Olivia, ever the dramatist, had been wracked with grief one moment and wrapped up in writing a special poem for her Nana Iris, to commemorate her life, the next.
Oscar had taken the news stony faced and had not bothered to question his mother when she reminded all three children that Iris was in heaven now, with Grandpa Cody.
But Odd had been trickier.
Her pain had seemed so much more raw than anyone elses, as though she now couldn't figure out what to do with herself. And when she had eventually figured it out, Morgan found that Odd's decision made little sense to her.
Instead of crying, instead of expressing her pain. Odd simply waited.
Each night after school she would wolf down dinner and make her way to the veranda. She wouldn't venture past the miniature bridge which arched over the garden pond, she would just lean against its railing staring into space.
At first Morgan had thought that Odd was looking up towards heaven, maybe imagining her Nana as a star lighting up the night sky. But the more she watched her youngest child the more she realised she wasn't imagining anything, she was waiting for something to happen.
Odd heard her Mom approaching and turned to face her, she knew what she wanted. An explanation.
"Sweetheart, why don't you come back inside?" Morgan asked.
"Just a little longer. Please?" Odd asked.
"Odette, i realise that death isn't an easy thing to come to terms with. I know that it's confusing for you, but waiting out here isn't going to bring your Nana back." Morgan advised.
Odd sighed and swallowed her reply down. She couldn't explain it to her Mom, she would never understand. But she was wrong. Death wasn't some big mystery and Odd was not confused by it. But more importantly she knew that her Nana would come back to her, for that was the way it worked.
At least that was how it had worked with Grandpa Cody.
Odd had been alone, as usual, practising her chess strategy for a rather important game. When the sensation washed over her. It felt like pins and needles all through her body, while her fingertips turned to icicles. Looking up she said "You're late it's almost bed time."
But the sight she saw was not the one she had been expecting.
"Grandpa Cody?" She asked, her voice small, choked with the emotion at what his apparition meant. He had passed on, although not fully as his ghostly form acknowledged.
"Odette." His reply came, soft and distorted as though he were speaking from under water.
"Why?" She asked her voice wavering.
"It is time." Came his answer.
"Don't be afraid." He told her.
"I'm not." She whispered.
Grandpa Cody smiled and continued, "Death is hard on those left behind."
"Is it hard for you?" Odd asked, trying to figure out his statement.
Grandpa Cody shook his head slowly and smiled, "Tell Iris that i will be waiting for her, she need not worry."
"I will." Odd replied, staring up at the ethereal figure of her beloved Grandpa. "Will you stay?" She asked. But Grandpa Cody simply shook his head, and still smiling he raised his hand to wave at Odd.
She mimicked his gesture and watched as his ghostly appearance became less opaque, thinning out and revealing more of the landscape behind it until he eventually vanished in a white cloud of light.
Odd returned to the seat at the chess table and continued to wait for her opponent. As she sat she considered what she had just witnessed.
She was not surprised to see the ghost of her departed relative, seeing ghosts was an everyday occurrence for her, as normal to Odd as seeing her reflection when she looked in a mirror. She was more perturbed by the fact that her Grandpa had seemingly vanished for good.
"Are you ready for our rematch?" George asked, his arrival producing the familiar sting of pins and needles.
Odd looked at the face of her long time friend and nodded her agreement and, as George carefully considered his first move, she allowed her mind to wander.
George had been a constant in her life for as far back as she could remember, he had always been there.
Odd had spent hours on end watching him as he floated around her house.
Tilting her head at him in curiosity as he talked to her in his strange floaty voice.
As much as she observed George, she had also observed the other members of her family. None of them behaved like George did, for a start they walked on the ground instead of hovering above it and their bodies were solid, not see-through. So, she supposed, George was different.
Different but not unexpected, after all he had been here for her entire life, just as her parents and siblings had. Therefore she had always believed that this was normal, that George and others like him would always be around.
Then why had Grandpa Cody not stayed?"I knew the day would come when i would beat you in one move." George chimed, interrupting her thoughts. "But i didn't think it would be so soon."
Odd smirked at his little quip, George had never beaten her once but that didn't stop him from trying each night during their matches.
"George, where do you go when I'm not around?" Odd quizzed him.
George tilted his head at her question and Odd watched as the boy tried to recall the answer, sensing the difficulty he had in finding it. "I wait." he finally replied, nodding slightly as though affirming his answer to himself.
"Do you wait here? Or do you go to other places?" Odd asked.
George looked down his face a picture of intense concentration, but as he raised his face to hers he simply repeated, "I wait."
Shaking off his momentary phase of confusion he said, "Now make your move." gesturing to the board and Odd's untouched chess pieces.
"Sweetheart please come back inside." Morgan asked again and Odd snapped back to the present day, the memory of her talk with Grandpa Cody still fresh in her head.
He had left that night and never returned, and yet George continued to visit daily. She hadn't managed to work out the rules of her "gift" and had not pondered it too deeply since that night, but now that Nana Iris was noticeable by her absence it had reawakened Odd's thoughts on the matter.
Two things occurred to her simultaneously, perhaps not everyone who passed on became a ghost and of those who had "become", perhaps not all of them realised what they were.
"I did it, I did it!" Olivia ran into the kitchen yelling at the top of her voice, "I'm Dorothy!"
"Well done sweetheart." Morgan replied, joyfully hugging her excitable child, "You really deserve it after all the hard work you put in."
Oscar rolled his eyes at his Mom's comments, hard work had nothing to do with his sisters good fortune but no need for her to know that. Now that his little scheme had panned out he decided it was time to up his game.
"I'm going to make grilled cheese in honour of your starring role." Morgan proclaimed, getting out the frying pan and starting to prepare Olivia's favourite snack.
"Hey Liv come check it out i got to level ten on Llama racers." Oscar lied, beckoning his sister into the lounge and away from prying ears.
"No way! You beat my top score?" Olivia challenged.
"Uh huh." Oscar nodded racing into the lounge. In truth he had never played the ridiculous racing game, he didn't care for video games and such childish nonsense.
Olivia grabbed the controller and started up the game to check Oscar's stats out for herself.
Oscar frowned at his sister, she was so juvenile, the smallest little thing excited her. Couldn't she just for one minute be serious? If she messed up her performance in the play in front of the entire school she would become a laughing stock, and knowing Olivia's scatter brained ways, as well as Oscar did, meant that this was a good likelihood.
But if he could get her to focus on becoming a success then Olivia could become the school's new golden girl and by association he would be the golden boy, instead of stupid smug Anson Leigh!
"So i guess you must be pretty nervous?" Oscar asked, distracting Olivia from her fact checking mission momentarily.
"Huh? Why would i be nervous?" She queried, dropping the controller.
"Well i suppose it's fine for you to miss a few lines here and there when you're performing at home for Mom but the school is going to expect you to be perfect on the night of the play." He advised.
"Perfect? Are you sure?" Olivia checked, looking far from convinced.
"Of course. Ms Fitch has taken a big gamble on casting you Olivia, I mean Stacey should have got the part, if it weren't for her unfortunate accident." He shrugged, "Such a shame, i guess SHE would have been perfect." He mused.
Olivia looked down at her lap. She knew Oscar was right, Stacey would have got the part if she hadn't sprained her ankle but now she had to fill her shoes, and Olivia wasn't sure if she was up to the job. "So you think i should quit the play?" She asked furrowing her brow."Traytors don't quit!" He snapped in reply, "Liv all you have to do is focus. You have to eat sleep and breathe this play, that means no more stupid video games." he gestured to the games consul, "And maybe you should think about what you're eating too, grilled cheese is pretty fattening and you don't want to look stupid in your costume. They probably made it to fit Stacey and she's so petite." Oscar added.
"You're right Oscar, i have to get serious." Olivia agreed, "Thanks bro!"
"Kids! Your lunch is ready." Morgan called to them from the kitchen and Olivia instantly forgot Oscar's "advice " and darted straight to the table.
Snatching up the grilled cheese she looked at it savouring the moment before taking a big bite.
Oscar looked on in disgust as the grease from the sandwich dribbled down Olivia's chin and onto her top, perhaps his task was impossible maybe Olivia could not be refined into becoming any better than her station in life but he was damned if he was going to allow all his efforts to go to waste.
Clearing his throat noisily he shot her a disparaging look across the table.
"Oscar, eat your sandwich please." Morgan directed, noticing the boys untouched meal.
"I couldn't possibly eat this grease filled junk food." He replied, eyeing Olivia seriously to invoke her support.
Olivia let the sandwich drop from her hand back onto the plate. Her mouth was still watering from the deliciousness of her one and only bite and her stomach was enticing her to eat more. Yet Oscar's words were still fresh in her head and since he was clearly showing some solidarity for the sacrifice she knew she had to make it would be rude not to agree with him.
"Olivia! Eat up." Morgan responded, noting her daughter's marked change in enthusiasm for her lunch.
"Oscar's right, it's too greasy." Olivia spoke up, her voice almost cracking under the lie.
"Olivia what has gotten into you?" Morgan demanded, "You love my grilled cheese."
"Can't you make a salad or something healthier instead?" Oscar griped.
Morgan sighed and pushed her chair out from the kitchen table. She knew Oscar was finicky over what he would eat but now Olivia too? She couldn't help but worry that her son's attitude had begun to rub off on his sister, but then she supposed they also had a point grilled cheese was rather fattening. Clearing the table Morgan proceeded to prepare an autumn salad as Oscar smiled his praise at Olivia's efforts.
"I know can you believe we are about to be parents to three teenagers!" Morgan laughed into the phone at Declan.
"So what's the plan for the kids birthdays this year then?" Declan asked, "Let me guess garden party at your place?"
"Is it really that lame?" Morgan replied, offended.
"No of course not, but maybe we should try something a little different." He cajoled.
"You mean somewhere different, neutral territory perhaps?" She sulked.
"Come on you know i don't feel like that about coming to your house anymore." He answered lightly, "It's just i was thinking of maybe bringing someone."
"You mean like a date?" Morgan asked, caught off guard at his request.
"More like a girlfriend." Declan admitted, "Look i know it seems sudden but Celine and i have actually been together for a while now, i just didn't want to rush it with the kids and all."
Morgan considered his request carefully. Declan obviously felt pretty strongly for this Celine as there was no way he would let just anyone into the kids lives. She figured that it wasn't only their blessing he was seeking but hers as well. And really they had been divorced for years now, she had to let him know that it was okay to move on, right?
"It's fine Declan, bring her along. But i think we should have the party here, I don't want the kids to feel ambushed by all of this." She conceded.
"Okay, that's fine." he sighed. Morgan couldn't help but wonder if he had insisted on an alternate venue just to please his new girlfriend, she supposed going to a family party at your boyfriend's ex-wife's house would be a little awkward.
But she was a grown-up and she would be grown-up about this situation. Celine would be made to feel welcome, like part of the family.
Later that evening Morgan dropped by to see Howie to fill him in on the events of her day.
"Do you think i did the right thing letting him bring this Celine to the party?" Morgan asked as Howie sat listening patiently next to her, "What if she feels uncomfortable?"
Howie laughed, "Morgan how is it that you always consider how other people might feel before you consider yourself?" he pointed out, "You don't even know this woman and you're already more worried how this will affect her."
"I just don't want their to be an atmosphere, that's all." She replied, accepting his observation.
"You know this might actually be a perfect opportunity." Howie stated, "If Declan is announcing his new found relationship then maybe you and i........?"
"You think WE should show up as a couple to my children's birthday party?" Morgan asked, screwing up her face in horror at the idea. "Howie that's crazy."
"Is it?" he asked, looking a little down trodden. "It's just been a while now and i thought maybe if we just came clean with everyone then we could start to be a proper couple."
Morgan rolled her eyes and shifted her body away from Howie's on the couch. Since the night she had come to him and he had finally confessed his love for her their relationship had not exactly blossomed in the way she had envisaged.
In truth it had been confusing for her as she felt so much love in her heart for Howie, but somehow this had not translated into an easy romantic bond and they had yet to advance beyond the point of kissing.
"Honestly Howie, there's so much pressure on this day already i think anymore and my head may explode." She replied, letting him down lightly.
"But things are still okay, with us i mean?" he asked awkwardly.
Morgan felt her heart melt as she saw the sadness in his face, how she hated for him to be hurt in anyway. It was unbearable to see the doubt in his eyes and she knew she had to erase it.
Sidling up closer to Howie she rested her hand on top of his arm to give him reassurance. "I just don't think it's the right time." She replied.
"Okay, whatever you think is best." Howie smiled, half heartedly.
Odd returned to her regular spot and continued her waiting.
As she stood wishing for her Nana Iris to show she mulled over the realisations about the nature of her "gift". If not all ghosts stayed here amongst the living then maybe her Mom was right, maybe they went to heaven, or some place else. So then why did George remain?
"Over here!" George called, his watery voice floating on the wind towards her.
Odd moved from her waiting position and beckoned him to the bottom of the garden, knowing that her mother was watching her closely, still concerned about Odd's reaction to Iris's death.
"What were you doing just now?" George asked his translucent face looking at her quizzically.
Odd paused and decided to try something. "I'm waiting." She told him, mimicking the reply he had given her earlier in the week.
She watched as George's head tilted from one side to the next, trying to process her statement and struggling with the comprehension. "Y-you wait too?" He asked. Odd nodded her encouragement hoping that the boy would feel able to open up to her and reveal the secret behind his earlier reply.
"Are you waiting for mother?" George asked, his face a picture of hope.
"Is that who you wait for George?" Odd asked.
"Mother said not to tell!" He replied his grainy voice changing abruptly from it's usual tinkling chime to a harsher more fervent reverberation, "No one must know!"
"It's okay George." Odd replied, holding her hands up in a sign of peace. George turned and floated away his apparition flickering and faltering as though slipping from it's Earthly realm.
Odd approached him slowly, not wanting to cause further distress.
"George?" She asked cautiously, "You can trust me, I'm your friend."
George turned and faced Odd, his face had returned to it's usual serene expression and his voice came in it's normal diluted tone. "You are my friend Odette?" He smiled.
"Yes." She nodded returning his grin.
George moved forward and enveloped Odd in a hazy blur of mist, the pins and needles shot through her body as the boy wrapped his transparent arms around her and she let out a sigh of relief.
Her heart had lurched as George had altered before her eyes and she realised that she could lose the only friend she had ever had. Though her curiosity had not dampened, Odd decided not to push the limits of their friendship further and allowed the subject to drop.
The triplets birthday had arrived and so had the moment Morgan had been secretly dreading. Declan and Celine showed up as planned, together.
Celine hadn't been what Morgan was expecting, sure she had imagined that the woman would be attractive but Celine was stunning. Her ash blond hair was perfectly coiffed and her outfit form fitting and ultra flattering, Morgan found herself feeling awkward whereas Celine seemed to be anything but.
She had brought the triplets gifts and had managed to immediately ingratiate herself with them in the process, Olivia in particular seemed to form an instant bond with her fathers glamorous girlfriend.
To make matters worse Declan had never looked happier, being so at ease with Celine and the children that he openly showed his obvious affections for her at any opportunity.
Morgan found that she couldn't tear her gaze away from the pair of them and an unwelcome feeling of jealousy found it's way into her head.
Her sudden fixation on Declan and Celine had not gone unnoticed by Howie who watched with a heavy heart as she glared at the pair of them.
"Are you alright?" Howie whispered to her, reaching for her hand.
"I'm fine!" Morgan snapped, snatching her hand away as though he had tried to pass her an infectious disease. Then seeing the hurt pass his eyes she relented and whispered, "I'm sorry. Let's fetch the cakes and get this party going huh?"
Howie watched her fake a smile and dutifully followed her to the kitchen.
"Why are all these people here?" George asked.
Odd was surprised to see him as George usually did not appear when there was a large group of people gathered, she figured he was as afraid of them as she was. "It's my birthday!" She told him excitedly.
George considered this for a while before catching on to Odd's enthusiasm and replying "Oh a party! Can i stay?"
"Of course!" She laughed, looking around nervously checking that none of her family could see her talking to thin air, which she knew was all anyone else saw in George's place.
Oscar was first to extinguish his candles and Morgan gasped as she realised just how much like Declan he truly looked, if it weren't for her hair colouring being passed to her only son no one would even know they were related!
Next up Olivia, who grew into a stunning, delicate looking girl. Her porcelain skin beautifully complimented by her flash of auburn hair.
Odd stepped up to her cake and felt the comforting sensation of George's presence behind her. The vibe she picked up was changed somehow, as though George's excitement in the moment was reverberating through her also.
She blew out the candles and closed her eyes as her newly teenage form revealed itself for the first time.
Morgan smiled as she realised that although Odd had seemingly received little of her parents genes she had certainly inherited a fair few from her Grandma, she had Kaya's platinum hair.
Odd turned around to search the crowd for George and froze when she saw the look on his face.
It was one of pure shock.
Howie found Morgan in the kitchen clearing the plates. He knew he had to confront her obvious emotions over Declan and Celine, he had to know that her heart truly lay with him. But his nerves took hold and he hesitated.
Morgan sensed him behind her and swiftly dabbed at the bitter tears which she had come inside to hide. Turning around she plastered on a smile. "Hey." She said cheerily.
That was when Howie saw it for the first time. It was so clear to him now that he couldn't imagine how he hadn't noticed it before, yet there it lay as plain as daylight in her eyes. It wasn't the love between a man and a woman that he saw returned in their reflection, but pity.
Swallowing his sadness at this realisation he replied, "Today was harder than you thought huh?"
Morgan pursed her lips, hating in that minute that Howie knew her so well, sometimes better than she knew herself. "Yes." She admitted quietly, "But it's not what you think, I'm over Declan."
"Then what is it?" He asked.
"The way he is with Celine, it's all so natural for them." She cried, "But with us........" She trailed off.
"With us it's awkward." Howie finished for her.
"I didn't think it would be." Morgan told him, a tear slipping from her eye.
"It's alright Morgan." Howie said, softly wiping her cheek.
"No Howie it's not!" She sobbed, "All this time you've waited for me, putting your own life on hold and........"
"Shh." He said, placing a finger to her lips. "Morgan you don't owe me anything. Except for the truth." Howie told her. "Do you love me?" As she started to nod her head he added, "The way you loved Declan?"
Morgan paused at this and Howie took her face in his hands, "It's alright, i already know the answer."
"I'm sorry." Morgan whispered.
"Don't be." he smiled, "Having you in my life is enough for me, it always has been."
Morgan allowed the tears to fall as she realised that Howie was letting her go. He had known the truth of her heart before she had fully realised it herself.
Sniffing she replied, "Thank you." before placing a tender kiss on his lips.
Oscar watched from the hallway as the little scene between his mother and uncle played out. A sly smile passed his lips as he turned and walked away.