"Charity," Fred called happily. "Charity!"
"Freddie," she smiled.
He reached for her hand, but she was too far away. He called her name once more, stretching out his arm, still unable to touch her.
"I'm sorry," she whispered as she began to fade.
"I'm so sorry," her voice echoed.
And then she was gone. Freddie turned around frantically, calling her name. But there was only emptiness.
"So, what did they say?"
Evelyn exhaled sharply through her nose. "Well, I only got to speak to the girl's aunt, for starters. No idea where her mother is. But let me tell you, her aunt was unpleasant enough for two! Mandy Best. I remember, when I first started out, I had to deliver a Sing-A-Gram to her once. Even back then she was exceedingly rude..." She looked over her shoulder at Rémy, who was, like her, trying to burp the baby in his arms after feeding it. Seeing her husband with an infant once again gave Evelyn a jolt of pleasure, even in this less than ideal situation.
She sighed and resumed her recounting. "Well, after yelling for a while and lecturing me about my 'lazy, no-good delinquent son', who 'defiled the worthless harlot' - her words! Can you believe it?! - she said that as far as she's concerned, the babies are not her problem. She said to just..." Here, Evelyn's voice became a whisper as she leaned towards her husband, ostensibly trying to get out of the earshot of the infant in her arms. "She said 'Just chuck 'em in the ocean if you don't want them. After all, you've got that fancy house on the cliff.'"
"She really said that?" Rémy whispered back. Evelyn nodded. "Terrible," he croaked, glancing down at the gurgling baby. "Just... terrible."
"It's good that the girl brought them here before they shipped her off," Evelyn continued, "To Plumbob knows where, by the way. The woman absolutely refused to tell me how to reach that poor girl. Charity... she seemed like such a sweet girl too."
And so, with no other obvious option, the elderly couple resigned themselves to helping their youngest son raise his newborn daughters.
There was a gnawing sense of regret in Evelyn about the way she had raised her own offspring. Freddie had always seemed to lack a certain sense of responsibility, but reasoning with him had never made a difference. The obvious choice, thus, would have been to become a stricter, more controlling parent, but this went against everything Evelyn believed she stood for. She could never and would never want to be the kind of mother her own mother had been. The scars that come with the misfortune of growing up with a parent like Dolores were still there, even now.
Maybe Evelyn had been too lax all these years, but her four older children had grown up so marvelously. What had been different about the youngest? Still, despite all the trouble he had caused, she loved Freddie just as dearly as his older siblings. Maybe even more.
And of course, she couldn't help but love her new granddaughters. Whatever she had done wrong, however she had failed as a parent, this time it would be different. Grace and Gloria would grow up to be the best they could be.
Days of diaper changes and late-night feedings flew by, and through all of it, Freddie barely left his room. Whenever one of his parents came to check up on him, he was either sleeping fitfully or dazedly staring off into space.
Finally, Evelyn had enough.
She and Rémy invited over their older children for Sunday brunch to discuss their current situation.
"This really is a difficult position you are in now." Félix was obviously concerned, barely touching his food as he mulled things over in his head. "And you're sure you won't consider adoption?"
"I always knew Freddie would never leave the house," Faye stated.
"Faye!" Evelyn admonished. Then, softer, she replied to Félix, "No, honey, I don't think we could do that. They're part of the family, after all. Freddie's children!"
"You should at least sue the mother's parents for child support," Zebulon suggested.
"I want nothing more to do with those people. They treated the poor girls like yesterday's garbage and I won't accept anything from them," Evelyn countered. "No, what I am really concerned about is that Rémy and I won't be around forever. And then... what will happen then? Freddie has no income. How will he support his daughters?"
"So your idea was to ask us to help find a job for him," Félix finished his mother's thought.
Evelyn nodded, beaming expectantly.
"Um..." Félix immediately regretted having spoken up. "Well, the hospital isn't really hiring in-house personnel at the moment... and people kind of need qualifications, so..." His voice trailed off as he watched his mother's expression slacken.
He felt a small pang of guilt, but there was nothing to be done. Félix loved his little brother, but the thought of someone like Freddie working at a hospital...? A place where actual lives were at stake? He shuddered.
"What about you, Faye?" Evelyn asked when she managed to corner her daughter in the kitchen. "Are there any openings at Plumbob Pictures? Maybe you need an assistant?"
"Uh, Mom..." Faye looked at her sister for help, but Fleur frantically shook her head and gestured for Faye to keep her out of this. "Uhm... well, you know, Fleur and I aren't really involved in the goings on of the studio and all that. We just play our parts and leave. I wouldn't even know who to talk to about hiring new people..."
And finally, there was Francis. "Mom, I don't know... I don't think Fred ever even opened a single book in his life."
"I'm not saying he needs to be a writer like you, honey. If he could just... do something simple, you know?" Her pleading voice was tinged with desperation now. "Are you sure you can't find something for him, Francis? Anything?"
Francis bit his lip and regarded his shoe while the silence stretched out between them.
Then he sighed and forced a smile.
"Okay Mom, I promise I'll try."
That evening, Fred awoke from another restless sleep filled with dreams about Charity. He rolled out of bed and made his ponderous way to the shower for the first time in days. It had been too long.
There was something he needed to show his friends.
"Wow..." Todd said. "I mean, wow."
Fred kept silent.
"I mean, like, seriously, wow," Todd continued. "I knew something serious must have happened for you just to disappear on us like that, but this? Wow."
"Seriously, out of all the things, this would have been my last guess. Wow. Fred. Wow. Just wow."
Fred sighed. He was spared the need to listen to more of Todd's eloquent musings when the door opened and Larissa entered.
"Okay, here I am, so what's the--"
"Oh," Larissa managed.
And Freddie launched into his explanation.
"Are you sure they're even yours?" Larissa asked when he was done, taking one of the infants from its crib to get a closer look. "I mean - look at those generic faces - they could be anyone's, really."
"Yes, I'm sure. Charity said so."
"Well, if Charity said so then it must be true," Larissa sneered. "Because what other reason could she possibly have to dump her kids on you before running off?!"
The baby in Larissa's arms began to wail.
"Shh... there, there," Larissa spoke soothingly. It was always a surprise to Freddie when she showed her softer side, but just now, he didn't notice. He simply continued to stare vacantly at the wall while Larissa rocked the little girl to sleep and gently placed her back in the crib.
"This is one crappy situation you're in, dude," Todd observed.
"You can say that again," Larissa agreed.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Freddie's things had slowly been spilling over into Faye and Fleur's old room for a while now. It had begun with a snake terrarium, soon followed by cages and perches for various birds. But it hadn't stopped there. First it had been a new video game console and then, thanks to the generous allowance Freddie's parents always provided, an early birthday gift to himself - Fred's very own bubble bar. He had been looking forward to breaking it in with his friends after his birthday party, but those plans had been foiled...
And now their first time using the new bubble bar found the trio in a somber mood.
"So... this sucks," Larissa said.
"Yup." Todd expertly pressed the mouthpiece to his lips and inhaled deeply. Then, holding in a lung full of bubbles, he asked with a choked voice, "What are you gonna do now, Fred?"
"I don't know," Freddie exhaled, producing a stream of colorful bubbles.
"I know!" Larissa exclaimed happily.
"You should, like, run away," she proposed. "You could go live in another city or in the mountains, or on an island or... anywhere really. Somewhere you always wanted to go." Her tone was getting more and more excited as the bubbles began to work. "You could start a completely new life..."
"... with a new woman," she finished quietly.
Freddie blew out another stream of bubbles and stayed silent for a moment before replying, "I don't know... I don't really want to think about girls at all right now."
"Oh. Of course," Larissa said.
A bubble popped.
After they'd all had enough of the bubbles, they sat down for a bit of gaming.
"I guess so," Fred replied.
"Wow. You'll be like, a single dad now," Todd put in.
He put down his controller and sat back. A single dad. A father. Him?
It was finally starting to sink in.
Days passed and soon enough the twins' birthday approached.
Freddie was slowly getting back to being his usual self. He still didn't really want to think about the fact that Charity was gone, but he had really warmed up to the two babies. They were pretty cute, after all. And now they'd finally be old enough to play with cool toys!
Grace grew to be a bright and happy little toddler, always exploring and keeping her grandparents on their toes.
Gloria, while she was just as smart as her sister, was a little more reserved.
Evelyn still had one large concern, however.
"So, Francis," she began, dreading his answer. "Were you able to find a job for your brother?"
"I have good news," Francis announced. "I pulled some strings and managed to find something. They could use a guy to do a little bit of everything - cleaning up the set, getting coffee, maybe pitch in as a background extra on occasion - that sort of thing."
"He'll start at the very bottom, of course, but it's a steady job with adequate pay. I thought it sounded perfect for Freddie."
Francis was rewarded with a big hug.
For anyone unfamiliar with Starlight Shores - the house the Dutiels are living in used to belong to the Best household, by the way. StoryProgression just decided to move them all into a tiny shack at some point. I like to imagine they lost their vast fortune somehow (I think I touched on that in an earlier chapter). That's probably why aunt Mandy is particularly bitter about all of this.
And the twins are identical again, just with different coloring! Ha, I'm kind of happy about that. They also both inherited Charity's ginormous ears. I did lower the chance of identical twins in SP back down to its default value after this though. I had it at 10% before, and two out of two pairs turned out identical. o_o