Chapter 25: Broken Blossoms
Adam stared hopelessly out across the snowy ground. Empty. Devoid of all colour. That's what his life had been like for the past several months. The only colour he had known in their duration was the shade of worry. Since it was the only one, he had lost the ability to recognize it as a colour at all. It had enraptured his soul-frozen him like the frost-bitten ground.
Suddenly, he felt a warmth press into his shoulder, making him forget his numbness-though only for a moment.
"Adam, please come in and warm yourself."
He turned. It was Belle who had laid her hand upon his shoulder. Her eyes were filled with worry. Dark circles had even found themselves formed beneath her lower lashes. It nearly broke Adam's heart to find her suddenly appearing older in the harsh light of the merciless winter. Feeling utterly hopeless, and knowing nothing else to do, he embraced her. At that moment, he knew that she had gone through the same trials as he.
"Yes," he said. "Very well, Dear."
He took her by the arm and allowed her to lead him inside as he took one final glance over the railing of the balcony.
They strode across the bedroom and walked out into the hallway. They continued on down to the staircase. When they made it to the bottom, they took the familiar turn and walked across the great open floor to the doorway of the cozy den. Adam carefully helped Belle down the single step as they approached the fireplace. Together, they sat their selves down before the glow of the flames.
"Remember how much easier it was to sit down like this when we were younger?" Belle said as she eased herself against Adam, who wrapped his arms around her.
"Yes," Adam said. "That was before all the little aches and pains of age came."
He stared into the flames. He could feel their heat warming his skin, drying the faint dampness of his clothing. Still, a chill continued to torture him from within, and Belle was greatly aware of it, even as she eased herself into the comforting strength of his arms.
"Adam," she said, "I know it has been many months since Adele left us, but we must continue to have faith. She will return when she is ready."
"I keep telling myself that," Adam said, " but, somehow, I feel it isn't true. I worry so much for her. She is so confused and naïve."
"Everyone is at some point in their life."
"Yes, I suppose you are right."
He was so tired. He felt as though it was absolutely necessary to grasp onto any fragment of hope that he possibly could. Yes, it was possible that Adele may still return. Oh, but how he feared that she had disappeared for good. He had been searching relentlessly, he and his servants. They had found no sign of Adele or Chip throughout the entire village. He was very sad, yet so very angry. Very, very angry. Belle had even caught him cursing and kicking ruts in the snow when he thought no one was looking. This had done nothing to soothe the pain of her daughter's disappearance. Belle could not stand to see Adam so enraged. For, when he was in such a state, Belle felt as though he had left her alone-it was not him.
"Belle," Adam said, "I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am."
"For what?" Belle asked, taken aback.
"If it wasn't for me, Adele would still be here with us."
"Adam," Belle said, turning so that she could look straight at her husband, "you were only trying to do what you are supposed to do as a father. You were trying to protect your daughter. Never forget that."
"Yes, I know," Adam replied. "But I have failed. Instead of protecting her, I have forced her into more danger and misery."
"No. Adele has done this herself. She may be our daughter, but she is also a grown woman. She is able to make her own decisions now. She must learn what is right for her. You offered her shelter and care. She decided to run for the sake of love."
"I don't understand how she can love him," Adam said without even thinking.
"I can," Belle replied.
"What do you mean?"
"I fell for you, didn't I?"
Adam blushed, pulling his wife into a closer embrace.
"It's true," he said. "You did, even though I was no gentleman."
"Yes," Belle replied. "But I saw the warm heart inside of you. I knew you could be better, and that you would be happier when you were given the chance."
Adam ran his fingers through Belle's hair, stunned to find a strand of grey. She was right, just as she always turned out to be. No, Adam had not forgiven Chip in his mind. Adam did truly feel ashamed of having been the partial cause of his daughter's leaving. However, he still felt a great animosity towards the former kitchen boy. Adam did not understand why, but that feeling was there all the same. Still, Belle's words lent an unexplainable touch of comfort to his troubled mind.
"I love you," is all he found he could say.
"I love you, too, Adam," Belle replied.
"Do you ever wonder if we did the right thing?" Babette asked as she settled into the sofa in the library, sitting beside Tyrone, who placed his arm across her back.
"What do you mean?" Gigi replied from one of the chairs across from her.
"I mean, about your sister. Your parents are very worried about her. They have no idea where she is."
"Neither do we," Bridgette replied from another chair, looking up from her book. "And we are worried, too. However, it is only right that Adele should be with her-I mean, the father of her child."
"I am not saying that I agree or disagree, Bridgette," Babette said, "but what made you change your mind? I mean, you were so adamant about your belief that Adele should stay away from Chip because he is an awful man. Then, the night we helped her to run away, you suddenly decided that love conquers all other concerns."
"Well haven't I always believed that love conquers all concerns?" Bridgette asked, sounding rather offended. "Why is it so hard to believe that I could do such a thing?"
"No reason," Babette said as she struggled to conceal a grin.
Bridgette looked down at her book again. She was almost through with the book she was reading, though she had not actually read any of it. The words slid across her eyes, but they did not penetrate her mind. Yes, she was very worried about her sister, but she felt that she must act as though she wasn't for the sake of her family. Besides, if her parents asked her about her nervousness, she may have allowed a hint regarding her involvement with Adele's escape slip through her lips.
"I do believe in love," Bridgette muttered to herself as she turned the page.
Chip laid his newborn son down in the crib he had proudly built with his own two hands. Just moments earlier, the wonderful sound of crying had filled the room with the brightness of joy and new spirit. The baby was beautiful. He had strawberry blonde hair and dark blue eyes. He had all ten fingers and toes. His skin was clear and soft. He had the roundest, most-shapely cheeks his parents had seen. An absolute blessing.
Truly, Chip wanted to hold the child longer, but could sense that his wife was more than simply unwell. She was bleeding horribly, and her already fair skin was turning a deadly white. Though she was not crying, there was no doubt that she needed attention.
"Adele," Chip said, kneeling down beside her, "you are going to have to stay here alone for little while. I am going to Anaheim to get a doctor."
Adele spoke next, but her words came out in a barely understandable pattern. Still Chip was somehow able to make out what she said.
"Chip," she said, "it hurts. I want to fall asleep, but I don't want to leave the baby alone. He's so small and helpless."
"It's okay, Adele," Chip said, kissing her hands, feeling a drop of sweat roll across his brow. "Everything is going to be okay. I'm going to get the doctor. Just hang on."
Adele nodded weakly, her eyelids drooping down heavily over her eyes.
Chip turned away and bolted out of the house. Within very few minutes, he was riding into town on the back of Mercutio.
Within the hour, Chip arrived back at the cottage with the doctor in tow. After leaping from his horse, Chip rushed him to and through the door.
"Oh dear," the doctor said as he approached Adele's bedside. "You have lost a lot of blood."
"I know," Adele mumbled, "I'm in a lot of pain. Make sure the baby is all right."
"It's not the baby we need to worry about," the doctor said. "It's you."
Chip watched nervously as the doctor examined his wife. She was so weak and fragile. This was not the Adele he knew. Adele was life and sweetness, but now she was in the grip of death and he knew it. Suddenly he was overcome by a stab of guilt. He had done this to her. She was going to die, and it was all his fault.
And then another thought crossed his mind: even if she was to die, she didn't have to die without saying "goodbye" to her family-the ones she loved. He knew it would be dangerous for him, but he felt there was something he must do for her sake. She had given him so much. He owed her this much.
"Adele," Chip said, kneeling at Adele's side, "I know you miss your mother and father very much. I feel it is my duty to make sure you are able to see them. I will leave you here in the doctor's hands, but only for a little while."
He kissed the delicate hands he grasped within his work-worn hands before standing and turning to go.
"Wait," he heard Adele say weakly.
He turned back to face her. Oh! Why did her face have to be so pale?
"Take the baby with you," she said, unto Chip's astonishment. "I may not make it and I think he will be safest with you. Besides, I fear you will not be safe with my father if you go alone."
Chip nodded, knowing exactly what she meant, although he was not sure that he would be immune to physical harm. That's when it dawned on him: what if he did not make it back in time? What if she disappeared before he saw her again? He returned to her side and bent back down to grant her what might have possibly been their final kiss. As he did, he wished-with all his heart-that some of his life energy could also be granted through his lips.
"I love you, Adele," he said as he looked upon her once more, straining his voice beyond his sadness.
"I know. And I will always love you, Chip-long after my final breath."
Chip held his newborn son close to him as he became accustomed to the bounce of the coach. It had been a very long time since he had ridden inside of one. He had ridden carefully as he took Mercutio the short distance to Anaheim. Because of the cold, dampness, and snow, Chip had decided that it would not be safe to simply hold the infant while riding horseback all the way through Petitteville and to the Castle de Beaumont. Thus, he decided to hire a cabby in Anaheim and leave Mercutio at the cabby's stable.
Now they were almost at their destination. The cabby had taken a quick route around Petitteville, which cut travel time in half. Chip looked out the window of the carriage to see the highest tower of the castle he once called home looming over him. He sighed, sitting back in his seat and looking down at the sleeping child in his arms. Chip smiled. He knew there was a chance that he may not make it out of the castle alive, but he at least knew that his son would be safe.
The carriage was driven higher up the hill and over the bridge. Finally, the cabby brought the carriage to a halt. Chip looked out the window before stepping out of the door. Ahead was the entrance to the Castle de Beaumont. So strange that it seemed so familiar; it had been so long since he had last been there. Chip turned back to the cabby.
"Here," he said, handing the cabby his payment. "Thank you so much for bringing me here. I shall return soon to take back my horse."
The cabby nodded as he set his carriage back in motion. As he did so, Chip turned back to face the steps to the entrance of the castle. He looked back down at his son one final time before beginning up to the door. Once he was there, he took the heavy knocker in his hand, the chill of the iron sending a shock throughout his body as his skin made contact. Hands freezing with the wind and dread, he brought the iron ring against the hardwood door. He waited a few nervous moments, shielding his son from the cold, until the door was opened.
"Yes-oh, Chip!" a voice said from the other side of the opening. "Come in! Come in!"
Chip hurried through the door to find it had been Lumeire who had opened the door.
"Thank you," Chip said as the door was closed behind him.
"No trouble," Lumeire replied.
That's when Lumeire noticed the soundly sleeping child Chip was holding in his arms. Chip noticed Lumeire's discovery when he saw the widening of the castle supervisor's eyes.
"Is that-is that-"
"Yes," Chip interrupted. "This is my son."
"But-but-where is Mademoiselle Adele?"
"She is back at home," Chip said, looking down sadly for a moment. "Can you please take me to her father."
Lumeire looked at Chip as though he had sprouted wings or had just breathed fire.
"Why-I don't think you want to go to him. In fact, I do not know why you have come. It isn't safe for you here."
"I didn't come for me. Please, do as I say."
"Very well, but-"
"Please, Lumeire, take me to him. This is very important."
Lumeire looked at Chip and the determination the young man held in his eyes. Lumeire nodded disquietly.
"Follow me," he nodded.
Lumeire lead Chip through the entrance hall and up the staircase. Next they walked down the hall and to the library. Lumeire knocked on the door.
"Come in," Adam's voice said from the other side.
Lumeire opened the door and walked in.
"There is a visitor to see you, Master," Lumeire announced with a bow, signaling for Chip to either enter or turn and run the other way.
Of course, he chose to enter. When he did, Adam immediately stood up from behind his desk and began walking towards him, anger taking presence in his every step. He clenched his fists, ready to bring them across the young man's face. He pictured the young man beaten bloodily to the floor with deep purple bruises swelling beneath his skin, and the thought filled him with delight. However, as he approached, he soon realized that Chip had not come in alone. Adam's deliberate steps came slower as he felt his heart rise momentarily in his chest. His breath hitched, and he didn't know if it was because he was stunned or happy.
"Is this," he began. "Is this-"
Chip nodded as Adam released a quivering breath. Lord Adam held his arms out eagerly as his grandson was placed in them. A smile crossed him as he gazed upon the tiny sleeping face.
"He's beautiful," Adam said, looking at Chip.
"Thank you, Sir," Chip replied.
Adam gently bounced the child and watched as he emitted a yawn. That's when he felt the emotion rising in his throat. In that same moment, Adam realized something. At the same time, an awful fear took hold of his heart.
"Where-" Adam asked, looking back up. "Where is my daughter?"
Chip's heart froze with another stab of fear. He knew he had to tell him. That's why he was here. Still, the dread of it nearly killed him.
"She is at our home near Anaheim," Chip replied as he stared down at his own feet. "She is-she is not well. In fact, that is why I am here. I want to bring you and your wife to see her."
"And you left her alone?"
"No, Sir. She is with a doctor."
Adam nodded, handing the child to Lumeire.
"Lumeire," he said. "Make sure the child is kept warm and is given plenty of milk."
"Yes, Master," Lumeire said, leaving the room with the baby.
"I will go get Belle," Adam said to Chip. "You are going to take us to our daughter. I plan to bring her back home when she is well again."
Chip drove the carriage to Anaheim. He took the same route the cabby had driven him earlier. His heart pounded in his chest, following closely along with the rapid beat of the horse's hooves beating upon the snow-coated path. He hoped he would make it. She had to be alive. Somehow, he felt she was still alive. All the same, he continued picturing the face of his ailing wife waiting for him. All alone. He had to make it-he just had to.
Finally he could see it. The small cottage just ahead. He did not dare slow the horses. He continued on until he made it into the drive. That's when he halted them suddenly.
He stepped down from the driver's seat and walked to the side door of the carriage. Upon opening it, he found that Adam had already made his move to open the door. And it was Adam who first bolted through the door of the cottage, Belle and Chip following closely behind.
Upon entry they found the doctor was still there, and Adele was still breathing. The doctor explained that he had managed to stop the bleeding, but that Adele was still very much unwell.
"Adele, I made it back," Chip said as he knelt down at her side. "And look who I have brought with me."
"Mother. Father," she said with frail happiness.
"Yes, we are here," Belle said as she stood at the other side of the bed.
Chip stepped aside so Adam could stand in his spot. Adam took his daughter's weak hand into his own. As he did, something awful struck him from the inside. This something sang a most gloomy song, a song of death and loss. It was a song of what may have been about to happen-a reoccurrence of something that had happened before.
Belle and Adam stayed by their daughter's bedside for the next few hours. Chip spent most of his time pacing about the room, although he had made Adele some soup and had also spent some more time at her side. The doctor had left long ago, for there was not much more that he could do. Adele had just awaken from another bout of sleep, and Adam granted Chip a moment to speak with her as he stepped aside. Belle, on the other hand, had fallen asleep as she knelt on the other side of the bed while her daughter also slept.
"Our son is beautiful," Chip said as he swept Adele's hair to the side.
"I know," Adele said. "He greatly resembles his father."
Chip smiled weakly. He knelt down so that he could look more intently into his wife's eyes. Adam watched from the other side of the room, and, as he did so, he noticed something he would have previously been unable to see. It was the love that emanated from Adele's eyes as she looked up at Chip. As Adam noticed this, he could not help but smile. If she was going to die, at least she would not die without knowing real love.
Suddenly, Adam heard his daughter let out a dry cough. He poured her a glass of water and brought it to her. Again, Chip stepped aside.
"Father," Adele piped, once having taken a sip, "I am sorry."
"About what?" Adam quizzed, placing his hand upon her head.
"For everything. I wish I would have been more honest and open about certain things."
"It's not your fault, Adele," Adam replied. "I should have made it easier for you to be honest with your mother and I."
Adele nodded, looking up at her father both sadly and lovingly.
"Father," she strained.
"Yes," Adam replied.
"When I die, please allow Chip into the castle whenever he wishes. He is my husband now, and he has made many changes for the better."
"Adele," Adam began, "you are not going to die. You are going to be fine. Soon you will be laughing and smiling with that wonderful smile all over again. You are going to make it."
However, even as the words left his lips, he did not truly believe them. He just didn't want to admit-not even to himself-that he did not believe them. He didn't want to lose her. In his heart, he did not even know if he could handle losing her if that should come to pass. He paused in his thoughts as Adele opened her mouth to speak again.
"Please," she said. "Please allow Chip to take care of Alexander. I know he will be a good father for him."
"Yes. That is what I have decided to name our son. Alexander Christophe Potts. I have always loved the name Alexander. I also think it is very interesting that Chip's real name, Christopher, should be so similar to the first part of your middle name, Christophe-Mathieu. Besides, I think Christophe is a very nice name as well."
"Of course, Adele," Adam replied. "Chip will always be allowed in the castle. I will allow him to live there if he wishes."
"Yes. The worst thing anyone could do to a man is take his children away. I do believe that Chip loves you, and as long as that is true, I cannot treat him as anything other than family."
Suddenly, there was a rapping at the door. Belle awoke with a start. Realizing that she had been asleep, she hastily took her daughter's hand. Adam kissed Adele on the forehead before leaving her side to answer the door with Chip. And when they opened the door, they found a familiar face on the other side.
"Hello, Adam," the Enchantress said. "And Chip Potts. My, how you have grown!"
Chip couldn't believe his eyes.
"May I come in?" the Enchantress asked as though she hadn't heard Chip stuttering.
"Yes, of course," Adam said, stepping aside.
The woman entered and headed immediately to the bed where Adele was laying.
"It's going to be alright," the Enchantress could hear Belle saying to her daughter as she knelt by her side. "You're with the people who love you."
"Hello, Belle," the Enchantress interrupted as she knelt at the other side of the bed.
Belle nodded with a sad grin. The Enchantress then turned to Adele.
"Your mother is right, you know," she said. "Everything is going to be all right."
Adele stared at her, stunned-stunned to see this woman now, so suddenly after so many years. Also stunned to find that she looked just the same as she had those many years ago. She had the same shiny blonde hair, the same flawless skin, and the same clear violet eyes she had the first and last time she had seen her.
"How did you find me?"
"I've been watching you to make sure you are always alright."
"Are you my guardian angel?"
The Enchantress chuckled.
"No, Adele," she said. "Just like I told you before: I am not an angel. However, I do want to help you. You are just going to have to trust me."
"I'm not afraid," she said, "to die."
"You don't need to be," the Enchantress assured. "You are not going to die. This I can promise you."
"But-but how do you know? I mean, I feel so weak. I can hardly breathe."
"I know because I have a lot of life experience. You see, Adele, I have had a very long life."
"But you are so young!" Adele exclaimed, shocked.
The Enchantress stood, laughing, almost menacingly, aloud.
"What is so funny?" Adele asked.
"Adele," the Enchantress replied, recovering from her laughter. "I am not young at all."
"Well, how old are you?"
"I am not sure. You see, I lost track at two hundred and ninety-seven."
She smiled as she watched Adele's eyes widen.
"Yes," the Enchantress replied to Adele's shock. "I am that old."
"But-but-but-how?" Adele stuttered.
"I am a sorceress," the Enchantress replied. "I have fairy blood. I am from a whole race of magicians with human and fairy blood. You see, the fairy blood is what keeps me young. It is also what keeps me alive, as fairies are immortal. However, fairies can die when they choose. When we decide that it is time for us to go, it is custom for us to drain our life-force into a dying tree. We have a ceremony, and everyone in our clan is present to say goodbye. However, I have no clan. I was banished from mine long ago. Even though I have been lonely at times, being clan-less has leant my life certain freedoms that it would not otherwise have. For example, I can choose to whom I shall grant my life-force when I die. And I will most definitely not be giving it to some tired, old tree."
"You mean," Adele gulped, "you are going to give it to me."
"Yes," the Enchantress replied. "And I can think of no one better to give it to than you."
To everyone's surprise, Adele began shaking her head violently.
"No," she argued. "I can't let you do that. I cannot allow anyone to give up their life for me. Besides, just as I said earlier, I am not afraid of death."
"What a coincidence," the Enchantress replied. "Neither am I."
"But it wouldn't be fair. I won't let-"
"Adele!" the Enchantress interrupted. "I have lived a very long life. Over four-hundred years. I don't belong here anymore. I have lived all that I ever wanted to. I have met so many great people in my life. It has saddened me to see so many of them go. Maybe I would like to be the one to go for a change. Besides, once I let you go, I cannot hope to save you. Please. I would like to choose the one I save. If you die, I shall have to wait another hundred years for another worthy of saving. Please. If you accept my gift, you shall be giving me one in return."
Adele thought for a moment. She looked around the room-at the saddened faces of her parents and of her husband. Was she really ready to say goodbye? And what of her child? Did her son not also need her care? Finally, Adele looked into the violet eyes of the Enchantress. Though they were amiable eyes, there was an undeniable weariness about them. Adele wanted to grant this kind soul her rest.
"Very well," Adele consented. "I'll do it for my family."
"Well then," the Enchantress gently ordered, "take my hands."
Adele did as she was told and, lifting her hands, she found them to be as heavy as weights dangling from the ends of her arms. She grasped the Enchantress's hands firmly within hers, as the Enchantress did the same with her own.
"Now, close your eyes."
Adele obeyed, and soon felt all of the remaining warmth leaving her body, but only for a second. For, soon, she felt it all returning straight through her fingers-traveling down her arms and into her chest and neck-soon to fill her whole body until her toes tingled. She relished this wondrous feeling for a few passing moments until she felt her hands being released from their grasp. Adele opened her eyes to see that the Enchantress would have fallen to the floor, had her father not caught her beneath the arms. The woman was still breathing, but only barely. The once sleek blonde hair had turned a pallid white, and covered the face of its wearer.
"Adele," the Enchantress wheezed out with her final breaths, "thank you. Now. I. Can. Finally. Rest."
Before Adam could lift the Enchantress's hair back to gaze upon her face, her body began to fade from vision. And it wasn't long before Adam found his arms empty.
"Are you alright, my love?" Chip asked, having knelt down by the side of his wife.
"Yes," she answered. "I feel wonderful."
Chip embraced her.
"I was afraid that I was going to lose you. I don't know what would become of me if I ever lost you."
"You know, Tyrone-this whole situation with your sister and Chip-it has me thinking."
"Really, about what?"
Tyrone and Babette were alone in the library. Bridgette and Gigi had left earlier to take their tea in the parlour. It was such a cold day, and tea by the fire really did seem like a good idea, but Babette had decided to stay behind. And for reasons unexplained, Tyrone had decided to stay behind with her. So now they both gazed out at the snowy ground that lie beyond the window, standing close to each other, but not turning faces to share a gaze.
"Well, Tyrone, I feel like we've been friends a very long time."
"Yes, that we have," Tyrone blushed.
"And we are both about the age to be married."
"And I feel that we have become very close."
Tyrone didn't say anything. He knew what she was getting at, but he was afraid-afraid at that small fragment of a chance that she wasn't thinking the same thing as he. Oh, how nervous he was! His chest rattled, but not from illness, and his ears buzzed with anticipation. He could feel his face getting hotter by the second. Oh wait! How long had he been standing there not saying anything?
Hastily, without turning to look at her, he took Babette's hand. He could feel her tiny hand-soft, smooth, and cool to the touch. He wanted to say something, he just did not know what.
Suddenly, he felt the brief moistness of Babette's lips against his cheek. This set his cheeks completely on fire, and his heart racing as though it was about to become unhinged from where it sat in his chest. He touched his free hand to where Babette's lips had touched him, just to make sure that she really had kissed him.
"I fancy you very much, Tyrone."
Again, she had caught him off-guard, but-this time-it seemed to somehow calm him.
"I fancy you very much, too, Babette. I have for a very long time. I was just afraid that you wouldn't feel the same exact way about me. If you would like to-"
"Hey!" Babette interrupted, pointing excitedly out the window. "Is that your father's carriage?"
Tyrone looked down to where Babette was trailing her finger.
"Yes," he replied. "It is."
Finally, the two looked at each other, finding they were not afraid. They grinned.
"Let's go tell the others," Tyrone said, taking Babette by the hand and skipping out of the room with her. "Maybe they've brought Adele home."
Minutes later, everyone in the castle was gathered at the entrance as the master, his wife, his daughter, and his son-in-law made their way up the steps to the door. All were beaming with joy. Adam and Belle hand-in-hand, Chip and Adele hand-in-hand, and now Tyrone could feel Babette's hand fumbling about his own as he grasped those sweet fingers without question. Once up the steps, Adele took her child from Mrs. Potts, who had been holding him. Tiny Alexander reached a clumsy hand up to his mother's cheek, and she kissed that tiny palm, counting each of those tiny little fingers with her own.
All looked out at the frost-bitten ground to see life beginning to press through. Spring was on its way. With this promise, there was a hope for new chances. And, with these new chances, came the beginning of new life.
Hello everyone! I'm so sorry that I haven't posted in so long. I've been extremely busy with school and work. College life is crazy. I know that this seems like an abrupt ending. I plan on continuing this story, but this is all I can promise for now. It may be a while before I post the beginning of the second part of this story, but just consider this the end of part one. If I keep the idea I have for the second part, it will probably be shorter, but more action-oriented. Either way, I hope you have enjoyed reading the story thus far.