No Place for a Heroine

“Kendra. What’s that fucking thing in the middle of your living room?”

Kendra was in the kitchen with her back to Wyatt. But from context, he was likely referring to the seven-fingered poledancing tentacle in the middle of her living room.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Someone dumped it outside the trailer park, and I fell in love with it. So I cleaned it and took it home.” She looked past Wyatt to make what was meant to be eye contact with the centerpiece, and fanned her fingers out to mimic its suction-cup appendages. “Aaah! It’s so dope.”

“I guess so.” Wyatt’s default tone was that of a parent shaming their child for wanting attention.

When tentacle tchotchkes are unavailable, put some vet tools next to a bottle of Patron

The last time they had spoken in person was at Kendra’s birthday party, when Wyatt preemptively stormed out due to Mike making some minor slight against Jean Baudrillard. Most of their communication was over text; Kendra’s life had turned into a to-do list, from her bartending job to caring for Yuggoth, her dog—even finding time to write her horror poetry had become a chore—and she suspected Wyatt was doing the same. Regarding the to-do list. It would be odd if they both adopted a black Newfoundland at the same time. Inviting Wyatt over was her conscious attempt to strengthen the relationships from her past, which relationships were proverbially likened to gold in order to devalue one’s attempts at making new friends. It was an old piece of wisdom which, by its reasoning, outranked all current wisdom. Charlie (who’s missing) would be the next old-and-gold friend she’d contact. But really, inwardly, what she wanted was for someone to appreciate her contribution to Strangerville.

Wyatt was on a now decade-long campaign against pleasantries, and so hadn’t chosen the obvious topic: how’s Strangerville? She was waiting for him to. He could ask ‘can I pet your bear?’ (Yuggoth is the bear. She’s almost identical to one except she rolls around in her own piss instead of eating out of the garbage) and ‘what’s that fucking thing in the middle of your living room?’, but if she kept him going long enough, he would run out of things in the house and start asking about things outside of the house. The neighborhood it was in, for example, or maybe some odd feature she could use as a segue to her ultimate conversational goal.

“So,” she said, guiding the topic towards Wyatt’s activities out of anticipatory guilt for how hard she was about to answer ‘how’s Strangerville,’ “are you working on anything?”

“I just started a children’s book, actually.”

Kendra laughed. “What the hell?”

“It’s called ‘The Little Engine Who Couldn’t.’ It’s about this adorable train who like grew up hearing that he could do anything he put his mind to.” He wiped the grease off his nose. “So he starts climbing a hill that’s too high for him, totally not recommended for an engine of his size with his horsepower, and somewhere around the middle he realizes that he just can’t.”

“Like the original story, yeah.”

“But then he remembers all the encouraging words he heard growing up, and, I don’t know, overworks himself so hard he blows a gasket, I don’t know how trains work, and falls down the hill. So he learns that some things look possible that are actually impossible, or at least damaging to do, with the resources he has. But he’s like internalized the idea that he should be able to do anything he puts his mind to, and that kind of implies that if he fails, it’s his own fault for not working hard enough.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Then he decides that all of that positive stuff he heard from his train-friends and, if we’re going all the way with the central conceit here, train-parents, was just total bullshit. Because instead of being told everyone has to experience failure, or encounter something they just can’t do, they decided the best thing to do was arm him with blind optimism. To soften what happens in the real world. Like a positive and a negative number cancelling out.”

“Which is reasonable, because if he knew in advance there were some things he couldn’t do, he might not have tried hard enough on the things he could do, that were difficult.”

“Yeah, it may not have been intentional. But then he just swings in the opposite direction. Nihilism. Self-defeatist.”

“How are you gonna end it?”

“It just ends,” he said. “Like in real life, some people get over that and some don’t. I didn’t want to send a message that one or the other is right. This is a book about a train, not a fucking instruction manual for life.”

Kendra wanted to say that was kind of a cop-out but didn’t feel like posing an alternative or even wording it in a constructive manner. “Good choice.”

“It’s like a postmodern version of the classic children’s book.” Wyatt, how we’ve missed you.

A couple beats passed, giving Kendra the opportunity to slurp down her Salty Llama. “Wanna hear about my current project?”

“Uh, let me guess,” he asked, “does it have to do with the what-the-fuck strings of texts that read ‘ƗŦ ĆØΜ€Ş ŦĦŘØỮǤĦ ŦĦ€ βØŇ€Ş ΔŇĐ ǤØ€Ş ƗŇ ŦĦ€ ΜØỮŦĦ’ and other slightly cringey, trying-too-hard shit like that?”

“Yep.”

“I stand by my earlier assertion of ‘wtf.'” He pronounced the syllables double-yew-tee-eff out loud. In his mind, he was differentiating between the kind of ‘wtf’ that required capitalization and the kind that didn’t.

“Ok so it’s kind of a long story,” she warned. “It has to do with Strangerville.”

“Oh, yeah,” Wyatt said. “How’s Strangerville?”

“I’ll get to that. So there I was on the first day of moving in, right?”

Readers, let me remind you that Kendra’s and Wyatt’s opinions on Strangerville may differ from my own. This goes double for Wyatt because he’s a dick.

“Ok?”

“And you know how on your first day, the neighbors usually drop in with a nasty-ass fruitcake? And it always has the same weird inedible red ribbon that gets little cake pieces on it when you try to take it off?”

“Yeah?”

“So this was the best possible fucking version of that,” she continued, while mixing herself another Salty Llama. “I opened the door, and there was a guy with a red mohawk, a woman who would probably be friends with Jo—“

“—so like, super bougie?”

“She broke the bougie scale. And then there was one other older guy, he seemed like he was trying to bring the cowboy look back. Respect.” She leaned forward for emphasis. “But the best part is, they were moving around like, jerky, and they had these completely dead stares the entire time. Like so wide-eyed their eyes could pop out of their heads, with smiles so broad the corners of their mouths could pop off their faces. Like this.” She mimicked the face.

“Oh my god, that’s creepier than if they crawled into your house and started vomiting spiders.”

“It was so great! I tried to talk to them, and everything they had to say was along the lines of ‘Ŵ€ŁĆØΜ€ ŦØ ĦỮΜΔŇ ŞŦŘΔŇǤ€ŘVƗŁŁ€, ŇØŘΜΔŁ ĦỮΜΔŇ.’ And when they’re not like that, they’re talking like they’re in a Nancy Drew book or some shit. Like, ‘ZOINKS, IT WAS OLD MAN McJURBEN UNDER THE MASK THE WHOLE TIME! AND HE’S GIVING THE KIDS POT!!!'” I.e., for Kendra, the slang refers to handing out bubble solution.

“Ok, both of those are pretty fucking great,” Wyatt agreed.

“And then I came home from work—this is after they left and I went to work—I came home to a note saying the government confiscated my fridge because they detected trace amounts of controlled substances. There were controlled substances in the fruitcake! Fucking epic!”

“So.” Wyatt brought his empty glass to the sink, where it vanished immediately. “You’re saying the texts have something to do with how the neighbors are acting?”

“I don’t actually know,” Kendra admitted, “but it’s likely. What I did afterward was wander around the town. The bar is pretty small, but good if you want to meet new people, and there’s an information center. It’s usually as crowded as the bar, if not more. And did you see there’s like a trailer park behind my house? It has all these fairy lights strung up, and everything?”

“No. I approached the house from your front door. As one does.”

“Ok, so there’s a trailer park behind my house. And then right next to the trailer park—there’s some fairy lights connecting that, too—there’s one of those stalls, like the food ones in San Myshuno or the little farmer’s market stalls.”

“Those farmers market stalls always have the best fruit.”

“They always have the best fruit,” she confirmed. “This one also has an assortment of Strangerville-themed curios, which as you can tell by the name are—“

“—centered around its eponymous quality.”

“Sure. Anyway they only had one type of local fruit. It’s this red glowy ball. It was throwing all kinds of don’t-eat-me signals, but generally if a fruit is red, it’s evolved to be appealing to animals. Plus growfruit glows and it’s okay, right? So I ate it.”

Wyatt nodded. “Solid.”

“And then I’m unsure what happened next, could have been the fruit, but I suddenly started to feel sick.”

“Yeah, so maybe it wasn’t a good idea to eat the fruit after all.” Thanks. She’ll keep that in mind.

“No, I’m not done. Then I started to feel even worse.

“And then—let me take a minute. It’s hard to describe.

“Wyatt. You know that feeling when you wake up in the middle of the night, and there’s this strange humming, and you can’t move your arms and legs, and you try to scream but nothing comes out, and you just know you’re dying, this is the last thing you’ll see, and it feels like you’re above your body, watching yourself struggle, when in reality there’s no movement?”

“Sleep paralysis?”

“Well, it felt like that, but instead of waiting for the Reaper, something inside took over and used me as a giant mech.”

#goingtothestore

“Wait, so you’re envisioning yourself being larger than the thing? What if it’s a giant pair of invisible mechanical hands posing you like some doll?”

“It didn’t feel like that. It felt like it was coming from within me, like the gag in cartoons where one character gets in another’s head and there’s a little control box with a lever. And they’re not great with the controls.” She widened her eyes to about 85% Strangerville face. “But you know what the worst part is? I was conscious the entire time. So I was running around town like a complete idiot and couldn’t control anything I was doing.”

“I don’t like how giddy you are when you’re saying this.”

Fucking majestic

“But no, it actually is great! It’s because,” she gestured upstairs, towards her bookshelf, “you know how the best horror reflects what the author, or society, is most scared of at the time?”

“Of course.”

“So if you’re trying to find an overarching thing, one that’s timeless or at least passes the bar to become a classic, you go towards the big ones. Death, right?” Wyatt nodded. “But not necessarily.”

“You’re saying because death is overdone?”

“Yeah, if you’re not switching it up, it gets old fast. But I’m talking more like the fact that there are people, like Bernard, who can cheat death. Who came back as ghosts, and were then revived.”

“So your question is—“

“—what would scare a ghost? And that’s when I figured it out.”

“Eating fruit from weird stalls next to trailer parks.”

Losing control of your own body.”

Forget the blowjob test, Kendra’s lipstick can survive possession by spores

“Ah,” Wyatt realized, “and so such a topic will be easier for you to handle because you have first-hand experience?”

“Yes! Exactly!” Others may find Wyatt abrasive, but he got it. He always got it. “And so this is where we get to the texts.”

“Don’t tell me the texts are the culmination of all this research.”

“No, it’s more like a side effect. What I forgot to tell you was, that wasn’t the only time. It kept happening.”

“So there’s a chance you could wig out in the middle of this conversation?”

“Oh yeah.”

“I kind of want to see that.”

“You might. But back to the texts. I tried to write, and in the moment it felt like what I was writing made sense, but I snapped out of it and looked back and it was all ŴΔŦ€Ř ƗŞ ŴĦΔŦ βƗŇĐŞ ỮŞ ΔŇĐ ŞØØŇ ƗŦ ŴƗŁŁ β€ ƤỮŘ€. I don’t even know where I found that font.”

Yuggoth has been barking at her for ages

“Oof. But you’re saying you can’t control it, so aren’t you worried about like, sending these to your family or your boss?”

“It’s happened.” She opened her phone to a conversation between her and her mom, where Claudia had replied to ‘ƗŦ Đ€VØỮŘŞ, ƗŦ ΔƤƤŘØΔĆĦ€Ş’ with ‘Do you need me to cook something? Sending love xoxo.’ “They think it’s normal Kendra shit.”

“Right, I’m also going to concede here, I thought it was normal Kendra shit.”

I wish I acted fast enough to get the screenshot of her wigging out while almost being run over by a surveillance van

“And there’s something else I forgot to mention. When I come down, it feels fucking amazing afterwards. I haven’t had to sleep in days.”

“You mean you haven’t slept in days.”

“That’s just semantics.”

Welcoming the Tragic Clown into Strangerville, mediated by a man I’ve nicknamed No Shirt No Shoes No Service. Kendra doesn’t exactly stand out here.

Wyatt—who unflinchingly sat through all the gory monster drawings Kendra showed him in elementary school, and in high school, and last week—winced. “You know, Kendra,” he started, trying to sound as non-condescending as possible, “I’m saying this as your best friend, but if it’s affecting your sleep, this isn’t healthy. This actually sounds pretty serious.”

“You know how to fix it?” She didn’t look up from examining her nails.

“No?”

“Then I’m just going to have to deal with it for now, aren’t I?”

“I guess. But there’s something else bothering me,” he said. “If it really is the fruit that made you sick, and the government confiscated the fruitcake because they could sense contamination from inside your fridge, isn’t it possible the fruit itself is the controlled substance?” Kendra rolled her eyes and nodded. “So why didn’t the government just confiscate the fruit?”

“I don’t know,” Kendra conceded. She was twisting her midi rings. “If they’re not concerned about the fruit I still have, maybe they’re not concerned about the fruit at all.”

“The fruit you still have.” Every word was dripping with well-meaning judgement.

“Oh shit, that reminds me! Come, let me show you.”

Wyatt followed Kendra across the back porch to the left side of her house. She led him around a barbed-wire privacy fence, tucked away in an area that wasn’t visible from the street, that they had to squeeze past a bush to enter.

“Is that an outdoor shower with no curtains on the side facing the street?”

“Shut up.” Only Yuggoth ever used the bathtub, but she let Wyatt think otherwise for the sake of the image.

Behind the privacy fencing was a staircase leading into a small, unfinished basement, the floor a thin layer of soil and the walls hastily constructed from corrugated metal scraps, possibly by Kendra herself. But what caught Wyatt’s attention were the vines coating the inexpert construction in unnatural shades of purple and fuchsia, with odd salmon-colored offshoots resembling the feet of a tropical frog. He twisted his head toward Kendra, comically slowly, with a look of abject horror. She gestured toward the opposing wall. Under the industrial-grade sprinklers, three oversized buds bioluminesced in an unsatisfyingly dissimilar shade of purple to the vines. The plant’s sepals were lined with pokey hot-pink spikes and embellished with diamonds; to Wyatt representing either danger or wealth, though if the numbering were to be trusted, danger was more likely.

“Is that where the fruit comes from?”

“That’s where the fruit comes from.” Kendra made a digging motion with her hands. “When I’m under, I can make these appear without actually planting anything.”

“So you’re—“

“—Growing controlled substances in a secret basement! Awesome, right?”

Wyatt had to admit to himself that it was indeed awesome. “I’m kind of glad a fruit is the thing causing all this weirdness,” he said. “It seems like these days people are freaking out thinking the government is doing something weird, or scientists are doing something weird, and it’s been sowing these conspiracy theories and anti-intellectualism and distrust. Like fuck we need people thinking Dr. Jeremy is in there making top-secret bioweapons instead of looking at temperature measurements from the last century or watching a slime mold solve a maze. I’m glad it’s nature fighting back for once.”

“Spot-on.” Kendra had noticed this while trying to figure out which conspiracy theorist to date. The words GOVERNMENT and SCIENCE LAB garnished nearly every conversation, but INVASIVE SPECIES and HOST-PLANT RESISTANCE were shockingly absent. “If I had a secret science lab I didn’t want people to go into, I wouldn’t put it in a crater next to a town full of huge gossips that also coincidentally happens to be named ‘Strangerville.'”

“Yeah, no shit,” he agreed. “But like, still,” he wondered aloud, “isn’t it cool that there’s this mystery no one understands? Don’t you want to try and figure out what’s happening?”

Kendra picked a dead leaf from one of the vines. “Nah.” She crushed the leaf in her left hand, repeating the gesture to break it into progressively smaller pieces.

“The locals want to play detective?” She opened her hand, letting the pieces of leaf drift in the air filter current toward the ominous fauna. “They can figure it out.”


Kendra’s house is “Little Witch House” by Larifari2009.

Love Day, Actually

“The first thing one notices about this piece is the juxtaposition of the smooth curves of the truncated spheroid with the hard lines of its central Platonic solid.”

Chantel put both hands on the table to interrogate the candle at eye level. Diametrically opposite, her boyfriend was making the same face he made when they watched a documentary about the Antarctic last week, an expression that tried to look like intense intellectual focus but came off more as James Bond catching yet another new female love interest in a game of eye-contact chicken across a crowded room. “An all-encompassing heavenly dome encases a playfully minimalist rendition of a stucco dot on the Tuscan countryside.” Shu snorted from behind his tented fingers. “But what it really juxtaposes is the illusion of stasis with the constancy of change. From the core of the cream-colored figure, a wick gives life to a tuft of flame. Making it like a mother figure, signifying the connection between life and pain, slowly melting as its load burns. Yet the flame only travels upward, ignorant of the harm it causes its source. The sole window between its prison and the outside world is placed in the path of ascendance, signifying hope, escape. It flickers upward, forever yearning, even as it is tethered by its very source of nourishment. But the opening is so small, and the flame’s will for survival so great, it would take an object merely the size of a quarter to suffocate the reacher in the smoke of its own hubris, and with it, extinguishing all light, all hope. In conclusion, given the usage of combustible mixed media in this piece, this is meant to evoke the story of the flame’s destruction on a larger scale: the consequences of global warming.”

“Well?” She looked to Shu for approval, who couldn’t answer because he was nearly shoving his napkin into his mouth to muffle his laughter.

“You’re done?”

“Yep.”

Given that human flirting is organic and subtle, anytime these guys perform one of their whack-’em-with-a-giant-cartoon-hammer interactions like “Compliment Appearance,” I think of the hours spent poring over the perfect combination of words to capture the viewer’s appreciation of Nicki Minaj’s secondary sexual characteristics

“You’re not going to go on an eight-minute rant about global warming? Because that’s what my dad would do here.”

“Nope.”

“Holy crap that was too real.” Chantel beamed at Shu’s praise. “Maybe not the opening; he doesn’t really mix the flowery speech with the technical speech, he’s good at keeping that separate. After that? I think I need to go home because I’m on a date with my actual freaking dad.”

“Nah-no. Tell me what was good about it.”

“Tuscany was spot-on. I think it’s in his contract to mention one random-ass rustic town in literally everything.”

“Yeah! I had to bust that out early so I wouldn’t forget it.”

“And the eight leaps of logic it took to get to global warming. Like, it’s already hot. It’s a fucking candle.”

“True.” Chantel watched Shu scanning the room for the next mundane object to get the Xiyuan treatment; they’d have time for maybe one more before their food arrived. She noticed his jacket tightening around his biceps as he stabilized himself on the chair, the shape of his fully lengthened neck as he twisted himself to pick something in her field of vision. She loved when he stretched out to look at something behind him. If today were the day she thought it would be, she needed to remember every detail in order to consolidate the most romantic and timeless ones in the announcement to their families. Family. This, she wanted to remember for herself. The game they played to pass the time at restaurants, though not intended as mean-spirited, also probably wouldn’t make the cut.

“It smells so good in here,” she said, “it looks like the restaurant scene in Legally Blonde.” Shu turned back around, officially puzzled. “This had better not turn out like the restaurant scene in Legally Blonde.”

Shu, whose knowledge of Legally Blonde barely extended beyond major plot elements and the lead actress’s name, and that if he needed information beyond those two things, like in a trivia contest, he could ask Chantel; she had the storyboards and hundreds of lines of dialogue down cold, referenced them in conversations that flew over his head even, anyway he realized the scene she was referencing was the one where Reese Witherspoon put on a hot pink dress jizzed all over with black silly string, a look he felt wasn’t commensurate to the implied effort put into choosing it, and broke down in a restaurant because she was expecting a proposal and was broken up with instead. At a fancy restaurant. Where her boyfriend took her to break up. He chose to do that.

“No, of course not.” He took both her hands. “I would never leave you. You know I’m here for good.” And if he weren’t, he still avoided doing stupid shit like airing out his personal drama in public.

That wasn’t the part she’d meant.

Shu sensed that another moment of silence would send his girlfriend into a doubt spiral. He pulled out his backup distraction. “You wanna know what happened the last time I was here?”

“Uh, sure?”

“Ok, it’s funny. The last time I was here, I saw Claudia. Ok so first of all she shows up in her normal sweater, realizes this is a fancy restaurant and all, and just like spin-changes. In the hallway.”

“Yeah?”

“Then, and I shit you not, she sat down with Charlie and Jo and Jasper and, I shit you not, took out a plate of empanadas. And then she started eating that before the food even came out.”

“The heck? What did the restaurant do?”

Behind Chantel and to her right, the waitress descended the steps, balancing on one hand a tray of what could plausibly be their food. Shu gave her a brief nod of acknowledgement before turning back to his girlfriend.

“They had to ask her to clear the table before they could bring out anyone’s food. Not just her’s, anyone’s. Then after the meal was done, and again for the last time I shit you not, she took a second empanada out of her bag and started eating that.”

“Actually?”

“No shit she actually did that.*”

Chantel could have gone on for a few more rounds of this—justified, since Shu couldn’t substantiate his claim—but noticed someone else was drawing his attention. It was the waitress, who’d almost managed to put Chantel’s plate directly in front of her before she knew what was happening.

“For the lady, the Savory Bacon Love Petals. What an excellent choice to celebrate this romantic holiday! Paired with a Simsmapolitan. For the gentleman, the Vanilla Sea Shells and Chocolate Caviar, one of our signature molecular gastronomy dishes. We use liquid nitrogen to make the chocolate caviar, and yes, the glitter is edible. Paired with the house white.” She looked over her shoulder. “And Sir, I ask you to please refrain from swearing. There are children present.”

There was one child, ten feet out of earshot and singularly focused on picking her water glass up and putting it down in different places to create rings of condensation on the tablecloth. Shu waved to her. She didn’t look up from twisting the glass. “He’s really good with kids,” Chantel told the waitress, who didn’t ask. “We have names picked out and everything.”

“That’s fantastic,” the waitress said, pulling a word out of the mental bag of adjectives she used to describe information she had no use remembering. “Have a wonderful Love Day dinner.” No sooner had she turned away that her plastered-on work smile broke to reveal the relaxed-facial-muscle frown of Love Day exhaustion.

“Ah, this looks too pretty to eat,” said Chantel, readjusting the napkin on her lap. “I knew when I read the name, that I had to get it.”

Either this is half a second before Chantel’s Simsmapolitan splashed all over her face, or gravity isn’t a thing here. Sim physicists are stuck studying at most three fundamental forces and making ray guns, and Sim elementary school students have a slightly harder time coming up with science fair projects.

Taking the first bite at Chez Llama was impossible without first convincing oneself the art on one’s plate was actually food to begin with, then making peace with oneself for having the gall to destroy it. It was a process which, for most Sims, took several minutes. Chantel was the first to break her bacon petals—was the bacon the meat-stick-looking thing, or the petals?—and the object-focused meditation. “So why’d you get dessert for dinner?”

“I don’t fucking know. They only let me order one thing at a time, and it looked good.”

She played with the garnish. “So. Remember the first day we met?” Into her mouth it went. Damned if she was letting any of this meal go to waste. “I’ll never forget it. I was at the park when I heard this gorgeous, transcendent violin music. And I followed it straight to you.”

“Yeah, thank my dad for that. I was really into violin at the time.” Shu was trying to figure out whether it was only the glitter that was edible, or if the beglittered tombstones holding the chocolate caviar in place were also edible. “And how could I forget? You were the first person I’d seen react to my playing like that. You were so passionate, I can see it in your eyes even now.” He wiped some of the glitter on the tablecloth, which would never be the same again. Glitter is eternal.

“And you’d been kind of shy around girls before, right?”

“I couldn’t figure out what to do. You made things easy, that’s for sure.”

“And you asked me to go to the Spice Festival, and I was freaking out. It was so perfect.” Chantel used ‘freaking out’ here to convey her state of euphoria at finally getting her own love story, but her partner interpreted it as describing her reaction, which was shutting down like she was in front of a firing squad and forcing out a multisyllabic “yesssss” after several very stressful seconds. The pillow-grabbing leg-kicking excitement only came out at Marielle’s sleepover party. Marielle pouted through most of the boy talk; she was hoping they would stay up all night playing retro games instead.

“That’s when I asked you to be my girlfriend. Babe, you’re amazing. I love you.”

“I love you too. And after that, I didn’t see you for a couple days. I kept going back to the basketball court, hoping you would be there. Then one day, you were.”

This was new information to Shu, who thought it was a coincidence. “Yeah, and I had to take you out then, didn’t I? That’s when you busted out the promise rings.”

“I knew. By that time, I knew.”

“That’s one of the reasons I love you. You have excellent taste.” And Charlie had been concerned they were moving too fast. If he needed evidence against it being a rash teenage decision, it was in front of his face. Eight years** and they were still together. What then? It was possible he just didn’t like Chantel. He’d called her a stalker. Why? It was plausible for them to run into each other sometimes. She lived in Spice Market, and she only started showing up in Newcrest after they started dating. If someone at the club used the words Charlie did to describe her, words like ‘codependent’ and ‘obsessive’ and ‘Borderline,’ Shu would have punched them in the face with the next beat drop. And let’s not forget that this is Charlie, for whom codependency probably meant talking to your wife more than once every three days. True love is intense. He’d never get it.

“That’s about when you started sleeping with everyone.”

“Yep! And thank you again for the permission.”

“It’s so those other girls know what they’re missing,” she said, cradling her glass in her hand. “I have what everyone wants.”

“Body, mind, and soul.” A spectator had taken Shu’s unfinished plate and was eating it as they watched the conversation. Shu didn’t react. “So I’m skipping ahead to when we moved in together after the stuff with my dads didn’t work out. That’s when you started getting serious about becoming a musician.”

“And you started teaching me. I love the way you teach. You’re so intense when you get into it. Plus, I’m getting good. Do you hear how good I’m getting?”

“You’re doing amazing, babe,” he responded, wondering if Chantel noticed he always stopped working by the time she got home. Unless she was out of the house, she could request lessons at any time of day. She often did. Shu sometimes wondered if she’d love him less if he cut back on his office hours, like if he set a rule that she wasn’t allowed to interrupt him while he was showering, or sleeping, or eating, but then Charlie’s words would echo through his head and he’d think of anything else to push them out. Wouldn’t that ruin Love Day? Hey Chantel, while I was crashing my doctor friend’s Winterfest party, he gave you an informal diagnosis based on practically no information, then said nothing would get better until I left you. Let’s talk about that. Let’s fucking talk about that.

“Well,” Chantel drew out, “are we going to finish what we started when we were teenagers? Are we going to start the next chapter of our lives?”

“Uh.” Ok, so Love Day didn’t need third-party involvement to be ruined.

“Is,” Chantel interrupted herself by briefly poking through her food, her drink, under the tablecloth, checking to see if the waiters had congregated somewhere, “is it here?” This was rhetorical. Not only was ‘here’ ill-defined given the number of places she’d just indicated, she’d already clearly discovered that it wasn’t.

“Again?” If they were in an environment where conflict was acceptable, like at home on the couch or screaming at each other while eating cake with a spoon on an Arts District park bench, his next sentence would be along the lines of ‘we talked about this.’ Instead, he was thanking the stars that Charisma Points existed and that having enough of them meant he could dodge the issue entirely. “You’ve known me for how long, and you thought I would do something that cliché? I mean, you deserve something bigger, more creative. At least we should be able to celebrate the proposal as our own special anniversary, not some catch-all holiday shared by everyone else.”

“That’s true,” she agreed, allowing Shu to relax and stop identifying the nearest exits, some of which may be behind him, “but you could have done it any time in the past couple of weeks.” Shit. “What’s the real reason you’re waiting?”

“You want to do this here?”

“Answer the damn question.”

“Uh.” The man could talk anyone into bed within a matter of hours, but Chantel’s forceful glare was a warning to choose these next few words carefully. “I, uh.” She was unpredictable at the best of times. “Ok, let me start this over.” He made a show of inhaling and exhaling, complete with hand gestures that followed the flow of breath.

“I think you’re so in love with me, you made your whole identity about this relationship. I think if I propose to you now, you’re never really going to get the chance to discover who you are on your own.”

“You’re breaking up with me?” Which would be rude; she specifically told him to not do that.

“No! Please don’t take this the wrong way. I love you, and that means loving you for who you are. But even you don’t know what that fully means yet.”

“That’s ridiculous. Tell me the real reason.”

“That is the real reason.”

“No it isn’t. It’s because I’m not talented enough for you, isn’t it?”

“Chantel, that’s not—“

“You think you’re so much better than me just because you got an early start.”

“You know I think you’re amazing, that’s why I’m with you, that’s why I spend all my time training you—“

“Then what? Is it that my belly sticks out? Is it that I don’t go to the gym as much as your other girlfriends? Is it my eyebrows?” Chantel’s raised voice was the only audible sound in the restaurant, but the kid could have punted her glass directly into their table and neither of them would have noticed. Even the couple in fedoras, i.e. the couple with no situational awareness, picked up on the repetition and was listening in. Shu caught the waitress’s eye and made the ‘check’ gesture.

“I don’t care about any of those things. I have all these options, and I’m choosing to stay with you. Do you know how much you mean to me?”

Background, ginger Minnie Mouse about to get eaten by a green-finned shark

Chantel was sobbing into her napkin. The waitress rushed to drop the check on the table, then vanished without wishing them a happy Love Day or even a good night. Shu was still waiting for Chantel’s response. A couple otherwise silent minutes passed before Chantel removed the napkin from her face, examined it, and dabbed a clean corner under her eyes. She looked up at her boyfriend with eyes slightly less mascara-smudged than before, but more mascara-smudged than the beginning of the date. Somewhere in the middle.

“Just tell me what to fix,” she whispered. “Tell me what to fix and I’ll do it. Please. I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Chantel, please,” he begged back. “This is the wrong reason. You have to be willing to change for yourself.” She started sobbing again. “Do you think I’d be going through all this trouble if I really didn’t want to marry you someday?”

She sighed. “I didn’t tell you this.”

“What?”

“Every night, I go to bed and I just lie awake wondering what I did wrong, I look over at you and wonder if you really care enough to make me stop suffering like this. I can’t take this much longer. Please just tell me what to fix.”

“I’m still trying to figure that out myself. If I knew how to fix this, it would be done already.”

“Fine. A timeframe, then.”

“How am I supposed to know that?”

“You have to give me something to work with. I can’t go on like this.”

“You know what, Chantel?” He tucked some simoleons into the check. He tipped the waitress double, and scribbled ‘Sorry~! <3’ in the signature line. “Your job. Focus on developing your voice as a musician. Really throw yourself into it. Then we’ll talk.”

“So you’d better be planning something pretty spectacular, right?”

“Mid-tour, onstage at the Grammys, whatever. I’m trying to do this right because I care about you. I don’t want to mess it up. Believe me, I’m doing everything I can to make the ‘right time’ as soon as possible.” He stood up and extended his hand toward her. “Now may I escort the lady home?”

They stepped from the artificially cool restaurant into a breeze of warm air in dusk-lit Newcrest. Shu felt a twinge in his gut as he realized the implications of his promise. There was one thing he still hadn’t tried, one sure way to singlehandedly break the cycle of stalling and explaining and placating her after breakdowns. If he wasn’t willing to consider it, he’d be a liar; he wasn’t doing everything he could. But if he went through, it meant Chantel would be miserable and it would be his fault.

Worse, it meant admitting that maybe Charlie was right.


*She actually did. Autonomously.
**(The Sim equivalent of eight years, which is slightly over four weeks)

BONUS: Rejected Chantel glamour shot. Killing it /r/prettygirlsuglyfaces