Hi! I'm Brittany. I'm a long-time user on MTS and of TS2 at large, and finally scraped together the courage (audacity?) and drive to post some of the goings-on of my Megahood to a singular location instead of intermittently blowing up the "What's Happening?" thread over on the main discussion forum. My megahood is going on rotation number nine, which is a bit far into the cities' narratives, but I figure since we're all fairly familiar with the premades' circumstances that you'll excuse this egregious error in storytelling on my part. That said, I live for character-driven stories and good writing, so as I relay the happenings of my game, I'll tend to be a bit dramatic or narrative in the way I tell it. I hope that's fine. I mean, if it's not, you can just look at the pictures and make up a story in your mind to replace the monotonous walls of text between them. Either way.
The 'hood consists of Pleasantview and a custom Downtown creatively dubbed Downtown Pleasantview, which I imagine as one big city with a diverse population. Additionally, there is Bluewater Village, a medium-sized town with lots of commerce and not too many residents, Riverblossom Hills, a small village nestled way out in the country which mostly thrives off of agriculture, and Strangetown, which is a military town whose only residents are scientists, intelligence agents, and military personnel as well as their families -- save for that one old lady living in her sepulcher, Olive Specter; even the military couldn't drive her away from her family home. Each round revisits the middle class suburb that started it all, Pleasantview, and then hops around the towns and boroughs with vignettes of college life injected between towns.
In each of the homes, hovels, and hideaways of Pleasantview and its neighboring towns, life expands and implodes, unending, just behind closed doors. There are liars and lovers, dreamers and do-nothings, dear friends and desperate fanatics, all vying for "the good life", however they define it. Whatever their motives and whoever they may be, each sim rising each day within the 'hood sews themselves into the fabric of the community, and changes it for better or worse. You'll pick favorites. They'll sometimes disappoint you. Welcome.
The beginning of A Pleasant Place doesn't take place at the beginning, and it's not even in Pleasantview, either. It begins on the sun-splashed deck of a string of for-rent estates in Takemizu Village, as enjoyed by the Goth Family. It's their very first vacation, and while Alexander and Melody have a hard time getting comfortable in any new situation, their daughter, Curie, is much more flexible.
"Maybe we'll take some time to check back in with your family," Alex proposes, his smile good-natured and a tad nervous.
Melody is puzzled. "Now, sweetheart? It feels like we've just gotten here..."
"We have!" Curie adds and plucks her tea cup from the table.
Alexander and his wife take a beat to watch their daughter, their only child, as she relishes in her surroundings, seemingly untethered to the same anchors of home and responsibility shackled at their own ankles. They don't say so, but they'd love more than anything to preserve that sense of wonderment and presence for all her life.
Despite himself, Alexander pushes the issue and further fractures the mood. "For your sake, I meant. I know you're worried about them."
Melody lengthens her spine and refills the quaint little teacups with a sigh. When she exhales and takes a step outside herself, viewing the scene objectively, she feels serene. She's a scientist. She's a wife. A mother. Things should be good, should be just the right amount of challenging. She closes her eyes.
"Mama, I think Aunt Abby and Uncle Tom are okay." Curie says gently.
"Th-- Yes, that's what I'm trying to --"
Melody smiles in her own demure, winsome way, a mountain of resolve flaking away just beneath the expression on her face. "I think they're okay, too. We're going to trust they're okay from right now until we get back home, unless they call to let us know otherwise. We're in a new place for a short time. Let's live while we're living, hm?"
He knew it wasn't easy for her. It couldn't be. He watched her doze and wake herself throughout the past couple of years, and nothing had changed it -- not the visit to the temple in a foreign land, not the birth of their daughter, not the new pregnancy they were keeping under wraps. None of it. Unlike him, Melody had grown up in an incredibly close-knit family, and if losing her father after college had wounded the family, then losing her mother was like amputating a limb. It came on fast. It started with her kid sister Abigail trying to make her cry for help sound nonchalant:
"Oh, Mom's just been really out of it the past couple days, and I'm just a little worried, so maybeyouguysshouldjustmovein. Bye!"
It was her nature, just like Melody's, to downplay the personal stuff. They packed their things that day. This was their last opportunity to go off on a trip like this. They hadn't canceled the plans after Wanda met the Reaper. Just plowed right through. He watched her lovingly and sorrowfully as she slept. She was the head of her family now, and he couldn't imagine how that must have felt. She was really good and playing it off. Alexander, however, was abuzz with worry.
His sister Cassandra had had it rough. She'd ignored Mortimer's admonishing and married the suave and noncommittal Don Lothario only to have her heart broken again and again. She'd caught him cheating three times before she finally filed for divorce, and by that time, Dad was already dead. It only came out later that Don had been harboring a secret family in the city. Three whole kids with some random woman, all the while telling his wife at home she'd just have to "wait and see" about starting a family.
She did find love again, this time with a knowledgeable restaurateur named Jim Menon, and she finally, finally, had her baby. Two, in fact. She was ecstatic and overzealous; went on this tirade about restoring the old family mansion. And she did it! But now she's broke, and Alexander worries about keeping her at arms' length. They don't really have money to spare, either.
He felt like such a hypocrite. Not wanting to spare a cent for his sister while on an international vacation. What an ass.
From what he understood, though, his other siblings were walking dangerous lines as well. His father had remarried before his death to Dina Caliente, and she had two sons: Rafael and Santiago. Dina complained all the time of Santiago's laziness and his penchant for sneaking girls into the house, but she always talked glowingly about Rafael, her darling eldest son. He was a great kid, honestly, just terribly naive. He had dad's kind eyes and natural talent for pretty much anything he tried his hand at. Unfortunately, he also had dad's taste in women and Dina's desire to be loved by just about anybody. Apparently he's engaged now to an older girl named Tina who looks just like his mother? Ugh. Alexander didn't even want to think about that one.
And of course, there was the daunting new roles thrust upon him and his wife as heads of household and sole providers for two young people heading off for college. Melody was already a teen when Wanda and Stephen had had Abigail and Thomas, and so the twins have always viewed her as more of a know-it-all aunt or annoying girl their mom and dad kept comparing them to. There was a lot of work to be done. He understood why Melody had such problems sleeping.
Ones he didn't have, of course, as he frequently dithered and deliberated himself right into restful sleep. Curie, bless her, adores and admires her dad more than just about anything, and is always eager to share the things she learns in her books with him, whether he's conscious or not.
"Hey dad, did you know that sharks are the oldest living predator on Earth??"
"Curie, please let your dad sleep!"
A Pleasant Place
Julien Cooke is toiling away at yet another batch of comfort soup to combat the terrible flu floating around town in the chilly Autumn season. Already, his son and wife had been laid out by the cold twice, and he wasn't in the interest of catching it himself. Not today, at least.
His lovely wife Patricia Cooke, formerly Wan, is celebrating a birthday today, and a momentous one at that. She's had a long career as a journalist, chasing leads and interviewing prominent folks about town. For a long time, she pulled in a lot more money than Julien did himself. It was her investment that helped him open the restaurant, after all. Secretly, Julien hopes Patricia's impending elderhood will bring about her retirement. He likes the idea of her staying home and caring for Sebastien or taking reservations at the restaurant rather than knocking at the door of a suspected murderer or some other awful thing.
"So!" he begins beaming, "Looking forward to kicking back after tonight? Taking it easy?"
She grins, laughing. "Not on your life."
Shame. Sebastien could really use the supervision given his cheeky, mischievous nature. As much as Mom and Dad adore him, they admit he's something of an acquired taste. He's prone to lying, cheating, and tearing things apart if you're not looking. The one thing he really takes care of is his chess set, an old birthday present. Even then, Julien has caught him swiping pieces off the board when his attentions are elsewhere during a game.
If he has any hangups about Patricia getting older, he hasn't expressed it to anyone. He keeps to himself when he isn't making trouble.
For the evening's festivities, Julien's purchased his wife a cake after years of her disappointment with his own attempts at baking.
"Maybe stick to entrees?" she'd told him once. Besides, she likes the super sugary storebought icing best anyway.
Everyone gathers round the kitchen island and hoots and haws in support of her. Her dearest friend Cleo Lee-Shikibu caught the train here from Riverblossom Hills, and she's the loudest and most enthusiastic for her friend's transition of all. She's like family.
Patricia ages gracefully and takes a generous piece of the cake. She's proud to sport her greying hair. It makes her feel more distinguished and respectable. She still remembers being laughed off by coworkers and clients back when she was just starting out, and is glad to have made her way up in the world.
The next day, Sebastien wanders sleepily down the steps and into the sitting area and plops himself beside Mom's friend Cleo. He looks at her a second, then opens his mouth.
"Your hair looks like a stormcloud."
At this, Cleo bursts out laughing. "Heh, I've never heard that one before."
He narrows his eyes a little. "Where's Aunt Camryn? I like her better than you."
She laughs again. "Hey, you and me both, kid. She had to do a late shift at the diner last night, I'll have her call you."
Sebastien tightens his lip a little at his Aunt Cleo. Nothing ever seemed to bother her.
Tara Kat had made the trip out from Riverblossom as well to visit the family for Patricia's birthday. She sneaks smirking glances at her friend across the table.
"Can I help you, Tara?" Patricia says flatly.
"I was just thinking, it's a shame about your acting career, Pat. To end it before it even began by getting old."
Patricia rolls her eyes. "Oh, ha-ha. Don't call me 'Pat', Kat."
Sensing Patricia's resolve wearing thin, Julien takes her hand and guided her into the kitchen, by far his favorite room in the house. He plants his hands at her hips and sings her praises, calling her brilliant, clever, endlessly impressive -- anything but beautiful, she hates reducing women to their looks over their accomplishments. He knows this now, after nearly wrecking their relationship by calling her "ravishing" on their second date. He's never made that mistake again.
"Hey. You're amazing."
She smirks. "You're pretty okay yourself, Cooke."
Thanks: 92 in 2 Posts
You can't lie to me. I play Town Of Salem.
A Pleasant Place seems interesting and you have good pictures.
I am looking forward to more about your game.
Sebastian needs Aunt Cleo in his life as much as possible. She doesn't let him get to her and it's good for him to see he can't push everyone's buttons.
I like the relationship between Julian and Patricia, and Tara should just shut it.
@lordtyger9: Hey, thanks for the greeting. It's nice to be a participant rather than a lurker. Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear more from you.
@Cher64: Why thank you! I agree, Patricia looks great as an elder, but Patricia is a sim who looks great in literally anything you put on her. Patricia's biggest secret is that she hides junk food around the house to indulge in (and offer to Sebastien in exchange for his silence) because she knows Julien would be appalled if he knew.
I agree, Cleo is a good, calming influence on him. Patricia gets worked up with him, and Julien is too lenient. She's removed from the situation enough because she's not his parent that she can talk to him casually, like an adult. He likes that. Visiting the Cookes is always a highlight of the rotation. They're a funny and lovely family.
It's morning in Bluewater Village and Mary-Sue Pleasant can't seem to find a comfortable position to stand in while she waits for her guest to arrive. It's La Magnifique!, the finest restaurant for miles, and it's outside of Pleasantview -- the perfect place to meet and not be recognized. She had even gone to the trouble of reserving a table for a weekday brunch there, the slowest time of the week to make sure they'd be safe to meet. A moment of clarity washes over her and she wonders if this -- the thrumming of her heart and the discomfort all over -- is what Daniel felt when he cheated on her with the maid. She gets disgusted and extinguishes the idea entirely. This is different. She's single. He's--
He's jolly and seems to be in a good mood. He has more grey in his hair than black, now. Little creases form at the corners of his eyes. It's been a while.
"Mary-Sue, look at you out here in the cold! You could've waited for me inside."
She rolls her eyes. "Please, it's fine. I wanted to go in together."
When they get indoors, he gingerly wraps his arms around her and she responds in kind. He talks sweetly, happily, near her face, and she almost finds her way out of her mental fog.
"I'm so glad you called. You look great."
She smiles girlishly. "Well, I take care of myself when I can. You look good, too. Happy."
"I'm plenty happy! I'm a grandfather now."
"Oh my god, those girls don't tell me anything," Mary-Sue says, cursing her daughters for not gossiping more about their friends, "How many? When?"
He exudes pride as he talks about his son, Dirk, and his daughter-in-law Sandra, and their two children. "You see, Dirk is a hot-shot business tycoon now, and is renting a place downtown while he and Sandra have a house built. She comes from money; she's a Roth, from Riverblossom Hills, so she doesn't have to work. She's happy to care for the boys."
"That's wonderful, Darren."
"And my other kids, Reed and Olive, don't even get me started on them. Why, the other day, Rose --"
He watches Mary-Sue's face fall.
And he catches her lips in his.
"Let's not talk about them."
Long after her rendez-vous with Darren Dreamer, Mary-Sue swings open her front door to greet her daughter, Angela. She smiles keenly at her daughter and takes in her appearance. She's married now. She's cut her hair, started dressing a little more mature.
"Doctor Pleasant! Good to see you," Mary-Sue will never pass up an opportunity to brag about her daughter, the doctor. Amazing.
Angela gives a humble chuckle and steps inside. "Hey, Mom. How's retirement treating you?"
Mary-Sue tuts, "Oh, I'm bored to tears with it. All I do is play piano and walk the damn dog. This is how people lose their minds."
"Why don't you help Don at the casino?"
"With all those degenerates? Never."
Mary-Sue stoops down low and chatters away at her daughter's growing belly. She's elated to meet the little one, as much as she dislikes the very idea of its father. What a disappointment.
"Where's the DJ?" she says lowly.
"He's a master of ceremonies, Mom. He works late."
"Hm. Dirk Dreamer is a business tycoon. Did you know that?"
Angela sighs. "Yes, Mother, I do."
She smiles regardless of her mother's prodding and deriding. She's thankful to be close to her, especially during her pregnancy. She's a good mom in her own overbearing, highly critical way. Or at least, that's what Angela tells herself.
"And he's got two kids. Your sister really screwed that one up, didn't she?"
Angela maintains a tight-lipped smile.
Upstairs, Angela's twin sister Lilith unwinds with her fiance, Don Lothario, to some chill jams filtering in over the radio. She hears the commotion of Mary-Sue opening the door to greet Angela downstairs, and scoffs as the door slams shut and all grows quiet. They're talking about her, she just knows it. Her mother is a terrible gossip, and she knows Lilith hates being compared to other people, especially her sister.
Lilith's blood boils. Her teeth grit. She gets petty.
"You hear about my sister and her husband? ...Jake Martin?"
Don sputters a little bit of laughter. "The one you used to date, right?"
"It was college. Everyone was dating everyone."
"Sure," he says, bemused, "What about them?"
"They're having a baby! I mean, Angela? A mom? Seriously, whose idea was it for them to have a baby?"
Don chuckles warmly. "Maybe nobody's. Could be an accident. Good for them, though."
"How is that good? They're having a kid."
Don shakes his head, still jovial, but a little offended. "...Did you forget I have kids? I mean, I know it's easy to just not think about 'cause they're not here, but..."
"Oh, right," Lilith wrinkles her brow, "Uh, sorry."
Don drapes his arm behind Lilith's back and pulls her into him, knitting his fingers between hers, "Don't worry about it."
She can't keep herself from grinning widely, her heart hammering away at her chest.
"Having kids isn't the end of the world. I used to think it was when I was your age. That was what killed my first marriage, actually."
"I thought banging the whole neighborhood killed your first marriage," Lilith says with a snorting laugh.
Don guffaws, clamping his eyes shut. "That too."
Lilith loves being with Don. He's fun and uncomplicated, and he never judges her like her family does, never brings up her father. He's a cool, suave older guy with lots of experience who can maneuver his way through pretty much any situation. Everything seems effortless with Don. He owns the most successful business in the city, the Casa Casanova casino, and thinks nothing of it. He's a casual drinker, a terrible flirt, and an incredible gambler; absolutely perfect, in Lilith's eyes. Well, a lot of people's eyes, but she doesn't mind, so long as they keep their god damn hands to themselves.
A few days later, Lilith catches a glimpse of her mother in Angela's old bedroom. She approaches the open doorway, hesitant, and then steps fully into the room.
Mary-Sue halts entirely and rises to meet her daughter. "Hey you."
"Heh. Hey yourself. I, uh, kinda wanted to...to talk?"
Mary-Sue hitches a brow. "That's what we're doing, isn't it?"
Lilith wriggles uncomfortably under her mom's full attention. She isn't used to it and it only makes her feel seen, in the worst way. "It's about Angela. Well, kind of."
Mary-Sue nods her head.
"Y'know how I laughed and said she was a huge idiot for getting pregnant with that fucking potato Jake Martin?"
Her mother crosses her arms and suppresses a smirk. "I can't say I disagree."
"Well, maybe..." Lilith inhales sharply and looks her in the eye, "Maybe I'm a huge idiot too."
Mary-Sue shakes her head, pinches her brow. "I...what?"
I do forward to more on your game, I love your story lines so far, funny and interesting. I admire those who do manage to do their story lines in their posts.
I have an Überhood too, in my case I had started Strangetown and Bluewater Village quite a while ago and I just recently added three others, I do know that it is going to be a long time before I do a complete rotation as I have over 80 housesholds to cycle through and I don’t do short rotations. I don’t really do story lines exactly, I just like to show how the sims are doing.
I had to laugh out loud at this line
|"Y'know how I laughed and said she was a huge idiot for getting pregnant with that fucking potato Jake Martin?"|
I have no idea who Wanda and Stephen are though in relation to the narrative (I'm not a pre-made player, so I only know the famous ones like Don, the Pleasant family and Caliente sisters) but I can understand who the rest of the people are from how you have explained relations.
Originally Posted by Charmful
I like how to tell the story, you are en exquisite writer, and your pictures are fantastic! I like Don's look with a long beard.
I had to laugh out loud at this line
I have no idea who Wanda and Stephen are though in relation to the narrative (I'm not a pre-made player, so I only know the famous ones like Don, the Pleasant family and Caliente sisters) but I can understand who the rest of the people are from how you have explained relations.
I think Wanda and Stephen are the Tinker Family. Wanda and Stephen have one daughter, named Melody, they live in Bluewater Village and they have a home business of a Toy Shop if my memory serves me right, I am getting old so not really sure.
@lordtyger9, it's sincerely a pleasure to write, not only for the Pleasants, but for the characters in A Pleasant Place overall. Their characters come alive so easily, and I blow through these like nothing. Thank you for your lovely comments. And you were right about Wanda and Stephen!
|Oh, I'm bored to tears with it. All I do is play piano and walk the damn dog. This is how people lose their minds.|
|She's a good mom in her own overbearing, highly critical way. Or at least, that's what Angela tells herself.|
|I thought banging the whole neighborhood killed your first marriage|
These made me laugh! I like your writing style and I have the same sarcastic sense of humor.
I'm worried Mary-Sue is going to end up hurt with a broken heart again. And Lillith! Karma just kicked her in the butt after all her snottiness about Angela's pregnancy.
As a fair warning to everyone reading, this vignette is pretty long compared to the previous ones! I would prefer not to divide it into parts, as I like the organization of having a 1 family:1post ratio, so I will instead throw a bunch of the pictures under a spoiler tag to keep the post reasonable in length and at least a little bit more aesthetically pleasing. If anyone experiences any problems with the format, or you frankly don't care how long the post is, let me know. Thanks!
The Dreamers believe that one's home is one's haven. It's a sanctuary from the outside world, head quarters for beloved family members to return to and regroup, a nest for its younger members to grow, learn, and eventually meander away. The best thing about the Dreamer house is its capacity for memory. Little reminders of every resident of the house remain in the walls, the creaky floorboards, the homey smell that encompasses all who enter. Bits and pieces of the family remain long after they're gone. It's a little romantic, a little comforting, and a little painful, too. But what is home if not romance, comfort, and pain dressed up in wood and brick?
Rose Greenman, who isn't really a Dreamer herself, but who loves and nurtures them like one, has made her mark with a garden. It overlooks the weeping willow in the backyard, which was Darleen Dreamer's mark left long ago. She used to prune it every day, and have picnics with her husband and child beneath it in the Summer. Darren had told her that once with love and sorrow in his eyes. Rose remembers the moment well, because that was also the moment she decided she loved him.
Rose doesn't mind Darleen's tree or her grave. She waves hello each morning when she waters her plants, and always gives her a nod when her work is done and she goes back inside. The climb onto the porch is getting harder for her these days. The aches are new; she never used to have them as a plantsim. But she's a human now -- a real person with blood and flesh and an expiration date. It's exhilarating and new. Someday she'll die like Darleen, and she knows she'd want someone to say hello and dust the leaves off of her every once in a while, so she does as much for her when Darren and Dirk are busy.
Rose has left her mark in a couple of other ways as well. She's got three children in all: Daisy, her oldest, was born a plantsim, but made the decision to become human and chase life in her own way. She's a college graduate and an aspiring scientist living out in Strangetown. She doesn't call much. Then there's Reed, the only boy, who lives in the Dreamer house with her and Darren. He's terribly charming and gregarious, the most disarming person you'd ever meet. He seems to know everyone. And finally, there's Olive. She's small, cheeky, and very gentle for her age.
Darren, who has a son named Dirk from his marriage to Darleen, is also very proud, but a lot more considerate about when, where, and how best to boast about his kids. Rose is unabashedly arrogant about all of her children.
"Hey, good afternoon Mr. Burb. How's it going?" says Reed, taking his neighbors hand in his.
Reed likes his neighbor okay. He lives across the street with his girlfriend, although he used to have a wife and a daughter who lived there too. Reed grew up sipping on homemade lemonade sold from an overturned apple crate in Mr. Burb's front yard. He remembers the little girl selling it was named Lucy, and that she always had friends over, but he was never allowed to play because he was too little. She shipped off to college sometime after that, and her mom left seemingly overnight after that.
John offers an amused smile and gives his hand a firm shake. "Hi, Reed. It's going pretty well."
"So, uh," John rasps, though his smile remains, "How's school?"
Reed coughs a laugh and bats the question away with his hand. "Oh man, Mr. Burb, it hasn't been that long since you talked to a kid, has it?"
"Oh boy, did I mess up already?" the man laughs, "Kids don't talk about school anymore?"
"It's an easy question for an adult to make conversation with someone younger than them. We hate it. Haven't you noticed you always get the same answer, no matter who you're talking to?"
John chuckles and nods his head.
"'Good'," they say in unison, mocking the soulless monotone with which it is always regurgitated out by some poor kid subject to the question by an adult who feels awkward. They share a laugh.
"You're probably here for my mom, right?"
When Reed swivels around to guide his neighbor onto the porch, he's surprised to find his mother waiting there. He clicks his tongue and points his thumbs to the sky with a smile.
"Hey Mom! Mr. Burb is here to see you."
Rose nods, and flashes her neighbor a look. "Hi, John."
He looks stern and solemn suddenly, Reed notices. He disregards it and steals away inside.
As the door clicks behind Reed, John's chest deflates and he expels a breath. He places a palm to his chest, sucks in a gulp of air, and looks Rose Greenman in the eyes.
"Rose, I know it's been a long time, and I know I have no excuse not to see you," he sputters, "I mean, I live across the street for Christ's sake, I just felt so bad. I mean, I thought being around you would make me feel guilty. Maybe make you feel guilty? I don't know. I'm just sorry. I'm sorry."
Rose gives a small and airy laugh and little wrinkles fold at the corners of her eyes. "You don't need an excuse either way. It's your life too, and I respect whether that includes me or doesn't. I'm not hurt."
John voices his relief with a sigh. "I just -- I never meant for all of this. I didn't think-- I wasn't thinking, and now so many things have changed."
"I haven't even -- God, I'm such an ass. How are you? How have you been, Rose?"
Rose looks at John and sees the same young father who knocked at her door on the first day of the school year with a smile. She had just fled Riverblossom Hills with Daisy, just left her ex-husband behind, as well as her leaves and vines. Darren, who John had really come over to see, was away at work, and John was quite surprised to find a woman and a little girl living in the house where that quiet widower and his teenage son were living. His smile had faltered for only a second before he shook her hand and introduced himself.
I'm John, he'd said and smiled at the little girl hugging her leg, Welcome to the neighborhood.
After that, he invited her and Darren to join the school board's PTA meetings hosted at his house each week. Darren was always too busy, but Rose always made time to see John. After a while, the PTA meetings became lunch dates, the lunch dates became evening phone calls, the phone calls became something different entirely, and then John's marriage was ruined.
Rose frowns at the memory and the tugging of her heart. "Do you have some time? I think there's someone you should meet."
John's stomach collapses through to the center of the Earth and his mouth runs dry. "Wh-what?"
The front door swings open again and the manufactured scent of cheap cologne drowns the air. Reed clucks his tongue and points playfully at the two as he descends the stairs. "Hi guys! Bye guys!"
John jumps out of his skin, but Rose seems collected.
"Where're you going?" she asks.
"I've got a date! Jill and I are going clothes shopping."
"Well, have fun!" she calls after him.
"Don't wait up!" he calls back.
Rose turns back to John with a boastful, proud smile. "He does what he wants."
John gulps. "Just like you."
Across town, on a rickety swing set installed outside the Pleasantview Dress 4 Less, Reed shares a laugh and a precious couple of hours with a girl he likes more than anybody. Her name is Jill Smith. She has long blonde hair that is naturally straight, but she insists on curling it every morning because she thinks it looks best that way. She lives on the military base out in Strangetown because her brother's in the military and her dad's an alien. Yeah, right.
She's a mischievous kind of girl, one who can't resist the surreptitious call of danger and intrigue. She loves to sneak out, loves to party, and loves to drum up trouble. She's grounded pretty often. They're lucky to have the time tonight to be together.
Jill makes him feel special.
Back at home, however, the electricity of new love is nowhere to be found. The air is dense, hearts are heavy, and aching memories sour almost everything. The music pumping in over the radio sounds garbled and fuzzy, like hearing the opening artist at a concert begin to play from behind layers and layers of brick as you rush to pat your hands dry in the restroom. It's nothing but noise; the promise of music somewhere else, but not here.
Talking to John used to feel like blooming flowers, but now her face is stern and her voice is low and tired.
"I wasn't sure what to do. I had never been in that situation before."
John's face reddens with anger and shame, "Well what, Rose, you think I have? You should've told me."
She shakes her head. "How could I have? You didn't want to be near me."
"Because my wife left me! Of course I didn't want to--" he seethes, then takes a breath to slow his heart. "If I had ever even had the idea that you could've been pregnant, I'd have been here. At the very least to support you and...Are you sure she's mine? Like, absolutely sure?"
She frowns at this and, before she can speak, a very small voice erupts from the hallway.
"Mama!" it says.
Rose disappears into the hallway for some time, and John finds his way to the sofa in the livingroom. It isn't long after that that she returns, this time with a little girl in yellow pajamas wriggling in her arms. She greets him with a pointed look and the slightest flare of her nostrils, then sets the little girl down on the floor before him.
He stares bewildered at the back of her head, brows knotted and stomach churning.
Rose tilts the dial on the radio to another station, and jazz music fills the air. She glances over her shoulder and back at him, this time a softness in her eyes that wasn't there before.
"Do you want to hold her?"
John shakes his head yes.
He takes the little girl up in his arms and uses his hand to cup her face. He looks at her eyes, Rose's green eyes, and then at her hair, her cheeks, her mouth. He closes his eyes firmly, shaken. In her, he can see the face of his daughter, Lucy. There's no room for doubt anymore. He's been living across the street from his own daughter for her entire life, and only now does he know she exists. He doesn't even know her name.
"Wh-what's her name?" he says softly.
"Olive." Rose responds.
"Olive," he repeats.
Some time passes and the two release Olive to tend to her toys and scour the floorboards for pieces of food and treasures fallen from people's pockets. They reminisce about things that aren't so painful: Lucy's piano recital at school, all the times Rose had to stop Reed from eating cat food as a baby, and the little turkey sandwiches he used to serve at PTA meetings. It feels good to be friends for an hour. They know they aren't really, but it feels good to pretend.
John, being a lounge singer by trade, begins to hum along to a song as it plays through the speakers. They dance. The front door opens.
"Darren! Welcome home!" Rose says too loudly.
Darren knits his eyebrows and presses his mouth into a line. "Hi sweetheart. Uh, hi John. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
John excuses himself with a murmured message, and slips past the two and out the door. He doesn't risk a glance back, though he thinks he might like to more than anything.
A loaded silence hangs in the air as the click of the front door leaves Darren and Rose alone in the home they share together. Rose glances at the place where John once stood, and Darren doesn't fail to notice. He wonders for a moment, smelling Mary-Sue's perfume billow up from the collar of his shirt, if there's even anything worth arguing about anymore. He bites the inside of his cheek, then turns to pluck Olive up from the floor. The night's been over for a long, long time.
The days run long and quiet, and soon it's Olive's birthday. Darren can't help thinking about her, watching that cloud of thick brown hair bob as she toddles about the house, and wondering. Is she his? Does that matter? He's raising her, he's the one she knows as Dad, so isn't that good enough? He holds her, feels the beat of her happy little heart, and encourages her to blow out the candles.
"It's your day, sweetheart!" he happily says.
Because for her, he'll do anything.
I split my posts on a particular family because I have a very large number of pictures and MTS simply won't let me post all of them in one post, and besides I like to break them into parts.
I enjoyed reading your writing and looking at your pictures.
Though I would like for you to tell us what happened to make Rose Greenman divorce her husband, I don't think you told us so far.
Olive is really pretty.
|Little reminders of every resident of the house remain in the walls, the creaky floorboards, the homey smell that encompasses all who enter.|
|Some time passes and the two release Olive to tend to her toys and scour the floorboards for pieces of food and treasures fallen from people's pockets.|
|He wonders for a moment, smelling Mary-Sue's perfume billow up from the collar of his shirt, if there's even anything worth arguing about anymore.|
And like lordtyger, I am curious on some of the subjects you teased, such as subjects of Rose's divorce, Darleen's death, and the affair of Rose and John.
Your writing really sets both a scene and a mood, and leaves me wanting more. So much quiet (for now?) drama is going on, and I look forward to seeing it play out.
@Charmful Your comments are always so sincere. It's a lot for me to share my work, and your responses always make me feel like I've done a good thing by continuing my writing. Thank you.
@Cher64 Thank you! I've been writing for years, and I try to write the sorts of stories I wish there were more of. The story of Pleasantview will unfold piece by piece as we visit each family.
A Pleasant Place
Bathing in the shadow of swaying palms, the Burb household is, presently, a happy one. Its walls have seen the beginnings and collapse of families past and present. Where once the walls rang with tense, angry voices and wailing sobs, there is now comfortable silence, even the soothing tones of music and laughter. Today, the head of household, John Burb, welcomes someone new.
When John had opened the door for his new tenant, he'd caught a glimpse of Reed and Olive chasing one another through their front yard. He had felt his heartbeat in his eyeballs, his vision quivering with every compression. He watched the little girl -- because now she was a little girl, all tall, gawky legs and a big head, topped with a tuft of brown hair -- pound each of her bare feet into the wooden planks of her family's front porch, laughing, until he couldn't bare to watch her anymore.
It takes everything in John to muster a smile, to rally his composure and behave the way friendly neighbors are supposed to.
"Uh, hey. It's Mary, right?" he says, his stomach a cistern of acid and nerves.
"That's me!" Mary Gavigan mirrors her new landlord's expression and regurgitates his enthusiasm back at him. "And you're John?"
John tightens his lips. "Guilty."
"Well, John, I want to thank you for having me move in on such short notice. You've really saved me, here. You have a lovely home and a beautiful neighborhood, and you have my word that I'll do everything I can to take care of it."
John waves her off. "It's really no trouble at all. My daughter and her husband just moved out and we found ourselves with an empty room. You were so nice in your emails, my girlfriend was convinced you'd be a great fit. We're happy to have you. I just hope you'll excuse us for the changes going on in the house."
Mary cocks her head. "Changes?"
John nods. "Lucy moving out has given my girlfriend an excuse to redecorate the whole house, so there's about a billion moving parts around here these days."
"Your room was the first we touched up, so you're an island in this sea of furniture, swatches, and throw pillows I call home. For now, anyway."
The briefest of pauses fills John with dread. What is she thinking? He knows she saw the kids over at Darren's. He could just hear her bring it up, questioning about the cute little girl from across the street and how she had his nose and chin and jaw. Christ.
"Hungry?" he asks.
The two sit across from each other at the kitchen table. Its sleek glass surface presents their portraits back up at them each time their eyes wander, and neither John nor Mary dare to chance a look. John does his best to bore a hole into his plate and not scrape his fork too hard against the porcelain while maintaining the ease and normalcy of someone free of shame. Usually he's a lot funnier than this, he could say, a lot more entertaining. That's a conversation, right?
"Lots of kids on this street," Mary begins cordially, "I'm actually relieved. I used to live with my boys and granddaughters, so it's like home to see kids roaming around."
Shit. John clears his throat. "O-oh yeah. When my ex-wife and I were house hunting in the area, there actually weren't many kids here, so we felt a little out of place at the time. Now Lucy's all grown up and living on her own, and suddenly everybody on the block's got kids."
"Funny how that works," Mary says wistfully, dreaming a precious dream about some ordinary afternoon serving lunch meat sandwiches to her grandkids. "You were married before?"
John is relieved and eager to diverge. "Oh, yeah. My ex-wife and I got pregnant way too early, got married, and tried to do the nuclear family thing for a while. But you know how nuclear families are."
Mary's stomach knots. "Sorry?"
John smirks. "Sometimes they explode."
Mary laughs heartily. "Oh, that's a good one. You should use that."
John nods and crams a few forkfuls into his mouth as reward for navigating a single conversation successfully. "I have, actually. I used to do stand-up."
"Really? Oh, what an amazing job. How d'you even manage to land work like that?"
"Usually you gotta know a guy. In my case, my ex knew a guy who knew a guy who owned a club. It made my whole career."
Mary touches a hand to her chest in thought and terrible envy. Her ex-husband Nathan knew a million people and never once introduced her to any of them. He'd insisted she belonged in the house taking care of the kids, that he'd take care of her, and she believed him. Now she's alone, having to prove her worth to a man who used to write jokes for a living so she could rent his spare bedroom month-to-month.
"That's something you could take away from that marriage," she says cheerily.
"It's something!" John revels in his humor like a pig chest-deep in the mud, "She got to keep her little boyfriend and I got to keep the job, so it's like a halfway happy ending."
Mary chuckles. "If you gloss over the divorce part."
John gives an embellished bow. "If you gloss over the divorce, yes."
A pause comfortable pause settles over the kitchen table. Mary feels a little vindicated by John's story of heartache and humble success as she toys with her lunch. Her appetite is returning to her for the first time in days. John seems like a nice enough guy, his girlfriend is lovely by the sounds of it, and these people could really, really understand her. She feels freer by the second, and her fears more and more allayed as John cracks his jokes. This could be home.
"Mary, can you keep a secret?" he asks.
"Today's a big day for me and Erin, and I think that you should know, since you're gonna be living with us." John says thoughtfully, "I'm going to ask her to marry me tonight. You're the only one who knows and I had to tell somebody before I did it."
Mary settles into her seat and exhales loudly. "Jesus, John, is that all? You really scared me there for a second."
Freshly groomed, showered, and having suppressed his incessant need to vomit since he learned he has a daughter living in the household across the street, John greets his girlfriend home with a bear hug and a sloppy kiss. She responds in kind, the way she always does, eager to laugh and discuss about anything under the sun.
Erin Beaker is young, boisterous, aggressive, and fun. She holds nothing back, and that's what John loves about her. She laughs with everything she has and argues to the very last second before succumbing to sleep. She's a lot for just about anybody, but John finds her overt and unashamed humanity -- flaws and all -- refreshing. She makes him understand that tired old cliche: she really makes him feel alive. And in the wake of Rose Greenman's reality warping news, she is a welcome respite from the ugly tugging at his heart and soul. When Erin's here, he's just John, Lucy's dad, the lounge singer, the PTA guy, and the nice neighbor who nobody would ever suspect had poisoned his own marriage from the inside out and conceived a bastard child in the process.
"Welcome home, you little shit," John says lovingly, playfully against Erin's ear as he hoists her in his arms, "The new girl's here, come on in and meet her."
Erin laughs and crosses her arms behind his neck. "Fine, but you've gotta carry me in."
"Ohmigod shut up. You've never had a job before?" Erin asks, an expression of confusion and disbelief scrawled across her face.
Mary chuckles, a little off-put by Erin's comfortable, casual manner of speech. "It's true! My ex-husband is an actor and he did all the work."
Erin redoubles with an exaggerated drop of her jaw. "Ohmigod what? How the hell did he support a family of four -- ?"
"Six." Mary corrects her.
"How the hell did he support a family of six as an actor? Did he work all day? How did you deal with raising the kids all that time? Did you drink?"
Mary laughs more fully this time, tickled at the thought. "He worked a little more than the average guy, I imagine, but we were good about saving. My sons, Isaiah and Jesse, are responsible boys who came into the house once the streetlights came on, and the most work I had to do was with my granddaughters -- the twins. But I always had help. And honestly? I played a lot of chess with the other moms in the complex where we lived."
"So, like, you starting over on your own has to be super liberating."
Mary furrows her brows. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Erin tilts her head and a mirthful grin smears across her lips. "I mean you married young, had kids young, and lived a lot of your early life as a housewife or whatever, right?"
"Or whatever," John adds with a chuckle.
"So now your kids are grown up and you find yourself basically beholden to nobody and you've got the whole rest of your life to live. You can make your own money and spend it how you want, you can date around, see what you like and what you don't, and basically define yourself now outside of 'wife' and 'mom'. That's liberating, Mary!"
Mary shrugs. Blood rushes to her ears as her heart thumps against her chest like a free bird trapped inside a house, thrusting itself mightily against the translucent face of a window pane to find itself free once more.
"I-I guess I hadn't considered it that way." she says meekly, feeling something like power tingling the inside of her hands.
"Oh my god!" Erin exclaims suddenly, "This totally gives me an idea for an article. Hang on a second, you guys, I've got to write this down."
A sigh gushes from Mary's parted lips as Erin clicks away at her keyboard, sketching the framework for her next piece for the Pleasantview Tribune.
John follows his girlfriend's form with his eyes as she retreats to her computer to pen her thoughts. His smile broadens with her every keystroke, watching her blond hair pool around her shoulders as she leans into her computer screen. He glances back at Mary, whose eyes are wide with surprise.
"She's --" she begins.
John interjects with a chortle, "She's a lot, I know. It's like she's constantly sugared and caffeinated."
After excusing themselves from the house and relieving a frankly overstimulated Mary from enduring a barrage of Erin's questions, John and his girlfriend find themselves just outside of scenic Mortimer Goth Memorial Park in Downtown Pleasantview on an unseasonably cool summer night. With each lick of the breeze, Erin cradles her arms with her hands and John drapes his arm across her shoulders. She's cold and losing interest fast, he knows. He has to act fast.
"You have any idea why I brought us here tonight?" he asks softly as he takes her hands in his.
Erin smirks. "I certainly hope it's not so you can murder me and dump me in the lake."
John tuts and shakes his head. "Here? Of course not, Erin, there's too many witnesses."
John guides Erin to a more secluded section of the park enshrouded in shadows and free of prying eyes. He can see her shiver, and it chips away at his heart, but he can't lose his nerve. If he doesn't do it now, he may never ask her, overcome by fear of yet another failed marriage, or yet more petrifying revelations about affairs and unmet children. He would love to descend to one knee and ask the woman he loves with a clear conscience, with no secrets and anxieties between them, but he can't and may never be able to again. He clears his throat and scratches at his cheek.
"You know nothin' gets me going more than public bathrooms." Erin says with a quirk of her brow.
John chuckles. "I'm a romantic, Erin, what can I say?"
John presses his lips against one another as he sucks in a breath, then falls to one knee.
Erin's eyes widen. "John? What the fuck are you doing?"
He closes his eyes and shakes his head. "Don't stop me, okay? I'm an old guy and I've got shitty knees, so I either won't be able to maintain this pose for very long or I'll be stuck like this forever, and you're my ride home, so --"
Erin laughs, tears stinging the corners of her eyes. "Oh my God, shut the hell up. What are you doing?"
He retrieves the small black box from his pocket and pries it open before her like an oyster pried at the maw to offer its singular, gleaming pearl. He watches his own reflection in her bleary eyes as he sucks in another breath in a futile attempt to still his racing heart. He speaks again, voice quivering.
"I haven't got a whole lot going for me besides you, Erin. I've always told you that -- you're way too good for me. I don't know who or what you see when you look through those big green eyes of yours, but I hope maybe you can see a husband, if nothing else."
Erin reaches with trembling hands toward the little black box and retrieves the engagement ring. She slips it onto her finger, tears dribbling down the sides of her face as John watches helplessly from the ground. His shoulders fall with a relieved sigh, and she holds her hand out so her diamond catches the moonlight dancing down from above.
"You're not that old," she chokes out smiling, and they embrace.
And their evening ends exactly the way they want and need it to. Erin feels needed, loved, and necessary. John feels the freedom to close the door on his feelings and his past for one night, and for him, that's enough.
"Morning, you two." Mary hums jovially as she enters the kitchen come daybreak, "What're you up to?"
John toils at the stovetop and greets his roommate with a nod.
Erin whistles from the table as she takes in Mary's countenance. "Good morning to you too. John asked me to marry him last night!"
John adds, "And she said yes, so I'm making her strawberry waffles as consolation."
Mary absconds to the table with a plate of waffles for herself. "Congratulations, you guys. Just remember to always be honest with each other."
Erin nods, gleeful. "Thanks, Mary. You're looking sophisticated this morning! What's up?"
Mary adopts an air of pride and satisfaction, straightening her back against the spine of her chair. "I actually have a job interview today. I was inspired by our conversation last night, and decided to try something new."
"Yes, Mary! You're smart, you're spunky, you're sweet -- go out into the world and kill it today."
"Thanks, Erin." Mary beams boastfully, "Oh, before I forget: I asked my kids to come over and see me tonight. Is that all right with both of you?"
Both John and Erin brush off the request as inconsequential, and all three huddle around the table to gab about new developments, aspirations, and ambitions. It feels good, safe, but a little foreign -- three unrelated adults sharing a house and navigating life with the ever-onward march of time. It's exciting, it's frightening. Mary can feel herself getting attached to them both, and it worries her. Her whole life went belly-up once before, and she doesn't know that she could survive a second midlife catastrophe.
It's that same sense of looming fear that nests in the pit of her stomach as she watches from the kitchen as her sons chat at her new kitchen table in the new home where she's forging a new life for herself. Jesse is pugnacious and blunt, like always, and Isaiah is more rational, more realistic, but with that air of cool nonchalance that he had worked so hard throughout high school to perfect. She can ear a riveting conversation going on from the kitchen, Erin proffering contentious and polarizing questions to the table and pointedly commanding "discuss" at every interval.
Mary smiles despite her unease. Her new normal is a little uncomfortable and profoundly different in every way from the life she knew with Nathan, her sons, and Isaiah's kids all living under one roof. She feels crushed and worthless inside knowing it was her infidelity which stoked the flames that would burn down her marriage and nearly decimate her relationships with her sons. She doesn't know how she could ever disclose such a thing to any of her old friends, or even her new ones, who were beginning something new and exciting together. But now, in the evening, as she watches life take root again and sprout from nearly nothing at all, she feels a little bit of the liberation Erin had mentioned before.
It's going to be okay, she thinks. Maybe even good.
And after the fray disperses and John finds some space alone, he succumbs to the sickly sensation in his stomach. He cries soundlessly into his hands as his heart wrenches at his chest. He is nothing, feels nothing. He can only imagine Olive as she sleeps soundly in her bed in another man's house -- a man who she calls "Dad" -- and the mother who's kept the truth from her, and from him, for all these years.
Mary seems like she needs the boost in confidence Erin is trying to give her. Life is going to be okay, and maybe even good.
Originally Posted by Cher64
I love Erin! She says what she's thinking, for good or ill, and seems to hide nothing. She's very good for both John and Mary. I hope John can see his way to telling Erin the truth, because I think she can handle it.
Mary seems like she needs the boost in confidence Erin is trying to give her. Life is going to be okay, and maybe even good.
I agree with what Cher is saying.
Also Oh Erin Beaker is one of my favourites, I have her married to one of my Aliens.
I really like how Erin Beaker is in your game and I like how she looks too. I think Mary is quite interesting and I am going to love learning more about her. John was quite interesting as well. I really loved learning more of their stories.
Cyd Roseland is the kind of guy who buys entire bags of cat food and stackable tin dishes to leave on his porch at night, even though he doesn't have cats of his own. He's riveted by meaningful conversation about society, the economy, ecology, and always cries at that one scene near the end of his favorite movie from childhood. He's the kind of guy who washes his hands religiously, yet has never owned a hairbrush. The color red puts him off. "It's too flashy," he says, "like you're demanding my attention without using the words." He doesn't drink coffee. He never wears a tie. He loves his dogs, and values his alone-time as sacred; worth preserving.
He's someone that one feels they know well within minutes of meeting him, and more often than not, their first impressions are usually right.
Today, however, is different. Cyd's reluctantly extended an invitation to a coworker and casual acquaintance, Ajay Loner. Per Cyd's appraisal, Ajay has the lovely, intangible quality of character that is so terribly inviting and affable that one feels, within hours, that they might've known Ajay for something like a decade or more. He's quick to share with others his own personal feelings and history, as well as those of others. He's a popular man, something Cyd is unaccustomed to and sometimes overwhelmed by, but today, he needs Ajay's help.
He folds his arms across his chest, a buffer between Ajay's cloying charm and himself.
"You and Dina Goth?" Cyd says incredulously.
Ajay nods, pursing his lips and raising his brows, equally shocked. "Me and Dina Goth, dude."
"How did that even come about? You two don't run in the same circles."
Ajay shakes his head. "Not usually, no, but you remember that writer's workshop they ran downtown a few months ago?"
"Oh yeah, you asked me to go with you."
"Yeah, and you bailed at the last second and I had to go on my own? Well, there was Dina. Apparently she's a guest contributor for the Pleasantview Tribune."
"And she likes Indian, if you know what I mean," Ajay snickers.
Cyd frowns, stifling a chuckle. "Well, congratulations man. Dunno what spell you've got her under, but I'm glad you're happy."
Cyd excuses himself to the kitchen, leaving his dogs, Danny and Porthos, in Ajay's capable, if not a little overzealous, hands. Ordinarily, when Ajay invites Cyd over for drinks, movies, or gambling, Cyd politely declines. Sometimes Ajay invites himself over, and then Cyd can't find it in himself to turn him away. They usually wind up chatting in the living nook, a dog in varying stages of unconsciousness sprawled across either person's lap, a little drunk and waxing philosophical. Cyd admires Ajay's versatility. He's well-read and actually quite opinionated, like Cyd himself, but he has the social aptitude to know when to keep things light and when to submerge the conversation into abstract concepts. Ajay has something for everyone, always. That's why he's here tonight.
The pungent scent of simmering, juicy meat and spiced vegetables fills the air. A green bell pepper, hewn in half and loaded with garlic, onions, ground meat, and an ample layer of hot and savory spices cooks on the flat top of an iron skillet. Butter sizzles idly, then smacks and pops from the heated black surface intermittently. Cyd is cooking for a lot more people than usual, tonight, and stuff bell peppers are simple to make and easily impress. Save for a former roommate, Cyd isn't accustomed to entertaining, to company. Ajay's here to soften the evening, make sure everyone's personalities meld well enough to call the night a success.
The doorbell sounds, and Cyd's breath catches in his throat.
He turns the bell peppers over onto a serving platter and sets them down upon the counter to cool out of the dogs' reach, then shuffles out the front door and onto the sidewalk, where Chloe Curious waits with her...sister, he assumes? She's only the second green girl he's ever met.
"Hey Chloe, glad you could make it. Uh," he extends a hand to the girl he doesn't recognize, smiling, "And you are?"
Lola Curious quirks a brow and studies the man for a moment before she claps her hand against his, shaking it firmly. "I'm Lola. Chloe's had a lot to tell me about you, Cyd."
Cyd's face falls and he looks to Chloe a bit more frantically than he'd have liked. She doesn't meet his eye, and the gesture seizes his stomach like a vice. He winces wordlessly and leads the girls into the house.
Everybody finds a seat at the table as the remaining few of the party meander in from around the house and yard. Cyd watches carefully as the seats are swallowed up around him by unfamiliar faces: Lola on his left giving him that strange look like she had been before, her roommate Kristen on his right giving a careful, judgmental glance at the food on her plate, and Ajay across from him, filling the room with a mildly entertaining yarn from his time hitchhiking through Strangetown. Cyd is hardly really listening, but the girls are all from Strangetown too, he knew, and would probably find a great deal more humor in the story than he. Where is Chloe?
"I was so dehydrated, I really thought I'd imagined The Oasis entirely."
This earns a chuckle from Kristen.
Lola tilts her head a little toward Cyd, a thoughtful warmth to her tone, "The Oasis is the only public pool in Strangetown. It has palm trees and everything."
Cyd tenses his brow in confusion, but nods mindlessly in response to her attempt at including him in the narrative. On any other night, he would be grateful. He glances around the room until he spots Chloe combing through his bookshelf in the corner, and quickly conjures up an excuse for him to be anywhere she is.
"Oh crap, I don't remember if I fed the dogs their dinner. Sorry guys, mind if I duck out for a bit to check?"
Lola gives an endearing little gasp. "Oh, you have dogs?"
"Heh, yeah, it won't take long." Cyd smiles sheepishly, then proffers a distraction. "Ajay, tell them about your awful next-door-neighbor."
Ajay feigns exhaustion with an exaggerated sigh. "Oh God, this guy. Where do I even begin? His name is Jacob Martin, and when I moved in, he was a goddamn party clown --"
"Chloe?" Cyd asks gingerly, the sounds of uproarious laughter underscoring his approach.
She whisks around as if her feet were carried on an errant wind, effortless.
Cyd swallows hard at the lump in his throat. "What's up? You're ignoring me now?"
Chloe rolls her eyes. Or at least, Cyd thinks she does, judging by the expression on her face.
"If I were ignoring you, it'd be really counter intuitive to show up at your house for a dinner party, no?"
Cyd grins and his shoulders drop a little, "Could be a really passive aggressive way of letting me know you're ignoring me. I wouldn't have known until I talked to you, right?"
"Guess not, huh? Your library is whack, by the way. All you have are college textbooks and comic collections from the Simsterdam Times."
Cyd purses his lips and gives a sidelong glance to his overpopulated shelves over the woman's shoulder, chiding and priding himself all at once. "I'm sure I have...something not published by a professor or a comic book artist."
"I'm always shocked you're not a cat person."
Now Cyd rolls his eyes. "Cats are fine, I guess, but they'll never love you the way a dog will."
He catches himself jumping at her every quip and gesture, then steels himself. This is the point of tonight, to be with her. If not alone, then at least sort of alone.
"If my books suck and you're not ignoring me, come eat! The evening is so much duller without you, Chloe."
Chloe dazzles with a toothy grin. She leans closer, relishing in the palpable heat generated between them. "Oh, but my sister's having a blast making googly eyes at you. I'd hate to ruin that for her."
"Is that what that is?" Cyd chuckles nervously.
"C'mon Cyd, you're not that dense. She's cute, you're cute. I get it."
Cyd has all the grist he needs to make contact. He lunges at the girl with his hands, tickling her sides and laughing jubilantly as she recoils in laughter and protest.
"Did you just say I'm cute?" he teases.
"Fuck off, Cyd!"
"I'm pretty sure I heard you say it. Can you say it again, just once more? For posterity?"
They're not sure that there's music playing, or even that there's anyone else in the room anymore. Some time ago, there was the clattering of plates being stacked, the groaning of the pipes and the gushing of water as it spat from the faucet, and then there was the laughter, the long pause, and a loaded stare. Chloe will never admit it, but she's the one who initiated the dancing, asked him to hold her just for a little while. What could he do but oblige?
And the day after the party, once the lights downstairs were all flicked off and she let her fingers slide across his as she left the condo for the night, what could he do but wake with the vision of her, her short red hair that frames her cheeks just so, and her rich, womanly voice laughing lightly against his ear? What can he do but wait patiently, perhaps pathetically, for her call, to hear that voice again, feel her skin on his?
He checks the mail and his heart thumps rabidly against his chest. The envelope he uncovers isn't dainty, or even clean. There's a coffee stain in the fold of the corner, it's wrinkled, and it reeks of her perfume. Somehow, Chloe's simultaneously put as much and as little effort as possible into the same little project. It's very her. He peels back the fold and pores over the note, written by Chloe's hand, it's hard to decipher.
You're exactly the kind of mushy pile of cookie-dough who'd like this sort of thing,
and well, I've never done it before.
Usually I've had sex with guys by now, but you're kind of a romantic (and a virgin, I bet)
And I guess I sorta like that. I miss you.
And call her, he does.
To Cyd's surprise, Chloe asks him to meet at Tumbleweed Diner, a little spot nestled in the dunes, rocks and sparsely spread succulents on the outskirts of Strangetown. He hasn't heard of it before, but feels weighted by sentimental value before even setting foot outside the door. She's asked him to her hometown, and while she probably doesn't think much of it at all, Cyd certainly does.
They greet each other with a warm familiarity that makes part of Cyd worry, and melts the other part completely. Her hair is slightly damp and it leaves his cheek soothingly cool as she recedes from his touch. It's hot out and she's dressed for it. He isn't.
"Hey, thanks for meeting me out here. I haven't been to this place in years," Chloe says with an unfamiliar and nostalgic lightness.
She doesn't quite have her guard up just yet, and Cyd is careful to tiptoe around her to preserve these precious few moments of ease.
"What d'you recommend?"
"They're good for a burger and shake, anything else is asking too much." Chloe says flatly.
The two steal away to a booth in the very corner of the room, and musings of a juvenile Chloe flit through the ether of Cyd's ever flowing, ever expanding thoughts. He imagines her as a young girl having this as her "regular" booth, meeting friends, skipping school, and even adopting this, the sticky vinyl seat beneath her, as refuge from the world that didn't understand her. But that's all fiction, Cyd relents, as he knows so very little about her. He worries he's captivated by the way Chloe presents herself, by the sounds and colors his imagination substitutes as her persona in all the spaces she deliberately carves between them. He sighs.
"I'd love to get to know you, Chloe," he forces the levity in his voice, "We met -- what? Two years ago? And I only just learned you had a sister yesterday. What's your family like?"
Chloe looks a little vulnerable tucked into herself behind the table, her back against the wall. "That's a long story."
"I've got time," he insists.
For a moment, she smiles with all the sincerity she cares to dredge up from the pit of her stomach. She pats the table and offers him an intimate glance.
"Another time," she says like one issues the final period at the end of a lifelong essay.
He gets it. They talk all afternoon about things of no consequence, the way Chloe likes it.
The day peters out after a long day at the computer, updating and reformatting blog posts, moderating comments, and researching for future articles. Cyd has a hard time finding the words and the focus to express to the waiting world the fluctuations of the stock market and the rate of unemployment in the whole of the nation as thoughts of Chloe whirl about his mind, flushing free all manner of confounding, confusing, conflicting feelings. He wonders as he tends to Danny after a couple of days of inattention, what Chloe would think of his work if she'd known about it?
He chuckles. She'd think that's boring, too.