The Elven Heritage Legacy 1.11: Bad Company

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Aranel makes a choice, Ana faces her fears, …

Aranel makes a choice, Ana faces her fears,
Achenar learns the little mysteries of high school, and the last member of generation one is born.

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  • 1. The Elven Heritage Legacy Chapter 11 Bad Company
  • 2. The problem with Homeroom was that it was thirty minutes ofunrelieved, hair-tearing boredom. Thirty minutes she could have spent doingsomething much more important than being stuffed in a classroom with abunch of people who would rather be elsewhere as well. Thirty minutes of thegirls next to her gossiping about a television show that Aranel didn‟t watch, ora party that Aranel hadn‟t been invited to. It might not have been nearly so bad if Aranel had managed to be put in ahomeroom with her friends, but she had a completely different schedule thanall of them.
  • 3. More Homeroom Of course, if she were honest with herself, she had to admit that her friendstalked about mostly the same sorts of things as the girls in homeroom.Television, movie and music stars, the current Diva or Mr. Big, and parties atthe rich end of downtown that Aranel‟s parents would never have let her go toeven if she had been invited. Or just plain gossiping about things they had noreal idea about.
  • 4. Gossipy girls “Yeah, Mr. Wong is totally on bubbles,” said one of the vaucous girlssitting next to Aranel. “Did you see how spaced out he was this morning?” No he isn’t, stupid, Aranel thought irritably, closing her eyes, If you’dactually listened to the sub last week you’d know that he had surgery on hisknee. The pill bottles in his desk are painkillers. “Oooh, wait until the principal finds out,” said the other girl, and Aranelgritted her teeth and rolled her eyes as the conversation turned to somethingelse. But as stupid as she thought the conversation was, she could imaginesitting next to Nymea and Amy and listening to it. It seemed like somethingthat one of them would have heard.
  • 5. Band Still, she reminded herself as the bell rang and she headed towardsBand, you had to be polite and at least pretend to listen to people who talkedabout the dullest subjects if you wanted them to like you. And she did wantpeople to like her, and plenty of people did. At least, a lot of people wanted totalk to her. Band, at least, was forty-five minutes of doing somethingentertaining, even when someone was out of key and they had to do it all overagain.
  • 6. After band, everyone headed for lunch and Aranel took the opportunity tomeet with her friends at the lockers. But they were already engaged in anotherboring discussion, this one about some movie star who was in some magazinebecause they‟d done something stupid. Or maybe it was about some classmatewhose parents had caught them doing something stupid. Aranel couldn‟t havecared less, and just blocked most of the conversation out as she went throughher locker to put away her books.
  • 7. But try as she might, she couldn‟t block out everything. The conversationmade an abrupt stop, and Aranel could tell that the attention of her friends hadbeen diverted. Someone that they wanted to talk about was coming down thehall. “Look at those losers,” came the hissing whisper. Despite her betterjudgment, Ara turned from her locker to look.
  • 8. It was the two girls that had been dubbed by Nymea‟s group of friendsduring the first two weeks as the “Bluewater Nerds.” Both wore glasses, andone had brown dreadlocks that reached past her shoulders. She was alsowearing very unusual makeup – her eyeliner extended from the outer corner ofher left eye in a series of spirals, which must have been difficult to draw whilestaring into a mirror without her glasses.
  • 9. “So ugly,” Amy continued, not even bothering to whisper. “Look at theirsaggy socks! And those five-cent barrettes are hideous. How can anyone aspoor as that Ramirez girl afford to come to private school?” Debbie nodded, like she always did when she didn‟t have much to say. If Aranel had been at all interested in psychology, she might have thought itironic that Nymea, who would never admit to the other girls that she wasn‟trich, decided to enter the conversation then. As it was, she merely gritted herteeth as her best friend started to criticize the retreating pair loud enough forthe whole hall to hear.
  • 10. Nymea: Angry Sneer “Well, it‟s definitely not because she‟s smart or talented,” Nymea replied ina voice that seemed casual at first. “I heard that she got the Landgrabbscholarship for her year because the judges felt sorry for her.” Debbie giggled. “One look at her in whatever she wears outside of schoolwould do that to anyone.” Aranel noticed that the look on Nymea‟s face got even sourer after that.
  • 11. “Well, that‟s what they say,” she replied, in a confidential voice that, ofcourse, could be heard across the hallway, where the other two girls had stopped at theirlockers, “Of course, I heard differently.” All the assorted girls were listening closelynow. They always listened to whatever Nymea said. Aranel usually found it annoyingthat they were willing to listen to Nymea, but not her. Today, however, she just feltirritable and a little queasy. Whatever was coming next wasn‟t going to be good, notafter the other girls had said all those things that would set off Nymea. “What did you hear?”
  • 12. Nymea shrugged, as if she didn‟t particularly care about what she wasabout to say. That was the key to her manipulation – to act like she was aboveeverything and didn‟t care. Aranel didn‟t have that kind of control over hertemper. “I heard it was favoritism,” she replied as they moved away fromAranel‟s locker towards whoever‟s locker was next on their route to lunch.“Because her mother has a rather… special relationship with Landgrabbhimself.”
  • 13. This last line, delivered precisely as the group passed behind the twoBluewater girls, caused the rest of Nymea‟s entourage to shriek with laughter.Every person in the hallway who had successfully ignored them so far turnedto look, and there in the middle of all of it was Tessa, with her eyes wide andeveryone staring at her. She suddenly looked so small and young that Aranelwas forcibly reminded that she was a freshman, the same age as Achenar andthe twins. Tears filled her eyes – she dropped her books and ran down the halltowards the girls‟ bathroom. Her companion just looked at the five of them inshock that was quickly shading towards anger, but Nymea, having won the lastround, wasn‟t about to stop.
  • 14. “Hello, Melody,” she said sweetly. Someone behind her muttered“stage freak,” but she pretended not to hear. “Aren‟t you a Landgrabbscholarship student too?” “Go to hell, bitches,” Melody finally spat, slamming her locker andgathering Tessa‟s books before following her younger friend into thebathroom. The girls surrounding Nymea laughed all the harder as theyheaded towards the cafeteria.
  • 15. Aranel stopped walking. It took the other girls at least ten feet before theyrealized that she wasn‟t following, and they all seemed somewhat surprised. “Are you coming, Ara?” Nymea finally asked, half turning around. “That was a cruel, horrible lie and you know it.” Aranel replied, impressedwith how reasonable her voice sounded. There was no need to yell – half thehallway was still listening, anyhow.
  • 16. Nymea just shrugged. “You know what they say about eavesdroppers notliking what they hear,” she replied. “Now are you coming to lunch or not?” “Not,” Aranel replied, turning around and walking back the way that shehad come. Somehow, she doubted that Nymea would ever have the decency toeven pretend to be sorry.
  • 17. Aranel had nearly made it to the library when she realized that her handswere still clenched into fists. Punching someone in school was probably a bad idea. Punching one of her friends was also probably a bad idea, but she hadnever wanted to more.
  • 18. It was one thing, she decided, when they made fun of her. It wasn‟t as ifthat mattered: they usually meant well, if they meant anything at all. Or atleast, she could pretend they did. After all, they were her friends. It was justteasing. She teased Achenar all the time, and he just laughed back at her. But, after what she had just seen, she could no longer deny that Amy andNymea, and even Debbie, were cruel to anyone who wasn‟t their friend. Shefelt hollow and somewhat defeated at the realization that her friends hadthought it was funny to make Tessa cry.
  • 19. If that was what her friends were like, what did that make her? The library was quiet, at least. She didn‟t think she could stand to go tolunch anymore, with all those people. All those people who her friends thoughtof as nothing more than momentary amusements. All the other students whoweren‟t as rich as Sharlene, as pretty as Debbie, or as well-connected as Amy. Everyone who her friends despised.
  • 20. She turned the corner and headed for the lounge area of the library, whichseemed to be empty. The librarian could see most of it from her desk, butwasn‟t in the habit of chasing people out during lunch. At least here she couldbe alone and not have to deal with other people.
  • 21. She flopped down on the green sofa, crossed her legs and sighed. Short ofpunching Amy and Nymea, there wasn‟t much she could do which wouldmake the writhing discomfort in her gut subside. And punching someonewould only feel good until she got suspended. It just felt wrong. There was a line somewhere, and her friends had crossedit, leaving her behind.
  • 22. And Nymea was the one with all those nice points. People were alwaystalking about how sweet and polite she was, and Aranel knew that peoplethought of her as abrupt and tactless in comparison. But the people who praised Nymea‟s behavior were always adults. Neveranyone who had ever had to deal with her as an equal, and certainly neveranyone who she had looked down on.
  • 23. “Troubles?” Aranel turned to glare at the brown-haired boy who had interrupted herthoughts. He closed his novel and balanced it on one hand. “None of your business.” He shrugged. “I figure that both of us are hiding in the library for a reason.” “I am not hiding.” “And it‟s perfectly fine if you don‟t want to talk about it.” Aranel snorted. “Fine. If you really must know, I am a horrible, grouchyperson who would rather that you butt out and stop pretending to besympathetic.”
  • 24. “All right,” he said, and got up to put his book away and leave. “Like Isaid, don‟t talk about it if you don‟t want to. Everybody‟s got enough problemswithout everyone feeling like they have to share theirs.” “Like you‟d know anything about that,” she scoffed. “Anyhow, you‟re theone who asked.”
  • 25. “Actually, you‟d be surprised,” he said. “There‟s a lot of people aroundhere who take anything they don‟t like about themselves and just project itonto other people.” “What are you, some sort of philosopher?” Aranel grumbled, “I didn‟tcome in here to be psychoanalyzed.” She didn‟t look at him, but she was lessirritated than she had been a few moments ago. “Philosophers don‟t psychoanalyze people. Psychiatrists do.‟ “Then pick one and stick with it.”
  • 26. “I challenge anyone to spend their lunch hours hiding in the nonfictionsection and not start thinking philosophically.” “I can just spend the hour thinking about people who piss me off, thanks,”Aranel replied. “But if you‟re so eager to talk, why are you here?” “I am a victim of high-school stereotypes,” he confessed gravely. Sheturned her head to raise an eyebrow at him. “All right. What happenedwas, some guys decided they didn‟t like me. Words were said. There‟s five ofthem and one of me, so I decided that in the long run, it wouldn‟t matter if Ispent lunch in the library on Tuesday as well as Monday and last Friday.”
  • 27. “So you‟ve been having lunch in the library since last week?” “Since the beginning of this month, actually.” Aranel just stared at him. “You have a problem,” she said. “I already knew that.” “Dude. Whoever it is, they can‟t be that bad. Hiding from them‟s justdragging it out. Tell them not to mess with you and just leave it at that.” “That‟s not really going to help.” “Look, it‟s simple,” Aranel told him, “Walk up to their leader, tell him toquit fucking with you, and walk away.”
  • 28. The boy winced. “That‟s not going to end well. It‟s a really bad choice ofwords for this situation.” “Okay, you don‟t have to say it in those exact words,” Aranel replied, “Justlet him know you mean it and that none of them can make you do anything,and you‟ll be fine. But when you‟re hiding in the library, they know you‟rescared. So they‟re not going to stop.” “I‟m not certain it‟s that simple.”
  • 29. “Hey, you‟re the one who pulled out all the psychology,” Aranel remindedhim, “Don‟t be so surprised if it gets used against you later.” “I thought we agreed that it was philosophy.” “Whatever.” But despite herself, Aranel was grinning. It was so long sinceshe‟d been able to have a proper conversation with someone at school, withoutit degenerating into some drawn-out critique of whatever the other personthought was lame.
  • 30. “Okay, enough about everyone‟s problems,” she said, “What I really wantto know is, can you have an intelligent discussion about Llamas?” “Probably. But why Llamas?” “Because the Llama party is only the weirdest political party ever!” “Really? Because I thought it was a frat party.” “They probably formed their campaign platform at a frat party. Promiseslike that are only made when someone is drunk.”
  • 31. “I can‟t tell if you like them or hate them.” “Oh, I love them! If they keep acting like that, no one will ever be able totake the Status Quo party seriously again.” “You‟re unusually cynical,” he commented. “I can‟t help it, I want to be a politician.” “I take it that you‟d be one of the Changeitarians?” “I don‟t eat change, I create change.” “That could either be a really bad joke or a really bad campaign slogan.” “They‟re called Changeists.” Aranel replied with a straight face.
  • 32. They couldn‟t keep straight faces for long, however, and quickly burst outlaughing. “Oh man,” Aranel said after a little while, “This would be the best lunchI‟ve had in weeks if we had any food. I‟m starving.” The boy reached behind his chair, and produced a brown paper bag. “Wanthalf a sandwich? I knew I was eating in here today, and I came prepared. I‟vegot an apple and a bag of chips too.”
  • 33. Aranel‟s stomach growled, but she shook her head. “Nah, it‟s your lunch,”she said, “I‟m the one who ditched my friends and decided to hide out in thelibrary.” “You sure?” “I‟m not stealing your lunch when I don‟t even know your name.” “Rean.” She looked at him for a second. “Aranel. You‟re my neighbor, aren‟t you?” He nodded. “I‟ve seen you before.” “You‟re Nymea‟s little brother.” He nodded again.
  • 34. “Dude, why are you being nice to me?” She demanded, “I‟m friends withyour sister. And…” And she treats you like garbage, and I’ve never said a word against it, herguilty conscience supplied. He shrugged. “If I made generalizations like that, I‟d be just as bad aspeople who make them about me. And anyways, I know you now.” “What, a conversation about Llamas is supposed to make us friends?” “Does sitting with Nymea and Amy St. Julien at lunch for a year make youtheir friend?”
  • 35. “Not today,” she replied, and reached for the bag of chips. * * *
  • 36. Calla, Achenar and Elirand had taken to their freshman year like threeducks to water. Between the three of them, they tried pretty mucheverything, from sports to debate. Classes were neither so easy as they hadhoped, nor so hard as they had feared. And for freshmen, they had collected quite a crowd around their lunchtable.
  • 37. Though, of course, they couldn‟t have everything the way that they wanted. Before they knew it, it seemed like they‟d been in high school forever.Their worries about aspirations, finals, and essays seemed far away andchildish. They had much more to worry about. Like the fact that Elirand hadbeen shot down by Meadow Thayer fourteen times already, and showed nointention of getting the message.
  • 38. “Elirand, this is getting pathetic,” Achenar told his best friend one day, awayfrom Calla, who found the whole situation too amusing to be of any help. “It‟spretty obvious that Meadow doesn‟t like you like that.” “You‟re certain she‟s not just playing hard to get?” Achenar shook his head. “Man. How can she resist this?” Elirand flexed one of his arms. Achenar rolled his eyes, picturing what Calla would have said if she had seenthat. Arrogant, self-centered pinhead seemed to be her favorite description of herbrother these days, but five minutes after the argument had stopped it would belike nothing had ever happened.
  • 39. “You ever think she might have a crush on someone else?” Achenarasked, to save his friend‟s pride as much as anything else. Elirand seemed to accept the suggestion at face value. “Who, though?” “No idea. Ask Calla.” “Calla told you to tell me to stop, didn‟t she?” Elirand asked. “Dude, the two of you live in the same house,” Achenar replied, “I am notbeing your messenger.” * * *
  • 40. For Anariel and Lydia, the whole point of school was being let out of it forthe afternoon or the weekend. They seized every opportunity to be together,but more often than not, they ended up at Lydia‟s house, because it was closerto both their schools and Anariel‟s mother could often pick her up in thecarpool on the way back from work. Lydia would have had to ride the bus. The days were drawing out into the long heat of summer, and the existenceof the two girls, who were in their own minds practically adults already, wasclose to idyllic.
  • 41. Almost. Anariel was always conscious of the fact that the big speechcompetition, the one for the Landgrabb Memorial scholarship, was inchingcloser with every day. She couldn‟t do it. She didn‟t want to do it. If they madeher go up there, she was going to be sick, and she told Lydia so repeatedly. Lydia, as ruthless as any other child, was having none of it. “Say it again,” she commanded, as they dangled from the monkey bars. “Aww, but Lydie…” “You‟re the one who‟s worried about not being prepared.”
  • 42. “But it‟s not going to help. I‟m going to go up there and not know any ofit.” “Yeah, not practicing is a pretty good way to make sure that happens.” Anariel glared at her best friend. Sometimes she hated Lydia when she wasright. Was it okay to sometimes want to kick your best friend in the shins? She didn‟t do it though. She never would. In the end, she was too in awe ofLydia to do more than entertain the idea for a minute. “Say it.” “Ummmm… Some claim ghosts…”
  • 43. “Some may claim,” Lydia corrected patiently. Anariel stuck her tongue outat her. “Some may claim that ghosts don‟t…” “Do not.” “Whose speech is this?” Anariel asked. “Yours. You wrote it, so get it right,” Lydia replied quickly. “I‟m not goingto let you give up on this just because you‟re a little scared.” Anariel shook her head. She wasn‟t a little scared. She was petrified. * * *
  • 44. “I don‟t wanna study.” Gabriella kicked her heels against the overstuffedfloral couch. Their new apartment was bigger than their trailer had been, but itwasn‟t the improvement that she had been promised. They had been supposedto go home. It was with great difficulty that Ginger had made her understandthat there was no home to go to. “Well then, come and eat dinner.” Gabriella considered it. “Your cooking sucks.”
  • 45. “Gabby!” “Nuh-uh,” Gallagher defended his oldest sister instantly. “It‟s good!” “That‟s because you like burnt macaroni, Gal.” “Well, it‟s macaroni or nothing for you tonight, Gabby,” Ginger replied,trying to sound reasonable. “Ew. I‟ll starve to death before I eat your stupid macaroni again!” Ginger sighed. “Do something,” she said to Gavin. “Like what?” he asked “I don‟t know! Something. She won‟t listen to me at all.” Gabriella provedthat by sticking out her tongue behind her sister‟s back.
  • 46. “Well, what do you expect me to do about it?” Gavin asked. “Try backing me up for once,” Ginger snapped, “All you ever do when you‟re home isread the newspaper and do homework.” “I‟m still looking for a job, Ginger. We need the money, and I won‟t get a job if I don‟tkeep my grades up.” “What about my grades? I‟m failing Algebra because it‟s always a choice betweenfeeding the kids and finishing my homework…” It was at this point that Gabriella closed her book and left, quietly, for the outsideworld. She hated Ginger and Gavin fighting, but she refused to feel guilty about it. Itwouldn‟t have happened if Ginger wasn‟t so bossy. Gabriella didn‟t need anyone to tell herwhat to do.
  • 47. Under a minute later, she had made it to the central courtyard of theapartment complex, and spotted a familiar face. She seized on the distractionwith both hands. “Lydia!” she beamed, “guess what? You‟ll never guess what! I just movedin here!” She clapped her hands. “Oh, congratulations,” Lydia said politely. She was acquainted withGabriella, who was in her class this year, but Gabby didn‟t hang out with thesame people she did at school. Gabby always tended to be the loudest, mostanimated person on the playground, and while Lydia might have had tenoutgoing points, she didn‟t believe in being so outgoing that it was obnoxious.
  • 48. Gabriella, however, ran right over Lydia‟s words without more than asecond to catch her breath. “This is going to be so great! Why didn‟t you tell me you lived here! Andright across the yard, too – we can have sleepovers, and do each others hair,and you can be my best friend!” She paused for a breath. “Okay, so you can bemy new second-best friend, because Maggie is just stupid now about boys, butthat doesn‟t matter! We‟re going to have so much fun together, you won‟tbelieve it!” She flailed wildly with her arms as she spoke, and ended up nearlyknocking the flowers off of one of the bushes.
  • 49. Lydia waited for a chance to jump into the one-sided conversation. “That‟s really nice and everything,” she said. “I know, isn‟t it great?” “But I don‟t know about being your best friend forever, at least not rightaway. I already have one best friend, and I couldn‟t do it if she weren‟tincluded.” Gabriella thought about that for a second. “It‟s not that Michelle girl, is it?” “No, her name is Ana. She doesn‟t go to our school.”
  • 50. “How can you be best friends with someone who doesn‟t even go to ourschool?” Gabriella demanded. “Well, we met at a party, and -” “Oh boy, you really need real friends! School friends! It‟s lucky for youthat I moved in, because I have tons!” Gabriella cut in, “You can sit next to meat lunch and everything, and I‟ll make sure that everyone knows you!” Lydia finally raised her voice to match Gabriella‟s. “Who says Ana‟s notmy real friend?” she asked loudly. “Um, duh, you can‟t seriously think you‟re friends with someone whodoesn‟t play with you at recess,” Gabriella replied dismissively.
  • 51. “That‟s not the only part of being a friend, Gabriella.” “Okay, so maybe it‟s not always as important as having someone who willalways back you up when you argue with someone, but it‟s still reallyimportant.” Gabriella said, “And when you finally have a real bestfriend, me, I can totally back you up, but you‟ve got to back me upfirst, because everyone knows I‟m totally right, and -” “No.” It took a moment for the word to lodge in Gabriella‟s brain. “What do you mean, no? Everyone wants more friends!” “Not if you don‟t respect my friendship with Ana. She was there first.” And Gabriella, who always had words to spare, only gave her two in reply. “Fine, then,” she said, and flounced out.
  • 52. Why was it that nobody wanted her? * * *
  • 53. “Aranel.” Ara had no idea why her father wanted to speak to her, but from his tone itwasn‟t to congratulate her on finishing her latest painting or earning anotherscholarship. He wouldn‟t be standing there with that serious look on his face ifit was. “Yeah, dad?” Haldir just looked at her for a moment. “Rose Greenman just called,” hesaid. Oh. So that was it. She really ought to have remembered that.
  • 54. “Look, dad,” she began, “I don‟t know what you‟ve heard, but it‟s notreally as bad as it sounds, okay? I mean, no one got hurt.” Immediatelyrealizing how bad that would sound if he hadn‟t heard the whole story, sheforged forward quickly. “See, there was this guy at the farmer‟s market whowas pestering Daisy, and she couldn‟t do anything about it, so I only wanted tochase him off, but, well…” she shrugged, embarassed. “I kind of ended upknocking him over.”
  • 55. “But I didn‟t hit him that hard,” she added immediately, “and he completelydeserved it. I mean, what kind of jerk goes around picking on Daisy? It‟s notlike she can defend herself.” She risked a glance at Haldir‟s stern face, and then directed her gaze at theliving room floor again. “I‟m grounded again, aren‟t I?”
  • 56. To her surprise, her father began to laugh. “Well, maybe not exactly,” he finally said. She looked at him in surprise, sohe explained. “You did the right thing – admittedly in the wrong way – but thefact that you admitted it and were willing to take the punishment argues that youknew that already.” Aranel very wisely chose that moment not to say anything. “Rose told me just about everything,” he continued, trying to put a sternexpression back on his face, “And while I don‟t approve at all of you fighting -”
  • 57. “It wasn‟t exactly a fight,” Aranel burst in before he could continue. “True. Rose told me that her children say you put him down with onepunch.” Aranel had the grace to look a little ashamed, even though Haldir washaving a hard time keeping the amusement from his voice. “Violence isn‟t a good way to solve things, Aranel,” he said, gently. “Youknow that. But all the same there are situations in which you have to usewhatever you‟ve got.”
  • 58. “Like when some jerk gets in your face like that.” “No. That would have been a situation for words, or for simply walkingaway,” Haldir replied. “When there is real, physical danger to be dealtwith, then it is acceptable to fight. But the words of an ignorant boy can‟t doany real damage, Ara. You have to pick your battles, especially since there is noway to win all of them.”
  • 59. Aranel knew better. She knew that words had the power to wound heartsand ruin lives, and that was just at high school. But she said nothing. Yourparents were supposed to punish you for fighting, and her father believed whathe said. If you walked away you just let the words go on and on, even worsebecause the other person thought that they had won. You had to fight the words that other people said, the cruel untruewords, before the whole world believed them. But a good punch to the faceonly shut people up for a little while. How did you punch a rumor and knock it to the ground?
  • 60. “I guess,” Aranel replied reluctantly, because she could see that her fatherrequired some sort of response. “I‟m not grounding you today, Aranel,” Haldir said, “but I do want you tothink about what you‟ve done. You won your fight, but there are plenty ofother things that could have happened and very few of them are good.” Aranel nodded, and Haldir turned to go.
  • 61. “Ara?” she turned her head at the sound of her father‟s voice, and shecaught the smile that had finally emerged. “For what it‟s worth, I am proud ofyou. There aren‟t as many people in the world who would have stuck up forDaisy at all as there should be. You used your strength in order to defendsomeone weaker, instead of just avenging your own pride.” And with that, he left her with her stomach churning with shame. That dayshe definitely hadn‟t thought much about defending the weak. Just about herown selfish pride. * * *
  • 62. There were far too many people out there. Anariel took a quick peek around the edge of the curtain and then sankback with a gulp. The high school had an enormous auditorium and it wasfilled with students, teachers, and parents. She should have pretended to be sick or something. There was no way shecould go out there alone with all those strangers watching. She‟d freak out andrun away and everyone would see that she was a coward. Aranel and Achenarwere out there and they‟d be ashamed that their baby sister couldn‟t facesomething as simple as a prepared speech.
  • 63. Oh, yeah, and her speech was lame. It was supposed to be a persuasivepiece, and other kids had written speeches about letting the school have casualfridays or about getting a new club started up. One boy had written a piece onthings that the mayor should reform. But Ana just had to try too hard and make a speech to persuade herclassmates that supernatural beings, such as ghosts, were real. She‟d donemountains of research – it had taken at least two hours to find sources – andshe‟d changed the speech so many times that she was no longer certain if itmade any sense.
  • 64. She clenched her fists and noticed that the paper crumpled, then hastily smoothed itout against her skirt. All around her, kids were pacing around, muttering words undertheir breath, and gathered in groups talking. There was barely room to move backthere, especially with two of the other girls amusing themselves by climbing the ladderinto the prop loft. She couldn‟t do this. She was going to be sick. Someone was giggling from above her, and she could hear the principal of the highschool talking. It took a long time for her to figure out the words. “Virginia Gothier will now speak on the importance of having a gardening club,” hesaid, and the first student walked out to scattered applause.
  • 65. She was going to be sick in front of everyone. And there was no way forher to get through the crowd of students behind her to go for the bathroom.They were going in alphabetical order and she wasn‟t very far down the list. Ana wondered whether she shouldn‟t have researched how to disappearinstead. It would have been more useful than talking about ghosts, whichnobody believed in and everyone was going to think was stupid anyhow. “Ghosts don’t Exist,” Aranel had said when Ana had tried to ask her aboutthem. “You don’t need to worry about them.”
  • 66. Ana read her speech over again. Some may claim that ghosts do not exist, but there is a lot ofevidence that suggests that they do. How else can you explain – It was no good. It sounded stupid. She was going to sound stupid.That, or pass out on stage with everyone watching. Maybe if she hid inthe curtains they‟d get fed up with waiting for her to come out and justskip her. Then she could go home and hide under the bed. “ – riel Anise Elvensong.”
  • 67. Had that been her name? There wasn‟t anyone else whose last name wasElvensong in her class, so it must be. They were waiting for her to come out –it was going to look stupid to come out so late – “Pssst, Ana!” She looked up in time to see one of her classmates leaningout from behind the ladder. “You‟re up! Good luck!”
  • 68. Luck? She thought blankly as she walked out from behind thecurtains. Unnoticed, her paper dropped to the floor. How she wished she could be anywhere else, anywhere at all. Sheshould have known better – it wasn‟t good enough to practice in themirror, or to repeat her speech over and over again to Lydia. She wasjust too much of a coward to face this many people. She didn‟t even hear the applause as she stepped up to the podium,and looked out at the sea of faces before her.
  • 69. Instantly, she looked back down. There was no paper on the podium. Her speech was gone. How did it start,anyway? I want to talk about ghosts. No, that was wrong, that had been thefirst draft that Aranel had said wasn‟t strong enough. Some of you may thinkthat ghosts do not exist, but I know that they do. No, she‟d gone to Achenar,who had said that it would be better if she started with some concreteevidence, or perhaps a little bit of introduction. Ghosts are real – no, that waslater – you cannot explain…
  • 70. G… ghosts are… proof of hauntings in homes where urns and gravestonesare… something… relatives especially… I can’t do this. Aranel swallowed and looked back out at the sea of faces, feeling strangelyserene. She‟d just excuse herself and say she‟d lost her voice. Yeah, that was it.They couldn‟t make her make the speech if she‟d lost her voice. She wonderedwhy she hadn‟t thought of that before. “Just pretend you’re talking to me,” Lydia had said as they kicked theirfeet against the step of her porch. “Since strangers bother you, pretend you’retalking to a friend.”
  • 71. Lydia would understand that she couldn‟t do this. Even though Lydiawouldn‟t have had a problem with standing up in front of all these people andtelling them anything. She really wished that Lydia were here. There were starting to be whispers in the audience. “Um,” she said in a voice so small she could barely hear herself. Shereached up and fiddled with the microphone and it made a horrible noise. “Yikes!” She exclaimed, and the microphone picked it up and carried itloudly around the auditorium. There were a few giggles, then silence.Everyone was waiting for her to say something.
  • 72. “I, um, I didn‟t know it would be so loud,” she apologized, beginning toturn red at the tips of her ears. There was more scattered laughter. They werelaughing at her. What would Lydia do? “People aren’t always laughing at you, Ana. I’m not laughing at you, thatwould be mean. But you say some funny things sometimes and you don’t evennotice it.” But Lydia could turn anything into a joke. People liked Lydia right away.Not that Ana was jealous, or anything – Lydia was just that awesome.
  • 73. Anariel was nervous enough that her mouth was not under her directcontrol. “My best friend is awesome,” she said, and it echoed in the auditoriumuntil she realized that she had said it out loud. It took her brain a long, sluggishmoment to decide that she might as well explain. “Her name‟s Lydia. Shewouldn‟t be scared at all to be up here talking to you. She talks to everyone.”Anariel thought for a minute, before adding, somewhat lamely, “And herspeech would be pretty awesome too. She doesn‟t go to this school, though.”
  • 74. “That‟s not because she‟s stupid or anything,” she added, quickly, hopingthat no one got the wrong idea about Lydia. “She‟s plenty smart enough to gohere. She‟s pretty much the top of her class at her school, and she doesawesome things there. She won the spelling bee. She made a really huge fishout of paper-mache for art and won a prize, except I didn‟t get to see it becausewhen she took it home on the bus it was raining and it got ruined. But sheshared the chocolate bar she won for it with me anyway.”
  • 75. “Lots of people would have just eaten it themselves, but she saved ituntil I could come over because she knew that milk chocolate is myfavorite,” Anariel continued, remembering, “And she split it exactly inhalf so it would be fair. But then Orion came in – that‟s her littlebrother – and he was so sad that he didn‟t get any chocolate that Lydiabroke hers in half again and gave him half.” Ana felt kind of bad aboutthat, but at that point, she‟d already eaten her chocolate.
  • 76. “Lydia said that it was okay, though, because me and Orion likedchocolate better than she did. She likes the kind with almonds best.”Ana smiled at the memory, and nearly forgot that she was talking aboutit in front of all those people. “She also told me, don‟t be afraid of talking to people. She‟s reallybrave, and I‟m not, but she said that if people are laughing at you thenyou have to do something that‟s stupid or funny and make it a joke.That way you get to laugh too.”
  • 77. “I really wish that Lydia went to school here, but she doesn‟t. She goes topublic school because her parents can‟t afford it. That‟s why I don‟t get to seeher as often, because she lives pretty far away too. I‟d like to see her everyday, but usually I only see her on weekends. She spent all of last weekendhelping me with my speech, even though she doesn‟t go here, because sheknew that the Landgrabb scholarship was a big deal here. I didn‟t want to,because I was scared, and I didn‟t need the scholarship, but I wanted her to beproud of me anyways.”
  • 78. “I really, really tried,” Anariel whispered. “But Lydia is the one whodeserves the scholarship, not me. I can‟t even remember what my real speechwas supposed to be on. I got so nervous that I forgot.” It was only a moment later that she looked up and realized that there werestill people listening. People who had just heard her tell everything, and admit to being scared.People who probably thought she was stupid and a coward and – a tear randown her nose – a big crybaby.
  • 79. Anariel looked up at the crowd and her voice quavered. She blurted thefirst thing that came to mind. “And that‟s why you should give my friendLydia the scholarship,” she said, and ran offstage before anyone could realizethat her speech was over. She started crying so hard that she could barely hear the clapping. She wasnever going to do this again. * * *
  • 80. The night surrounding her was quiet. At least, it would have been if Nymeacouldn‟t hear her younger sister‟s snores drifting through the open doorway.She‟d tried pinching Idalese already, and it hadn‟t done a thing. Nymea stared out into the night, mentally counting the days before she couldbe out of this hell hole and off to college. She had scholarships, thanks to thefancy shmancy private school, and she had once more convinced her parents thatthey could still afford to send her. Of course, money wouldn‟t be so tight if theyhadn‟t been sending her useless brother and sister as well, but her parents hadnever been gifted with much intelligence, much like her siblings.
  • 81. Nymea took a moment to contemplate the amount of time she had leftbefore she was free of this horrible backwater. A year and a half. Thatwas far too long, but it got shorter every day. If she could keep herselfsane for long enough to make it out of here, that was. Gavin was supposed to have been her ticket out of here, a early tasteof the life that she knew she deserved. But the lying asshole had beeneven more broke than she was, and playing her for a fool. She hatedpeople who lied to her.
  • 82. At least at school she could pretend that she didn‟t have to put up with allthis. But school she had to be careful what she said. Amy would turn on herlike a pirahnna in an instant, like Aranel already had. She had made thatungrateful bitch. Hadn‟t that been her life‟s ambition, to be popular? AndNymea, like always, was thrown away at the first opportunity. So much forbeing a good friend. Nymea drummed her fingers against the railing and stared out into the yard.
  • 83. A stealthy movement caught her eye, and she wasn‟t in the least surprisedto see her brother sneaking back home in the dead of night, still wearing hisschool uniform. Why should Rean have all the fun? She would have gone running to tell her parents, in the hopes that the smallmeasure of revenge would make her feel better, but she knew that they justdidn‟t care enough to make Rean‟s life as miserable as befitted his crime.Plus, if they were alerted to the fact that the balcony stairs were a convenientmeans of escape in the small hours of the morning, it might jeapordize her ownchances of having a midnight social life.
  • 84. Maybe she‟d threaten him with the idea, just to blow off some steam. Reanalways had been too concerned with their parents‟ opinion of him. Shepersonally didn‟t care what they thought, as long as they stayed out of her way,but Rean had always been pathetically eager to please them. Now, if only he would wrap it up with his friend and get in here, she hadsome dirt to taunt her brother with.
  • 85. Had her brother just kissed that other boy? * * *
  • 86. “Finished your homework?” Midina asked, as her oldest daughter cameinto the living room. It had been a good day, and she was content to sit on thecouch and watch Orion play with Delphina. Lydia was watching her brother and sister as well, but she wore a puzzledfrown on her face. “Mom?” she asked, quietly, “How come Orion and Phinahave blonde hair like you and Makir and I don‟t?” Midina opened her mouth to explain, then thought better of it. “Why don‟tyou sit down?” she said.
  • 87. Lydia did. “I was doing my biology homework, and I was reading in thebook and it said that all sims have two genes for their hair and eye colors. Itsaid red and blonde are recessive, and brown and black are dominant, so youhave to have either a red gene and a blonde gene or two blonde genes to beblonde. But that can‟t be right, because somehow I got a brown gene…” “All right, slow down,” Midina said. “I understand now.” “You do?” Lydia said, suddenly allowing her wildly gesturing hands todrop back downwards.
  • 88. “Yes. You see, you have brown hair because your father does.” “Why does he dye it?” “Ah… no, Makir is blonde, like your brother and sister. Your biologicalfather, however, is a brunet like,” Midina took a short breath, then managed tofinish, “like you.” “But… but Makir‟s not my dad, then?” Lydia asked in a quietvoice, obviously shocked, “Then why… who is?”
  • 89. Midina sighed. “Your biological father…” she stopped, unsure of how tocontinue. “Your father is not a very nice man,” she began again. “I left himbefore you were even born.”
  • 90. “Oh.” Lydia‟s face fell. Yet Midina didn‟t know what to tell her. The truthwas painful, too painful for a child, but she choked up at the thought of tellingthe obvious lie to her own daughter. There were enough lies in the worldalready. “So you didn‟t really want me at all, did you?”
  • 91. “Oh, Lydie… that‟s not it at all. You weren‟t exactly planned, but I did wantyou. There‟s a huge difference. As soon as I held you in my arms, I couldn‟timagine life without you. Never think anything else. You were a surprise, but youwere a good surprise.” The fear that had sliced through her in the cold twilight when she had seenLydia‟s face for the first time rose to the back of her mind. She had spoken quickly,unable to bear the disappointment on her daughters face. But there had beendetermination, and a fierce pride as well. For these past twelve years, Midina had been prepared to do anything for herdaughter.
  • 92. “Lydia,” she said softly, “Makir and I love you very much. You know that,right?” Lydia nodded, but she wasn‟t meeting her mother‟s eyes. She was staring atOrion and Delphina on the other side of the room. Delphina was shrieking inlaughter as Orion made a pair of blocks zoom around her head. Then he settwo blue blocks and a green block in front of her. “One of these things is not like the others,” he sang, “One of these thingsjust doesn’t belong.” “I know,” Lydia said quietly.
  • 93. “We‟re very proud of you, too,” Midina continued gently, “You‟ve beenworking very hard in school, and you‟re going to be a very big girl soon.” Lydia nodded. She was almost a teenager, and she knew what her motherwas about to say. Her mom was about to start talking about newresponsibilities, new chores that she was old enough to help out with, beingable to watch her brother and sister at home while the adults were away. “Makir and I have decided that you should be allowed to help withsomething very important to us,” Midina continued, twisting her engagementring in circles on her finger. “I wasn‟t going to tell you so long before ithappened, but I think you ought to know.
  • 94. Curious, Lydia finally looked up, facing her mother, who smiledencouragingly. “I want to ask if you‟ll stand up at our wedding,” Midina said. “Really? I can?” “Yes, really,” Midina said, “It was actually Makir‟s idea.” He had said thatthe whole family should be involved, since they were finally making thefamily official and all of the kids were part of that package, but Midina didn‟thave a problem with emphasizing the part which would be more important toLydia.
  • 95. Lydia‟s face broke into a smile. There was a comfortable silence of about a minute while they sat theretogether, Lydia basking in the contented glow of excitement. Midina let out abreath that she hadn‟t realized that she‟d been holding. She was so glad thatLydia had taken everything so well, with very little trouble. It nagged at herthat she hadn‟t told her sooner, but first she‟d been far too little tounderstand, and she and Orion had gotten along so well with Makir, and… “Mom, can I ask you a question?” Lydia said. “You can always ask me a question,” Midina replied.
  • 96. “Can you tell me who my biological dad is?” Midina‟s mouth droppedopen in shock. “Pretty please?” “Lydia…” “Come on, mom, if you were me, wouldn‟t you be the teensiest bit curious?Wouldn‟t you really, really want to know? Just the name?”
  • 97. “Lydia, I can‟t…” “Please? I just want to know his name, mom. It‟s not like I‟m goingto go looking for him or anything.”
  • 98. “Her name is Lydia.” “Surely even a whore like you can keep track of how many men you’ve slept with. What makes you so certain that it’s my brat?” “You and your brat can rot, for all I care!” “Get out of my house.” “No one will care if you scream.”
  • 99. “No, Lydia,” Midina said, “I won‟t tell you.” “Aww, mom…” “Lydia, I decided to leave him because,” Midina had to stop for asecond, “because of how he treated me. He wouldn‟t have been a good fatherfor you to grow up with either. I need you to trust my decision for now, but Ipromise that someday you‟ll be old enough to hear everything.” “I‟m old enough now.” “No. You‟re not.” Lydia didn‟t press the matter further. Her mother‟s facewas a closed door. * * *
  • 100. It was before dawn when the members of the Elvensong householdgathered to meet the new baby. After three children, Viridia had thought thatthe labor would be as easy as those she had experienced with Achenar andAnariel. She had been wrong. She was exhausted, but she smiled at herchildren and her husband as she cradled the baby in her arms. It was alwaysworth it. Haldir had been cornered by Ana, who wanted to know where the baby hadcome from, while Achenar and Aranel tried to stay out of his way. “… so yes, you probably missed the stork,” Haldir was saying. “He‟salways busy bringing babies, you know.”
  • 101. “Oh,” Anariel looked a little sad at having missed seeing the stork, andViridia gave Haldir a look over her shoulder. They‟d have to tell Ana the trutheventually, after all. “So, do I get to see my baby brother?” Aranel asked, snapping Viridia‟smind back to the present. “Hey, Achenar, he looks just like you. Except hedoesn‟t have your big nose yet.” “We have the same nose, Aranel,” Achenar replied, trying to hide hisamusement. “It looks better on me, though.”
  • 102. Viridia sighed tiredly. She didn‟t have the energy to bring her two oldestchildren to order right now. Thankfully, Aranel found baiting her even-tempered brother to be at best a momentary amusement. “Hey there, tyke,” Aranel addressed the baby, “you‟re going to grow up andbe big and strong and play in the dirt and not be prissy at all, okay? But I‟mnot changing your diapers, you hear? Keep the squalling to a minimum andwe‟re set, little brother.” “Actually, Ara, the baby is a girl.”
  • 103. “What?” Aranel asked, butAnariel had already barged in. “A sister!” she squealedexcitedly, “I get a baby sister!We can play with dolls and mybear, and I can braid herhair…” “Ew. This is why I wanteda brother.” Aranel cut in. “You‟ll have to wait until she has some hair, sweetpea,” Viridia toldAnariel, sending Ara a quelling look. “But I could certainly use yourhelp with Ariadne.” “You mean like with diapers and stuff,” Ana said. “Your older sister and brother can help with that,” Viridia said, “butI‟ll need everybody‟s help with chores around the house.” “Don‟t worry, mommy! I‟ll do it for the baby,” Ana promised happily.
  • 104. “Hey, wait a minute – how did I get volunteered for diaper duty?”Aranel demanded. “I mean, I‟ll take out the trash and weed the gardenbut diapers? Ew.” Viridia turned to her oldest daughter. “You‟re going to have to learnsome day,” she said, “Now take your sister for a moment.” “What?” “Aranel, I am exhausted, and I don‟t think that it‟s too much to askthat you hold your sister for a little while.”
  • 105. “But -” Aranel wasn‟t given much time to protest before she was handedthe baby. “Support her head.” “Um…” “That‟s fine. Now you two girls can spend some time together, but Idesperately need a nap. Wake me up in a few hours and we‟ll see if she‟shungry.
  • 106. Aranel looked down at the black haired, green-eyed baby in disbelief. Shecouldn‟t believe she‟d been saddled with a baby. They were messy, theycried… and then when they got older people turned little sisters into fussycrybabies and annoying tag-alongs. From listening to Ana talk, the poor thingwas going to spend life festooned in pink ribbons. Baby Ariadne made a little burbling sound in her throat and started flexingher tiny fingers. “You see, Aranel, she likes you already,” Viridia said. The whole familyfiled out of the room, leaving Aranel holding her sister.
  • 107. “Ariadne, huh?” She lifted the baby up in the air and inspected her. Ariadneburbled and waved her arms, and Ara could swear that she was laughing. “Well, you don‟t seem too bad,” she admitted grudgingly, “and you don‟tstink yet, so maybe you can just hang out with me until you do, and then momor dad can take care of that.” Ariadne reached for her nose. “Oh no you don‟t. You already have one of those, you little monster,”Aranel scolded her. But she couldn‟t keep the smile off her face. * * *
  • 108. Viridia stood in the living room, looking out over everything and everyone.It was good to have people filling the house like this. Increasingly, it seemedlike she only ever saw everyone together at birthdays. Of course, given that this was a celebration of Ariadne‟s birth, it probablydid count as a birthday party. But it was still good to have everyone together,no matter what the excuse for the party was.
  • 109. Nearly everyone had been able to make it – Midina had brought all three ofher children, though her fiance had to work, and of course it was impossible tofind Achenar without Chalimyra and Talon‟s twins. The three of them werestill attached at the hip after all these years. And then, of course, there was Lydia, who had taken Ana off somewhere toplay. Strange, to think that very soon her middle daughter would be a teenager.It was hard to fathom with the small, warm bundle of baby in her arms. Surelyit had only been yesterday that Ara, that Achenar had been this small, thisvulnerable? As for Ana – well, she was barely out of the crib herself.
  • 110. “Well, hey there little girl. You look just like your Daddy. I just bet youhave your mama‟s nose, though. I‟m betting that you‟re going to grow up anAquarius like your auntie Elu, yes you are.” “Starting to regret never having any of your own, Elu?” Viridia asked witha smile. “Nah. I get to monopolize yours all I want, but I also get to sleep throughthe night this way.” Viridia laughed a little, “It is a little hard. I seem to have forgotten how togo without sleep in the past few years.”
  • 111. “Aww. Are you being trouble for your mother?” Eluisa asked Ariadne, wholooked up at her with big eyes. “You should know better than that. Yourmama‟s getting on in years now, you know.” “I am not.” “Viri, your oldest daughter is a junior in high school. If that‟s not gettingon, I don‟t know what is.” “That‟s why I started young, you old spinster. So I‟d still be young andbeautiful when my children started looking into colleges.”
  • 112. “Spinster! Why I never,” Eluisa exclaimed in mock indignation. “You‟re older than I am, Elu.” “Ariadne, you are so lucky that I am your godmother, or I would have to bevery offended at your mother for lying about my age like that. I‟m still youngand I‟m going to be young forever.” Ariadne giggled. “Even a baby knows you‟re full of beans, Elu,” Viridiasaid.
  • 113. “Excuse us, but I believe it is traditional for other people besides thegodmother to get to see the baby,” Chalimyra interrupted. “Stop hogging her,Elu.” Eluisa backed off at the other two women‟s approach. “Don‟t you two haveyour own children?” she asked, laughing, “Why do you have to steal mygoddaughter?” “My children are in high school,” Chalimyra pointed out. “Go play with your other goddaughter, Elu,” Midina said.
  • 114. Eluisa did, even though it seemed that Delphina was a little occupied at themoment. Orion was busy entertaining her behind the loveseat, but he happilyscampered off to find a “big kid” to play with when Eluisa arrived. Delphina had certainly grown in recent months. She had a lot of blondehair – which was to be expected from Midina‟s family, really – and she alsohad her father‟s dark-blue eyes, which filled their sockets with color instead ofwhite. Well, Eluisa reminded herself, she could easily have turned out to be grey.Not that there was anything wrong with that, but having a grey toddler walkingaround would have been far more noticeable.
  • 115. “You, my friend, are going to need to get out of this house,” Elirand wassaying, “You‟ve got three sisters now.” “And there‟s something wrong with sisters because…?” Elirand ignored Calla, as there was no good way for him to answer that.“More to the point, everyone‟s going to be making a fuss about the baby, soI‟m certain your parents will be happy to have you out of their hair.” “If you‟re going to propose an impromptu camping trip again, the answer isthe same as it was last time,” Achenar replied, “It is just not possible to hike toThree Lakes from here.”
  • 116. “No, it‟s not that,” Elirand said, “Though we wouldn‟t have had to hike,there‟s always the bus… Anyhow, I had a great idea, and the three of us aregoing to start on a very lucrative enterprise.” “Is it that garage band idea again?” Achenar asked, already resigned to thefact that none of them knew how to play an instrument. “No, though it was not that bad of an idea,” Elirand said instantly, whileCalla laughed. “It‟s guaranteed to make us some money, and better yet it willget you out of babysitting duty. Your mom and dad will even approve of it.”
  • 117. “All right then, what is it?” “It‟s… um, it‟s a state secret. At least for this week.” Achenar was nonplussed. “Let me get this straight: you‟re expecting me togo along with another one of your hare-brained moneymaking schemes when Idon‟t even know what the scheme is.” “Well, isn‟t that what best friends are for?” Elirand asked, “No, it‟ll beawesome, trust me on that.” “You might as well give up,” Calla put in, “he‟s resolved not to tell you untilwe can actually start. Now, are we playing Don‟t Wake the Llama or not?”
  • 118. “So, what do you know about this, Calla?” Achenar asked as they all satdown. “He already told you?” “Hello, same house, remember? All I have to say is, it‟s no where near asstupid as usual.” “Thanks so much for all your support, sis.” “I see,” Achenar said suspiciously, “so this time it does not involve sellinggarden gnomes back to their rightful owners? Or digging holes for hours?” “Hey, both of those were commercially viable -” They were interrupted by Orion before the argument could start again.“Excuse me, can I play with you guys?” he asked.
  • 119. “Sure thing,” Calla said, “You can help me beat these two dunderheads if youwant.” “Great!” “Who said there were teams in Don‟t Wake the Llama?” Elirand grumbled. “I did. So there.” Calla replied. A thump from the far side of the living room distracted Achenar. Ana, who wasplaying cops and robbers with Lydia, had run heavily into the wall. “Oh no. Here come the tears,” Achenar sighed, fully prepared to have her comerunning over to him. He was surprised when she simply picked herself up andcontinued playing.
  • 120. “That was odd,” Achenar observed as he turned to the game, “normallythere‟s tears for every little scrape.” “Well, she‟s going to be a teen pretty soon,” Calla said reasonably, makingher first move, “It shouldn‟t be too surprising that she‟s grown up a little.” “Unlike some of us, who still cheat at board games,” Elirand grumbled.“Don‟t think I don‟t see you steadying that stick with your pinkie, sis.” “I have absolutely no idea what you‟re talking about, my dear brother,”Calla replied arily, tipping Orion a huge wink.”
  • 121. “Bam bam! Surrender!” Ana cried out gleefully, as Lydia played the part ofthe guilty robber to perfection. “Oh no! I‟m trapped!” she said. “You can still run to the left if you think we should do the chase partlonger,” Anariel supplied in a helpful undertone. Lydia risked a glance. “Nah, if we knock over your sister‟s easel she‟s going to be mad, and if weknock over the dining room your mom won‟t be happy either.” “I guess. I like the chase part better than the rest, though.” “That‟s only because you‟re the one doing the chasing.”
  • 122. Lydia immediately proceeded to drop to the ground and pretend to be shot. “Oh no, officer! You got me!” “Poor robber! I‟ll call the paramedics!” “You‟re not supposed to call the paramedics, Ana,” Lydia reminded her fromthe floor, “I‟m public enemy number 1, remember?” “Yeah, but you confused me. The really bad robber is supposed to shout„never‟ when the cops tell her to surrender. So I thought I‟d give you a chance torepent of your crimes and all.” Lydia sighed, “Well, public enemy number 1 is dead now. Congratulations,officer Ana.”
  • 123. She got up and dusted herself off. “Can I tell you a secret?” Ana asked, leaning in. Lydia nodded. “Rememberthat speech I had to give?” Lydia nodded once more. “Well, I told you about itwhen I came over last time, but I didn‟t tell you exactly everything. I wasreally scared.” “But you gave the speech anyway,” Lydia reminded her. “Which was prettybrave.” “But I didn‟t give the speech. At least, not the one that I was practicing. Ilost the paper.”
  • 124. Lydia‟s eyes widened. “But… how did you know what to say? You didn‟thave the speech memorized, did you?” “Shh. No, I didn‟t give the right speech. I said something else. But it‟sokay, because I was only getting a grade for the speech we turned in to theteacher anyway.” “What did you say?” “Well, I just started talking, you know? And it wasn‟t too hard,” Anafibbed, choosing not to tell Lydia that she‟d wanted to throw up or disappear.“But the speech was about you, more or less.”
  • 125. “All right, kid, just watch the master at work,” Calla said to Orion. “That is one evil smile you‟ve got there, Calla,” Achenar commented. “Why thank you,” she replied, “It‟s because you boys are about to get yourbutts kicked.” “Really, Calla?” Elirand put in, “Trash talking at a kids game?” “You‟re the one who started it,” she pointed out. “What were yousaying, Achenar?”
  • 126. “Oh, just that Aranel‟s been acting weird lately, that‟s all,” he replied, “shehasn‟t been going over to the Greenleaves‟ house at all, and she paints a lot, whenshe‟s not studying.” “So obviously she‟s either become a knowledge sim or being anupperclassman is harder than it looks,” Elirand said, “So what? Focus hereAchenar, or we‟re going to be beat by a ten year old and a girl.” “That‟s not it, though. It‟s like she‟s actually trying to be nice to Anariel for achange.” “One sister stops being a crybaby and the other decides that she‟s finallygrown up enough to talk to,” Elirand summarized. “Not something to worryabout, „Enar. Also, why are you complaining about it?”
  • 127. “I‟m not complaining,” said Achenar, placing his stick, “It‟s just odd, that‟sall.” “Dangit. Stop doing that,” Elirand said, when he noticed how carefully hewould have to make his turn. “We‟re not going to win if you keep sabotagingme like that.” “Who said there were teams in Don‟t Wake the Llama?” Achenar repliedwith a grin. Calla smirked. “Nothing‟s odd about it,” she said.
  • 128. “How so?” Elirand replied, sitting back and crossing his arms. “Hah. Gotit,” he said triumphantly to Achenar. “Aw, man! How am I supposed to beat that?” Orion asked. “Carefully,” Calla told him. “Anyhow, it‟s not really mysterious. It‟s justthat Ara isn‟t friends with Nymea anymore, or with any of that crowd, really.” “And you know this how?” Calla gave Achenar a look. “Do you people never pay attention whenpeople are talking? Or do the words just fall in one ear and out the other?People were talking about it for days.”
  • 129. “Well, excuse me for not gossiping about my own sister.” “It‟s not gossip, it‟s telling stories. Oh, good job, Orion!” “Thanks, Calla!” “When did you two join the cheer squad?” Elirand demanded. “Rah rah rah!” Calla exclaimed, mocking her brother, “We‟re gonna win,rah rah rah!” Noticing that this did nothing to cheer Achenar up, she stoppedquickly. “Relax, „Enar,” she said, “It wasn‟t really such a big deal at the time.And if Ara had a problem with it, you would have heard about it by now.” “Probably,” he agreed, though his heart wasn‟t in it.
  • 130. The party was winding down by the time that Midina finally got a momentof her own with the new baby. “Hey there, Ariadne,” she said, looking at the small child. “Bet you‟re tired,huh?” Her answer was the flapping of the baby‟s hand. “Well, don‟t worry about that, I‟m sure your mom will be back to put youto bed soon.” Midina said. “I just have to get to you before everyone else hogsyou for themselves. You do look just like Haldir, though. I wonder how that‟llbe on a girl.”
  • 131. The baby burbled. “Aw, it won‟t look that bad,” Midina said hastily.“Your sisters took after your mamma, though. See them? And yourbrother too.” She shifted so that Ariadne could look over her shoulderat the far end of the living room, where all of the other children were. “Soon enough you‟ll be crawling around with Delphina,” Midinacontinued, “And then both of you will be running around incircles, screaming like all these other kids.” She smiled at the little girl.
  • 132. “You have years and years yet before you have to worry about time,though,” Midina continued with a grin, hoisting the baby onto her hip. “Doyou want to know a secret about being the youngest?” The baby laid her headsleepily on Midina‟s shoulder, so Midina continued in a sing-song voice.“Everyone‟s older than you, but that‟s not a bad thing. We‟ll all be old anddoddering and grey while you‟re still young and beautiful.” * * *
  • 133. Zaliander the wise looked out at the rain smashing against the leaded panesof his window, and opened one of last weeks newspapers. Ignoring theheadlines, he skipped straight to the center pages, where the fine details of lifein Riverblossom Hills and the surrounding county were chronicled in anabysmally small typeset. Honor Roll, he read, Riverblossom Hills Academy Scott Bendett… his eyes traveled down the list until he reached a name herecognized.
  • 134. Elvensong, Achenar, which was followed immediately after by Elvensong, Aranel.Further down, in the elementary school section, he encountered Elvensong, Anariel. Hecircled each name with a quick scratch of his quill pen, and threw the page on the pile on theside table. The yellow leaves of each stretched back through the years, saying very little. Itwas the articles pegged to the wooden beam nearby that were truly interesting, yet even theygave him very little information of value. Descriptions of school plays, of soccer games, of adebate victory of Aranel‟s, of the speaking scholarship won, surprisingly, by Anariel, yetsomehow awarded to her best friend, of the Academic decathlon team‟s near-victory againstBluewater Hills Preparatory School. Some of them even had pictures, showing the threeElvensong children at various stages of growth, often accompanied by friends who wereobviously of elven descent.
  • 135. But the accounts in the papers were dry and dull, and it irritated him that hecould not find more information. Of course, he couldn‟t exactly walk downfrom the mountains into Riverblossom Hills and start asking questions. He hadto exercise more caution than that. But time was slowly but surely running out,and he still didn‟t know which one would be right. There were things toconsider about each of them, but he simply didn‟t have enough data.
  • 136. He couldn‟t blame Haldir. Invitations to birthday parties could only last solong, after all, and though Zaliander would have preferred to meet more thanjust the oldest daughter in person, he understood why Haldir would choose toforget, for a time, the terms of their deal. And it was convenient to his ownpersonal agenda that he would not be generally remembered as having dealtextensively with that family.
  • 137. If he was perfectlyhonest with himself, hedidn‟t think that he couldbear to have them trust him.It was bad enough that hehad struck a deal with adesperate man – in serviceof a higher cause – but to bewelcomed into his homeafterwards, with none of hissmiling family the wiser,had made even his ancientand hardened heart twistuncomfortably. There was alimit to what even he could,in good conscience,undertake. He knew that he had to decide soon, and that hesitation was only likely tocomplicate the issue. Even up in the mountains, he had felt the earthquake andseen the lights that accompanied it. Limited though his powers may currentlybe, he was not robbed of his wits. Even a half-trained apprentice could havededuced the implications of those lights. There would be no more chances: ithad to be the children of Haldir.
  • 138. One of these three… A decision which he examined every weekend withoutcoming to a conclusion. An Enigma. He didn‟t know enough, yet, about theyoungest child, but from what he had collected, he could neither discount hernor approach her as a candidate. The oldest girl was many things –driven, intelligent, well-liked – but somehow she seemed, to his instincts, to bethe wrong choice, too closely connected to this modern world. He shouldchose the boy. After all, it was just – the boy would not have been born withouthis intervention. His very name proclaimed that fact.
  • 139. He wondered what hadpossessed the child‟s mother to givehim that name. She might believethat Achenar was a triumphant namefor the boy who she had almost diedcarrying – the elvish meant “wonfrom grief,” but advertizing such avictory was tantamount to invitingdisaster. Nonetheless, he shouldn‟tlet his guilt rule the child out. Theboy had many admirable qualities,though so far his high-school careerhad been overshadowed by hislarger-than life sister. And perhaps itwould be best to choose the one whoappeared to be more even-tempered. Yet… Yet for some reason, he could not look at the most recent newspaper picture, inwhich he stood behind a second-place trophy with all the other youths, without guilt. Itcould be the smile, or the way the other two youths had an arm each around hisshoulders, as if, despite the obvious genetic differences in their dusky skin and blueeyes, he were one of them. Not alone, but part of a whole. The same argument stood forthe boy as for his sister. He was already too connected to this place.
  • 140. In all conscience, he couldn‟t choose the younger daughter until he had someevidence of the woman she would grow into. What he had seen so far recordedmany of the same promises and pitfalls as her older siblings. To justify what he was going to do, it somehow wasn‟t enough to consider thelives which hung in the balance. He had to be absolutely certain that this wouldwork. He was back to the beginning again, and kicked viciously at the newspaper infrustration. Time was running out. The youngest daughter would barely begin highschool before the elder went to college, and timing was everything. Too early, andthey‟d never listen – too late, and they‟d have already started down a differentpath.
  • 141. The newspaper drifted in pieces down to the floor. Groaning to himself, hebent his old back to gather the leaves back up and search once more for arelevant detail. One page had drifted under his desk, and he had to get down on his kneesto fish it out. It was the section dedicated to obituaries and birthannouncements, and thus very dull, as it covered the entire county. The onlyrecent births in Riverblossom Hills had been quadruplets, to some couple withan odd last name and a botanical taste in first names. As for the obituaries, hewas uninterested in them. There was a great enough awareness of death in theworld without advertizing it.
  • 142. He scanned the births column anyway, and was caught by a word. Viridia and Haldir Elvensong, he read, are pleased to announce the birthof their daughter, Ariadne Riann Elvensong, last Tuesday morning. Ariadnejoins siblings Aranel, Achenar, and Anariel. Zaliander stared at the print for a long time, then tore it from the rest ofthe page, which fluttered unheeded to the floor. Finding a free spot on thewooden pillar, he transfixed it with a tack. Perhaps he had more time than he thought. * * *
  • 143. Author’s Note: I had so much fun with theschool set this chapter. There‟seaster eggs all over the place, likethe map of middle-earth in thepicture above. And it‟s a good thing that I‟mfinally getting the school arrangedto my liking, because there areonly a few more chapters thisgeneration set in it. Strictly speaking, there are only a few more chapters this generation. Before peoplestart getting shipped off to college, that is. I was thinking that this would be a shorterchapter (and that I‟d have it out mid-september, but hey) even though we all know whatI do to short chapters.  Wishful thinking on my part. This is also the last chapter to be primarily focused on Aranel, so you‟ll see the otherkids in high school too. (At some point, at least…) I actually had to delay playing forquite a bit due to someone‟s impending birthday, (Anariel) and the events I had to stagebefore that happened. And yes, Aranel and Rean‟s discussion of politics is a parody ofAmerican politics in specific, and politics in general. It‟s sims, so why not be ridiculous?
  • 144. Also, the last few updates have focused a lot on Aranel, and somewhat on Ana,leaving not a lot of room for Achenar, Calla and Elirand. That‟s primarily because thethree of them are in a pretty comfortable place right now – there‟s not a lot ofcomplications going on in their lives. I still feel like I‟m gypping them out of their screentime, though. They are lovelyand awesome to play, but currently all that the three of them have been doing in-story isschool, some clubs, and hanging out. Don‟t worry, though: they‟ll pop back up in later chapters. But this is literally all that happens whenever I play them or try to film them.Occasionally a townie male will heart-fart Calla, but it‟s usually Achenar.
  • 145. This guy has bunny ears. It didn‟t occur to me until I made the shot blackand white. There‟s a bunch of other things that I slipped in, cookies foreveryone who finds some. Oh, and credit goes to Wikipedia for most of the extra filler text at the sidesof the newspapers. I just copy-pasted some overviews to make them look likesims-appropriate filler articles. There appears to be a fierce debate in theRiverblossom Gazette recently about Plant Sims and Dryads. ;)