me a quick reprieve from my hellhound wife sometime?” Finley didn’t know what to say to that. If she were any other woman, she would have immediately turned him down, maybe with a slap. Alas, she was on a mission in life and could always use a potential father in her back pocket. She was surprised as well; she didn’t think the man actually wanted to cheat on his wife. Bob seemed like the type to passive-aggressively flirt with another woman, not let go any further.
          To keep things open for a time when she might need to consider such a thing, Finley politely bid farewell to the man before going on her way.

          Quinn had his hands full when she returned home. He was handling it much better than when he was a teenager though. “Has she been crying this whole time?” Finley asked. Ana was proving to be a very vocal baby. It made her nervous that she always seemed to wail whenever any attention was being paid to Nancy.
“It’s fine,” Quinn passively said. “I just don’t think she knows me very well.”
“Nonsense! You’re her big brother; she must know you.”
Her son kept his eyes on the crying baby. “It’s a bit odd when I think about it. Here I am, an adult man, and yet this infant is my sister. I realize the logistics of it work fine, but I can’t shake the feeling that there is something strange about this.” Finally he looked up at his mother and offered her a small smile. Quinn handed Ana over, who quieted immediately. Before leaving the room, he gave one more comment. “You look very nice, Mom. Strangers would probably imagine we were siblings.”

          Finley didn’t know whether Quinn had been getting at something or just being himself. He could be so serious and quiet, sometimes casual observations came off as though they had deeper meaning. The case probably wasn’t so simple though. She’d told all of her children about her unusual awakening into life, but she couldn’t be sure they believed her. She hadn’t gotten around to speaking of the rules yet. Not to anyone. Perhaps it was time that she had.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chapter 18: Circles to be Run

          Per usual, Finley invested time in her garden when she had other obligations on her plate. Her latest pregnancy was moving along swimmingly, no complications in sight. That was always a relief she could indulge herself in when hiding wasn’t enough.
          While she watered her carefully grafted plants, her phone buzzed away in her pocket. It’d been going off so much lately that she even felt weak vibrations when no one was calling. She didn’t need to see the screen to know that it was Malcolm calling again. He’d been at it since their night together. Not once had she braved answering it.

          Finley had to wonder if pleasing her creator was really the route she needed to take in life. Her family was perfect just the way it was. She and Manu’s three children were nearly the textbook family unit, apart from the separation. And Eddie’s rebellious years. Whenever she fondly observed her children, she almost always blocked out what a handful her oldest had been.

          Even though Sasha was her first child with a different father, Finley knew that she fit perfectly into her family tree as well. Her siblings didn’t treat her any differently, and, gradually over time, she seemed to come to love them more. Sasha willingly spent time with Frankie and Quinn, even when their mother was free.

          Would Ana be able to squeeze into the picture with ease? Finley, perhaps without even knowing, put off aging Ana up for this very reason. As of now, her youngest child caused no rifts in her established home. But she was only a baby. What would happen when she was a child? Her personality might be off-putting or simply not meld well enough with the others. And then there was yet another little life slumbering in her middle. Two more children with two different fathers. Was her creator really leading her down the best path?

          Finally, in her third semester, Finley answered the phone for Malcolm. She hadn’t meant to, accidentally pressing the green accept instead of the red icon. It felt too rude to hang up after this mistake. She had thought for sure that the wealthy heir would berate her for ignoring him, but he didn’t even mention this. Malcolm begged her to talk to him. He was able to get her to agree to a chat in the park, somewhere public that she wouldn’t have to feel threatened in. Finley brought along Sasha as well, knowing that she could always use her daughter as an excuse to leave.

         Finley joined Malcolm on a bench while Sasha ran off to play. “Wow, you are huge!” he greeted without even a hint of knowingly being rude. “I didn’t think you would be so far along yet.”
“Yeah, pregnancies tend to progress,” Finley mumbled, already uncomfortable on the plastic seat. “So, what’s up?”
Malcolm chuckled at that, and then frowned when she didn’t join in. “Well isn’t that obvious? I want to discuss the arrangements for our child.”
“You know, custody arrangements. How often will I keep them? A certain number of hours per week or consistent days? I’m sorry, but I thought you would be keen to discussing this before the birth.”
“You want the baby?” Finley was unable to keep all of her pointed disbelief out of her voice.
“Why would I not want my child? I don’t plan on taking them away from you; I’m not that cruel—unless you prove to be an unfit mother.”
Finley scoffed. “I’d be more concerned about you. You destroyed my kids’ dollhouse!” she hadn’t meant to snap.

          She thought things would become even more awkward after that. Sasha waved to her mom from the pirate ship, and Finley waved back, trying to hide her building tension. She had assumed that the tension was mutual, but Malcolm appeared undisturbed by how their conversation was going. He kept a mild expression and even commented on what a fine young daughter she had raised. “See, I knew I was right. My parents think I’ve simply made a juiced mistake, but I knew that you were the right fit for the job.”
To say she was a bit bewildered would be an understatement. She had figured that the somewhat snobby guy wanted to talk about whether or not the baby would deserve to get his name, or make her sign papers saying she wouldn’t press him for money. She had never thought that he would actually try to take her child, even for a portion of the time. That made her remembering their awful night together and the following actions he took even more angering. “Why on earth would I let you have any custody over the baby?”
“Because I’m the father?” his gamely smile faltered for a moment.
“You went up to my kids’ bedroom and destroyed their stuff! That doesn’t make me want to let you around any kid unattended, let alone my own.”
“I—I didn’t like that doll house. It wouldn’t be suitable for my heir; it’s the cheapest one on the market. I ordered a much more extravagant replacement.”
“That,” she was taken aback for a second by his lack of understanding. “Doesn’t make it right. My kids were asleep a few feet away. They would have been so scared if they’d woken up to see some strange guy beating down their stuff! Don’t you get how inappropriate that was?”
“So that is why you asked me to leave so suddenly? I was almost afraid that I wasn’t up to par in the boudoir.” Malcolm chucked to himself and Finley chose not to comment on this. Suddenly, his expression turned serious. “I suppose I was a bit angered as well. When I saw all those kids, well, I felt tricked. You had made yourself sound like any other single mother, not some overbred kennel bitch.”
Finley sucked in a quick breath upon hearing that word, but relaxed the tiniest amount when she realized he hadn’t meant it like that. At least, she didn’t think he had.
“I should apologize. I made a rash judgment of you, and allowed that to cloud my reason. I’ve put much thought towards it, and realized that you having so many children is a great thing for me. When not in my care, my child will be in very capable hands.”

          Although not the direction she thought the conversation would take, her talk with Malcolm was making her just as uncomfortable as she thought it would. She was actually thankful when some Sasha caused a minor argument with two strangers. It gave her a reason to get up.
          After apologizing to and then shooing away the offended women, Finley calmed her daughter down by agreeing to play a sea monster for her. She hadn’t done that since her boys were young, and it brought back pleasant memories that calmed her a bit. “Terrific mothering!” Malcolm happily cheered from the bench. Once again, she tensed.

          When she announced that they were leaving, Malcolm surprised her by asking if he could say something to the baby. He didn’t wait for her approval to lower himself down to her stomach. He baby talked a few pleasantries and then rubbed the large bump. He didn’t seem to notice her body stiffening out of discomfort. “So, when did you decide that you wanted a baby?” she asked, trying to distract him from feeling around for a kick.
It worked and he stood straight again. “Oh I’ve always wanted a child. The Landgraabs wouldn’t be where they are now if someone dropped the ball and didn’t bring in a new generation.”
“I thought you didn’t want to be tied down with a kid?”
He laughed. “Where did you hear that? I’ve wanted one for a long time, it’s the mother I don’t wish to be straddled with. Hence, why you’re perfect!”

          A few days later, a knock interrupted the busy afternoon scene unfolding in the Harper household. Finley, struggling to fit the back onto the post of an earring, saw her old friend at the door. She called for him to come in. He entered, easily dodging Sasha who was being chased by Frankie for whatever reason.

          “You look real beautiful today, Finn,” Brandon greeted. Finley nearly giggled and blushed seeing his earnest expression. She had to remind herself that that was simply who he was, an extremely nice guy. Part of her wished that he would find someone perfect to be with already, just so that she wouldn’t have to daydream about his perfection anymore. Although, she had suspicions that she would be extremely jealous seeing him with another woman. Or a man. They’d never really discussed who he was looking for.
“Thanks,” she finally responded. “I’m stuck going to some rich family’s house. I feel really ridiculous.”
“But you look amazing! Well, just as amazing as any other old day, but that dress is pretty and…” he rambled off, endearing himself to Finley even further. Sometimes she had the strangest suspicion that she might have had a chance at being with him. She usually shook it off pretty quick. It was probably just foolish unrealistic hope; if he’d had any interest, he would have showed it a long time ago. Other men had had no problem with this.
“I’m really really sorry, but I’ve got to get going. We should get together soon though!”
“That’s no problem. I actually swung over to talk to Quinn and Frankie anyhow.”
“Oh,” Finley gave a quick shrug. It hurt a little bit every time she had to be reminded that he was just a friend. He probably didn’t see her any differently than her older children now. They seemed to be just as close with him. “Well, have fun then.” She took off towards the door, calling out thanks to Quinn for volunteering to watch the house. Finley was curious as to what Brandon wanted to talk about, but nerves began to take over this.

          “You wanted to talk to me?” Quinn asked, taking a seat at his chess table. He motioned for the neighbor to join him. He’d known the man all of his life, but he couldn’t recall exchanging any serious type of conversation with him before.
“Yes sir,” Brandon answered. He sat down, but didn’t go to move any of his pieces. Instead, he twisted his hands together in his lap and bounced one leg up and down.
“What about?”
“Well, I’ve already spoken to Eddie ‘bout this, and he agreed, but I didn’t think it was fair to ask jus’ him and not you and your sister. You’re close enough in age, and he’s not home anymore, so he’s not really man of the house.”
Quinn kept in a laugh at the man’s obvious nervousness. “And what did Eddie agree to?”
“I wanted to see if, uh, you would allow me to ask your mother on a date.”

          Frankie made her presence in their conversation known as soon as he said that. “You wanna date our mom?”
“I sure do. She’s a wonderful woman with such a big heart. I’ve never felt closer to anyone, and I’d really like to share every day with her.”
Frankie wanted to playfully tease the man. Seeing how excited he was when talking about her mom though, she just couldn’t. She couldn’t think of any guy ever saying nice things about her before, certainly not her dad. And if she kept spouting out kids, then it probably wouldn’t happen again.

          The front door opened and Eddie casually strolled in. He was halfway to the fridge (the one he seemed to raid every day) before he stopped to wave to everyone. “I see Brandon here has come to talk about Mom’s love life with you guys too.”
A touch of red came to Brandon’s cheeks. “This is inappropriate, isn’t it? Dammit, I went round and round on this in my head. I apologize, I—”
“Chill,” Frankie ordered. “I think it’s cute.”
“It is nice to hear that a man actually cares for our Mother,” Quinn chimed in.
Frankie sighed. “Too bad she’s not going to take him up on it.”
“How do you figure?”
“He is so friend zoned!”
“I dunno,” Eddie said, finally having made it to the fridge and speaking with leftovers in his mouth. “The way Dad tells it, she pretty much had a thing for him all along.”

          With all the commotion, Sasha eventually joined in, arguing against pretty much any point that anyone brought up. She didn’t even fully know what they were talking about, but she was going to be heard!
          Brandon smiled, surprisingly not overwhelmed by the energetic conversation that was whirling all around him. Sure, the kids were talking about him like he wasn’t there, but it was sweet in a way, even if some of the things brought up made him shake more when thinking of asking Finny for a date. Although he was not courting their mother, he felt as though the kids he’d seen grow up were his own in a way.

          Finley had known that Malcolm’s family was wealthy, but that still didn’t prepare her for the massive piece of architecture that loomed before her. While gorgeous, she could never imagine living in such a house. If she really did decide to let him have partial custody, what would her child think being torn between two very different lifestyles?

          Finley braced herself before timidly approaching the mansion. She knocked at the door, seeing no buzzer to press. As she waited, she wondered how she’d let herself get roped into this mess. With reason, she could come up with a list as to why she should step away from Malcolm and try to raise their child involving him as little as possible. His actions led her to believe he was very self-centered and somewhat out of touch with reality. Still, something about his wanting to have a child touched her. She hadn’t yet experienced that with a man. And then he went out pulled out the card that influenced her the most: family. He had parents. Their child could experience what it was like to have grandparents, something she’d never get to know.

          After standing outside the house for twenty minutes, she decided to give Malcolm a call. It would be a disaster if someone thought she was up to know good in such an expensive neighborhood. He answered on the third ring, asking if she was at the house yet. He’d begged her to come after all, setting up the date and time so that his parents could meet the woman carrying their newest family member.
“What do you mean ‘am I here?’ Of course I am, where are you?” Finley listened to his reply, getting upset at the fact that it wasn’t at the house. She threatened him that she was leaving, angered that he had wanted her to meet his parents without his even being there, but he apologized and told her he’d be present shortly.
          Perhaps he’d simply been raised poorly. She couldn’t fault him if he was raised to only think of himself. He did seem to be trying to learn from all the things he did to upset her.

         Malcolm jogged up the sidewalk soon after they hung up, easing her frustration slightly. He remarked that he was surprised they weren’t home. Finley had suspicions that he hadn’t even told his parents of the meeting. “We can wait in my room; it’s much less stuffy in there.”
          It didn’t hit Finley until she was actually standing in his bedroom. She’d known that he still lived with his mother and father, but the realization of that being slightly strange at his age didn’t register until she saw him room. He didn’t have a house, he had a room. Her kids had a room. It didn’t matter that his was much bigger and even had its own bathroom, it was still the same. He’d probably made no move to ever leave.

          Finley sat in a cushioned chair, nervous yet somehow bored, while Malcolm entertained himself with video games. Time dragged by. She couldn’t stop checking the clock on her phone. She asked him more than once if they were even coming, suggesting that he try calling them. “They will arrive when they arrive,” he answered unhelpfully.

          She’d just about made a whole in the wall with her eyes when she felt herself being pulled out of the chair. Malcolm got her to her feet before unceremoniously jamming his tongue in her mouth. The kissing caught her off-guard. While it wasn’t necessarily welcomed, she wasn’t completely offended. Finley humored Malcolm for a few moments before pulling away. He asked if she’d like to pass the time in his bed. Flattering to be wanted even being as heavily pregnant as she was, but Finley thought that she might prefer staring at the wall versus more woohoo with him.

          As an excuse to get out of his bedroom, Finley stepped into the kitchen. Hoping it wasn’t rude, and knowing that it indeed was, she opened the refrigerator to see what kinds of ingredients they had. Quickly, she put together a shrimp recipe in her head and then got to work on it. At least when his parents came home, she wouldn’t be awkwardly caught in his bedroom. No, she’d be the one who prepared a delicious dinner—hopefully.

         But even after she finished preparing the meal, they still hadn’t arrived. Finely called for Malcolm and waited for a minute or two. The food sat on the counter, losing heat and giving off delicious smells. Her stomach growled and she decided to give up the act of attempting to win favor with the Landgraabs and took a plate for herself.

          Malcolm did eventually join her. They ate in mostly silence. He surprised her by doing the dishes afterwards, and then promptly taking a step back by leaving her to return to his computer.

          Finley wandered around the first floor for a while. It was getting late, and so she called Quinn to apologize for being gone for so long. Being the kind of son that he was, he professed that it was no trouble and to take all the time she needed.
          Even with things being under control at home, Finley decided that it was time for her to leave. She found her host upstairs in his room and told him that she was going. “Really? But Mother and Father would love to meet you.”
“It’s already past eleven,” she reasoned. “It was nice of you to want your family to meet me, but maybe next time you could plan things better.”

          As she was walking out to leave, a painful contraction hit her. She wasn’t able to muffle her groan, and Malcolm caught on almost immediately. “You’re having the baby?” he asked, giddiness crawling to his face. “This is splendid! I could call a nurse and you could have our child here.”

          Her creator must have been happy with her, because she felt no pain past that first whip. She pushed on to leave the mansion, eager to get to the hospital. Malcolm chased after her. “Fine, but I am still coming with!”

          When Finley reunited with her creator, she felt foolish for ever doubting that they would lead her astray. Their wishes were her wishes. And yet, she managed to maintain the smallest blip in her head that wondered if this would go on forever. Being with her creator, getting enthused to please them, conceiving a child, having doubts, and then starting the process all over again.
          Finley returned to the actual world, finding herself in her bedroom and Malcolm cuddling an infant girl. “Thank you for letting me name her. Mother is going to be so pleased that there’ll be another Nancy Landgraab.” Finley sighed. Nancy. It was a fine enough name, just one that she wouldn’t have picked herself.
          It took quite a bit of convincing to get Malcolm to leave. It was the early morning hours when he actually did, but Finley still wasn’t alone with her babies. Frankie took his place in holding the little girl. “I can hardly remember when there were mostly boys around here,” she laughed, making Finley smile. She was on a girl streak it seemed. “So you had a busy day?”
“Yeah, you could say that.” They shared another laugh. Frankie opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again. She had been going to mention Brandon’s question—and then she realized that her mom probably didn’t even remember him coming over.

          Finley thought some more on her youngest two becoming children when she was finally alone. It didn’t scare her so much now that she was post a visit with her creator. In fact, she was almost certain that it would only make her family that much better. With that out of the way, she rejoiced in the fact that she could finally be out of a dress and heels.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Chapter 17: Mistakes to be Made

          On this particular Saturday, the Harper children had once again been left on their own. Their mother hadn’t said what her all day adventure would entail, but none of them really cared to even ask. Officially, Quinn was placed in charge, but Frankie had begged to be the babysitter of Ana, desperate to show how responsible she could be—Finely knew there had to be other reasons, but was unable to figure out what they were exactly.

          “My teacher is never going to buy this as a self-portrait, is she?” Frankie glumly sighed.
Sasha laughed and Quinn asked, “It was supposed to be one?”
“Yes!” Frustrated and pissed at her siblings’ lack of empathetic responses, she stomped one of her feet down. “See, this is why I hate school! I just suck at everything!”
Quinn was quick to jump to a correct response for this one. “You do not.”
“Not everyone is good at art,” Sasha said with a shrug.
“I just want to be done with it. Once I’m an adult, I can do whatever I want, and I’m not going to pick things I suck at.”

          Earlier that day, Finley headed out to the sports bar in Oasis Landing. Normally she didn’t pay any attention to neighborhood gossip. A few days ago though, she happened to overhear a tidbit that would help her out immensely. The rich family in this part of town was apparently having trouble getting their only son to produce an heir.
          Finley had been searching for someone to father another child for her. She had even tried asking Don, who immediately hung up on her. Heck, she’d even been desperate enough to ask Manu. His delay in a response gave her enough time to remember that he displeased her creator though. Every day that passed without her being pregnant made her more and more agitated. She was beginning to snap at the kids, and then feeling terribly guilty for taking her anxiety out on them.
          Ana needed a sibling her own age, but what pressed her even more urgently was that she knew her creator was not satisfied with only five. They wanted more. So many more. She needed to please them so that none of her children would be forced to suffer the pressures of being the only fertile Harper.
          So, she’d overheard that the youngest Landgraad—Malcolm she believed his name to be—was also receiving pressure to produce a child. Knowing how often Eddie got out, she decided to ask her son if he knew anything about it. He gave her a distasteful look, but finally relented and told her all he knew, which wasn’t much. Malcolm fancied himself to be a real playboy (just Finley’s type it seemed), and so did not wish to be straddled down with a kid. His parents were now resorting to threats towards his trust fund. Eddie had also warned her that not many people liked Malcolm, but she’d already made up her mind by that point.
          According to her son, Malcolm could almost always be found at The Rattlesnake. Not only did he buy the club in an attempt to allure young women, but also to quench his never-ending thirst for juice and nectar.

          From Eddie’s description—twiggy blonde guy who acts like he’s hot shit—Finley was able to locate her target within minutes. She figured she had two paths: she could get him juiced and then pounce on her prey, or she could play it straight and tell him her plans. Having already lived the first option, Finley approached Malcolm. “Um,” she said to get his attention. Once she had it, she didn’t know what to say. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to force a coherent string of words. Out came a fast-paced slew. She didn’t even know what she said. Although, she had the distinct fear that she had made herself come off as a prostitute.
“You’d like to have my child?” he asked, laughing gaily. “Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“Yes!” Finley could feel herself smiling like an idiot, happy to have been understood.
“That is a rather bizarre thing to say to a stranger. Most would consider it distasteful even.”
She felt like an idiot, though he seemed to be playing a game. “I’ve heard about your situation. With your parents.”
“What makes you think I’d breed with just anybody? I mean, who are you?”
“Um, well,” Finley wasn’t sure what to say. In her mind, he’d been desperately thankful. She supposed that had been wishful thinking. If he were interviewing her, then she had to answer accordingly. “I’m not looking for your money or anything. I’m already a mom,” she tried to figure out how she could phrase her intentions without coming across as crazy. “But I’d like more children, and I’ve recently been having trouble with locating a man to help me with this. When I heard that you were looking for someone to have your heir, then I just thought it was perfect for my situation.”
“Really? My family’s fortunes do nothing for you? You’re not attempting to gain access to the Landgraab name?”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
“Uh, I guess I could sign something, if you wanted.”
He laughed again at that. Malcolm raised his manicured eyebrows suggestively for his next question.  “And you’d be willing to conceive the natural way?”
“I don’t know how else…” Finley trailed off and then began to wonder if there was an easier way. Maybe the hospital could—
He cut off her thinking. “Let’s go sit down and further discuss your proposition.”

          Finley felt bored for most of their long conversation. He was a flirty guy, and she responded to his touches and jokes as one would do on a date, but, in her head, everything was being done robotically. Malcolm was a bit of a snob and as pretentious as he was lanky. He went back and forth like tennis between being a thirsty bachelor and a sharp businessman. One moment he was grabbing her thigh, and the next he was on the phone with his lawyer discussing the legality of any documents he could draw up for her. Wishing to have her answer, Finley tried putting on more charm (channeling her inner Don). Turns out Malcolm didn’t really care about any legal issues so much as he simply wanted another woohoo partner.
          The thought that this man would have never taken a second look at her had she not spent all that time working on her body crossed her mind. She didn’t know what to do with that information though. She’d worked hard, so she might have been proud, but the whole ordeal was making her feel scummy. It’d gone a lot better in her head.

          After the two began to talk less and act more, paying little attention to their astounded audience in the bar, there wasn’t much that could deter them from their very likely horrible plan. Not even a juiced Valetin could dissuade them.

          Malcolm refused to bring her to his house, claiming that there was no need for her to ever see it. “Remember, this is strictly business,” he repeated for the twentieth time that night. His words slurred a bit, but Finley hadn’t seen him drink much. “You get what you want and my parents get what they want.”
          It was earlier than she would have liked. Finley prayed her kids were upstairs, unaware of the measures she was resorting to for her creator’s sake. “This is where you live?” Malcolm asked, obviously turning his nose down on her home.
Finley shrugged it off. “Yeah.”
“How… quaint?”

          Her kids weren’t downstairs, but they weren’t upstairs either. Finley, being a concerned mother, called Frankie. Malcolm heaved an annoyed sigh about having to wait for his next conquest on what (Finley imagined) was a very short list. Frankie answered on the second ring, putting her rising worries to rest. She and Quinn had taken Sasha with them to Manu’s house. “Why?” Frankie asked with snark in her voice. “Need us to stay here for the night? Did you bring a man home or something?”
“Where did you get that idea?”
“Oh my gosh, you do!” Frankie shrieked. Finley hung up the phone to her daughter’s maniacal laughter.
          Her kids’ whereabouts settled, Finley got her session with Malcolm out of the way. It hadn’t taken long, but he fell into a heavy sleep afterwards. Finley lied awake in bed next to the wealthy man. “Never again,” she muttered, trying to ignore his high-pitched snores. To pass the time, she played games on her phone for a few hours until the battery died. Late into the evening, she heard her kids shuffle through the front door. Finley slipped out to wish them goodnight.

          Malcolm didn’t wake up until the very early morning hours. Finley had tried and failed to be able to sleep comfortably next to him, so she cleaned the house. Then she worked on her bonsai, harvested some strawberries from her garden, and gazed at Frankie’s painting. When she’d run out of stuff to do, Finley decided to try out one of the pregnancy tests she’d bought the day after she had Ana. She’d tested positive earlier into a pregnancy before, so why wait any longer?
          While she was going on the stick, Malcolm barged in. “Oh gross,” he said upon seeing her on the toilet. “Do you really have to do that right away?”
“Don’t you want to know?”
“Well yes, but I assumed we would try at least half dozen more times first. After all, creating a child isn’t some mundane task you can accomplish in an afternoon. You need—”
“Done!” Finley cut him off. “Looks like you’re parents are finally getting their grandchild!” Seeing the proof that she was finally pregnant again made Finley so gleeful that she completely forgot what she had to do to get there. In fact, as she whistled while washing her hands with the spraying sink, she didn’t even notice that Malcolm slipped away. She decided to patch the sink up while she was in there.

          This gave Malcolm plenty of time to destroy her children’s dollhouse. He didn’t stop his assault upon the toy until it lay in shambles across the carpet.

          Finley finally noticed that her latest lover had gone off somewhere. When she didn’t see him in her bedroom or the living room, she assumed he ran home, probably regretting the entire night. She didn’t care if he did. In fact, she thought she might have preferred if he forgot all about her and their child. Something about the man was off.
          Then she heard the noises coming from upstairs and she knew that she would rather not see him again. He’d let himself upstairs into her children’s bedroom, while they were in there sleeping. How could anyone think that was appropriate? Finley promptly began to chastise him, telling him to leave in a hushed tone.

          “You want me to leave?” Malcolm asked. “After begging for me, you’re simply going to kick me out of your little shack?”
Finley grimaced at that. “This was all a stupid idea!” She could have kicked herself; what had she been thinking with all of this? She’d let her desperation get the best of her. She’d let a strange man near her sleeping babies! What kind of mother does that?
“When shall I come back to further discuss our terms?”
Wanting him to get out as soon as possible, she gave him her phone number and said they could be in touch that way. He actually looked hurt as he slinked downstairs and then out of her ‘shack.’

          Finley gave herself a brutal chastising silently while she repaired the dollhouse, hoping nobody would wake up from her occasional use of a rubber mallet. The last thing she needed was for any of them to know how careless she’d been. Not for her own sake, but so that they wouldn’t begin to fear living in their own home.

          Quinn woke up early that morning, allowing Finley to get out of the house and take a much needed walk around the neighborhood. She was hoping it’d clear her mind. It might have been starting to work, until she ran into Manu. He’d been on his way home from an early morning fishing trip. The way he eyed her already visible pregnant stomach—she knew exactly what kind of things he was thinking about her. “Don’t even say it,” she sighed and walked away. Manu hadn’t dreamed of it.

          Finley escaped to the glades for some more mental chastising. At home, a discovery was being made. “Sasha, I ran into your teacher the other day when I was leaving work. She said you’re doing very well in school.”
“Yeah I am,” she answered smugly. “I only ever get A’s.”
“Yes, she had asked me when you were going to move onto high school. Not that she wants you to leave or anything, she just knows that our family tends to age early.”
Sasha’s pride was instantly wiped off her face.
“You’re an A student? Why the heck are you still a kid then?” Frankie obnoxiously asked.
“You’re not going to tell Mom, are you?”

“Of course I am!” Frankie wouldn’t pass up the chance to reveal that bit of juicy gossip. It might soften the fact that she also wanted to age up. She could even pass it off as a family tradition, since Eddie and Quinn had shared their birthday. “Mom has a right to know.”
“Why don’t you want her to find out?”
“I like being a kid. I don’t want to be old like you two yet!” The more Sasha thought about being trapped in a school with a bunch of dumb teenagers, well the more anxious she got. Before her siblings could react, she shouted, “I hate you both!” and then fled upstairs.
Frankie shrugged and Quinn decided just to let the girl be.

          Finley, missing her family (especially baby Ana), cut her trip short and came home. She decided that she made a mistake. The only thing she could do was learn from it.
          The fact that she hadn’t slept in over a day hit her as soon as she crossed through the door. She slipped into her bedroom and changed into pajamas. Before she’d let herself climb into bed, she picked up little Ana for a quick tickle. “Did you miss your momma? Did you?” she cooed.
“Hey Mom,” Frankie said with determination. She didn’t wait for an answer, barging straight into her mother’s bedroom. “I’ve gotta tell you something.” The sight of her mother’s stomach made her backtrack. “Are you knocked up again? Holy crap, I was right! You did have a guy over!”
Too tired for her daughter’s prying, Finley moved the conversation along. “You had something to tell me?”
“Wha—oh yeah! Sasha’s had an A in school for a really long time now. Her teacher talked to Quinn and said that she should age soon. Sasha doesn’t want you to know though, so she’s upstairs pouting.”
Damn, she was never going to get to sleep. Knowing her daughter, Finley couldn’t put off talking to Sasha.
“Hey, if she’s going to have a birthday, then I thought maybe…” Frankie began to say, but her mother had put down the baby and taken off for upstairs. “Seriously? Thanks for listening, Mom,” she grumbled.

          Finley found Sasha sitting dejectedly on top of her sister’s bed. “What are you doing up here?” Finley innocently asked.
“Trying to prepare myself.”
“Prepare yourself for what?” She joined her daughter on the bed.
“Frankie already told you, didn’t she? If I have to age up now, I’m never going to get to play with Ana. I’m going to have to be boring and old forever.” The young girl’s lip trembled. “I don’t want to grow up yet.”
“Well you don’t have to,” Finley said, not expecting the huge response that would get.

Sasha climbed over the bed and plopped herself against her mother. Instinctively, Finley wrapped her arms protectively around her. “Really?”
“Of course, Silly! Why would I make you age up when you don’t want to? I would never do that to any of my kids.”
“Oh thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Sasha happily gushed. She cuddled further into her mom’s embrace. The sweetness of it made Finley feel even more like an idiot. She hadn’t needed another baby for Ana’s sake after all.