“I still can’t believe you’re pregnant,” Dani giggled, placing her hand on my baby bump. It seemed like it took absolutely no time for me to start showing.
New Years ended up being the perfect time to announce the pregnancy; after all, I wouldn’t have been about to hide it much longer. It was like this baby was just waiting for me to tell everyone before growing too much.
“So, what do you think they’re going to be? Another girl or our first little boy?”
“Last time, I thought Seraphina was going to be a boy, so I really don’t know,” I laughed.
She rested her hand atop mine, looking over to me anxiously. “How was it during those early weeks? I couldn’t exactly be there for you…”
“At first it was just like the other times. Hoping that the baby would stick…and then learning he or she did – ” I stopped short, sighing. “Do you wish I told you?”
“I wish I could’ve been there for you, yes. But…I wouldn’t change your decision for anything. When you told me you were pregnant – I was shocked. But good shocked, you know?”
Dani smiled, laying her head on my shoulder. It had been hard during those weeks. I’d second guessed myself multiple times, but the look on Dani’s face when I finally told her was worth it. Besides, those first eight weeks weren’t really that hard. It was the fatigue more than anything. Taking care of a toddler and an elementary-schooler already takes up so much energy and pregnancy just zapped the remaining energy out of me. I typically wake up plenty of time before my alarm but a few weeks after getting the positive result back, I would suddenly find myself barely making it out of the house in time to go to work. I seemed to never be able to get enough sleep. Luckily, that’s eased off only to be replaced with the familiar feeling of nausea every once and a while.
“What do you think Valentina thinks? She hasn’t exactly said much about the new baby… and she’s not the quiet type.” That thought had been nagging me for a little while now. If Vali has something to say, she says it…normally. She’s been unusually silent about talking about the new baby.
“It’s a significant change. I’m sure she’s still processing it, you know?”
I nodded slowly. It’s just that she was excited very quickly when we told her she was going to be a big sister last time. But…she was only 1 and-a-half then. She’s seven now. How am I supposed to know what a new sibling means to a first-grader? It’s a big deal to me and Dani – but in a good way. I just hope Vali will get as excited about this baby as she did about Seraphina.
“Hey, I gotta go to work,” Dani said, kissing me on the cheek.
“See you tonight. Love you.”
“Love you,” she replied.
I don’t know who made the work hours/days for different jobs, but they did not agree. Dani has to work today, for some reason, and it’s Saturday. Why couldn’t they have all just agreed on having Saturday/Sunday off, like school? Just as I was about to get up and check on the girls, my phone rang. It was Jake, even though I didn’t have work today.
“Um, you know I have today off, right?” I asked.
“Yeah, I know. It’s just…you remember the financial discrepancies I told you about?”
I took a deep breath and a bad feeling started to grow in my gut. “Yeah…”
“It wasn’t nothing. Someone’s actually stealing money from Brindleton.”
What the fuck? Watcher. You’ve got to be kidding me. Who would want to do that? And who could? It’s not like just anyone could pull something like that off. This – I couldn’t have even thought of this being what he was about to say.
“And,” he proceeded, “they’ve been doing it continuously for a few months now. Always the same time, same day.”
“Do we know who?” I asked, sucking my breath in. It was more than I could hope for, but…we needed hope right now. What a great way to start off the new year.
“I pulled the security tapes from those days.”
“I can’t look at them unless you’re here. Government rules and all.”
“Okay. I’ll be right in.” This was not how I imagined spending my Saturday, or any day at all. Watcher, how could nobody have caught this earlier?
“Mommy, I’m ready to go!”
I looked down at my daughter’s smiling face and suddenly remembered…I was supposed to take her to the park. Shit. She’s been talking about going today for weeks now.
“Uh, Vali, I’m sorry, but I have to go to work.”
She pouted and crossed her arms. “But today’s Saturday!”
“Something came up, honey. I’m sorry.”
“I have to go! All my friends are going, Mommy!”
I sighed, reaching for her hand, only for her to yank it away with a glare. “You’ll see your friends on Monday, Valentina. I have to go.”
“I wish you weren’t my mom,” Vali yelled, “you don’t care about me at all!”
I bit my lip, turning back to my daughter. “That’s not true, Vali. I wish I could take you, but I have to go.”
“Then take me!”
“I can’t, okay? I’ll be back in a few hours, we’ll see if I can take you then.”
Vali crossed her arms, stomping her feet. “I don’t want to go then, I want to go now!”
“Valentina, stop that. It’s not a big deal.”
“Yes it is,” she screamed, glaring up at me.
Watcher, I didn’t know seven-year-olds could have such an attitude. She suddenly looked up at me, and I could tell she had an idea. “Mommy, can’t I go anyway? I’m seven now, and the park isn’t very far.”
She said ‘seven’ like it made her a grown woman. “Vali. You can’t go alone.”
“Ugh. You’re the worst!” She stomped off, presumably to her room.
The last thing I wanted to do was leave my angry daughter here alone, but it’s not like I have any choice. Lexie and Dani are both at work, and no babysitter can come instantly. She’ll be fine until the sitter comes in thirty minutes. I tried to put the argument out of my mind the whole way to work, but it hurt. I know she was just mad, but hearing her say she wishes I wasn’t her mom dug deep. I know she’ll forget about it in a few weeks or whatnot. I know she didn’t really mean it. But still.
I sighed, sitting in my car as I looked up at the building that was so familiar to me. Okay, Adelaide. You’re not going to cry at work. Just sit here until you don’t feel like crying. Oh, Watcher. I knew I couldn’t sit here forever, and the faster I went inside to see the tapes, the faster I could go back home.
“Ok, great, you’re here.”
I nodded, looking around the room. I guess nobody comes to work on Saturday. It was weird to see this room so empty and quiet – it’s usually so full of life. Yeah, I know, a place of work so full of life? You’re kidding. But I’m not. Noemi, Irena, and everyone else is always so friendly and lively. It doesn’t feel like I have to be here. I want to be here. And that’s what work should be. It should make you feel alive. Feel happy. Except now. How fitting that the room matches all this.
“Ma’am. Are you ready?”
“Yeah.” I followed him into the security office, sitting there silently as he pulled the tapes up. “Hey, Jake?”
“Why were you here today? Obviously, nobody else is.”
He pulled his hand through his hair, sighing. “I realized it might not just be ‘some errors’ yesterday, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I came back in.”
I nodded. That, at least, was good. He wasn’t the kind of person who could just forget about something like this, and that’s a good thing. He’s a great worker, and I know Mayor Norley was happy to hire him a few days before she gave the title of Mayor to me.
“Here you go,” he said, “tape #1.”
I gasped as a dark figure came into the screen, walking down the hallway. I hadn’t actually expected to see anyone. I figured they would wipe the tapes or something like that, but they didn’t. We’ve got them… as long as they turn around. Just before they walked into the room, I saw their head turn.
“I’m going to freeze it right…there.”
He didn’t even have to zoom it for me to know who it was.
“Oh my Watcher,” I mumbled. I can’t believe it. I’d know that woman anywhere. It’s Elle Saile…but what was she doing here? From the look of it, Jake was just as surprised as I was.
“So…do we tell the police?”
“I’ve already told them about this incident. She comes around 11 pm Tuesdays. Always takes the same amount – §5,000.
Five thousand. “And nobody caught this how?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. But §5,000 isn’t really a lot when you look at the big picture. We handle huge amounts of money daily – I’m talking hundreds of thousands.”
I nodded, sighing. “Thank you. I’m glad you found it. And I think you’ll be getting that raise you’ve been inquiring about.”
He chuckled. “Thank you. This’ll all be dealt with once the authorities have decided what to do about it.”
“Go have a nice weekend, Jake.”
He smiled softly, nodding. “I can now. Have a nice weekend, Mrs. Mayor.”
“See you Monday,” I replied with a smile. Watcher, if Elle Saile was all caught up in this – San Myshuno was too. What exactly have we gotten into here? I was almost too caught up in my thoughts to hear the phone ringing. Since it was an unknown caller, my heart rate sped up. Could it be Elle? Or someone else from the council?
“Adelaide Clemonte speaking,” I said hesitantly.
“Hi. It’s the sitter, ma’am.”
Oh, right. I’d been so rushed to get out that I’d forgotten to put their number in as a contact. “Oh, is everything all right?”
“You told me I was supposed to watch two girls, yes?”
“Umm, yes.” Oh gosh. Did something happen to one of my daughters?
“Well, only one of them was here when I got here. I searched the whole house.”
Oh shit. And I had a nagging suspicion of which of my daughters it was. “Which girl is there?”
“Your younger daughter, I think. You said one is seven and one’s five?”
“Yep, this is definitely the five-year-old.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be there soon.” Oh, Watcher, where could Valentina be? I’m pretty sure she’s not the kind to go without a fight, so if someone tried to kidnap her I highly doubt they could get away with it. I suddenly remembered our earlier conversation and this time I wasn’t focusing on her screaming ‘I wish you weren’t my mom.’ After that, she’d asked to go to the park alone – and I bet that’s what she did. Watcher. There wasn’t much I could do but hope she was alright.
I looked at the sitter anxiously, trying to catch my breath. I’d just ran up all the stairs leading to our house, and now I was practically panting.
“Your older daughter just came back a few minutes ago. Red hair, green eyes?”
I nodded. “Where is she?”
“She went upstairs.”
I sighed in relief. My mind had wandered into places I did not want to go…and no matter how angry I was at her, I was so, so, happy she was okay.
“Valentina Lilah Clemonte. What did you think you were doing?”
She looked at me and I could tell she knew she was in trouble – because she was. She was in so much trouble.
“I was just going to see my friends,” she said innocently, turning back to the dollhouse. My Watcher, how can a seven-year-old get into so much freaking trouble?!
“Who said you could go to the park alone?” I asked her sternly.
“Well…nobody. But mommy,” she cried, “I had to go! Emily was finally telling us about her crush, and – ”
“I don’t want to hear it, young lady. I said you couldn’t go and for good reason. You had me worried sick.”
“But I’m fine,” she protested, wiggling her fingers in front of me to prove her point. Sure, she’s fine right now, but something could’ve easily happened to her. She’s a seven-year-old! And she thinks that makes her so grown up, but it doesn’t.
“Valentina…look. You can’t just do things like that. You have to think about safety.”
I know trying to take to a seven-year-old about safety was pretty redundant but I had to put it out there. She obviously wasn’t going to get it until I drilled it into her mind…and if that’s what it takes for her to stop acting out so much, that’s what I’ll do.
“Well I wouldn’t have to think about safety if you just took me,” she sassed without looking over to me.
“I’m not having that argument with you, missy. I already said I had to go work.”
“Okay, fine. Can you just go away now?”
Obviously, she was mad, and I can’t really blame her. She just got caught doing something she knew she shouldn’t be doing. As long as I knew where she was, I was fine leaving her alone.
I sighed, taking my wife’s hands. “I know, I freaked out too, but she’s okay.”
“Thank Watcher.” Dani sunk down into the couch, sighing. “I guess we know how she feels about the new baby, then.”
I raised my eyebrow, looking over to her. “What?”
“Yeah…I mean that explains her acting out. She’s not sure what to think…and seven-year-olds probably aren’t the best at dealing with emotions…”
“I just thought it was Vali being Vali. She’s always been a firecracker, you know?”
“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure the new baby is also a part of it.”
I sighed, laying against my wife. Today had been an absolute rollercoaster. But it was over – until tomorrow.