My Cousin

Please read here https://www.fanfiction.net/~kellyelin. It's more updated. Thank you.

Chapter 1

"Neal, I am sorry, but Candy has to be the one to decide who she wants to marry," said Albert. ( Quoted and taken directly from "Candy Candy" Manga by Kyoko Mizuki, Yumiko Igarashi)

Neal couldn't believe what he heard. He was so closed to get engaged to Candy and suddenly, out of the blue, Sir William appeared to ruin his dream. He could see all eyes were looking at him. How he wished the floor could swallow him. At the end all he could was to run away in tears. He was devastated, embarrassed, angry and sad all mixed up together. No one had ever opposed him before. Always be spoiled, his mother would always do anything for him lovingly and gently. With his name and family relations, he could get almost anything and be treated with utmost respect. It's unthinkable that someone would dare to oppose him, even worse, in public.

The first day he was angry, but gradually, he started to realize the sad reality. Candy would never be for him. He was very sad and heartbroken. It seemed that the world fell apart. He didn't eat, he didn't go out, he just shut himself in his room. He genuinely loved her, it's so depressing that he couldn't be with her. Sweet Candy, dear Candy, why you did refuse my love, he asked repeatedly to himself. He also knew that his parents were not spared from the embarrassment. Almost all family members of the Ardlay were there as well as closed friends. Many talked behind them saying how opportunists they were, how they tried to cling to wealth and power by marrying to an Ardlay family member. All they could do was silent and to wait for the rumors to die off with time. That made him even more depressed. How come no one believed that he genuinely loved Candy. He didn't do it for prestige, name, fame, or money. The feeling was genuine. It's love that came from the bottom of his heart.

A few days later, after careful discussion with his mother, his father finally called him to end his anguish.

"Son, when we you were born, we're overjoyed. We were so happy and imagining all good things you'd become as a Leagan. You'd be a dependable person, responsible person and someone to replace me when I am gone in the future just like I continue my father's work in the past. The Leagans were known for their hard work and competitiveness. Don't disappoint us. Do something useful for the sake of me and your ancestors."

"There's more to life than to think about marriage. You're still young. Go to University of Chicago, study seriously, get more friends and be a useful person in the future. I understand how much Candy means to you, but she chose not to be with you and she's not the only girl in this world."

"We will not move to Florida. The Leagans don't hide. We don't run away from life. We face reality."

Neal was silent. His words stroke his heart. He didn't want to be a useless person. He wanted to be a man worthy carrying a Leagan name. He obeyed his parents' suggestion to go to school. True, there's nothing could be done, Candy flatly rejected him, it's time to move on.

So he went to school. He was grateful that he followed his parents' advice. Life at home was so boring with not much thing to do other than doing family matters like matchmaking activities, watching operas, or accompanying his sister to go shopping. In school, there's so much fun and work to keep him busy and occupied. He's busy with homework, took interesting classes and met so many new friends. He started to really enjoy it.

Chapter 2

One day Albert was fishing. He heard someone came, he nodded to greet her. She nodded to him back and started to prepare to fish. Then a man came. He talked to her in a low voice, they non stopped talking and the voice grew louder and louder that it started to drive fish away. Albert politely asked them to be a bit more quiet.

"You heard the man, now go," said the woman with a stern voice.

The man nodded politely and stood waiting for her in the background.

Ever since they stopped talking, Albert got a couple of fish and each time he successfully caught a fish, the woman was rejoicing with him. She was impressed by his fishing skill. After a while they started to chat. Her name was Anne and Albert introduced himself as Albert. She was so excited that Albert got so many fish that Albert offered to cook and ate the fish together. Anne was wondering if she should accept the offer from a stranger. She was about to say no, when he took off his glasses and hat to prepare for the fish. For the first time, Anne could see the fisherman's stunning pair of blue eyes and blonde hair. My gosh, he's beyond stunning, she thought. She changed her mind and accepted his offer right away. Once in a while she stole a look at her companion's admirable complexion. His blonde hair and blue eyes were beyond charming and what a gentleman manner he had. Anne was very happy to accept his invitation. They had a pleasant time together. When they parted, she asked if he needed a ride because it started to get dark which Albert declined politely. They said good bye and separated.

They met and chatted more often after that day. Abert started to understand what happened between her and the man in the background.

"They want me to manage my father's company. I really like outdoor, I want to go outside once in while."

"I can certainly understand that," said Albert, he really meant it.

After a few months Anne disappeared, he never met her anymore. He wondered what happened to her, fishing with her was indeed a pleasant thing to do. He started to get used to chat with her too.

One day, in the local newspaper, he saw her photo. She was the daughter of a local bank owner. The bank was in trouble. Albert called George to get more information about the bank.

"It's a smaller type of private bank but with a distinction. It had an excellent customer service record and one of the most favorite local banks," said George. "The owner has been sick for a long period of time and made Anne as the head of the bank to replace him. The bank now is under a threat for being bought by another bank. With all do respect, Sir, I think there's a foul play here."

"Why is that?" asked Albert.

"The daughter is still young. The bank always has a good history of earning but suddenly it fell flat. Even with a bad management by Anne, it can't go down that fast."

One day Albert decided to visit Anne. He introduced himself to the receptionist as "Albert the fisherman". Anne's secretary notified her. She recognized his name so she let him in.

Albert started the conversation.

"I haven't seen you in a while and I saw your photo in the local business paper. I wonder how you are doing since it seems your bank is in trouble," Albert said.

"Yes, I have been spoiled all of my life. I should have worked harder. My father's competitor tried to get this bank. They know he's been sick and I am in charge. They cheated on me. All is my fault, poor father. He worked all his life for this business. If he knew what happened, he'd be so devastated."

Anne looked so devastated and heartbroken. Albert felt sorry for her.

"Your father is not here?" asked Albert.

"My poor father is in the hospital He worked very hard on this bank and now it's ruined in my hand. If I could get a second chance, I promised to be a better person and managed the bank better."

"Did you mean that?" asked Albert.

"With all my heart," she said.

Albert gave her some comforting words before he left.

After some thinking, Albert decided to buy the bank. It seemed to be a good investment to make and somehow he felt he wanted to do it for Anne. Albert gave the highest offer for the bank. He won. He beat Anne's competitor. Anne knew the new owner of the bank now was Sir William so she came to his office for the final agreement with the new owner of her bank. His secretary announced her presence. When the door opened, she saw a young man with blonde hair and blue eyes came out from the room. He looked familiar, his face was very similar with the handsome fisherman but this time he's in an elegant suite which made him look even more stunning. But knowing so well what his position was, she didn't dare to ask.

"Hi Anne," Albert greeted her.

The voice was unmistakable. As soon as she heard the voice, she recognized him. Anne was speechless to know that Albert was no one else but the famous Sir William Ardlay.

"I saw your picture many times in the newspaper, but I just can't make the connection," she said speechless. "You told me your name was Albert."

"That's the truth, that's my middle name," he smiled.

"Sir William, I come to hand in over the bank new ownership paperwork," she said respectfully.

"Call me Albert, " Albert said in a friendly tone. "You keep the paperwork, we'll talk about it later."

Anne was surprised to hear his answer. "What do you want me to do now?" She asked to verify his real intention.

"You have to do what you promised me to do. Now I own the stock, I want the bank to earn money," he said with a laugh.

"I don't need to leave from the bank?" she said

"No, as long as you perform well," answered Albert in a friendly tone.

"What can I do to thank you? I promise I'll do my best for my father's sake and your stock. I'll make him proud of me."

"Well, you could accompany me fishing when you had the time," he said with a smile.

Anne did.

<

Albert and Anne enjoyed more and more of each other's company. Anne told him about her work and he's so proud of her. One day, she's invited to a local award ceremony for incoming women in business where she'd be one of the recipients. Shyly she wondered if Albert wanted to be her date. Since he liked to be with Anne, Albert agreed right away, ignoring the consequence it might bring, especially the reaction from his aunt. Needless to say, his presence brought a shouting reaction from everyone especially the press. It's rare to see Sir William in public especially in a modest local event as someone's date.

The following day, on the front page of local newspaper he saw a big picture of him with Anne, as he expected.

Almost at the same time, a servant knocked at his door to announce, "Madam Elroy would like to see you, Sir."

"Great, here we go again," thought Albert already anticipating this.

Albert came to visit his aunt. He promised himself not to shout or quarrel with her. Ever since he came back from amnesia, he appreciated how much she did for the sake of the family. He had hated his aunt when he was young but despite their differences and her strictness he gradually understood how loyal she was to his father.

The servant opened the door.

"Good morning, Aunt," said Albert kissing her cheek pretending not knowing why she wanted to see him.

"Good morning, William," said his aunt looked sharply to his eyes. In her heart she was thinking of her late brother. He looked more and more like you, Will, she said to herself.

Composing herself she started showing her strict look again. "Who is she?" pointing to the photo of him and Anne on the newspaper.

"Anne Rogers," said Albert.

"I can read fine, William," said his aunt sharply. "Who is she to you?"

"She's a friend, she wanted me to accompany her to that event so I did."

"What did you do with her? Where did you go after the party?" asked his aunt still looked at his eyes sharply to catch any possible trace of dishonesty.

"We went home. Our own home, that is," said Albert. "We really didn't do anything. But, I believe this is my private..."

"Who are her parents? Where did they come ?" cut his aunt.

"I don't know."

"You don't know? And yet you went out with her in public. You should remember that you carry the name William Ardlay wherever you go and that the press follows you constantly. Before you go out with her again to any public event, she must meet me first. I will ask my staff to check her background and if there's a slight discrepancy, you must not see her anymore."

"You want to meet her?"

"I said that. You take her here and have her meet me."

"Are you going to interrogate her?" asked Albert started to be irritated this time. "I just took her once to one small public event and you want me to invite her to meet you? Could we just do it a bit slowly?"

"The last thing I want in this family is a scandal, William. You go find a time for her to come, you arrange the scenario, I don't care. All I care about is to meet her in person. If you want it to be easy, take the girls whom I have introduced to you. They all have been screened and safe. But Anne's background has not yet been checked."

"I can't believe we need to go to all this trouble every time I go out to meet someone," said Albert trying so hard not to shout.

"You carry your father's name and the ancestors' name You might be the head of the family business, but for household matters, you will follow my rule until you get married. Let me remind you that's clearly written in your late father's will. My staff told me that you helped her business and you have been seeing her. You must make sure to have her come here before you go out with her again now that the press starts to hunt her down. It was very irresponsible of you to go out with her last night without checking her background first. You can go now. Be sure to have her meet me first before you take her out to any public event again," Aunt Elroy said sharply. As soon as Albert left, she sighed and thought, I hated this job, I wished he got married quickly so I didn't have to do this anymore. She wondered if she gave him too much pressure but she believed there's no other option.

Albert hurriedly left before going to have more outburst with his aunt. The same problem over and over again just by going out with a girl. Very irritating. In the past he'd choose to stop seeing the person rather than to have them meeting his aunt. But Anne was different, he still wanted to see her. So he complied to her request.

That weekend he invited her to come to her place with an excuse, "There's a better place to fish, do you want to see?"

"Where is it?" she said excitedly.

"Lakewood," said Albert without explaining that Lakewood was a private lake in his private residence.

He arranged her to pass the mansion where aunt Elroy was waiting for her.

"Aunt Elroy, how are you doing," said Albert playing his part pretending he accidentally stumbled into her. "Oh, let me introduce you to Anne."

She nodded to her and Anne politely shook her hand.

"William, I forgot to take my glasses. Could you please help me to bring my glasses here?"

Albert understood that she wanted to get rid of him so she could be alone with Anne. We didn't have this in the plan, she beat me, thought Albert about his aunt. But he followed her order regardless.

When he's back, he found her laughing happily with Anne. Wow this was rare, he thought.

"Well, thanks William, now I will go inside, it starts to be chilly here. Have a great visit, Anne." She left and Albert and Anne went fishing by themselves.

That night aunt Elroy told Albert how much she liked Anne. Her grandparents came from the same town as her. Her staff also finished doing background checking and gave a clear signal.

"Finally we have a match, William," she said with a little smile. "Where you want to go from here is up to you. Either you will be just a friend or to pursue more serious relationship with her is your choice. But," she made a big emphasis on the word "but". "Make sure no babies before you make a formal wedding to any woman including her. Our family can't afford such a scandal. That would be the last thing I want to hear from you. Do you understand?"

Albert just nodded to avoid more lengthy, heated, and boring discussion. He gave her a good night kiss and said, "I understand. Don't worry. Good night now." He was secretly happy that his aunt liked Anne.

He started to enjoy her company more and more. They gradually saw one another more and more often. One day Albert proposed to her which she happily accepted. They got married. On the wedding day, aunt Elroy barely could contain her happiness. No one had ever seen her smile that big. She cried when they exchanged vows. Finally she accomplished what her brother made her promise as he lied dying tearfully and hopelessly on his deathbed: To secure Albert's position as the successor of the Ardlay empire and to ensure he married a woman worthy carrying the Ardlay name. Brought up as a conservative woman, she had used to believe that the idea of power struggles and intrigues belonged to men not women, and especially not for her. She never had thought the consequence of saying "yes, I promise" to her brother would brought her right at the center of all those. With wits and guts she maneuvered all family intrigues and power struggles. She protected the young Albert from fierce competitors who wanted to remove him as Sir William. The burden was especially high when he had amnesia and disappeared for months without trace. The cover up she devised to protect him would have made her brother proud. She's no doubt a worthy Ardlay.

Albert gave her tearful aunt a long tight hug thanking her for all things she did to him before going with Anne to the honeymoon.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Candy was disappointed to know that Albert was taken. Although she never believed that they'd be together, she couldn't help to feel disappointed regardless. To help to heal the wound, she went to Pony's home. She always liked children, they helped her to be busy and occupied to forget Albert. But still she couldn't entirely forget him. Once in a while she'd feel so down and sad. Sr. Lane and Ms. Pony sensed something was wrong and decided to talk to her.

"Although we are happy that you are here, we have a feeling that you're not here for the point of helping us," Ms. Pony said.

"Pony's kids don't hide. We don't surrender, we face challenges," Sr. Lane said.

Sr. Lane and Ms. Pony believed that as the daughter of Sir William she had an ample of opportunities that many didn't have such as to go to school. They believed she should use the opportunity to continue studying and to do something useful for herself or society in the future.

So Candy went to University of Chicago to continue studying.

She stayed in a dormitory to make it more fun and be with lots of friends everyday. She met new friends and got busy by her homework so she started to forget Albert gradually. Albert still deeply cared for her and took care of her as his own daughter. What remained between the two was a strong bond of friendship to each other.

Among her friends, there's one boy named Carl. He was the head of the male dormitory. She met him when he visited one of her group mate for a class project. This person always be late in turning in his work. She needed to always go to the male dormitory and waited there. That's how she met Carl. After a while they started to chat and he took her out. He's a bit taller than her with dark hair and dark eyes. Candy thought he's cute. She liked to spend time with him.

One day they were canoeing to see the sun set and he asked if he could be her suitor. Carl was fun. He often talked about his dreams in the future. He's a motivated man and fun to be with. The only exception was that he's pretty moody sometimes. If he got a bad grade, for example, his tantrum would last for hours or days. But overall he's okay so she accepted. He gave her his first kiss. She felt very happy.

Neal's mother didn't give up to introduce her son to socialite daughters. He never liked the occasion, but being an obedient son, he went to one regardless. In one of the many matchmaking occasions, when everyone left to get some refreshment, he on purposely stayed behind to take a break from those girls. Suddenly, he heard someone talking to him.

"Must be very annoying to you that you need to go trough all this."

He turned around to see who's talking to him. He saw a dark hair girl with a friendly face. As usual he couldn't stop comparing anyone to Candy. She's about the same height, a bit thinner. She's not beautiful but attractive, at the first sight anyway. She seemed to be much friendlier than Candy, that's for sure.

He laughed and asked, "Pardon me, Miss...?"

"Smith. Elizabeth Smith. Call me Beth. My mother asked me to come to this kind of event often too. As you can see, I just sit in this corner. I come, but I just sit here. So... I get both of the world. Now everyone is gone, what if we run away? You can take me home, so both of us gain something," she said with a funny smile.

Neal laughed and agreed right away. He called his servant to get him his car key and meet him outside.

While walking to the car they chatted and he found that she also went to University of Chicago just like him. "I never saw you, well, not a surprise there are many students there. But I go there too. "

"I know. My mother already told me everything about you, that's why I come to your matchmaking party."

He laughed and started to be interested in Beth who seemed to be very positive and outgoing. He got the car key and took her home.

"Where do you live?"

"I live in a dormitory. It's good, to get some freedom, far away from parents and I can do whatever I want."

"That's not a bad idea, indeed," Neal replied.

They were talking about classes they took and found they took the same math class. They promised to stay in touch. On the next class, Neal came as fast as he could so he could stand at the door waiting for her. To his excitement, they met again. They started to chat and be friends, went to lunch together and did many more things together.

One time, Neal promised to meet her at her dorm. He knocked at the door and to his surprise Candy opened the door.

"Candy?" asked Neal surprised

"Neal? This is my home. What do you want?" She saw him coming with a box of chocolate and flowers in his hand. She thought he's been following her and wanted to give those to her. She was about to slam the door when she heard his answer.

"I am looking for Beth." He looked at the door number to check if he got the correct address.

"Beth? She's my roommate. She's not home. You can wait here." She's very surprised with his answer. She let him in and went back to her room curious what would happen next.

After a while she heard Beth came back home.

"Hi Neal, sorry I am late," said Beth with her usual friendly tone.

"Beth, how are you?" Candy could hear Neal's voice from her room. She took a peek outside and she could see his face beaming with happiness. Probably with a slight blush.

"Oh you brought me flowers, that's so sweet. Thank you, Sweetheart," she gave him a hug. "Oh and some chocolate too. Let's share this to Candy, she loves chocolate," she shouted calling her.

Neal was just watching Beth and standing behind her. He didn't even move his eyes to see Candy as she entered the living room. His eyes were nailed to Beth all the time.

"Delicious, thank you," said Beth.

Candy couldn't help to laugh in her heart seeing the blushing Neal. She certainly never saw him that way before. Beth was forever gracious and sweet which made her enjoy seeing the interaction between the two. Beth was clearly at the center of his attention, not even once he looked at her or even teased her.

At night she asked, "Are you Neal's girlfriend?"

"He's a very sweet guy. I wonder, why didn't you accept his proposal?"

"Sweet?" said Candy with a distorted face. "Not the Neal I know off." She stopped there. Being a gracious woman, she didn't talk bad behind someone's back and didn't tell her all the problems she had with him. "How did you know that I rejected his proposal?"

"Who doesn't?" responded her back. "All the Leagans circle of friends know that. And my mother is his mother's closed friend."

Since Candy didn't answer Beth just tried to answer her question herself. "He's shy maybe that's why you don't like him. But he's very kind inside."

"You are his girlfriend now?" Candy asked again.

"He gave me his first kiss today so I guess, yes, I am his girlfriend."

"Really? How' it?" asked Candy curiously.

"Pretty good, considering it's his first time," laughed Beth.

"His first time?" asked Candy with eyes wide open. "I certainly didn't know that."

"Wait, he proposed to you and he hadn't kissed you before?"

"No," without explaining that he tried but she didn't let him. "But I thought he kissed many girls before."

"Well not what he said to me. But I think it really was his first. I could tell form his nervousness. He's not a romantic kind of guy. From what I saw in the matchmaking party, I don't think he's a womanizer either. So I guess he lacks that experience. But that's a good thing, it's a praise not a pan," said Beth with a day dream smile.

"He's a husband material not a boyfriend material," Beth added with a big laugh.

Candy laughed too certainly never thought about him that way. She couldn't believe the description of Neal she just heard of. What did I miss here, she thought to herself. Or probably it's just because Beth was in love? She thought to herself trying to make a sense out of it.

"Tomorrow, we'll go canoeing, do you want to come? Take Carl," Beth said suddenly waking her up from her deep thinking. Candy agreed.

Like Candy and Carl, Beth really liked outdoor activities. She dragged Neal to do many outdoor activities with her. She rowed fast and Neal needed to work hard to catch up with her. In the center of the lake, Candy could see him wiping her sweat which she accepted graciously. She wiped his and both smiled happily beaming with so much happiness. How she could change him, Candy thought. When it rained, he hurriedly took an umbrella and opened it for Beth. He put his arm around her and both laughed walking in the rain with so much laughter.

Thanks to Beth, the four of them met often and went out to have fun. The four became fast friends or rather, Beth glued four of them together. They went to outdoor activities, parties, and many occasions together. Neal for sure was there just to be with her. Gone is the teasing Neal since he's too busy to pay attention to Beth.

One day Beth proudly showed Candy her engagement ring, "He proposed to me, we'll get married this Spring!" She was beaming with so much happiness

Candy couldn't believe it. She's happy for them and really couldn't believe it happened this fast. Beth took her to shop for the wedding dress and other wedding preparation which she enjoyed a lot. In the wedding, Candy was the bridesmaid. Beth and Neal were beaming with so much happiness. She couldn't believe even Neal was married. She sighed thinking of all men she had in her life, except this very same man who just married to Beth, no one had ever made a daring move to take her to be his wife. Secretly she looked at Carl, wondering if he'd be the one. She sighed, regardless, she was happy for them. Then they went to their honeymoon.

In the summer, Neal, Candy, Clark, and Beth graduated. They had the graduation party together. After that Neal and Clark worked with their fathers and Candy went back to the hospital. This time she entered the management level. Beth who was expecting a baby stayed at home momentarily. Her belly grew bigger each month and Candy who always liked babies and children couldn't be more excited for her friend. They often went to shop together to buy baby accessories, crib and more. She felt genuinely happy for them. Neal worked diligently thinking that he'd be a father soon. His parents were very happy on his development. He gave his beloved wife a kiss and hug every morning and when he came back from work.

"If it's a boy, he'll be as handsome as you," said Beth. Neal was very happy to hear that.

"She'll be as beautiful as you if it's a girl," he replied back.

She talked happily about how to take the child to row, outdoor activities and more in the future. And Neal answered, "I'll take him to do many car test drives."

Candy could see how happy the young couple were together. Gone forever the obnoxious Neal since he's too occupied to Beth. She saw how Beth's kindness and sweetness brought the best things out of him in contrast to the past where her bitterness brought more bitterness out of him.

Suddenly, the happy life turned to nightmare. Beth got pregnancy complication and she needed to perform caesarean. The news came like a bombshell to the young couple. Forever brave, Beth kept having a positive attitude. Preparing for the worst, behind Neal's back, she secretly prepared the servants with instructions. She told them what to do to Neal in case anything happened to her. Neal didn't know that until one night one crying servant told him about it. The servants all loved Beth. It broke their hearts to see what their young master and mistress needed to go trough. Their happiness shone brightly in the house and they couldn't help to be really sad.

"Beth, the servants told me about the preparation you did for me," said Neal.

"True, now it's your turn, sweetheart. If anything happened to me, promise me if you met someone you wanted to marry in the future , you'd marry her. Don't let me be on your way," she said suddenly.

"Why did you say this kind of thing? I refuse to promise anything. You'll get trough this, and we will live happily and get old together," he answered with a fake happy smile.

"I want you to promise me. Please, otherwise I can't be peaceful. I love you. Because of that, I really want you to promise me," she said.

He hugged her and said, "Please be positive."

"I am, but, just in case. Dear, please. This is very important to me. Look how young and handsome my beloved husband is. You have a long road in front of you, my love. I don't want you to be alone for the rest of your life. Don't let me be on your way. Promise me, and my heart will be forever smiling."

"Fine, I promise. Look at you, even at this time you still think about me rather than yourself. I love you, Beth," he couldn't help to shed tears. He couldn't imagine life without her best companion. She's his best friend. Her love made him live and the courage to grab the world.

"Thank you for being such a wonderful husband. You have given me so much happiness more than I could have imagined," she said with a tender smile.

Neal was very sad to hear what seemed to be like her saying goodbye. He cried even more and hugged her tightly telling her that being with her was the happiest thing in his life.

Unfortunately, the worst thing happened. Beth didn't make it. She and the stillborn baby died on the following day. The news took everyone by surprise. In the funeral, all members of family and friends came with teary eyes. Albert was extremely sad too. He was tough to Neal in the past, but he never regarded him as his enemy. He genuinely sympathized to him from the bottom of his heart. Neal's mother couldn't be sadder. She spent so much effort to select the best possible wife candidates for her son. She never thought that such tragedy could happen. True, she prioritize status and wealth in selecting her son's potential lover, but her main goal was always her son's happiness.

In the funeral, the broken husband tried to look strong and not shed a tear until the end of the ceremony where he refused to go and stayed there to have a private moment. Seeing him from the far, Candy felt devastated to see what happened to the young couple. She waited for a long time and finally after everyone left she asked Carl to leave first and she came to approach Neal. From the four fast friends, one was gone and only three left.

"Neal...," said Candy.

"Oh Candy," he hugged her and started to cry. They stood silently that way until he stopped crying.

She took his hand to sit. Both sat in silence until it got dark and Candy took him home.

They never met anymore. One day she received a letter from him thanking her for the support she gave at that day and that he had left for Europe. He would work there for the time being in his father's business.

Overnight, Candy and Carl lost two of their best friends. They were sad for the pair and really missed them and their laughter. The memory of the four of them had fun together in the past was still vivid in their mind. It's a nightmare and seemed so not real that it's gone for good.

Life went on for Candy and Carl. Carl was doing better and better in his father's business. The company seemed to be doing better and better everyday. It boosted his confidence and made him feel on top of the world. Carl was very positive and decided to propose to Candy. He knew Candy loved outdoor. He took her for a picnic in her favorite site. There, he climbed a tree. From the top of the tree, he opened a banner that had "Will You Marry Me?" written on it. He hanged the banner on one of the branches. Candy was very surprised and thrilled to see that. He quickly climbed down the tree. As soon as he almost reached the ground he jumped and ran to her. He knelt on one knee and took a ring out of his pocket to propose to her. For a minute she hesitated thinking about his intolerable moody behavior. But considering what he had done to propose her, she couldn't reject it. Candy accepted the proposal. She was very happy.

Soon after that the economy situation got worse quickly. The stock market kept falling and the business condition wasn't as good as in the past. The history will remember this as the Great Depression era. It affected so many people including Carl. He became very reserved and his mood became very bad. Candy still loved him regardless. She tried to be supportive and patient to his bad temper. He talked less and less to Candy and when he talked, he did it in the most unkind way. Every time Candy tried to open a conversation, he didn't respond. All he did was to give her a nod or short one or two answers. They ended up being silent to one another which was very unpleasant. What worried her became a reality, his uncontrolled bad mood took the worst out of him and got on their way. The ring became a symbol of a thorn in her heart. She felt sad every time she looked at it.

Since she already promised, she still took him to see Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane as planned. His mood was one of the worst because of yesterday's stock crash. In the car, they were just silent to one another.

"We got engaged," said Candy moodily to Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane.

Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane hugged them and said congratulations with a happy face just to find cold reactions back from the new couple. The situations were very awkward and it happened every time they came to visit. After a while Candy stopped taking Carl to Pony's home.

The Ardlay enterprise wasn't immune to the changes. Albert also talked about the business problems often. He decided to move to Europe to consolidate the business in there to trim cost. He talked to Candy about the possibility of her to move with him. But Candy refused to go with him. She liked the USA. She felt that's her home not to mention Carl and the Pony's home which she liked to visit every now and then. So she decided to stay. Besides she had her own income and everything independently.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

In this turmoil time, less than two years after Neal left, he and Candy met again in one of the family parties. Candy was very happy to see Neal without tears but a bit sad to see his ring finger had no more wedding ring in it. She learned that he had been in the USA for almost a month. He had worked diligently in Europe to forget Beth. He tried as much as he could to have his brain occupied to forget about the sad past. He looked more like a businessman now than in the past where he just started working. The tragedy had shaped him fast. His hand shake, his look all were different and more mature. He also talked about the economy problem and his job in Europe.

"Albert and others will move to Europe considering how unstable the condition in the State is. I managed some job transfer while I was there. When will you go?" he asked her.

"I am not going," said Candy forever being independent.

Neal was surprised, "You are not going? But, Albert will go."

"He will but I am not going," said Candy again. "Besides Carl is here. We got engaged," said Candy showing her engagement ring without much excitement.

"Congratulations," said Neal excitedly. "Don't forget to invite me to the wedding!" He wondered why Candy didn't look happy talking about it, but he hesitated to ask.

They promised to be in touch.

"Now that Albert will be going, if you need anything, let me know. I am forever your brother or, I guess, cousin," said Neal laughing. He remembered how Candy was there for him when he cried for hours on her shoulder. "Please don't hesitate to stay in touch or call me at anytime."

They met more often after that in many farewell parties where Candy found out that Neal didn't go either. Other than him, one by one family members she knew left for Europe. They also met when they bid farewell to family members in the train station. Neal's parents and Eliza would go too. Since Neal didn't go, Albert had him manage the Ardlay enterprise in North America in addition to the Leagan's business his father trusted him to do. He appreciated the trust they gave him. In addition, he's grateful with the workload that kept him busy and occupied to not think about Beth. He worked very hard including in the weekend. His father was really proud of his son. Before he left he hugged his son and said, "Son, I am so proud of you." But deep inside he understood the motivation behind his son's hard work and really regretted he needed to face such a tragedy. He felt very heartbroken for him.

One day, Candy was strolling with her fiance when they happened to meet a group of kindergarten children. Candy who always liked children shouted excitedly, "Can you imagine life with little Candies and Carls in the future?"

"To be really honest with you, I don't like children. I told you this many times!" Carl said sharply.

That day the stock market fell again and many shareholders complained. Carl had to handle all their complains which irritated him. The pressure was huge, his mood went really sour so he vented that off to Candy.

Candy was hurt. This disappointment had happened again and again which also why they hadn't announced the engagement. Somehow both of them knew somewhere in their hearts were buried sharp thorns. Candy couldn't take it anymore and she decided to confront him. When he took her home she told him her honest opinion about his mood outburst.

"Maybe you could be more considerate to me?" she said softly afraid of having another round of fight.

"How I want to talk, that's the way I want to talk," he said rudely with a very annoying face.

"I understand that you had a rough day. But, could we just put that behind and enjoyed the evening?"

"I can not. You just shut up. Stop lecturing me."

Candy started to get irritated, "You should learn to control your temper better, Carl. Cool down a little. It's a fact of life. Either you are mad or not, the problem is there." She started to talk back at him.

"Stop talking to me like that. Maybe I shouldn't see you," he said

"Then don't see me then," shouted Candy back and took off his engagement ring. She threw that away to him and banged the door behind her.

When Candy cooled down from anger, she started to feel sad. She loved him and had been dreaming of starting a family with him. It's sad that all over now. Since Annie was not there anymore, the closest person she could think of was Neal. She called him to tell him about the sad news. He was in his office working, but as soon as he heard her crying, he hurriedly came to visit her to comfort her.

"This is a rough time for everyone, Candy. The business has been really bad for such a long period of time. It really affects a person emotionally."

Candy kept crying. "It didn't seem to affect you," she said between her tears.

"I am different. I had a much more tragic experience. After what I went trough I think I could handle almost just about any other tough cases," he said with a slight of gloominess for a second. He was thinking of Beth for a second. Soon he remembered that his job was to comfort her not the other way round so he regrouped himself quickly.

"That's okay, don't cry. I have many bachelor friends, I'll introduce them to you. You'll get a potential suitor very soon."

Candy was very disappointed to Carl. She's been with him for so long so even though she had been unhappy with him for sometimes she still felt the loss of not having him around. To comfort her, every now and then Neal came for a visit and they went out together just like in the past. They met regularly as friends to chat or to accompany one another to some occasion. Sometimes, he took her to the Pony's home and picked her up the following day in the weekend. They introduced each others as cousins. "This is my cousin, Neal" for her case "This is my cousin, Candy" for his case and for a more formal meeting he'd add "Sir William's daughter" after her name. Sr. Lane and Ms. Pony were surprised the first time they heard the word "cousin". Candy explained privately later that he's Albert's nephew.

Neal worked seriously to find a potential suitor for Candy. Every now and then he took one to meet her.

"This is my cousin, Candy," said Neal as always to start a conversation. Then he would turn to Candy to give a brief introduction about his friend. His friend would shake hands politely with her. Then they did some polite exchange greeting.

But after a while, Candy started to give the same complain as Albert in the past when aunt Elroy introduced him to so many ladies. She's so tired of having to introduce who she was and got the same questions over and over again.

"Where do you work?" his friend would then ask.

"Anthony Brown Hospital," she would then answer.

And of course the next question was what she did, some hospitals joke, where she went to college, and so on. She was sure that they knew many of the answers already from Neal but out of politeness they felt obligated to ask again. And she needed to ask them politely back too although she actually already knew the answers from Neal. She needed to fake smiles and interest. It was so boring, in addition she didn't know the person. Probably out of politeness to Neal, his friend also talked some business and politics to him which was the most boring of all and totally made her almost fall asleep. But most of all, she didn't feel comfortable to be friendly to strangers. Many times, unconsciously, she hid behind her cousin. Neal needed to secretly made a signal or pushed her so she stood next to the potential suitor instead of next or behind him.

"How could I fall in love with someone by just knowing them in a dinner or after doing one round of ball," she said.

"True, but the purpose is to get to know them. I met Beth in this kind of matchmaking occasion too, and it worked. What important is the follow up after you find one interesting man."

After a few of failed potential suitors Neal said, "Maybe you two should go dinner alone. I shouldn't go with you."

"You are my cousin not my friend, it's different."

"Have a date with three people?" he laughed. "That's not fun. Without me, you and him could behave more naturally too since there's no one in between. He wouldn't feel obligated to talk to me and be afraid to say anything he wants to say. I might turn off may of your potential suitor."

"Accompany me, please..." said Candy scared to meet a stranger.

"What about his, you go alone but I meet you the following day for you to tell me your stories."

So Candy agreed to meet his friends by herself. "What if I introduce you to someone too?" asked Candy excitedly.

"I am not ready with that. Please don't," he gave a gloomy look. "We have you get married first, then we take care of me, how about that?"

"Deal," she said.

Candy met Neal's friends alone and met him afterwards to discuss her opinion. On paper, all his friends were really not bad. They all had prestigious job status, either because of family relations or because of self made efforts. Most of them were businessmen, some were lawyers or other professions. But, she always imagined professional men to be like Albert or Neal who were friendly and like a family man. But they didn't seem so. Their formality scared her. She's not sure what the real person really was behind those smiles. She brought her concerns to her cousin.

"We've known you since you were little, it's different, Candy. Be patient and give them some time to adjust," he tried to encourage her.

Regardless, one or two did follow up with Candy although they didn't become her suitor. They went out with Candy once in a while and became her good friends. One was an engineer. He reminded her so much of Stear that the interest was immediate.

One time she was going out with one of them when she met Carl who was walking with another woman in his arms. She cried when telling Neal that part and he hugged her. The sharp contrast of his kindness to Carl's intolerant behavior made her heart felt pierced by his gentleness. She felt so comfortable in his warm and gentle arms. His familiar aroma gave peace to her troubled heart.

He then looked at his cousin and said, "Don't worry. You'll get someone better. I promise you," with the gentlest look and care that shone from his two soft brown eyes.

She felt touched even more and sighed to herself, how come none of her potential suitor was like him?

That week, she gave him a call. She told him she had a potential boyfriend. A new doctor, his name was Tom. Tom was a fun and positive man. He's new in Chicago. He was a new director in surgery department. He's very research oriented, just like Stear, but in medical field. All he cared about was his research and not much of anything else. When he read newspapers he read mainly the science and technology section. He read a lot of medical books. He heard about the Ardlay family, but didn't think much of it since all he cared about was science. He's aware that Candy was one member of that family, but that's it. He didn't try to find out more information about that. He went out with Candy often to visit many areas of Chicago.

Neal was happy with him. He seemed to be honest, straight, and unpretentious. A good suitor for Candy.

"We'll meet at the regular time and I'll tell you more about him later. It's easier than talking on the phone," she said.

"But, what about Tom?" Neal asked.

"He worked this weekend," she said. "He's a new director, very busy and occupied."

"I know, but he might not be happy if you keep going out with me, Candy."

"What's wrong of going out with my cousin?" Candy kept arguing.

So, they met with her telling things about Tom and other things.

Candy introduced Tom to Neal too. "This is my cousin, Neal."

Tom shook hands with a man who seemed to be younger than himself. They greeted one another.

"Nice meeting you" said Neal. "I heard that you are a newly appointed director in the surgery department. Congratulations on the position."

"Thank you. I am Tom. Nice meeting you too," said Tom introducing himself. "What about you? Where do you work?"

Neal looked at Candy briefly whose face didn't make much expression. Since she didn't talk about it, he didn't want to talk about it either. "I work with my uncle and my father," Neal answered shortly.

Once in a while Candy and Tom took Neal to go out with them too. Not until much later that Tom found out from Dr. Leonard about Neal's status in the Ardlay enterprise.

"How's your weekend?" Dr. Leonard asked.

"Good, I went out hiking with Candy and her cousin."

"Her cousin?"

"Yeah, Neal," said Tom.

"Neal? Neal Leagan, you mean?"

"I don't know what his last name is actually. She just said Neal, her cousin," Tom said as though he really didn't care much about who Neal really was.

"It should be him. He's the big boss of this hospital."

"Really? How come I never see him in any of the meetings."

"He's too big to attend one," laughed Dr. Leonard. "This hospital is funded mostly by the Ardlay Foundation which is part of the enterprise and he's representing Sir William as the head of the Ardlay enterprise here in America."

Soon, Tom was aware of the Ardlay family and their influence. It's hard to escape them especially in their hometown of Chicago. Being a researcher, he really hadn't payed attention on this kind of issues nor cared much about it. But he started to find it interesting to know especially now that he's dating an Ardlay and started to enter the management level in the hospital.

Time kept moving, soon the Christmas was coming. The hospital where Candy worked had many activities including a Christmas party. Candy was thinking to invite Neal to come to the party.

"No Candy, I don't have a date, and I don't feel like to have one."

"I'll accompany you."

"I really appreciate it, but you should enjoy it with Tom," he said. "Besides I think someone else is already arranged to go to represent me. "

Now that Neal didn't go, Candy didn't feel like going either. Suddenly she remembered that it's been a while that she didn't have a Christmas party in the Pony's home. She wanted to go there instead of going to her hospital party. Christmas was the most wonderful time to spend with the kids. She asked Neal if he could take her to the Pony's home. He agreed.

That evening Candy was walking together with Neal discussing Pony's home visit. She also told him about the Christmas shopping she did to buy gifts for the children in Pony's home. After a while, she felt someone was staring at her. She stopped talking and looked at the direction. She saw someone she knew very well. She couldn't believe it.

"Terry!," shouted Candy. They hugged one another with a big smile on their face.

"Here is Neal, you remember him don't you?" said Candy to Terry. Both men shook hands and exchanged greetings.

"Now you have a company, would you two please excuse me," said Neal. He never be that closed to Terry while he knew how closed Terry was to Candy. He turned to Candy saying, "I'll see you tomorrow. If you needed to change the time, just let me know." He turned around just about to walk away when Candy called him back.

"Neal, wait a second," said Candy she looked to Terry briefly to excuse herself. "Don't sleep too late, tomorrow you need to get up early," she said warmly.

"Sure," he said looking at her eyes with a smile.

"Don't forget to bring warm clothes, tomorrow night might be cold when you come back home," she said with a caring look and voice.

"Don't worry about me, you too. Make sure to bring enough warm clothes too. You'll stay there longer than me," he answered with a smile. "Bye now." He nodded one more time to Terry and left.

Candy was looking at him who walked among the crowd until he disappeared. Terry's voice surprised her and reminded her of his presence.

"Just relaxed, you'll see him again tomorrow," he said as he overhead their conversation. "Where are you going anyway?"

"Pony's home," said Candy. "He'll take me there."

Terry laughed out loud. "How cold could it be? I am sure that spoiled boy will have a driver and servants who'll drive for him and make sure he's very well taken care of."

"Don't talk to him like that," said Candy annoyed with his rudeness. "He's a good man," she said and blushed as soon as she finished the sentence.

Terry laughed again and looked at her face sharply, "I can't believe it, among all the men in the world, you choose to date him."

"I am not dating him, he's my cousin. Our offices are nearby so sometimes we walk together."

"Cousin?" asked Terry surprised. "Since when did you call him that?"

"Well, he is my cousin. Anyway, my boyfriend is coming later, I'll introduce you to him. Let's go to the place where I'll meet him and tell me your story why you are here," said Candy.

Terry told her that his show got rescheduled that's why he stopped by in Chicago. He had been trying to contact her. Tom came and joint them for dinner. Since he needed to go back to night shift, he left first.

"Tom, see you in about a week. I'll go to Pony's home tomorrow to celebrate Christmas there," said Candy lightly. They kissed briefly and he left.

"That's your boyfriend?" asked Terry with a voice which showed that he didn't believe her.

"He is," said Candy.

"Well then maybe you and I should get back together. I am not with Susanna anymore."

Candy laughed. "I have a boyfriend. No, thank you."

He leaned closer to her and looked at her sharply as though scrutinize her and said, "From what I see, it's not your boyfriend who stands in our way, but your cousin is. You won't see Tom for more than a week and you only gave him a half minute look. You gave your cousin that lengthy farewell just to see him again tomorrow morning. Tell me the truth, Candy. We are old friends."

Candy blushed and asked him to shut up. "Let's stop talking about me, tell me about yourself. What happens to Susanna?"

"We got divorced, she went with someone else. But that's fine. She will be forever important to me, I told her that. We are friends and I go to Hollywood. That's what the trend is these days. I am still available Candy. I might be a playboy to others, but if you want me, you get my vow to be with you and you only for the rest of my life," he leaned to her and she pushed him with a laugh.

They enjoyed the rest of the evening chatting like old friends.

"Too bad that I will go to Pony's home. I already promised them. Otherwise I'd like to watch your play," said Candy.

They promised to stay in touch and said good bye.

-0-0-0-0-0-0

The following day Neal came to pick up Candy and took her to Pony's home. While Neal gave instruction to the driver what to do with Candy's luggage and boxes, Candy ran first to Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane. She hugged them happily.

"My cousin took me here," she said while hugging them.

When he came, they invited him to stay for the night which he declined politely.

"The office is pretty busy before the long Christmas and New Year break," he explained to Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane.

So he just took a brief walk with Candy. When they took a walk, Candy's sharp eyes noticed something unusual with one of the windows. It's covered with a piece of cloth. So she asked Sr. Lane about it.

"Last week there was a big storm. A big branch fell and knocked down the window and some little part of the roof," Sr. Lane explained with a gloomy face. "But all carpenters are on vacation so we can't have it fixed."

The situation was bad since that part of the house couldn't be used. The cold air entered trough the broken window so the room was too cold for the children. The children needed to be moved to the other side of the house which made the room too overcrowded.

Candy became worried especially that this was just the start of a long holiday season, it'd be a long time before carpenters went back to work as normal. They were discussing the matter with concerned faces.

Neal heard the conversation and decided to join in. He said, "Excuse me, but I think I can help. I'll contact the Foundation to have it taken care of."

"Can you do that?" asked Candy with a glimpse of hope.

"Sure, the Foundation is part of the enterprise. They report to me," said Neal with a grin. "I will call them tonight as soon as I get back home."

"We are very grateful. But we don't want to cause you too much trouble. I am sure you are quite busy. We can wait until the carpenters are back," said Sr. Lane.

"No, no, it won't cause me a trouble at all. In fact it's very easy. Don't worry, we'll get it done before Christmas," he assured them.

They were very excited with the possibility. He bit goodbye politely to Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane before walking to his car with Candy.

"This time, I won't see you for more than a week," he said gently to her. Then they hugged. "Call me if you need anything, I'll come right away," he said looking at her softly in her eyes briefly.

Candy waved and stood until his car disappeared and even longer. Sr. Lane and Ms. Pony observed her behavior. They could see a trace of empty sorrow in her eyes when she's back in the house. The sparkle in her eyes was gone, the look changed from merry summer to lonely winter as soon as her cousin departed. What a face for being separated to a cousin for only a bit more than a week. They wondered who this cousin really was to her and where he fitted between her and Tom. They had been watching his behavior closely and certainly saw nothing but a perfect cousin behavior, but the empty look in her eyes showed untold deeper story.

Back at home, Neal asked his private secretary to call the Foundation president. Since it was already late at night, she called him at his house. As soon as the call went trough, she gave the phone to Neal who talked to him directly. Neal told him about the emergency situation that happened in the Pony's home. He acknowledged and promised to take care of the problem promptly.

During the bubble era, the Ardlay enterprise had invested a large amount of money on new emerging non-traditional business. During this financial crisis, those areas did much better than the traditional business which helped to prevent the company from a disastrous collapse. But still, the enterprise needed to cut some funding to the Foundation. The Foundation needed to cut expenses and reduce supports to many of their charity programs. But Pony's home and Anthony Brown hospitals were among the few that still got full support from them.

The following day early in the morning, a clear cut man in suite came knocking at the door in Pony's home.

"Hi, I am John. My supervisor told me about the emergency situation that Mr. Leagan wants to get it fixed before Christmas," he said. He's one of the managers from the Ardlay foundation who handled charity organizations. Pony's home was under his supervision. Since most of the staffs was already on break, he'd be the one who handled the problem personally.

Sr. Lane and Candy were surprised on how quick he came. They took him there and he organized carpenters to fix the problem. They worked around the clock and had it done by the following day to everyone relieved.

The Christmas holiday was a lot of fun. Candy enjoyed her holiday time very much. Days moved fast, before long the time had come for Candy to go back home. On the last night before she went back home, after all the children went to bed, she went outside to take a walk. It was cold, but winter always brought a different kind feeling. Somehow the sky looked brighter and more peaceful. It's her favorite time to enjoy the quietness to do some reflection and sorting her confused mind.

Ms. Pony saw her sitting outside staring at the sky. She felt for her. She could feel her troubled heart and mind. Unlike in the past, the girl had grown up. She didn't share much of what's in her mind. Like what she always did the night before the girl went back home, she tried to spend some time to be with her. From all the children that she took care of since they were little, Candy was the only one who still routinely came to visit. Ms. Pony really appreciated her attention and never hoped anything but the best for her. The last few weeks, she observed unusual interaction between Candy to her cousin and the boyfriend. Although she wouldn't want to interfere, she'd like to share her opinion with her girl, just like what any mother would do.

"Who are you thinking right now, Candy?" Ms. Pony said softly as she came to approach her. "Is it your cousin or your boyfriend?" She gave her a motherly smile.

Candy laughed slightly blushing. "Ms. Pony, why you asked me such a question suddenly?" she asked her back with a shy smile avoiding to answer her question.

"What makes you take Tom as your boyfriend?"

"Because he asked me to."

"Did it ever occur to you that probably you should ask 'him' ?" she said.

Mixed with too many thoughts at the same time, Candy only gave a sigh and asked shortly, "Who?"

"He who proposed to you in the past. Probably now it's your turn to make the move?" continued Ms. Pony. She knew the story in great details about this cousin ever since they were young. Candy told her about Beth too.

"Why? You don't like Tom?"

"Dear, do you realize that this is the first time you mention his name while you're here? All stories you've been telling us are all about your cousin," Ms Pony said with a twinkle in her eye. "Listen, we love anyone you choose as your man. We will love him so much and treat him like our own son. But be sure not to let the one you really love slip away from your hand just because you don't want to tell him about it," she hugged her and bid her a good night, leaving Candy alone with her thoughts.

The following day she could hear Neal coming as the children outside shouted, "Uncle cousin is here. Uncle cousin is here."

Hurriedly, she went outside. Yes, she saw his car and the driver opened the door for him. He went outside the car to greet the children. She tried so hard to approach him in a slow pace in order not to make a scene and to make it too obvious that she's been anticipating him. But at the end she couldn't suppress herself anymore. Ignoring what others might think about her, she ran to him and hugged him as though she hadn't seen him for years. The scene didn't escape Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane's attention. Silently they wished the best for Candy in her pursuit for the man of her life.

Neal asked about the roof which they said was fine and thanked him for the help. All the time, they could see Candy never stopped looking at him with a beaming smile. Neal assured them to never hesitate contacting him or Candy if they needed anything. They were grateful to his kind gesture. He and Candy took a walk briefly before saying good bye to Ms. Pony, Sr. Lane, and the children.

Chapter 9

Back in Chicago, out of the blue Carl called Candy to apologize. He wondered if she wanted to go out to a new year party with him. Candy thanked him for the thought but she politely declined. She decided she couldn't live that life that anymore. She always dreamed of a husband as a warm companion who treated her like a friend, whom she could talk endlessly about anything and not an icy cold man who treated her like a burden every time she opened her mouth.

Call me selfish, Candy thought to herself, but I really didn't want to live like that anymore.

Meanwhile, Neal was invited to new year party in the governor's mansion to represent the Ardlay family. He's been thinking about how to get a date to accompany him. For a month, he had been hoping for the problem to solve by itself, but it didn't. In the last minute the problem was still there, unsolved. This party was very important for the company. He knew he had to go. He decided to use his last resort for help. He called his cousin, Candy.

"I need to represent the Ardlay company in a new year party. I don't have a date, I don't want to look for a date, I really don't want to have an unknown woman in my arms. Besides due to family nature of the Ardlay company, I think you are a suitable candidate. So I wonder if you could accompany me."

Candy agreed right away.

"Then, you think I could borrow you from Tom for a few hours."

"Sure, he needs to have a late shift at that time. It's fine"

Candy came with Neal who he introduced to everyone as his cousin, Sir William's daughter. Family business with family couple, it dispelled rumors. The party finished before midnight. Only a few hours left before New Year fireworks so they took a walk waiting for the spectacle.

They mingled with the crowd and enjoyed the atmosphere with them. Around midnight, all couples around them kissed one another leaving Neal and Candy stood awkwardly in front of each other. Each tried to steal a look at the other seeing how he or she was doing and at one point their look met and locked. Neal was looking at Candy and she was looking at him with an inviting look. Pushed by the surrounding atmosphere, although his brain told him otherwise, his heart couldn't help to make him bend to kiss her.

It was a tender, gentle soft kiss carrying a deep love he had had for her. It was pure, honest, and unpretentious. Unexpectedly to him, she eagerly kissed him back. Her reaction was irresistible, he helplessly accepted her kiss and continued kissing her, unable to reject no matter how much his head told him to stop and that he shouldn't do it. He gripped her in his arms as though he would never let her go. Millions of words wouldn't suffice to describe the fulfilled longing he finally had at that instant seconds. Everything in that room seemed to disappear except her and only her remained...

Suddenly, the loud sound of trumpets and noises of the firework brought him back to the cruel reality. He let her go abruptly and made a jump step backward looking at her with a guilty look.

"I am so sorry," Neal said giving an awful look. "I crossed the line."

He hurriedly took a handkerchief from his pocket and was about to wipe Candy's lips when she held his hand gently.

"Don't be sorry. Neal, I love you..."

He looked at her in horror and hurriedly shook his head. "Candy, we shouldn't do this." He avoided Candy's eyes and said, "The party is over, we should go home too."

He was silent throughout the ride. When they parted, he hugged her lightly almost just lightly touched her arms briefly and said meekly, "Happy new year." Then he asked his driver to leave right away without giving her time to response. Candy could only watch him leaving.

He loved me, he loved me! Candy thought excitedly. There's no way he could fake that deep loving kiss.

Find me a potential suitor, Candy thought to herself, I don't want them, I want you.

Candy called her driver to take her to Tom. Time to tell him her real feeling and do some action to fight for the love of her life. Ms. Pony had given her the last needed boost to execute the plan that had been lingering in her head for sometimes.

Tom was surprised to see her in the hospital at two o'clock in the morning.

"Tom, I appreciate your courtship. I enjoyed it, but I think we're not meant to be together."

"Did you meet someone new in the party?" Tom asked.

"No. It's someone I have known for a long time. I have been thinking about this for sometimes and I think I like this person a lot."

"Do I know him?"

"Let me tell you later. Even I am not sure that he likes me at this moment," said Candy declining to tell him about the identity.

"Candy, he's your cousin, correct?" Tom said with an understanding smile.

"Tom...?" said Candy surprised wondering how he knew it.

"It's too obvious, Candy. I think the only person who doesn't know that you like him is him. Go for him. Good luck," Tom said with a smile. "We are friends, right?" He offered his hand for a handshake.

"More than ever," instead of shaking his hand, Candy hugged him appreciating his support and friendship.

When the morning broke, Candy went to Neal's place. She couldn't find him at home. And at first instinct, due to last night's incident, she went to Beth's grave. He's there.

A few steps from him, she cleared her throat to warn him of her visit. She saw him in a depressing stature standing with a hanging head in front of her tomb.

Candy said softly, "Neal."

"How did you know I was here?" he said without moving.

"Because I know you well," she answered. "Neal, you didn't answer me last night. I said I love you."

He shook his head. "I am sorry for what I did last night. But, we shouldn't do this, Candy," he said for the second time.

"Why? Why shouldn't we do this? You proposed to me once," she said adamantly. "You don't love me anymore ?"

He turned around to see her. "The situation is different now."

"Why? You don't love me anymore?" she asked for the second time, nervous if that indeed was the case.

"Candy, what about Tom?" Neal asked.

"I already told him that I don't love him this morning."

"That soon?" he couldn't believe what he heard with eyes wide open.

"I love you Neal," Candy stepped forward only to find that he stepped backward.

"Candy, we shouldn't do this. It is not about love. You are the most important woman to me, you should know that," he said.

"So what is it about then?" she asked.

"It's about your status."

"Status? What do you mean? I came from Pony's home, I am not noble and you come from a high society family, you mean?"

"Not that, obviously," he sighed. "If you marry me, you will be known as my second wife. You are my boss' daughter, Sir William's precious daughter. He might not want you to be his staff's second wife."

She couldn't contain her laugh. "You sound like grandma Elroy. Since when did you become like this? Since when you expected me to worry about what you called status. You know that I don't care about status and what people think of me. In the past you teased me saying I was from Pony's home and didn't know my position, do you remember? Or Grandma Elroy who kept saying that I shouldn't work considering my status as an Ardlay. Now you start talking about status to me. I didn't care back then, why should I care now?"

"You are an Ardlay, Candy. Even if Albert agreed with you, Sir William might not."

"He promised to let me marry with whoever I picked. You heard that too," said Candy.

She ran to him and hugged him, "Besides Beth was my best friend. I'd love to follow her work to take care of you and make you happy. I want to have her beaming with happiness when she looked on to you. I love you, Neal."

Neal didn't hug her back, he was touched with what she said, but he was still not sure if he should accept her love. Tears started to fall on his cheeks, Candy took a handkerchief to wipe his tears.

"I don't know what to do," he said crying.

"You could accept my love," Candy said. "When you kissed me last night, I knew that's the man I want to be with for the rest of my life. I want to be kissed with love like that for the rest of my life. Please do that for me, you'll make me the happiest woman on earth."

Neal wiped his tears with his hand and took Candy's arm to walk. Both were silent. They walked until they reach the lake and sat next to one another in silence for a long time. After a while Candy put her hand on his cheek and moved his head gently to bring his eyes to hers. She's so determined to end his hesitation to her. She stared at her resistant eyes with firing look of love which melted his final straw of resistance away. His stare became more and more tender and with resolution.

"Oh Candy," he said finally as he caressed her cheek with his hand. He looked at her with so much love. He put his other hand on her other cheek and held both of her cheeks as though holding something really precious.

"I can't promise to kiss you like what I did last night. You know why? Because my love to you grows every day. The kiss today has more love than the one yesterday," he said.

He gave her the much anticipated kiss she's been hoping for. Like what he said, it was different from the one's yesterday, it had more love. Love that made her fly, love that left her soul breathlessly melted into his. The world seemed to disappear into infinite bliss. She finally captured the true love that seemed to elude her all of her life.

"I love you, Candy. Ever since we met again, I hopelessly fell in love with you again, gradually deeper and deeper, unstoppable every time we met no matter how hard I tried to resist."

Neal kept kissing her while his hands started to move relentlessly caressing her. It's unbelievable what a touch of true love can bring. How much she loved the feeling of his kiss and caress, the sensation was so deep that she was so lost in his touch.

"And you tried to give me away to someone else, silly man," said Candy lovingly barely able to speak enjoying so much of his love.

He kissed her a few more times and gave one deep kiss before putting his forehead on hers and responded to her, "That shows how much I love you, your well being is my priority. I will never take advantage of you."

Both looked at one another. The look of his eyes was so much different from it was just now. It had no more hesitation or resistance in them but a free sign of love.

"Beth helped me to see you from a different angle. I never appreciated how lovable you are until she told me many things about you," she said.

He cried again. "I never knew how to treat you right until she taught me how to be a man. Unlike in the past, I'll treat you much better this time."

"She prepared us to be together. We'll celebrate her life forever, won't we?" she said gently, wiping his tears.

"You are very generous, Candy. Forever a kind hearted woman. When you rejected my proposal, only Beth could help me go trough it. Now she's gone, only you can replace her. Never never leave me, please." He hugged her tightly.

"I love you, Neal."

"Last night, you looked very beautiful. I barely could hold myself throughout the reception, especially when we danced. I held you so closed in my arms and all I could was playing a role of a dutiful cousin. In the new year party, everyone was kissing one another and you gave me that mesmerizing look. My head and emotion got mixed up and I totally lost control. So I kissed you," he grinned and gave more kisses to Candy.

"I started to love you the first time when I broke up with Carl. He didn't want children which is fine, but he said it in a rudest possible way to me, while you were very excited when your wife was pregnant and so sweet to her. At the day we broke up, he was so rude to me while you were so sweet when you came to comfort me. You looked so handsome suddenly the way I had never seen in you." Candy hugged him and kissed him. "I am glad you didn't move with them to Europe."

"Do you know the real reason why I stay in America instead of moving to Europe like Albert and the rest? Because, I was afraid if I leave you, I will never see you again. But at the same time, I didn't think I was worthy of your love that's why I tried to get you a husband regardless," he said while still hugging her.

"Never say that anymore. I never understand this 'status' word. And I refuse to understand it." She sighed.

"You and your potential suitor! Lucky I didn't go with any one of them. If I did, I'd miss the love of my life." She laughed.

"If you did, I'd be a definite bachelor for the rest of my life," he replied with a big smile and kissed her again.

-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Neal took Candy to a romantic candle light dinner in the most exquisite restaurant. At the end of the meal, he got down on one knee, took a ring out from his pocket and proposed to her. Candy was very happy. Of course she accepted. Before they left, a waitress surprised her with a bouquet of flowers that he had prepared for her. They took a walk at the lakeside, the place where they had their first kiss. He kissed her again there.

"The next step now is to convince your father, again, that I am worthy to be your husband," he said while kissing her. Now that he knew how sincere Candy's love to him was, he's so determined to marry her. He prepared some speech in case Albert rejected him again for the second time.

Soon everyone around her saw the sparkling diamond ring fit for an Ardlay in her finger. They all offered her congratulations. They were happy for her, including her good friend, Tom. Her girlfriends were openly excited to see such a breath-taking ring in her finger. She felt so proud of her man. She felt over the moon.

In London on one Friday afternoon, Albert received a stack of envelopes. One was from Candy.

"Dear Albert,

How are you doing in London?

All are fine with me. We took care of the lawsuit well. Our hospital won, which the way it should be. Now our hospital can accept and give equal treatment to anyone regardless of the patients'financial status. I am very pleased with that. That's what I always believe Anthony Brown Hospital should be. Just like the spirit of the boy who owned the name.

Everythingelse is fine. Oh, I also got a new date. His name is Tom. He's the head of the surgery department. His qualification was excellent so we decided to hire him. That's how I met him.

Please never talk about Carl anymore. He's history.

Lakewood is fine, once in a while I still go there to enjoy the lake. The grass in the mansion was just being cut yesterday as well as other trimming, so it looks exceptionally beautiful.

My regards to Grandma Elroy and Anne.

Love you all,

Candy"

Albert smiled at that. He's happy that she never stopped to write him and to reply to his letters. He folded the letter nicely and put it among the stack of letters that needed to be replied. Then he continued reading his next letters. The routine was interrupted when one phone from his private line rang demanding his attention. He picked up the phone. It's Neal.

Unfortunately, Neal didn't know that Albert just read Candy's outdated letter where she wrote that her current boyfriend was Tom.

"Hi Albert, it's Neal." Albert heard Neal's voice on the line.

"Neal?" he wondered why he called again. They just talked on the phone this morning to discuss business issues.

"Do you have a moment?"

"Sure, anything that we haven't discussed?" asked Albert.

"I have a private matter to discuss. This is not about business," said Neal then paused briefly. "Albert, I wonder if I could get your blessing to marry Candy." He gathered all his strength to say that one short sentence.

Albert almost dropped the phone from his hand, surprised to hear such an abrupt change of topic from their usual dry business conversation. But suddenly he thought something didn't feel right.

Marry Candy? thought Albert, but I thought she said in the letter that she was with Tom.

He hurriedly tried to look for her letter to re-read and verify the information especially the date. Unfortunately, he couldn't find it. It seemed to disappear among the stack of paperwork he had on his desk. To borrow time, while searching, he asked a set of questions to Neal.

"Why do you want to marry her?" he asked flatly, half listening and half looking for Candy's letter.

Neal told him how much he loved her and how much she meant to him.

This was weird, I thought she said it was Tom, Albert thought.

Finally, Albert found the letter and verify, while listening to Neal at the same time. Indeed it was "Tom" not "Neal" written in there. And from the date, the letter was sent not too long ago. He wondered if Neal was up to something again like last time. But now that he knew him better, he thought that's unlikely. So he tried to find out more about the situation politely.

"I think we discussed this engagement proposal in the past, didn't we?"

"True,' said Neal started to feel uneasy on how the conversation developed. The way Albert dragged on the conversation instead of giving a yes answer worried him. The dark memory started to haunt him again.

"I remember you said she should marry the one she decides to marry," said Neal again. He started to feel like a clown who's trying to convince Albert about his love for his daughter for the second time.

To avoid mishandling, Albert decided to talk to Candy first before answering to him. He felt so bad he couldn't give a yes answer to Neal. He wished he could explain to Neal, but how could he do that? How could he possibly say that he just received a letter from Candy which stated clearly that her current boyfriend was "Tom" not "Neal". So he tried to gain some time and and said politely, "What if you call me again in three days to discuss this issue further."

Neal couldn't believe it, wait for three more days. He's already so impatient to hear a yes sooner than that. So, he tried to seize the opportunity to convince him before he hung up, "Albert, just a second, before you hang up, I want to tell you how much I love Candy. I can promise you that this time I will treat her much better."

Neal used the opportunity to emphasize his love for Candy, hoping it could boost his chance to win Candy. He gave his speech which he had seriously prepared. He also promised Albert he'd work hard to fulfill her needs and be a good and worthy husband. He ended his speech by saying, "I'll call you back in three days."

Albert was touched by his sincerity but he had no option. Feeling awful, he tried to be as polite as possible but firm and assured him that they'd talk again regarding this matter. They hung up.

Neal thought to himself, Oh Candy, if it's not for you, I'd never do this again.

He still remembered how Albert rejected him in public last time. The humiliation was still fresh in his memory. Now he needed to go trough this again, the old wound opened again. He remembered his mother's stories about how tough The Ardlay family was. "They really picked and sorted the in-laws," she said to him in the past. All sad possible thoughts came to his mind. What if Albert really thought he's not qualified because of his status. He didn't know that Albert meant nothing but to verify Candy's letter that he just received that day where she wrote she was dating Tom.

After putting the phone down, Albert hurriedly tried to get contact on Candy but he couldn't reach her. He told his secretary to keep contacting her until she could successfully get hold of her.

The following day finally he could reach her where he told her about her letter and Tom.

"Candy, I just got your letter. I read about Tom, how's Tom doing?" asked Albert indirectly trying to verify her dating status.

"I am not with him anymore." Candy paused where Albert waited impatiently really curious what her situation was with Neal and Tom in Chicago. "I am with Neal now."

Candy explained that many things happened since she wrote that letter. She explained that she really loved Neal now. He's the one she wanted to be with for the rest of her life. Albert could visualize Candy's smile from the way she talked. He's very happy too. He also noticed how good Neal was since he started to work for the Ardlay enterprise in Europe after his wife passed away. He thought highly of him and definitely a worthy man to marry Candy. The best possible man in the market he could think of for Candy.

After finished talking with Candy, he called Neal right away without waiting for him to call to give his blessing for the marriage.

"Neal, this is Albert," greeted Albert on the phone.

Neal's heart jumped anticipating what Albert would say. Since their last phone call, he had prepared counter arguments to tell Albert if he said other things but yes. He's so ready to argue and fight to win Candy. He impatiently waited what Albert had to say.

"You are a dream son-in-law we could have hoped for. Anne and I are ecstatic that you and Candy are going to be married," Albert said.

Neal was relieved beyond measure. The rest of the phone call was some nice words Albert said about him and Candy. Neal felt like on top of the world. He called his parents right away. His parents were very happy too and of course agreed to the engagement. Their hearts had been crying silently for him since he lost Beth. They also knew how much Candy meant to him. His mother was secretly excited about the "Ardlay" family name that Candy had as a big bonus point. Neal was very happy that finally all clear to marry the woman he loved.

When he met Candy to tell the happy news, he walked to her silently with open arms while his eyes looked straight at hers tenderly. For a while, he hugged her tightly in silence enjoying her in his arms.

"Albert agreed," he whispered softly. "Thank you for telling me that you love me. Thank you for convincing me that we can be together. Without it, this infinite happiness would have passed me by."

Neal suggested that they visit the Pony's home to tell Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane about their engagement. Candy was so excited and grateful for his kind thought.

"They will make cooking together party for us. They usually do that for a happy celebration."

"I don't know how to cook nor how to wash dishes. Should I take a servant to have someone covering my part?" he said worried.

"No, the fun part is in doing the job together. You'll learn it, I'll show you," said Candy with a loving smile.

Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane hugged the new couple with a big smile. She showed them her finger which now had a ring in it with face sparkled with joy. They were happy to see her wearing the ring with happiness and excitement on her face unlike last time with Carl where her face stayed dull and unmotivated. They felt happy to finally saw Candy freely laughing happily without burden on her face just like the little girl they used to know in the distant past. That night, Candy took her fiance to enter the kitchen for the first time to cook and dry dishes. They looked to one another, laughed and smiled incessantly, the flames between the two lit the room warmer than fire.

Candy took Neal to walk outside where suddenly she stopped walking and sobbed in tears.

"What happens?" her fiance asked concernedly.

"I feel very happy. Usually I walked alone in the night right here thinking about you and wishing you were here with me. It's like a dream that you really are here right now holding my hand."

He felt so touched by her. He put his arms around her and said softly, "From now on, all you need to do is to tell me and I'll accompany you wherever you want to go."

They embraced each other with so much happiness in their hearts. They were grateful that they had each other.

Candy worked excitedly to realize the big day. Her fiance let her decide most of the things for the ceremony. She decided to have the wedding ceremony outdoor in the Pony's home. That's where she's from so she felt it's natural for her to have the wedding there. She always regarded everyone there especially the children as her real family. She wanted to make sure all of the children participate. She always liked children, she couldn't wait to work with her little friends. She went to Pony's home often to work closely with them and Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane.

Many of the flowers for the wedding were prepared by the children. Her bouquet was made from the flowers the kids helped to pick. Each guest's seat would have a flower that was prepared by the children. Some children prepared the pillow for the ring. Some children threw the rose petals as the bride walked down the aisle. Some children would be the the ring bearers and the flower girls.

Finally, the day arrived for the wedding of Candy White Ardlay and Neal Leagan. Although the financial crisis was still looming, not a sparkle of joy was spared for the happy festivity. Candy walked down the aisle with a stunning custom wedding gown which she actively involved during the design to make sure it had all details she wished to convey. She was absolutely gorgeous. She coordinated the bridesmaid, ring bearers, and other children clothing meticulously too. Albert, Annie and Archie especially came from Europe for the ceremony and of course Neal's family. Annie came much earlier to participate in the wedding preparation with her. They were very excited. Many of the Ardlay's and Leagan's business associates, partners, friends and family, rich and the famous came to the occasion. It was far from being a small party. It was far from being trivial to prepare.

Candy spent a quiet moment with Ms. Pony and Sr. Lane before the wedding. She thanked them for taking care of her when she was found as a baby and for always welcoming her with open thanked Ms. Pony for the courage she gave her to tell Neal about her love, without which she probably would never tell him.

Neal's parents were very happy that their son found a new love of his love. His father told him, "We're so proud of you. You are hardworking just like our ancestors. You're a worthy descendant of the Leagans. But remember this, when you're together concentrate on one another, not on your work or the phone," he said with a twinkle in his eyes. Both hugged with a big smile.

Albert was about to give his little speech for Candy when Archie called him for the ceremony.

"Wait a minute" he said with a bossy tone. "Candy when I met you the first time, you're just a little girl. Now, you are a beautiful woman. I can never forget the young girl who sacrificed all she had to save me. I can never thank you enough for that. Today is your wedding day, I wish you all happiness in the world. It's an honor to take you to walk down the aisle. I can't emphasize enough how I wish you and your new husband happiness." They hugged. Then he signaled to Archie that he's ready and the ceremony could start.

The groom was moved to tears as he saw her walking down the aisle. He gave her his signature of grin when lifting her veil.

During the reception, Candy made sure the children got their most favorite food served as a token of her gratitude for giving her all their help. She spent quite an effort for this. Every week for months she made a poll to see their top favorite food and she picked the top five most favorite food based on the poll. It was a lovely day with full of laughter. The children enjoyed the occasion very much.

Their honeymoon was unforgettable.

After all dust settled, Candy was happier than ever and so much more eager to start a family with her husband. But her husband was frightened to have children considering the tragic tragedy that happened to Beth. Candy who forever loved children assured him, it's a risk worth taken. One night as they laid in bed, Candy put her head on top of him to tell him her attention again.

"Oh Candy," said Neal in his usual style, gently hugging her. "I love you so much. I know that no one can replace you. I don't want anybody to replace you either. If anything happened to you, my heart would go with you. I don't want to remarry. You must promise me not to push me to do otherwise," he said with the tenderest voice.

He still couldn't forget his last conversation with Beth the night before she died. He'd rather die than to have that happened with Candy. But since Candy kept insisting on to have children, he chose to cooperate at the end.

He rolled over switching their position to be on top of her. He looked at her tenderly and said with a grin, " Let's do it then."

He gave her the warmest kiss ready to do his part to make the bundle of joy she's been hoping for.

Neal was nervous throughout Candy's pregnancy and couldn't be relieved whenever a child was finally born successfully. It was indeed worth the risk, however, he and Candy were blessed with healthy children. They lived a long life and happily ever after. They named one of their daughters, Beth, upon Candy's request in memory of the beautiful soul who united her and her beloved husband together.

-THE END-

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