Happily Ever After


An excerpt from Happily Ever After (c)2022

Sitting down in her mother’s rocker, Ophelia snuggled Dimitri into a peaceful sleep.  She stared at his sweet, innocent face and, for a moment, all the cares of the world went away.  She forgot about her spirited seven-year-old, her mischievous three-year-old, and her inquisitive-to-the-point-of-lunacy toddler.  For a second, she was just a mother with three sleeping children.  She was a mom who managed to do it all- alone, or so it often seemed.  She knew that they were loved by their father and that he was working hard to provide them with a good life.  But did he still love her as he did when they were young?  That, Ophelia no longer knew for certain.  She loved him, but things had changed.

After the first book was a moderate success as a romance bestseller, her family threw their approval of her writing hobby at her.  No longer was she a college dropout with a new baby; Ophelia was an author.  It felt good, she thought with a smile.  She was heavily pregnant and exhausted from chasing Damian every day, but she made sure to rise before the sun to get in a few hours of writing, and her second book was delivered on time.

With two small children, time became hard to find.  She wasn’t sleeping well because Eirene nursed around the clock and Damian was acting out due to jealousy at being displaced.  Ophelia felt like a zombie; gone were her days of getting up at four in the morning to write.  Add into that a postpartum body that refused to fit into any clothes that she owned, and her self-esteem plummeted.  She was shocked with her first bout of morning sickness from Dimitri; she scrolled through her phone and found that, in the months since Eirene had been born, she’d had sex one time.  Once.  After that night, which had been a rare moment when both kids were sound asleep and she had been able to have a glass of wine with her husband on the balcony, she had laughed that she was out of shape, exhausted, and couldn’t remember the last time they were intimate.  Her husband had responded by telling her that he loved her before seducing her under the stars.  It had been perfect. 

Two weeks later, she had sat in the bathroom and cried.

Ophelia never told anyone that, of course.  She never confessed that she had been hoping to have a break so that she could rediscover herself and focus on her writing.  That would have made her too selfish, too unmotherly.  She had tried to find the time in-between caring for her children, homemaking, and four months of near-constant puking to write on the third book in the series, but it seemed hopeless.  When Dimitri was born, she swore that she would get back on track.  After all, she was an old hat at mothering.  She could handle the addition of another infant.  It was just like riding a bike.

Only it wasn’t. 

She loved her children more than anything, but Ophelia felt like a constant failure.  She met their unending needs while meeting none of her own.  Friendships fell by the wayside; she had no energy to put toward them.  When they were together, it seemed that all she did was argue with her husband.  He would ask about her day, she would tell him how awful it was, he would offer solutions, and then BOOM!  She would end up crying in the bed they rarely shared, while her husband disappeared into his office to do work he had brought home.  She requested an extension on her deadline, then a second.  Nothing in her life was working.

Ophelia gently placed Dimitri in the center of the bed, surrounding him with pillows and turning on the baby monitor she had brought from home.  Stepping outside, she could hear the sounds from the main house and debated keeping to herself or pulling out her laptop to work.  Her desire to be with adults won out, and she clipped the portable receiver to her belt, slipping into the house through the kitchen.

“Trinity College Dublin is a very good school,” Annie said as Ophelia entered the main room.  Hesper was sitting on the couch next to her mother, looking as though she were going to cry.

Talos walked next to his sister and poured a cup of coffee.  “Please,” he muttered.  “Let’s get around to the real reason she wants to transfer.”

“Hesper?  Is there something you want to tell us?”  While Hesper looked a wreck, it was Evadine’s voice that quivered.  For a moment, Ophelia thought her aunt might break down.

Hesper gave a long pause before she heaved a sigh.  “I’m in a relationship, and I’m very happy.”  She looked back and forth between her parents.  “I know that I haven’t always made the best decisions, but this time away has really given me an opportunity to make better choices.”  Talos sighed loudly, and Hesper looked up at him.  “You know, this would be easier without your running commentary.”

Ophelia knew the look that Talos gave their younger cousin, his anger mixing with amusement, and she couldn’t imagine things were going to end well.  “I’m just waiting to see how you manage to sugarcoat the relationship you have.  You are going to tell your parents with whom the relationship is, right?”

For a moment, Ophelia wanted to stand up for Hesper.  Annie had given her enough background that she knew why Talos was angry, but Hesper was so young and free.  In many ways, Ophelia envied her.  Why shouldn’t she have her bout with young love?  Maybe he was a terrible person, but if Hesper wanted to spend her time with Duncan, so be it.  Before Ophelia could interject, Evadine spoke tentatively.  “Hesper?”

“I’ve been dating Duncan for the last few months.”

Hesper’s father, Karsten, had been silent but asked incredulously, “Duncan?  Annie’s Duncan?”

That was enough to send Talos further off, and Ophelia reached out for his arm when he moved in front of her.  “Now wait a second!”

“Take a breath, Talos,” Ophelia whispered gently, giving a tug on his arm.  He never looked back at her but didn’t pull away.

“Yes, Annie’s former boyfriend.”  After a brief pause, Hesper added, “He is slightly older than I am-”

“What’s slightly?”  Ophelia had wondered when Stavros, who was only a month younger than Talos, would take a stand. 

Hesper didn’t answer.  Talos yanked his arm from his sister’s grasp, answering before taking a long drink of steaming coffee.  “Thirty-five.”

“That’s fifteen years!”  From his tone, it was clear that Stavros wasn’t happy.

Ophelia wanted to run to Hesper, wrap her arms around her younger cousin, and wish her well.  She knew that Talos (amongst others) would be none-too-pleased, but it seemed awful that Hesper had no one on her side.  Even her twin sister, Livana, was quiet.  Finally, Evadine spoke.  “Hesper, dear, I think it would be wise for you to stay home.  Return to University here.  See how you feel come summer break, after you’ve spent time with your friends and dated boys your own age.”

“Do you not remember why I was expelled in the first place?”  Hesper asked, standing.  “Those were my friends, and the boy in question was my own age!”

“I just don’t think a relationship like you describe is good for the long term.  You are both in different parts of your life.  He’s a grown man-”

“And I’m a grown woman!  I’m sorry, Mana, I don’t want to go against you.  I don’t.”  Hesper shook her head, her eyes settling on her mother and a tear falling down her cheek.  “But I know how I feel.  And I want to continue exploring life in Dublin- with Duncan.”

Karsten stood and reached for his daughter.  “Your mother is right.  Let’s discuss the matter again when you complete this semester of study.  Then, if you want to look into transferring, that’s a conversation we can have over the summer.”

But Hesper was having none of that suggestion.  “There’s nothing to discuss!  I can make my own decisions, regardless of whether anyone here agrees.”  She looked at the group gathered.  Ophelia tried to send quiet support when their eyes met.  “I’ll be returning tomorrow after the burial.  Please, excuse me; I’m tired, and I’m going to bed.”  Without waiting for any acknowledgement, she walked away.

“I would love to smack some sense into her,” Talos muttered under his breath while he refilled his coffee.

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit rough?”  Ophelia picked up a cup, and her brother filled it with a rueful chuckle.

“Don’t, Lia,” Talos said, calling her by the pet name her siblings often used.  “Don’t turn this into one of your chick-lit stories for bored, lonely housewives.”


“You know what I mean.  This isn’t one of your happily-ever-after love stories.”  He nodded toward her.  “Use your marriage for that.  Look at you guys: met as kids, survived university, married, children, still happy.”

And that just shows how much you know, Ophelia thought.  Instead, she asked, “Have you even bothered to ask Hesper what she wants?”

Stavros stepped beside them and poured himself a cup of coffee.  “Hesper doesn’t know what she wants.  She’s a kid.”

“I was married at near her age.” Ophelia leaned against the wall and waited for his rebuttal.

Her cousin shook his head and kissed her on the cheek.  “You were always much older than your years.  She’s not.  None of the other girls are: not Hesper, not Liv, not Addie.”

“It doesn’t really matter what any of you think,” Annie said, approaching with a sleeping Xerxes tucked into her chest carrier.  “Hesper is an adult.  She can date whomever she chooses.”

“Aine, if you don’t-”

“What?”  She scoffed at her husband.  “Wishing now you could take my driver’s license away and put your little lady back in the kitchen?  Please, Talos.  The day I stand behind you just for the sake of a unified front is the day that I’m dead.”

“Or sainted,” Ophelia chuckled.

 “I don’t understand how you can be so calm about this,” Talos said, exasperated.  “You know what kind of man he is!”

“I knew what kind of man you were and, yet, here we are!” 

“I almost think we should go,” Stavros said to Ophelia with a wink.

“This is going to make great fodder for my next book.  Not on your life.”

Ignoring her comment, Annie continued. “It doesn’t matter what type of man he was or what type of man you were- that’s the past.  What if Duncan’s changed?  Would you want to be judged by all the things that you’ve done?”

Ophelia was still surprised that Talos kept his anger in check with Annie.  His wife seemed to be the only person in the world that Talos could always see clearly.  He shook his head.   “Regardless of whether he’s a worthless dog-”

“Talos!” Annie chastised while Ophelia choked on her coffee.

“-or God’s newfound gift for womankind, he’s still too old for her.”

“I agree,” Stavros added.

Annie sighed.  “I have no response to that.”

“Finally.”  Talos grinned when she narrowed her eyes at him then pointed his finger between his wife and sister.  “Between the two of you, Hesper will be in a white gown in no time.”  He patted Stavros on the shoulder, and the two walked away while he pretended to lament married life.

“I don’t see how you don’t kill him,” Ophelia said, refilling her coffee.

“Me either.”  Annie looked down at her sleeping son before adding with a smile, “We make cute babies, so he isn’t all bad.”