When she fell in love with her stepbrother they were terrified of their families’ reaction.
Sunette Fanoe was a teenager when she laid eyes on him and became instantly smitten.
For a while they tried to hide their feelings, afraid they might be shunned.
But true love always finds a way.
Sunette is now happily married to her “teddy bear of a man”, as she calls him.
Geoff Fanoe was raised by her biological father, with whom Sunette had no contact because she was adopted as a baby.
Geoff is the son of her dad’s second wife, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be together, they say.
Still, she realises it’s a strange story and she’s used to getting peculiar looks when people hear their convoluted tale of true love.
“They always get that confused look,” she says.
The couple, who are from Boksburg on Gauteng’s East Rand, have been married for 15 years.
As far as they’re concerned, people can think what they like – their love is simply too powerful for things to be any other way.
Sunette’s biological parents had an 11-month-old daughter when they discovered they were pregnant with her.
But their relationship was over and her biological mom, who she prefers not to talk about, gave her up for adoption.
Her biological dad, Mike Odendaal, went on to marry Elsa Fanoe, raising her two daughters and son from a previous marriage as his own.
When Sunette was 18, she met Mike and his new family – including his stepson, Geoff – for the first time.
“I looked at Geoff and he looked at me. You know those butterflies you get in your tummy?
“We spent the weekend together and we both knew something was developing, but we were too scared to say anything because we were stepbrother and sister,” she recalls.
When they told their families they’d fallen for each other, they were initially uncomfortable about the relationship but grew to accept it when they realised it was more than just a teenage crush.
Sunette knows just how unusual their relationship is.
“There’s probably only one in a million women who can say their dad raised their husband,” she says. Sunette was just nine days old when she was adopted by Wendy Aylward.
When she was growing up, Wendy used to tell her the story of a mommy and daddy rabbit who didn’t have enough food for their baby.
“They had to make the hard decision to give their baby rabbit to another mommy and daddy rabbit, who had lots of carrots and food, but no baby rabbit of their own,” she recalls.
Sunette knew she was the baby rabbit.
Her mom always made her feel loved – even when Wendy and her husband, Nico, adopted a little boy and welcomed their own son.
Sunette was nine years old when her adoptive parents divorced.
“But there was never a shortage of love and attention,” she says.
Still, she struggled with the fact that she’d been given up for adoption.
“Rejection was always part of my life. When I was little, I often wondered about a lot of stuff, like ‘why do I look the way I do?’”
She was a teenager when Wendy told her more about where she’d come from.
When she was in high school, she told Wendy she wanted to meet her biological parents – and Wendy surprised her on her 18th birthday.
Sunette and Wendy had gone to Sun City for the weekend but instead of driving back home to Boksburg, they went to Rustenburg, where they stopped in front of an unfamiliar house.
Sunette was gobsmacked when Wendy told her they were meeting her biological mom.
“I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. We just sat there in the car for about 10 minutes. When we got out, there was this skinny, slight woman with light hair and blue eyes. I told my mom, ‘We’re not at the right place’.”
But Sunette knew they were related when her sister, Chantelle, came out of the house.
“She too was tall and skinny with deep blue eyes, but she had dark hair and our noses were the same.”
Later, when Sunette asked where her biological dad was, she was told things hadn’t worked out between them and he wasn’t really involved in their lives.
But he was there that day after he found out the meeting was to take place.
“The next moment, there was this rock of a man in the door, with dark hair and dark eyes, and before I could stop myself, I was in his arms,” she recalls.
Sunette was thrilled that her dad knew about the meeting and they immediately made plans to meet up again.
They exchanged contact details and arranged to get together at Mike’s family home in Vereeniging so they could get to know each other.
That’s where she was introduced to Geoff.
The pair clicked from the start and had long conversations deep into the night.
As time passed, Sunette realised Geoff had developed feelings for her too.
One day, he called Wendy and asked if he could visit her daughter.
“Geoff said, ‘Mom Wendy, I want to visit your daughter, but not in that way . . .’
“My mom was quiet for a moment, then she said, ‘Of course you can come visit, Geoff.’”
Sunette and Geoff went on a beach holiday that December.
“We had an amazing holiday – picnics on the beach, long walks, swimming and talking about all the shenanigans he got up to as a kid. It felt like a fairytale,” she says.
When they arrived home, they knew they had to tell their families about their burgeoning relationship.
“It was tough sharing the news with my parents, but I had to let them know,” Geoff tells us from Kuruman in the Northern Cape, where he works in the mining industry. Though their families gave their blessing, it was hard at first, Wendy admits.
“But I also thought, ‘They’re not related by blood so why not?’” she says.
The couple got engaged in 2006 and were married in May 2007, just days after Sunette’s 21st birthday.
They have two children, Marcel (14) and Jena-Ray (12). The family lived in Kuruman for 14 years, where Sunette ran a crèche, but she and the kids moved near to Wendy in Boksburg this year, so they can be closer to high schools for the children.
Sunette works with Wendy (61) as a sales manager and she and Geoff see each other every second weekend, either in Boksburg or Kuruman. Sunette and her biological sister, Chantelle, see each other often.
The sisters have made peace with the past and the time they’d lost.
Instead of focusing on what could’ve been, they’re making new memories now.
“These days, we’re all one large, blended family,” Sunette says.
“I think many people reckon adoption is negative and they’re scared to tell their children, but my adoption was a blessing to me.”