Chapter 63: Fragments of the Forgotten Smile 3
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"Runebelle, is it really you? Are you ready to go with me?"

Runebelle, still feeling confusion, responded to her father, "Dad, I... I don't really know what you mean. What's going on?"

Her father carried a sense of reassurance as he replied, "Runebelle, I told you years ago that if you were ever ready to come with me, to start a new chapter, to call this number. And now, you've called. It means more to me than you can imagine."

Runebelle's heart skipped a beat as the decision she made settled in. She had taken a step into the unknown and reached out to the father she hadn't spoken to in so long.

Runebelle replied, "Dad, I just want to talk, to understand what's been happening. Can we meet somewhere?"

Her father agreed and said, "Of course, Runebelle. Let's meet.”

Runebelle nodded, relieved that her father was open to talking. She replied, "Okay, Dad, let's meet and talk. Where should we meet?"

Her father suggested, "There's a restaurant not too far from your mother's place. How about we meet there in an hour?"

Runebelle agreed to the plan and hung up the phone.

Runebelle arrived at the "Harmony Bistro" and found her father waiting at a corner table. While approaching, she noticed his striking appearance. His hair was a mesmerizing blend of colors, much like her own and she realized where her unique hair came from.

Her father's rich attire and the air of confidence that surrounded him marked him as a man of means. But what truly caught Runebelle's attention were the women who seemed to be following him around. They clung to his every word and action, creating an entourage of sorts.

With a snap of his fingers, the women vanished, leaving Runebelle and her father alone at the table. He greeted her with a warm and welcoming smile. His eyes were filled with genuine happiness.

"Runebelle, my dear! I'm so delighted to see you. It's been far too long."

Runebelle, still bewildered by the sudden appearance and disappearance of her father's entourage, couldn't help but ask, "What was all of that, Father? Who were those women?"

Her father sighed and leaned back in his chair and became more serious in his look. "Runebelle, now listen I got to be honest with you. I am a wealthy man but my factory is facing difficult times. It will close soon and I had to maintain a certain image to keep up appearances. Those women were...well, let's just say they were part of that image."

Runebelle felt a whirlwind of emotions – surprise, confusion and concern. She hadn't expected her father's explanation to involve such complexities.

Runbelle's father continued, "Runebelle, you've never called before and you don't know the struggles I've faced to get to this point. But now that you're back in my life, things are going to change. You're going to become a wealthy woman and I'll make sure of it."

Runebelle felt overwhelmed by the sudden turn of events. She had expected a simple conversation but it seemed her father had much bigger plans in mind.

Runebelle took a moment to gather her thoughts, trying to shift her focus back to the reason she had come here. She needed answers and her father might be the only one who could provide them.

"Father, something happened to Mother today. I found her crying and she said something that worried me. She said that 'he' took it all. He took all of it. She seemed really upset. Do you know anything about this?"

Runebelle's father's smile faded as he heard her words. He sighed deeply and looked down for a moment, as if contemplating how to respond.

Runebelle's father finally spoke, his tone measured. "Runebelle, your mother and I...we've had our differences. She might have been referring to our ongoing disagreements but I assure you, everything will be fine. I'll make sure she's taken care of and you won't have to worry."

Runebelle took a deep breath, gathering the courage to share what had been on her mind. "Father, I know about the divorce that happened a year ago. I heard you and Mother arguing about it back then. But today, it felt different. She seemed devastated, like something else had happened. She said, 'he took it all,' and I don't understand what she meant."

Her father seemed taken aback by her knowledge of the divorce. He hesitated for a moment before responding, "Runebelle, I didn't want you to be burdened with the details of our separation. But if you insist on knowing, I'll be honest with you. Yes, we got divorced and it was a difficult time for both of us. Your mother has been struggling since then and despite the decision, iv’e still been doing my best to provide for her. Perhaps she was referring to our financial situation. But I promise you, I'll do whatever it takes to support her."

Runebelle gained a sense of frustration. There was clearly more to the story than her father was revealing which only made her concern for her mother deepen. She leaned forward, her eyes searching her father's. "Father, please, tell me the whole truth. I need to understand what's happening. I'm worried about Mother and I want to help her."

Runebelle's father continued with a heavy heart, "I decided to take over the company to secure our future and for a while, everything seemed fine. I had this image to uphold, and yes, there were women around me but your mother, Rune, didn't mind. She understood it was part of the deal."

He paused while momentarily looking pained. "But one of those women... she went too far, crossed boundaries that should never have been crossed. When I found out about it, I thought I could still salvage things but I saw a side of your mother that I couldn't ignore. She... she became violent."

Runebelle listened with growing concern, her mind racing to piece together the fragments of her parents' troubled past. She asked, "What happened, Father? What did Mother do?"

Her father quivered as he continued, "She did something that I couldn't forgive, something that made me question if she belonged in the future I was trying to build. She held it against me that I was surrounded by these women. That day I received a brutal beating from your mother, but it was more than just that. The point is though that she was the reason that I decided to leave. It was a difficult decision Runebelle but I felt I had to choose between my company and your mother. In the end, I chose the company and we went through a painful divorce."

Runebelle's heart ached absorbing the painful truth of her parents' separation and the circumstances that had led to it.

She asked her father while trembling slightly, "What about today, Father? What did Mother mean when she said, 'he took it all'?"

Her father's eyes filled with regret as he replied, "Runebelle, today... I had to make a difficult decision. With the company facing closure, I couldn't continue to support your mother financially. I had to take all the money she had gained during our time apart. I know it must sound heartless but I had no other choice."

Runebelle's heart ached for both of her parents, caught in a web of circumstances that had led to this moment. She understood the complexities of their relationship better now and she held a sense of compassion for them.

With a heavy heart, Runebelle asked, "Is there any way to make things right, Father? To help Mother and find a solution that doesn't involve taking everything from her?"

Her father looked at her with a gloomy face. "Runebelle, the situation is very complex. Right now, I'm not sure what can be done to mend things. All I can promise is that I'll do my best to ensure your mother has what she needs."

Runebelle’s father Gemine’s next words cut through the already heavy atmosphere in the restaurant like a sharp knife. "Runebelle, if you choose to come with me, you can forget about your mother," he stated coldly.

Runebelle couldn't believe what she had just heard. Without thinking, she raised her hand and delivered a resounding slap to her father's cheek.

The restaurant fell into stunned silence. Runebelle could hardly believe that she had acted so impulsively. Her own actions had surprised her but deep down, she knew that she couldn't stand for such heartlessness, even from her own father.

"Take it back, Father. Take back what you just said!"

Gemine touched his cheek, remorse in his eyes. He hadn't expected Runebelle to react in such a way.

He sighed heavily and nodded. "You're right, Runebelle. I shouldn't have said that. I apologize."

Gemine, still shocked from the unexpected turn of events, stood up from his chair. He looked at Runebelle with sorrow in his eyes. "I'll leave, Runebelle," he said quietly. "When you're ready to call me again or talk, you know how to reach me. Take care."

With those words, he turned and walked out of the restaurant, leaving Runebelle alone with her thoughts.

Runebelle, now sitting alone at the restaurant table. A deep depression washed over her as she pieced together the events that had driven her mother to leave and never return. She knew that her mother must have faced immense pain and struggle and it weighed heavily on her heart.

Turning her thoughts inward, Runebelle decided to confide in the System about the revelation and the complex emotions it stirred within her.

"System," she began, "I think I finally understand why my mother left. It must have been so hard for her, dealing with all of this on her own. But knowing the truth... it makes me both sadder and more understanding at the same time."

The System responded in its usual supportive manner, "Understanding can bring clarity, Project Rune. It's a step towards healing and finding a way forward. Though it may be difficult now, in time, you may find a path that leads to peace."

The System's cheerfulness continued within Runebelle’s thoughts, now offering a new perspective, "You know, Project Rune, that woman you were fighting with... she might have been onto something when she said your sadness could be your strength."

Intrigued, Runebelle looked to the System for more insight. "What do you mean?"

The System continued, "Well, your sadness has driven you to seek the truth, to uncover the fragments of your past, hasn’t it? It's a powerful motivator. And there's one more memory left in the Fragment, Runebelle. Perhaps it holds the key to understanding yourself and your family even better."

Runebelle considered the System's words. She had already come so far in her quest for answers and she couldn't deny that her sorrow had played a significant role in propelling her forward. With determination in her eyes, she nodded and said, "Let's uncover that final memory, then. I want to know everything, even if it's painful."

Runebelle found herself in a strange routine in the days following her mother's departure. Each morning, she would wake up in their now-empty house, the absence of her mother's presence a constant ache in her heart. She would go about her day, attending school and walking back home as usual but it was a hollow routine without her mother's warmth and laughter.

Approaching the front door one chilly afternoon, Runebelle had to pause and stare at it as if trying to will her mother's return. She often found herself lost in thought, wondering where her mother went every day and why she had left them.

On this particular day, a knock on the door startled Runebelle out of her state. She hesitated for a moment, wondering who could be visiting. Slowly, she made her way to the door and opened it.

Standing on the doorstep was Ms. Lorraine, the friend of her mother who Runebelle had overheard talking to her on that fateful day. Runebelle's eyes widened in surprise and she greeted her with a soft, "Ms. Lorraine? What brings you here?"

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