Chapter 18

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When Emmie was a little girl, her mother and father had a habit of fighting late into the night. It happened several times a week – enough so that she and her sister, Jennine, got used to stuffing their ears with cotton balls and hunkering together under a mound of blankets, playing CDs on Jennine's Walkman to drown it all out.

Emmie's father was an irrational man, quick to anger and slow to forgive. It had been pride rather than love that had kept her mother with him for so many years, pride that made Dora Larson stay with someone who made her miserable. Emmie remembered well that even after a sleepless night of fighting and tears and anger, she would put on her make-up, do her hair, and drive her daughters to school, smiling at the other mothers in the drop-off line. If she could make it look like nothing was wrong with her life, then she measured the day a success.

            "Keeping up appearances," Emmie had once heard her mother call it over the phone to one of the few friends who knew how bad the fighting really was

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"Keeping up appearances," Emmie had once heard her mother call it over the phone to one of the few friends who knew how bad the fighting really was. She excelled at maintaining this outward show of familial perfection. The world could be burning to the ground around them and her mother would still have a tray of perfectly decorated cupcakes to pass out to the burning masses and a glowing but unrealistic report of how her family managed to avoid the flames.

Emmie sympathized with her mother's plight today like never before. Trisha would have given her the day off, had she asked for it, but she didn't want a day off. She wanted to get up at the time she usually got up, have her usual eight ounces of caffeinated coffee the doctor said she could safely drink, go to her usual place of employment, and smile at the customers as she went about the job she was now so familiar with. She wanted to maintain the appearance of normality.

Never mind the fact that this course of action hadn't worked all that well for Dora Larson. Her mother eventually had enough, leaving Emmie's father when Emmie was eleven-- screw what other people thought about their family dysfunction, now made public. But Emmie was currently the cupcake baking version of Dora. She was waving and smiling to everyone around her and that's just the way it had to be. Perhaps if she kept everything normal on the outside, it would start to filter inside. Perhaps by midday, she would no longer feel the need to jump at every tiny noise.

Unfortunately, even outside appearances were not as they usually were today. Trisha and Iola were both concerned for her, not surprisingly, and expressed it often. And in a small town like Moon Beach, news of Emmie's starring role in a tabloid featuring their most famous inhabitant traveled fast. Nearly every customer mentioned it. Most of them did so with kindness. Others were curious enough to ask for details, and one man even asked straight out if the baby was really Ryker's. Of course, everyone must be wondering that—it was understandable. But the lack of tact it would take to lead someone to ask her outright vexed her more than she should have let it.

She'd replied by saying it was the love child of one of the Avengers; she wouldn't know which one until she got the results back from the paternity test. To her chagrin, her customer took this joke as proof that it was Ryker's. Emmie had to walk away before she threw a pot of hot coffee in his face.

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