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One thing that became perfectly clear to me when I arrived for filming was how glamorous all the other ladies looked. I felt like a complete house frau in my sturdy, functional jeans and comfortable top. Of course, I always dressed appropriately for a speaking engagement or a consultation with a patient but didn’t think anything of arriving in what I normally wore on an everyday basis. I liked to be comfortable when I wrote or composed music. Seeing most of the other ladies showing up in cute little numbers with their hair done to perfection got me thinking I should have gone shopping or at least made a trip to the hairdresser.

I can honestly say this was quite the learning experience for me. Let’s just say there were some interesting personalities in the house, and all that estrogen made for some crazy and tense moments. There were a lot of catfights, which I did everything I could to avoid. I just laid low and practiced magic. I observed a lot and came to the conclusion that I was an old spirit among young ones.

 

When it was my turn to talk to Caleb for the first time, I felt my palms become sweaty, and my heart accelerated a few notches. I knew he loved to read, but I figured he wasn’t the type to read the kind of books I wrote. I racked my brain for some common ground and, like an idiot, started talking about food.

 

I shouldn’t have been a bit surprised when he said his favorite was O-Positive. I mean, the guy is a vampire, so it would be natural he’d crave blood. I’m afraid I freaked out a little and couldn’t think of a way to redeem the situation. I know the truth is usually the best way, but it was so blunt and matter-of-fact that it really threw me for a loop.

There were a lot of ups and downs during this entire experience. When I was voted Miss Congeniality by the other ladies, I was completely floored. I always tried to be a friend to anyone who wanted to accept it. Then, there was the night I stayed up with Crystal, one of the other contestants. She’d eaten something from the buffet that hadn’t agreed with her, and the poor girl had stomach cramps the entire night. I took care of her, which made me feel like a mother again. I guess there are some things you never lose your touch with.

I suspected that the producers had let some of the food sit too long. Everything tasted fine but after using a little magic to do some tests, there were a couple of dishes that were on the brink of turning. Sure, I knew there was a budget to follow, but questionable food can lead to food poisoning. They should have been more careful, and being the opinionated old Irishwoman I am, I had no qualms about making my feelings known.

As Caleb spent time with the other ladies, I started thinking about what all this could really mean. I sensed the goodness in him and felt through my empathic senses the heartbreak he went through when his marriage ended. I realized Caleb and I came from two different worlds and wasn’t sure if they would be compatible if I happened to be the last lady standing. Would he want to turn me and could I be content as a vampire? I loved being a witch and wasn’t sure if I could give that up. I loved sitting by my pool and soaking up the sun as I brainstormed new ideas for a book, which would be darned near impossible to do as a vampire. I knew I had a lot to think about, and I certainly didn’t want to be the source of more heartache for either of us.

As the show progressed, it was driven home more and more that real feelings were at stake here. I pretty much flew under the radar and took on the role as caregiver to the other girls. When they had their dates with Caleb, I even cast good luck charms on them. I suppose it’s corny to say, but I genuinely cared about each and every one of those ladies and wanted them to find the happiness they sought. I was once someone’s mother, and that part of me will never die.

I was quite surprised when I ended up in fourth place. For the most part, I didn’t go out of my way to attempt to turn Caleb’s affections toward me. He was such a nice man that I just couldn’t bring myself to act the part of a shameless hussy and do things that went against my character. He deserved better than that and so did I.

 

The day of reckoning came when there were only four of us left and it was time for Caleb to actually kiss all of us. Until then, it was harmless flirting and fun times, but we were getting down to the nitty-gritty. Caleb cared deeply about all of us and he had a hard decision ahead of him. I had a lot of soul searching to do myself, and I just hoped my heart and character would lead me in the right direction.

When it was my turn, Caleb put his arms around me and lowered his lips to mine. I waited for the fireworks to blaze and the violins to sound, but they didn’t come. I cared about Caleb and knew any girl would be lucky to have him, but I just couldn’t pretend to be in love with him when I wasn’t. I pushed against him, and he let me go immediately. He looked down at me with an expression of regret. He had nothing to be sorry about and I wanted to convey this to him.

I touched his cheek and smiled at him. “Don’t be sorry, Caleb. There’s nothing to feel badly about.”

“Lenora…”

“Shhh. You don’t have to say anything,” I said, touching his lips with my forefinger. “You know as well as I do that you and I aren’t in the cards romantically.”

“I just never wanted to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt any of you,” Caleb said. “Please believe me.”

“I do,” I said without hesitation. “I want you to know that when it comes time for you to eliminate me tonight, I will walk out of here with a smile on my face. Caleb, I care about you, and if you want my friendship, it will always be there for you. Please know that what I speak is the truth.”

“I care for you too, Lenora. Out of everyone in this house, you were the sweetest and friendliest. I can see why the other girls voted you Miss Congeniality. And when Crystal got sick, it was obvious how concerned you were about her. Your kindness is a breath of fresh air in these turbulent times.”

“I was truly flattered,” I said, smiling, then chuckled. “Mathilda tells me the same thing. It was how my Grandda, rest his soul, raised me to be.”

I paused before speaking again. “I just want you to know, Caleb, there are no hard feelings. I didn’t want to come here at first, but I’m glad I did. You enriched my life, and I honestly consider you a dear friend. I hope one day you might feel the same.”

“I do, Lenora. Sometimes I just didn’t know where you stood, especially after the O-Positive thing. Then, when you kept accusing me of being a vampire…”

I laughed as I hugged him hard. “Oh, Caleb! Gosh, I don’t think we’ll ever live that down. You just threw me at first. I mean, I suppose I expected you to sort of ease slowly into the blood drinking aspect of your…” I trailed off before I uttered the word life. Since vampires are…well…undead, i didn’t think life was the right noun for what I was looking for. I looked down at my feet, cleared my throat, and continued hesitantly. “When you laid it out so bluntly, it knocked me around a little. I’m glad you’re so comfortable with who you are. Really, I am. You just surprised me. As far as the accusations go, well, I was just speaking the truth. I know it upset you and I’m sorry. There was a reason though.”

“Would you mind telling me what that was?” Caleb asked me.

“I suppose I was using a form of psychology, such as it was. You see, I knew a romantic relationship between you and I wasn’t meant to be, and I didn’t want you talking yourself into thinking there might be one when it just wasn’t meant to be. See, I knew what you were the first time I saw your informational DVD. As I observed the other girls with you, I knew I wasn’t the answer for you. I suppose it was just my way of taking myself out of the competition so you’d be more free to figure out who it is you really love. I thought that if you were upset with me enough, you wouldn’t feel so badly about eliminating me. Besides, a little…ah…friction gets ratings for the show.”

Caleb snorted and shook his head. “Screw the ratings.” Then, he locked his gaze with mine. “Lenora?”

“What?”

“I have a lot of respect for you,” Caleb told me. “You’re a real class act.”

I smiled and then kissed his cheek. “I try.”

I was a little surprised when he put his arms around me, but it didn’t take long for me to understand that it was in a caring, loving, nonromantic way. “I want you to know how sorry I am for the loss you sustained. Your husband was a lucky man to have a wife such as you, and I know you must have been a wonderful mother. In a way, I envy your son.”

Tears filled my eyes as he spoke these words. I knew his history because it had been on the informational DVD. My heart had gone out to him, and I felt absolute disgust when learning of his mother’s abandonment of him. My cheeks were soon wet with tears, and I buried my face in his chest, my shoulders heaving on a sob. “I’m sorry ye went through that. I can’t imagine any mother wanting to abandon her son. Landon was my heart and I would never have left him. Ye didn’t deserve what ye got handed to ye, and I’m sorry.” My Irish accent thickened with the depth of my emotions.

“Oh, Lenora, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m sorry,” he said softly as he rubbed my back.

“it’s okay,” I said, lifting my face so I could look at him. “If you’d have been my son, you would have had so much love in your life. I would have loved you with every thread of my soul.”

Caleb framed my face with his big hands and kissed my forehead. “Sometimes I wonder about the cruelness of fate. Here, I had a mother who didn’t want me and left me to rot. Then, there’s you who still mourns her son after so many years. It just isn’t fair.”

“No, it’s not,” I said, looking into his soft eyes. “But I suppose we have to make the best of it and suck it up. You’re a special person, Caleb.”

“As are you, Lenora. I won’t forget you,” he said.

“I hope not,” I smiled through the tears. “I meant what I said. I’m here for you, and I make a hell of a good friend. I want you to be happy.”

“I want you to be okay, Lenora,” he told me.

“I am okay. Truly, I am,” I said. “I have no regrets. I swear that to you. I know that whatever happens and how this works out, you’re going to be very, very happy. And you know what? I’ll sit back and smile, and my heart will sing with joy to see you so content.”


 

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Things returned to normal once I returned home. I finished the book I’d had on hold while appearing on “The One,” went back to work at the theater, and ended up becoming Vice President of the Witches’ Council. There were periodic updates from the ladies from teh show, and I was thrilled when Caleb and Hope, the last woman standing, became engaged.

 

I invited them to my home for a weekend visit, which they readily accepted. We had a great time, and it was nice to sped time with them away from the pressures of a reality TV show. When I offered to make their wedding cake as my gift to them, they were more than happy to accept.

 

Caleb’s eyes lit up when he saw Linc’s martial arts equipment that I’d set up. “I didn’t know you were into martial arts,” he confessed.

“Linc was training me before he died. I give it a go every now and again so I don’t get rusty,” I replied.

“Show me some moves, Jackie Chan. How about a spar?” It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know he was chomping at the bit to try it out. Caleb was very good at it, and I could tell he’d practiced long and hard to obtain his advanced level of skill.

 

Several weeks later, I got yet another surprise in my mailbox. “Bills…bills…junk…political crap…hmmm,” I murmured as I quickly sifted through it. The crap went into the rubbish bin and the important stuff was dropped onto my desk. The large manila envelope was the last thing I opened. My heart began to race as I read the letter situated on top of a lare stack of papers. The letter explained that “The One” was going off the air but a new and improved show called “Soulmates” was being put in its place due to a change in studio management. “Since your story is so compelling and because you conducted yourself with such poise and grace, we are offering you the opportunity to appear as our first season’s bachelorette. Please contact us at your earliest convenience,” I read aloud. 

 

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I hurriedly emailed the producers to thank them and tell them I would be accepting their generous opportunity. It was strange, but there was no hesitation on my part this time. When I called Mathilda to tell her the news, I said, “Remember when you told me about a feeling you just get about something? I have a very, very good feeling that this appearance will change my life forever.” I hadn’t had a full-on vision because I came to understand that I cannot always see a clear path when my life is directly affected.

“You see, child? Mathilda knows best,” she said firmly. “When do you begin filming?”

“In two months,” I replied. “I think I’ll go shopping for an entirely new wardrobe and get a makeover. I think I’ll ask Erica to come along. It goes without saying that you’re invited. Let’s make an excursion of it, spend some money, and have a hell o a good time.”

“I’m all in for that,” she said, chuckling. “Oh, Lenora child, it’s so good to hear you so happy.”

“I’m at peace, dear Mathilda. Well…except for one thing,”I said.

“Landon,” she said simply. “We must talk about that and we will. But for now, just bask in your wonderful news.”

The next day, I was called into the theater for an emergency meeting. I was given a new job offer, but in order for me to take it, I’d have to relocate to Aurora Skies. The theater there was under new ownership, and they needed someone with my expertise and experience to help. I would have a salary increase and a lot more control over things than I did in Riverview. At first, it would mean more hours at the theater, but I didn’t care about that. I knew I’d be a fool to turn it down, so I accepted the offer that day after reviewing what the job entailed. I liked Riverview and would miss it, but there were no ties to keep me here. In Aurora Skies, I already had friends who would, no doubt, extend the Welcome Wagon.

I quickly found a buyer for my place in Riverview and made the move. Thankfully, there was still time before filming for “Soulmates” began, so I had some breathing room. It also helped tremendously to have Mathilda’s aid. She was so excited when I caught her up on things.

“Lenora, I’m thrilled for you!” she said, hugging me tight. “Things are finally looking up for you, child.”

“I never thought my life would go in this direction,” I confessed. “I…I just wish…”

“You’re thinking about Landon, aren’t you?” she asked.

I nodded and felt a tear slide down my cheek. “His birthday is coming up. I still think of him as my little boy, but if he’d lived, he’d almost be a grown man now. It’s the strangest thing. I still can’t get over the feeling that he’s somewhere he doesn’t belong and that he needs to be with me. I miss Linc so much and my heart still aches for him, but I feel more settled about his loss. I’ve been having some nightmares about Landon where he calls for me to help him. I try to run to him, but we’re separated by this invisible barrier. We keep trying to get to each other, but we can’t. And then, I wake up. It unsettles me, Mathilda. I don’t know if it’s still my grief talking or if there’s something more to this. I’m no expert in matters of the spirit world, so I’m at a total loss.”

Mathilda took me by the shoulders and studied me for a long time. “You’ve told me this before, and I always just told you to give yourself more time. But now, hearing about these recurring nightmares tells me there’s merit to what you are saying. It can be very dangerous when dealing with the spirit world, and it’s a realm even I don’t touch very often. However, I feel this is something we need to look into. Lenora, let’s get you settled, and then we’ll investigate. Will you be all right with that?”

I nodded and kissed her cheek. “I knew I could count on you, Mathilda.”

The theater sanctioned a small house for me until I could find something more permanent. I knew there were some beautiful places in Aurora Skies, but I decided to have something built for me personally. Linc and I had always talked about having our own dream house constructed, but it never came to pass. I was in a very good position financially, and I knew Linc would want me to realize the dream we had.

As expected, the proverbial Welcome Wagon arrived in the form of Amadeus and Erica. It didn’t take Erica long to cart Mathilda and me off on that major shopping spree and then to the hairdresser. We looked through magazine after magazine for a possible new hairdo for me. My brain felt muzzy after ruling so many of them out, but then Erica yelled, “Ha!” and slid a picture in front of my face. “Perfect, Lenora! It’s much longer than what you’re used to, but it’s perfect.”

As I studied it, a slow grin spread over my face. “I love it!” Then, I lowered my voice. “Thank goodness for magic or it would never work.” I waved my fingers and did a growth charm. The other ladies watched in approval as my hair grew longer and longer right before their eyes.

 

I couldn’t believe my eyes as I shamelessly gaped at myself in the mirror. the hairdo made all the difference in the world, and the dress I’d chosen hugged my figure in all the right places.

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” Erica exclaimed as she rubbed her hands together. “Hot damn! You’re going to give those boys heart failure.”

“Well, let’s hope one of them survives so he can be Lenora’s true love,” Mathilda chuckled. “You look beautiful, Lenora!”

“I feel like a princess,” I said, fingering a lock of my now very long hair.

“As well you should,” said Erica. Over the years of knowing her, I’d quickly gleaned that she was a complete hopeless romantic.

Going for massages ended the outing, and Erica invited Mathilda and me to their house for dinner with her and Amadeus. Amadeus just grinned at me and then gave me a hug. “You’re going to break my heart when some guy steals you away from me.”

I grinned and gave him a big kiss. “Ah, Amadeus, I’ll always hold an eternal flame for you. You know that.”

We had a nice dinner, and then Amadeus sang “Sweet Lenora” for me. I leaned my head on Erica’s shoulder when she put her arm around my waist to hold me. I always shed at least a few tears when I listened to the song, especially when Amadeus sang it to me personally.


Author’s Note: Thank you to PiazzaGirl for allowing me to nab some pictures from Caleb’s Bachelor Challenge, located on her blog, to use in my story and for the use of Caleb McIntyre for this chapter. The conversation between Lenora and Caleb was something I wrote for use in my story, and Crystal’s stomach pains did not appear in the challenge and were of my own making for story purposes. I’ve played a few bachelor/bachelorette challenges in my Sims 3 game, so I do know the food on the buffet table spoils rather quickly.