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The girls of the seventh generation of Foliages were developing their own personalities and talents. A typical afternoon would find Holly and Laurel coming in from school together, unless Laurel had ballet class, but for the rest of the day they usually followed their own pursuits.

Holly divided her time between the computer and the easel. She was working on a novel, much to the approval of her Uncle Kale.

Laurel’s activities weren’t always so visible. She enjoyed swimming on warm days, but she also enjoyed sneaking around at night, setting up pranks and booby traps for the rest of the family to find.

Little Cassia was not to be forgotten, either. Although small in such a big household, she could make her presence known.

She was very fond of her special doll that she called Caper. Nandina worried that she might tear it’s …uh… antenna? off with the rough way she played with it, but she didn’t have the heart to put it up out of reach. What was a doll for if not to play with, anyway? And Cassia wouldn’t be tiny enough to want to play with dolls much longer now, would she?

Aunt Ivy was amused by the kid. Nandina wasn’t sure that Ivy would be an altogether good influence on young Cassia, but how much in the way of life lessons could a toddler really learn from an adult? Besides, it might be good for Ivy to be around children, Nandina thought.

One day after playing lollipop keepaway with Cassia, Ivy went to check the mailbox. She had taken to collecting geodes and having them cut into different shapes. Nan and the rest thought she had reformed and found a respectable interest, but it made a nice cover. Plus, her contact at the cutting facility sent her signals encoded in the packaging.

She had to grin every time she saw the flag up. Her own private signaling system, and no one was the wiser. This time, the message was that the heist would be in four days. That put it just after her birthday. Looking in the mirror a couple of days later, she decided she was really going to have to do something about her hair. Couldn’t have silver hairs shining in the searchlights!

Meanwhile, Petal kept the family going with her elaborate recipes for eggs machiavellian and angel food cake. One night, she prepared a dish of freshly caught salmon grilled to perfection.

Holly told her it tasted like a million simoleans. Kale was too busy eating to say what he thought.

Where were Nan and Brady during this family dinner? It wasn’t unusual for Ivy to be absent, and Laurel was off setting a trap for someone. Cassia, of course, was in her crib. But Nan and Brady were enjoying the benefits of Nan’s resolution not to devote all of her time to children and career. Brady approved.

The next afternoon was Laurel’s ballet recital. She made sure everybody knew it and pliéed all around the house that morning before school. Her twin sister, parents, and uncle all proudly attended.

Afterwards, the family had a little party outside to celebrate.

This schedule suited Ivy just fine, because this was the night of the big heist. While everyone was busy, she slipped out to meet her cronies down at the “abandoned” warehouse. They got their gear ready and were about to leave, but she caught a glimpse of a police cruiser parked just around the corner.

Quickly she shut the door and led everyone out through the secret exit. She headed to the target address and slipped in with no problem. Bagging what the gang was after, she kept a few baubles for herself and slipped back out and up the hill to the signaling point. There she made contact with the fence and became quite a bit richer.

Back at home, the little family party broke up at bedtime, and no one had any idea that Ivy was still up to her old tricks. If they were curious, there was a paid witness who saw her at the gem cutting workshop that evening.

So Nan’s only concern as she lunched by the pool the next day was whether she was eating enough carbs to be at her best for the big game. She wanted her team to score a victory, and she wanted to be the MVP!

Nan was pleased with the outcome, and the coach was, too!

In the midst of all this activity, the youngest member of the Foliage family celebrated her birthday. Cassia was now old enough to go to school, but she told her mom and Petal that she didn’t want any yucky meat in her bento box – she had decided to become a vegetarian!

Considering that serious pronouncement, Nan was surprised that Cassia still enjoyed playing with her doll. Conscientious objection to hot dogs didn’t seem to go with the wildly imaginative stories that Cassia told of pillow fights and tea parties with her doll.

Neither Laurel nor Holly knew what to make of Cassia’s stories, either. Laurel would just walk away when Cassia started in about Caper.

Holly even hid in the bathroom to avoid Cassia’s efforts to convince her that Caper was real.

At their mother’s encouragement, the older girls made an effort to interest Cassia in playing with something other than her doll. Even though they thought they were really too old for the blocks table, they invited their younger sister to build a tower with them, hoping she would focus on the blocks.

They chattered away about whose side of the tower was taller, who was hogging all the green blocks, and where each one of their rooms would be in the tower. For a while, they all actually had fun together.

Then Cassia picked up one of the blocks and declared that it was as blue as Caper’s left shoe, and that Caper could smash their magnificent tower with one stomp.

Laurel swiped her arm across the tower, knocking all the blocks onto the floor, and stomped off. Holly looked at both her sisters in disbelief and ran for her computer where she could write her stories and make things come out like they should.

Out in the garden, the last rays of the day’s sunshine were casting long shadows. The lights were just starting to come on, but Nandina didn’t see them. She stared out over the fence, out of their yard, at something Brady couldn’t identify. He came up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder, then brushed it through her long hair. She sighed and turned to face him.

“You see old lady Larue out there?” She asked.

Brady laughed softly. “Our crazy neighbor? Sure. She’s harmless.”

“Maybe so,” Nan replied, “but do you think we’ll end up like that? I hate getting old. I wish I could always feel strong and in control.”

Brady smiled into Nandina’s eyes. “I love you just the way you are. And whatever way you become. Even if I have to tell you your socks don’t match.”

Shocked, Nan looked down, then grinned and punched Brady’s arm lightly for tricking her. Losing her grin, she said, “I do worry about Cassia though. I hope this nonsense about the doll is just a phase she’ll grow out of.”

As he pulled her into his arms, Brady reassured her. “Whatever happens, we will face it together.

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Nan was making an effort to enjoy her maternity leave. She had kept up her exercise program as long as she could, but now that she could barely see her feet, much less reach them, she was limited to pottering about the kitchen, sitting at the computer, and taking naps.

When the big day finally came, no one was happier than Nandina! All the pain and frustration were forgotten when Nan held little Cassia in her arms.

 

Nan didn’t want Holly and Laurel to feel neglected because of the new baby, so she made a point of spending time with them while Cassia was napping.

 

Nan wanted to give her hubby some attention, too, but it wasn’t always easy to find a quiet moment to spend together.

Sometimes Kale would help out with his nieces, especially if Petal was on a date.

And sometimes Petal’s dates went so badly that she would rather have been home with the kids.

Cassia grew quickly, possibly because of the large quantities of oxygen she took in between cries and screams. She was a very vocal little girl, but she seemed to be content when she played with her funny little doll.

Nan and Brady did their best to teach their three small girls what they needed to know. The most important thing to know, of course, was that they were loved.

Love was not on the radar of one member of the household, however. Ivy had kept up her nightly escapades and was bent on building up her stash of SETs (Shiny Expensive Things). She was an expert at slipping in and out of a home or business unnoticed and had purloined a wide variety of gems, precious metals, paintings, and statues.

One particular night, she and the other “night visitors” had mapped out their plan of attack to ensure that nobody stepped on anybody else’s territory. One of them challenged Ivy to nab a particular gold figurine from a wealthy family that was known to have a superb alarm system. She boldly accepted his challenge.

She had never dreamed that the challenger planned to betray her. He tipped off the police, and her getaway was interrupted. Ivy had to endure the indignity and the crowding of a night in Legacy Valley’s jail, and the added insult of being bailed out the next day and released into the custody of her younger, baby-factory sister.

 

Nan was horrified to find out what her sister had done. Stealing? From their neighbors? She tried to find out why Ivy would do such a thing, when the Foliages had everything they could possibly need already, but Ivy just stared back at her and said she was using her talents as their mother had always encouraged them to do. Nan’s mouth fell open at that bizarre take on things, and then she said, “Very well. It’s time you used your other talents. I know you’re a gifted gardener, so here’s how you’ll work off the bail money. Tend the garden and keep our kitchen stocked with perfect produce.” Ivy simply gave Nan a cold look and squatted to tend the plant nearest to her. Nan walked away, none to sure of the situation but muttering to herself, “Maybe it will be a lesson in working to provide rather than taking the fruits of others’ labors. Or maybe it will at least keep her too busy to sneak out at night.”

What Nan didn’t know was that before being caught, Ivy had managed to hide her latest SET, and she retrieved it while ostensibly taking some vegetables down to the family’s bistro. While under the Foliage variety of house arrest, she could at least console herself by admiring the little fox.

And when she was on baby duty, she could find other ways to amuse herself.

Now that she noticed, though, there was something about that Cassia. She would have to keep a close eye on her; she might have potential!

With Ivy at home now, Petal found herself with a little more free time. She could feel her biological clock ticking, and more than that, she felt lonely for someone she wasn’t sure that she had met yet. She chatted with neighbors, gave tourists directions, and even invited some guy friends on dates.

She liked it when they complimented her fashion sense, and she loved to sit together and watch the stars.

Would she ever find Mr. Right? She was not getting any younger, a fact which was made impossible to ignore by the twins’ birthday. Holly and Laurel had grown into beautiful little girls.

 

Blonde-haired Holly was eager to take a music class in school; apparently she had taken after her parents in their love of music. Slim, dark-haired Laurel was more interested in signing up for ballet class. The girls did share an interest in art, if little else.

As the bus pulled away from their house, Nan felt a motherly pang of sadness that her girls were growing up. She thought about little Cassia in her crib and made a vow to cherish her pre-school days that were passing all too fast.

She also vowed to keep balance in all her relationships, meaning she wouldn’t let the cares of motherhood and the ambitions of career come between her and Brady. She took that moment to go find him just finishing shaving.

After a -ahem- romantic interlude, they went upstairs to assemble the girls’ birthday gift.

When they had finished, Nan went to feed Cassia and Brady went out to the garden. When Kale got home from work, he joined Brady in the garden and told him about his promotion.

The men of the house had been bonding lately, which was necessary to survive in a household with six females.

Holly had overheard the promotion announcement, and she also heard Kale talking to Quiana on the phone. When he finished his conversation, she went over to him and got straight to the point. She wanted to know when he was going to be marrying Quiana. After all, he got a promotion, so he must have a good job, and he said all those lovey dovey things to Quiana on the phone. Why wouldn’t they get married?

Kale didn’t quite know what to say.

Laurel, on the other hand, was tired from running around at recess and then taking ballet class, plus she wanted to stake her claim to the top bunk.

With the girls getting bigger, Nandina went back to work and was pleased that the team’s losing record was starting to turn around. She still made an effort to spend time with her daughters, commenting on Holly’s first painting and helping Laurel with her homework.

Evenings were reserved for family time around the Foliage house. Nandina hoped that things were headed in a good direction.

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Nandina and Brady found themselves spending a lot of time here, in the redecorated nursery.

It was bottles and diapers, diapers and bottles. They loved their little girls, but they knew they needed to take care of themselves, too, so they could be in good shape for their little ones. Nan made a point of working out to get back to top shape for when her maternity leave ended. Their new home gym made that easier.

Brady discovered that the babies enjoyed hearing him play the guitar, so he found a way to indulge his hobby while keeping an eye on the girls.

Kale and Petal both helped some with the babies, and even Ivy would lend a hand from time to time, although she seemed partial to Laurel. They still had their own pursuits, though. Kale had just had his third book published and was moving up the journalism ladder.

Petal was racing through the recipe books that her mother had bought her. Each time she learned a new dish, she would treat the family to a delicious treat. Not since Flora had the Foliages enjoyed such culinary delights!

Ivy’s pursuits were not nearly so domestic. Well, in a sense they could possibly be considered as such. With none of the family aware, she got up late one night, dressed all in black, and set out.

She checked her watch to verify how much time she had before the charges would go off. She slinked out into the night and watched from the hill as three strategic explosions took out the electricity, blackening the twinkling lights in windows all over the Valley. She heard the faint sounds of the alarm at the fort and interpreted the signal that a rocket had been sighted on the radar. Snickering to herself that they had fallen for her decoy, she made her way to her first carefully chosen target. Most would find warm lights shining from a house’s windows to be welcoming; she preferred the dark. One by one, glittering objects found their way into her possession, as she moved from location to location. All the military and law enforcement personnel had been summoned to the nonexistent threat, because how could the radar be wrong? Making her way home, Ivy slipped into the garage and changed out of her inky black nightwear.

She ran her hands across the wall, feeling for the almost imperceptible depression in the wall. Even though she herself had done the installation, it still took concentration to find the release.

Ivy’s steps barely broke the silence as she made her way down the stairs to her underground lair, her private place where she could be alone with her treasures. She would put in appearances as needed with the family, but here, she could be herself, think about what interested her, and admire the fruits of her labors.

In the garden the next morning, Camellia asked Ivy if she had heard the sirens during the night. Ivy paused for just half a second as she plucked a ripe tomato from the vine, then replied smoothly that she had heard some kind of noise, and was Aunt Cam able to go back to sleep? Satisfied with Camellia’s affirmative answer and hoping she wouldn’t bring up the subject again, Ivy went on with the gardening. Strangely enough, she enjoyed it; it was one of few things she had in common with anyone else in the family.

Later that day, Camellia felt a funny twinge. She stopped, took a few deep breaths, and then started to go sit down.

She never made it to the chair. In that split second, the vibrant, unbelievably active 108-year-old went to meet her Maker. The family was shocked; she had lived so long, they had almost thought that she would never die. Although she hated herself for thinking this, Ivy was relieved that at least the subject of her escapades the night before would not be brought up again, and by the time the family was out of mourning, it would be old news.

Nan felt a bit adrift now, as the last member of the older generation was gone. She really was in charge now, and what a responsibility it was! She loved being the leader of the family and keeping it very involved in the community through her participation in the local team and full and part ownerships in many of the town’s businesses. But looking down at her tiny baby, she felt a heavy weight on her shoulders to make sure that the Valley remained a good place for her children to grow up. She had heard strange reports of explosions, power outages, and missing items across the Valley, and Nan wondered what she might do to put an end to this. Maybe she could start a neighborhood watch group.

—-

Time passed, the babies grew, and Nandina’s maternity leave was almost at an end. She and Brady planned a small birthday party for their daughters, and Petal and Kale joined in.

The girls grew up to look more distinct from one another than they had as infants. Holly was fairer in coloring and seemed quite calm, while Laurel was a bit darker and had a very expressive face.

On the same day as their birthday, Nandina and Brady had a huge surprise.

Nandina realized that the weight she had been gaining was not in fact muscle from her increased workouts. She and Brady were ecstatic with this news, but Nan was worried about how the team’s coach would take the news.

She was relieved to get the thumbs up from her coach, who assured her that if she kept up her workouts as much as she was able, her place would still be waiting for her when she was ready to get back to work. So she made a point of reading up on sports news while expecting her baby. Kale was also happy to point her to the latest articles on keeping fit while incubating a baby, since he had a colleague who specialized in fitness writing.

All the baby talk stirred up something in Petal, and she decided it was time to seek out a special someone for herself. She had dated, sure, but up until now she hadn’t really thought about settling down in her own house with a special man and raising a family. Now it was definitely on her radar.

At home, the twins were learning all the things that they needed to know. Laurel was eager to learn to walk, and Ivy was happy to teach her. Holly was more interested in learning to talk, and Brady enjoyed hearing her chirp pieces of words back at him as he tried to teach her.

Meanwhile, Nan felt like she was getter closer to whale size every day. Bending down to pick up toys became an aerobic workout, and it seemed like she was hungry again within an hour after lunch. She looked at her face in the mirror, noticing the dark circles and lines around her eyes and wondered how she was going to manage being the mother of more than she already had.

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The months following the deaths of Zoysia, Kurtis, and Violet felt like winter in the hearts of the family. They had to go through the motions of everyday life, even when they felt like plants trying to weather a heavy frost. Eventually, though, they began to feel a thaw, and a little of their grief started to melt away.

As a kind of spring stirred in Nandina’s heart, she felt the time was right to move on with her romantic life. She loved Brady – had loved him ever since prom night – and she yearned for him to become a true part of her family. So she invited him over, set the scene, and asked him a very important question.

“No,” he said.

Shocked and dismayed, Nandina asked him through her tears why he wouldn’t marry her. Brady gave her a sad, tender look and said that it was not that he didn’t love her; it was just too soon. She had gone through a terrible time of grief and change in her life, and he wanted to be sure she made the decision under the right circumstances, not as a way to escape her sorrow. As he walked away, Nandina sat on the grass and cried.

Camellia watched over her nieces and nephew with care and concern, as the only remaining member of their parents’ generation. She tended the garden, showing the younger ones how to fertilize the more exotic plants, and she repaired household appliances when they broke down. She only wished she could repair a broken heart as easily.

Nandina threw herself into her career, spending time training, running plays with her teammates, and even discussing work with her manager when they ran into each other in the park. Shavonna, her boss, noticed the increased effort and decided to promote her.

Ivy was making an effort to socialize with her boss, too. She found it distasteful to go out among crowds, but a little chat in her boss’ home she could manage, especially if it meant getting picked to move up when someone was… given a new home. With barred windows. If the organization needed someone to step up, then why shouldn’t it be Ivy?

Kale was working away at his journalism career. Although he did occasionally spend a few minutes in the family garden, he would much rather spend his time crafting cunning articles or sly plots at his keyboard…

…or visiting the local restaurant to sample its new dishes and write a review. If he invited a certain someone to accompany him, why, that was just to get another perspective. Surely a woman’s opinion on the eggplant parmesim would enrich his review?

Quiana, however, found Kale to be sweeter than the watermelon cobbler and whipped out a surprise to let him know.

Petal spent most of her time studying cooking, learning recipes, and helping out in the garden. All after school, of course, but she was looking forward to graduation. Nan had to really work to convince the frugal girl that it was worth going to prom and making a night of it, but she couldn’t convince her to buy an extravagant dress. Still, Petal looked like a fresh spring bouquet as she went to the dance.

Although Nandina was very dedicated to her athletic training, she was finding she enjoyed more and more the simple, earthy pleasure of sifting the loose, dark soil through her fingers as she planted a seed in the garden. It was very soothing to know that the heirloom tomato plants she tended were of the same strain that her great-great-great grandmother had grown in the very same spot.

One evening as she was working in the garden, she heard a familiar voice calling to her over the fence. It was Brady. Hesitant to read anything into his presence, she glanced at her Aunt Camellia and then motioned Brady to come through the gate.

A few awkward moments passed as they tried to make small talk. Nan fidgeted, tucking a stray strand of hair back up into her cap. Brady shifted his weight from foot to foot, cleared his throat, and then asked if Nan would mind if he went to Petal’s upcoming graduation. Nan, a little surprised, raised an eyebrow at him.

Brady explained that he had read in the paper that Petal was going to be valedictorian, and even though he hadn’t seen much of the family lately, he still felt like a proud almost-uncle. Nan bit her lip, and Brady rushed to say that he would understand if Nan didn’t want him to be there, and he would never want to hurt someone he cared for so deeply…

Nan gazed into his eyes and saw truth there.

And so the voice calling over the fence became a nightly happening. He would come through the gate and work side by side with Nan, their hands brushing together as the breeze ruffled the leaves of the trees above them. One night, as they were washing the soil from their hands before dinner, Brady took Nan in his arms and whispered to her that he had something important to ask her.

“Nan,” he whispered. I’ve seen you crushed by grief, and I’ve seen you grow strong again. I told myself I had to stay away and let you be your own person, but without the sun of your smile, my life was nothing. If you…”

“No! Wait!” Leaving Brady stunned with a no of her own, Nan crouched and turned to pull out a small box.

Nan grinned at Brady and held out the ring. “You should know by now how competitive I am. I asked you first! Now, marry me?”

They had a private ceremony right away and decided to celebrate with a combination reception/birthday party in a few days on Nan’s birthday.

Nan was a little concerned about the number of birthdays she was racking up, but she knew she had plenty to celebrate. Surrounded by family and friends, Nan and Brady made the most of their party. Even Petal’s dad was there, which made her very happy. Petal hoped he would be at her graduation, too.

He didn’t make it to the otherwise happy ceremony, however. Petal ran into him in town not long after, and they chatted a little. Although it was a hard thing to swallow, she realized that they might have some pleasant chats, but they would never be really close. She missed her mom.

Meanwhile, Nan and Brady were busy trying to generate some business for the diaper and formula industries. They tried…

…and they tried…

…and they tried, but no pregnancy. Not to be defeated, Nan finally saw a doctor for fertility treatment. Finally…

… they knew that the next generation was on the way! On maternity leave from work, Nan could think about nothing but baby. She talked Brady into watching cartoons with her, and she talked about all the precautions they would need to take to baby-proof the house.

Brady was not too sure about the need for drastic measures, but he was very happy about becoming a father. He had always loved children and even worked as a babysitter in high school to earn some money.

When Nandina thought she couldn’t possibly get any bigger, the blessed day arrived, and she knew it was time to go to the hospital. Brady was nervous, but made sure they got there in time. In answer to their long wait…

Laurel and Holly Foliage finally arrived, ready to be cuddled by their tired but happy parents.

Across town, all was not baby powder and peekaboo.

Ivy had found something to occupy her time with that would keep her away from the family’s cooing and cuddling. A few explosive devices, a rocket or two, and her plan would be realized.

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Ivy was not happy. All of this cheery passing-the-torch family sentimentalism left a sour taste in her mouth. She watched the smiling mother-daughter duo chatting animatedly at lunch and decided to take her plate outside.

She just couldn’t stand that sappy togetherness stuff. She was going to have to come up with something.

Meanwhile, Nandina was leaping into her new leadership role with gusto. She took a job with the local athletic team and began training in earnest with her Aunt Violet.

She still made time for Brady in her busy schedule, hosting a birthday party for him at the Foliage home. Everybody gathered around to cheer him on as he made a wish and blew out the candles.

Right after that, the family received an offer of an all-expense paid two-day vacation for all the whole family, except for Kale and Petal, since they had school. Nandina and Zoysia talked about it and sent word that they could not accept, because it would mean missing too much work, plus the fact that Camellia was expecting her plants to mature the next day and she wanted to deliver them to the diner as agreed. So they turned down the invitation.

However, the next morning a limo showed up anyway, and they all felt obligated to take the trip. Kurtis and Violet hoped that the trip wouldn’t jeopardize their much-awaited promotions. For his part, Kale was quite excited. His girlfriend Quiana was there to see everybody off on the trip, too.

When they got back, Kale said there was nothing out of the ordinary to report. Camellia found otherwise, though. She was beyond dismayed to discover that the diner denied having any experimental gardening deal with her. When she tried to deliver the harvest from her steak plants, they denied having any knowledge of the experiment or any further opportunities for her. She could barely catch her breath from the shock and disappointment.

Everyone was sad about Camellia’s disappointment, but Kale’s graduation brought the smiles back. It was a big day, and the entire family went downtown to see him in his cap and gown.

Then they took him to lunch at the Bistro. Judging by the crowd, it was a popular choice for graduation day dinner.

Violet ran into her boss, and since she had gotten superlatives on her last performance review and was due for a promotion, hoped to have the chance to ask him for it. Unfortunately, she could only work the subject of a raise into the conversation. He did give her that.

The next day, Kale put on what he thought was an appropriate outfit and went out to find work in journalism. He had always enjoyed writing, and now he wanted to make his living in it.

As he left, Petal called to him from the love seat and told him he should write a story about her amazing jet-chair and how she could pilot it from planet to planet.

Petal was growing up, though, and soon she was past the days of playing make believe. She grew into a calm but contented teenager, who maintained her childhood interest in baking. In fact, she enjoyed talking about her new recipes over a meal. Nan was not into cooking herself, but she liked hearing Petal’s animated chatter about her latest experiments with the fruits of the family’s garden.

One night, as Zoysia lay in bed next to her Kurtis, she thought about how fast their children had grown up. She gazed at her husband, whose heart beat so close to hers and whose grey-flecked hair belied his passion for rock. Zoysia felt her heart constrict with love and concern for him. She knew he wasn’t getting any younger, and she also knew he was so close to achieving his dream of being a true rock star. She always told him he was already a rock star to her; in fact, he rocked her world every day. But she hoped he would live to reach his dream and maybe to see his kids reach their own dreams. She knew he would be a great grandfather. And so she ran her fingers through his hair as he slept, then closed her own eyes.

If anyone else had known of her thoughts that night, they would have cried even more loudly at the irony the next morning. Zoysia awoke with a start, then collapsed as she tried to get out of bed the next morning. It was over before she knew exactly what had hit her.

Her loved ones came running, but it was too late.

Nandina was traveling with the team, and when word reached her that her mother had passed away, she was heartbroken.

After the funeral, the family tried to carry on bravely, but things just weren’t the same. They worked, they tended the garden, they read, they checked email, but it just seemed the heart of the home was gone.

Violet made an effort to get out of the house by going to the bookstore to buy some new recipe books for her daughter. Her subconscious gave her a twinge of something wrong when she saw a friend of Ivy’s there all dressed in black with one of Violet’s police force colleagues keeping a discreet eye on her. If Violet had not been suffering so much grief at the loss of her twin, she might have wondered more about her niece’s friend.

Violet might have been even more concerned if she had known about Ivy’s nocturnal activities of late and the rash of fires in the neighborhood. Of course, no theft reports ever reached her desk, because the missing items were assumed to have been turned to ash in the unfortunate fires…

Nandina was dealing with loss in a very different way. Having lost maternal love, she turned to romantic love. Something within her yearned for that closeness, and she hoped to establish another nucleus of love in their household.

Brady wasn’t one to move fast, though, as Nan was discovering. She could wait, though. Things hadn’t completely fallen apart at home.

Not yet.

And then, just before the day when Kurtis was due to get his final promotion, he collapsed in front of the theatre on his way in to work.

Kale had dropped by on a break from work to wish his dad well, and he was just in time to say goodbye. They had shared a special father-son bond, and while Kale was happy his father had lived to see him graduate, it hurt that his dad had not quite had enough time to achieve his own dreams.

Later that same day, as if the family hadn’t suffered enough already, there was another sad event. As Petal wrote in her journal, “We lost Mama today. She was so vibrant and stood out from everybody else. I was proud to be her daughter, and now without her, or Aunt Zoysia, or Uncle Kurtis, I don’t know what we’re going to do. Mama had four different careers, although she didn’t quite get as far as she had wanted in her last one. I’ve thought about what I could do to honor her. Should I go into policework and finish what she started? But I didn’t inherit her gift for athletics. I don’t have her original sense of fashion either. But one of the last big things she did for me was buy me those new recipe books. I think I’m going to dedicate myself to learning everything in them, so I can honor the memory of all that my mother meant to me.”

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Zoysia had something on her mind. It was increasingly invading her thoughts, just as the stiffness invaded her joints. This aging business was not for the weak-hearted! She and her slightly younger cousin Camellia joked about needing to warm up before lifting their forks at breakfast, but some mornings it just wasn’t so funny.

Deep down, Zoysia knew that it was in part because of the pains of aging that this decision was weighing so heavily on her mind. Faced with her own mortality, she knew it was time to choose one of her children to be her heir or heiress and carry on the Foliage line. As her father had entrusted the responsibility to her, she must in turn pass the mantle. Oh, she wasn’t at death’s door or anything, but it was time to prepare. She had tried to be a good leader, maintaining good ties in the community and seeing that the family garden was not neglected. She had added three children to the family line, including a rare son! But even though she still was striving to reach her goal of becoming a Grand Master at Chess, she knew that the time was ripe to pass on the family leadership role.

And so she considered her three children.

Kale, her youngest, had her husband’s hair and her preference for staying indoors. He also had a good friend who happened to be an attractive young lady. Zoysia wondered if they would go to prom together. Kale had spent some time learning how to plant tomatoes and lettuce, but she wasn’t sure if it was out of a genuine interest or more out of duty.

Nandina was the middle child. Of course, she would bristle at the term “child,” because she had been much happier in her teen years than in her childhood. Although she still struggled a bit with her weight, Nan was a very active girl and had come into her own socially. She had a wide range of friends and had dated a little but didn’t have a special someone at the moment.

Ivy, the oldest, was a mystery to Zoysia. Her lean figure and striking looks should have made her quite popular, but she preferred her own company to a crowd. Her late-night jogs to destinations unknown made Zoysia a little nervous, but her fears were allayed when she saw Ivy hard at work, fertilizing the soil around a tender young plant. It was hard to reconcile that Ivy with the one who laughed when somebody suffered an embarrassment. Zoysia hoped to connect with her over the chess table and find out what was going on behind those guarded eyes of hers.

Zoysia talked a little bit with her sister Violet and with cousin Cam, but they were very busy with their own lives. Cam dedicated most of her time outside the science lab to cultivating the family garden and conducting science experiments around the house.

Violet was so busy trying to get promoted – now that on her fourth try, she had finally found a career that felt right – that she had very little free time. Zoysia even helped Petal with her homework and read her a bedtime story every now and then when her mother had to work late.

Zoysia did talk to Kurtis about the decision, and she asked him for his thoughts. He offered what he knew about the kids’ thoughts on marriage, raising children, running a household, and maintaining the garden, and his input matched Zoysia’s thoughts, more or less. He said he would try to chat with each of them and really sound them out.

In the middle of all this, prom night arrived with all the pomp, circumstance, and limousine rides that a teen could want. Nan and Kale surprised Zoysia and Kurtis by both going stag, but they looked so stunning and almost grown that she could barely keep the proud tears from overflowing her eyes.

The whole family was there to see them off, except for Ivy, who was inexplicably missing…

When Kale and Nandina got home that night, all they could talk about was Kale getting elected prom king and Nan dancing all night with Brady, that cute guy that had come by to babysit for Petal a couple of times when she was a toddler.


Petal was growing up so quickly, too. On her sixth birthday, she had made such a funny face on taking a big bite of her bakery birthday cake. She immediately declared that she could make a better cake than that, and she made friends with the Easimbake oven that her cousins had played with years ago.

As the school year drew to a close, Nan and Brady were seeing a lot of each other. He came over often, and several of the family members got to know him. None as well as Nan, though.

As the school year drew to a close, Nan and Brady were seeing a lot of each other. He came over often, and several of the family members got to know him. None as well as Nan, though. Kale jokingly started referring to the couple as Brandina, and Zoysia and Kurtis struggled not to laugh at the nickname.

One day when Kale was joking around in the kitchen, Zoysia took the opportunity to talk to him about his feelings for Quiana and his plans for the future, since he would be next to graduate. He confessed to having a bit of a crush on his friend Quiana, although he hadn’t yet worked up the courage to tell her. He told his mother about his interest in writing; in fact, he had already been working on a book and hoped to have it published soon! He also told his mom that he hoped it wouldn’t hurt her feelings to know that he didn’t really enjoy being outside in the garden. “Now if you get some little pots of herbs in the window sill, I’ll be glad to take care of them during writing breaks, but I’m just not wild about the outdoors,” he said. Zoysia smiled and hugged him. If he only knew how like her he was!

Finally, in the middle of her hardest chess match yet, it came to her. Zoysia’s decision was made. Energized by her decision, she could suddenly see moves far ahead, and just like lives playing out in the future, she could see the fates of each little pawn, knight, and rook. Like that she won the game, defeating the reigning master and winning for herself the title of Grand Master!

She knew who would be the one to carry on the Foliage legacy in this house on the hill. She went right away to tell her chosen child.

She found her standing in her room, looking wistfully at the picture from her prom night.

“Nandina, I need to talk to you,” she began. Nandina turned and smiled questioningly at her mother. And Zoysia began to tell her all that her father had told her, about how their family began when a young woman named Flora came to Legacy Valley and resolved to put down roots, both figuratively and literally. Zoysia explained their heritage of family and land, of nurture and growth. Of course, she had shared parts of the story with all her children before, but this time she gave the full history. As she told of each generation, Nan’s eyes shone brighter, and understanding began to dawn.

“Nan, dear child – no, dear young woman – I see in you a zest for life, the ability to love strongly and well, and an interest in continuing and even improving our family’s life here. Do you accept the responsibility of carrying on the family legacy?”

“Yes!” Nandina said firmly and then grabbed her mother in a strong bear hug. They both laughed and then wiped a couple of tears away.  The moment had been intense, and they both felt the release.

“You’re just starting out, and I’ll be here to guide you, but I have confidence in you, my beautiful Nandina. Don’t ever doubt yourself.” And with that encouragement, Zoysia gave her daughter a quick hug and then walked away to leave her with her thoughts. For a moment Zoysia felt a twinge of wistfulness at having passed the torch, but this was quickly overcome by her satisfaction in having made the right choice. Family was important to Nan, and she would see to it that the Foliage garden would never lie fallow.

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At dusk one evening, before supper, Zoysia tried one more time to talk to Violet about her growing… situation. But all of a sudden, Violet was too distracted to listen.

Zoysia grabbed her bag for her and got Violet to the hospital. It wasn’t long before Petal arrived in the world, with a bright look in her eyes and soft little hands that tried clumsily to grab her mommy’s fingers or the bottle.

Everyone loved the new addition to the Foliage family, although it did affect their already busy schedules quite a bit. Everyone had to pitch in a little, because Violet went back to work at the police station as soon as she could. That meant late night gardening for some, and not much after-school fun for others. As Zoysia and Camellia worked to free their garden plants from the weeds that would choke them, Zoysia fretted to herself about what to tell the children. They deserved an answer for this semi-surprise addition to their household and for why Petal had no dad to help take care of her. It didn’t seem fair.

She finally decided to address what could be affected – the future – while she was still trying to figure out the past. So she set aside some time to talk with her two daughters, one by one, about where babies come from.

Ivy was unimpressed and even inwardly amused at her mother’s “talk.” For real! Didn’t she know that Ivy knew all about that? And obviously Aunt Violet did, too… Her mom was really treating her like a baby with all this, Ivy thought. At least her mom wasn’t coming to give her a lecture about that little trap she left for Nan in the bathroom, heh. When Zoysia came in looking all serious and wanting to talk to her, she was sure she’d been caught! But no, she’d gotten off free, so she could keep the sneer off her face long enough to endure the “where babies come from” talk.

Zoysia’s talk with Nandina seemed to go better, although Nan asked a few questions that Zoysia hadn’t quite expected, mostly about expectations as relationships grew more intimate. Zoysia made a mental note to keep a closer eye on Nandina and the boys she went out with. One boy in particular – was it Rocco? No, Raphael, or maybe, well, one of the Hanley boys, anyway – had been hanging around a lot and had even signed up for the drama club in an effort to be near Nan.

She had a little longer to prepare for her talk with Kale, although he would be a teenager very soon. He and his friend Quiana were still sitting together on the bus and playing together after school, so Zoysia knew she couldn’t delay very much longer.

Kale had a lot of his father in him, and Zoysia wondered if that slightly lopsided grin of his would have the girls chasing him. Kurtis had shared with her a few tales of the challenges of life as a happily married man in a rock band, and she wanted to make sure her son was prepared for what might be waiting for him in his teen years. So when he asked her to teach him how to drive, she swallowed her butterflies and said that she’d love to, and why not just plan to drive across town and have a picnic afterwards? Then they’d have plenty of time to talk. If they made it there…

They did make it there and back again, though it was quite late by then. Kale was thrilled to be driving at night already and grinned as he gunned the engine just to startle his mom.

With three teenagers in the house, time passed faster than ever, with momentary pauses for everyone to take note of special events, like the invitation Camellia received to participate in a top-secret beef gardening hybrid project, Petal’s first words, and Nandina’s big Valentine’s date.

One of the biggest events, though, was Ivy’s 18th birthday. She made no attempt to hide her excitement about becoming an adult, and her father decided to throw a big party to honor the occasion. Ivy’s mood was uncharacteristically sunny, and Zoysia wondered if maybe her oldest was really maturing past all her teen attitudes.

The guest list was long, and there was an ulterior motive for that. Zoysia was hoping that she might sort out the mystery of Petal’s father.

Kurt cranked out the dance tunes, and almost everyone grabbed a partner and moved to the beat. Then Zoysia saw something…

In the crush of the party, she couldn’t make her way over to them, but she knew she or Kurtis or someone was going to get to the bottom of it. Could it really be Herbert, their old family friend? Didn’t he and the Goff brothers share an aged bachelors’ pad down near the beach? She gave Kurt a significant glance and nodded in the couple’s direction. He nodded, and as everybody was leaving, he managed to have a word with Herbert.

Kurt got right to the point, asking him exactly what his involvement was with Violet, and for that matter, with Petal. Herbert’s response was…

“Whoa, Kurtis! Chill out! Wait, you think I – that we? Oh! Don’t you know? We’re married!”

Kurtis’ jaw dropped, and he called Zoysia out to hear the story as Herbert told it.

“We’d been dating for a long time, see, meeting at the library and at the pool, and I wanted to marry Violet in the worst way. More than anything!”

Herbert went on, “She’s a crazy thing, you know, with a logic all her own, but I love her, and she kept going on about how this wasn’t her house, and there were already a lot of people living here, and how she couldn’t invite me to move in, but she also couldn’t bring herself to move out, and well, we just have a private little wedding ceremony one night, and an overnight honeymoon, and figured no one would ever know. Then came Petal, and I guess we should have straightened out everything right then, but you know Violet. She’s a mystery, always has been and always will be.”

“So you see, I am proud to be Petal’s dad and Violet’s husband, and now that you know about it, I’ll be glad to be around here a lot more. I hope you understand.”

Kurtis and Zoysia looked at each other as Herbert drew his explanation to an end. Kurtis raised an eyebrow at Zoysia, and after a few seconds, she replied with, “Well, you know Violet, Kurtis. She always has had her own way of doing things. Welcome to the family, Herbert! Come over anytime.”

And with that, the mystery was solved. Zoysia wanted to have a nice sit down over cappuccino and talk about things with Violet, but she was off to work at daylight the next day, and Zoysia had promised to take Ivy shopping that morning, and she had a scheduled chess match that afternoon. So in the end, she just let Violet go on as she had been, respecting her twin’s wishes. At least now she understood, a little.

So Ivy bought new clothes and some new makeup, and as they were shopping, Zoysia asked her what she planned to do with her life. Ivy said she had answered an ad for a driver and was very excited about it because it wasn’t an 8 to 5 office-bound job. Zoysia expressed some surprise that Ivy would not be aiming higher with her career, and Ivy responded with an odd laugh that she would definitely be aiming high down the road. With that, Zoysia was satisfied, and when Ivy got into the habit of heading out for late-night jogs, she reminded herself that Ivy was a full-grown adult and capable of making her own choices. Zoysia hoped that they worked out to make her happy.

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