Charlie & Josephine J.-E.: I Call Shotgun! Pt. II

Power couple Char-Jo just got news they’re harboring an unplanned, but wanted, Sim fetus.

For more information, consult this goofy-ass fish

Josephine left the workforce when Charlie became Chief, s.t. her priorities are now coming up with baby names that accurately reflect her priorities/the geography/modern naming trends, etc., finding a place in the stone-susceptible house for the lil’ scamp, moving her eucalyptus neck pillow between the microwave and freezer pretty much constantly, and distracting herself from the pain by speculating whether Inez will end up with dashing Rodrigo or his secret identical (hence equally dashing) twin, Emilio. She starts researching her temporary disability online. The blogs she finds are positive and supportive, in contrast to the exclusionary jargon of Charlie’s medical textbooks. And the authors—so knowledgable! In a couple days, Jo has notebooks full of facts on symptoms for common problems, a learned instinct for when to track her baby’s breathing, and digital copies of unborn-accessible Mandarin, Spanish, and Korean speech recordings. (Substitute the Sim equivalents thereof.)

Another goofy-ass fish. Charlie’s doing the Angling Ace aspiration, y’see.

Charlie matches her degree of all-consuming focus—but not for baby preparations, because he’s not over that bizarre obsession with his childhood friend Cruz. Mr. Greenwood lives in the apartment adjacent to Shu, a realization that puts Dr. J.-E. in full derp.

Welcome to Dolly’s Sims, where there’s a homoerotic swirl in every bite

Cruz was (in theory) intensely dislikable even before he aged into Hot-Headed. This doesn’t stop Charlie from seeing him as some superhuman role model, having known him as the kid who could talk to anybody and do anything. To lose that faith would destroy his childhood. As such, their relationship neatly mirrors that of Ms. Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and Mr. Way (no relation) in many respects. But who’s this hurting? A bit of fanboyish glee is just what Charlie needs sometimes.

Charlie returns from his Cruz high to find Jo in the kitchen, single-fisting servings of tajine while the other fist holds a speaker to her rectus abdominis. “Cat, gato. Dog, perro. Big, grande. Little, pequeño,” the solenoid informs her torso. (Her other half bites his tongue at the lack of explanation of gendered words & the decision to make all aforementioned words masculine.) She shows him the echinacea and chickweed balm she made while foraging. It’s great for wound healing! Charlie nods his head at the list of benefits for each plant, slightly bothered that the list is just that, and contains no details of the physiological mechanisms by which each remedy works. In his excitement to have a two-sided conversation about one of his favorite topics, so he presses the issue slightly. Toxins? Which toxins? Is it urea? Because if something makes you sweat or pee, it does remove toxins.

Thirteen unique mentions of the word “toxins” later, Charlie staves off semantic satiation by offering to determine the pre-rugrat’s gender.

Pre-. Be consistent here, Alabama.

Can Charlie deliver his own child? God, he hopes so.

But without an ultrasound, how, though. How. Also, would any English descriptivists like to weigh in on the choice to capitalize ‘boy’?

The Outside house is still a hotspot on weekends. Saturday brings all of Jo’s crew. Her best friend, Morgan, reads a book in the airy comfort of a room with walls on three sides. Her brother, Gavin, entertains himself by walking in and out of the studio, because it is the entrance he understands best in this house, and is pleased with himself for doing so.

Her unborn son presses against her cervix. Jo enters the data into her contraction timer app. He’s coming! Put down the damn cards!

Just break the fourth wall and smile like a dumbass. Yes, like that.

Charlie is finally witnessing his job from the other side of the reception desk. He would perform the delivery himself, but labor laws require him to not perform surgery while off-duty. Lawsuits and stuff like that. He finds himself going into a deeper state of panic, manically pleading his co-workers to check his wife in. Dr. Rosa’s pipetting goes from unsettling to downright cruel as she refuses to pause her Sisyphean task of infinity-tuple-checking her blood work even as Joey’s belabored screams echo across the empty walls.

Over two hours later, Nurse Lothario realizes there is someone at the hospital who needs medical attention, and starts administering treatment he’s not technically qualified to administer.

Prompting a second freakout from Charlie.

Thanks to some dude in a basketball uniform screaming backseat surgery advice, both mother and baby survive. Don stops himself from chatting Jo up before leaving the room.

Here’s Jasper Jeong-Espinosa!

Lose 7 pounds now, ask Jo how

Jasper has some extended family who are all very excited to meet him—ah, speak of the devil, he’s letting himself in again.

Even the game mechanics know Mike has a documented lack of boundaries

Neither Gavin nor Moira is blessed with situational instincts, so the fact that the current residents left for several hours and returned with a third resident flies right over their heads. Jo leaves the youngin with his grandfather and the grandfather with instructions to restrict his cooing to a language other than Simlish. Jasper’s aging up with all the phonemes if it kills her.

The new mother’s strategy is to schmooze with the guests just enough for them to catch on to the baby situation, then care for her nooboo as soon as possible. But now a fourth guest, Ana Abrahmacharya, is begging to be let back into the living room.

Welcome to Catastrophe Theory, where we use words that the Google search algorithm thinks aren’t words because they’re jokes that require knowledge of Sanskrit grammar. So, here. The prefix ‘a-‘ means ‘not’ and brahmacharya is the fourth yama (ethical rule) in the Yoga Sutras, sometimes translated as sexual restraint. (Asteya is the third.) Get it? Ana would consider it a pretty sick burn.

Charlie has some degree of social awareness, even if it is induced by meddling, so he understands fielding the latest visitor is his job. He grabs Ana by the shoulder and pulls her in for a kiss.

What the absolute ass hell, you daft fuck

Yes, in front of his wife who just had a baby.

Charlie curses his inability to involve his idiot brain in matters of the heart. He’s supposed to be a genius. What about these women makes his thinking part turn off? A quick glance at Jo suggests she’s too engrossed in conversation with her brother to notice his misstep; he mumbles something unintelligible, focuses on counting the grey tiles as he power-walks toward the bedroom, and ducks behind the door, twisting the handle so as to make as little sound as possible. Turns out he’s not alone, not even here.

They forgot about Xiyuan. Ana was actually the fifth guest.

He lies awake even as the ombre of the sky shifts to navy and the constellations reveal themselves above his translucent roof. Sagittarius. Fitting.


Several hours later, the grandparents are invited for a private baby viewing. Charlie supports Jasper’s head as Claudia responds the same gushing way she would to a particularly well-done garnish, or a stranger at the airport ordering the same drink. Hard to tell with this one. Her husband has already seen the baby, and heads for the guitar before his son calls him over for a more formal introduction.

Jo’s almost-sixteen hours of experience left her with several questions for a three-time mother like Claudia, along with “help, my areolas are on fire,” which isn’t a question but deserves addressing anyway. How many fractions of a centimeter of cranial growth can we expect per day? Can she make any sense of these 80 conflicting comments on a Daily Mail article about pacifiers? The J.E. matriarch dodges these questions like 1999 Keanu Reeves (i.e., in 1999, not 1999 of him, in case the plural of Keanu Reeves is also Keanu Reeves), depriving Joey of the hyperspecific information she craves with each “oh, I’m sure it will be fine, don’t worry, darling.”

Yeah, Claudia, that’s what someone says in a horror movie right before they get an ax through the skull. The idea that everything will be fine is easier to stomach when you’ve already had three healthy children survive to between 13 and 28. Jo didn’t have that luxury; she was faced with a future where a thousand factors could determine whether her child lives a life of tragedy. Some were avoidable. But the causes and solutions were starting to span multiple notebooks, and Jo couldn’t devote all her time to research, not with all these handmade cloth diapers to wash. She excused herself to fire off a quick question to four different forums.

When she returned, she discovered Charlie had extended the private viewing to include Cruz and, to her horror, Shu. Charlie’s too captivated by Cruz’s story about the rude woman who served him at the DMV to realize his wife is now stuck keeping the trollop busy. Here. Bundle of joy.

Jo tries to avoid all eye contact and give curt, noncommittal reactions to Shu’s hypothetical inquiries re. the owner of these chubby baby legs. Please stop body-shaming the baby! It gets worse when he starts asking the questions she expected from Claudia, and worse still when he actually listens to her responses. You’re really interested in this stuff, Jo. Maybe you should have your own blog.

Maybe she should.

Jo subscribes to every social media platform she can think of under her online handle, JumpingJoey; she registers her domain, snaps a couple Anne-Geddes-worthy pictures of Jasper (in a somewhat post-apocalyptic nightmare twist, it looks like he’s growing in the garden with the watermelons), sets the best one as her site banner, and gets to framing her hundreds of hours of research in the confident folksy way she found so endearing. She looks through her notebooks and decides to present all the information she’s learned as subjectively as possible. If some new mother, somewhere, looked at everything Jo consolidated and was able to come to an informed decision about her choices, the whole effort would be worth it.

She poses a couple medical questions to Charlie for her third post. He’s confused; what do you mean by “prevent autism”? There are hundreds of genetic and epigenetic factors that can influence the development of autism, which, by the way, isn’t the worst thing in the world. He sends her eight review papers and a list of celebrities on the spectrum.

A two-year-old NooBoo Corner post by bo_bo_beans81 says rubbing the baby’s feet with milk thistle will halt the development of autism. Jo shrugs and writes “Milk thistle (Bo_bo_beans81, 2016)” under the eight PubMed links to peer-reviewed articles. Better safe than sorry. Modern medicine doesn’t know everything yet, nor does Charlie, who also has no experience being a mom.

He hangs out with Chantel’s a lot, though

As Jo’s readership reaches the hundreds, Jasper passes the requisite three days of neurological development and materializes a dope hat out of the aether.

She’s more aggressive about promotion than WWaTS. Note also that Charlie does really like her, despite the issues he has with such things.

It begins.

bond with child to induce mood

The race to getting a toddler to all full skills in one week. Hooray.

Jasper has the most well-documented progress of any Jeong-Espinosa toddler, which gets posted on Jumping Jasper! next to frequent reassurance that just because your tyke cries because you put the plate of chicken nuggets facing the wrong direction, it doesn’t mean things won’t get better. Also, you shouldn’t be feeding them chicken nuggets. Have you tried harvestables instead? Eating a full meal gets in the way of skilling.

Internally, though, as Jo reads through her positive feedback from blog owners whose posts she left positive feedback on, and one from a guy who wants new readers on his weblog about color-sorted ties, she will take any opportunity to talk to an adult in person for one goddamn minute. Like dragging a passing Xiyuan into the house during Jasper’s 2 PM – 4:30 PM nap for an unsatisfying game of cards.

You draw something good, buddy? Huh? Is that what’s going on?

Jasper’s crepuscularity also gives Jo an opportunity to work out. She discovers the punching bag has a special Flirty interaction. Unfortunately, this discovery isn’t thematic enough for her social media empire.

More like a social media fief, tbh

According to Jo’s Simstagram feed, Jasper is finished with four out of five skills. Jo thanks the stars that at least this part of childhood development is well-documented—she doesn’t know what she’d do without knowing the exact amount 1 hour of xylophone practice expands a toddler’s imagination. But her husband’s taking a looser conflict-averse approach. Check it.

Charlie: “What number is this?”

Jasper:

Charlie: “Yes!! Good job!”

You fucking liar.

We’ll give Jo some extra time to saturate everyone’s feed with pictures of Jasper in various hats, and come back to quantify the effects of flashcard dishonesty on childhood development.

Charlie J.-E./Josephine Liu: I Call Shotgun! Pt. I

(Yep; Part I. It’s another twofer.)

Some men cascade with emotion like water over a cliff. Charlie isn’t one of them.

Post an adolescence-long conversation with the night sky and people’s shoes, an early career spent touching his patients too lightly to the point where the lack of contact became kind of creepy, and a spiritually questionable (for her) hookup with the local ascetic, the search performed on the soul of the eldest second-gen J.E. still lacked the breadth and depth to make any conclusive statement about whether he actually wanted to be in a relationship. He wasn’t sure what drove him more nuts: the ambiguity itself or his inability to fix it. He cringed at himself for leaving this mental civil war unresolved even as he woke snuggling with another Sim. And then, for being unable to choose between the three as a source of frustration, ad infinitum, inductively.

But if there were anyone capable of opening Charlie’s mind to collapse these options into one (Charlie liked to picture the cat-box in Schrödinger’s thought experiment whenever external involvement was needed to make his ideas click), it would be sweet Jo. He had no issues with physical vulnerability, even enjoyed being affectionate, he’d learned; but to let her into his head? That clusterfuck? Even he didn’t want to be there. Besides the disorganization and the excessive involvement of Cruz Greenwood, she likely wouldn’t appreciate the amount of time he devoted to questioning their relationship. In fact, he decided, negate the earlier statement; she was the worst possible person to share this with.

The state of the household upon invading this guy’s consciousness. Charlie’s been training his left wrist pretty hard.

It could still be Charlie and Josephine forever, but forever hasn’t started yet. They still have time. A couple more weeks and—

—and Jo might as well be a firefighter, because she just saved the cat.

Climbing, running, fishing—many of Charlie’s favorite hobbies required him to turn his brain off and operate on pure intuition. Love might be the same way, he figured. Clear everything, quiet your natural approach, just enough to listen to the gut.

His gut says the same thing it always does when he understands how to not disappoint someone else. He says yes.

Ok cool, back to the workout

His doubt washes away in a wave of relief. He no longer has a choice to make. In fact, Jo can make the decisions for both of them from now on.

Girl! Make him wait until you’ve learned his traits!

Charlie’s future brothers-in-law Gavin Guy (married to Abram Guy) and Maxwell Liu find him at the Spice Festival to express their excitement about the proposal. Neither of them joke about ending him if he harms a hair on their sister’s head/breaks her heart/etc., which could be a sign of trust or just a side effect of Charlie being enormous. He repeats some of his dad’s old standup stories. He’s not paying enough attention to notice any hesitant sideways glances, but they laugh anyway, of course. It would be impolite not to.

Drained from the social interaction, Charlie tries to retreat back to his and Jo’s mostly-outside, mostly-UVB/UVC-proof house, which is unfortunately a favorite neighborhood hangout spot for no

fucking

reason.

So that’s the context for Charlie introducing Jo to all his friends and family: he hopes leaving the house will finally get him some privacy.

Xiyuan was also one of the 3-5 people in Charlie’s house that day, omitted because he’s always everywhere, most likely because ‘always’ and ‘everywhere’ are the time and place of Shu’s dates. Gotta chaperone.

Joey comes in with a plan to help Charlie’s bespectacled childhood friend figure out eye contact, which is shattered when Shu shoots her a gaze with enough force to make his head recoil. She honestly thought her fiancé was describing this guy’s D&D character. But no, now she could see where Charlie got the words “high charisma” and “bard.” Something about the manicured womanizer before her seemed hopelessly dislikable: the way he leaned back in his chair was too cocky, as was the excessive amount of jewelry; she didn’t like that brief pause between when she asked what he did for work and when he claimed to be a musician. Confident people could make you believe anything they wanted you to, she reminded herself. That’s why she liked Charlie. He had nothing to hide, and even if he did, he couldn’t. Her open book.

A siren setting off sirens

She found her opportunity to leave the conversation when Casanova pulled out a guitar and started strumming on top of the karaoke. Infuriating. Were people not paying enough attention to you, or what?

Karaoke performed by the Tragic Clown, an important figure in Charlie’s life

While Joey Jo-Jo lacked the context to mitigate Shu’s intensity, Charlie’s memories of a prepubescent Shu give him too clear a picture, one that weights the past more heavily than the present.

Charlie was bombarded with questions that night, which he did his best to answer. Their parents were friends. They were born in the same house. He spends a lot of time playing instruments. He does have a girlfriend, Chantel. Probably also Gen. I don’t know, maybe twelve? That’s just how he operates. Just don’t talk to him, then.


Charlie goes for a sunrise jog to the hospital, mentally prepping himself for another day where he’s the only one doing any work. The receptionist sits and plays on the computer while lines of patients form in front of them, Don Lothario chats up young female patients even as Charlie tries desperately to work around him, and there’s one other co-worker who tries to talk to him while he’s, y’know, actually working.

Today might be different. There’s a new doctor.

Charlie sneaks a glance as he runs from the patient rooms to test a sample. She’s pipetting! He closes his eyes in a moment of pure joy. He won’t be running the hospital alone anymore.

He records the sample results, diagnoses the patient, prescribes a vaccination (Sim doctors are a tad unclear on how inoculation works, but it does, so whatever), signs them out, ushers the next person to a bed, asks questions, takes a saliva sample, runs back to the lab. She’s still pipetting. He looks at the label. It’s the same damn sample. Repeat two or three more times; she’s still doing it. Tying up a machine. Damn it.

An emergency call preserves Charlie’s sanity. Three people may have just simultaneously collapsed at a bar, but at least he can be outside for a couple brief minutes.

It’s Shu’s boyfriend! We care about him!

He shakes the first Sim awake to administer treatment. He can count on what’s happening next more than he can on his coworkers: upon regaining consciousness, the patient’s knee-jerk reaction is always to spring up and start running as far away from the doctor as possible.

How can one be incompetent at being drowsy?

One patient manages to get two blocks away from the bar before Dr. Swole delivers his pills with a flying tackle. As much as he used to enjoy his morning jogs, it’s part of the job now.

He runs over his schedule for the rest of the day: after catching infectious vagabonds, he has to clean the beds, maybe rush to cure a couple more people before the end of his shift—nope, he’s interrupted by a promotion. The final one.

Charlie is breathless as he processes his emotions. He’s elated, he tells himself, because he’s supposed to be. The same reason he’s grateful. This is supposed to be a reward, he reminds himself, grabbing folders of budget reports to take home. This job would solve a lot of problems for many Sims. The new Chief of Staff—he feels nothing about the title, nothing, not achievement or pride or prestige—takes out his phone to text his parents the news, stopping short to wonder if they would even care. Everyone knew he would become Chief of Staff eventually. Now what?


Tuesday night, Jo gets a message from Ana asking if she can hang out. They chat until Charlie comes home. He greets her with a quick “sul sul,” to which she responds by slyly pointing out how good he looks in his lab coat. He winces and gestures his head back/slightly to the left.

Right before falling asleep, the realization hit him: Ana didn’t know he was engaged. She dropped in for a booty call and probably didn’t expect his fiancée to be answering the door. He was a bit embarrassed on her behalf, but wasn’t sure how he felt about that otherwise.


The Saturday of Jo and Charlie’s wedding is sunny, with not much aerial pollen. Save the tissues for the ceremony.

Myshuno Meadows has the largest amount of outside to accommodate the happy couple. In their tux and traditional dress, they greet their maximum eight loved ones, some of which forgot to change out of their Xiyuan/Bernard wedding uniform, one whose only formalwear is a tailcoat they “borrowed” from their dad’s tailcoat closet (he has other grey ones. Plural! He won’t notice), one wearing a warm-toned blush which is definitely not white, one pouting because her sibling outshone her bold fashion choices by correctly wearing a fedora.

Having already spent too much time between their first meeting and nuptials, the efficient couple starts their vows before the guests can reach their seats.

Jo’s brothers are the fastest, but also allergic to the front row; see below.
Foreground: Kendra, living her best life (there’s no music)
Background: Both the groom’s parents missing the wedding
Ah, here they go!
Mike also decided to dance. This is when you realize, oh god, is the wedding march music diegetic? Then you wonder how many of the sound effects can be heard by both the Sim and the player: obviously, they can hear the radio, but the volume of the radio varies with its distance from the player’s camera, while no such thing happens with sound effects. Are the sound effects happening in these guys’ heads? Then you realize that Sims bloggers with a characteristically odd sense of humor find odd things funny, like at least one sound effect being diegetic, and probably laughed for a full five minutes upon this realization.

As Charlie kisses Josephine Jeong-Espinosa for the first time, he reflects on the hundreds of decisions leading to this moment. His gut brought him here, into the arms of a woman whose presence nourished him in body and soul even as his mind lagged behind.

Who’s throwing the confetti? This is like the end of a case in Ace Attorney, where someone is throwing confetti in a courtroom, but you don’t know who. Hopefully the janitor doesn’t either.

He had no definition of love before. He considered it might be what he was feeling at this moment, but felt it was a bit pessimistic to assume the sensation you’d spent a lifetime chasing was so fleeting—or so easily displaced by excitement over, say, cake.

Yay! Cake!

Him and Josephine would have the rest of their lives to figure it out. They couldn’t predict change, but they could face it together.

The overthinking was giving Charlie a headache—wait, is it overthinking if you’re ruminating on snap decisions? Is there an optimal degree of overthinking and if so, is it just called thinking? Does the degree—ack, his headache got worse. Good thing he always carries aspirin.

Remember how Elsa earned her title of ice queen with a text congratulating her then-boyfriend, Shu, on his new “friend”? Well, here’s an absolutely venomous text from Charlie’s ex, to his new wife, during the wedding.

Elsa, bow down to Her Majesty. Also how does she have a phone?

There’s a partial explanation for this: Asteya is one of Jo’s closest female friends, and probably would have been maid of honor if Char-Jo could invite more than eight people to the wedding.

Charlie is too swirly to process what’s going on. Doctors are supposed to be less susceptible to infectious disease, which should prevent such situations as getting Starry Eyes at your own wedding, but a combination of stressors (planning & existential, here) can blow right through special traits.

We also learn that while yogurt parfait is customary for birthdays, French toast is à la mode for weddings.

If you’re going to pick one food to replicate obsessively, why not guacamole? Has anyone ever been to a party with leftover guacamole?

A sufficiently toasted Josie and Charlie take the afterparty to the Romance Festival. Here, romance permeates the lungs of non-newlywed (i.e., non-newlywed and unmarried) Sims; the groom’s sister and teenage namesake, to name a couple. Charlie Feng may be starting to show interest in Kendra.

They were flirting a second ago!

Back at home, the most recently appointed Jeong-Espinosa acclimates to married life. Charlie’s noticed she has the tendency to make these bizarre yelping sounds daily. Did she do that before and he just didn’t notice? Whatever. They’re certain they can face their first major challenge as a team, even with half the team howling like a horny pterodactyl.

The nature of this first challenge? It’s pretty routine.

Mmm-hmm.

Upcoming: we learn more about Jo, who becomes the second-newest member of the family.

The Shallot-Liu Family: Shallot-Liu vs. Shu

Some Sims belong in certain places. Charlie needs to live near a fishing hole. Hector has a 98% chance of ending up in Selvadorada. Shu’s heart was always in San Myshuno, and, in what is arguably the only silver lining to his parents’ divorce, can temporarily stay with relatives.

Relatives he’ll talk to when Chantel’s done.

Xiyuan hasn’t lived with Shu since he groomed his son to be the next San Myshuno Orchestra concertmaster/leader of the eponymous Mr. Liu’s PB&J. The man whose arrival caused the guest room to instantaneously self-crimsonify was a far cry from the toddler learning his circle of fifths: Xiyuan’s training had taken root, and Shu had mastered every possible visual and performing art in under two decades. Both dads had spent his high school graduation enthusing about the sheer breadth of possibilities. They mused as the valedictorian read an oft-misinterpreted poem of Robert Frost’s—why two roads diverging in a yellow wood? Why not eight?

As 30 ex-high-schoolers applauded the end of the reading, each believing themselves to be taking the “road less traveled” in the poem’s penultimate line, something in Shu snapped. He saw himself at a crossroads, all right, but with the folksy hiking trails replaced by these paved monstrosities, each split into regular sections, each section with its own rest stop and Carl’s Jr., each culminating in a different definition of success, each so linear that the finish line was visible from where he was standing. He saw his father by his side, holding his goddamn hand. The hard part had already been done: all he had to do was wait, and he would be shuttled to whatever single achievement he decided represents his legacy.

Shu realized nothing was forcing him to decide. He could refuse to move. He could bash his skull against the pavement until some bystander called an ambulance. He could turn around and go back to where he came, although Shu admitted that implementation was easier in the context of the metaphor than in his life. He could extend the metaphor with another phrase beloved by teenagers, and forge his own path. But how can one do that when they’re incapable of truly creating anything new?

The unique solution appeared to him. Redefine “path.” A job, Shu decided, is any activity that adds to the household funds.

Shortly after moving in, Shu has the opportunity to protect his dads’ symbolic mural from scum-of-the-earth Urlike Faust (and Urlike Faust from his dads’ fans).

You’re fucking with the wrong fish painting, Urlike

He introduces himself in his usual style.

Girl, are you “Cheerleader” by OMI? Because you keep getting stuck in my head at pivotal times in my life.

Urlike, beguiled, returns her cans of spray paint to her gigantic invisible dress pocket, her back to the PDA mural. Shu asks her on a date to the art gallery. While Urlike fantasizes about what she’ll be doing three hours in the future, her date’s watching the—oh, come on.

This is what you spray paint if you want to look tough in front of your friends: lily pads

Shu rolls his eyes. Before cleaning up the top level of paint, he asks Urlike to just be friends and ends the date early.

Another realization hits Shu. At the end of each date, an unidentified source sends his household a trinket, like a bucket of champagne. These buckets of champagne are worth §245 each. So if, hypothetically, one were to go on 1-3 dates per day with assorted people, they could earn as much as their mid-career peers.

Shu imagines drenching the octopath of his nightmares in leftover acetone, watching the layers wash away like the lily pads. He watches until only broken bottles and poison ivy remain. He looks into the undeveloped wasteland. He smiles.

Of course, one or more of Shu’s parents is chaperoning the date. §245 says they’re talking shit about Xiyuan.

“Did you hear him ask the plants if they wanted bottled or tap?”

Shu refuses to disclose his line of work to his parents. But when you’re expected to continue the creative legacy of one of the world’s most prolific living artists, said artist is probably going to notice when you don’t get a job in the arts. Bernard eats his cereal loops every morning to a sharp conversation half-yelled across the stairs; every other sentence is in a language he doesn’t understand. From what he can catch, Shu should probably be taking commissions or talking to one of Xiyuan’s contacts, while Xiyuan should stay out of it. Also, Shu’s going out. Bye.

The door slams. Xiyuan sighs and props himself against the wall with his forearm. He’s exhausted from trying to convince himself there’s only Chantel and Shannon, Bernard suspects.

Every time Shu leaves the house, he faces his father’s shrine to a boy he hardly remembers. (There’s also Toast Cat, worth over §10,000, and the same painting twice.) Every time, he scoffs. A parent’s love shouldn’t be conditional.

Shu chooses to stay home on Xiyuan’s birthday, but not without inviting Gen for a sleepover. Carlie Feng is watching from her apartment. Lily Feng gave birth to twin daughters shortly after learning Xiyuan had a son, and although the Shallot-Lius could prove no connection between the two events, they had their suspicions. In any case, Shu often finds himself in yet another imbalanced conversation where he knows basically nothing and Carlie/Charlie (yes, they actually named the twins that) can correct him on stories about his own childhood.

Get in line.

At the party’s center, Shu puts on a shirt and takes care of catering. He prefers to do all the cooking. Bernard left crumbs on the counter once, you see, and is now not allowed in the kitchen without Shu and his wet rag.

Carlie was ordered to pick the lock. The overlap between skills related to being the heir of an organized crime syndicate and skills required to crash a neighbor’s birthday party is quite high.

The birthday boy airs his grievances upstairs with Bernard, Victor and Claudia.

Not about losing in cards; the group has silently accepted that the heat death of the universe will occur before Xiyuan wins a round. He has a few tells. If he draws a card and dramatically recoils, he has a bad hand. If he announces how optimistic he is about finally winning for once, he has a good hand. If you listen carefully, you can hear him quietly mumbling the numbers and suits to himself. His friends are trying their best to help him come in second-to-last on his birthday.

“I have no idea what he’s doing.” Xiyuan places three of his cards in a face-down pile on the table. This isn’t part of the game, rather an attempt to sort his hand into important and non-important piles. “He doesn’t have time to come with me to gallery openings anymore, but almost every morning I go downstairs and he’s making pancakes for a different random woman.”

“And Chantel,” Bernard points out.

“Yes, and poor Chantel,” he agreed, drawing another card. “Ouch. He’s clearly getting money from somewhere, but I don’t know how he has time to do that anymore.”

“Look on the bright side,” Claudia predictably recommends, “at least you won’t have to worry about grandchildren.”

Victor’s eyes light up just as Xiyuan signals his husband across the table. Bernard, catching the difference between his ‘I’m one card away from a royal flush’ and ‘Please make {Victor/Lily} stop talking about my {son/son’s relationship status/future half-Feng grandchildren} by any means necessary’ faces, stands up hard enough to push his chair backwards. “I think it’s time for cake. Who wants cake?”

Later, Xiyuan catches Bernard on the stairs and pantomimes choking himself.

Another crisis has been averted. Every guest simultaneously thinks about how pleased they are with the catering, except the caterer himself. He has work to do.

Xiyuan’s birthday inspires the family to reflect back on the past, and in doing so, they realize something that seems obvious in retrospect: there are no conditions under which two post-pubescent Lius should be in the same house. Xiyuan finds it hard to stick to his two-girlfriend theory in the face of evidence sneaking through the front door every morning. Shu’s not comfortable with the arrangement either, and, by the way, he’s going to vomit the next time he hears the words “my lord.” Bernard would prefer conversations in his apartment to be less aggressive and monolingual. If there were an extraneous fourth party capable of communing with all three, she may get overwhelmed with keeping track of two to four WooHooing sessions per day. No one is happy. Time has separated the Liu family into one group that attributes the “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” sentiment to Nietzsche and a second to West, and the effects are irreversible.

Shu moves out the next day. He won’t be lonely; two of his favorite girlfriends have agreed to be roommates.

Aileen belongs to neither group. She attributes the saying to Clarkson.
(Red tank top is Genevieve, post-makeover.)

Shu would rather survive in this crappy apartment with two roommates than use his dad’s money. Besides, no one can control his job if he doesn’t have a real job. The strings of parental control have been cut. All Xiyuan can do now is show up on like all of Shu’s dates.

Without progeny to distract them, Xiyuan and Bernard return to their normal course of action, suppressing the narrative by being adorable.

CUUUTE
CUUUUUUTE
See, this looks like more of an actual tag than fucking lily pads
he’s really not a T-shirt guy but CUUUUUUUTE

Yes—since Shu has been reduced to a headless busker in the background, the Shallot-Liu apartment is once again occupied only by the posh couple, the keyholders,

I don’t remember how, when or why she got into the apartment. There’s no event timer. No one is home. She just came here to drink.

and the Fengs. Here, Victor re-enacts his rock opera outside the door to get their attention.

Welcome to San Myshuno, where the benches are cheerful and the Chinese Mafia is desperate

With twice as many Fengs trying to get temporary access to the apartment, Bernard and Xiyuan have taken to leaving a note on the door claiming they’re not home. They often come back from an event to find the note in the trash, as if removing it would somehow negate the message.

All he wants to do is get back to his husband. It’s like this every time they aren’t in the same room.

It’s unclear what relationship Charlie and Carlie want with the Shallot-Lius. They may have been pressured by their parents to befriend the neighbors, but for what? Cultural reasons? Money? Power? But no, they both do the same thing their parents do, which is begging to be let in so they can use the computer. It’s possible they’re money-laundering.

It’s not like the neighbors would notice anything suspicious.

And yet, they can be even more oblivious.

Should we tell him?

“Honey?”

“Dear, is something wrong? Why are you calling me at work?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too. What’s wrong?”

“Please remember that I love you. Don’t be mad.”

“What did you do.”

“I may have impulse bought an art gallery.”

In lieu of an actual baby, here’s The Koi Pond Art Gallery, a small business in Newcrest featuring the work of two prominent artists. The K.P.A.G. can’t disappoint its parents.

This is one of the only contexts in which hanging the painting of Bernard from Buy Mode makes sense

The Koi Pond is sparsely decorated so as to not distract from the paintings, featuring only a few fish-related things and plaques around the gallery commemorating the romance between its owners. One fishy detail is the iconic mural at the entrance, recreated by the actual disappointment himself.

To get into the store, you have to trample a symbol of eternal love.

-7 paintings and upwards of §8,500 later, the Koi Pond closes. Bernard and Xiyuan celebrate by making everyone in San Myshuno dry heave.

Anaya’s like, shit, it’s the ghost dudes again

Unfortunately for this half-reanimated power couple, a lack of conflict makes for a poor story. But they’re great for raising the spirits!

(Get it? Get it?)


(Thanks to all the custom content creators! I know it’s bad form to not give proper credit, but have a lot of CC and no way to keep track of it. I’ll gladly credit people when I figure out how to sort my stuff.)

The Jeong-Espinosa Family: Heart, Head, Hands, Hector

As Mike and Claudia transcribe their knowledge for future generations and Kendra and Hector learn their place in the world, we seize the opportunity to sample four slices of Jeong-Espinosa life.

Evidence of how much writing style can evolve over 6 months. That is, if you started a Sims blog today, it would take you at least 6 months (n=1) before you develop the urge to reference a high-level interpretation of the Pauli exclusion principle for a throwaway joke, remember that quote about writing you read on a day calendar once which could be boiled down to “put more things bad, take things out good,” realize guidelines for technical prose don’t apply to a Sims blog whose readership is irrelevant to your career success or quality of life, and respect that the diversity of human expression can’t be boiled down to something that fits on a day calendar by doing it anyway. Cherish that 6-month minimum (n=1). Also note that by some metrics, any caption of this image under 143 words is objectively better.

These distinct personalities do have their moments of family bonding,

There’s a short story by Sandra Cisneros or a similar author with a scene implying it’s common for the entire family to hang out in the bathroom, and child me felt slightly insecure sometimes because my family doesn’t. Based on years of keeping track of this sort of thing whenever I visit a friend’s house, it seems like the concept’s been oversold. Does anyone know any real families, not these guys, who hang out in the bathroom together?

but easily stand on their own. Let’s get into some heads.


Claudia

Juan Gabriel serenades Claudia from her computer’s built-in speakers as she lightens her emotional support Stoli by a couple ounces. The only way to fit the bottle on her desk is to set it atop a pile of cocktail napkins covered with pre-cookbook scribbles, with lower strata dating back to before Hector was born, neglected in an ongoing battle between Claudia’s usual anti-worry pro-be-happy mantra and her disinterest in writing. It was so dull, she could hardly focus. Maybe she’ll come up with an optimal ordering for her grandmother’s pupusa recipes if she stares at one particular scratch on the desk trim long enough. When she does make progress, Claudia remembers she actually does have to follow the above-referenced rules for technical writing, and removes several paragraphs complaining about what gringos have done to fruit.

Three hours/one sentence later, she chucks the empty shell of her writing companion into a pile with the others (recycling! Save the planet) and searches for pretty much any distraction. Like Mike’s body! Yes, he wanders off when she wants more, but that’s nothing new.

Nearly every straight/bi/pan woman can relate.

Mike acts like a cat, and not in a sexy way. He responds to Claudia’s requests for affection by walking away and falling asleep on the couch. He ignores Claudia until she has food. Instead of scratching the couch, he ends up trolling the Sims forums until they require a 15-post minimum for new members.

Mike initially captivated his wife by being entertaining, and his perception of Claudia hasn’t evolved since then: he still sees her as a member of the audience. Romance is a performance. It’s something Mike does to demonstrate what a good husband he is. Serenading her, for example, only works because he’s such a fantastic singer; if he wanders off to post dismissive comments on /r/worldpolitics afterwards, it’s because he doesn’t have enough energy to interact with her. She doesn’t know what it’s like having to be ‘on’ all the time.

This instance of serenading was at the karaoke bar. This was the only time it made sense.

Yet this approach works for Claudia. Works of fiction were designed for her to understand; reality was not. It’s easier to keep the streets of a city clean when that city is a set. It’s easier to follow a preset script than to improvise. There would be times when the performance ends, and Claudia processes the difference between fact and fantasy while she lies awake in bed, except she passes out long before such introspection can happen. How do you keep things fresh after nearly 30 years of marriage? Simple: with a reduced ability to form long-term memories, your relationship can be just as magical as it was in the honeymoon phase. Claudia knows how to keep things light.

Hector is the only one of Claudia’s children to have inherited her blind optimism. She’s stoked to finally have a conversation with someone about how nice the sky looks today, not demons, cell physiology, or Mike. Claudia’s omnipresence, however, neatly divided his parents’ roles in Hector’s toddler mind: Mom handles the tantrums, Dad swoops in a couple times to do fun stuff. He used to shut down before she could even pose an opinion about which Backstreet Boy that cloud looks like. Now, due to a series of food-based bribes, they’re each other’s favorite person, separated only when he goes to school or she works on her dang cookbook. Claudia’s not sure what’s happening with her other children—but, to be fair, Charlie is never in her direct line of vision, and even adult Sims lack object permanence.

La Madre Sin Rostro!

If she were to remember she has an adult son, Claudia would be more concerned about her own age. Several of her friends—those in Powerhaus, Partihaus, etc.—have adult children themselves. The implications are clear. Parties. Birthday ones.

Jade Rosa couldn’t age up without throwing a rager, if your criteria for a rager include the number of servings of yogurt parfait present.

As Claudia fantasizes about planning her own birthday party, she realizes how little she cares about growing older, which strikes her as odd. Isn’t aging supposed to be a universal fear? Isn’t she supposed to be mourning the loss of her youth? And yet, aside from the nagging feeling she’s going about life wrong, none of this matters. Either she’s given up or she’s done the arithmetic and realized some inequitable force prolonged her young-adulthood, so to complain would be ungrateful.

At her “writing” desk, Claudia’s wandering eye is drawn to a year-old cocktail napkin suggesting “Birthday party: yogurt theme???” It’s too late. She crumples it up. Claudia is forced to spend her precious cookbook time coming up with a plan B, which takes several days. Her new theme is The Gym. The idea being, everyone shows up at her house to eat cake, then goes to the gym. Hector can come too.

Gym enthusiasts Xiyuan and Aileen coexist in the same room without partitioning it like a war zone. That type of drama is traditionally reserved for children’s birthday parties.

Claudia and Aileen were mildly bothered by Paolo’s mention of a “huge B” until they looked forward, up, and slightly to the left.

Sneaking a sip of the tequila that lived behind the bookcase, the birthday girl watched her friends share stories about exercise, laugh at Mike’s antics, be Hector. How lovely. What a nice day she was having.


Mike

Mike is a great Sim.

Claudia v. This Relationship: Exhibit A

Mike initially wanted to be a comedian, which he was. Everyone loved him. His fame predates the existence of a fame mechanic. Then, he easily transitioned to a career in business because he was such a smooth talker, and was promoted to C.E.O. He’s a fun guy, not usually the suit-and-tie type, but he took the job to support his family. It’s just a little something great dads and husbands do.

Mike’s virtues don’t end at a pretty face and a pretty everything else and a silver tongue and passing knowledge of profanity in eight languages, plus knowing all the words to “Despacito,” he’s also a genius. That’s why he left his stuffy desk job (which was an act of self-sacrifice, remember) to explore space as an astronaut. And he excelled there, too, because his universe recognizes an exceptional man when it sees one.

Mike doesn’t have to put a shirt on; all his shirts broke. He goes to the gym a lot. Sometimes, going to the gym once isn’t enough for him, which is the reason he also has a set of weights in his room. Everyone at the gym knows him because he’s there all the time. Here he is kicking toxic masculinity in the face in the style of J.D. from Scrubs.

Exhibit B, and it’s up to you to determine whether this is in reference to the torso or the drink

Mike has been the smartest person in the family and the best at making things since before Charlie was born. The Geek Festival suits him perfectly. He doesn’t have to cosplay because people there recognize him, either from several cameos on cult classic sci-fi shows or as an interplanetary pioneer. He was hoping to test-drive the fancy rocket, but, upon his arrival, two unidentified people co-opted it for banging.

The rocket didn’t come back down for the entire rest of the festival, by which Mike couldn’t tell if he was impressed or concerned; it was more likely to have crash-landed in a different site than to stay in orbit as its operators last for six hours. That is, since Mike isn’t capable of doing so (see third image, above), it’s likely impossible.

His wife won the videogame competition. He didn’t enter, which improved her chances, and congratulated her afterward. People are always whispering about how lucky Claudia is.

Mike is the only person capable of using every skill-requiring item in the house. Sure, the kitchen is Claudia’s domain and Kendra has her monster drawings, and Hector is probably also doing something, but Mike can do all three plus whatever Charlie was trained on. It just comes to him so easily. To be frank, ‘genius’ doesn’t begin to cover it, because he’s just as comfortable with creative/athletic pursuits as he is with chess. He loves similes connecting life and chess. Life’s a game, and once you come to this realization, you’re already one step ahead of all your opponents. Nobody he’s talked to is capable of appreciating the depth he conceals so well behind his expressionless eyes.

Here he is making a drink like he taught himself to do. Mike has no issues controlling his juice intake, unlike some other Sims. He also has no trouble finishing books because he’s good at writing.

Because Mike sacrifices so much of himself for other people and spends so much time focusing on self-improvement, he may have forgotten what day it was.

What?! Clearly Mike shouldn’t have to plan his own birthday party.

He’ll have a talk with Claudia about it when she gets home. He’s not going to yell, because yelling is clearly something only bad people do, but has to remind her of her expected organizational spousal duties somehow. Maybe he’ll call Xiyuan as well. He pushes a well-written friendly notice about it onto his social media profile, displacing several pictures of his food/art creations, documentation of his most recent abduction, and 473 posts wishing him a happy birthday.

Basketball is how you get through your divorce; eating cake while playing cards alone is how you get over not having a birthday party. Here, we learn the Pauli exclusion principle likely is weak in this universe, as demonstrated above by the existence of a cake/stack of cards hybrid.

Nobody ever appreciates what he does for this family. Nobody.


Kendra

Kendra has two modes: discomfort and artistry.

Discomfort as demonstrated by her inability to fix a stupid dishwasher, shocking her stupid self and leaving her unable to prevent puddles/piles of unidentified scrap metal from spewing all over the stupid place.

There’s some debate over whether “electrocution” should only refer to cases where the ionized person dies, hence the word choice in the previous sentence despite its ambiguity in suggesting an emotional reaction.

Artistry as demonstrated by her framing of three-quarters of the duofamilial second generation behaving in character.

These modes are non-exclusive—Kendra already spent her childhood operating in a combination of both by drawing monsters until her little hands cramped—here implemented recently as she stares so hard at a painting of a sad clown, an actual sad clown materializes just outside her bedroom door to harass her.

Sad clown has a complicated City Living name, and is a woman. What a day for representation!

Kendra was delighted at successfully summoning a fictitious being and tried her hardest to befriend the sad clown. Sad clown did not appreciate her questions about the logistics of living in a painting. Sad clown is good at rebuffing advances of friendship.

Sad clown complies when asked to change into her athletic outfit.

Kendra’s not thrilled about her receipt of an invitation to a dance party at the worst nightclub (the one in the neighborhood called Wind Bluff or Tree Stone or two other concatenated nature things. You know, the neighborhood with exactly one Jeong-Espinosa), until both Charlie and Jo show up, giving Kendra a chance to spectate her brother’s love life. She knows his reserved nature would make starting a relationship difficult, as well as prevent him from speaking out if this were something he felt unsure of, so she’s cautiously keeping an eye on the whole thing.

Charlie spent the first two hours sticking to his m.o. of standing one foot from the bar, refusing to sit and trying to figure out whether to attempt eye contact with the mixologist as she prepares his drink. But now he’s approaching Jo! Kendra watches them in her peripheral vision while she pretends to be invested in her response to the eighth consecutive Naruto slashfic sent to her ironically by Wyatt. Charlie’s letting his alleged girlfriend into his personal space radius—a radius Kendra could clearly picture, having been reminded of its existence several times in her childhood, and having repeatedly perturbed her distance from her brother post-warning in order to estimate its range within a couple inches—and is greeted with a kiss. He even reciprocates!

Kendra sends Wyatt a picture she drew of a reverse mermaid holding a severed arm in its fin. The hand on the arm is giving a thumbs-up.

Observe Charlie’s positioning of himself 5.5 ft. away from other Sims sans Josephine. That’s how Kendra remembers the radius; there should be enough inter-sibling space for her to fall on the floor without reaching his feet.

After a prolonged text conversation with Shu re. Charlie’s relationship status and its legitimacy, Kendra heads to the street fair in case she ever needs imagery for a story set in a dilapidated apartment. Her appreciation turns into excitement as she finds her Holy Grail exposed to the elements on a garage-dust-covered folding table. What’s Marcus Flex doing, giving away this lump of clay?

Kendra shells out 15 simoleons to adopt Clay Jeong-Espinosa. Clay finds a new home collecting lint and finger oils at a rapid pace, given how many Sims change his shape on a daily basis, and continues to trap Kendra’s heart in between his silicate tetrahedra. Along with what she hopes is one of her hairs.

With Kendra’s clear adoption of Bohemian principles, Shu reckons it’s easier to drag her into his entourage than to lay out the merits of each individual party three days in advance to Charlie. Kendra’s since put him in her “hell no” pile, romantically, but Shu is extremely talented in both art and making Sims uncomfortable, and his ongoing fight with decorum is hilarious. Where her brother would stand paralyzed in horror as their friend carries out yet another hypothalamic social interaction with a stranger, Kendra hides her laughter while documenting his actions in her Ideas journal. Tonight, Shu chooses to spend the second half of this dance party repeatedly attacking Braylen for no particular reason. Kendra is there for the inauguration of five brand-new insults, the most offensive being “Rollie fucking Eggmaster.” She’s stoked.

Kendra, a skinny 15-year-old girl, doesn’t hesitate to interject herself into a fight between two grown men. Her doing so calms Shu enough to stop screaming his own interjections.

Hey, anyone want to point out which property of matter Braylen is violating?

Without the foresight to send Aileen an invoice for babysitting, our heroine instead goes back home to pencil out a digestive system for a marketing-buzzword-vomiting skeleton, addressing at least one of the practical issues that was bugging her. Maybe tomorrow she’ll illustrate one of Shu’s turns of phrase.

Her phone buzzes from another of Wyatt’s texts linking a piece in which the author inserts an idealized version of themselves into an anime Kendra doesn’t watch. She sends him a drawing of a unipede, a bug with 100 legs that share a single foot. The foot is attempting to give a thumbs-up but you can’t really tell.


Hector

Hector has spent his childhood osmoting Claudia’s behavior, from her sunny yellow passion to her more thematic liquid-based habits.

Note the involvement of Clay J.-E.

He’s ready to end his childhood, but ends up being cheated out of an important rite of passage: Kendra is in charge of planning his birthday party, and prioritizes inviting other teenagers over her parents’ feuding friends. For Hector, this fact is overshadowed by the presence of a third cake.

Hector continues modulating the theme of his mother’s personality, following her Foodieness with Gluttony. The Espinosa culinary traditions are safe.

No teenager goes through school without losing sleep over their own cringey social interactions. As such, Hector chooses to take the quantity-over-quality approach, hoping to numb himself to such mistakes before bending the rules of conversation into something his own. He considers himself “above cliques,” the implications of which involve inserting himself into any conversation at any lunch table, causing the other teens to form the indices of complete graph K_{n-1} with hesitant eye contact acting as the edges. (AN: Sadly, I would have to give WordPress more money to be able to use MathJax.) Hence his starting aspiration, Friend of the World.

The more important issue is whether Hector’s fashion sense will grow with him.

Hector upgrades his signature hat from cap to boater—which he asks his family to call a canotier, actually—and develops the aesthetic of someone who’s really into the idea of Cuba, but not the timely Cuban men’s fashion, just something emulative of a 40-year-old man who traps people in conversation about his recent cruise to the Caribbean.

The kids’ room becomes an attempt at Cuban-inspired interior design which is technically in character, given Hector’s shared lack of decorating sense with his part-time controller. Said controller is a huge fan of the banana leaf wallpaper.

Her decorating intuition doesn’t extend beyond lampshade hanging

Teen Hector is now allowed near hot stoves. He asks his mom for cooking tips ASAP, which kind of makes her wish she’d finished the cookbook. Mother/son bonding time becomes one endless discussion about where to use different kinds of chili peppers, the correct way to fold empanadas, the sorry state of mangoes in this country, how to fix an online recipe by doubling garlic and spices unless it’s something like hummus. Hector cracks jokes during the lesson. At one point, he lays a book on its side and pantomimes it talking like a puppet.

In the adolescent Sim’s natural environment, Magnolia Promenade, Hector’s amiability starts an I Love Lucy-esque pile-up on the conveyer-belt road which each teen uses at least once daily. Are there no conversations happening? He’ll start one. Are you about to leave the party? Think again.

Leaving Hector to simmer (and Claudia to ferment), we check in on adult Shu and his adorable dads. Hopefully teenage Father Winter won’t buy a bodega in the interim.

The Faceless Mother

Kendra ripped her train ticket into quarters, wondering how many of her foremothers actually wanted to give birth.

Her right hand ran out of ticket to destroy and moved to clasp a small wooden box in her pocket. The trip, the box, the morose thoughts; everything began two weeks ago, at Casbah Gallery. All other details had been lost in the ongoing consumption of her psyche, during which she could barely gather the mental energy to press buttons on the ticket machine and get shuttled from San Myshuno to her parents’ home in Newcrest.

Kendra had gone to support her friend, who had contributed a found-art piece to an exhibition on the origin stories of local artists. His battle cry for sustainability was just okay. The honor of finally breaking Kendra’s mind, however, belonged to the piece across the hall. There stood a sculpture by an adopted artist of a birth mother she never knew: a cold, imposing, faceless figure overseeing the room in stark contrast to the subject’s absence in the creator’s life. Kendra was drawn towards this idol as a couple gushed in the background about how sad it was the sculptor never met her mother.

In that polished surface where the woman’s features should have been, Kendra saw not the pain of its polisher (who appreciated Kendra’s take on her work, by the way), but that of every mother in history whose story was lost. Since that moment, she could think of nothing but the existence of this vital but nameless legion.

It wasn’t the lack of genealogy that bothered her. It was the lack of answers. What was each woman like? How did she die? What was she passionate about? Did she want to raise children? Did it suit her? Did anyone learn her story while she was alive? Kendra multiplied her questions by the number of anonymous female ancestors, a number too big to comprehend, and found her storytelling mind lost in powers of millions of possibilities.

It was that motherhood had been the default role for women, regardless of what they wanted. Some still think the purpose of life is to have children. So? People remembered Shelley for Frankenstein, not for producing offspring. Kendra saw no reason she couldn’t do the same.

It was fear of the unknown. Yes; Kendra’s latest horror poem was yet another attempt by yet another artist to put into words yet another gruesome phobia that couldn’t be explained using words. She had frightened herself, not only by imagining billions of forgotten births—most without epidurals—but also by realizing she herself could sacrifice control and risk death to create life, maybe by necessity if she were born a bit earlier or somewhere else in the world. The personal accounts she’d spent the past fortnight inhaling didn’t help; they made her loins reflexively tense in dreadful anticipation of the thing. But by definition, no sources existed to identify the choir whose belabored howls echoed across her brain in unison.

It was not being able to pin down the juxtaposition she wanted. Gore without violence. Ubiquity (shucks, each person in her way at the train station was born) hidden by silence. The notion that every woman weighs unspeakable pain against the benefits of motherhood—no, the concept of unspeakable pain vs. the concept of motherhood—before having experienced either. How can you possibly know it’s right for you, then?

It was that really, Kendra herself had lost this connection. She couldn’t remember her grandmother’s face. For all she knew, she was descended from a line of ovate-void-faced women like the one imagined by the adopted sculptor.

Kendra watched her boots propagate ripples in every puddle between the station and her childhood home, wondering how to atone for ignoring the one female Espinosa predecessor whose face she knew. Claudia. She hadn’t spoken to Claudia since she moved out. All these years watching her mother double-fisting cocktails after work every night, honoring her heritage through food, cooing with excitement over every drawing she or her brothers made, and she never thought to ask why.

Her hand again found the box containing a pair of crochet earrings. She had made them with goldenrod thread, Claudia’s favorite color. Mom would be thrilled. Still, Kendra felt it was an understatement. What gift says, hey Mom, sorry for taking your bravery and sacrifice for granted, I’m ready to understand you? What can you possibly do for the woman who fought your greatest fear—three times—and gave you life?

Kendra stopped at the curb, feeling embarrassed by her trinket, for facing her own mother like a stranger.

In anxious stillness, she retrieved her notebook and drafted the prologue of “La Madre Sin Rostro.”

Las olvidadas no pueden ser amadas. The forgotten cannot be loved.

The real meaning of “Claudia! Duck!”

First of all, congrats to the eight winners of the April SimLit Short Story Challenge!

So, about “Claudia! Duck!” This was not a story about a Rube Goldberg machine.

There were at minimum six instances of foolery, with six different targets.

Of the characters in the story, Claudia was the recipient of the prank, and at the surface level, it appears she is the one being fooled and Mike is the one doing the fooling. However, you could also argue Mike is the victim of folly, because he spent a lot of time on an elaborate scheme only to have it fail. Charlie was fooled (manipulated, coerced) into helping Mike do something he wasn’t comfortable with. Hector was fooled into thinking his family was stunned at his joke, when really they were baffled at how oblivious he was to the awkward situation playing out in front of him.

That’s four!

The fifth requires at least a second read. Let me draw your attention to what we know about Mike: everybody else’s character is established by dialogue, while he is mostly silent. This is intentional. Here’s what we do know about Mike: he actively manipulates Charlie to get what he wants (first three paragraphs), he callously exploits his wife’s drinking problem (“post-shower, post-workout, pre-gardening juices”) for his benefit (“it paid off”), as he does his wife’s affection for Charlie (“keep letting her love you! It’s distracting!”), and he ultimately blows up at Claudia for something that wasn’t her fault (“You always do this”). Claudia immediately shuts down (“as the joy left her body”), which is a common reaction to repeated instances of aggressive behavior, indicating this is something she’s used to. (Some of you noted these red flags in the comments—you’re awesome!)

If someone were to read the main story, they would realize Mike’s entire character is that he’s a manipulative narcissist with no redeeming qualities, and that his heartless treatment of Claudia caused her drinking problem in the first place. Claudia’s overly syrupy dialogue is also a nod to the fact that she’s sabotaging her own escape by pushing her feelings under the surface and pretending everything is sunshine and rainbows. So her folly wasn’t being targeted by the prank, it’s staying with Mike—but that isn’t even the point.

This could be read as a fun, wacky story about a prank gone wrong. However, it just… isn’t. It’s a story about a broken family with no real resolution. Which is when you realize the fifth target of folly is the reader: the reader has been tricked into sympathizing with the bad guy. This was hinted at in the forums (“ironic reflexivity”). From Mike’s perspective (and the reader’s initial perspective), the conflict is the prank failing. This is how the story is supposed to read at the surface level. However, the actual conflict is Mike’s insensitive attempt to exert control over his family (“the one factor he couldn’t control”—anyone bothered by the narrator calling his wife a “factor?”) and lack of empathy for his wife, who he has been married to for 35 years.

A reader who doesn’t want this to be a sad story would repeatedly miss this context. However, you’ll notice that this behavior, this refusal to acknowledge negativity, is the exact thing keeping Claudia in her miserable relationship with Mike. So the reader is also called out for making the same mistake Claudia did, because pretending pain doesn’t exist is, itself, a source of pain. (Another recurring theme in the main story!) There are also a bunch of plot twists that defy expectations, but eh. Everyone did that.

Which brings us to who the actual fool in this story was.

Me, the author.

To understand how, we go back to the simplest version of the story: there was a complicated prank that failed, and there was a simple, innocuous prank that landed (“That’s how you pull off a prank, folks”). Mike’s Rube Goldberg machine was so delicate that it could have failed for hundreds of reasons. Hector’s misdirection was so straightforward, even he couldn’t screw it up.

Now here’s what I did. I submitted an extremely ambitious story with multiple meanings, subtexts, and meta-interpretations to a community where I was a newcomer, and where most experienced writers used their limited word count to pick a single event and flesh it out as much as possible. If you’re writing a bonkers-dense story where any of the characters and even the reader and author are victims of folly, the probability of having someone pick up on the full interpretation is extremely low. If you’re writing a story about a family where a dude pulls a prank and is sad, there’s nothing for the reader to misinterpret.

Taken from the perspective of a casual reader, my story is more compact and uses less detail than the other entries. It’s also kind of pretentious (“antepenultimate”), cheeky (reaching 600 words by having Claudia repeat the word “no” multiple times), weird (I can’t even imagine what that staccato ending is like for someone who didn’t realize how uncomfortable the last scene was), and weird in a different way (this entire blog is pretty weird). Many people prefer having only one or two well-done things to focus on. Many people like knocking the arrogant jerk down a peg. Many people relate better to formats they can recognize. These are all valid reasons for someone to read my story and vote against it.

At the end of the day, however, when it comes time to choose between the quality of two creative works, the first thing most people will do is hunt for mistakes—and by its very nature, complex work has more mistakes. I tried my best to make most of the mistakes meta, or philosophical (see above), but do not doubt that there are others remaining. Less dense works are treated more leniently because there just aren’t as many elements to criticize.

(Let me clarify something about simple stories. There is nothing wrong with simple stories. Simple stories are lovely. Simple stories are wonderful. They’re just not the kind of stories I’m personally interested in telling, and this is not a value judgement, just a personal preference, like chocolate and vanilla. Readers and creators who prefer simple stories, I understand how damaging it can be to have your creation ripped apart by someone who does not respect you or your work. I would never knowingly inflict that pain on someone else. Are we all on the same page here? Good.)

Mike’s prank was elaborate. Hector’s prank was simple. Mike’s prank failed. Hector’s prank succeeded.

I knowingly submitted a story that was designed to fail because I “tried to do too much.” I did this knowing the established veteran authors would prioritize making one point well over cramming 6+ instances of foolery into 600 words. I did this knowing the unusual approach doesn’t sit well with everyone. I’m writing this on 4/12; that’s how certain I am I’m going to lose.

I lost by submitting a complicated story that was about a complicated prank that failed. The true meaning of the story is that it predicted my own loss. Author as fool.

That’s how you pull off a prank, folks. Mic drop. Dolly out.

The Jensen-Liu Family: Aileen and Shu Rack Up the Partner Count Until Everyone is Uncomfortable, Pt. II

As it says on the tin. We learned in the previous chapter that Chantel (new readers: girlfriend #1 out of ???) is about to lose bone plasticity and start slowly accumulating hyperlordosis-induced back pain as she prepares for the next step in her switchlike aging process. So, off we go to her birthday party, where she has invited Shu.

And no one else.

Chantel’s birthday party activities, or activity in this case, consist of awkwardly watching romantic comedies with her parents, boyfriend and boyfriend’s mother. She’s delighted! But while Colten and Angela Lucas have already been repeatedly filled in on biographical (and useless re. dreaminess) data about Shu, Chantel didn’t bother reversing her flow of knowledge. He’s left posing simple introductory questions—where did you grow up? Do you prefer cats or dogs? When did you move into this house? Angela/Colten, on the other hand, go for the jugular. What does being in love with someone mean for you? How did the divorce affect your psyche? How’s your relationship with your infamous undead stepfather? Just as the rom-com hero says something that could maybe possibly be interpreted as mildly offensive and the heroine storms off in a tiffy, the conversation reaches the point of sharing personal traumas, which for Shu are mostly book-induced.

The lot traits help with learning social skills. Too bad Shu has already has the max amount of social skills, a slightly unsettling concept—implying no additional personal evolution can happen—so the shinies are just that. Shinies.

Shu was stuck making the birthday cake after the caterer walked into a conversation about sperm count and backed the fuck out before the front door could even close. Sugarless, joyless carob coconut. Chantel doesn’t even balk at this disgusting offering before sacrificing its candles in the commonplace explosive ritual magic aging process.

Hahaha, why would they be asking about something Chantel already measured?

Yes; not even the threat of carob can dampen Chantel’s spirits. She admires the promise ring on her finger, using the other hand to browse Simstagram for its upgrade. Something marquise-cut with rose gold and leaf motifs.

Exercise: Find Chantel’s high school binder (marked Mrs. Xishu Liu so many times that the ink ran out of her pen) and determine where she and Shu are going to live, how many kids they’re going to have, what breezy modern gender-neutral names they’ll be assigned, where the family burial plots are, etc.

Chantel and Aileen have already seen each other in their jammies, freeing the birthday girl to skip introductions and bond with her future in-law over common interests.

While Chantel’s parents bring out a notebook and ask Aileen if she’s a carrier for any recessive genetic disorders, Shu sneaks up to Chantel’s childhood room. It’s spotless, soft blue with warm purple accents, with two dim lamps failing to replicate the daytime effect of sun streaming through her floor-to-ceiling picture windows. He takes out his violin and plays a cheerful tune for her perfectly color-matched unicorn. He renames the unicorn Dick Pasta. Maybe she’ll notice.

(Romeo and Juliet laws apparently don’t apply to controlled characters but do apply to non-controlled characters. That is, Chantel was able to kiss Shu on the cheek but, due to the age difference, he couldn’t reciprocate. The fuck?)

Aileen and Shu are shooed out of the house precisely five hours after their arrival. Once the door is closed, and Chantel has stopped waving through the window, Aileen starts whispering to her son about the general weirdness of it all. Did you see her mouthing along with the speech in A Week in Windenburg? And what were those questions? Aileen doesn’t even know what age-related macular degeneration is.

Shu shrugs it off and continues being Shu.

He has a high enough body count for the Kinsey score formula ceil(num_same_sex_partners/num_partners*6) to be somewhat accurate.

He’s had a crush ever since watching Max kick over a trash can stirred up some uncomfortable feelings. If we can take away anything from Shu’s experience with Shannon, it’s that he has a type.

Across the river, Aileen tries to keep a low profile on her date with the hot astronaut, quickly switching her queued ballad with a cheesy 60’s duet as the yoga hypocrite meanders in her direction. She would try to beat Shu at his own game, she would. It’s not her fault there are only two decent single guys. It’s not her fault she doesn’t click with either of them well enough to not wonder what it would be like to sleep with her yoga instructor.

Yet, thanks to her three-step plan for distraction, she’s forgiven Xiyuan,

and is now gym buddies with his husband.

Exercise: Someone please explain what the fuck Bernard is trying to say. Mimsy knew she was going to die when she went up to the bedroom? Why didn’t she run out of the house? Why does realizing she’s going to die in a fire make her extraordinary? What data is Bernard basing his final conclusion on? And, lastly, what the fresh hell is any of this supposed to mean?

Aileen is a believer in the rule of three. Derrick, Josh, Matt. Since Aileen saw the other two last night, she senses Matt’s presence through walls, a dozen yards away, and decides to make out with him. Girl, you’re covered. But! In an unexpected turn of events, Shu brings a girl home.

That’s right—Sleepover Standoff 4!

Two enter.
One leaves.

(Marielle Beam, by the way. Glutton. Neat. You should have seen her before the makeover.)

Shu’s date was interrupted by a text from his romantic interest, congratulating him for getting a new girlfriend. He’s also a fan of the rule of three.

Exercise: Is this more shamey and passive-aggressive than Elsa’s text, or less? Discuss.

Despite looking like he has the personality of Mark from RENT, Mark from the museum is also an astronaut. Aileen can only hope him and Derrick aren’t in space when they start comparing their sex lives. And yet, do you see Derrick anywhere? Aileen doesn’t. She should know; she can sense boyfriends through walls.

If you have to summarize the current story line to a friend, just show them this image. Then explain how the author didn’t expect to go public with her stories, so the game controls show up in every screenshot and she can’t crop them sometimes. Then watch in anticipation as they reluctantly scroll through the entry without laughing.

Marielle is having a good time, but forgot item 17 of “45 Ways To Make Your Date Great” in last month’s Simsmapolitan: don’t sleep in your date’s mom’s bed. She’s promptly banished to the A.I.B. as Aileen prepares to consummate her new relationship.

Age-Inappropriate Boudoir, in case you forgot the callback joke

Post-coitus, Matt remembers he needs to pick up his dry cleaning (or check stocks, or some other slipshod adult excuse clarifying why this never happens to Shu), and yeets out of the house.

0-4, hahaha mom suck it but metaphorically

Exercise: Can you break The Sims 4 by being a slut?

No shaming here, he identifies as a slut.

Observe the lack of timer on this moodlet. Shu has become the Flirty singularity, and is now permanently horny. (Exercise: Does this change any aspect of his life whatsoever?) Similar to how the frog prince needs to be rescued by a kiss, the only way to save him from this curse is for him to hit on someone, which resets the timer and cures him after four hours. Seduction has become a necessity.

But Shu, refusing to do anything/one halfway, discovers how seduction can become a matter of life and death.

It begins with Shu challenging himself to break a personal record. He’d compete with a friend, if he could, but locker room talk is hardly that if you’re supplying all the stories; by that point it’s locker room monologuing, and he’d rather just spin-change and use the extra 15 minutes to make out with Max. Today, he’s aiming to complete three consecutive dates on a school night. Tomorrow, optimizing his outfit for standing in Magnolia Promenade with a guitar and looking cute.

This challenge is refereed by Shu’s father, future father-in-law, and best friend’s mom/mom’s best friend. None of them agreed to carry scorecards.

Like any reader of last month’s Simsmapolitan, Shu is a master of successful date construction. First: sit down. You have to sit down and talk. If you don’t sit down and talk, be prepared for the bartender to kick you out on your keister with a pack of crayons and a coloring book illustrating your failure, because it’s not a fucking date. You must socialize with your date at least ten times. Experienced daters recommend hiding one’s hands under the table and raising a finger for each successful interaction. You must continue to initiate a discrete set of at minimum one and at maximum three predetermined platonic or romantic interactions. You cannot initiate either only platonic or either only romantic interactions; you have to do both. Four total. Only then can you claim to have enjoyed spending time with another Sim.

Billie’s single required platonic interaction is to get into the playful spirit. Thinking quickly, Shu scours facebook for ironic minion memes. They stumble upon the PlumbBook page of an elder Sim with a love of the yellow tic-tacs and teen-like preoccupation with self-serving politics. Opinions, compression artifacts, and hasty edits overflow from his phone screen.

All too suddenly, Shu finds himself in danger of choking on his own spit from laughing too hard.

He excuses himself to calm down in the mirror, but it doesn’t work. (One of the minions had similar glasses.) Plan B is to flirt with Billie like his life depends on it; it’s his only hope.

And, damn it, it works. Shu thanks Billie for saving his life, escorts her out of the club, walks back in, and starts texting the next girl.

Elsa seems to have accepted Shu for who he is, not the best long-term option but cheaper than a movie ticket.

Don’t worry, father of the year! They sat down and talked first.

Alright, Elsa, that was fun, but—nope, he’s thinking about minions again.

Minions: Not even once

Shu leaves the date early in shame. His challenge was failed, his night is ruined. While he’s sleeping off the side effects of combining “things Boomers criticize Gen Z for” with “things Gen Z criticize Boomers for,” Aileen chills with the Jeong-Espinosas. (Come to think of it, everyone except Bernard is Gen Z, if Gen Z lived in a state of cultural stasis. They also did technically experience climate change.)

Aileen had barely walked through the door when this popped up:

Aw, shucks, thanks. Aileen couldn’t have done this without the help of her supportive friends, Mike and Claudia. Where’s Claudia?

Claudia, you silly goose! Come downstairs and celebrate with your friends!

You know what, close enough.

Claudia will always provide an optimistic take on Aileen’s existential crisis du jour. She’s excited to vicariously experience the whole three-boyfriend thing, and Aileen’s having a stable enough day to face Claudia’s brand of slurred positivity head-on, so dish they do. (The other dish is just watching.) After two hours of active listening to pros & cons/compulsive cocktail-crafting, Claudia presents her final verdict of “they all sound woooooonderful, my dear.” Even Josh? “There’s a little something special in everyone.” But what will Aileen do? “Don’t worry, everything always works itself out in the end.” Aileen knows no one can make this decision for her, and, internally rolling her eyes at the lack of productive input, prompts Claudia to list Hector’s activities this month. Temporal order, alphabetical, random, just knock yourself out.

A recently recovered Shu goes back to the nightclub to parade yet another romantic interest in front of his heavily pregnant future mother-in-law.

At least there are no books in the nightclub, someone could leave one on a table and then where would we be?

Genevieve Haskins isn’t afraid to power-clash or make a young boy’s dreams come true.

‘Player’ is one of the most reasonable aspiration rewards, based on the premise that if you make your way through romantic partners like creampuffs at an all-you-can-eat buffet, the community is eventually going to realize you’re making your way through romantic partners like creampuffs at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Congratulations! Your reward is sleeping with more people. Now, when one of Shu’s dozens of girlfriends witnesses him making out in public with someone else, they’ll shrug it off, the same way they do when they learn of his indiscretions over text.

Exercise: Two trains move toward each other starting at 800 miles apart. One train is moving at 110 mph, the other is moving at 160 mph. How many times is Shu going to take advantage of his hard-earned reputation before the trains meet?

Aileen, as addressed earlier, has no such enhanced reputation.

Where’s the social interaction “have honest, ethical discussion about opening the relationship?”

She continues to simultaneously ignore Claudia’s advice while doing exactly what Claudia suggested—waiting it out. Of Aileen’s partners, Derrick seems to care about her the most. No one else invites her out. This should be a non-issue, shouldn’t it? But Aileen isn’t worried about choosing between three suitors; rather, she’s disturbed by her lack of connection with any of them. The longer this conflict draws out, the harder it is for Aileen to believe she’ll get her happy ending. She finds herself spacing off during the date to escape into the two-dimensional duochrome world of Chantel’s rom-coms.

On the bright side, there won’t be a Sleepover Showdown for once! She wins by default! She—

Exercise: Compute the odds of this bullshit happening

By the looks of it, Derrick missed the abduction because a hummingbird moth was buzzing around the hydrangeas, and left for a nice jog around the park. She’ll be fine! ‘Aileen’ and ‘alien’ kind of sound similar, anyway.

Aileen is returned to Earth—eventually—but makes it back in time to ignore her son at the Romance Festival. They both bring dates: Josh,

Rule! Of! Three!

and some teenage girl Shu met earlier that day at a PB&J meeting.

Seema (two awful traits) probably goes to a different school, otherwise she’d know getting within video-showing range of Shu is a bad idea
Welcome to Shu. Please keep your arms and legs outside your clothes at all times. Audience in the first two rows may get wet.

Seduction is a well-documented art. In fact, it’s a bizarre interpretive dance in which one waves their body like a flag and makes these vile misophonia-triggering noises. (Exercise: Actually try to “Attempt to Seduce” someone. See how that goes.)

Aileen wins the Sleepover Standoff for once, and takes full advantage.

1-4! She’s still thinking about Derrick!

And yet, even when she wins, she loses. Note the painting of the woman behind the mirror. It’s there—

—and then it’s gone. That painting was worth a couple hundred dollars. Aileen hasn’t noticed and she’s ready for a second round, so, eh.

Aileen has some personal issues to work out, and she’s about to start living in her head a lot more. Today, she completes one of the most useful, challenging, and visually uninteresting life goals.

Forget lack of jealousy! She controls life itself! Petty squabbles mean nothing to a woman who just developed godlike powers! Why, the motivation boost from spitting in death’s face is enough for one to be the bad parent and give Shu the WooHoo talk.

“Young man, correct me one more time and you’re grounded from sleepovers.”

Shu learns he will get pregnant and die just in time for his birthday.

Shu made his own birthday cake, then he made his real birthday cake because some piece of fuck decided his first cake was up for grabs. We’re not looking at anyone in particular here.

Before the last candle is extinguished, Shu presses ‘Send’ on a PlumbBook status that should really be read as a warning to adult Sim women. Four of his closest girlfriends mingle with each other and close family friends. (Xiyuan’s outside with the plants again.) All things considered, it’s significantly less awkward than his last birthday party.

Shu doesn’t need a third trait—he’s already a pretty strong character—but is now a Dance Machine. This way, he gets a little extra enjoyment out of doing what he do.

Shu the overachiever entered adulthood with nine girlfriends and eight maxed skills. Yes, neither of those are typos: nine girlfriends and eight maxed skills. (Also Max.) In reverse order: Charisma, Cooking, Fitness, all 3 instruments, Painting, Singing, barely missed Gourmet Cooking with a 9; and Chantel Lucas, Shannon Bheeda, Elsa Bjergsen, Genevieve Haskins, Olivia Spencer-Kim-Lewis, Billie Jang, and three other Sims. For reference, Claudia (MVP) also has eight maxed skills. His dad only has five.

Since Shu’s rather more of a Parallel than a Serial romantic, collecting several favorite girlfriends in the same room is used here to help him determine whether he has a favorite.

Exercise: Guess whom?

Awwwww!

Yeah, it’s heartwarming, isn’t it? Despite her insistence on indoor sunglasses, and his on seeing everyone naked, there may actually be something to Chantel and Shu’s relationship.

The official party hasn’t ended before an unofficial party starts in the A.A.B.

fridge horror, they can’t change the sheets

For those of you prepared to scoff at the “Break out the candles, and make it romantic…” message, “Mess Around” totally counts.

times kissed > meals eaten

For generational parting gifts, Aileen gave Shu the Book of Life, and Shu gave Aileen a painting to replace the one Josh stole.

Exercise: Who invited Shu to the musical? Ok, it was Xiyuan. That one’s too easy.

They engage in one last Sleepover Standoff, which Aileen won.

Final score: 2-4

Releasing Shu from captivity is like throwing a pig into a pit of starving wolves, but one obstacle remains before we can see the fallout from this disaster.

Yes, it’s the dreaded

FINAL EXAM

1. Is Shu a counterexample to Aileen’s Theorem; that is, is he a good man?

(a) Yes

(b) No

(c) Hahahahahaha

2. Who will Aileen end up with?

(a) Derrick

(b) Matt

(c) Josh

(a) Herself

3. What career is Shu going to enter?

(a) Musician

(b) Escort

(c) Screw your stupid rules

(a) All of the above

Good luck.