Sunday, 31 August 2014

Chapter 2.14 - Just...Friends

   No matter where a person lived, there was one truth that remained the same everywhere: no one liked early morning calls. Maybe some younger people only had to deal with drunk friends calling to say how much they love you, but at Chantia’s age, an early morning call had only one purpose, and that was to relay bad news.
   That call was no exception.

   Chantia stirred slightly as the shrill ringing of the phone woke her, irritated by the interruption of her sleep. Why would somebody call at that time of the night? Beside her Sam groaned before blindly reaching out to the phone and answering it, mercifully putting a stop to the annoying ringing. Whatever was said on the other side had him awake very quickly.
   “She what?” he asked disbelievingly. There was a brief silence as he listened to the person on the other side of the line before he continued. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Do you want to speak to her?” he asked, the words rousing Chantia’s curiosity through the haziness of sleep. The answer he got through the line caused him to turn to Chantia.
   “It’s your dad,” he told her softly, one hand covering the phone. “Your mom…” He didn’t finish the sentence, causing dread to fill Chantia. She took the phone from Sam.
   “Dad?” she asked anxiously. Her heart sank to the bottom of her stomach when she heard the news. Hadn’t her mother been too young to die? With a shock she suddenly realised how much time had passed when she hadn’t been paying attention. Her mother had already lived longer than the average person.
   “I’ll come over in the morning,” she promised her father, dread suddenly filling her heart. Her dad was also already older than the average person. She didn’t want him to die without seeing him at least one more time.
   In the morning, after sending the children off to school, Chantia went to her childhood home. Her dad looked visibly older than the last time she had seen him. The life in his eyes was gone.
   She pulled him into a hug, wordlessly reminding him that she at least was still there for him. They didn’t exchange words, but they held each other for a long time, mutually enduring their shared grief.
   “Thank you for coming,” her dad told her hoarsely and gave her a wan smile. The Song she always heard in the back of her mind suddenly took on a dirge-like quality, just like it always did whenever somebody’s time of death approached. She closed her eyes in pain and denial.
   She would not see her dad again. He would follow her mother into death soon.
   A day later, the news she had been expecting came. It wasn’t a shock, but she still didn’t want it to be reality.
   “Why does the world have to be so cruel?” she sobbed into Sam’s shoulder. She didn’t want to deal with it. She wanted her parents to be alive and well, both of them.
   He held her for a long time, whispering soothing words in her ear and rubbing her back comfortingly until she finally felt the worst of the pain settle into a dull ache.
   “Thank you,” she murmured, holding onto his warmth. She couldn’t imagine going through that pain without him. He was always there for her, comforting her and helping her through her struggles.
   He gave her a soft kiss on her head before allowing her to pull away. He smiled warmly at her and gave her hands a gentle squeeze. “That’s what I’m here for,” he assured her, causing warmth to fill her heart. She was so lucky to have him in her life.
   Despite the loss of her parents, life settled into a rhythm again. Grief still struck her at unexpected times, but it was slowly getting easier to think of them with smiles rather than tears.
   Life settled into a rhythm, but it was by no means a simple, uncomplicated rhythm. In addition to the death of her parents, there were two major changes in Chantia’s life: her eldest child started with high school, and her youngest with elementary school. Having two children and one teenager in one household was rather chaotic.
   “You lied to me,” Lyra accused Arienne. “You said all the classes are held outside and they’re not!”
   Arienne snorted, pleased that Lyra had believed her tall tale the previous day. “And you believed me? Of course they’re not held outside. What are you, stupid?”
   Lyra continued to glare at Arienne for several seconds. “You’re a butt, you know,” she accused her older sister, which caused Arienne to snort even louder.
   “A butt? How cute. Don’t you mean an ass?” she teased the younger girl. Before Lyra could respond, they were interrupted.
   “Language, Arienne,” their dad reprimanded her. “And don’t teach your sister to swear.”
   Arienne rolled her eyes at the reprimand, but she stopped teasing her sister nonetheless.
   Now that Lyra was older though, she was no longer safe from Renard’s ‘sister-baiting’. To his dismay, his usual tactics didn’t work on the younger girl.
   “You look like an idiot, you know,” he informed her and finally got the reaction he had been looking for. Lyra drew back, scowling angrily at her brother.
   “And you look like a nincompoop,” she retorted angrily.
   They came very close to fighting nail and tooth after that exchange of insults. Chantia was sure that if she hadn’t stepped in and separated them at that stage, she would’ve had two children at hand nursing battle wounds. And she had thought Renard and Arienne’s fights were difficult.
   At least Arienne had never actively picked a fight with Renard.
   “Is that supposed to be a city?” Lyra asked curiously, watching Renard painting. “Because it doesn’t look like one. Real cities don’t have glass around them.”
   “Plumbob Lyra, shut up!” Renard complained. “It’s my painting; I can do what I want. You’re just jealous!”
   “Am not!” Lyra denied vehemently, again nearly coming to blows with the older boy.
   Renard still tried his luck with Arienne, but she had gotten a bit more adept in handling him and his baiting. Instead of rising to the bait, she often just laughed outright at him. It wasn’t to say that she never fought with him anymore, but it was definitely less than before, as well as less severe.
   Unless he messed with her shampoo. Then all bets were off, much to Renard’s delight.
   It wasn’t the only way Arienne’s siblings managed to get under her skin. As a birthday present, Arienne had been gifted with her very own computer. However, since it was the only one in the house that was easily accessible, both Lyra and Renard couldn’t withstand the temptation, much to Arienne’s ire.
   “Is that…fingerprints?” she asked incredulously as she noticed the oily smears on her screen. She never touched her screen, which meant the culprit had to be one of her siblings. She doubted it was her brother – he seemed to prefer the game console over her computer – but Lyra was a definite possibility.
   So she decided to have a little revenge.
   She didn’t have to wait long before her trap got sprung.
   Renard’s scream reverberated through the house, easily reaching Arienne where she was practicing her piano skills, causing her to smirk with satisfaction. She might’ve been wrong over whom the culprit had been, but Renard’s yell of terror was still sweet music to her ears.
   That would teach him to touch her computer.
   She was waiting for him when he emerged from her room.
   “Didn’t think I’d found out, did you?” she asked rhetorically. “I told you – stay away from my computer. And my room,” she ordered him threateningly. “And that goes for you too, Lyra!” she told the girl who was very conspicuously not looking at them, all too guilty herself. “Don’t touch my stuff!”
   As a teenager though, Arienne’s life had more complications than just annoying siblings. One of those complications sat across from her in class, making it incredibly difficult to listen to her lessons.
   “If you like him that much, why don’t you just ask him out?” Rose asked Arienne curiously after weeks of watching her friend moon after the boy. Arienne whipped her head around to stare warningly at her friend, a slight blush colouring her cheeks.
   “I can’t do that!” she protested. “It’s Max,” she pointed out, as if it explained everything and in a way, it did. He was her best friend from childhood. He also caused butterflies to flutter in her stomach every time he smiled at her. Unfortunately, Arienne was also positive he did not see her in that way. She sighed forlornly. If only he wasn’t so good-looking and smart and funny and…
   Rose snorted. “You’ve got it bad, girl,” she declared, causing Arienne to glare at her. She couldn’t help liking him that much!
   “Honestly, just ask him out,” Rose advised. “What’s the worst than can happen? He’ll say no?”
   “Or I’ll completely ruin our friendship,” Arienne pointed out. She was sure that would happen. It was better to keep quiet and remain his friend than to open her big mouth and ruin it. He wouldn’t fall for her anyway.
   Rose sighed and shook her head. “Then at least ask him to prom,” she suggested. “If not as dates, then go as friends. It’ll provide both of you a way to step out gracefully if he doesn’t feel the same way you do.”
   Arienne bit her lip. It wasn’t a bad idea. “I don’t know,” she hedged uncertainly. Surely he wouldn’t want to go to prom with her.
   In the end, she decided to chance it after all.
   “Arienne? What are you doing here?”
   She spun around bewilderedly, not expecting him to appear behind her. For a moment the two just stared at each other and Arienne felt her heart sink. It was a really stupid idea to come.
   The moment broke when he suddenly smiled at her, his gorgeous blue eyes lighting up with the gesture. The sight caused butterflies to flutter in her stomach, like it always did.
   “Not that I mind, of course,” Max stated. “You’re always welcome here.”
   Arienne looked away, thoroughly embarrassed. How could she possibly ask him to prom now?
   “Do you want to come in?” Max tried again when he didn’t get any response from her.
   “Ah, no,” she refused, suddenly reminded that she still had piano lessons later the afternoon, and if she wasn’t mistaken, Max had some kind of activity on as well. She didn’t have all afternoon to hesitate. If she didn’t ask him now, she knew she never would.
   She took the plunge.
   “I actually just wanted to ask you something,” she admitted nervously. “Uhm, do you wanna go to prom together?” she rushed out, afraid of losing her nerve. His eyebrows rose, either in interest or incredulity (she had no idea which), prompting her into expanding her request. It couldn’t be in interest. “As friends,” she quickly added. “You know, just…friends.”
   There was a small change in his expression, but Arienne wasn’t sure why. Had she said something to upset him, or was it the idea of going with her that bothered him?
   “Oh, friends,” he repeated, sounding almost…disappointed. “As friends.” He smiled at her (a little less brightly than usual) and Arienne felt her heart skip a beat. He had such a great smile.
   “Sure,” he agreed a little unenthusiastically. “We can go…as friends.”
   Arienne felt her heart fell at his lack of enthusiasm. He probably only agreed out of a sense of duty. It wasn’t as if anybody else would ask her. She wasn’t nearly as pretty as the other girls in her class. Heck, she didn’t even wear makeup! He was really just being a good…friend.
   “Great!” she enthused with a cheer she didn’t really feel. “I’ll see you there then.”
   She didn’t want to go as friends. She wanted to go as more. She wanted to tell the rest of the world ‘stay away, he’s mine!’ But she couldn’t. There was no way he’d feel the same.
Arienne <3. She really should have more confidence in herself >_<.
Anyway, I learned a very interesting thing while playing this: SP can be horribly sadistic at times, and my sims can be incredibly cold hearted. In a span of two days, Chantia lost both her parents. Her relationships with both of them were maxed. She cried over Gustave. She didn’t cry over Evelyn. -_- I’m rather disappointed about that.
Lyra is fun. Since this challenge is all about trying new things, I decided to break my normal patterns and give Lyra a trait I usually avoid: hot-headed. I love it. She’s constantly picking fights with everyone. Like that pulling faces scene: they were happily pulling faces. I looked away for a second and when I looked back, they had started fighting. She’s keeping me on my toes and I absolutely love it.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Chapter 2.13 - A Great Gift

    Winter fell over Sunset Valley, casting a blanket of snow across the town and freezing the surface of the various lakes scattered throughout the valley. The white-capped mountains sheltering them from the rest of the world stood majestically beside the house, silently guarding them from the harshest of the weather.
   It was colder than previous winters, and even the ceaseless thundering of the nearby waterfall had paused, its waters frozen in glittering ice crystals. The plants had all gone dormant, and crystalline icicles adorned the house.
   Inside though, the house was warm and comfortable. Soft music hung about, both from the stereo and the soft pings from the toy xylophone. In the kitchen, a steady drone filled the air as the dryer slowly but steadily spun the laundry dry. In fact, Chantia thought the familiarity was almost…peaceful.

   “Renard!!” Arienne’s shrill scream came from the direction of the living room, causing Chantia to close her eyes in resignation. She should’ve known the peace wouldn’t last.
   Amused laughter rang through the air, swiftly followed by footsteps running up the stairs, again followed by another pair of footsteps running up the stairs.

   “Give her back!” Arienne’s highly affronted orders reverberated.
   “Make me!” Renard’s challenge returned.
   Chantia groaned. Renard had aged up in the beginning of the winter and ever since, it felt like the house hadn’t had even a moment of peace.
   He was constantly running, despite Chantia’s firm and continued reprimands, and to make matters worse, he had discovered his new favourite hobby: sister-baiting.  
   Fortunately, he mostly limited his baiting attempts to Arienne, but even Lyra wasn’t completely safe. Thus far though, he had attempted his Lyra-baiting exactly once. The banshee-like shriek that had originated from the toddler the one time he stole her toy had given her brother a firm (and very effective) warning of what she would do the next time he tried to rise her ire. Chantia still got headaches just thinking about it. 
   A suspicious moment of silence filled the air before a loud slap rung through the house.
   “I hate you!” Arienne screamed loudly, and footsteps ran down the stairs again. The footsteps were accompanied by loud sniffles.
   Sam paused in his typing, sighing and momentarily closing his eyes. He was much mellower than Chantia, but even he had moments where his patience was tested.
   “I’ll talk to him,” he promised Chantia in a soft murmur, relieving her of the duty. That left her with the duty of comforting her daughter. She was secretly glad about that. Renard rarely listened to her and she really wasn’t in the mood to try and get her son to obey her. Comforting Arienne would be much easier.
   “What was the fight about, Arienne?” she asked patiently once the girl stopped crying. Arienne sniffled once before rambling off an answer. 
   “Hetooksparklesandsaidshesadonkeyandonlycrybabieslikedonkeys,” she rambled, causing Chantia to blink bemusedly, trying to decipher the sentence. She decided to start the questioning with something safe.
   “Sparkles?” she asked cautiously, hoping she had correctly deciphered the subject involved. Arienne sniffled again and pointed to the stuffed unicorn lying on the floor, confirming Chantia’ suspicions that yes, the fight had been over a toy. Or rather, the fight had been over a toy getting called a donkey.  
   Chantia tilted her head slightly, trying to find more sense in the situation. Did children really fight over such petty matters?

   “But why did you slap him?” Chantia asked, deciding to address the most pressing issue. Yes, Renard shouldn’t have insulted his sister, but it still gave Arienne no excuse to hit him. “You’re older than he is. Even if he did call your unicorn a donkey, you know it’s not true. You shouldn’t have hit him.”
   Arienne pouted. “He called me a crybaby,” she protested.
   Chantia lifted an eyebrow. “And by allowing him to upset you, you prove his point,” she pointed out. “He’s just baiting you, Arienne. You shouldn’t let it get to you.” 
   She stood up and helped Arienne get off the bed before wiping the still-sniffling girl's tears away and guiding her out of the room.

   In the living room, Sam and Renard were waiting for them, Renard hanging his head remorsefully. Whatever way Sam had used to reprimand the boy had clearly been effective.
   For several moments the two children stared at each other before Renard finally broke the silence. 
   "Sorry," he mumbled, "for calling you a crybaby."
   Arienne glared at him, but Chantia merely tightened her hold on the girl's shoulder as a silent warning.
   "I'm sorry too," Arienne finally relented. "For hitting you."
   For another moment there was silence as the two stared at each other, unsure about what to do next. 
   Renard looked at the TV.

   " wanna play a game?" he suggested. Arienne looked at the TV as well and hesitantly nodded.
   “Okay…” she agreed reluctantly.
   Within minutes, they were completely absorbed in their game. If Chantia hadn’t heard the original confrontation, she would never have guessed they had fought in the first place.
   Unlike Arienne, Renard had had no problem with going to school on his first day. He had been incredibly excited about it, eager for new challenges and new experiences. While Arienne had managed to make several friends on her first day, Renard had completely dominated his class.
   He had more difficulties with his homework though. Sam had to explain some concepts several times to the boy before he finally managed to complete his homework. 
   Time passed, and before the family noticed, Snowflake Day arrived. It had snowed heavily the previous night, so it was a very white Snowflake Day, much to Arienne and Renard’s delight. In fact, it was still snowing by the time the entire household was up and about, but that didn’t curb the children's enthusiasm. Renard dragged his mother into assisting him with building a snowman, while Arienne roped her dad into teaching her a long-neglected skill: ice skating.

   “Are you sure you want to do this?” Sam asked reluctantly. “It’s still snowing.”
   “It’s just snow,” Arienne replied eagerly. Sam sighed, but indulged her request with a smile. Arienne found ice skating to be more difficult than she had expected though. 
   “You’re doing fine, Arienne,” Sam assured his daughter. “Just continue like that. If you feel yourself losing your balance, lean forward.” The next moment Arienne felt her feet move out from beneath her, and instead of listening to her dad’s commands of “Lean forward!” she grabbed the thing closest to her (her dad) and threw herself on him. The added weight caused Sam to lose his balance as well and the two of them went down in a heap.  
   After that, ice skating lost most of its appeal and the two of them decided to join the rest of their family in building an igloo. Even Lyra attempted her best to help, clumsily packing snow against the igloo’s entrance. More snow fell off than stuck to the entrance, but her delighted smile and laughter clearly indicated how much she enjoyed it. 
   As the children grew up and the household became busier, it contradictively became smaller as well. Despite numerous difficulties, stubborn officials and getting stonewalled around every corner, Chantia finally fulfilled her promise to Helen; helping her deliver her testimony and getting her murderer arrested. Her murderer was an old man by then, but seeing him getting arrested was enough to finally allow Helen’s heart to be at peace. 
   “Thank you,” Helen told Chantia, gratitude clear in her voice. “You’ve been a true friend to me, and not just to me; to all of the ghosts out there. No one could ever ask for a better friend.” She gave Chantia’s hands a soft squeeze. “Know than when your time comes and you join us in the World of the Dead, we will greet you with happiness and welcome you with open arms. You’re a true hero, Chantia.” The ghost gave a soft laugh and Chantia couldn’t help the smile on her face from spreading. It was the first time she had ever heard the ghost laugh.

   “It was no problem at all,” Chantia assured her friend. “You’ve brought me much joy over the years as well. I’m just repaying you for your friendship.”
   “Nevertheless,” Helen said, “I cannot express my gratitude sufficiently. You have fulfilled a wish, Chantia, that few of us ever manage. I cannot tell you what a gift it is to be able to leave this world without regret. Perhaps, one day, you will understand, but I hope that it’s a very long time from now.”
   A slight wind started blowing, and the slowly swirling snowflakes surrounding them started dancing around them. The Song, that beautiful song that always sounded in the back of Chantia’s mind, intensified, and Chantia suddenly realised that it wasn’t the wind blowing at all. It was magic, opening the portal for Helen. 
   “Farewell, Chantia,” Helen said her good-byes. “May you have a long and extremely happy life.” With that there was a bright flash of light, forcing Chantia to blink. When she opened her eyes again, Helen was gone, and there was no sign that the portal had ever existed.
   For a moment Chantia remained staring at the spot Helen had been, but she was pulled out of her reverie when she felt a comforting hand on her shoulder. Angelica smiled at her, and her smile held that same complex look of sadness, happiness and envy she had had when Clint, the first of them to go, had moved on so many years ago.
   “She was right, you know,” Angelica informed her. “It is a very great gift, to leave this world without regret. You’ve given that to her.” 
   Chantia thought of the years she had been a ghost hunter, and all the ghosts she had helped move on in that time. There had been many, and she had heard all of their stories, but few of them had left without any regrets. Helen had been one of the very few who had left with a smile.
   “I know,” she agreed, and she actually meant it. She might not completely understand exactly how much it meant, but she did understand that it was a very great gift.
   Frederick continued staring at the spot Helen had been as well. He was clearly lost in his thoughts. It reminded Chantia that she still didn’t know his reason for lingering.  
   “Dreams…aren’t usually this vivid, are they,” Frederick muttered softly, as if to himself. Angelica gave him a startled look and Charlotte turned unreadable eyes to him, but Chantia thought she detected a small hint of hope in those colourless eyes. There was a long silence before Frederick got an answer.
   “No they’re not,” Angelica agreed softly. She didn’t say anything else, but after a few moments Frederick gave a barely perceptible nod, and Angelica smiled reassuringly at him.
   Chantia couldn’t help but think that something really significant had just happened.  
   The teenage ghost gave one last look to the place Helen had disappeared before drifting away. Angelica and Charlotte stared after him, a pitying expression on Angelica’s face and once again, an unreadable one on Charlotte’s.
   That ghost is way too good in hiding her thoughts, Chantia thought absently. As if she could read her thoughts, Charlotte turned her colourless eyes to Chantia’s.
   “Frederick is a bit of a special case,” she explained to Chantia, drawing her attention back to the enigma that Frederick represented. “He doesn’t believe he’s truly dead. He thinks he’s just asleep, and all this is just a dream. For him to admit that…it might not be dream…it’s a big step forward. Perhaps one day…” The ghost didn’t finish her sentence, but Chantia could derive the rest of it on her own. Perhaps one day he’ll accept it. Perhaps one day he’ll make peace with it. Perhaps one day he too will move on. 
    Chantia stared at Charlotte, mulling over her words. It did explain some of Frederick’s eccentricities, and why he hadn’t moved on yet. She might be able to help him, but in the end it would mostly depend on himself. 
   That left her with only one ghost whose reason for lingering she didn’t know yet.
   She turned inquisitive eyes to the ghost standing beside her.
   ‘And you? What about you?’ she wanted to ask, but didn’t. The ghost was once again lost in her own thoughts and Chantia couldn’t get it over her heart to request an answer. Somehow, it just seemed too personal; and perhaps, if she was really being honest with herself, she was irrationally afraid that getting a confession would cause her best friend to move on. 
   She wasn’t ready to lose her friend just yet.
AN: Kinda makes me think of some kind of nursery rhyme: ‘Five little ghosts living in a house, one moved on, four were left. Four little ghosts…’ Well, there’s only three left now. I love the ghosts, but there is no place for them in my next generation, unfortunately. :( Except Charlotte, of course. She’s too special to let go just yet. :D