Truth be told, her mother never should have been a mother.

She did love her mom, of course, and she knew that she was a good mother in ways a lot of mothers weren't, in ways a mother was supposed to be good. She never missed a soccer game or school play. She could kiss boo-boos like a pro, make teddy bears talk with ease, and never minded staying up late perfecting the science project or quizzing for the big English test.

But sometimes Marlie couldn't help but wonder if her mother was meant to be a mother. It seemed at times as though her mother were living out a life she hadn't wanted, a life that had been thrust on her against her will, a life that wasn't that which she would have been happiest living.

Marlie had been born, after all, when her parents were only twenty years old. She was an accident, the kind that they warn against in high school health class, the kind that usually results in hushed-up abortions. She obviously hadn't been aborted, though. Her mother had chosen to face the storm and have a baby out of wedlock before she was even legally allowed to drink; her parents' had struggled through college with a baby.

It helped that her dad was loaded.

They had gotten married after school and moved to LA. Her father had gone on to write screenplays; her mother had joined the LAPD. They almost got their shot at living out the lives they would have if Marlie had never been born or at least had been courteous enough to wait until her parents were all grown up and married before deciding to come into the world.

But then her mom had gotten pregnant again. Marlie was six at the time; her parents were both twenty-seven. Knowing her mom — and knowing her dad — Marlie suspected her parents had fought at the time about what would happen next. Her father obviously won. Her parents moved back to their hometown of Neptune, her dad started writing novels, and her mother began her lifelong career of biting her nails restlessly.

Her parents fought a lot during that time; Marlie was old enough to know that.

But that only lasted a few months. Things changed soon after Jason was born. Marlie liked to think that maybe her mom was happy for a little while, probably because she finally won a battle with her husband: he agreed to move them to the East coast where she started a career at the FBI, her true dream. Sometimes Marlie wondered what her life would have been like if they had stayed in Virginia.

But they didn't.

Her mother couldn't live a life of restlessness if she was happily gunning down the bad guys as part of the FBI. Of course, she also couldn't lead a safe life that way, something that Marlie's dad had liked to point out on a daily basis. And her dad had ultimately triumphed when her mom had gotten pregnant for a third time.

Marlie was eleven at the time and old enough to recognize when her mom threw a hissy fit. Eventually a compromise was reached: her mom would still work for the FBI, but in a much safer capacity and in a place where she'd, surprisingly, have a lot less to do: home sweet home Neptune, California.

Ben was born; life went on.

And things had fallen into a rather predictable routine. They had been in Neptune for the last five years, and Marlie like it there, even if her mother occasionally made smarmy comments to her father about how much she hated Neptune. Things were relatively normal; her parents fought only occasionally. Marlie was pretty sure her mom was happy with three kids, even if this wasn't the life she had planned.

That is, until now.

Because her mom was pregnant . . . again.

And as Marlie sat on the second landing of the house, her legs dangling through the banister as she peeked down at her parents in the kitchen, she was absolutely positive that her mom was not happy with her fourth pregnancy.

No, judging by how much she was yelling, it looked as if Veronica Echolls was pissed off.

"Are you honestly trying to put this on me?" Marlie's dad yelled angrily.

"Yes, I'm putting this on you!" shouted her mother. "It's certainly not my fault I married Mr. FERTILE!"

"Oh, I'm sorry," her dad snapped, "next time you want to have sex I'll be sure to fend you off so that I don't get us into any more trouble with my oh-so fertile sperm!" Marlie flinched. She loved her dad, she really, really did, but she was sixteen years old and she did not need to be hearing him talk about sex and his sperm.

"Since I'm some sort of sex maniac!" her mom screamed. "That's right! My entire life is crumbling down around me because I'm a nymphomaniac! Damn, Logan, you've really hit that nail on the head!"

"So now having a kid with me means your entire life is crumbling down? Nice, Veronica, real nice. Why don't you go tell your other three kids that! I'm sure they'd love to hear about it!"

Marlie had to side with her dad on that one. She loved both her parents, but she always had the feeling that it was her dad who loved her back just as much. Her mom loved her, sure, just not as much as she would have loved living free and easy with no children to speak of.

"Don't bring them into this!" her mom snarled.

"They're already in this! You're a mother, Veronica. GET USED TO IT!"

"I AM used to it! But that doesn't mean I have to jump for joy because you managed to knock me up AGAIN!"

The fight went on, but Marlie didn't stay to listen to the rest. She hurried silently down the stairs and slipped out the front door without alerting either of her shrieking parents. Ben was playing in the front yard, and at five years old he didn't seem to care that his parents were shouting their lungs out at one another. She thought it best to get him away anyway, and she grabbed his hand, buckled him into the Honda Civic her dad had bought her, and took him to ice cream.

Keith Mars was probably one of Marlie's most favorite people in the world.

He was always so full of energy, so full of life, and he was always so very, purely happy to see her. He called her his girl, smiled at her like she was the sun in his sky, and when he didn't think she was looking, would gaze at her as if she were an amazing specimen of the human race. He seemed to be so damn proud to be the grandfather of Marlie Echolls, and receiving that kind of affection went a long way in endearing a person to someone.

His other greatest passion was baseball. Keith Mars loved baseball. Marlie wasn't sure if she loved the ball game because it was a good game to love or because he loved it so much, but she didn't care. Visiting Neptune when she was younger meant one thing to her: sitting on Grandpa's lap in front of the TV with a giant foam finger and screaming at the screen with him.

As she grew older, neither her affection for her grandpa nor for the game wavered. She loved stopping by his house after school, whether he was there or not. If he wasn't, chances were her grandma was. She loved spending time with her grandmother even if the woman wasn't biologically her grandma. It had never been a secret, of course; it would have been impossible to keep a secret, considering the fact that Alicia Mars was black, and, well, the rest of Marlie's family was very, very white.

But she might as well have been her biological grandmother, because he had been married to Grandpa Keith for as long as Marlie could remember and she was the only grandmother she'd ever had. Add to that the fact that she was Uncle Wallace's mother and by marring Grandpa Keith had made Uncle Wally her actual, legal uncle, and Marlie couldn't find a reason not to love Grandma Alicia.

She did wonder sometimes, though, about her real grandmother. She knew that woman was still alive, that her name was Lianne Mars, and that she was a taboo topic in both the Mars and the Echolls households. But that was all she knew. What had she done to alienate her husband and daughter? Nobody would tell Marlie, and honestly, it didn't matter enough for her to insist on it.

"Do you think it'll be a girl or a boy?" Marlie asked causally, flipping a page in the magazine as she sat at the small island in the kitchen. Her mother was officially four months pregnant today. The barest trace of a bump was visible under her shirt, but really only if a person knew to look for it. Marlie's Uncle Dick had asked her mom two days ago if she had been eating a few too many Twinkies.

"The baby?" asked her mother, not looking up from the lopsided cake she was decorating.

"No, the cake," replied Marlie.

"Well, it's kind of a bulging cake, which I guess would mean it's either really fat or has some serious muscles, and if you go by the muscles theory, then I'd say it's a boy. Although I shouldn't stereo-type, of course; it could be a muscular woman. They do exist."

Marlie just rolled her eyes. From where he sat at the table, pretending to do his math homework but really sitting restlessly wishing he was outside, Jason piped up. "Girls don't have muscles, Mom! At least not like us guys!"

"I'm sorry, us?" repeated Marlie. "Since when did you get muscles, Jay?"

"Been working on it for a while," he answered, jumping to his feet. "So did you get your tickets?" Marlie knew what was coming next. Her mother was more indulgent than her.

"To what?"

"The gun show!" ten-year-old Jason exclaimed, flexing his thin arms.

"Hon, if those are guns, I can stop wearing my bullet-proof vest."

Jason didn't seem to care. Having decided to make his escape, he was running down the hall shouting for Ben. Veronica didn't try and stop him; she only went on decorating her cake, a slightly bemused expression on her face.

"Seriously," Marlie said after a moment. "Do you think I'm going to get yet another loaded little brother, or are you finally going to give me a sister?"

"If I remember my bio class right," her mom answered, "that's a question for your dad, kid." When Marlie didn't reply, her mom finally looked up, smiling softly. "Honestly, Marlie, I have no idea. I'll find out at the next doctor's appointment."

"What do you want it to be?"

Her mom didn't reply immediately. "I'll be happy with either," she finally said. Marlie resisted the urge to ask Wouldn't you be happier with neither? "But I suppose," her mom went on softly, "another girl would be nice."

"As long as she's as fabulous as me, right?" Marlie asked.

"Well if she's not," Veronica said, taking on an accent, "I sure as hell ain't keeping her."

Marlie imagined what it would be like to have a sister. Having brothers was annoying, she could say that much. She knew that, yes, deep down she loved Jason and Ben, but it would have been so much fun to grow up with a sister. Even if this baby was a girl, it would only be a few more years before Marlie was out of the house. It wouldn't be the same. Still. . . .

"Did you ever wish you had a sister?" Marlie asked her mom.

Veronica had put her attention back on the cake and was adding the finishing icing trim when Marlie spoke, and she froze at the words. Marlie frowned. Her mother swallowed and continued on the cake. "At times when I was little, sure."

"Do you know why Grandpa and your mom decided not to have any more kids?"

"No," she answered curtly.

"Do you have a guess? Maybe your mom thought she could only handle one kid if she still wanted a career." Marlie wasn't sure what she herself was getting at, but she supposed she was trying to hint at her mother to comment on her own conflicts considering children and a career.

It would be nice to hear her mother say that she loved her children more than any career.

"I have no idea, really," her mother said, finishing with the cake. She glanced briefly at Marlie, giving a tight, tense smile.

"Do you think that your mom chose her career over —?"

"My mother's only career," Veronica snapped, cutting in, "was being a drunk." She turned point blank away from Marlie and began piling dishes into the sink, turning the water on full blast, as if to drive home further the fact that she didn't want to talk.

Marlie could take a hint. She went back to her magazine.

Maybe it would have happened differently if her grandparents hadn't gotten a new puppy. It had been years since their last dog had passed away, and they had finally decided they ought to get a new one. Marlie loved her own sweet pitbull, officially named Backup Junior but affectionately dubbed BJ by herself and her brothers, and she was more than happy to sit for her grandparents and play with the new puppy when they wanted to go out on a date.

Yes, her grandparents went on dates.

She was in their house by herself late on a Wednesday night, playing on the floor of the living room with the new pitbull and half-watching a game on ESPN classics. School was still in session, and Marlie knew her mother was going against her own wishes in allowing her to stay over this late. As if Veronica didn't do worse things growing up; Marlie knew the stories.

The crazy woman would be over to pick her up any moment, though. "If your grandpa and grandma aren't back by then," her mom had told her on the phone a few minutes ago, "we can just bring the puppy home with us. I'll raise your allowance if you can get him to pee on your dad's new leather chair."

The doorbell rang. Marlie reluctantly dragged herself to her feet. She knew it wasn't her mother; Veronica would have barged right in. But then who would be stopping by the house at nearly eleven at night?

The woman on the doorstep wasn't anyone Marlie recognized. But the older woman seemed to recognize Marlie, and she stared at her intently, making Marlie extremely uncomfortable. "Um . . . hi?" she said, her brow crinkling.

"Hi!" the woman answered a little breathlessly, as if she had realized she was staring. "I — you must be Marlene," she said, smiling. There was something familiar about her, and somehow Marlie felt as if she knew the woman, though she was positive she had never seen the blonde hair tinted with silver and the bright blue eyes . . . at least, not combined with the aged woman.

"Most people call me Marlie," she answered timidly. "Do I . . . do I know you?" she asked.

"Of me," answered the woman. "You know of me."

That really wasn't the answer for which Marlie had been searching. She shifted slightly where she stood, half behind the door. Was she supposed to invite the stranger in?

"Is your father here?" the woman asked suddenly, nervously.

Marlie's frown deepened. "No. . . ."

The blonde deflated slightly. "When will he be back?"

Marlie was even more confused. "When will he be back?" she repeated, unsure of herself. Her father didn't live here. Was this woman some crazed fan of her dad's movies? But then why would she have gotten the wrong house?

The woman nodded. "Keith," she said, "when will he be back?"

And Marlie was officially floored. Did the woman think she was Keith's child? Did she think that Marlie was Veronica? But no, she had known Marlie's name . . . but then why was she asking about . . . ? It didn't make any sense.

"Soonish," Marlie finally answered. She hoped he would be back soon. Maybe he could explain all this. "Keith will be back . . . soonish."

"Ah, well, then, could I . . ." the woman was quickly becoming flustered. Her eyes desperate, she asked at last, "Could I maybe come in and wait for him?" When Marlie looked uncertain, she added hastily, "I'd really like to see Keith . . . and Veronica and just . . . catch up. I've missed them."

"Okay," Marlie agreed hesitantly. She stepped back, opening the door all the way and allowing the woman to pass her by into the house. She smelled like cigarettes. Grandma Alicia would definitely not approve. "Ah, have a . . . seat, I guess," Marlie offered awkwardly when they reached the living room.

The woman sat down stiffly on the couch, glancing softly at the now sleeping puppy. "He's cute," she said. "Looks just like Backup did when he was little."

"Yeah," said Marlie, unsure how she was supposed to respond. Was this woman some old family friend? She sat down nervously on the chair across from the woman. "So . . . I don't mean to sound rude or anything, but, um, what's your name?"

The woman gave a strangled laugh. "I haven't even told you that, yet, have I?" she said. "I'm sorry." She gave a nervous smile. "Why don't I start with something else?" Marlie didn't understand, but before she could say so, the stranger went on. "What did your father tell you about . . . your mother?"

Marlie could only frown. Did her mom have some sort of big, bad secret? Her curiosity was peaked. She knew her mother had a rather sordid past; she knew of the murder of Lilly Kane and the bus crash and the Hearst campus rapes. Most of the stories had been glossed over, and most were told by her father and featured him as a white knight. Her mother usually didn't elaborate on the stories; she only rolled her eyes and added snarky, teasing comments.

"About what?" she asked slowly.

"About who she was," answered the woman. "What she was like and . . . where she was."

Marlie really had no answer this time. She knew exactly where her mother was: she was on her way to pick Marlie up right at this exact moment. Any minute she would come into the house. Right now Marlie was more interested in knowing who the strange woman who knew her name and asked about Keith was.

"I'm not sure I know what you mean," Marlie said after a beat.

This time it was the woman who frowned. Before she could say anything, though, noises came from the kitchen, clearly the sound of the back door opening and closing. "Marlie!" her mom called. "You ready to go? And you better have not let the dog go in the yard — I meant what I said about your dad's lazy chair. I honestly think he loves it more than me."

Her mother appeared in the doorway with her mouth open to say more. But she froze.

"Veronica!" exclaimed the older woman, jumping to her feet.

"Hey Mom," Marlie greeted slowly.

"Mom?" repeated the stranger, her eyes going wide. "Did she just call you Mom?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Marlie asked, confused. "I thought you knew who I was. . . ."

"What are you doing here?" Veronica addressed the older woman, her voice steely.

"I came here to . . . to see you and . . . Marlene. Marlie. I came to see you and Marlie," answered the woman nervously, her eyes flickering from Veronica to Marlie for a moment.

"You can't just show up like this," Veronica snapped angrily, her eyes ablaze. "We have a life, you know."

"I know, I know, but . . . wait, I still don't understand. Did you tell her that you're her mother?" asked the older woman.

Something inside Marlie dropped. What was going on . . . ? "What is that supposed to mean?" Marlie questioned, her gaze going back and forth between her mother and the stranger.

"I thought you would tell her that Keith was her father and that . . .," began the woman, clearly confused. She turned to Marlie. "Honey, I don't know what they've told you," she said, taking a step towards Marlie, "but I'm —"

"Mom!" Veronica snapped, her eyes flashing.

"Mom?" I repeated in disbelief. The woman glanced at Veronica. Suddenly her blonde hair and blue eyes and nose and face and everything seemed familiar. This woman was . . . this was Lianne Mars. This was her real grandmother. Except. . . .

"You need to get out of here," Veronica said, ignoring Marlie and focusing her burning eyes on the stranger, on Lianne Mars, on her mother. "You can't come back here after all these years and throw our lives into chaos. Especially not after the way you left last time. Dad and I have been through enough!"

"Oh, sweetie, I know, and I'm so sorry!" protested Lianne. "But I've missed you so much! You and your dad and Marlene! All I've wanted to do these past sixteen years is come home, but I was too afraid and I — but I'm sober now, Veronica! I have been for nearly a year! I'm really getting my life together and I just wanted —!"

"No!" Veronica cut in angrily. "Get out of this house! Stay away from Dad! Stay away from me, and stay away from MY daughter! She's mine, Mom. She's mine!"

Lianne Mars had begun to cry. Veronica Echolls didn't seem to care.

"Leave," Veronica demanded.

And Marlie was getting frustrated. What were they talking about? What were they hinting at? What didn't she know? She's mine, Mom. She's mine! Why did she shout that?

Lianne started for the door.

"Wait!" Marlie protested. "Tell me what's going on!"

"I'm sorry," Lianne whined, glancing tearfully between Veronica and Marlie.

"Just tell me what's going on!" Marlie insisted. "You're my grandmother, right?" Lianne let out a choking sob, putting her hand to her mouth and shaking her head. Marlie felt the ground shift under her a little. A tiny voice in her head was whispering at her to stop, to let it go, to allow her mother to kick the woman out of the house, but. . . .

"Marlene Mackenzie Echolls, not another word out of you!" shouted her mother, glaring at her.

"But —!"

"You'll be grounded for so long you'll forget what the sun looks like!" her mom threatened. Anger bubbled up in Marlie. Veronica turned on her own mother. "Out," she snapped. "Get out of my father's home and out of my life, now. You shouldn't have come back."

Lianne fled.

"Why did you just send her away like that?" Marlie immediately yelled. "She's your mother! You can't just treat her like that! And what was she trying to tell me? Why didn't she know you're my mother? Why did she say she wasn't my grandmother?" She fired question after question at her mother.

"Do not tell me how to deal with my mother, Marlene. There are some things in this life that you do not understand, no matter how much you think you do. My mother is one of those things. And as for what she was saying — that's-that's none of your business!"

"No," Marlie said furiously, "it is my business!" And she ran for the door.

"MARLENE!" shouted her mother. "COME BACK HERE!"

But Marlie didn't heed her. She ran out of the house, stumbling slightly in the darkness. The stars were particularly bright, but the moon was only a thin sliver. She could still see Lianne at the end of the driveway about to get into a beat up old truck. She sprinted to catch her in time, ignoring her mother's frantic shouts behind her.

"Wait!" she demanded breathlessly. "Please! Wait! Tell me what's going on!"

She caught the older woman in time, but Lianne only shook her head. "I shouldn't," she said. "Not if Veronica doesn't want me to . . . I have no right." She turned painfully away from Marlie, swatting at the tears in her eyes and climbing into her truck.

"I have a right to know!" Marlie declared.

The woman slammed the door shut.

"MARLENE!" her mother shouted, running down the driveway towards them.

"Please," Marlie pleaded through the open window of the truck. The woman started the engine. "What don't I know?"

"I'm not your grandmother," Lianne told her softly, sadly, tears still leaking from her eyes. "Because I'm your mother."

To Be Continued. . . .

A/N: I have most of this story already written and I had intended on writing it all before I began posting, but I wanted to start posting now because I'm so excited! It won't take me too much longer to finish and during that time I'll be posting the chapter I have already written anyway. I know this left a LOT to be explained after this first chapter, but don't worry, I promise it all will be. There will be some flashbacks as well as snitbits from other characters' POV. As I always do, I ask that you please, please review! It makes my day :)