One… Two, Three… One… Two, Three…
Breathing heavily I punched our punching bag into the same spot again and again, imagining a face I didn’t know where my fists landed.
One… Two, Three… One… Two, Three…
Mum had made me take self-defence lessons since I was eight. Twice a week I attended karate and taekwondo classes, always training towards the same purpose. That purpose was what I imagined our punching bag to look like now.
I had never met my father, but I knew what kind of person he was from Mum. When I had been a child she had told me the bare minimum – that he was a bad person and that he was in prison – but it wasn’t until I was sixteen that she had told me the rest. He had raped her. He had drugged her, knocked her out, and raped her, hoping to possess her like some item you paid for. Mum seemed to have gotten over it, and even said that she was grateful, because if he hadn’t done those things she wouldn’t have me, but I was livid. What made people do things like that? I didn’t understand how someone could do things as horrible as he had done, but I did understand perfectly well that there were a lot of people like him out there. A lot of criminals who ran free every day, without anyone bringing them to justice only because their cases were too tricky.
That was my purpose, and that was what I imagined the punching bag to look like. All those criminals, with his face, and I would be the one to bring an end to them.
I wasn’t violent, usually. I was actually the exact opposite. My Mums always said that I had a strong sense of justice, and I guessed they were right. For as long as I could remember Mum had taught me right from wrong, and it had stuck. I loved peace, which was exactly why the idea of all these criminals made me angry. They threatened our safety. Being someone who could stop them was like a dream come true.
Even though I didn’t have a dad, I had two mothers. I had never felt left out or like I was missing something. Our family was perfectly intact, if a little different. My Mums had been together for a long time, but they still adored each other every day like it was their first date. I was a little jealous, seeing how long their love for each other had lasted, and hoped that I’d be able to have the same kind of caring relationship one day. I did have a boyfriend now but once school was finished we’d go our separate ways, so I knew that I had no future with him. I did want children one day, and I wanted to get married and have my own happily-ever-after, but every time I brought it up Mum had this dark shadow cover her eyes, like I had brought up a sensitive topic. She always changed the subject when I asked, saying she’d tell me when I was older.
I got on well with Mum. I knew that for the first years of my life she had raised me by herself, and I respected her for it. Momma Gemma hadn’t moved in until I had been older, but I could imagine how difficult it must have been for her, raising me herself while working full time as well. She was a very well known football player and had recently been entered into the Hall Of Fame, which came with a massive cash reward. Two thirds of which she gave to charity supporting abused women and single parents. Mum had done a lot for each charity from hosting events of any size to the monthly infusions of much needed cash. It wasn’t rare for her to get a thank you letter from someone telling her how much she had changed their lives. From what she had told me I could guess that her life hadn’t been easy, and I was endlessly proud of her.
Momma Gemma ran her own business, which she had inherited from her father. They had both worked very hard to be where they were now, and I intended on doing the same. Whether I became the most well known Detective of all time didn’t matter. The only thing that did was that I locked up Blaine Regan for good.
That wasn’t to say that I was one of those girl who did nothing but study, though! Thanks to my high martial art skills and good grades I already had a good shot at being accepted into the Police Academy, so I didn’t have to spend every free second hunched over books. I did study a lot, but it wasn’t all I spent my time doing. I always made time for Marvin, and a few friends.
Marvin and I had known each other since Primary School, and somehow during our second year of High School we started dating. I had never considered dating my best friend, but it had worked for Mum so why not me? At some point during our final year I had realised that I liked him a lot, but I ignored it most of the time. Or I tried to ignore it, anyway.
Like me, Marvin wanted to be a member of the police force, but his aspirations were a little different to mine. He was originally from Twinbrook and remembered the fear associated with staying out late due to their relatively high crime rate. He wanted to go back to turn Twinbrook into a saver town. I thought it as a fantastic idea, but it meant him moving far away from me so there was no point imagining our lives together. I knew where Blaine had been imprisoned, and I knew where he was rumoured to work after his breakout. I would be moving to Willow Creek, closer to the enemy. Even further away from Marvin.
Mum and Grandma saw us dating as the perfect time to call me into my room for a ‘talk’ one day. I had expected a repeat of the woohoo talk – which Mum had already given me – but instead Grandma had something completely different to say.
“You’re old enough to hear this, Sophia. Your Mum and I already discussed it, and we believe now is a good time.”
“Is something wrong?” When I was a child Mum and Grandma had a strained relationship for a while, but they had never told me why, despite my asking. Next to me Mum sat perfectly still – something she always did when she was uncomfortable. I had a feeling the two were connected somehow, but didn’t want to press either of them for answers. We were all here now, and Grandma seemed determined to tell me whatever it was. There was no point begging for details they were going to give me anyway.
“No, sweetheart, nothing is wrong” Mum answered, offering me an uneasy smile. “But it is important, and you need to hear it before you and Marvin take your relationship much further.” I hadn’t told them about our different plans for the future, but maybe I should have done.
“It’s a long story, Sophia, so I will get right to the point. None of us are supposed to be here. I died when I was roughly your age, but Uncle Milan struck a deal with a spirit to return me to this world.”
“Could you repeat that?” I had always wondered how Grandma Morrigan managed to still look so much younger than Mum, but this seemed a little too far fetched.
“I know it’s a lot to take in, sweetheart, but it’s the truth. The same spirit offered Mum – Grandma – a second deal.”
“So she’s immortal?” Was that even possible? Immortality – actual immortality – didn’t exist, did it? Could it?
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here, Sophia. And yes, I am immortal. It’s why I still look younger than your Mum does. Milan is immortal, too, since he hosts the spirit who has made this possible. But that isn’t why I needed to talk to you. There is more to it than that. Lilliana, sweetheart, if you would?”
Next to me Mum was clenching her fists, and I realised immediately that I was about to hear the reasons for that dark cloud across her eyes every time I mentioned marriage.
“I know this will be difficult to accept, but please remember that your Grandma and I have had to make the same sacrifice.”
I nodded, feeling too worried to speak. There was something in Mum’s voice that let me believe that she wasn’t kidding, and that I wasn’t going to like it.
“Because none of us are supposed to be here and are only alive by the grace of a spirit, we mustn’t influence this world more than necessary. The spirit allowed your Grandma to return because it and Milan believe our family to be vital in the future of our world. We may attempt to change the world for the better, but we mustn’t change more than what is necessary to achieve that.”
“I don’t follow.” Even if everything she was telling me was the truth, it didn’t make sense. What wasn’t Mum telling me?
Mum took a deep breath in before she spoke. “You can’t get married, sweetheart. I’m sorry. Every person who enters our lives must be allowed to continue as if they had never met us. If someone was to marry you, they might not marry the woman who would otherwise have given birth to a hero. Your husband’s unborn child.” I felt like she had punched me, but it still didn’t make sense.
“What about Momma Gemma? She lives with us, and she has helped raise me! If you can be happy with her, why can’t I be happy with someone?” Mum looked genuinely heart-broken, and I was grateful when Grandma continued.
“Your mother found… a loophole. By the time she started dating Gemma officially Gemma was already committed to her career. For their relationship to work, it was vital that Gemma continued with her career until she had reached the same level she would have reached without your mother interfering. Since she was already committed, convincing her was easy.”
Mum took my hands into hers and squeezed them lightly. “Trust me, not a day went by where I didn’t want to ask Gemma to quit her job and move in with us already. Every day I watched her work herself into the ground trying to juggle raising you while I was at work and advancing her business. Before she retired she was exhausted a lot, often too tired to go through all her paperwork before going to bed but she did it anyway. Because I insisted. I often asked myself whether I was fair on her, or whether our relationship was fair on her, but I was too selfish to just let her go. I love her a great deal, Sophia. I didn’t want to live without her completely, but seeing her drive herself so hard hurt, too.”
“But you made it work.”
“Yes, but it wasn’t easy. It was only possible because Gemma felt an obligation towards the business her father had left her. Without that, she would have quit her job and her business would have failed. I know she wanted to leave the company many times, but I had to push her back into her office regardless.”
My heart broke at the news, but I felt that maybe there was a chance after all. I didn’t want to do this to someone I loved – I wasn’t sure that I could – but I had dreamed of getting married since I had been a little girl. I wanted a beautiful wedding, three children, and a white picket fence. So it was going to be difficult. Maybe it wasn’t impossible.
Grandma didn’t look too happy at my persistence, but I wasn’t going to give up just yet.
I still had some time to figure out the details. I was never going to marry Marvin, and I doubted that I’d have time to date until later in my career, anyway. Seeing Blaine locked up with a life sentence hanging over his head was my top priority, and I doubted I would get there quickly. I had years to figure something out. Years to even meet the right man.
If there was one thing Mum had taught me, it was to never let myself be defeated easily. I was going to find out what he had been up to, see him imprisoned, and then I was going to have the life I had wanted to have since I had been five. Who cared if it was going to be difficult? Nothing worth having was ever easy.
Being married with children was definitely worth having.