It wasn't long after Rum's birthday that I approached El for a favor. "After what he did...how can you be so...nice to him?" El asked.
"I believe him when he says nothing else happened - maybe I'm a fool but I believe him." I said. "El, please - we need this to get back on track. I've talked to Val's mother and they're going to come out and watch the kids for most of the time but they won't get her until that evening and I need someone to watch the little ones..."
"Fine" she said begrudgingly. She loved her nieces and nephews but she hadn't forgiven Val yet. "Have a good time anyway..."
"Thank you El!" I said happily.
"When I decide to skip the country you best be watchin' mine!" she pointed out with a smile.
I'd arranged the whole thing as a surprise - obviously I couldn't hide the fact that we were going on an airplane but I hid the destination as long as I could. Right up until the pilot announced that we were taking off and rattled off all the flight details. "China?" Val asked raising an eyebrow.
Truth was, we'd both long talked about visiting China before but with the kids and life in general it was never very practical to go.
Val expressed an interest in checking out a lead on some adventure but instantly felt bad and turned toward me. "Where do you want to go?" he asked. I could tell he wanted this adventure but wanted this to be the honeymoon we never had as well.
"Why don't you go check out what this guy has to say and meet me at the Academy...then we'll adventure together - if it seems worth it anyway." I suggested with a smile.
He nodded, looking grateful and we kissed before parting ways. I'd like to say I was a natural at sim fu but it wasn't to be. I think the training dummy whacked me more than I hit it. By the time Val arrived I was feeling sweaty and beaten by a dang piece of wood!
Val wanted his shot as well and after I took another hit to the face, I retreated to the showers and a snack while he practiced. Unlike me he seemed to be a natural.
It was near sunset when he finished and took his own shower. We went over the details of the adventure on the way back into town. We stopped off to do a bit of shopping and I made sure to pick up a few supplies for the tomb raiding. By the time we reached the stepped of the old palace, the sun was fully down.
"You sure about this?" Val asked. "We don't have to do this thing - we can go back to the hotel and just..." he trailed off and winked at me.
"Oh come on! Besides - I bought a tent, if we can find a place to pitch in there..." I returned his wink and led the way into the palace. He caught up with me quickly and led the way down the hidden staircase as he'd been instructed. He had a funny looking stone that opened the first door for us but after that it wasn't so easy.
"Ya know...these things are pretty heavy..." Val huffed as he pushed yet another stone statue around.
"Mmhmm, of that I have no doubt..." I said with a small smile.
He looked at me and chuckled. "Right, thanks for your help dear."
"You're a big strong man Val - I think you can handle it." I said with a grin. I didn't leave all the work to him, just the heavy stuff. "Ooh, I think my feet go here..." I said placing my heels firmly in the footprints on the tile. We both heard a click and woosh as a door swung open.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea..." Val protested when I shoved my hand into one of the holes in the wall. "You have no idea what's in there Cin..."
"Like what? Creepy crawly bugs?" I said feeling around in the hole. I felt something skitter around my hand but I dealt with bugs in the garden all the time and was not phased. "Oh I think I found something." I tugged and heard a click and soon another hidden door was revealing itself to us. "See Val - no big deal." I dusted my hands off on my apron before leading into the next room.
"Treasure chests!" Val said clapping. He was giddy as a school boy as he approached one and pointed me to the other. We each scooped out some old gold coins and a few gems from the bowels of the chest before continuing onward.
There was a swirling pool of water in the next room and another one of those keystone locks blocking the only other door. With no other foreseeable exit, I climbed onto the edge of the pool, prepared to dive in in search of either the key to that door or another exit.
"Not that I don't mind the view from here but what exactly do you think you're doing Cin?" Val asked.
I looked back at him and smiled. "What does it look like?" I said before I dove into the pool. I thought I heard him shout my name just before my head hit the water. The swim in the murky water was longer than I'd expected and I was relieved with a small tunnel led me back to the surface - only I was no longer in the room I'd just left and Val was no where in sight. "Hmm..." I mused for a moment as I pulled myself from the water. I spotted another chest and opened it. Tucked inside was the missing key stone! I tucked it into my apron and hoped it wouldn't weigh me down too much on the swim back through. I was about to climb back in the water when Val emerged, gasping for air.
"Cinder Dust! Don't do that!" he scolded as he climbed out. I held up the keystone with a triumphant smile and stalled his tirade. Together we returned through the water tunnel to the previous room. The stone let us into the final room of this tomb which is where the best relics, and the prize we'd sought, were waiting for us. We took what we could carry and returned to the hotel.
I was shocked to discover that the sun was just peaking over the horizon when we got back. While everyone else around us woke up, Val and I climbed into bed after stowing our finds from the tomb.
When we finally woke up a couple hours before sunset, I was happy to have his strong arms around me. I was sure that this trip had been exactly what we'd needed to get back where we needed to be in our marriage.
Instead of staying another night in the hotel, we packed up and found a camp ground with a large lake and plenty of exotic plants to harvest. Val and I set up the tent and, though there was still a bit of light in the sky, I entered it. "Cin, where you going?" Val asked as he prepped the fishing rod he'd purchased in town.
"Va-a-al..." I cooed from the tent. "Care to join me?"
I heard the rod fall softly to the ground and then heard the tent flaps shuffle as Val entered the tent as well. "Oh yeah." he said gruffly.
While our trip wasn't long, when we got home the kids - especially the littlest ones - seemed to miss us. Violet was crying when we first entered the house but as soon as Val scooped her up into his arms she quieted and started giggling. I was sure I heard a collective sigh of relieve from Val's parents and Rum. "Giving you a hard time has she?" Val asked with a chuckle.
Life was blissfully normal after that. Windsor and Rum seemed to be in a constant battle over computer time so we had to put down some rules and a schedule. The first rule was always that homework had to be done first! Being younger and only in elementary school, Windsor had far less homework than Rum and always finished first even if Rum got home an hour before the others.
Amethyst had very little interest in the computer though and could almost always be found doing her homework out on the back porch. As long as it got done I didn't much care where they got it accomplished.
It was during one of Windsor's blocks of computer time that the computer broke. To hear Rum tell it, Windsor broke it on purpose to keep Rum from having his turn. I couldn't say for certain but while Windsor can be quite grumpy at times I'd never seen him be malicious.
So Rum spent most of his time trying to fix the broken computer. When bedtime rolled around, he was still at it. If it had been a school night I would have forced him off to bed but as it was the weekend I let him continue to try and fix it.
We didn't realize when we fell asleep that evening that Rum, in a state of desperation to get his computer back in working order, would call for a repair service at nearly four in the morning. Blush, to her credit, came quickly and had the computer up and running before the sun even rose. Of course she also charged use nearly four hundred dollars for the extra service - not that I could blame her.
Rum invited her to stay for breakfast and Val joined in the invitation - throwing in that he had a couple other things that needed fixing. While that was true enough I had visions of us writing this woman a check for two grand before the day was over, I hoped I was wrong!
Even after that day, Blush became a semi-regular fixture around the house. We always had something breaking and while Val could take care of most of it on his own, some things he preferred to leave to the professionals. "Why don't we just buy a new dishwasher?" I pointed out one day as Blush was fixing our old one again. No one even answered.
I had nothing against Blush - she was a great help around the house and we would have never completed the various renovations and expansions on the house without her help! But Rum, Rum seemed to be developing a bit of a crush on her that made me a little uncomfortable. While she was only a few years older than him, having just graduated high school the previous year, she was still too old for him - at least right now! If they weren't hanging out around the house they were chatting online - apparently she played the same games he did and they'd joined the same guild together? That's what Rum told me anyway...
But Rum wasn't the only one making new friends. Windsor had met a boy at school and those two were like two peas in a pod! If Ash wasn't at our house, Windsor was over there most afternoons. I swear they would have camped out every night if we let them. Ash's parents were good people and we became passing friends with them in between dropping the boys off at some place or another.
Of course Windsor and Amethyst had always been friends being siblings and twins. They were very different in personality but always found time to play together or just hang out. Sometimes Amethyst would hang out with Windsor and Ash and sometimes they would hang out with her and her friends. Unlike Windsor who had glommed onto one kindred soul, Amethyst had dozens of friends but no one that was her BFF.
And of course there were the littlest of the Dust clan. Though Haiti was a full year behind Violet and Minsk in age, he was learning right along side them as they played. He adored them - or tried to anyway. Violet and Minsk, much like Windsor and Amethyst, had the twin thing going and often left Haiti out of their play - though they didn't realize they were doing it. They were simply used to playing together and not needing to really include anyone else.
Still as Violet and Minsk learned to walk, so did Haiti! He was determined to be apart of their world and crawling wasn't cutting it. If they were going to talk he would! And when he potty trained, just months behind Minsk - I was both thrilled at the prospect of no more diapers and a little sad to know all my babies would be grown up soon.
One day, shortly before the big birthday we had planned for both sets of twins, I asked Rum to babysit the younger kids so that I could go out and get party supplies and the cakes. I didn't expect it to take too long but when I came home I found all four of them camped out in front of the TV. As Violet had always loved the television, it didn't surprise me to see her there but Minsk and Haiti rarely sat still for it. I chalked it up to Haiti once again wanting to be apart of their little group - though I couldn't really fathom why Minsk was happy to just watch TV.
As Windsor and Amethyst's birthday happened to fall around the same time as Minsk and Violet's birthdays, we'd chosen to consolidate the four of them into one big day. None of them seemed to mind much as long as they each got their own cake and presents - priorities after all.
Val and I brought the toddlers to their cakes as Amethyst and Windsor each prepared to blow out their own candles. Though it wasn't in perfect harmony, all the candle were blown out within a few moments of each other.
I had hoped to get a family picture before night fell but of course six kids with cake and presents - never going to happen! It was full dark by the time I lined everyone up and dodged into the back row so we could all be in the picture this time.
After Minsk and Violet started school, Amethyst and Minsk started forming a stronger bond than even the one he shared with Violet. You see, while Violet and Minsk were twins they had one very distinct difference that was only heightened with age - the outdoors. Minsk loved it in the same way Amethyst and I loved it while Violet, she hated it. She would much rather stay inside with a good book, or more likely the TV or a movie.
As sad as it was that they were growing apart, I was glad to have my outdoorsy helpers to help with the garden. Now that most of the kids had started school, I'd insisted it was time for Val to become more involved in the business with Jag and we grew some of the winery fruit right there in our own backyard. In fact most of the garden had been taken over by various shades of grapes!
So both sets of twins seemed to drift apart from each other. Amethyst, a bit of a social butterfly, was often surrounded by friends and that was off putting to Windsor. Windsor preferred a small group of only one or two people.
But soon it was time for my last little bird to grow up. Haiti had been longing to join his siblings on the big yellow bus and cried at the door every day when they left and clapped and cheered when they returned each afternoon. Sadly, being in school, they came home with backpacks full of projects and homework so they didn't have much time to play with Haiti. Truth be told, Rum was the only one who ever made time to play with him.
"How's my birthday boy?" Val asked as he pulled Haiti from his crib on the morning of his birthday.
Unlike the massive party for both sets of twins, Haiti's party was all his and a small family affair. Thankfully I was able to drag or hook all the other kids to come cheer for their baby brother - though they seemed put out to have been dragged away from their other activities at first. They put on the good show for him though.