Eyebleach with the Shallot-Lius

San Myshuno’s favorite necrophiliac is here to step in before things get too real.

The Small Onion & Destroy family

A week before Jasper found his nemesis in a multi-thousand-year-old snow demon, Xiyuan and his husband forego preparing for Winterfest in favor of a monomaniacal adherence to routine that rivals Groundhog Day—but here with the opposite message of Groundhog Day, since learning to love another person creates a loop, not breaks one.

That several k is in Sim years, so it represents several hundred k in human years under the current aging settings

The holidays promise to be low-key. There are no children showing up at the penthouse door begging for sugar for Bernard to jump-scare. Not even the most contrived situation could get Xiyuan and his not-hostile-but-not-too-enthused coparent in the same room. Everyone’s in-laws are overseas or rotting. Shu’s going to visit at some point, but the family-oriented spirit of the holiday is going to preclude any real discussion about what the hell he thinks he’s doing.

Xiyuan moves 5 feet from his perch and pushes the dual combination branch-fountain, a real double-threat, flush with the wall, creating just enough space to assemble the artificial tree. The needles are done up in an ombre increasing in saturation from their white tips to whichever plastic imitation branch they belong to, the deepest hue being an equal combination of forest and avocado greens. Like 60’s bathroom or diner green. The color seen draped over RVs with fake wood panels and in polished jukebox enamel and soulmated with burnt orange. Perhaps as a nod to the color’s history, or as an aesthetic challenge, or a symbol of rebirthing things that should have been dead for a long time, the pair have decided to revive the tradition by draping the tree in more than a pop of orange.

This is before Dolly figured out how to hold down the ‘Option’ key, ignorance of basic building controls being the single biggest strike against any claim to omniscience she may have had in this universe

In fall or summer the hubbub in the Arts Quarter courtyard would be partly audible from the gallery’s fourth floor. Today, the pro- and anti-capitalist sentiments being hawked by the street vendors and protesters, respectively, are caught in the porous blanket of snow before they can reach Xiyuan’s ears, and the layer of frost on the windowpane distorts the figures below into collections of refracted dots. He keeps his head still to distinguish the living, moving dots from the streetlight and plant dots. He visits daily to brush snow off the koi mural and sip his coffee on the south side of Casbah Gallery’s top floor. If he stands one foot away from the floor-to-ceiling glass panes, the chill of the air on his face and the vents warming his backside cancel out to the perfect temperature for enjoying a hot beverage.

The other mural is a testament to semiotic overload: whether the vandal is making a nihilistic statement about the future of the planet, rejecting the idea of diversity, or communicating the magnitude of their own toughness by superimposing a self-portrait on the blue dot itself, he can’t tell. He wanders downstairs to try and make sense of the stylized Simlish message repeated across the mural’s lower border.

He wanders deep enough in the courtyard to make out the protesters’ signs, which strike him as ambiguous in almost exactly the same way. The choice to pair the Earth with a reaper’s scythe—what does it mean? A warning for inevitable doomsday, a rant in favor of population culling? The woman with a megaphone yells out statements that no one in their right mind would disagree with, barring any prejudice against those who actually care about politics, or against the concept of protesting itself, passionate and just vague enough to deter opposition. It reminds him of a horoscope. The reader gets a prompt, the reader fills in the blanks; the less information provided, the more accurate the prediction will be.

Xiyuan comes out in favor of rainbow people to the surprise of no one.

Why yes, he does have a moment to talk about the environment

Two minutes after Xiyuan leaves, another Sim grabs the megaphone to deliver a monologue about the rent being too damn high. Passerby stop and nod in agreement.

Sims don’t pay taxes and have a plethora of options available for beating death. The colloquial phrase “nothing’s certain except death and taxes” couldn’t hold water in a kiddie pool, ladders or none. Either Sims have a parallel saying or the above is parsed as “nothing’s certain,” which trades cheekiness for accuracy.

He stops to pull the ends of his gloves further under his coat sleeves, which tenses the fabric against the webbing of his fingers. It’s unpleasant, freezing actually, but wandering the courtyard is Xiyuan’s preferred way of biding time. He examines the compressed snow on and between the cracks of his boots. White, he thought of the snow, a blank page or canvas, echoing the musical bookends that got stuck in his head every time, no matter how many white pages or canvases he saw, or any vast expanse of white, for that matter. In a day, the courtyard’s page or canvas would hardly be blank, mixing with dirt and heat from boots to create a sort of brown sludge with garnishes of dog piss near the edges of plant beds. But currently, it symbolized cleansing, healing. Rebirth.

He’d almost forgotten the dread he felt at having to meet his son that night. It was the first time he’d felt it. He needed to believe this was transient, too.

It wasn’t a front; he actually did already celebrate with his dads.

If Shu had any similar feelings about the disastrous failure in familial cohabitation, he was refusing to play his hand. He was steering the conversation clear of anything heavy, offering and soliciting only empty-calorie informational nuggets like what anyone did today or was hoping to receive from Father Winter. Things Xiyuan barely had to think about to answer. The quarter of a day, along with the months between his son moving out and him remembering that family-oriented holidays exist, at any rate, the quarter of a day he’d spent choosing which points to make or gloss over seemed like a waste. The sketches he’d spent hours erasing and revising looked like shit next to the strokes that flowed out as natural as the one-word expected response to how his day was. Such a conversation was best left to the pros. Losing his train of thought in the effortless, ceaseless flow of anecdotes, he’d forgotten that was an option.

Windenburg’s former ghost lord/San Myshuno’s current face of #relationshipgoals understands something is bugging his husband, but can’t get any information beyond the occasional sigh, the half-start of a sentence promising to express what exactly is wrong this time, the unsolicited remark on what activities his progeny used to enjoy. Part of Xiyuan can’t reconcile current Shu with the kid who once licked a block of resin to see what it would taste like, but to Bernard, Shu is Lord Byron but less of a dick. He’s like having a child without the unpleasant experience of being around a child. Their feet are both too big and too small, don’t you know? It’s creepy.

No gift exchange occurs during the meeting. Shu’d insisted on it. That was one of the things Xiyuan tried to analyze in his downtime in the months and quarter-day leading up to the meeting—was he planning a surprise, a welcome one this time, a gesture Xiyuan would have to refuse to be blindsided by and match with his own? His solution was to keep an envelope in his jacket pocket, just in case, and if not now he’d give it to his son on New Year’s. Another small relief; it was a genuine, no-nonsense request for lack of gifts. The young man prepared nothing beyond some pun on the word presents/presence.

Maybe he’d underestimated Shu’s ability to be genuine. It wasn’t like he tried to hide anything before.

The exchange, instead, occurred next morning and involved only two participants. It wasn’t an event foreshadowed by any fanfare, or any mention that it was happening. The couple had long eradicated the need for conversational filler. One displayed emotion with the precision of a character actor and transparency of an anime character and the other retained the aristocratic tendency to narrate what he was doing at any given time. It wasn’t like he didn’t expect his husband to swivel his head without moving any other part of his body, last of all the brush from the canvas, to check what he was doing. It was a reassurance. I’m here, everything’s okay. The gift he received was a reflection of that sentiment. I’m here, nothing’s changed, nothing’s going to change, I’ll always be here, and everything’s okay.

An easel. It was an easel.

Then they left (with a mild nod and a “Shall we?”) to try something they’d been meaning to all winter.

In human years, Bernard is in his mid-40s and Xiyuan is at least 50. Give them a minute.

If there is a soul reading this, a single soul, who thinks Bernard is a heartless bastard, was responsible for his own and Mimsy’s death, was put in the game as an irredeemable antagonist to scare children, cackled as his livelihood was reduced to ash, look at this. Please.

At least a couple people have declared this “the gayest thing they’ve ever seen.” As the frogs in a conspiracy theorist’s water supply.
And of those people, a couple still have amended their previous statement with “nope, that’s even better.”

A ride into the freaking sunset, is what these two are.


So we’re almost up to the present day, but have one more story to knock out before that can happen. Consider it a season finale. It’s heavy enough for the author to need to provide preemptive eyebleach. You’ve been warned.

Before we hit the wall/fall off a cliff/other vertical metaphor signifying the point of no return, here are links to download CC-less versions of these guys in their current state and give them some hope of a stable life in at least one timeline. Enjoy.

All Catastrophe Theory characters

If your trash cans are full, your spirit is empty, and you need an ascetic to take care of both: Ana Asteya

If your female Sims are bored or need someone to enthuse to about rom-coms: Chantel Lucas, Xishu “Shu” Liu, Genevieve Haskins

If your lesbian Pagan club needs another member: Kendra Espinosa and her dog Yuggoth

If you want Charlie to avoid talking to your Sims too, and apparently Jo’s Maxis-curated, oh well, she’s stuck in this mess now: Charlie, Josephine and Jasper Jeong-Espinosa

If you want to give Aileen a happy ending: Aileen Jensen (Grey Wedding actually happens slightly later)

If you need a couple heavy-hitters, including the lush legend herself, and also Hector: Mike Jeong, Claudia Espinosa; Hector, Mona and Perry Jeong-Espinosa

And, finally, Xiyuan and Bernard Shallot-Liu are a requirement. Highly recommended for anyone who’s ever had a bad day.

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 Jensen-Liu Family: The One Habit of Highly Permissive Parents

When we last visited Aileen and Shu, they were both on a quest for self-discovery, and ended up discovering other people along the way.

In fact, this mother-son duo plays a certain game-within-a-game so often, we named it: the Sleepover Standoff. The rules are simple. Sim families can only have one additional partner stay overnight at a time. Should there, hypothetically, be two Sims with extrafamilial romantic interests, it can come down to the wire on whomever asks first, or whose date interrupts the conversation for a pleasant jog around the neighborhood. Thankfully, this implementation only has two players.

Player One: beautiful, successful, invigorated Aileen—she of sound body, mind, and spirit—is recovering spectacularly, thankyouverymuch. She has reinvented herself thrice over; everything that does not serve her is gone, and everything remaining is an act of self-love. She can even have a civil conversation with Bernard. Sometimes, in the few moments between running between the office and the gym, thoughts surface like no one ever loved you or you’re going to die alone, but once Aileen’s brain gets something to focus on—poof! Gone. If she gets enough juicy endorphins during the day, she can quiet them long enough to pass out. Even so, it’s better than not sleeping at all.

In addition, while Aileen’s working pec minor, receiving critical acclaim for her Middle Earth romance novel series, giving TED Talks on how to be a motivational speaker, and experiencing samadhi, there’s something she’s not doing.

Watching Shu. (Player Two.)

In all fairness, Shu is a model kid. He comes home, does his homework right away, cooks, cleans, practices instruments, and goes to bed. There’s no harm in leaving himself to fend for himself for a couple hours while Aileen goes to the gym, or works on her next novel. It’s a bit worrying that he has a girlfriend—


*chanteleports behind you*

—who wasn’t there a second ago. Chantel just materialized next to Shu, and, judging by the look in her eyes, he’s on the Popcorn setting and should be done in 1 minute 39 seconds.

Fine; you get your date.

What’s up with her dress, though

Aileen takes the opportunity to chaperone. Nothing inappropriate can happen when Mom’s around!

Maybe it’s cute he has a little girlfriend already. What does Aileen have to worry about? They’re young and inexperienced. They’re probably going to send each other kiss emojis, or share a milkshake at the sock hop. It’s not like—

CHANTEL. GIRL. CHEESE ENCRUSTED RICE.

Let’s review the story so far. Three days, two dates, and Chantel decides “yep, he’s the one.” This is a crap idea for non-simulated humans. Chantel, though, she’s a Sim, and thus subject to Aileen’s Theorem.

Theorem 1 (Aileen’s Theorem): Let T be a town; there are no good men in T. (Proof outline: Take your best girlfriends to brunch and order a lot of mimosas.)

From Chantel’s perspective, Shu’s looking like a counterexample. She lives in a world where unlimited fame and fortune hang mere inches from the ground, ready to be plucked by anyone with an iota of motivation, but most people prefer to watch their opportunities fall and rot. Place yourself, a teenage girl, in this world, and suppose you run into a cute boy who dares follow this linear path to success. He is closer than anyone you have ever met to achieving the dreams everyone has, but that no one bothers to pursue. He has done more as a young teenager than most Sims will before they’re taken by the Reaper. He has the answer. He is the answer. What do you do? Lock him down. Immediately.

In short, he may turn out to be a polyamorous disaster, but she saw him first.

Her parents also don’t ask a lot of questions when she doesn’t come home.

During the course of a normal day, Aileen usually exercises and works on a book, Shu goes to school, and one or both of them do something else. Today’s something else is Xiyuan suddenly remembering he has shared custody and Shu enthusing about trains over cards with his recently-resurrected new stepfather.

Xiyuan can’t poker face for shit

Shu uses these visits to make sure his dads are properly sanitizing the bathroom cabinet handles and doorknobs. Also, all the crevices on the mirror are so fun to polish!

ugh, square-toed shoes, what was i thinking

We can at least clear up one mystery about Xiyuan and Bernard, which is why they have a second bedroom in their apartment. It’s Shu’s room.

The painters wandered the house while Shu slept, demonstrating the stark contrast between the painstakingly crafted actions dictated by a type-A supernerd creator who considers time management a hobby and the “does anyone know how to adulting lol” impulses of the AI. In case anyone reading this still demonizes Bernard and/or makes fan content implying he abused Mimsy or killed her on purpose, here he is eating cereal-O’s:

This is not the face of a man who cackled while his wife burned in a fire. This is the face of a man who wandered downstairs at 3 AM to fix himself a bowl of cereal-O’s.

Luckily for these disasters, Shu fixed the sink and cooked them a proper breakfast before he left for school.

The bubble blower is an odd object. If someone uses the bubble blower, all Sims in a 10-foot radius drop everything to denounce them for using it, even if they are using it themselves at the exact same moment. Shu knows public shaming goes best with a snack. That, or he’s very curious about blowing bubbles himself.

Pretend the curry is popcorn. Come to think of it, why does this universe have a bubble blower hookah AND bubble solution for kids? What are we teaching our youth?!

Charlie is also at this outing, because it’s Shu’s job to get Charlie out of the house. Shannon is here for obvious reasons. Aileen wasn’t invited, but she came anyway because this outing could turn into a date, and she definitely needs to be there for that.

Only one thing to do!

Ooh, shiny! A multistep moodlet!

Ultimately, this turned out to be a friendly outing, and nothing interesting happened besides basketballs refusing to obey the laws of matter. Shu took Chantel out the next day on a pool date.

I like to think of random outfits like this: it’s 2012, and “Thrift Shop” just came out. Anyone want some used swim trunks?

He doesn’t typically go to the pool, and the autonomous demographic choices might help explain why. Today we have one normal guy, one kid, one alien, two teenagers, and five old ladies with the same haircut.

Chantel at least got the attention she deserved.

After she finally left, Shu took the opportunity to fix something that was bothering him.

Now the real fun can start!

Meanwhile, Aileen’s mind-grapes are working full throttle on the Bestselling Author aspiration. Working on the Bestselling Author aspiration looks like this:

friend died, but that was a pretty good meal

At least she doesn’t have a blog. There’s something uniquely dystopian about watching a Sim playing a computer game, or watching a Sim blog while you, yourself, are gathering content for your own Sims blog. If my escapist fantasy were watching someone use a computer for 8 hours, I would have secret cameras in my office and bedroom.

The sharp Xiyuan-mincing edges of Aileen’s writing had dulled. Rather than grinding the axe, her essays focused on the little joys of life (look at how shiny this handcrafted axe is!), about living in the moment, about the benefits of stopping to just BREATHE. She led by example, waking up each day to a perfect balance of exercise, creative work, socialization, outdoor time, macronutrients, and gratitude for the universe.

To make up for the lack of Aileen pictures, she appears here twice

Balance. What is balance? If you want to balance on your right leg, you first become aware of the right foot, distributing your body weight evenly along the heel, ball, arch, and outer foot. You then connect the muscles in your foot to your center of gravity, activating a line of connective tissue that travels through the calf, knee, quadricep, hamstring, to the muscles of the low back, the spine, the core. You then allow your left toes to lift off the ground, shifting the small muscles in your right foot to counteract small perturbations in your stance, never drawing awareness away from the connection between the right side of the body and the ground. Balancing is rewarding, invigorating, one of the best ways to hone mental focus—and the best part is, anyone can learn it.

Except if they’re missing a right leg.

What if someone were missing a right leg, and no one noticed? What if everyone around them were acutely aware of their failure to balance, and kept feeding them platitudes based on inapplicable experience? (“Just balance, it’s easy, watch!”) What if they saw other people who were crashing slowly start to get better, until their posture was indistinguishable from the naturals, while they continued to fall every time? What if, despite their best efforts, they were still missing something fundamental, something everyone assumed they already had? What if they had deeply internalized the idea that anyone can learn to balance, so it became a part of themselves, and became convinced that their failure to learn was, in fact, their fault?

So how do we tell who can learn to balance and who can’t?

Here’s someone who can’t answer that question. Derrick.

If there’s one thing we do know, it’s that people who spend decades practicing balance can claim expertise. Legless or not.

What’s that lil’ rascal up to?

Shannon has the second-most chemistry with Shu. Her traits are Vegetarian and Hot-Headed: not ideal, but the Vegetarian one gives her frequent gas, which is at least accurate. Hot-Headed is a fantastic trait for one of your girlfriends to have if you’re planning on dating several people at once.

Whatever! Teenagerhood isn’t the time for measured sexual decisions.

Shu politely asked Shannon if she wanted to mess around, which she responded to by grabbing him and fucking slamming him against the closet with a tremendous thud. So, uh, enthusiastic consent, check! The door closes, the half-ton coat house is ripped from its wall reinforcements as it shakes uncontrollably, and, at one point, enough force is applied to leave a Shu-shaped dent in the wooden doors. Ten minutes of hearts and fireworks (so many fireworks!) was little reassurance after 50 minutes of Shu being flung around like a ragdoll. Which suggests, oh god, Hot-Headed people are his type.

This will end well.

In what is possibly the dirtiest, most explicit thing I have seen in a Sims game, Shu left the closet and immediately washed his hands.

We’re going to visit Shannon at her house, because she, uh, she seems fun.

I don’t understand the Bheeda household. It’s a premade playable household claiming “Jesminder and Arun Bheeda have a baby on the way… something something wacky hijinks that can ensue as a result.” So if they knew they were having a baby why do they have only one fucking bed

Why does she wear glasses when she sleeps, but not when she’s awake?

A red relationship-minus-minus sign appeared over Shu’s head while he was sleeping. It might have been from Shannon’s dad, who seems to not like Shu for some reason.

Shu eventually returns home to his first love. Homework never really left his to-do list, it just took a backseat to several people.

Shu’s current outfit is a conservative cardigan rolled up to reveal his tattoo sleeves, and he’s outwardly charismatic but just wants to do homework when he’s alone. Business on the outside, party on the inside! But also secretly business on the inside! Party in the middle! Everyone’s invited.
Elsa is a Genius. She knows exactly what she’s doing.

Elsa was the first girl Shu tried to flirt with, and he just… didn’t. He stared off into space for O(10) minutes before walking two steps away and cancelling the interaction.

Seven Charisma points, two girlfriends, the Great Kisser reward trait, and two surprisingly violent hookups later, he is barely recognizable as the same person and puts the moves on her right away.

Derrick’s also here. Know what that means? It’s time for the inaugural…

SLEEPOVER STANDOFF!!!

Aileen and Derrick take the early lead, or they would if the Sleepover Standoff were an actual race, which it isn’t.

It’s always a good sign if your partner leaves your house during a date to jog around the neighborhood.

Aileen has the advantage of being able to ground Shu, which—oh wait, nope.

Player One: 0. Player Two: 1.

Derrick is showing his true colors. We know he never misses leg day, because that’s what he does instead of talking to Aileen. When he remembers his girlfriend exists, crossfit funfacts surge endlessly from the protein-shake-hole on his smug punchable face. He traded in his sexy uniform for size XXS Bikram yoga shorts and a backwards hat from the 90’s.

I’m so sorry, Aileen.

She also wears glasses while sleeping! What is this?

Maybe Shu actually does have the answer. By this point, Aileen is out of everyone’s league. She can’t get what she wants without doing some juggling of her own.

There wasn’t a table near Elsa, so Shu sat on the floor to do his homework near her. Awwww.

Props to Elsa, though. Shu got up early to make her pancakes, and her reaction was “why would I want pancakes when there’s a perfectly good lava cake right here?” So Shu ate his pancakes while Elsa had chocolate cake for breakfast. She’s a genius.

“Dad, you’re one girlfriend behind.”

This installment ends at the biannual meeting of community instrumentalist club Mr. Liu’s Play Big and Jam (PB&J). Shu was invited to take the last available slot (BECAUSE NEPOTISM) and starting a club gathering will stop everyone from whining, so here we are.

While Shu engages with an actual line of adult women waiting to talk to him (are there any police in this town? Hello? Hello?), Aileen has a coincidental stroke of luck.

It’s Matt Stevenson! Matt (Romantic, Bookworm, … something), created by emmajayne72, is another soul who moved to town long ago to counteract the effects of Aileen’s Theorem. Aileen went on one date with him, but he was kind of salty, so she gave up and moved to Derrick.

Maybe Aileen’s “soulmate” hinges on an appreciation of variety, an assorted set of men whose strengths and weaknesses balance each other out in a beautiful rainbow of diversity.

Or maybe she’s hopping around on one leg.

Next: Aileen and Shu rack up the partner count until everyone is uncomfortable.

The Shallot-Liu Family: It Exists Now!

It’s these guys again! Everyone try not to freak out!

We last left the Jeong-Espinosa household, where Claudia prepared an early wedding gift worth… THIRTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. HOLY SMOKES.

Claudia (upper right): hmmkggrfffhhg oh hi guys, ambrosia’s on the table, bye

Ambrosia is a dish best served with your lover. Bernard receives some sandwich-based emotional support as he prepares to take the first bite of the heavenly dish,

Claudia: hmmmbllfbmm another drink

and KAPLOOIE ZOW FLOATIES

He’s alive! He’s really alive!

Thanks to Claudia and her magic cooking hands, or Charlie and his normal fishing hands, Xiyuan and Bernard can be a somewhat outwardly normal-looking couple.

Claudia: hmmmmlfrgrbl don’t put anything in the dishwasher, it’s running

The first thing Bernard wants to do is test-drive his new corporeal body. They’re also going to test-drive a spaceship, because neither of these men have actually driven a spaceship before.

Does one really drive a spaceship?

It takes a lot to shake Sims in San Myshuno (they have homeless people! And BOHEMIANS. And oh. My! So! Much! Cultural! Diversity!), but being a floating green ghost occasionally does it. Now these two could sit at the bar and have a completely routine flirty couple conversation and no one would bat an eye.

“It was more fun when you were dead.”

Being rematerialized is only novel for so long, and when your choices are playing out a 10th grade essay about why immortality is bad or avoiding the finality of death by doing the aforementioned while monochromatic and transparent, one has to focus on the here and now. Treasure the moments where you can have a normal conversation with your partner about housework and—hold on. How is the yellow star one staying in his hand? Did they glue these cards together? What game is this?

The adoring look in Xiyuan’s eye is just his inability to poker face. Bernard, on the other hand, is lucky in love, unlucky in cards.

Hence it is with few regrets that Xiyuan and Bernard return to the same thing they do every day: try to take over the art world.

Their relationship is the real work of art—they have shown the rare ability to inspire others to be creative inside and outside their universe. Victor Feng, for example, has yet to pay his respects to the happy couple, and commemorates the occasion with a little ditty he wrote for them.

Said ditty may or may not be an 11-hour improvised a cappella rock opera.

He left at 10 AM. The only thing that could have made this better would be if Lily came banging down the door to get him to stop singing.

Shu is still visiting his father for weekends (which places him fifth for amount of time spent in this apartment). Thankfully, Bernard forgot about the bathroom incident and is now able to have a relationship with a taller, friskier Shu.

Shown: a thousand-word treatise on why Sims should not be allowed to dress themselves.

Right now, they’re just exchanging pleasantries, but will hopefully soon have someone to vent to about how Xiyuan refuses to drink tea if it was picked more than 2 months ago, etc., etc. Well, the joke’s on Shu—he did pick up some habits from his dad. Hello, plants!

Fascinating! Is there a genetic component to Sim idiosyncrasies?

All of this only distracts from the main event: wedding planning. With two swanky grooms and a love story of this volume, the pressure Xiyuan and Bernard are under to plan the perfect wedding is far from ideal. It’s enough to induce a sympathetic reflex with their actual wedding planner.

He knows whatever I’m planning isn’t good enough.

This is the third Sim out of three total marriages I’ve seen catch a cold right before his wedding. He somehow also passed the cold to the entire wedding party, pushing the date back an entire day. This isn’t going to be easy, is it?

The sun rises on the betrotheds for the final time. Both grooms use the morning to steady their nerves in the studio; either the wedding has to start after 6 PM so Claudia can attend (she who saves the day has the final say), or has to be pushed back to Saturday. These two are getting antsy—they’d get married in front of the elevator if they could—so 6 PM it is.

Bernard is hardly the same person who inadvertently BBQ-ed himself and his wife. Decades of practice have honed his technical ability beyond that of any other living artist, and Xiyuan’s continual presence has had a calming effect. Yes; the long sleepless nights spent talking about failure, the tireless efforts to shield Bernard from open flame, the removal from the incendiary estate that so haunted his memories; all of it had paid off, and he was finally in a position to realize his dreams.

So it would be unsurprising if his final masterpiece, completing the aspiration he died trying to achieve, were of his partner.

And with an hour until the wedding!

So sweet.

This is how the wedding begins: by finishing the business of a restless spirit. Bernard scrubs the paint off his hands and yells upstairs to ask Xiyuan where he left the garment bag with his tux. It’s on the dresser, Xiyuan replies, choosing a white tailcoat from his tailcoat closet and removing his white gloves from their case. Everyone in the bridal party who didn’t de-ghost a groom changes into their matching pink-and-white outfits. Kendra, (yes, you, Kendra), also has to change into a matching pink-and-white outfit. Claudia stares into her closet for 15 minutes contemplating whether she should wear the dress from her quinceañera or just throw on some leggings and use a brooch to fashion a cape out of leftover curtain chiffon; no one would dare criticize her. Victor and Lily watch the limo leave from their east window, cursing the 8-guest limit. Aileen weaves in her extensions and pops a Xanax.

This guy can stay. They paid this guy 5 simoleons to play “Somewhere Only We Know” as they walk down the aisle.

The guests arrive at a crystal tower specifically designed for this wedding. The setting sun is reflected by the six congruent facets of a crystal spire, which umbrellas out into a waterfall of glass encasing a pristine white ceremony space. White rose petals have been carefully moved from their natural disorder into a boundary with only right angles, possibly by Xiyuan himself. Floor-to-ceiling infinity mirrors stand proud as a symbol for the eternality of the concept of love. Dolly restarts the wedding 3 or 4 times to make sure everything is perfect.

The chessboard makes it a park

Xiyuan’s eye twitches as a curious Max casually strolls down the aisle during their impeccably drafted, written, edited, re-drafted, and re-written vows. Shu gives him a jovial little wave.

(Don’t be silly, guys. Max doesn’t ruin your wedding by doing something unplanned—I ruin your wedding by doing something planned. People familiar with the game mechanics have already spotted what.)

At long last, meet Xiyuan and Bernard Shallot-Liu!

They’re too dignified to smash cake on each other’s faces.

Two of our patriarchs kick off the reception with some appropriate familial bonding, symmetrically hugging their respective sons.

As if the vows weren’t saccharine enough, Xiyuan debuted a song he wrote for Bernard.

Now everyone is allowed to eat cak—wait, no, Bernard is performing a song he wrote for Xiyuan.

This is what I had in mind for over-the-top!

Alright, now everyone can have some cake.

Just as time almost prevented this relationship, time would be the undoing of their wedding. Let’s review some important figures. The wedding had to be started after 6 PM for Claudia to be able to attend. Sim weddings last 8 hours. If you’re better at arithmetic than I am, apparently, you would have been able to see this coming.

No one can shame you for power napping if no one else is awake. Well, there’s Mike, but he rarely notices anyone other than himself.

Look at the above picture again. Can you tell who’s missing?

It was Shu!

Shu chose to sleep in his own bed, then changed into his hoodie and came back to play the violin. Charlie and Kendra, excited that the reception was 80% napping and they didn’t have to entertain their parents’ friends, kept the party going well after 4 AM.

This is where the wedding ends: sleeping in the sky, in tails.

Luckily, the grooms would have a honeymoon to look forward to when they woke up. Kidding! They both had work, so Xiyuan’s friends came over and trashed the everloving heck out of the place.

Counting seems to be a hidden theme for this chapter. Here, you can count the glasses for a unique educational experience. Ah! Ah! Ah!

Oh, hey. Lily was also there the entire time.
Thirteen glasses and a broken stereo! Ah! Ah! Ah!

Xiyuan and Bernard have a maid. She comes every day. Unfortunately for Xiyuan, he’s the type to think “I have to clean my house before the person I paid to clean my house gets here, so they don’t get mad at me.” He may also be the victim of a benevolent, but imperfect, creator, who may or may not have been laughing hysterically as he picked up each individual glass, making the stack higher and higher.

What are a few extra dishes when the Romance Festival is tonight, anyway?

Recall Xiyuan’s last two Romance Festivals. Festival one, he sat at a table alone and stared at people. Festival two, he gave painting lessons to his son while his ex-wife stood directly in front of him to make out with her new boyfriend look at how happy she is now, no thanks to you.

Festival three, he’s with the love of his life and everyone is wearing his favorite colors. Everything’s good.

I think the man in the background speaks for everyone.

The next time we see these guys, they’ll probably doing something else that mocks the very concept of probability itself. Or painting.

Xiyuan Liu/Lord Bernard Escargot Shallot IV: Vignettes from San Myshuno

(The events of this chapter take place either concurrently with Seven Days, or after. You’ll probably be able to tell which is which. This chapter is a lot shorter, a lot less bonkers, and yes, I am aware I have other Sims.)

Settling In

Xiyuan had no trouble whatsoever acclimating to his new life.

This is what he was doing when I switched control to him.
This is the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth thing he did. It’s good to be home.

The Neighbors

Xiyuan accidentally moved next door to the Chinese Mafia. He made the mistake of introducing himself in his native language, and now they can’t seem to leave him alone.

Note the hearts coming from the door when Lily Feng, the wife in this two-Sim household, is outside.

They love Xiyuan. They love the absolute heck out of him.

Victor and Lily Feng are described as a politician and businesswoman, respectively, who are secretly bent on world domination. In practice, though, they apparently spend all their free time with their ears up to the wall they share with Xiyuan, ready to bolt out and stand in front of his door the moment they detect any sign he’s home.

If Xiyuan talks to them, they take that as an invitation to come in and use his computer for hours, because there are no other sources of entertainment in his apartment beyond painting obsessively and practicing instruments.

This is DAY ONE.

He can’t even avoid them in his dreams; when he goes to bed, they follow him to his bedroom and start an online chat with him using his computer.

By now, “Xiyuan pink” should be starting to make a lot of sense

If he practices the piano, they need to be let in so they can watch him play. If he has friends over, they need to be let in to watch his friends. If he’s cooking something, they need to come over so he can feed them. He can barely put a book away without one of them realizing his presence and knocking on the door to claim boredom or loneliness.

It was Mapo tofu. She ate two whole servings back-to-back.

But Xiyuan is too polite/hyperfocused on painting to ask them to leave, so the only Fengless moments he gets are when he leaves his apartment. They haven’t started following him around. Well, they haven’t started following him around every time.

Exploring the City

San Myshuno offers a variety of activities for the discerning tourist, some of which are outlined below with minimal commentary. You can drink in San Myshuno, as demonstrated by Claudia:

You can also break into your friend’s house and use his bar while he’s at work, then leave before he comes home.

You can ignore age limits for sitting at the bar, as demonstrated by Shu:

Green hair has a thing for Xiyuan, she’s going to be so disappointed

You can reluctantly listen to your young son outline his plans for teenagerhood:

When the body language screams “I don’t want to be here” and the townies scream “you need to download more CC”

You can appreciate the lack of bureaucratic awareness as a filthy Sim dressed as a raccoon sleeps on a cheerfully multicultural park bench:

Oh, I get it! She’s a trash panda.

You can light yourself and Claudia on fire and pretend you and your ex are on speaking terms because your kid is right there:

Xiyuan’s sitting there wishing he could have burned that outfit instead. Also, in his defense, Claudia was already lit.

Here’s something you can’t do. You can’t invite dead painters to the romance festival:

😦

You can be peer pressured by your friends into buying garbage:

Raise your hand if you can see Xiyuan ever wearing this or any other T-shirt. Nobody? Good.

You can have your cultural identity erased:

Dolly’s partner: I find it unbelievable that a painter and violinist would be lacking in finger dexterity. (Dolly’s partner actually talks like this)

You can be marginally less awful at karaoke than everyone else:

You can, and probably should, definitely avoid this guy:

This is the kind of person that Simister and I would see on a train, and everyone would immediately shift in their seats and shun eye contact to avoid acknowledging the fact that they now have to share a space with someone who ignores societal norms in a potentially harmful manner, and Simister would be fascinated by the shared feeling of discomfort and start a conversation about how unhappy everybody looks because they have to share a space with a potentially volatile person, while seated right next to said person, while I lower my head and try to shrink into as small a ball as possible to hide all evidence of my existence so I don’t get murdered

And this is just the beginning. It’s a nice city, but, personally, I can’t feel at home without the lingering smell of piss.

Welcoming Bernard Home

In case you missed the moving Gothic romance/giant wall of text, Xiyuan successfully convinced Lord Bernard Shallot Escargot IV to run away with him and start a new… life. Bernard has had some exposure to modern technology and customs (he understood the importance of making the relationship Plumbook official), but also must adjust to leaving his entire previous life behind.

The first thing he did was possess the oven.

The maid is like “yep, same shit, every day”

Luckily, his primary liaison with the modern world shares enough common interests to make the transition smoother.

Having your boyfriend match your entire house is peak Xiyuan

This also had to happen at some point.

The game had an achievement for WooHooing with a ghost, which suggests EA is judging me pretty hard right now

Bernard was initially thrilled to have moved in, but as the shock of seeing his apartment for the first time wore off, the guilt he felt for leaving Mimsy began to dominate his thoughts.

He also saw all the mean fan content people made about him on the internet.

Ideally, Bernard would have made an appointment with a licensed mental health professional to discuss his anxiety/depression (because “loony” isn’t an actual thing, right?), high sensitivity, traumatic experiences, social isolation, blasé attitude towards his own death, change in sexual identity, recent divorce, and dramatic relocation. But in this world, there is no therapy. There are no medications for chemical imbalances in the brain. There is only basketball.

See the tiny green arrow? It’s working!

It took Bernard 8 hours of shooting hoops to get over his divorce.

Having been touched by the miraculous healing properties that could only come from chucking an orange ball into a net held open by a 10-foot high metal ring, Bernard was finally free to live his best life. Bernard’s best life involves his re-entry into the Painter career, five hours minimum of art practice per day, and being really, really fucking cute with his partner.

Shut the blog down, we’re done

All of these posts so far have been polished from the original first drafts, which were built from pairing screenshots with first-thought commentary on the situation. Past Dolly had nothing insightful to add about the following two images, or eighty gazillion other similar images (not shown), and just mashed random keys while squealing. Current Dolly doesn’t either.

sgjl ravjcfi;nsgoidhrgiorehigowr
dsgijharcifxneiaxfhijdbfpojpje. Actually, this one is marginally plot-relevant.

Connoisseurs of The Sims 4: Get Together may have realized one glaring inconsistency in the story as presented so far, which is that Bernard’s traits are Art Lover, Ambitious, and Hates Children, and Xiyuan has a kid. In Seven Days, Xiyuan never actually mentioned that he had a kid. This is because introducing Shu to Bernard is a potentially volatile situation that should be carefully handled in a safe environment, and certainly not like this:

Bernard did manage to have a civil conversation with Shu, which is as much as anyone could ask for.

In short, by the power of basketball, Bernard has successfully been reintroduced into society. Here’s his natarajasana.

WHAT ARE YOU HOLDING ON TO

The Finale

Sims have a different understanding of love than we do. Sims can be paired off to someone reasonably attractive and compatible because their handler wants to also control their children and they’d be perfectly happy. If a human did that, we wouldn’t call that love. If a friend said “Brad and I are going to get married because we need beautiful babies,” you would spend the next few days furiously trying to convince them that this is a Bad Idea and they need to Get Out of This Hot Mess Right Now.

But for Sims, it’s fine! As long as they have a 60-100% full friendship bar and 75-100% full romantic bar, any two Sims can be labeled as soulmates. Us humans, we don’t have a bar to fill. The decision to marry another human is often reported as happening during mundane activities, like eating breakfast.

Sim artists randomly choose what to create from a list of preset images. If two human artists in love decide to collaborate on a work together, they’d probably choose something deeply symbolic and meaningful, something that captures the essence of their relationship. For example, if a couple transcended time and death to be together, they might choose to focus on the timelessness of their partnership, and portray two figures encircling each other in eternal harmony. Sims are incapable of understanding metaphor as a concept. Sims can only paint what the game tells them to.

Even if one Sim gets the whim to marry their partner, it takes a while for the other Sim to generate a similar marriage-related whim. Whims are randomly generated according to a variety of factors. It would be extremely improbable to have two Sims express the same desire to be wed within 12 hours of each other.

Yep, the reason the previous one had the controls uncropped was so the time of day would be visible.

The list of all possible suitors for any given Sim is finite, known, and short. Humans have a much larger set of options; faced with a myriad of potential choices, the set of people they meet is determined by chance. Sometimes finding love is a matter of being in the right place, at the right time, and talking to the right person.

Sims have a well-defined set of defined characteristics, but may be given more depth of character by their creators through external backstories. If two Sims are fated to be together, it is often by design. It would be unthinkable for someone to design a Sim perfectly suited for another while being completely unaware of the other’s existence.

And of course, if a human falls in love with someone who died in a previous era, they’re SOL.

This is all one big coincidence. Most of these choices were made by a machine, and while this particular combination of events is improbable, it’s not impossible. So what? Are our lives not subject to the same forces of stochasticity?

And ultimately, if we come to recognize in Sims our own experience of being an unwitting victim knocked around by chaos, they start to feel more human.


“Dolly,” you may be wondering, “what’s this perfect fairytale romance doing in a story about handling death and self-inflicted trauma?” Well, let me ask you something.

What does this imply about everyone else’s relationship?

Seven Days at the Von Haunt Estate

(Synopsis: This is a novella-length account of the courtship between my Sim, a recently outed divorcee, and Lord Shallot, an NPC ghost whom most players sympathize against.)

DAY 1

Xiyuan walked up the steps of the Von Haunt estate. He had almost no information about the man he met that night—just his first name, Bernard—but the museum’s name strongly implied it was haunted, and “ghost” was the only other usable datum he had. This seemed like a reasonable first option. Besides, even if his hunch was wrong, the house-haunters might be huge gossips.

Before he could check the gardens for signs of… life… or, maybe… not-life, he had to pass through a historical mansion. The old Von Haunt estate functioned as a museum for curious tourists (but no one was allowed to touch the artifacts, not after that incident with the honeymoon), showing a little slice of life of the late-1800s aristocracy. Or not-life?

Immediately on opening the door, Xiyuan’s eye was drawn to the ornate paintings in the dining room. One seemed oddly familiar.

Yes! The piercing eyes, the distinguished face, the neatly trimmed beard; it was him, but less pink. And to the right, the woman who went into a rage and slapped him. There was a plaque nearby: Lord Shallot… 1864–1898… yada yada, some unflattering commentary on his failed career… accidentally started the deadly blaze of 1898 by hurling an oversized watercolor into the fireplace. Well, did he spill something on it, or mess up the blocking, Xiyuan found himself thinking, before realizing that wasn’t supposed to be his main focus. He figured there was more to learn from studying the painting itself. This work was a standard portrait, with no noticeable Romantic or Impressionistic influences; rather, the natural elements were downplayed by low lighting. Moreover, he chose to portray both himself and his wife as extremely uncomfortable. Xiyuan leaned over the railing to examine the texture. Lord Shallot was definitely technically proficient, and Xiyuan had seen worse from of the dozens of paintings he appraised every day.

Now all he had to do was find Bernard. If he was anything close to the kindred spirit Xiyuan suspected he was, he would most likely be painting. A quick search of the house revealed its lack of easels; fantastic, this only left 90% of the sprawling property to search. Xiyuan made his way outside to the balcony overlooking the chalet gardens, deftly avoiding the lady of the house as she darted around. The sunset reflected across the mountains in breathtaking gradients of pink and yellow, pouring over the snow-covered peaks that framed the pristine garden below; Xiyuan briefly forget who he was, where he was, what he was doing, and felt himself lose control of his body until he was no longer viewing the scenery as an outsider, but interweaving with his surroundings into one coherent whole. It took what felt like a few minutes to break from this trance state, and a couple moments more to remember his reason for being there. Right!

He started a quick, conscious visual scan of the garden from left, finding no signs of life around the wedding arch, the piano (though he did make a mental note to play it later), or the central fountain. He had hoped Bernard wasn’t scaring guests in the hedge maze—searching would be so time-consuming—even as it became the only remaining option. But his view of the maze was blocked by a large balcony, and on that balcony was an easel bearing an unfinished canvas. And there was Bernard!

Xiyuan found himself running before remembering to contain his excitement, regaining his composure mere yards from the balcony’s edge. Bernard, absorbed in his painting, didn’t react to the sound or movement, prompting Xiyuan to cross to his left side and lightly tap his right shoulder.

Bernard shot up 6 feet in the air. “WHO—oh, you’re that gentleman from the bar.”

“That would be me, yes.”

“… Xiyuan? Did I pronounce that correctly?”

“No. Don’t be embarrassed, no one here does.”

“I really did enjoy meeting you the other night,” Bernard remarked. “Mimsy and I rarely leave the estate, but when we do, no one wants to talk to the loony failed painter who burned his wife alive.”

“Bernard, if you don’t mind me asking,” here Bernard narrowed his eyes in response, “what was wrong with the painting?”

“I didn’t mark the canvas with pencil in fear it would bleed through. But without the sketch, I misjudged the placement of two elements and ruined the overall composition.” Hah! He knew it. “What an odd question to ask. Most people are fixated on the ‘burned alive’ aspect.”

“That’s the first thing that comes to mind; I stare at paintings all day. Maybe you’re familiar with my work? I did a series based on synesthetic interpretations of Rachmaninoff’s compositions two years ago? Or, my most recent exhibition was inspired by machine-generated images. Did you hear about that?”

“… Oh!” That’s when the realization finally hit Bernard. He hadn’t heard the name before, but had certainly seen the name Xiyuan Liu in print. In fact, he showed up in the Arts section of the newspaper so frequently, Bernard had started to roll his eyes every time there was another mention of his exhibitions, his beneficiaries, his collections, or his paintings. Bernard felt a combination of jealousy and awe for the man whose presence had been so calming only a moment before. Yet as he watched Xiyuan get distracted by his underdrawing, he realized what he had mistaken for calm was instead restrained intensity, which got harder to hide the longer he viewed art. “What brings an artist with your influence to my estate? Are you here to admire my portfolio?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Xiyuan replied, propping himself up against the easel and smiling. There was that intensity again. “I won’t look at or evaluate anything unless you ask me to.”

Screenshot totally unrelated to narrative

“You consider yourself awfully charming, don’t you? Well, congratulations, you are.”

Xiyuan beamed in return. Then, he broke eye contact, starting to look concerned. “Actually, there is something I’d been meaning to talk about. The plaque in the museum… wasn’t exactly flattering. Have people always talked about you like this?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Bernard decided to confide, relieved to talk to someone who didn’t immediately label him a monster. “During my lifetime, I was constantly ridiculed. I felt like the punchline to a joke everyone else knew. It was so frequent, every small mistake started to physically hurt. That’s why I started burning my paintings; the pressure was too much to handle, and I had lost control of my emotions.”

“Bernard, I’m so sorry.”

“Oh no, don’t be. After I died, it was clear my career was over, and my reputation would follow me beyond the grave. I eventually learned to paint for myself,” he grinned, “and also learned that if one is already a target of derision, shocking people becomes so much easier.” He paused in a moment of realization. “I would have treated you the same way if I knew you were also an artist.”

“‘Never discourage anyone who makes continual progress, no matter how slow.'”

“Come again?”

“Plato. Most people would have given up entirely after experiencing what you went through, but how often have you painted since your death?”

“Every day.”

“That’s what I thought. So you’re admitting to having over 50 years of experience more than any living artist; on top of that, you have a unique perspective on death and the passage of time. Speaking honestly, you would have no trouble succeeding if you were to start your career today.”

“Such flattery! Are you warming me up for something?”

“No, I genuinely admire your passion. I know very few people dedicated enough to continue the same practice for over a hundred years, and even fewer who would die for their art.”

“Huh,” Bernard thought aloud, “no one’s ever said it that way.”

“You have to get used to me being right,” Xiyuan teased. Bernard snorted at him. “By the way, did you meet any other early modern painters while you were alive? Seurat? Van Gogh?”

“Oh, you have no idea…”

DAY 2

Bernard was painting at his favorite spot, again, same as always, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Oh, hello, you. Back again?”

“I’m not sure where else to find you. You’re a hard man to find. Have you ever gotten hold of a phone, or—“

“Castles don’t have phones.”

“Hah! Good one.” Bernard was perplexed as to what the source of humor could possibly be. “What’ve you been up to?”

“Painting, mostly. How about yourself?”

“Painting, mostly.”

“Of course!” Bernard realized. “It’s not often I meet someone as mad as myself.”

“Please, Bernard, don’t call yourself mad when we’re both rich enough to count as eccentric.”

“Right. Money excuses everything,” he opined, half-sarcastically. “You’re genuinely not bothered by my public image?”

“Name one famous painter, writer, philosopher, or scientist who was known for being mentally stable.”

“Touché.”

“I forgot to mention last time,” Xiyuan confessed, “most of my close friends or family members see me in a similar way. They’re just more willing to accept the large sacrifices I make to remain this prolific.”

“‘Prolific’ is an understatement. From what I’ve read, ‘terrifying’ is more accurate.”

“The press doesn’t know how much of my day I spend obsessing over every minor detail, even in my sleep.” This was true; he preferred to not give interviews, and, when forced, refused to stray from strictly factual statements. “It’s great to finally have someone to talk to who shares my quirks, instead of simply accepting them.”

“Me—” Bernard started, before realizing he didn’t want to imply anything negative about Mimsy in front of his new friend, and didn’t stop to consider why that might be the case. He instead changed the subject. “I mean, I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day. I have something to show you. Wait here.”

Xiyuan watched as Bernard took off floating at full speed towards the mansion, vanishing out of sight as he passed through one of the walls. Two minutes later, he exited the mansion through the front door, clearly having trouble with the corporality of the canvas he was holding. He carefully turned his canvas so that only the frame faced forward before careening back to the balcony.

“This is how I see my estate. What do you think?” He held up the canvas for Xiyuan to inspect.

The gardens were portrayed in a similar gloomy overcast he had used in his portrait, giving the scene an overall feeling of a prison cell. The configuration wasn’t the same as it had been this decade, or the decade before; but it was not as if all time had stopped, rather if all time was passing at once. A group of trees went from alive, to dead, to gone. The hedge maze was a barely understandable mishmash of pathways morphing in and out of existence. The estate was portrayed in various stages of restoration or disarray. A single light source radiated from the center of the gardens: Mimsy, on fire, eyes hollowed, screaming, while her un-immolated arm watered the flowers. Xiyuan was blown away by the portrayal of unimaginable pain, guilt, and sadness from a man who was reminded of his failures daily, unable to find peace even in death.

“Oh, dear, did I frighten you?”

Xiyuan raised his eyebrows at the small pause. “Quite the opposite. You’ve chosen to reveal so much of yourself, I can’t help but be drawn into the sheer beauty.” He straightened his posture. “No one, and I mean no one, could accuse you of being dull or unimaginative after seeing this.”

Bernard breathed a sigh of relief. He’d hid this particular work somewhere even Mimsy couldn’t find it, for fear it would upset her. Mimsy preferred to look on the bright side of death; she didn’t need to be reminded of the suffering she underwent under his watch, or learn that he was anything other than quietly content with his repetitive, pastoral life. Suddenly he realized how far forward he was leaning, quickly correcting his posture to create space between himself and his conversational partner.

“Uh,” he said, looking for an excuse to cool down, “do you mind if I continue this painting?”

“Not at all. Do you mind if I stay here for a bit?”

“That’s alright.”

After Xiyuan left, Bernard hid the canvas he had been working on, setting a draft of a new portrait in its place.

DAY 3


Xiyuan brushed himself off as he waited in front of The Narwhal Arms. He quickly checked inside to see if Bernard had arrived before him, but, despite living much closer, he was somewhat late. Five minutes passed before he was greeted by Bernard careening toward him at full speed. As he came closer to where Xiyuan was standing, he leaned back to come to an abrupt stop, and, beaming, bent into a full bow complete with hand flourish.

Xiyuan took a second to reply to the greeting with a half-bow. “Did someone get a new phone?”

“I may have temporarily liberated it from its owner as he ran screaming out of my mansion. Don’t worry, it’s since been placed in the lost and found.”

“Hah! What did you do this time?”

“Nothing personal, I was simply possessing the fridge to look for snacks.” “You know, your odd sense of humour is one of the things I enjoy most about you.”

Xiyuan wasn’t sure if it was time to press the issue, but decided to move forward. “Did you miss me?”

“You haven’t visited for a couple days. I was worried.”

“And you’re okay with calling this a date?”

“Well… if I’ve understood you correctly…”

“Don’t be worried, you are. And I’m honored.” Xiyuan rested his arm on Bernard’s shoulders.

Bernard made no attempt to move, but sighed heavily. “I have to admit, this is a strange and uncomfortable situation you’ve created for us.”

“It’s difficult,” admitted Xiyuan, “but I’d be making a huge mistake not to pursue you.” He moved to give Bernard some space. “Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind right now?”

“You’re bringing up your wife on a date?”

“In my defense, I believe my wife is going to become relevant at some point.”

“Sure, but I can’t help but notice you’re referring to her in the past tense.”

“No, but—argh,” Bernard failed to recover. It was true; over the years, he and Mimsy had grown apart, and they were no longer friends, let alone lovers. Still, he felt an obligation to the woman he once loved, who had spent over a century by his side, who had been robbed of life through his actions.

“Besides, you’re the one who asked me here.”

“Maybe this was a mistake.”

Bernard was somewhat taken aback by the dramatic recoil, but took his opportunity to even the score. “Aren’t you also a married man?”

“I left her a while ago. I didn’t figure this out until it was too late, but I’ve never really been interested in women.”

“Really! How did you reach that conclusion?”

“I just… realized. One day. Look, I’m not the best person to ask about it, this is all very recent.”

“You divorced her after we met?” Bernard asked, letting the realization sink in. He lowered his voice. “You didn’t leave her for me—did you?”

“Of course not. I would have done it eventually, anyway,” Xiyuan admitted. “Leaving my family was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but Aileen deserves someone who loves her in ways I can’t.”

“That’s a relief. That’s also a very modern way of thinking.”

“Bernard,” he offered, “Why don’t I back off? We can just enjoy the night out without any pressure.”

They entered the nightclub, where Bernard was immediately accosted by two women who refused to leave him alone for the rest of the night. Xiyuan occasionally chimed in between thoroughly rehearsed monologues on life in the 1800s, on what it was like to be a ghost. Nothing he did would get them to leave him and Bernard alone.

As the day ended, Bernard wrenched himself away from the three-way conversation to address Xiyuan. “Thank you for coming here tonight. I’ll call you back, maybe?”

“If you still have a phone.”

“If I still have a phone.”

DAY 4

This time, Bernard turned as soon as he heard footsteps. “Good evening, Mr. Liu.”

“Back at the easel?”

“Always. Yourself?”

“Just stepping out for a break,” Xiyuan said, clasping his hands and stretching them above his head. “About the other night: did the tourist come back to pick up his phone?”

“Yes. I had trouble finding a hiding place,” he said, gesturing to his translucent body.

“Hah! Don’t worry, I’m happier being with you in person, anyway.”

Bernard cringed. “I should tell you. That was a lie.”

“What?”

“I didn’t call because I didn’t know what to say,” he admitted. “You’re delightful company, of course, but I don’t know what to make of you. All these visits, and compliments,” he shook his head. “I liked the attention at first, but now, it’s honestly overwhelming.”

“Would you like me to leave you alone?”

“No, it’s not that.”

Xiyuan braced himself. “Are you only interested in me as a friend?”

“… I don’t know. You have to stop asking me these kinds of questions. I can’t process this. I don’t understand.”

Xiyuan opened his mouth to apologize, but decided it was better to just stop talking. He occupied himself by tapping his leg at 120 bpm before Bernard finally spoke again.

“Xiyuan, listen. Mimsy meant a lot to me when I was alive, and she stayed by my side all these years after I,” here he paused, “killed her. If I suddenly decide to leave her, what does that imply about me? I’d become the monster everyone believes I am.”

“It implies you want to give her, and yourself, another start?” Xiyuan argued, even though he knew the question was rhetorical. “I have nothing against Mimsy; I don’t want to hurt her either. But the fact that I’ve already damaged your relationship remains. The real question is, how much do you want to hurt her, and how?”

“I’ve known you for… how long has it been… half a year? Mimsy has been my only companion, and the love of my life, for over a century. This doesn’t seem like it should be a difficult decision.”

“Did she have a choice in this marriage?”

“Maybe you should leave.”

Xiyuan turned to walk away, but muttered under his breath, “Did you?”

Bernard furrowed his brow. “Go.

DAY 5

It had been a difficult few days for Xiyuan. He found himself constantly replaying the conversation, the meetings, that first night—searching for anything he could have done better, for any hints of Bernard’s true feelings—finding none, and none, respectively. He’d flown too close to the sun. He’d spent a lifetime searching for someone, and now, that someone appears out of thin air as he’s second-guessing himself, someone who he didn’t just feel comfortable around, he felt completely exposed, laid bare; someone who could accept his inner demons, even share them… all of them? He’d never know. Whatever could have happened was gone.

And then, there was the other question: should he go back? That was the one thing Bernard had been clear about. But ultimately, Xiyuan could feel his own selfish desires winning out, and he began inventing justifications. He would apologize, and then leave.

That’s it. That’s all that would happen.

Bernard, again, turned from his easel as soon as he heard footsteps. How did he know? Xiyuan made a mental note to learn how his footsteps sounded.

“Bernard, I’m sorry. This is all my—“

“No,” he interrupted, gesturing with both hands to stop. “I’m the one who should be apologizing. Please understand, I was confused.”

“You don’t need to apologize for that. I think after a lifetime of art, we’re both used to being confusing by now.”

“No, I wanted to apologize for sending you away.” Xiyuan knew better to ask the obvious question, so Bernard answered it for him. “Mimsy’s a sweet woman, but she and I haven’t talked in ages. She attends to her gardening, I to my painting—and, after a hundred years doing the same damned routine every day at the same damned estate, the usual topics of conversation run dry.” Bernard shrunk in guilt. “What she’s done for me… at the end, I was a wreck. That much is obvious. She loved me, and she taught me to love myself in spite of my failure. An ordinary man spending lifetimes with an ordinary woman.”

He took a moment to collect his thoughts. “And then you came along, and you were almost too different. You don’t see me as ordinary, do you?”

Xiyuan shook his head. “A kindred spirit.”

“You. A successful Patron of the Arts. I never told you, but I’ve seen pictures of your life-sized statues at gallery openings. I’ve seen your paintings in print. I had no idea that one could be so imaginative and prolific at once.”

“Those are both things we have in common.”

“And you don’t mind me being labeled as a failure.”

“You know better than anyone else that creative work is ninety percent failure,” Xiyuan mused, pretending this wasn’t a well-known fact. “The other ten percent is crying.”

“Well, in that case, I’ve given it 1000%!” Bernard continued, excited to contribute wordplay. They both laughed at that. “It’s good to have you back, Yuan.”

“So informal! If you’re going to call me Yuan, should I be calling you Bernie?”

“Hah! Why not?”

By now, they were both leaning on the railing, watching the wind rustle the bushes of the hedge garden below. Xiyuan straightened his arms to push himself back, glancing sideways to find Bernard resting his head on his hand, gazing steadily at him. They smiled at each other.

“Yuan.”

“Yes, Bernie?”

He laughed. “It’s too easy to rile you up! Are you sure you weren’t born in the 19th century?”

“Maybe I was in a past life.”

“See, where was that sense of humor five minutes ago?” Wait, this conversation had a point, he reminded himself. “What I was originally trying to say, was, I did some thinking. I can’t deny my feelings for you anymore.”

Xiyuan felt the shock vibrate almost audibly through his body, as if his brain had undergone a soft reset. He blinked—still alive, moved his fingers under Bernard’s—corporeal, darted his eyes around—at the Chalet gardens, on the balcony overlooking the hedge maze. Finally, he remembered Bernard’s presence. “Is this really happening?”

“I swear on my own grave.”

Xiyuan cupped Bernard’s hand in his. “Bernard, I … don’t know what to say.”

“I thought you might want to know.” He rested his lower back on the balcony railing, and sighed. “Let’s just enjoy being near each other, alright?”

“Alright.”

They had exhausted all need for conversation or movement. Xiyuan wasn’t aware of how much he was smiling. He was only focused on how close they were standing—was he ever this hyperaware of Bernard’s presence before? Between the ghostly chill and the crisp night air, he was glad he brought a sweater.

Bernard leaned sideways and broke the silence in a low whisper. “You’re wearing cologne.”

“You feel like a refrigerator,” Xiyuan retorted, second-guessing himself as the words left his mouth. “That is, the inside of a refrigerator.”

The unnecessary correction sent Bernard into a fit of giggles; Xiyuan found himself unable to stop giggling as well. Leaning forward had only brought them closer to one another. He was inches away from Bernard’s face.

“Do you want me to kiss you?”

“Just one kiss?”

“One kiss.”

Xiyuan resisted the urge to rest his head on Bernard’s chest, while, at the same time, feeling the chill of Bernard’s hands edging towards his shoulders. BONG, asserted the Von Haunt grandfather clock.

BONG. BONG. BONG.

“Already?”

BONG. BONG.

“Indeed,” Xiyuan confirmed, gesturing to his watch. “I should turn into a pumpkin. You know, before we do anything we regret.”

BONG.

“Maybe that’s for the better,” Bernard smiled. “Take care, Cinderella.”

BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.

DAY 6

Xiyuan came back the next day. The same day? Bernard, fully rested, spun around from his easel as soon as he heard footsteps on the stairs.

“Good morning, Cinderella,” Bernard teased, getting no response. “You’re not going to object to that?”

Xiyuan shrugged. “It seems fitting. You keep recognizing me because of my shoes.”

“Ah; I thought you were finally becoming less uptight than the 19th century ghost lord! If you must know, your boots have a distinctive heel-heavy sound,” Bernard clarified, gesturing downward, “but the real trick is that no one else ever comes up here.”

Xiyuan walked the length of the balcony, listening for the telltale click, until he settled by the far railing. “So…”

“What’s on your mind?” Bernard asked, perhaps too coyly for a simple question.

“Nice weather we’ve been having lately.”

“That’s all?”

“The weather. Good evening, Lady Shallot.”

“… Oh! Hello, Mimsy, my dear.”

They both watched Mimsy float off the balcony and settle at the piano. Now it was Xiyuan’s turn to tease. “Were you greeting one person, or two?”

“I’ll let you figure it out—,” Bernard began to retort, before Xiyuan caught his wrist and drew him into a passionate kiss.

What followed was definitely not an attempt at taking it slow or abstaining from adultery.

just picture a bunch of this, I refuse to write smut

It wasn’t until hours later, locked in a tight embrace, that Xiyuan spoke again. “That was not what I intended to happen.”

“I have to agree.”

He checked his phone. “Bernard, I cannot stress how little I want to do this, but it’s time for me to go.”

“You can’t stay?”

“Not only is that a terrible idea, the bed in the museum is roped off.”

“No, I realized that. You can nap on the benches outside. I’ll be right beside you when you wake up.”

Xiyuan kissed Bernard’s neck. “You’re making this too difficult. We both need to get a full night’s sleep and carefully consider our options.”

“I hate that you’re right.” Bernard muttered. “Let me walk you out, then.”

They passed out of the gardens and through the mansion, arm in arm for the first time. Bernard propped himself against the door frame, watching his paramour walk away until he was but a speck on the horizon.

DAY 7

Xiyuan leapt out of bed, brushed his teeth, took a quick shower, and headed directly to the Von Haunt estate, not realizing this was the first time he’d skipped his daily 5-10 AM painting session since Shu was born. Bernard was waiting in his usual spot. He hadn’t started painting, either.

“Good morn—“

“I’ll skip the teasing today, thanks.”

It was Bernard who stopped this time. “We should probably talk.”

“Of course,” Xiyuan said, keeping his arm around Bernard’s waist. “That was just to say hello.”

Bernard started to ask a question, but dropped it mid-phoneme. “I don’t understand modern courtship. How does one start?”

“Let’s start with what you want. Do you want to keep seeing me?”

“This moment? Definitely,” he confirmed. “But perhaps I should consider the long term in more detail.”

“You can think out loud. I’m listening.”

“Well…” Bernard began, choosing his words carefully, “I’ve been around for longer than you can imagine. Changing everything for someone I only met a few months ago seems—“

“—Improbable?”

“Maybe ‘rash’ is the right word,” he continued. “And yet, while alive, even my most treasured relationships could be traced back to forced contact or begrudging acceptance. Even those who sought to provide any meaningful contact could only offer trite platitudes. But you,” he paused with meaning, “didn’t try to understand me, and didn’t need to—you stripped away the labels, the disgrace, the past, right to the core of my being—and what you found was someone worth treasuring. For that, I am grateful.”

“What can I say? I’ve always had a good eye.” Bernard rolled his. “Before that night, I spent years searching for someone who experienced feelings as deeply as I do, who considered my obsessiveness to be a profound source of connection, not as something to merely tolerate. I found no one. I came to believe that there was, indeed, no one capable of truly relating to me. I learned to acclimate to the constant feeling that something was incomplete. But it never occurred to me,” he continued, “that the person I was looking for may have died almost a century before I was born.”

“That’s what it is,” he agreed. “Imagine feeling that isolation for ten times as long.”

“I’m literally incapable of doing that.”

Both of them allowed the conversation to diffuse into contemplative silence. Finally, Bernard had been able to consolidate his feelings, and had figured out what to say.

“Let me say,” he confessed, “being around you has given me a better understanding of what it means to love someone.”

Xiyuan held tight onto Bernard’s shoulders to stop himself from shaking. “I think I love you, too.” They held on to each other tightly, as if the world itself began to fall apart around them, and to let the other go would send them careening through the void of existence they had created.

“It’s nice to feel needed for once,” Bernard remarked. He immediately shifted the mood from pensive to upbeat. “So, to answer your original question, yes.”

“Seconded.”

“Then it’s unanimous!” He clapped his hands together in celebration. “What’s the next question?”

“Are we in a relationship?”

“That’s an easy one. Yes.”

“It’s such a relief to be able to admit it,” Bernard remarked. “What’s the next question?”

“I’ve saved the hardest question for last. Where are you going to live?”

“Oh,” Bernard winced. Xiyuan felt the hope drain from his body.

“Do you want to talk through it again?”

“Well,” he considered, coming up with an excuse to stall, “what would the other option be?”

“I live alone in a penthouse apartment in San Myshuno.”

“Go on.”

“There’s a balcony. It’s not as big as this one, but it has a great view of the city.” Now was the time to start bargaining, he figured. “You could set up an easel there? In fact, I could convert at least five rooms into studios.”

“And what is living in the city itself like?”

“It’s fantastic. Every week, there are festivals, parties, performers to watch, concerts to go to—”

“—what kind of concerts?”

“I usually go to watch my old orchestra perform. Maybe an opera, every once in a while—“

“—the ballet?”

“Yes! The theater—“

“—the galleries—“

“—we can open our own, I have the money. Oh, and karaoke. I forgot karaoke. That’s something I’d like to watch.”

“What else?”

“The neighbors are constantly popping in. Every week, I go out to the suburbs to visit my best friends.”

“No, on a daily basis.”

“Well, I wake up—“

“—thank you for clarifying, I was wondering—“

“—I shower. I make you breakfast.”

“I butcher your name again.”

“We check the Arts section for news about each other.”

“Of course I’d restart my career.”

“You’ll be brilliant. I like to start painting at sunrise, in our between-one-and-five studios.”

“I’ll set up right next to you.”

“I practice piano. The neighbors come in to watch me play, and then eat the rest of our breakfast.”

“You’re not being facetious about the neighbors?”

“They smother me. If it’s not time for work, we go out to the museum. We paint murals all over the city.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

“And at night, whatever you feel like doing.”

“And we won’t have to be apart.”

Xiyuan smiled. “No, we won’t.”

Bernard paused to consider this new information. “You know, I’m still not sure whether this is the right thing to do,” he admitted, “but it’s time to give myself and Mimsy a fresh start.”

please note the topic of conversation. these two, i swear

Xiyuan didn’t immediately respond, and looked away. Bernard moved in to check on him. He was tearing up.

“I was so worried,” Xiyuan choked out. “Honestly, if you had refused, I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“It’s going to be alright,” Bernard replied, wiping the tears from Xiyuan’s face with his thumb. “I’d like to go home now. Will you meet me at the steps?”

As they separated, Xiyuan took one last look around the gardens, across the meticulously pruned hedge maze, the topiary archways, the white piano, the contrast of the distant mountains to the immediate flora, the pink rose petals floating in the water fountain, and finally, the single easel. He’d treasure this image until the day he died.

The glory of the idyllic backdrop was broken by a woman screaming something indistinct from inside the mansion. Bernard flew out a couple seconds later, carrying a large stack of canvases. “Will you help me with these? We have to leave now.”

But as Xiyuan left the balcony with his partner for the first and last time, he could think of only thing to say. “Are you ready to spend the next century with me?”

“Perhaps. But I can’t wait to find out.”

The Liu Family Makes a Tough Call

When we last saw the Liu family, we learned that I accidentally caused irreversible harm to one of my most treasured Sims, and started teetering on the verge of destroying two families at once.

for heaven’s sakes, keep it in your pants

All we can do at this point is damage control. That is, someone’s going to get hurt no matter what happens, but we can help Xiyuan do some soul-searching. Xiyuan has to figure out whether or not he wants to pursue Mike; whether or not he should divorce Aileen, and, if so, whether he should leave immediately or after Shu ages up, or suck it up and go back in the closet.

While he mulls it over, they can eat in separate rooms, I guess.

(By the way, I can’t find who originally built this house. Let me know if it looks familiar to you!)

There’s no immediate reason to leave the house. Aileen and Xiyuan are both good-natured, extremely close, and agree on their priorities.

Shu’s lucky to be a daddy’s boy, because he could very possibly have 3 daddies.

We have plenty of time to consider every possible situation and reflect on the merits of each. First, whether running off with Mike is worth it. Xiyuan calms his nerves as he visits the Jeong-Espinosas for the first time since they almost blew it, using Shu as an adorable distraction.

Let’s stand in increasing order of emotional turmoil and eat our feelings! Yay!!!

Claudia answers the door. Mike is in the kitchen baking cupcakes; would you two like some? Come in!

He was hardly a stranger to having Claudia shove food in his face. She always had to feed everyone, ever since she became the third roommate. Mike was a lot of fun, but Claudia always had this sweetness about her that put people at ease. Xiyuan briefly considered what would happen to her if Mike suddenly up and left, or she discovered he was having an affair—but the pain was enough to make him physically cringe.

Are you okay, hun? Have another cupcake.

He looked around at the house, with Mike’s comedy award next to Charlie’s frog in Claudia’s shiny kitchen, and finally felt like an outsider. Settling down had changed Mike, and he was no longer the unencumbered free spirit Xiyuan knew. There was no possibility of Xiyuan ever convincing Mike to leave or harm his family. He hated to acknowledge it, but pursuing the person he felt closest to in the world would likely alienate everyone else he cared about.

Xiyuan gave his best friend a parting hug, right before Claudia walked up to give Mike a hug in the same spot. That was it; he chose Claudia. Xiyuan was an afterthought. If anything could have happened, it was too late.

Xiyuan drew distant from Aileen as he tried to mourn his lost love in private. But both families were still best friends, so when Mike invited the Lius to Ghost Night at the bar, he shoved his feelings deeper into the closet, past the Halloween costumes and winter coats, and prepared for another unbearable night out.

That’s when he did The Thing.

The Thing that instantly shot him straight to the top of my list of best Sims of all time, beating out every colorful character, legacy founder, self-insert and local legend that I’ve made over decades of simming. The Thing that was an optimal combination of being a total fucking idiot, and, at the same time, so brilliant that he actually outdid the planning of a real human. The Thing that must be phrased as a multiple-choice test question.

Imagine, for a moment, you recently discovered you’re gay and are handling the delicate situation of balancing self-actualization with the needs of your beloved family. You see a beautiful stranger while at the bar with your wife. Do you:
a) Trick question! I stayed home because going to the bar seems irresponsible.
b) Keep to yourself and have a talk with the wife when you get home.
c) Throw all caution to the wind and introduce yourself all sexy-like.
d) Option c, but also the stranger is a 19th-century ghost.

XIYUAN YOU MAGNIFICENT FUCKING BASTARD.

(Let me clarify here that, unlike with Aileen, I had no part in establishing this relationship whatsoever. He just walked over to the ghost, showered him with rose petals, and then kept flirting. This screenshot was taken after the fact because I wasn’t even at the computer when it happened. This does explain why I had so much trouble finding him a romantic partner in the first place, because on top of being a deeply repressed gay man, Xiyuan is also apparently a massive freak.)

Nobody’s wife was happy.

YES, THE GHOST’S WIFE WAS ALSO THERE. SHE SLAPPED HIM TWICE. This happened ages ago and I can’t look at these pictures without choking on my tea from laughing so hard.

This is the second time Aileen caught Xiyuan flirting with a guy. She managed to keep from slapping him, but was too angry to even look him in the face.

She stormed off and tried to calm herself down in the mirror.

When that didn’t work, she dragged him out of the club, where they had a huge fight.

Nothing could save it.

yeah buddy, something tells me that wasn’t going to work anyway

The Hot Ghost Situation is what led to Xiyuan and Aileen sleeping in separate beds, Aileen keeping the master bedroom because she wasn’t an adulterous piece of shit and Xiyuan sleeping in the bed he got as a career reward (why?! What are the logistics of that?) in his old upstairs bedroom.

doop deedly doop doo science, la la la

Shu has absolutely no idea what’s going on. He continues to play the perfect little angel, duct-taping the rapidly fraying string holding his parents together. He wants nothing more in life than to play with his friends, play with his toys, play the violin, and do homework. Oh, is his homework done? Can I do the extra credit, please? Just an all-around studious little scamp who lives to make his parents happy.

And it’s working! That’s autonomous busking, btw.
It’s not the Spice Festival without a kid playing the violin while his parents yell at him. He earned 17 Simoleons, so he just paid for his parents’ drinks.

Xiyuan, having been banished to the upstairs portion of the house, spends most of his time hiding in the studio until Shu comes home. He waits until Aileen leaves for work to eat or shower.

So, totally different from before?

At some point, he had to decide between staying long enough for Shu to grow up or leaving. Patching things up with Aileen was no longer an option—he didn’t so much come out of the closet to her as run out screaming, light the closet on fire and walk away in slow motion while it exploded. Perhaps he needed to know what he’s missing in order to make that choice. That’s how he ended up going out to meet some guys.

Where do we go? The haunted house! BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT YOU LIKE

Unfortunately, he miscalculated: the ghosts must have been sleeping. But then!

IT’S HIM

Well, now, this is interesting.

At first, he’s is put off by the man’s intensity, the culture shock, the size of the house. But the ghost recognizes Xiyuan! The ghost says to call him Bernard. Bernard asks, do you want to know how I died? He joyfully pantomimes himself being burnt to death, hamming up his own suffocation until he finally goes limp. “Eh?” he gestures, looking for a reaction. Xiyuan doesn’t have one at first, but then laughs nervously at the realization that this man has been dead for over a century and still gets a kick out of disturbing tourists. Fascinated and charmed, Xiyuan finds himself being drawn in—but the guilt drives him to leave. He walks back home feeling more alive than he’s felt in years.

The pain of staying in his house becomes unbearable, and Xiyuan starts to have nightmares about withering away in his second-story prison. His love for Shu is the one connection left he has with this place. But Shu is a fast learner, and needs his dad’s mentorship less every day.

This is Shu reaching level 10 in violin skill. It’s the same first maxed skill as his dad.

This is when Xiyuan is convinced Shu will recover. They can spend weekends together in the city. They’ll go to the museum together, busk in the parks, and spend hours painting next to each other. The kid absolutely idolizes his dad, and one day he’ll understand why he had to leave.

Xiyuan leaves the house and all of the money with Aileen, taking only harvestables, masterpieces and treasured items. He leaves a few things for his son: the Starry Night bed, the portraits of Aileen, the canvases. So with a goodbye sad painting,

and a goodbye hug,

Xiyuan prepares to actually move on.

Shu doesn’t know that when he comes home from school, his dad will be gone.

It’s going to take some time to get over the trauma, but this was the right decision for everybody. None of this was actually a mistake: Xiyuan needed a hard push to find himself, Aileen was removed from obscurity to live the life of her dreams, and Shu came into existence. Nobody had bad intentions. Nobody wanted to be mean.

All three members of the former Liu family are faced with individual challenges: to acclimate to life without Dad, to find an identity outside of “Xiyuan’s wife,” to possibly convince a century-old ghost with surprisingly nuanced views on gay interracial relationships to leave his wife and mansion to move to uptown San Myshuno. It’s not even clear whether we’ve figured Xiyuan out yet, or if he’s using his obsessive artistry to hide even deeper secrets.

But now, looking out of his penthouse window, Xiyuan’s life is actually beginning.

EPILOGUE: He’s ok, folks.

Hell yeah, apple painting

The Liu Family: In Which Self-Discovery Becomes Self-Sabotage

The Lius are a happy family. They’re a segmented family, where the individual members usually split up and do their own thing, but a happy one.

Let’s save some time and document all of Aileen’s daily activities. Aileen is on the computer. Taking pictures of Aileen on the computer is not necessarily the most thrilling thing one could be doing. This irony is not lost on someone who spends hours playing The Sims 4.

For example, let’s take a time-walk through a normal day. Xiyuan and Aileen get woken up at bumfuck A.M. by Shu, who probably saw a monster under his bed and decided to rob his parents of precious sleep.

Here’s a confession: buff Xiyuan scares me. He can complete the Bodybuilder aspiration all he wants, but he has the heart of a scrawny introvert.

Their morning routine consists of leftovers whenever they feel like it, followed by mandatory Child Enrichment as dictated by she who has consciousness.

Look at how smug this mofo is after beating his 8-year-old child at chess.

Let me clarify: before Shu came about, Xiyuan and Aileen spent all of their time in front of the easel and computer, respectively. Now Xiyuan is responsible for both working nonstop (by choice) and Child Enrichment. So rather than being a set of disorganized legos scattered on the floor, Aileen is an individual lego and Xiyuan and Shu are like when one of those really thin legos gets stuck to another lego and you break a nail trying to get it off.

As a natural consequence, Shu excels in his father’s areas of expertise. Painting, violin, and piano lessons are a daily occurrence.

This is maximally adorable, and I will never get tired of it

Here, we get a glimpse of the second-story Art Room: Xiyuan’s home-inside-of-home, his sacred space, where his soul comes alive and will eventually wither and die. (The rest of the house is really quite lovely, because it was designed by someone else.) The door behind them leads to Shu’s room. Both Liu boys spend most of their time in this room, in a near-constant state of extreme inspiration.

Before we leave the Art Room, allow me to share Xiyuan’s most expensive painting, Toast Cat.

Toast Cat: an exercise in postmodernist irony and contemporary meme culture

The extra parental attention is paying off: Shu has the willpower of someone who is going to go to an honors middle school, then a competitive magnet school, spend every summer at band camp, do 100000 extracurriculars, and eventually end up at the Sim equivalent of Juilliard.

This is turning into a self-roast.

At some point (because these dudes are Sims and get up at 4 AM regardless of employment status, mental health, age, or circadian rhythm), Shu goes to school, leaving his parents to exist in their separate, non-intersecting bubbles.

This is what is going on with Aileen. Aileen is on the computer.
He doesn’t move from this spot. There are two Converse-shaped divots in the carpet. Come to think of it, why is he even wearing shoes inside?

These two occasionally have to have breaks, and, aside from being all lovey-dovey around each other, choose between two extremes in their downtime. Extreme 1 is butchering utthita trikonasana:

Right now, I am repeatedly smashing my hand into the computer screen to hand this man a block

Extreme 2 is pretending to be social:

Mr. Spacesuit here is Case Su. He tried to hit on Claudia. He got shut down. He got shut down hard.

While his parents are out doing whatever, Shu is a model little boy: he can’t do his homework because it’s already finished, so he tends to practice instruments or paint until it’s time to put himself to bed. At 4 AM the next day, the cycle begins anew.

Now is a good time to clarify how this works. When we say “black comedy-drama,” it’s not black in the sense of spooky vampires running around murdering people, or having a main character whose tragic backstory maybe involves dead parents with some abuse thrown in for good measure. It’s more like, imagine a woman whose understanding of love changed after her wedding, and realizes after the honeymoon phase that she never really loved her husband, and grows to resent him more the longer she’s stuck in the relationship. Then she has to choose between finding a coping mechanism before she wastes away or getting a divorce for reasons she can’t really articulate, and either one of those might lead to her purposefully shutting herself in a sauna until she keels over. Or she could discover some deeper purpose and be fine; who knows? That’s more the general mood. If someone’s backstory involves dead parents, the parents are people you’re already intimately familiar with, and their death is going to happen right in front of your face, not in the background somewhere, and we have to watch them (the person with dead parents) deal with the death before we know they’re going to be okay. And nobody’s purposefully causing problems for the sake of it. Conflict only arises when someone’s actions suggest they’re unhappy, and they can then figure out a solution and decide whether to take action.

If the solution causes massive upheaval, so be it.

(And one more thing—every interesting bit of conflict in the story is completely autonomously driven by the Sims themselves; I just respond to it. That’s the power of SimLit! It’s a genre where the characters have agency outside the author’s imagination.)

With that being said, let’s forget the big picture and zoom in on the details. Here’s one you already know: Xiyuan had an inordinate hell of a time finding a partner. While Mike was running around the club, he demonstrated interest in no one. He flirted with no one. No. One. He eventually ran into a randomly generated woman with somewhat compatible traits, and, even then, I had to force him to court her.

Sometimes breaking a large chunk of text with an image makes it easier to read.

Xiyuan did eventually open up to random romantic socials after he got married. He autonomously flirted with Aileen, and never flirted with any other women. But one day, when Shu was a toddler, Aileen caught Xiyuan autonomously hitting on a guy. (He was completing the Soulmate aspiration, by the way.) Yet the game categorized Xiyuan as 100% straight, so I wrote it off as a fluke.

Household life remained relatively stable for most of Shu’s childhood, aside from the huge fight. Then, I get up to pour another cup of tea during a routine hangout with Xiyuan’s best friend, Mike, and come back to Xiyuan being a little too complimentary about his quad progress. I had to spend the next hour practically tearing them apart from each other. That’s when it finally clicked.

Xiyuan wasn’t incapable of finding love. He was desperately in love with Mike! The source of jealousy had nothing to do with him being alone, and everything to do with the fact that Mike was taken. In context, then, his marriage to Aileen was a complete sham, something I forced him into, something that was never quite right. He was a deeply closeted man learning his mistake too late. But to end his torment, we would have to cause a lot of collateral damage in the process.

Many people find life-altering decisions are easier in a new sweater.

We were left with a tough decision to make: can he hold it together long enough for Shu to age up, or is it better to rip the adhesive medical strip off early? Will this situation be handled with the grace and tact of a human, or the lack of thought of a Sim? You already know the answer.

Catastrophe Theory: Before the Storm

Our pitch black tale begins with two families who are super best friends: the Lius and the Jeong-Espinosas. Let’s meet them!

(Do bear with me, folks. The prose gets better. Earlier posts are being left as-is because I’ve found it encouraging to watch the progress of other bloggers, and hope readers get as much enjoyment from tracking the improvement of others as I do.)

This sucks, take me to the story’s splash page

Just summarize the first 30 posts pls kthx

The Jeong-Espinosas: Kale and Additional Kale

Claudia Espinosa

She can win Miss Universe, but she can’t do Navasana.

Claudia Espinosa (Foodie, Goofball, Bro; Bodybuilder aspiration), i.e. Patient Zero, is a master of health and fitness. While establishing herself in the neighborhood as “she who hits the gym 24/7,” she learned to grow her own vegetables and embrace her foodie nature. Her first boyfriend was Zach Griffith; they met at the gym where he worked as a very cute personal trainer. But despite his deep voice, deeper muscles, and cool purple shirt, he turned out to be hella emo, so they broke up. Next she targeted Rex McMahan, who also went to the gym and had cute little glasses, but he turned out to be an abusive fuck, so Claudia went back to the drawing board.

And by Claudia, I mean me, and by drawing board, I mean CAS, because nobody in the neighborhood was good enough for my Claudia. She immediately clicked with one of the two options, thank goodness.

Like most long-lived Sims, Claudia has lived two lives and stopped competitive bodybuilding after the birth of her first child. Nowadays she screams at people about food being RAW. She has a well-documented tendency to hit the sauce if you leave her alone for more than 2 seconds. She says her favorite drink is the EAPA, but, being a foodie, she will immediately complain about low quality if she actually orders one. Her favorite color is yellow.

Michael “Mike” Jeong

Mike “Quad God” Jeong

This dish right here is Claudia’s husband Mike Jeong (Bro, Music lover, Self-Assured; Comedy aspiration). MJ took a weird path in life. He started off as the gregarious, party-boy foil to his roommate’s shut-in artist, rocking and rolling all night and following his best friend around every day. First, he brought home the Simoleons as a comedian. I don’t know what kind of comedian he was, but, look at him. Doesn’t he look loud? He was probably one of the very loud kinds of comedian. His fame grew out of a very specific set of skills, skills he learned knocking people over with his barrel chest at the club. (I don’t know why people he bro-bumps don’t just bounce off.)

MJ developed a quick wit and hidden depths, but lost the ability to keep up with every girl at the club. Then Ms. Head Gym Bunny dragged herself out of the locker room for one goddamn hour and hauled her ass to where he was at. They started out as fast friends (presumably from screaming BROOOOOOO at each other over the pulsing electronica), but, at some point, they realized the only reason she was going out was to see him. Long story short, after a long courtship period, they lived happily ever after as Broseph and Brosephina.

The birth of their first child sort of scared the crap out of MJ (we’re starting in the middle, here), and he switched careers from comedy to BUSINESS like an ADULT. And while his legendary skills of schmoozing and manipulation work great here, MJ isn’t really the suit-and-tie type. (He may be the tearaway suit-and-tie type.) In a bizarre, unpredictable twist of personality, he started brushing up on home repair, math, and astrophysics, of all things. Now he still turns heads when he enters a room, but can also go to space. Maybe aliens like slices of beefcake? I don’t know.

Mike has a tendency to bounce around near stereos more than other Sims. His favorite color is blue.

Charles “Charlie” Jeong-Espinosa

This prodigy already knows how to dab and roll up his sweatpants

And Charlie makes three. Charlie was the first child born in my Sims 4 games, and man, was he a little angel. By ‘little,’ I mean ‘massive,’ and by ‘angel,’ I mean ‘fucking dork.’ Even as a toddler! He aged up from Inquisitive into Genius, which may have been something latent from his father. God help him, though, he’s staying away from the videogames and making an effort to be well-adjusted. There are no such thing as neckbeards in this exercise-driven family.

Charlie isn’t really being challenged by anything right now. Later, he might struggle to find an identity separate from his parents, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

The Lius: Painting and also some of The Violin

Xiyuan Liu

Painting is notoriously overpowered in The Sims, to the point where every game has a Painting Bitch. Xiyuan is this Bitch.

After Claudia tanked it w/r/t the dating thing, roommates Mike Jeong (Fig. 2) and Xiyuan Liu (Creative, Perfectionist, Good; Music aspiration) were created. Two best friends making it in the entertainment industry! Each cuter than the last!

They eventually succeeded: Xiyuan became a famous pianist and violinist, Mike a famous comedian. Eventually, they (I) got bored and needed something else to master. Xiyuan quit his job as a professional musician to work as a… gallerina? I know Charlotte from Sex and the City is a gallerina, but don’t know what the male version is. Google says they’re the same! It also says that Xiyuan’s job has more authority than a gallerina, so scratch that. He and Mike moved into a bigger house on his artwork money. But as Claudia started dominating Mike’s attention, Xiyuan’s jealously prompted him to leave the house occasionally and try to find a suitable partner. He started going out to clubs with Mike and Claudia, looking for that special someone—and she never showed up. Everyone at the clubs was too different from Xiyuan: too hot-headed, too flirty, too wanting-to-do-stuff-and-not-stay-at-home-painting-for-hours. He had devoted a lifetime in Sim years to searching, and came up empty.

Then one night, he and Mike were invited to Aliens Night at a seedy dive bar. The party ended past midnight, and Mike was done—but for some reason, Xiyuan stayed. That’s when she walked in. Aileen: Music lover, Good, Neat; Fortune aspiration. It was a long and tedious courtship, but they married shortly after Mike and Claudia’s wedding.

Xiyuan is one-track obsessed with painting, to the extent that he paints autonomously if left alone for a second, and his walls are covered in masterpieces. When Mike and Claudia moved out, Xiyuan and his family were not allowed to keep the house, or even split the six-figure house funds. What they did instead was move in with the Jeong-Espinosa family, collect their furniture using a packing mod, and split to move into an empty lot. Xiyuan sold about 10 paintings. Tripled the household funds. Back into their old house with their old furniture in no time.

Xiyuan tends to want to talk to plants more often than other Sims, loves fruitcake, and likes his objects overly posh and light pink.

Aileen Liu

You lucky, lucky woman.

Aileen (Music lover, Good, Neat; Fortune aspiration; née Jensen) was rescued from a 60-second existence as a homeless, unemployed rando. As such, she started as a blank slate with few ambitions. Marrying Xiyuan prompted her to start a job in the Tech Guru industry and master programming. She now runs her own startup, Find Your Phone, an app which displays a screen of text saying “Your phone is in your hand.”

Aileen’s new role was solidified by a sweet New-Age-nerd-mom makeover. She loves maxi-dresses and hates fruitcake.

Xishu “Shu” Liu

Shown after the redesign of his randomly-generated “have you watched Boku No Hero Academia yet, it’s really good” look to his “my father’s son” look. The glasses are mandatory. The glasses are everything.

Xishu inherited his mother’s looks and his father’s creativity. There are no tiger moms or screaming, raging, vein-popping dads here, because stereotypes r dumb. On the other hand, HE IS NOT LEAVING THE HOUSE WITHOUT KNOWING HOW TO PAINT AND PLAY VIOLIN.

Shu ended up surprisingly normal; that is, he would rather go out and play on the jungle gym than sit in the studio and constantly draw. Regardless, his activity table is in the middle of his dad’s professional art studio. His crayon drawings are displayed right next to the masterpieces. Cute!

Shu’s favorite color is red. He autonomously cleans up in other people’s houses. Actually, forget that he was categorized as surprisingly normal above, because one time he went over to Charlie’s house and made a beeline to the master bathroom to take a lavender bath. You know, like kids do.


Their story starts out slowly, then branches into an exposé of personal secrets, fatal flaws, and inadvertent mistakes. Everything that follows is a desperate attempt to stop these six people from ruining their own lives. Everything that follows is set in a universe where people, even simulated ones, are given the freedom to live in their own pain.