Turning 30, Chapter 24

Lavena, Feliz, Ashlynn, and Will sat a park’s picnic table while Michael and Hannah ran around the grass area beside it. The park area had a trail against a high hill. The grass had started to yellow, and the leaves on the tree were starting to change color. Feliz slumped on the table with a glum look on his face. Lavena conversed with Feliz, “Why did she destroy your car? Was she punishing you for your sexuality?”

“No,” Feliz answered. “She was punishing me for making her angry. Of course she was hurt-I broke up with her, and that’s always a hurtful experience. Some people react inwardly for emotions, and some people channel it out. I read that in a Cosmo a long time ago. One time, I got her a workout DVD for her birthday. She thought I was calling her fat and tore up my Sex and the City posters.”

Will commented, “I can’t believe she didn’t know you were gay!”

Michael and Hannah overheard this part of the conversation, and Michael asked his mother, “What’s gay?”

Lavena was not sure how to explain it, so she tried to find the easiest way to appease them, “Uh, it means you’re happy.”

Hannah observed, “He doesn’t look very happy.”

“Okay.” Lavena knew the time had come to explain this concept to the children. “So, you know how men and women fall in love? Sometimes women fall in love with other women, and men can fall in love with other men. It’s probably hard for you to understand…”

“Nope,” Michael replied. “Makes sense to me.”

“Me too,” Hannah agreed. They went back to playing, totally unfazed. Lavena blinked. She could not believe how accepting they were to this kind of thing.

Will complimented Lavena, “You’re kids are awesome! Weird, but totally awesome”

Ashlynn commented, “It’s funny how some people never grow out of that!” They all laughed.

Cera and Tadd came into the vicinity. Cera was holding Tadd to guide him in the right direction. Tadd looked totally lost while he held a flower stem. Cera revealed to them, “I found him sobbing by the tennis courts. Apparently he played the ‘She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not’ game…”

“She loves me not!” he moaned. No one responded except to shake their heads.

Ashlynn talked to him in a cheery tone, “Your birthday is this weekend! What do you wanna do?” Tadd shrugged. “My parents offered to go out for the night if you wanted to have a party. Did you wanna do that? Or something more quiet?” Tadd shrugged again. Ashlynn got depressed. Tadd’s thirtieth birthday was practically upon them, and she had not succeeded in cheering him up.

They all heard some cheerful whistling in the distance. Tears welled up in Tadd’s eyes, and he ran off. Cera volunteered, “I’m already up, I’ll get him.” She ran in his direction.

“I thought he was past this stage.” Ashlynn hung her head, feeling like a failure.

Lavena wondered, “How is it that over two months later he still looks like hell and Feliz has been broken up for a couple days and is in way better shape than he is?” The whistling slowly grew louder and louder as the perpetrator grew closer and closer.

They turned to Feliz, who thought about what she said for a moment. “I had been mentally prepared for this for a long time, and I think Tadd got blindsided. He just needs closure.”

It was uncanny. The person who had been whistling came into view, and it was Brie! Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched her like a ghost appeared. She walked on the sidewalk outside the grass area to a small, white car. She appeared very happy. Her looks had not changed much since high school except for the wear and tear stemming from her hardcore party lifestyle. Even Hannah and Michael stopped playing to watch this moment that froze everyone. Between Lavena, Feliz, and Will, so many mixed emotions stirred up, and they did not know how to react. The were not sure if they wanted Tadd to find her or not. Ashlynn’s blood was boiling. She felt so much hate for that woman. She was half tempted to run over and rip Brie to shreds. She despised her for what she did to Tadd. She did not want Tadd to see her because she was afraid this meeting would make him even more crazy. She also worried that she would lure Tadd away. Tadd could not be happy with Brie, and Ashlynn could not stand the idea of Tadd getting ensnared by her poisonous trance again.

Brie got to her car and appeared to be searching for something. “Where did I put you?” She checked inside and out of her car for whatever she was missing. “Oh wait, I remember!” She went to the trunk and found what she thought she lost. “Ah, there you are!” She pulled out a small baby. Lavena, as a mother, could not hide her disgust at this and made a disapproving noise. Brie heard this, and she finally noticed them. “Oh my gawd, hi!” Brie seemed oblivious to the negative emotions of everyone present and approached them happily, “Do you remember me?”

“We can never forget you.” Ashlynn’s tone was pure ice.

Brie either did not notice her attitude or did not care. She merrily filled them in, “Oh, awesome! I got married, but I think we’re getting a divorce. Married life is so boring! Oh, this is Brandy. I named her that ’cause that’s what I was drunk on when she was conceived!” She had a very obnoxious laugh, which made them cringe. Will stared at her in total confusion, and she finally started to notice the collective mood. “What?”

Will continued to stare at her incredulously. “I don’t get it. Why would Tadd go so nuts over you?”

Brie questioned, “Tadd? Tadd who?”

“Oi!” Lavena exclaimed.

Ashlynn felt compelled to yell at her, to completely tear her apart. How dare she have such utter disrespect for such a good man! However, she did not act on those impulses. Cera had come back, leading Tadd by the arm. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw what was taking place. Tadd did not notice her for a moment. Everyone stood on edge, waiting for an explosion, not knowing how he would react.

When Tadd looked up and saw her, he froze completely. He barely even blinked. He went totally blank, like her presence had removed all sense of reality. His friends could practically hear his heart racing. His mind could not fathom this moment. Cera, Lavena, Will, Feliz, Hannah, and Michael all stood still, again, not knowing how to react. Ashlynn could not move either. She did not know whether to rescue Tadd or let the inevitable unfold. This was really happening, they all thought.

Brie nimbly approached Tadd. “Oh yeah, Tadd! Hi Tadd!” He continued to look at her in utter surprise. There was a long, heavy pause. Brie broke the tension, “Did you miss me?”

Without thinking, Tadd answered, “No.”

“Lies!”

“Untrue!”

Feliz and Feliz could not suppress themselves from saying that. Lavena and Cera concurred.

Tadd finally asked her, “What are you doing here?”

Brie answered, “I took Brandy to the park.”

“Oh, you’re drinking in public again?” he questioned.

Brie laughed, “No! I wish! I get lots of dirty looks when I drink with the baby for some reason.” The more she talked, the more disgusted they all became with her. “I’m in town to sign some legal papers. I’m divorcing Jose.”

Everyone dreading her saying that to him. They all wondered how Tadd would react to hearing that she was single again. Tadd looked as thought he could not process anything that was happening. He asked her, in an accusing tone, “Did you cheat on him too?”

Brie giggled. “Yeah, but he doesn’t know that. Gosh, being back in this town brings back so many many memories! But this town is all used up. As soon as the divorce papers are signed, we’re going to Me-ahm-me!”

“Where?” Tadd’s thoughts were clearly swimming, and he continuously tried to get a handle on this moment.

“Miami!” Brie smiled. Impulsively, she invited him, “You should come with me.”

The dreaded moment had arrived. No one wanted their friend to go with this awful woman. Ashlynn’s head was screaming, but she was too horrified to move. No one could. They silently prayed that he would do the right thing. Tadd’s mixed emotions were agonizing him. He could not process anything. He asked her, “You want me to go with you? What, so you wanna get back together?”

“Well, I’m not a one man can of girl, but we can live together in paradise. You and me, side by side on the beach, going on adventures! Sure, we’ll screw each other, but there will be threesomes, orges, just everything our bodies desire. And you can help me take care of Brandy!” She went up to him and purred, “So, what do you say?”

Tadd mulled over everything. Everyone else was paralyzed. They could not believe this was happening. Ashlynn’s heart thumped hard, and she could not breathe. Everyone worried that they were going to lose him. Tadd agonized over how he felt, and suddenly, it clicked. Everyone saw the light bulb go off in his head, and the anticipation was palpable. Tadd realized he knew how he felt and what he wanted. He cut through the mounting tension and spoke softly, “Brie?”

“Yes, Tadd, baby?” Brie cooed.

Tadd stated honestly, “I’ve been waiting to hear those words since you left. I’ve been going crazy wishing things could go back to the way things were. But my answer is…” Everyone’s pulse climaxed. They watched like their friend was about to get killed. Ashlynn felt faint. Brie smiled victoriously. Tadd concluded with, “…Fuck you!”

Time stood still. Relief slowly flooded their bodies. They could not believe what they were hearing. Ashlynn was practically shaking. Could this be real? After everything Tadd went through lately, they could not believe that he was actually doing the right thing. Ashlynn’s adrenaline was still up as if she survived a collision. This was real. Tadd, for once, felt angry, and it showed. Brie backed up, and she felt like she got slapped in the face. “What?”

Tadd’s body surged with rage, and he unloaded on Brie, “You think you can put me through hell and come back like nothing happened? You’re a manipulative bitch! You know how to charm people to serve your selfish needs, and then you through people away like they’re nothing just ’cause you’re bored? You made me believe that I was something special, and I spent the last couple of months believing that I lost someone that made my life magical. None of it was real. You got what you wanted from me and destroyed me without a hint of guilt! How dare you! Do you even care how much of a crazy person you turned me into? You’re like an animal drifting from one place to the next, living hedonistically. And, what, I’m supposed to follow you and be your little bitch, let you use me and throw me away? I’m not falling for it!”

Brie seethed, “Do you know how many boys would kill to just screw around with no commitment?”

“Yeah, boys do that!” Tadd bellowed. “I’m no boy-I’m a man!”

Brie laughed derisively. “You, a man? You’re a loser! You and your friends were always losers! You grew up to be handsome, so you had potential. So, what, you’re saying that instead of living a life of pure pleasure with me, you wanna be buddies with a bunch of thirty-year-olds with no lives?”

Feliz, Cera, Lavena, Will, and Ashlynn all got offended by that, but Tadd reacted before they could. “They’re not losers! They’re true friends! They stuck by my side even when I acted insane, and they sacrificed most of their free time to help me. So, they encountered some obstacles, but they have goals, and they won’t give up ’til they achieve them. That makes them amazing people. And you-you call them losers?You’re like a hooker without the pay! They’ll make something out of their life, but you, you don’t know where you’re going! You’re the loser!”

“Hmpf! Well, congratulations, you just got dumped by a loser!” Brie stomped to her car and drove off. She quickly reversed, grabbed her baby, stomped back, and peeled off. It was over. Everyone took a moment to let this sink in.

“He’s back!” Ashlynn exclaimed. Everyone gave him a hug. Tadd appeared winded but the sadness and insanity that he displayed before had clearly vanished. He seemed a little depressed, but he clearly had way more thought than he had before. Ashlynn looked him in the eye and told him, “I’m so proud of you!”

Everyone agreed. Tadd felt a little disoriented, like he was coming out of a trance. He blankly asked, “So, now what?”

Cera replied, “We gotta watch over you ’cause now you’re in the rebound stage.”

“Nah,” Tadd stated, “I don’t need to replace her. Not when I have friends like you!” Everyone beamed and gave him another hug.

Turning 30, Chapter 20

Ashlynn hung out in Lavena’s living room. The mismatched furniture, though in good condition, looked as though she got them free from various online sites. Lavena has random decor, and although the house is blanketed in toys, it appears very clean and well maintained. Lavena also had several framed pictures of her two kids,and they could be heard playing in the back rooms. Both Ashlynn and Lavena were on their laptops. Ashlynn commented, “I can’t believe how many people post ads for jobs and have huge descriptions but never say the name of company! Who applies for these jobs?”

Lavena laughed but kept scrolling on her laptop. “I love these dating sites! It’s like shopping for men!” Michael ran up and stared at her. “Oh, I got a message. It’s from Ramrod sixty-nine. Oh yeah, that sounds like my future husband!”

“Mom!” Michael said.

Lavena ignored him to finish her thought. “My profile clearly says that I want someone who would make a good father…”

“Mom!” Michael repeated.

Lavena, again, ignored him. “So he says ‘You can call me daddy!'”

“Mom!” Michael repeated.

Lavena kept talking even though Michael continued to repeat himself. “Isn’t that lovely? What kind of mom do they think I am? As much as I want a man, I am a mom first! These guys are my angels-I love them so much!” Michael’s repetition finally got under her skin, so she screamed, “WHAT? What is so important that you feel you need to keep interrupting me when I’m talking?”

“Can I go to the bathroom?” Michael requested.

That question flabbergasted Lavena. “Since when do you need my permission to go potty?”

Michael answered with another question, “Did you fix it?”

“Fix it? What hap…?” She put down her laptop and decided to investigate for herself. She made a beeline for the bathroom, and a moment later, she yelled, “Are you kidding me?” Lavena stormed into the living room. “Hannah, get your butt in here!” Hannah sheepishly walked into the living room. Both kids hung their heads guiltily. “Who flushed Spiderman down the toilet?”

Hannah inquired, “How did you know it was Spiderman?”

Lavena put her hands on her hips and gave Hannah a stern look. “You can see part of his arm still. Hannah! Why did you do that?”

Hannah abandoned all pretense of innocence. “He broke my Tiana doll!”

“I tripped on her by accident!” Michael defended himself.

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“SHUT UP!” Lavena interjected. They recognized that tone and came to attention. “You’re both in trouble! And you’re going to get punished as soon as I’m not angry enough to land an episode on us on Snapped!”

Michael and Hannah gave a remorseful expression, and Lavena paced to try to calm down. Ashlynn joked, “I can see what you mean about them being angels!”

“Of course they have a dark side-they get half their genes from their father!” Lavena stopped pacing and thought for a moment. “It’s Sunday, so I can’t call the super. Michael, Hannah, you’re on time out! Ashlynn, can you keep an eye on them while I try to unclog the toilet?”

“No problem,” Ashlynn consented. Lavena looked irritated but somewhat mollified as she went to the bathroom to fix the toilet. Michael and Hannah stood in separate corners of the living room, and Ashlynn kept an eye on them as she scrolled through Facebook. Michael tried to peek, and all Ashlynn had to do was point at him to get him to behave. Suddenly, she saw something troubling on her screen. “Uh oh!”

From the bathroom, Lavena shouted, “What did they do now?”

“Nothing,” Ashlynn explained, “But I noticed that Tadd used to post things on Facebook several times a day, but he hasn’t posted anything in a couple of days. And the last thing he posted was a Sylvia Plath poem…”

Lavena came into the living room with the plunger in her hand, and she looked kind of scared. “But we just saw him! I guess that was a couple days ago…”

Ashlynn started, “He hasn’t returned my texts either. You don’t think he would…”

Lavena and Ashlynn looked at each other with fear. They rushed out of the apartment. Out of curiosity, Hannah and Michael followed them.

Ashlynn and Lavena burst into Tadd’s living room, fearing the worst. Their hearts were pumping, but they felt a rush of relief to see Tadd laying on his couch watching the music video for “Gangsta’s Paradise” in a trance-like manner. He reacted to their entrance by gazing at them in confusion. Ashlynn, relieved, said breathily, “Tadd! You’re okay!”

“Physically or emotionally?” Tadd asked, half joking. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”

Lavena explained, “You haven’t texted us in a while, and we saw this depressing poem on Facebook…”

“Oh that,” Tadd told them, “I reposted that ’cause it’s supposed to raise suicide awareness. But they cut off my internet three days ago, and I’m running low on texts and data. I’m having trouble paying my bills since I’ve been too depressed to take any catering jobs.”

Ashlynn sat by him on the couch. “You’re scaring me! You love to cook, I remember that from when we were kids. Wouldn’t you rather be doing that right now? Why are you here watching old school music videos?”

Tadd told them sadly, “I watch this one all the time. It was…our song!”

Lavena reacted, “Your song? Wha…?”

Hannah went up to Tadd and told him a story, “When I was in kinny-garten, everyday, we would walk in, put our backpacks away, and listen to Miss Rastmusen talk, and then we go do worksheets, and then we went to room two to play, and then we did learning games. Then it was recess. Then we would do more work…” Tadd tried to hid his confusion and listened politely. Ashlynn looked amused while Lavena felt like she should say something but let her keep going to see if she was going anywhere with this. Hannah continued, “and we lined up. If we did good, Miss Rastmusen would give us a sticker. Then we did free time. The mommy would come get me. Miss Rastmusen gave me a hug goodbye. It was my favorite thing.”

“Uh huh…” Tadd tried to follow the logic of her telling him this story.

“But then it was summer, and I didn’t go to school. I was so sad ’cause my friends were gone, and I missed my teacher. Then it was first grade. It wasn’t the same as kinny-garten. There was no room two, and also, the worksheets were harder. My teacher didn’t hug me. But it was okay ’cause I saw my friends again. I finded new things I liked about first grade, like Mrs. Underhill taught us about animals! It was weird, but I liked different things.” Hannah concluded, “Sometimes good things go away, but it’s just a for a little while. It’s not the same, but you find your new favorite things and feel better. You were happy before, but you can be happy again. You just need to find your new kind of happy!”

Everyone was surprised by the depth of her story. It ended up having a very touching, heartwarming effect. Tadd’s eyes well up, but they do not look like sad tears. Michael and Hannah give him a hug, which he found surprisingly comforting. Ashlynn and Lavena both cooed, “Awwww!”

Lavena was close to tears herself. “My angels!”

Ashlynn felt very touched by the emotions of the moment, but her thoughts on the subject got interrupted by a text message. She looked at her phone and frowned. “Uh, guys…!” They all gave her full attention because of her tone. “Cera signed us up for a speed dating event…”

Lavena growned, “I’ll go call the babysitter!”

Turning 30, Chapter 4

Ashlynn thumbed through a Food and Wine magazine with a total lack of enthusiasm. She sat on the recliner as Tadd laid down like a starfish on the floor, softly sobbing. There was a knock on the door, so Ashlynn put the magazine down and answered it. She gave up hope that Carla would come by and save her from watching over an emotional lunatic, which made her curious as to who could be at the door. She hoped that Tadd didn’t alarm anyone enough to the point to call the police. What she didn’t expect was to see someone she knew. The woman at the door had gained weight and looked super tired, but clearly it was Lavena! Lavena instantly recognized her. “Ashlynn?”

Ashlynn exclaimed, “Oh my god, Lavena!”

They let out squeals of excitement and gave each other a hug. Lavena then asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Babysitting. Don’t worry, everything’s fine,” Ashlynn explained.

Lavena commented, “Liar! Can I come in?”

“Sure, why not.” Ashlynn let her inside.

Lavena looked horrified to see Tadd on the floor. Ashlynn whispered, “My old neighbor, Carla, asked me to watch her nephew while she ran to work real quick. That was hours ago. Apparently she would rather deal with the chaos at work than…”

“I see…” Lavena’s face indicated that she wanted to as more questions on the subject but changed her mind. “So, why are you back in Long Island?”

Ashlynn asked her, “Remember that great job I got right after graduation?”

Lavena replied, “Oh no, did it shut down? I thought it was doing well!”

Ashlynn chuckled. “I thought so too. Marketing sure made it look that way! So, how have you been?”

“Look at me,” she replied, “Can’t you tell I’ve lost my mind?”

“I still can’t believe you have kids!” Ashlynn told her. “I still think of you as my high school friend. Even though I’m almost thirty, high school still doesn’t seem that far away.”

“It does for me, I feel ancient!” Lavena said. “I haven’t slept since their father left. Don’t feel bad for me, it was my own stupidity for thinking a street racer would be a good father! Then after having a baby and realizing he wasn’t, I slept with him again. I made such dumb decisions when I was young. Now I work all night, take care of them all day, and I will get no sleep until they move out. It’ll be nice to find a man to join our family to help me balance things out!”

“I’m looking forward to getting a good night’s rest.There was too much going on at my old place at all hours of the day to get any sleep. I shared an apartment with a crap load of people to split the rent. There was zero privacy! Not that I”ll get a lot of that at my parents’ house!”

“Your parents’ house? So you don’t live here?”

“No, this is Tadd’s apartment.”

“Tadd?”

Ashlynn pointed to the floor. Tadd was still crying but seemed to be running out of steam. Ashlynn asked Lavena, “You don’t get out of your apartment much, do you?”

Lavena agreed, “Yeah. I mean, I knew he lived here at one point, but I thought he moved out with that ska-”

“Shh!” Ashlynn interrupted. “Trust me, you don’t wanna insult you-know-who.”

Lavena went on, “I said hi from time to time, but he was always with that…lovely girl. No one else existed in his world. After they moved out, we lost touch. I didn’t know he came back. I just came over to see what was making more noise than my kids usually do. And why it stopped.” She looked at her watch. “Oh shoot! Their bus will be here soon. I better leave.”

Ashlynn commented, “I can’t believe you have kids old enough to be in school!”

Lavena responded, “I know! They’re my angels! Hannah and Michael are totally worth no sleep and saggy mom boobs!”

Tadd randomly interjected, “My birthday is in a month. We were supposed to spend it together!” He started to sob harder again.

Ashlynn said to Lavena, “We can’t let him turn thirty like this! Turning thirty is ind of a big deal, and the poor guy has no one. We should try to make him feel better before the big day!”

Lavena replied, “Agreed! We could get the old gang back together. Maybe reliving the glory days will help him get out of this funk.”

As Tadd went back into tantrum mode, Ashlynn commented, “A funk? You’re calling this a funk?”

She shrugged. They hear a school bus horn beep. Lavena asked Ashlynn, “When do you finish ‘babysitting?'”

She listlessly replied, “Not a minute goes by I don’t ask myself that same question.”

“When you’re free, come by apartment thirty seven!” She ran out.

Ashlynn had gotten used to Tadd’s erratic behavior, shrugged it off, and went back to her recliner. The landline rang, and Ashlynn picked it up, “Hello?”

Carla was on the line. “Hi Ashlynn. How’s my nephew doing?”

Ashlynn looked at Tadd, who was pressing his face against the wall moaning, “I wanna die! Why can’t I die?”

Ashlynn told Carla, “He’s fine.”

“Oh good. I’m on my way home now.”

“Sure…”

“See you soon.”

Carla hung up. Ashlynn looked at Tadd and sighed. “So this is my welcome back to Success Lake!”

The Blood Warrior Rebellion, Chapter 1

Mac stared out of the window at a small, medieval cottage, but all he can see is the flurry of white sheet that makes up a big snow storm. He could see his reflection and sees signs of stress-his normally neat black hair had gotten frayed and hinted of gray, his pale skin looked sallow, and his gray eyes were clouded with red. He turned around and saw the maiden, Amberline, combing her glossy blonde hair and admiring her red lips, strong cheekbones, and winking green eyes. He turned to the other side of the room to see her cousin, Sir Anthony, doing similar poses with his hand mirror. He rolled his eyes and turned away to a small sitting area where his wife, Holly, was nursing their young baby, Preston. In his opinion, his wife was the most beautiful woman in the world. He loved the way her red hair always seemed to bounce, and her freckled cheeks had a dimple when she smiled. However, taking care of Preston was a full time job, and now he felt sad that no one was really contributing to the cause. He sighed.

Mac knelt by the window and prayed, ” Oh Lord, is the Rebellion against the Blood Warriors going to work? It seemed like a brilliant cause, but now our hopes are as bleak as the weather! Should we keep on with the resistance? Send me a sign!”

At that moment, as if on cue, the door flew open, letting in the cold wind as well as a mysterious figure. Everyone in the cottage stopped what they were doing and either prepared to fight or run for their lives. They found that it was a young, peasant woman whose brunette hair was laced in snow, golden brown eyes covered in frozen tears, and thin clothes apparently failed to keep her warm. She would’ve been beautiful if she wasn’t so obviously miserable. Holly put her baby down in its crib and instinctively wrapped a warm blanket around the visitor. Anthony shut the door while Amberline poured her some freshly made tea. Mac stood up and greeted her, “Welcome, weary traveler!”

She replied, “My name is Kasmira. I believe in your cause, but I’ve hesitated coming here. I didn’t want you to share my family’s curse.”

“Family curse?” Holly responded, “What do you mean?”

Kasmira explained, “My grandmother, Rosalynn, grew up in a wealthy merchant’s home. She was mostly raised by her nurse since her parents were too involved with their own affairs to pay attention to her. It wasn’t an ideal family, but she was content. When she was around sixteen, her parents had told her they had been coerced into giving her away in marriage to the foreboding wizard, Garlord. Rosalynn argued against the idea, but her parents wouldn’t be swayed. When Garlord doesn’t get his way, those who caused his rage would feel a terrible wrath. They were perfectly willing to sacrifice their daughter’s happiness to keep Garlord appeased. My grandmother was stunned; she knew they were too busy to really care for her, but to condemn her life like this was too much for her to bear. In the middle of the night, while her parents slept, Rosalynn ran away from that place and hid so they couldn’t find her. That morning, Garlord came to collect his bride, and my great grandparents fearfully informed him that their daughter was nowhere to be found. Garlord was enraged because he needed a male heir so he could finally enter the Spirit World. He then put a curse of misfortune on all females in my family in punishment for what my grandmother did.”

“That’s awful!” Amberline replied.

Anthony inquired, “What happened to your grandmother?”

Kasmira continued, “After Garlord left, they immediately feared my mother’s curse. They coveted most their wealth, so they took all of their assets into their home and kept it all in a trunk under their bed to keep an eye on it. After a year of hiding among peasants, the nurse found Rosalynn and informed her that some thieves had heard about her parent’s hidden fortune, sneaked into house, slit their throats, and made off with their goods. Worst of all, Garlord still sought Rosalynn as his bride. Rosalynn tried to flee the country, but Garlord found her and forced her to marry him!”

“Oh no!” Holly reacted.

Kasmira went on, “It was horrible. He always treated her like a disobedient servant and forced her to fornicate every night until they conceived a child. When they finally had a baby, Rosalynn hoped for a boy so the nightmare could be over, and she was heartbroken to see she had given birth to a girl. Garlord was angry but he promised he would spare the baby’s life if they would continue to try for his heir as long as she lived. Rosalynn was grateful that her daughter, whom she named Bernadette, would get to live, but she now hated the idea of bearing the next generation of evil. So, once again, she ran away, only this time Garlord could never retrieve her. She ran into a lake and never came out!”

“What happened to Bernadette?” Amberline asked.

Kasmira narrated, “My mother was raised by Garlord, who was cruel and abusive to her. She spent day and night doing the wizard’s bidding. She would be beaten if she got it wrong. She only got enough food to barely survive. Bernadette knew that she didn’t have a choice since she was legally his property, but she longed for a better life. One day, when she saw a wedding procession go by, it dawned on her-if she got married, she would belong to another man and Garlord couldn’t do a thing about it. When she ran errands in town, she stole conversations with local men. Finally, a young page named Donovan took interest in her. She dropped everything and eloped with him. When Garlord found out, he was extremely angry and sought revenge. When he found Donovan, they fought hard. Somehow, my father managed to banish Garlord to the Spirit World.”

“So, your father broke the curse, right?” Anthony asked Kasmira.

Kasmira shook her head. “Defeating Garlord was the only noble thing Donovan managed to do. The fight shook up his senses, and he couldn’t handle it anymore. He became addicted to alcohol and would beat my mother whenever he was drunk. I was born in the middle of this chaos. He never beat me, but he certainly didn’t give a damn that I was around. I tried to convince my mother that what he was doing wasn’t right, but she wouldn’t listen. She always thought of him like a tragic little hero and was alright when he was sober. She made feeble attempts to keep him from the mead, but things stayed exactly the same. I grew up making vain attempts to have a normal life, but the curse haunted me. Every time I came close to happiness, some misfortune thwarted me. I knew there must be some way to get a better life, but I grew less and less optimistic. I didn’t think it could get worse, but then the Blood Warriors formed. I watched them hunt down people with traces of magical lineage, and I always wondered if they’d find out about our relation to Garlord. I never wanted us to be like those poor souls who were enslaved, tortured, executed…Then one day, while my father was at a pub, his drunken violence got him into a fight, and he ended up killing a Blood Warrior. King Davidson decreed that since he took one of their own’s life, he now owed them his life. He became a Blood Warrior. My mother and I went into hiding. Recently, while I was out gathering firewood, I saw that they found my mother and turned her in.”

Kasmira began to weep. Holly gave her a comforting pat on the back. Kasmira talked through her tears, “I heard about this small group of rogues that want to end King Davidson’s reign of terror, but I was so afraid of my family’s curse ruining things for you. But as time goes on, the horrors get worse. Tonight, I decided it was worth the risk. At least, if I die here, I would die like a hero. That is, if you’ll let me.”

Everyone looked at Mac. Mac kneeled down so he could look her in the eye. “I formed this group because we believe not only that we could rid the world of a terrible evil but that we deserve to live a happy life. If you want to fight, you have to believe that you are capable of such an existence. Do you think you could?”

Kasmira felt a little bewildered. “Be happy? I read fairy tales where the damsel in distress finds her prince and lives happily ever after. I once faniced that I could lead such a life, but now I doubt a prince would even talk to me!”

“Well, a prince will talk to you, technically, since we have Prince Orlando as a mole,” Mac said to her, “However, I see a brave young lady willing to fight for what she believes in. You may not believe in yourself, but I see a lot of potential.” Kasmira was pleasantly surprised. Mac smiled warmly and stood up. “As leader of this brigade, I bid you welcome! Kasmira smiled.