Thursday, 7 April 2016

Chapter 3.03 - Status Quo

   The clouds growled with thunder, threatening to open their contents and soak the world below with water. Overhead the autumn sky was dark and dreary, perfectly matching Lyra’s mood as she walked down the pavement. She barely noticed the solemn arch in front of her, too absorbed in her thoughts.
   It had been five years since that night. Could it really already be so long? When exactly had the years gone by? She couldn’t remember. The pain had dulled, but there were still times she wanted to turn to her dad for advice, only to remember that he was no longer there to give her any answers.
   The graveyard was quiet for the most part, most of the people sensibly staying inside and out of the wind. But it was the anniversary of her dad’s death, and she had already put off visiting for far too long, so here she was; doing the not-so-sensible thing of walking in the biting wind at a time most people already started preparing for the night, all on her own in a forlorn cemetery. At least it wasn’t raining.
   Her steps faltered slightly as she rounded the corner and her dad’s grave came into sight. There was another person braving the windy night, completely lost in his thoughts as he stared at the grave. The oh-so-hated scar on his cheek glared at Lyra, reminding her that he had just as much right to be here as she did. The scar had faded with time, but Lyra knew it would never disappear completely.
   She didn’t acknowledge him as she approached the grave. There were two bouquets of flowers present, indicating that someone other than the two of them had already visited as well. Almost reverently, she laid the flowers in her hand on the grave to join the other bouquets and stepped back, joining her brother in silent contemplation. His eyes were shuttered, and Lyra wasn’t entirely sure he had even noticed her presence. It didn’t take a genius to notice he was still silently blaming himself for the events of that night.
   The hand squeezing her shoulder informed her that he wasn’t as oblivious to her presence as he appeared. She hadn’t seen him in ages, and if it was anybody else she would’ve drawn away, but they had been rather close at a stage in their lives, and in that moment they were united by their mutual sorrow.
   It was several moments before Renard pulled himself far enough out of his thoughts to acknowledge Lyra’s presence.
   “Been a while,” he stated casually, his eyes still studying the granite in front of them and his hands retreating back into his pockets. “How’ve you been?”
   She gave him a wry smile. “Fine,” she replied. “I’ve been…fine.”
   “Good. That’s good,” he nodded and fell silent again.
   It was like a conversation between strangers that had absolutely no common interests. They stood in awkward silence, neither one of them knowing what to talk about. They had simply drifted too far apart from each other.
   It was sad, Lyra thought, considering how much he once meant to her. How special he still was. But they had both continued on with their lives, and that same camaraderie that had once caused them to prank their sister together no longer existed.
   “And you?” Lyra asked after a while, desperate to keep the conversation flowing. “How have you and Ingrid been?” Renard had married his high school girlfriend several years previously in a quiet, private ceremony. Needless to say, Arienne hadn’t been present at the event.
   He lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “Not much to say,” he replied. “Can’t say we have any complaints. She’s…started to talk about children though.”
   That instantly had Lyra’s attention. Renard, a father? What a strange thought. She supposed it had to happen eventually, but for some reason she had simply never thought about it. Thinking about Renard and children was like thinking about a terrible disaster in the making. Of course, he could’ve grown more responsible since Lyra had last seen him – probably had­ – but Lyra simply couldn’t compute the thought.
   Renard and children…just didn’t go together.
   “What a scary thought,” she murmured.
   The words caused Renard to laugh. The sound wasn’t quite like Lyra remembered it, but it was still refreshing to hear. In the days between their dad’s death and the day she had last seen him (which, coincidently, had been the day he had gotten married), she had never heard him laugh even once. Of course, she hadn’t seen him much, but still.
   “That’s been more or less my reaction too, yes,” he agreed, an amused smile playing on his lips. “I’d be a horrible dad.”
   “Well, at least you have a great example to follow,” Lyra murmured, her eyes fixed on the grave in front of them.
   His eyes immediately shuttered again and the smile fell from his lips.
   “Yeah, I guess,” he replied softly and retreated back into his thoughts again.
   They fell into silence again, and Lyra took the chance to study the bouquets on the grave, wondering where the second one came from. It had to be either her mother, or Arienne, but she wasn’t entirely sure. She’d been drifting slightly away from her mother as well, choosing to spend more time at Edwin’s place than at her own house. She still hadn’t officially moved in with him though, even if they had been dating for almost three years now. She didn’t want to leave her mother entirely alone in the house.
   “Arienne,” Renard murmured softly and gestured at the flowers Lyra was staring at with a slight tilt of his chin. “She left just as I arrived.” He clenched his jaw and a muscle jumped in his cheek. “We had…words,” Renard admitted, his eyes pained and distant.
   Lyra sighed internally. So the feud was still going strong.
   “Not of the good kind, I gather,” she stated softly. He clenched his jaw again and gave a terse shake of his head.
   “Not of the good kind, no,” he agreed tersely.
   This time Lyra sighed audibly. As much as she loved her sister, there were times she wished Arienne would stop being such a self-centred little bitch. Her continued insistence to treat their brother like some kind of criminal irritated the hell out of Lyra. It would be so much easier to fix her family’s bonds if the older girl (woman now, really) just stopped with her damn stubborn streak.
   “Anyway,” Renard said, drawing Lyra’s thoughts back to the present, “I have to get going; I’m on duty tonight. It was nice to see you again. We should catch up sometime soon.”
   Yeah, like that was going to happen, Lyra mused. The moment he walked away he’d probably forget all about his family, making absolutely no effort to stay in contact. Just like he had done all these years.
   “Yeah, sure,” she said without enthusiasm, lifting her hand in farewell. “See you.”
   He gave her a tight, small smile before walking away, leaving her to once more stand alone in the wind.
   The sky had started clearing, but in return the cold wind had become even stronger. Lyra pulled her jacket closer against her shoulders. She was going to get chilled to the bone if she stayed much longer.
   “Things would’ve been so much simpler if you were still here,” she murmured to the silent grave, her eyes studying the familiar words engraved in the stone. The grave remained silent, just like she had expected it to. She laughed softly, amused by her own thoughts. “Maybe I just need to get away for a bit; go somewhere far away from here,” she joked. “Maybe then when I come back, everything will just be magically fixed.” She snorted. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if problems could be fixed liked that?
   She smiled and turned away, walking down the pavement back to the exit, and back to the present. She still missed her dad immensely, but she had learned how to live in the present. The ghosts were still there, but they no longer held her captive. Time had definitely dulled the pain.
   The wind was howling by the time she returned home, but the moment she reached the little valley her house was located in the worst of the wind was cut off by the mountains, leaving her feeling warm and sheltered. She entered the house in a much better mood than she had expected she would.
   To her surprise, the house wasn’t silent and empty tonight. Tonight, she almost couldn’t hear the ticking of the clock over the music coming from the stereo, and from the direction of the kitchen she could clearly hear voices. For a change her mother was actually at home and not out working, but it was the second voice that really surprised Lyra.
   Talk of the devil and she shall appear.
   Arienne was talking to their mother, her posture relaxed and happy. Lyra felt a flash of irritation at the sight. It wasn’t fair for Arienne to be so carefree, not after she had caused Renard so much pain.
   “Huh. Look who deigned to grace us with her presence,” Lyra stated snidely, leaning against the door threshold. Arienne looked at her with a slight scowl on her face, her good mood instantly disrupted. It was then Lyra noticed the tear streaks on her sister's face, and the tightness around her eyes.
   “Girls,” their mother warned them before Arienne could respond to the insult. She huffed and turned back to their mother. For one of the few times in her life, Lyra didn't push the issue. The smudged mascara brought back memories she'd rather not think about.
   "It's okay, I have to go home anyway," Arienne said with averted eyes, standing up from the table. "We're having dinner with Max's parents tonight, so he's waiting for me."
   The retort was out of Lyra's mouth before she could stop it.
"Oh, so you have dinner with your husband's parents, but not with us. I didn't realise we mean this little to you."
   Inwardly, she berated herself. She hadn't meant to say that. Her family was already messed up enough - she didn't need to exacerbate the situation.
   The corners around Arienne's eyes tightened.
   "What I do with my time has nothing to do with you, Lyra," she retorted bitterly. "And have you ever stopped to consider that maybe it's this exact attitude of yours that makes me not want to spend time with you? I don't have to listen to your barbs, Lyra. I have enough crap in my life already." She shot Lyra a glare and walked out of the room, and several seconds later, Lyra heard her close the front door behind her.
   Her mother gave an exasperated sigh, making Lyra feel even worse. Why, oh why, couldn't she just keep her mouth shut?
   "Honestly, Lyra, that was completely uncalled for," her mother berated her. The words caused irritation to rise in Lyra's chest. She already knew it, dammit. She didn't need anyone to tell her.
   "Whatever," she retorted with a scowl, her previous good mood completely disrupted. "What the hell is her issue in anyway?"
   Her mother fixed her with a pointed stare.
   "Shouldn't you be the one asked that?" she asked pointedly.
   The last bit of Lyra's temper snapped at the question. She got it already. She was a horrible person who only managed to fuck up everything around her.
   "Fine, I get it," she snapped at her mother. "I'll go, since I'm clearly not welcome here." She turned on her heel and marched out of the house, scarcely noticing where she was going. The moment she stepped out the house, the raging gusts of wind immediately made her regret her decision, but her pride wouldn't let her go back. Instead, she set a course for Edwin's house, hoping he wasn't out.
   "Is something wrong?" Edwin asked her when she arrived at his house and sank unto his couch with a sigh. She dropped her head on his shoulder and soaked in his warmth, calmed and comforted by his presence.
   "Fight with my mom and sister," she murmured softly, inexplicably tired out by her outburst. Edwin made a noise of agreement and wordlessly wrapped his arm around her.
   "It happens," he comforted her. "If it's any solace, I had to flee from my mother as well. She simply wouldn't stop with the annoying questions." Lyra smiled slightly at his statement, understanding his pain. He didn't need to clarify which questions he was referring to. Lyra herself had also been exposed to them, numerous times. His mother so desperately wanted a daughter-in-law.
   They sat in silence for some time, both of them content to watch the scenes airing on the TV, merely enjoying each other's presence. The story on the TV was a pretty terrible thriller called 'Sharks...on Land!', and before long, Lyra got swept up by the bad clich├ęs and corny dialogue.
   "Plumbob, this is terrible," she accused laughingly. "Why on earth are you watching this?"
   Edwin flashed her a roguish grin at her accusation.
   "Because it's funny," he admitted. "It's supposed to be scary, but as you can see, it's anything but. I suppose it is gory," he conceded, "but the gore only makes it funnier."
   "You're right," Lyra agreed and snuggled deeper into his side, settling down to watch the rest of the terrible movie.
   The next day dawned bright and clear, bringing with it the promise of a warm and sunny day. It was a welcome change from the dreary and rainy conditions that had plagued the town the last week or so, so when Edwin suggested they spend the day at the beach, followed by a picnic at their own special secluded spot, Lyra thought nothing of it and immediately agreed.
   Unfortunately, the water was way too cold to swim in, so they moved to their spot quite early in the day, spending most of the time just lazing around, simply soaking up the sun and talking about nonconsequential things.
   She should've seen it coming. She should've known that it wasn't just any normal day; that Edwin had planned something else, but she hadn't, so she was completely blindsided by his actions when he finally offered her the little black box in the palm of his hand, his eyes questioning.
   "Marry me?" he asked softly, hopefully, vulnerably.
   She stared wordlessly at the ring, her thoughts racing a mile a minute through her mind. Marriage? Was this something she wanted? Sure, they had talked about it, but only in passing, nothing serious. So, did she want to marry Edwin?
   She didn't know.
   Sure, she loved him (or at least, she thought she did) and she enjoyed spending time with him, but marriage? Was she truly ready for that?
   Inadvertently, she wished the easy status quo that had been between them could've remained. She didn't think she was ready for this.
   ...Then again, wasn't that what their entire relationship had been heading towards? The status quo between them had been easy and comfortable, but it couldn't continue indefinitely. It had to end sometime.
   ...And she did love him. Didn’t she?
   She gave him a smile, ignoring the dread in her heart at the thought of marriage, and nodded.
   "Sure," she agreed, the words sounding to her like it came from somebody else. "I'll marry you."
   Needless to say, both Lyra's and Edwin's mothers were ecstatic by the news. They both jumped into the wedding planning process with eagerness, sometimes making decisions about the wedding that Lyra herself definitely wouldn't have made.
   For some reason though, Lyra simply couldn't find the enthusiasm to join the planning process, so she simply allowed her mother and mother-to-be to make the agreements, only occasionally leaving an opinion. She did not want purple and yellow flowers at her wedding, no matter how pretty her mother thought it was.
   Far, far too soon, the day for the wedding arrived. She stood in the antechamber of the wedding venue, waiting to go in. Her two bridesmaids, Arienne and Lakisha, stood with her, making small talk Lyra didn't listen to. For the first time in ages, Renard and Arienne were in the same room without fighting, as Lyra had asked her brother to escort her in and she had informed Arienne in no uncertain terms that she would not allow them to fight at her wedding.
   It did make the atmosphere slightly tense, but Lyra wilfully ignored it. She had bigger things to worry about.
   She wasn't ready to get married. She had thought she was, but she wasn't. Her life had become that exact same pattern she had so lamented about back in school, and she hated it. Get a job, get married, have children? Wake up, change the screaming toddlers' diapers, go to work, go to sleep, repeat? She didn't want that. She couldn't let that be her life, but that was exactly what her life was steadily becoming. She felt imprisoned, chained to a future she didn't want.
   She wasn't ready to do this. She didn't want to do it.
   Renard cleared his throat, pulling her back to reality. Arienne and Lakisha had already left the room, and Renard was staring expectantly at her, clearly indicating that it was time to go in and get married.
   She couldn't do it.
   "Renard..." she pleaded, silently begging him to help her find a way out of this. He gave her only a single glance before he pulled her into his arms, accurately guessing the reason for her distress. She blinked back tears, afraid of smudging her makeup.
   "Oh, Lyra," Renard sighed despairingly, soothingly rubbing her back. "Don't tell me you're getting cold feet now?"
   "I can't do this, Renard," she admitted, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. "I feel like I'm about to make the biggest mistake of my life, and I can't. I can't do it. I can't marry him, Renard."
   "Then why are you?" he asked her, one eyebrow slightly lifted with confusion.
   "Because...because I don't know, okay?" she complained, her eyes burning. "I thought...I thought I wanted this, I thought it was the right thing to do, and everybody was expecting it - "
   "When exactly," Renard interrupted her tirade, "did you start adhering to expectations?"
   The question left her struck silent. When had she? It was expected of a couple to get married after a certain amount of time had passed. She was expected to say yes. It was expected of her to lead that kind of life.
   It had never been something she wanted for herself.
   She felt giddy by the revelation, as if all of the chains had been broken. She didn't need to get married. She was still free to lead her life the way she wanted it to. It would devastate Edwin, but she couldn't marry him.
   "You're right," she agreed, smiling peacefully for the first time in what felt like ages. "When did I?" She looked at him and without saying anything, she knew he understood. He knew what her decision was, but she still confirmed it verbally. "Please, tell Edwin I'm sorry."
   He smiled and gave her shoulders a squeeze before he disappeared through the door, going to inform everyone that the wedding was off.
   She smiled as she was left alone in the antechamber, feeling relaxed and carefree for the first time in months. From the next room she heard a sudden increase in noise as Renard informed the groom of the news she found so wonderful.
   It wasn't long before Renard returned, Edwin accompanying him dejectedly. The look Edwin gave her was heart-breaking, but Lyra stubbornly stuck to her decision, squaring her shoulders and looking at him with determination in her eyes. She didn't even notice when Renard slipped out of the room to give them some privacy.
   "Tell me, Edwin," she asked, breaking the air before he could ask why. "Do you think we would've been happy together - truly happy?"
   He frowned slightly at the question, caught off-guard by her interruption.
   "Of course we can be," he argued, his voice laden with confusion. "Why on earth would you think otherwise?"
   The question made her smile. He didn't get it. He'd never get it. It only served to reinforce her decision. The person he wanted to marry, to spend the rest of his life wasn't Lyra. It never had been her. He'd only loved her as an idea.
   "I see," she replied with a small, carefree smile. "Because I don't, Edwin, and the fact that you don't get it means we never will." She turned on her heel to go home, but he grabbed her wrist, preventing her from completing the movement.
   "Just what the hell do you mean with that?" he asked her with a scowl. "Talk to me, Lyra. What is it that I don't get? Why do you say we'll never be happy together? Look, I understand if you don't want to marry me, but will you at least give me a reason why?"
   "Because," Lyra replied gently, quietly removing his hand from her wrist, "what I want from life and what you want from life are two entirely different things. I'm not the right woman for you, Edwin. I'll never be happy with you, and I'll never be able to make you happy either, and I don't want either of us to have that kind of life."
   He still didn't get it. His eyes were heavy with confusion, and there was no sign of comprehension anywhere on his face.
   "I don't understand," he complained. "I mean, we've been happy so far, haven't we?"
   "So far," she agreed without hesitation, "but it's not going to last. The time we spent together was wonderful and amazing, but it's not going to stay that way. Eventually things will change, and all it will result in is that one of us is going to get chained into a life we won't be happy with. I know you want the typical Sunset Valley life, with a gaggle of children one day gathering around your feet and a loving wife to welcome you home each day with dinner waiting on the table, but that wife will not be me. I don't want that life, Edwin, I don't. Not now, not in ten years' time, not in a hundred years' time. Never. And the fact that I don't want it and you do, means that we'll never be happy. You need someone who wants to have the same kind of life you want, and I'll never be that woman, Edwin. I cannot be that woman."
   The emotions flickering through his eyes made her feel like a dog. It was clear that he didn't agree with her. Hurt and anger and confusion were the most predominant ones, and it was almost enough to make her take everything back, but she remained firm. She refused to ruin either his or her life.
   "I'm sorry, Edwin," she apologized, her eyes beseeching him to understand, "but it's not going to work. This status quo has to end. And I truly hope that you'll find someone who will make you happy, but that someone is not me."
   "Then why," he asked with a broken voice when he realised she had finished talking, "did you say yes in the first place?"
   It was a simple answer, but once again it was one she knew he wouldn't understand the true significance of.
   "Because it was expected of me," she answered simply.
   She turned around again to leave, and this time Edwin did nothing to stop her. Walking away from him hurt a lot more than she had thought it would, but Lyra didn't falter. As much as it hurt, she knew it was the right thing to do.
   She only hoped that one day, he might understand, and maybe even forgive her, if only just a little.
   Lyra sat on her bed, silently watching the familiar eerie light from the Full Moon streaming through her windows. Tomorrow, she knew, the town would be awash with the news that she had left Edwin at the altar, but tonight, she didn't care. She had made her decision. Tomorrow, she'll leave Sunset Valley and go look for a different life in a different town. She had lived in this stagnant town one day too many.
   To her relief, no one in her family had begrudged her her decision. Her mother had simply hugged her and told her that she'd support her no matter what happened, and while Arienne had made a snide remark or two about the failed wedding, she too had admitted that she couldn't really see Lyra happy in Sunset Valley. It was an immense relief, having her family's support. She was finally feeling that the broken bonds in her family were slowly being repaired. Seeing both Renard and Arienne standing in the living room at the same time without fighting had definitely left her with a feeling of hope.
   It was the right choice, she knew. She'd miss Sunset Valley, but she'd never be happy if she stayed.
   The sound of soft music intruded into her thoughts, making her frown slightly. It was very late in the night (or very early in the morning, depending on how one looked at it), and she knew her mother was already asleep, so she shouldn't be hearing music. She was pretty sure the stereo in the living room had been turned off when her mother had gone to sleep.
   Curious, she got up to investigate, not even bothering to smooth out the creases from her clothes.
   The house was eerily quiet as she made her way downstairs, and for some reason the house seemed even more desolate than ever. She almost wished for someone, anyone, to appear, only so the house would feel a bit more lived in. But it was a futile wish, and the house remained quiet. Not even Charlotte appeared.
   Downstairs, the stereo was off, like she had expected, but she could still hear music. It was definitely coming from the direction of the lake beside their house. Someone was singing into the night, with a voice that reminded Lyra of silver notes and a gentle autumn breeze. She went outside, trying to figure out who was singing.
   It was Charlotte. Why had she never realised what a beautiful voice the ghost had? She didn't understand the words the ghost was singing, but she was singing with such emotion that it brought tears to Lyra's eyes. She walked closer to the ghost, illogically desiring to comfort her.
   The sound of her steps must have alerted the ghost, as the song was suddenly cut off abruptly. Charlotte turned around startledly, her colourless eyes wide with surprise.
   "No!" the ghost exclaimed. "Don't come -"
   Her words were silenced in the explosion of light that suddenly enveloped them. Before she could do anything, tendrils of something wrapped around Lyra and jerked her off her feet. She cried out in alarm and clenched her eyes shut against the bright light, wondering just what the hell was going on.
   She fell hard on the ground, the impact jarring the air from her lungs. Beside her, she heard someone breathing hard, trying to get back air in their lungs as well. She opened her eyes cautiously, ready to close them in case the bright light was still present, but the sight that greeted her caused her to shoot upright, staring at her surroundings in bewilderment.
   She was not at the lake beside her house. In fact, she was pretty sure there was nowhere in Sunset Valley that looked like the scene in front of her. Even the moon looked different.

   ...What exactly had just happened?
   And where the hell was she?!

A/N: This chapter was written before my save file went corrupt (I just didn’t have the shots yet), so don’t be surprised if some discrepancies appear in the future, or if I fail to mention something again. I deleted both Renard and Arienne’s spouses in the poser save, so…they’re not married anymore. I want to bring the two of them along to the new world, but I don’t really know how to justify it in the story. :/

Edwin deserves someone better than Lyra :(. For the longest I debated whether I wanted them to end up together or not, but in the end my original idea won out instead. I feel bad for Edwin and I like them as a couple, but Lyra has bigger things waiting for her, so they can't be together. At least, not in this save. I think I'm going to pop the two of them into my play-for-fun legacy save to give them a chance to be together.
And as to why that conversation had to happen at their wedding and not earlier…well, I wanted to see Lyra in a wedding dress. >_<
Oh yeah, the world I used in the last shot is a really beautiful custom world called Howell Island. I found it…on a site that’s apparently dead now. :/ It’s not the world I’m going to be moving my family to; it’s just a tad bit too small for that. I’m just going to use it until I’m done with the upcoming arc. Then it’s onwards to…hmm. I haven’t really decided yet. Probably Dragon Valley, although Aurora Skies and Hidden Springs are also good candidates…

Friday, 30 October 2015

Chapter 3.02 - Dare To Dream

Warning: language, as usual.
   Lyra stared out of the window, her thoughts far away from the newspaper hanging limply from her fingers. In the distance, the roar of the waterfall thundering into the lake beside their house echoed across the mountains, playing the overly familiar tune Lyra had long learned how to push to the back of her mind. She had never been able to hear the Song her mother often went on about, but sometimes, when the roar of the waterfall intruded into her thoughts, she thought she could faintly hear notes.
   Magic, her mother had called it.
   Bullshit, she called it. It was just her mind playing tricks on her, trying to convince her of how wonderful the town is, filled with wonder and magic and stagnant fucking traditions. She scowled fiercely and vehemently tossed the newspaper across the room, angered by the lack of prospects for a wholesome future.
   She didn’t want to get a job in this godforsaken town. She could already see how her life was going to turn out should she take one of the openings advertised in the newspaper, and it was not good. Get a job, get married, have children? Wake up, change the screaming toddlers’ diapers, take them to school, go to the same boring job 40 hours a week, go to sleep, repeat?
   She’d go mad if that had to be her life.
   The ringtone of her phone suddenly reverberated through the air, jerking Lyra back to reality. She glanced down at the caller ID and felt her stomach make a weird little flip at the name.
   She still didn’t know how she felt about him. She hadn’t contacted him yet after that not-entirely-horrible date, but she had thought about him – a lot. Her thoughts kept returning to him at inopportune moments. It confused the hell out of her.
   She stared idly at her phone, listening to it ring. It was with slight hesitation that she finally picked it up, her stomach giving that same strange little flip it did every time she thought of him.
   “Hi,” she answered nonchalantly. She really hoped he wasn’t calling about that promised second date. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to see him just yet.
   “Hey,” his voice came easily across the phone. She could almost hear the smile in his voice, causing her stomach to give that weird little flip again. “Listen, are you busy today? A couple of my friends invited me to go windsurfing with them, and I’ve been wondering if you wanted to come along? It’s just for fun, nothing serious about it.”
   She tilted her head, thinking about his offer. Windsurfing? That actually sounded like fun. She’d never done it before, but…well, wasn’t it about time she tried new stuff? And sure, she hadn’t exactly wanted to see him so soon, but it wasn’t like it was going to be a date, was it? It was just fun, between friends.
   Besides, she was bored.
   “Sure, why not?” she agreed in the spur of the moment, relaxing into the conversation. “It could be fun. How many people are going?”
   “Just a couple,” he replied. “We’ll probably be…four, or five people, max. Like I said, it’s just for fun.”
   An hour later, Lyra met with Edwin and his friends at the beach. They were all people she knew vaguely from school. Sure, she didn’t know them that well, having chosen to ignore pretty much all of her classmates, but at least she was acquainted with them. She even vaguely remembered socializing with them at that party Edwin had thrown the last day of school. Vaguely. The juice had definitely influenced her memories of that night.
   “Right-o,” Lakisha declared, signalling the start of their planned activities. “Let’s do this. So, Lyla, ya know how this works?” She pointed at the windsurfing board with a manicured finger, an easy smile on her face.
   Lyra blinked, slightly taken aback by the name the other girl had called her.
   “Not really, no,” she answered uncertainly. “And my name’s Lyra, not Lyla.”
   “It’s a nickname. Deal with it,” Lakisha declared with an unconcerned shrug, completely unfazed by the correction. “Luckily for ya, Edwin is quite a deft hand at this, so he’ll be showing ya the ropes. Enjoy.” She bestowed the two of them with a lazy smile before she grabbed the other two guys by the hand and dragged them over to the boat trailer, presumably to help her get the boat and jet skis off the trailer and into the water, leaving Lyra and Edwin to stand awkwardly beside each other.
   “Sorry about that,” Edwin apologized with an awkward chuckle. “Lakish is…well, she’s quite unique. But she’s a great friend, nevertheless.” He picked the windsurfing board up and walked towards the water, looking at Lyra over his shoulder and gesturing at her in clear invitation to join him.
   He spent a couple of minutes to explain to her the basics of windsurfing. He was standing behind her in the water, lightly holding her waist to help her keep her balance while he explained it to her. She was acutely aware of his touch, her skin tingling warmly where his hands met her skin. The sensation caused her to swallow heavily. She’d be lying if she said she didn’t like it.
   Plumbob, he confused her.
    “So, are you ready to try?” he asked her when he finished his explanation, smiling reassuringly at her. She nodded wordlessly, still flustered by the confusing feelings in her chest.
   He gave a step back to provide her with some space to attempt the activity, his fingers trailing off her waist.
   Her skin lamented the loss of his touch.
   She swiftly supressed the feeling, trying to turn her focus wholeheartedly to the board she was standing on. Cautiously, she turned the sail like he had showed her, allowing it to capture the wind and drive her forward.
   The sail did its job admirably, effortlessly catching the wind. Her heart leapt into her throat at the unfamiliar movement and she momentarily lost her balance, causing the board to wobble slightly, but she automatically corrected her stance and it righted itself again. The wind parted around her as she propelled forwards, drenching her with water droplets and causing her hair to stream behind her.
   It was the most amazing thing she had ever experienced.
   She couldn’t prevent the delighted laugh from escaping her lips. All of her worries disappeared like mist before the sun, leaving her focused only on the now and here. It was incredibly liberating. For the first time in her life, she felt truly alive.
   She was vaguely aware of Edwin pulling beside her with a jet ski, effortlessly keeping up with her. There were no words exchanged between them, but none were needed. The only things that mattered were the wind, the water and the joy they both shared in that moment.
   The rest of the day passed in a blur of excitement. As it turned out, the planned activities for the day included more than just windsurfing. They also shared turns on the jet skis, challenging each other with races…
…and when the wind became a little too still for windsurfing, they finally started the motorboat and went waterskiing.
   It was twilight by the time they finally got out of the water, the first stars already appearing in the vast expanse of the night sky. Lyra was drenched from head to toes and the slight evening breeze bit into her skin, but there was a large smile on her face and she was content in a way she couldn’t ever remember being.
   Lakisha and Robby fiddled around with the firepit, trying to get the fire started. Lyra was too far away from them to hear anything they said, but she could see the easy banter they engaged in. Shawn helped carry the firewood to the pit, interjecting every now and then with a comment of his own. They were completely relaxed around each other.
   Lyra suddenly felt like a stranger looking in onto a scene she didn’t belong in. This was an already established group of friends. She had no business inserting herself in that group. She didn’t belong with them.
   Warm arms then slid around her, breaking her out of her melancholic thoughts. She could smell Edwin’s familiar scent around her, and her skin once again tingled where his skin met hers. Her hands automatically went up to his arm, holding onto him.
    Plumbob, you’re beautiful,” Edwin murmured into her ear. It should’ve bothered her that he was so close, especially after she’d told him to give her space and time, but it didn’t. Instead, it sent delighted shivers down her spine.
   She suddenly felt extremely hot.
   She gave him a tight smile and shrugged off his arms, setting off towards the firepit.
   She heard him groan and from the corner of her eye, she noticed him throw his head backwards, his eyes beseeching the heavens for help. But he followed behind her, and when they reached the firepit he sat beside her, close enough that she was acutely aware of his presence, but not so close that he was intruding in her space.
   She had to give him points for tenacity. She was loath to admit it, but he was slowly getting the upper hand in this dance they were performing around each other.
    “So, Lyla, ya enjoy the day?” Lakisha drawled, effortlessly drawing Lyra into the conversation. Lyra pulled her thoughts away from the man confusing her so much, focusing instead on the conversation and the other people surrounding her.
   They socialized until late in the night, long after the moon had risen, accompanied only by the sound of the waves breaking on the shore and the crackling of the fire shooting sparks into the sky. Any unease Lyra might’ve had over fitting in with the group disappeared easily. They were easy-going people, and Lyra couldn’t help but relax with them.
   At one stage during the night, once the wood had burned out and the fire had almost been reduced to smouldering embers, the group had started to segregate into smaller groups. Edwin and Shawn were discussing a recent football game, completely absorbed in their conversation. Lakisha and Robby had slipped into a private conversation, stealing little touches and kisses every now and then, making it more than clear to Lyra that they were, in fact, dating.
   She slipped away from the group, feeling a bit neglected and slightly self-conscious by the display. Things were starting to reach the point where she would need to make a decision about Edwin.
   She could no longer deny it. She had completely and utterly lost the game. She wanted more of his touches. She wanted more of his kisses. She wanted him to embrace her and send more of that delightful shivers down her spine. She wanted to touch him without feeling guilty about it.
   Footsteps crunched on the sand behind her, and a familiar scent drifted to her nose. She looked over her shoulder at him, unsurprised by his presence.
    “Edwin,” she acknowledged him and turned her eyes away, unwilling to make eye contact with him. She knew her eyes were like an open book at the moment, displaying her thoughts for all to see. She’d never been very good at hiding her emotions.
   He strolled up next to her in silence, his thumbs tucked into the waistband of his trousers as he stared up at the stars twinkling above them. For some time the only noise between them was the sound of the waves breaking right in front of them, the water occasionally lapping at Lyra’s toes. Again, she was hyper-aware of his presence.
    “You were kinda quiet back there,” Edwin stated, his voice breaking the silence between them. “Something bothering you?” He voice held a hint of concern.
   Something in her resolve broke.
   She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t stand there and act like nothing had changed between them. She was falling head over heels for him and she couldn’t understand why. She couldn’t understand his motivations at all.
   “What is it you want from me, Edwin?” she asked vulnerably. “What is it that you wish to accomplish by…asking me out on dates, or…” She shook her head, unable to complete the sentence. She finally looked at him, her heart in her eyes. “What do you want from me?”
   He didn’t reply. He kept staring at the stars, deep in thought. When he did finally reply, several minutes later, the response wasn’t something Lyra had expected to hear.
   “Why is it so hard for you to understand that I like you, Lyra?” he asked her. “I like the person you are. I enjoy spending time with you. And you’re so incredibly beautiful that I can’t help but want to touch you.”
   “You still didn’t answer my question,” she pointed out in return. “What is it that you want from me?”
   He groaned with frustration, letting his head drop to his chest before he finally turned to her.
   “Fine,” he caved with a surrendering sigh. “I want to touch you. I want to kiss you. I want to take you into my arms and feel your skin against mine. I want you to look at me with that fire burning in your eyes. I want to be able to show you to the world and tell everyone that you’re mine. Simply put, I want you to be my girl.”
   She couldn’t help it. She threw her head backwards and her laughter rang through the skies. How freakin’ ironic, that he was able to echo her thoughts so much. All those things he wanted to do…she wanted him to do it. How freakin, utterly ironic.
   Her fingers itched. She wanted to touch him; feel that tingle in her fingertips. She wanted him to look at her with those mesmerizing, fun-loving green eyes of his. She wanted him to look at her and know that she was the reason for the expression in his eyes.
   She gave in to the impulse. Her hands went to his face in a soft caress, her fingers gently touching his cheeks. His breath hitched at her touch, and he reflexively slipped his hands around her waist, sending her nerves tingling again.
   “You win, Edwin,” she breathed softly, staring into his eyes with a carefree smile. “You win. I’ll be your girlfriend, if that’s what you want from me.”
   His eyes lit up with joy and a broad smile appeared on his face. “Are you sure?” he breathed just as softly, his eyes hopeful.
   Lyra nodded, a wry smile on her face. It was way too late to turn back now. Her hands slipped from his face, one going to his chest and the other to his nestle in his hair. She closed her eyes, and they met each other halfway.
   When she opened her eyes again, the stars seemed so much brighter, and her future suddenly didn’t seem quite so bleak any more.
   She both hated and loved Sunset Valley.
   It was a stagnant hell to live in, filled with stereotypes and ‘traditions’ and expectations that she could honestly not see herself fulfilling. She hated the way everyone in the town seemed to live the same kind of life, the way nothing new ever happened, and the way the entire community had been happy to settle into such a boring, everyday life. From the day a person was born, everybody already knew how that person would turn out, and what kind of life he or she would lead.
   That wasn’t the kind of life Lyra wanted to have.
   She idly played with the camera in her hands, absently making changes to the shutter speed and the aperture, her mind automatically searching for the optimal settings to capture the image in front of her. The camera had been a gift from her dad, back when she had first started with high school and expressed an interest in photography. It had been a short-lived hobby and for a long time she had ignored the camera, leaving it to gather dust in her closet. After her dad had died, she had come across it again, and suddenly it became one of her most precious belongings.
   Because it had been a gift from her dad.
   And that was the reason a part of her still loved Sunset Valley. For all of its faults, it was still the town she had grown up in. It was still the town she had created memories in; memories of happier times when her dad was still alive and her siblings still on speaking terms.
   She hated Sunset Valley, and she wanted nothing more than to leave, but for some reason she always felt like she would be betraying those memories if she did leave.
   She pressed the trigger and the shutter snapped close, immortalising the scene in front of her exactly as she had envisioned it.
   “Oh! Is that a Hikon QX40di Gladiator?” a voice asked from beside her. She looked up startledly, making eye contact with the woman looking eagerly at her. She had been so absorbed in her thoughts she hadn’t even noticed being approached.
   She scowled slightly, somewhat irritated by getting her thoughts interrupted by this stranger.
   “What of it?” she asked tersely. She had come here for some peace and quiet, not to strike up conversations with strangers.
   Unfortunately, her rude behaviour did nothing to deter the woman.
   “I have the model that was released just before that one,” she announced and took a stance beside Lyra. “I’ve never been terribly great at it, but photography is such an interesting art, isn’t it?” She seemed to remember something and lightly tapped herself on her head. “Oh, how rude of me. My name is Bianca, Bianca Schuler.”
   She looked expectantly at Lyra, clearly waiting for her to introduce herself.
   Lyra begrudgingly obeyed the unspoken request. “Lyra Marquel,” she introduced herself. Before she could enquire what Bianca wanted, the other woman plunged headlong into conversation, chattering about photography and different techniques and flashes and the influence of light on photos and tripods and polarized lenses, and despite herself, Lyra couldn’t help but get pulled into the conversation. It was the first time she had ever met someone who shared her hobby.
   She even showed Bianca some of the photos she had captured. The other woman stared at the photos with awe, apparently amazed by them.
   “Oh wow,” she breathed and gave Lyra a wry grin. “I could never hope to capture anything of this quality. These are amazing.” She paused on a candid shot Lyra had taken of Edwin, her eyes drinking in the details. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, but when she turned her eyes back to Lyra she looked quite determined.
   “I’m getting married next weekend,” she announced, nervously playing with her hands. “I know this is wrong of me to ask, since I’ve only met you and all that, but please, will you be my photographer? I couldn’t find one I liked before and your work is really amazing.”
   Lyra reeled back in surprise, caught completely off-guard by the request. Her, a photographer? Photography was something she did for fun. She definitely wasn’t a professional at it. Heck, she didn’t even have half the equipment professionals did.
   Bianca seemed to read the hesitation in Lyra’s eyes because she suddenly grabbed Lyra’s hands, staring pleadingly into her eyes.
   “Please,” she pleaded earnestly. “Please. You’re really talented. I’ll pay you and everything.”
   “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea,” Lyra tried to protest. “I’m not a professional. It’s just something I do for fun.”
   Again, her protests did nothing to deter Bianca.
   “With your skill and talent you can easily go professional,” Bianca declared enthusiastically. “Please? All it’ll take is an afternoon of your time, and I’ll pay you generously.”
   There was that word again. Pay. Which meant, money. She didn’t exactly need money, as her dad had left her a massive inheritance, but…
   …but she’d be able to register as a photographer and hopefully then her mother will stop hounding her to get a job.
   Maybe this wasn’t such a terrible idea.
   “Fine,” she agreed, “but I won’t be held liable if the photos turn out to be horrible.”
   “Oh, I’m sure they won’t,” Bianca declared with conviction, happy that she’d finally been able to convince Lyra.
   Like Bianca had predicted, the photos turned out to be beautiful. Several of her friends had expressed interest in Lyra’s work as well, and before long Lyra had started to make name for herself as a professional photographer by word of mouth. To be honest, she kind of enjoyed it. She enjoyed the fact that her workhours were random, and far between. It left her with more than enough time to pursue her own life. Best of all though, it finally got her mother off her back about getting a job. Her lack of a job had caused more than one argument between her and her mother.
   She often found herself back at the sea, perfecting the new hobby Edwin had introduced her to.
   There was just something freeing about spending the day amongst the waves and the wind. Edwin occasionally joined her, especially on weekends, but most of the time Lyra was on her own. Edwin had managed to land a job at the Landgraab Science Facility, so the time he had available to spend on his own hobbies had been drastically reduced.
   To be honest, Lyra didn’t mind all that much. She enjoyed spending time with him, but she actually preferred going windsurfing on her own. She normally used the time to clear her mind and sort out her thoughts.
   She still hated Sunset Valley, but she no longer detested it so completely.
   If there was something Edwin had taught her, it was that Sunset Valley had a hidden sense of life she had never noticed before. Yes, the town was stuck in their ways, always following the same old pattern, but at the same time the town was…exciting. It was only now that she had started to socialise with people – made friends – that she realised that the secret to…well, she wouldn’t exactly call it happiness, but tolerance maybe worked just as well, lied in the people living in the town.
   They were the ones who made things exciting. It was something she had never realised before.
   Night had already fallen by the time she finally returned home, the stars twinkling far above her in the warm spring air. The lights were on, but unlike in her childhood, they were no longer that same warm, comforting invitation. If she had to liken it to something, she’d have to choose the stars: distant, and oh so far away.
   When, exactly, had it become such a chore to return home?
   The door was locked when she tried to handle. It meant her mother was out working. It meant that she’d be alone in the silent house, with only ghosts to keep her company – both the ghosts of her past, as well as the one remaining literal ghost named Charlotte.
   It was too much. She simply wasn’t up to spending who knew how long in a house that shouldn’t be silent. Her hand dropped to her side, keys dangling limply in her fingers.
   She didn’t want to be alone tonight.
   She stared at the house in front of her, uncertain whether she should ring the bell or not. It wasn’t the first time she’d been to Edwin’s house, the one he moved into when he moved out of his parents’ house, but it was the first time she kind of invited herself. She wasn’t entirely sure whether she’d be welcome or not. Heck, she hadn’t even called to let him know she was coming.
   But her need to not be alone drove her to action. She pressed the button and the shrill scream of the bell rang through the air and more importantly, through the house, loudly announcing her presence.
   “Just come in, the door’s open,” Edwin’s voice responded from inside the house. Lyra only hesitated a second before she opened the door and walked in. The scene that greeted her was a far cry from the one in her own house, but for some reason she found it infinitely better. Probably because this house wasn’t empty.
   Edwin laid on his couch, his eyes fixed on the football game playing on the TV. A bottle of beer was held loosely in his hand. He lifted his hand in greeting, his eyes still fixed on the game.
   “Money’s on the counter, tip included,” he announced, causing Lyra to blink in confusion. “Just leave the pizza there.”
   “Uhm, I’m not the pizza guy,” Lyra replied. The effect her words had on Edwin was instantaneous. He jumped off the couch, moving faster than Lyra had ever seen him move before. It was almost admirable how he didn’t allow even a single drop to spill out of the bottle he was holding.
   “Lyra. I hadn’t expected to see you,” he addressed her nervously, the tips of his ears tinged with red. She couldn’t help the slight smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
   “I’m not bothering, am I?” she asked hesitantly. He immediately waved her question away.
   “No, no, of course not,” he immediately denied. “I just hadn’t expected you, that’s all. You’re always welcome here.”
   He placed his beer on the coffee table and moved towards her, drawing her into a hug. She gladly reciprocated, warmed by his presence. In the background, the guy on the TV announced a goal scored in the game Edwin had been watching before Lyra had interrupted him.
   The scene was such a far cry from the one that had greeted Lyra at her own house, but she could confidently say that she preferred this one. She hated returning to an empty home.
   “Is something wrong?” Edwin asked her concernedly when she didn’t break from the hug for several seconds. She drew away with a slight smile on her face, her mood already drastically improved.
   “Nothing is wrong,” she assured him. “I just…don’t want to be alone tonight. My mom’s out working and…and the house is a bit silent.” There was no way she could explain the emptiness that somehow filled her house, and the weakness that had driven her to seek solace somewhere else. That explanation would have to do.
   “Well, you’re more than welcome to stay,” Edwin assured her. “I know this place doesn’t look at its best, and I’m afraid dinner is only pizza, but please, stay. I don’t mind at all. We can…uhm, watch a movie, or…”
   Lyra smiled and gave him a kiss, comforted by his words.
   “Pizza and a movie sound wonderful,” she agreed, warmed to the bottom of her heart.
A/N: I’ve discovered the wonders of IP’s water sports, so I apologize for the windsurfing spam. It’s just so pretty to look at!
So, several roll reveals: Primary Career is Freelance Photographer and Generation Goal is Idle Career. The Misc. Fun is Runs In The Family, but because there is still some confusion regarding which generation that roll actually applies to, I decided to just let it apply to both generations. Lyra and her siblings all shared the Virtuoso trait with Chantia, and one of Lyra’s traits will be passed on to the next generation. I still haven’t decided which one though.