The triplets were growing at an alarming rate both mentally and physically. River had taken to asking why about everything which amused Toffee to no end but worried me. There was too much of myself in that boy and I could see him getting into trouble in the future if he was not careful. I honestly do not know how I would have managed with all three of them without Toffee. His ready smile and easy hand with the kids was a gift I could not do without. Somehow, I don't know how or when, we had become a family.
In truth it was nearly a perfect life. Nearly.
"Do you think it's true?"
"I don't know, I mean he has been away for a long time but still. I just never would have thought he would...."
"Oh hello Mrs., um, Parfait."
I did not miss the hesitation before she said my name. Young and old the people of Hidden Springs were still a little unsure how to address me. The triplets clearly made me a Mrs in their eyes but the fact we were not married confused them. I couldn't really blame them. It confused me too.
I realised they were staring at me expectantly and I smiled meekly. "Hello Current. How is the babysitting going?" One good thing about Hidden Spings is that you got to know everyone in the community and what they were up to. Of course that could be a bad thing on occasion as well.
"Fabulous Mrs. P!" That must have been a safer option because she kept going voice bubbling with excitement. "I've been doing really well with some of the older kids and I think that I am ready to start looking after younger ones." Her eyes gleamed as they took in Rowan who was clutching at my shoulder hiding his face shyly.
I chuckled remembering what it had been like to be here age. "Well maybe we should have you over for a trial run." Current practically jumped up and down with excitement but her sisters eyes widened.
"Um Current I'm not so sure mooooom thinks that would be a good idea." The way she emphasised the word mom and the way Current's face fell told me there something that I was clearly missing.
Whatever it was both girls were practically dancing with nervousness now. Current ran her hand through her hair as she bit her lip. "Um, well we probably better get going now Mrs. P. I hope...I really hope Toffee is ok." She said the last in a rush before the two of them turned and rushed off.
My eyes narrowed as I watched them leave. She hoped Toffee was ok? It was things like that which made it only nearly perfect. It seemed like every time I felt our situation was exactly where I wanted it to be something odd happened. It was never anything I could exactly place and usually it was gone again before I could make sense of it. Once more I gave up trying to puzzle it out and got Rowan and myself out of the heat of the day. It wasn't as oppressively hot as Sunset Valley could get but it was no less sweltering when the sun was high in the sky.
"Come on let's get these kids home before we all melt like this ice cream."
Toffee appear at my shoulder as if by magic his face lit with a smile brighter than the sun. Of course when you are surprised constantly with sweet cool treats by a loving hand the less than perfect moments were much easier to bear. Smiling back at him I relieved him of the ice cream and we gathered the kids and headed home.
While Ice put them down for their naps I headed to the den hoping to get one of my own.
The huge windows of the house were excellent for letting in light but did not seem to let in a breeze. The lazily moving fan did little to help the circulating air either. Letting out a sigh of relief I plopped down on the sofa flipping on the TV as a pretence for being in the one cool room of the house. I had just closed my eyes, pushing my way deeper into the cushions of the sofa, when the announcers voice caught my attention.
"And in other news we have not heard the last of Ice Crisp it seems. Despite rumours that abounding about his absence from the stage and a supposed trip to rehab we have just heard that he has signed a contract for another album that will be due out for Christmas."
"That's right Satsuma. I for one was always skeptical of the rehab talk. Ice has always been one cool customer and he was never one to loose control. I think he's been somewhere getting ready to blow us away with whatever he has been working on."
"I sure hope you're right Poptart because I for one..." I did not hear what else the Berrywood Tonight announcers had to say. Before Satsuma could finish her sentence I was on my feet and sprinting out the door.
Toffee was humming away to himself in the small kitchen the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting pleasantly around the room. He turned when he heard me rushing for him a broad grin splitting his face.
"Is that what you've been hiding from me? A music deal?" I did not intend to yell but the words flew out of me ricocheting around the room.
His eyes widened before they dropped to the floor unable to meet the force of my stare. "There is no deal."
"I heard the news. It's all over the place." Furious at his deny I spat the words at him. "That tart Satsuma was announcing it just now." My voice sounded shrill even to my own ears.
He leaned forward and took hold of my arm, or at least he tried to but I pulled away before he could get close. "Look, Mint, I will explain everything but please come outside with me." His eyes bored into mine begging me to acquiesce. Hearing River grunting in his sleep on the far side on the room I nodded, walking stiff backed to the balcony.
I could hear his heavy footsteps as he closed the door behind me. They shuffled up beside me but he did not speak right away instead staring out at the valley that opened out in front of us. I was not going to give him the satisfaction of asking him what it was we could not speak about inside. Too many times I had been lied to by men I thought I loved and I would not stand for it. He was probably standing there concocting his story. I snorted at the thought and sensed more than saw him turn his head in my direction.
When he spoke his voice was quiet and I had to strain to hear him. "About a year ago, not long after we came here, my agent contacted me about a tour. I turned him down outright. There was no way I was leaving you alone after...everything."
He looked at me quickly as if judging my reaction but I stared stonily ahead not giving him the slightest of signs in m expression. He sighed and continued on. "The phone calls kept coming. He wanted me to do this advertisement or that concert. Finally he was calling almost daily to pressure me into doing an album. At Per and Nilla's wedding I told him on no uncertain terms would I come back until I was ready and the more he pushed the longer it would take. I should have known he would go to the press to try and get them to force me out of hiding." He chuckled wryly. "It's not the first time he has pulled a stunt like this."
"The rehab? Why do the reporters think you have been in rehab?" I did not want to give him the satisfaction of my curiosity but I could not help myself.
"Is that what they are saying? He knows me too well. That is one charge I could not stand by silently and accept. He knew that would draw me out eventually I think. I should have told you, I know I should have but I did not want to interrupt the peace we have here. Never before in my live have I been so happy, so sure of myself and I did not want to loose that, to loose you."
With those last words he slumped down burying his head in his hands. My solid resolve shattered at his words and I turned to him resting my hand on his back. "But you have to go." He stirred turning his head slightly towards me but not moving from his deflated pose. "You are loosing yourself by staying. Can't you see that? Can't you see how much you miss it? I watch you every day as you stare at you guitar, as you hum to yourself new songs, as you sing to the children. Music is in your blood and by denying it you are denying yourself."
He stood and I placed my hands on his shoulders trying to get him to look me in the eye, to acknowledge me. "I can't leave you," was all he said. The utter defeat in his tone made me snap. It should have made me pity him, want to comfort him, but no it made me furious.
"Why not? Am I some fragile little thing that cannot stand on her own? I have been through more hardship in the last year than most people face their whole lives. You have to learn to let go of me, to trust me. I have been happy here but if you are going to continue to mope around the place i can tell you I won't be happy for long. In fact if you don't go off and do this then I'm leaving!" I had not known that I would say that until the words we're out of my mouth but not that they had been said I knew them for truth.
He must have sensed it too because his eyes went wide as he faced me. "You would do that?"
"Yes," I said, more calmly than before. I was the one who could not meet his eyes now and I buried my head in is shoulder to avoid the intensity in his gaze. "I won't have you feeling like it is a choice between me and music. If you do that I will take the choice away from you by taking myself from you. If you go then I will stay, to be here on your return. To live as only half of who you are is not to live at all. I won't be responsible for that in anyone." I bit my lip before adding more quietly, "Especially not in someone I care so much about."
"Oh Mint," he breathed into my hair. "I feel like dancing and weeping at the same time."
Gently I reached up and placed my hand on the side of his face. "Leaving is always like that. Your soul is torn in two until your love returns. That is what my mom would say every time my dad went off on tour when I was growing up."
"You do know these things better than most don't you?" He smiled at me as he pulled away.
"I used to," I said quietly. It felt as if m past and future were merging into one. It was the right thing to do, I knew that, but my heart was telling me it was wrong.
We stood for awhile in silence watching the sun dip below the mountains each of us lost in thought.
It had taken just over a week to get everything arranged and Toffee on the road. In the flurry of activity and preparations I did not have time to think about what his leaving would mean. Now, alone with three toddlers, the house seemed empty somehow.
I could not understand how the presence of one person could add so much to a place. I suppose you never did until they were gone. I settled into a routine, if you could call it that, with the kids.
Things that had been easy and fun with Toffee around now became adventures in patience. But no matter how much they challenged me I would not have been without my three little terrorists. They filled my days with noise and laughter. The nights were something else.
In the dark of night the emptiness of the house haunted me. He once told me that he felt the living had ghosts too. I never believed it until now and his gave me no rest at all. Each day that past I could feel myself spiralling deeper into darkness. Where there had been colour and life in the house before now there was bleakness. Summer fled the hills and the mountains of Hidden Springs and with it went all the heat and light in my world.
Slowly even the kids became more subdued until one day I found them huddled in a corner each clutching a doll to their chest as if it would protect them from the sadness around them. I was their faces, somber and subdued, that made me realise that something had to change. I had been coming to the conclusion slowly, not knowing it was creeping up on me, but, as with all my most insightful revelations in life, I knew it for the right choice instantly. With more purpose in my step I reached for the phone and dialled a number that I had not thought of in months.
It rang once, twice, a third time before I heard it click open on the other end.
"Hello?" My sister's ringing voice was like the first rays of sun after the darkest night.
"Moon, it's Mint," I gasped in relief. "I'm coming home."
There was a silence on the other end of the line that lasted so long I thought we must have been disconnected. When she replied there was a tone in her voice that triggered childhood memories of confessing to something she had thought she kept hidden. "Um, about that....."
"I'm not in Sunset Valley any more."