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.”
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.