“I’ll be honest, I was surprised to get your message,” Stellan admitted.
As he was leaving Alex’s penthouse, Simcess had contacted him. London wanted to pass on a message, but had no way of doing so directly. She turned to Simcess in a moment of desperation, asking her to tell Stellan to dress as casually as possible. He had obliged, trading his tight tie for a simple grey shirt and jeans.
“I know it was unconventional, but I was worried you’d show up in all your princely glory,” London said.
“I’m glad you got in touch, then. I haven’t worn comfortable clothes in so long.”
London smiled before changing the subject. “I also wanted to be upfront with you. I’m living with my mother right now. The Cupcake Cafe hasn’t been doing so well, and so I moved out of the apartment on top of it. I’m renting it out to my sister right now to make some extra income.”
Stellan shrugged. “It’s better than drowning in debt just because you’re too proud to move back home. There’s nothing to be ashamed of – you’re good with money.”
London blushed and intertwined her fingers.
“And hey,” Stellan continued, bumping her shoulder. “Technically I still live with my parents too.”
London laughed as Stellan stood up and offered a hand. “Shall we?” He asked.
When Stellan saw the row of townhouses, he understood London’s casual clothes request. Tumbleweeds rolled by as dust was kicked up by a dry wind, stinging his eyes and dirtying his clothes. It was a far cry from Alex’s penthouse, and even Lyric’s home. But still, this was the place London had grown up in, and it would always be a part of her. Stellan brushed off his initial shock as London peaked at him from the corner of her eye.
“I know it’s not much,” She said softly.
“That doesn’t matter. Houses are houses. You could be living in a cardboard box, but if you tell me you love the people you share it with, then you’re luckier than most.”
As London was about to respond, a door slammed open.
“It’s my babbbby!!!” A voice shrieked. “Yoohooo!!! Come give mummy a hug!”
Stellan’s eyes widened in shock as happy tears rolled down London’s cheeks. A woman with a smile that sparkled like the sun stood on the porch, waving a free hand. Her other hand clutched a drink, and as she waved ferociously, liquid sloshed out of the cup and onto the porch.
“Mom!” London called, forgetting Stellan. She bounded up the stairs and wrapped her mother in a tight hug, feeling more tears well up. She had missed her mother dearly, but didn’t realize how much until this moment.
“Look at you!” Lyndsy said, holding her daughter at arms length. She placed a warm hand on her daughter’s cheek. “You’ve grown up so much.”
Stellan stood at the bottom of the steps, letting the two have their moment. There was nothing quite like a bond between a mother and her child – Stellan knew that all too well.
“Things just haven’t been the same without you. There’s no one to help me make my morning margaritas!”
London laughed as she sniffed the drink in her mother’s hand. “You wasted no time getting the party started, eh?”
Lyndsy threw her head back and laughed. “Never! Now, where’s your handsome beau?”
London gestured to the bottom of the stairs as Stellan made his way up. He extended a hand to Lyndsy and smiled genuinely. “Ms Caliente, it’s nice to meet you.”
Lyndsy snorted. “No formalities here, Stellan. Give me a hug!”
“Now come on you two,” Lyndsy said, opening up the front door. “You’re the first ones here, though your father should be here soon.” She led them through the shotgun style house, giving Stellan what she called ‘the grand tour’.
“Here are some unpaid bills,” She said, gesturing to stacked envelopes on the half wall. “And here is where we keep London’s da-”
“Okay, mother! I think he gets it,” She said, sitting down on the couch.
“Right, right.” Lyndsy agreed. “Now, tell me all about you two. And Stellan, any chance you’ve got an older brother? Or younger, even? I’m not picky.”
“Mom!” London cried. Stellan laughed harder than he had in a while before the two launched into a whole spiel about the time they’ve spent together.
“And then he found me sobbing because this girl got eaten by a cowplant,” London laughed.
“It’s not like she died!” Stellan added. “It spit her out right away.”
As they continued to recount stories, the front door banged open. “Where’s my little girl?” Calvin shouted, running into the room.
“Dad!” London smiled, jumping up to give him a hug. Lyndsy welcomed him in, along with the other Calvin, Antoine, and Calvin and Calvin’s daughter Adalaide.
“I know we’re a strange bunch,” Lyndsy admitted to Stellan. “So I’ll give you the run down. I married Calvin,” She said, pointing a finger to the man in flannel. “We had two daughters, Karly and London. Karly’s living in the apartment above the Cupcake Cafe – oh! You knew that, didn’t you? London’s gonna kill me.”
Stellan grinned. “I knew.”
“Oh, thank goodness! Anyways, Calvin came out of the closet – that means he’s gay.”
“I sort of figured that out,” Stellan nodded.
“Okay, awesome! So he married Calvin,” She continued, pointing to the other Calvin in the room. “And they adopted little darling Adelaide,” She said, now pointing to a pink bassinet in the corner. “This guy,” Lyndsy noted, waving to Antoine, “Is Antoine! He’s Calvin and Calvin’s boyfriend.”
Lyndsy finally took a breath and looked at Stellan. They stared at each other for a beat.
Lyndsy nodded before tossing back her drink. Stellan rolled with it, introducing himself to all three men. As far as he was concerned, they were London’s family and that’s all that mattered. Sure, he’d never really experienced a polyamorous relationship before, but he knew not everyone lived exactly the same way he did.
“So this is your sister, huh?” Stellan said afterwards as they cooed over the little baby. Adelaide reached out a pudgy hand and grasped Stellan’s finger.
“Yeah,” London breathed. “My sister.”
Lyndsy’s voice rose above the rest. “HI, CAN I GET A PEPPERONI PIZZA?”
London placed Adelaide back in the bassinet as she turned to face her mom. “Really, mom? Pizza?”
“What?” Lyndsy shrugged as she hit the end call button. “It’s gourmet.”
London huffed. “Just because it’s not from the freezer doesn’t make it gourmet, mom.”
Still, when the pizza arrived, everyone dug in.
“So, Stellan.” Calvin started, leaning back and crossing one leg over the other. “What makes you good enough for my little London?”
“That’s an easy question,” Stellan said. “I’m not good enough. She could do a lot better.”
“Good answer,” Calvin laughed. “Now that that’s out of the way, tell me all about the outfits you’ve had made for you, London!”
As London finally got to catch up with her father and his parnters, Lyndsy and Stellan cleaned up the pizza.
“You’re handing things remarkably well,” Lyndsy admitted. “I thought you’d bolt as soon as you walked in the door.”
Stellan laughed as he scrubbed the stovetop. “It’s just another part of London’s life, as far as I’m concerned.”
Lyndsy looked over her shoulder to see London watching them keenly. “Let’s go finish this chat in backyard, yeah?”
So the two fetched after dinner drinks and took a seat on the small dining set in the backyard.
“You said you were okay with London’s lifestyle, but are you really?” Lyndsy asked, being serious for the first time that day.
“I really am. I’ve met a lot of different women over the past few months – I don’t think anything could surprise me anymore.”
“You won’t try to cover up London’s past? No matter how bad it is?”
Stellan paused for a moment, feeling the undercurrent of anxiety spilling from the woman opposite him. “Is there something I don’t know?” He asked slowly.
“There are lots of things about London you don’t really know. She’s struggled. A lot.”
“Are you afraid I’m going to take her away from you?” He finally choked out. “Because I never would.”
“No, no. You couldn’t if you tried. I’d be knocking your door down to see my daughter. I’m taking about what if you marry her and find out something you don’t like?”
Stellan swirled his glass and looked into the undulating drink. “I try to handle everything maturely, so I’d like to say I’d just roll with the punches. But I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be at least somewhat upset.”
“I think I’d be more worried if you’d told me you wouldn’t freak out at all,” Lyndsy admitted. “It’s not going to be an easy road for you two. You’d be marrying a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Not to mention a somewhat unconventional family.”
“And I’m a guy who dated twelve women at the same time, while they all competed in challenges that could have killed them.”
Lyndsy finished her drink before smiling. “Guess we’re more alike than I thought.”
That night, London and her mother sat down on Lyndsy’s bed. They had been discussing the day’s events, waiting for sleep to come. Calvin, Calvin, Antoine and Adelaide had left earlier that evening, saying they would see London, Lyndsy – and hopefully Stellan – soon. Afterwards, Lyndsy had set Stellan up on the couch for the night, as there was no other beds in the house.
“A mistake?” Lyndsy gasped. She placed a hand on her daughter’s knee. “London, you might have made a poor decision, but what came out of it certainly wasn’t a mistake. And you shouldn’t be so ashamed – you’ve handled everything with the class and dignity your father and I raised you to have.”
“I’m not good enough!” London sobbed. “Look at me, mom! I’m an adult living with my mother, trying to save a failure of a bakery.”
“The Cupcake Cafe is not a failure, and neither are you.” Lyndsy said seriously.
“But compared to the other girls-”
“Why compare yourself? You’re three, individual, beautiful girls. You’ve made two new friends in this competition, haven’t you? That’s worth something. You put yourself out there, knowing you might face rejection. Yet here you are, with a prince sleeping on the couch!”
London choked out a laugh. “I guess you’re right. How is it you always know what to say?”
Lyndsy wrapped her arms around London. “I’m your mother, it’s my job.”
And with that, sleep came easily.
Just not for long. Huge pops came from outside the house, jerking Stellan awake. His eyes flashed to the clock: 1 o’clock in the morning.
He slowly got up and shuffled toward the front of the house. In the yard next to London’s, a neighbor was hopping up and down. Small fireworks spit from a small canister, wobbling wildly. Flames blew with the wind towards the neighbor, igniting her body. Stellan watched in horror as another person ran out and extinguished the poor woman, but not before her entire body was covered in soot. Even though it was dark, the moon was bright enough to illuminate the burn marks on the long grass.
Stellan shook his head and laughed in disbelief. Just when he thought this place couldn’t get any crazier, he was proven wrong. After making sure the woman was okay, Stellan retreated back to the couch to hopefully sleep for the rest of the night, uninterrupted.
The next morning, Lyndsy, Stellan and London sat down for breakfast.
“Are you excited to see your sister?” Lyndsy asked.
London nodded as she swallowed a bite of french toast. “Oh yeah, it’s been way too long. Plus, it’ll be nice to check on the shop.”
Lyndsy smiled before turning to Stellan. “Look, son – I love you. You know I do, but what on earth is that on your head?”
Stellan laughed as London kicked her mother under the table. “It was my grandfather’s cap. He used to peddle newspapers before he met my grandmother. Said this was his lucky hat.”
“You’re lucky you can get away with it,” Lyndsy laughed. “It’s only because he’s royal, right Lon?”
Once they finished eating breakfast, London took her beat-up car and drove the couple to the Cupcake Cafe. Lyndsy would be meeting them later, after she finished work. The cafe looked unassuming on the outside – just a quiet, quaint place to have a cupcake and a coffee.
It was just as quiet on the inside.
“Karly!” London squealed, rushing forward to hug her sister and buss her cheek. Stellan followed behind, offering a greeting of his own.
“How’ve you been?” Her sister squealed back. The two erupted into a conversation about everything under the sun, in that sisterly way no one else understands.
At the back of the shop, Karly’s husband Ket shook Stellan’s hand. “Nice to meet you, man.”
“Likewise,” Stellan replied. Then, he turned to the two small girls standing beside their father. “Hello, there! You must be London’s nieces.”
“Uh huh!” They answered in unison. “We’re twins!”
“Twins?” Stellan exclaimed. “Cool!”
“I’m Kierra,” One girl said. “You can tell because I have a kitty cat on my shirt. And that’s Kamden!” She finished, pointing an excited finger at her twin.
“I wish I had a twin!” Stellan smiled. “That’d be so awesome. We could play pranks on all of our friends.”
Ket laughed. “Oh, they try it all the time.”
Stellan laughed as well, imagining how well that must work. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two pink bottles, offering them to the girls. “I brought you guys some bubbles. I thought you’d have fun with them.”
“Oh, yeah!” Kamden practically yelled. She grabbed the two bottles and raced outside, Kierra following closely behind.
“It’s such a beautiful day,” Karly mused. “Why don’t we all go outside?”
Once the family had entered the patio, Stellan and Ket pushed two tables together so everyone could sit.
“Your kids are adorable,” Stellan said honestly. “They must be fraternal?”
Ket rolled his eyes before Karly could respond. “Something like that.”
“It’s not far from the truth,” Karly said, ignoring her husband’s remark. “They were conceived by heteropaternal superfecundation.”
Stellan’s eyes widened as the implications dawned on him.
“Yep.” Ket said, rolling his eyes again. “Two different baby daddies equals twins with different fathers. Not that Karly would ever admit who.”
“Can we not do this right now?” She asked Ket. “This isn’t a proper topic.”
Before any more fighting could break out, Stellan piped up. “Actually, London promised to teach me how to work the cappuccino machine, anyways. Maybe we could do that now?”
London gave him a grateful smile. “I forgot all about that! Come on, everyone. Let’s go watch a prince actually fail at something.”
Karly nodded. Her chair scraped the stone as she stood up, stomping into the cafe.
“Stay out here, kids.” Ket ordered.
London grabbed Stellan’s hand and led him inside.
“Thanks,” She whispered.
“Anytime,” He winked back.
After Stellan had dropped coffee grounds all over the floor, swept them up, got milk in his eye, and dropped the whipped cream, he held a small espresso in his hand. London encouraged him to take a sip. The smell was horrendous, but Stellan didn’t think it ould be that bad. It was just coffee, right?
It was the worst cup of coffee Stellan had ever had the displeasure of tasting.
“What did I do wrong?” He asked London.
London smothered a giggle as Stellan frowned into the mug. “What didn’t you do wrong?”
“Okay, okay. I get it,” Stellan laughed, tweaking London’s nose. He washed the mug in the sink before leaning on the counter. “I think I’ll leave the coffee making up to the professionals.”
“All I wanted was the truth!” Ket shouted, popping London and Stellan’s bubble of happiness. “You owe me that, at least!”
“I don’t owe you anything!” Karly fired back. “Kamden and Kierra are beautiful little girls, and just because you didn’t father Kamden doesn’t mean you’re not her dad!”
London wrapped an arm around Stellan’s waist as she buried her face into his shirt. We wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders.
“Who’s the father?” Ket spat.
“YOU ARE!” Karly shouted.
“That’s plum, Karly, and you know it! I just want to know. My little girl shared a womb with another man’s child – it’s despicable!”
“Yoohoo!” A voice called. Lyndsy walked in with a little girl in her arms.
“I WANT A DIVORCE!” Ket yelled.
“Bad timing?” Lyndsy joked. Karly glared at her mother, who shut up immediately.
“Mom!” London shouted. “Why are you here with Orla?”
“She needs to see you, honey!”
“No, not now. Come on, Stellan. We’re done here.”
London grabbed Stellan’s hand and pulled him towards the door. Ket and Karly continued to yell at each other, and Orla started screaming.
“Ooh, cupcakes!” Lyndsy exclaimed, setting Orla down to go grab one.
London had one hand on the door when the little toddler came running towards her.
Orla stretched her arms upwards as huge tears ran down her face. London’s eyes teared up as Stellan looked on in disbelief.
“Is this your daughter?” He asked, looking down at the pudgy toddler.
London sighed, but snuggled the little girl. “Yes. She is.”
Before Stellan could comment, the front doors swung open.
“It’s just like the TV shows!” Lyndsy said through a mouthful of cupcake.
A blond man charged in and stopped as soon as he saw London holding Orla. His gaze shifted over to Stellan. He instantly narrowed his eyes as London placed Orla on the ground.
“London, I want my daughter back! And I want you back too!”
To be continued…