Ehl 1.10


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Birthdays, Arguments... why do I even list these any more? Business as usual with the Elves.

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Ehl 1.10

  1. 1.
  2. 2. It was dark by the time Rean snuck out of his house to meet her. It wasn’t too hard – his parents were off somewhere skilling, Idalese was playing with her toys, and Nymea was in the bathroom with her nose all of an inch from the mirror, yet he was certain that if anyone found out he was doing this, they wouldn’t approve. Well, not Idalese. She’d just smile and tell him to have fun making a new friend. He hoped that it wouldn’t be a problem, being dark. <br />“I don’t actually have much money,” he began hesitantly. The matchmaker smiled at him warmly.<br />“I may not be able to find your perfect match for so little, but I doubt you’re looking for that just yet.”<br />Rean breathed a sigh of relief. “No, just someone fun,” he admitted.<br />“Boy or girl?” she asked, businesslike. <br />“Uh… what?”<br />
  3. 3. “Boy, or girl? Which gender would you like your date to be?” she repeated patiently.<br />“I… um, I…” Rean flushed visibly, and the old lady patted his arm.<br />“Never mind dear. I’ll find you someone nice.”<br />“B-but…”<br />“Now, I happen to know someone who would be good for you, I think. Trust me, dear, the matchmaker knows best.”<br />“…okay,” Rean finally agreed, hesitantly, “Where…?”<br />“Look behind you, but I wouldn’t step backward if I were you.” Rean gave a little exclamation of surprise at how close he’d come to stepping on the tough-looking mow hawked boy’s hand.<br />
  4. 4. By the time that the other boy managed to get off the ground, the matchmaker was gone, and Rean was undeniably flustered. What was he going to do? He’d wanted a date, but he didn’t think it would be this worrisome – maybe he shouldn’t go through with it after all. <br />“So…” the tough guy said, after a moment of silence, “This is awkward.”<br />“Yeah,” Rean replied awkwardly, “Um…”<br />“She’s been known to make mistakes,” the tough guy said with a shrug, obviously referring to the matchmaker, “Some say she’s just too old, others say that she’s just too stingy. Anyway, it doesn’t stop us from having some fun as friends, right?”<br />“Yeah. I mean, no it doesn’t,” Rean agreed hastily. The last thing he wanted to do was to get on this tough-looking individual’s bad side. <br />
  5. 5. Once he got over his initial embarrassment, Rean had to admit that it was fun, even if it wasn’t technically a date. The townie boy seemed prepared to have a good time, regardless of the lack of amusing things to do at Rean’s house. They talked about a lot of things, including sports, and Rean was somewhat gratified to note that they both danced like fools.<br />“How about this one?” Rean asked doubtfully, demonstrating a move. <br />“Gorilla.” Was the reply. “This one?”<br />“Old man with no rhythm.”<br />“Dang.” Rean’s new acquaintance shook his mow hawk, “If we can’t dance, how are we going to pick up girls?”<br />Pick up girls? Rean’s mind went blank. “Practice, maybe?” he managed, hoping it was an acceptable response. Fortunately, his not-date laughed. <br /> * * *<br />
  6. 6. It was safe – everyone was off doing whatever it was that they did. Her stupid baby sister was sulking somewhere, and her dork brother was having an angst fest somewhere. She didn’t even care what her mother was doing, and her dad was at work. Nymea painted on her most charming smile and began to go about the business of getting her life sorted out. <br />“Thank you for coming,” she began, “I’m searching for my true love, and I hear you can find me someone handsome and rich. You know, a regular prince type.”<br />“Indeed. Do you have any money?”<br />“Oh, of course,” Nymea replied, pulling out a thick wad of bills. A few piggy banks might have been lighter for her efforts, but then, wasn’t her future worth it? She didn’t see why she had to suffer from someone else’s lack of initiative. It took all her composure not to wince in disgust as the matchmaker stuffed the bills down her saggy bra. <br />
  7. 7. “All right,” the gypsy matchmaker said, pulling a brightly glowing orb from somewhere and waving her hand in mystical patterns, “One princely type coming right up.” Nymea could swear that the misty lights that brushed her skin were little motes of success. Her face and hair and clothes were perfect – or as perfect as they could be when her private school uniform passed as her “fashionable” clothes – but still, how could some prince charming resist her?<br />“All the girls at school are going to be so jealous,” she whispered to herself happily.<br />“What was that, dear?” Drat, the old bat had better hearing than she’d thought.<br />“I just can’t wait to meet him!” Nymea chirped immediately, continuing to bask in the glow. The matchmaker nodded her head and finished her mystic passes. <br />
  8. 8. “Thank you,” Nymea said immediately, pouncing upon her chance to make a good impression with good manners. She shook the matchmaker’s hand enthusiastically, then glanced around. “Where is he?” she asked. <br />Annoyingly, the old bat started singing tunelessly. “It’s raining men! Hallelujah! – It’s raining men!” Then, seeing the look on Nymea’s face, she grinned. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist. He’ll be here in about a five or six seconds.” There was a thud. “All right, more like three seconds,” the matchmaker amended.<br />
  9. 9. When the boy dusted himself off, Nymea was pleased to see that the old charlatan had indeed delivered. The boy was well-dressed, none of that punk or emo garbage, and polite. She smiled to herself. It just went to show, that enough money could really buy you happiness.<br />“I’m Gavin Newson,” he introduced himself immediately, “Pleased to meet you, miss.”<br />“Nymea Greenleaf,” she replied sweetly, “Pleased to meet you. Would you like something to eat? I’m sure I can find something in the fridge.” Was there anything in the fridge? Damn. Her mom’s cooking was disgusting, but there had to be something edible that her stupid brother and sister hadn’t eaten.<br />
  10. 10. “Oh, no – I couldn’t impose,” he said immediately, “besides, I already ate.”<br />“That’s too bad,” Nymea replied, while the first potential crisis withered and died. “Would you like to come inside, anyhow?”<br />Gavin looked up at the lighted windows. Nymea followed his gaze, suddenly realizing how pathetic her house had to look to this rich kid. Her house was so pathetically rustic, and far too small. And it was definitely a mess, since her idiot sister was too stupid to pick up her toys.<br />“If you’d rather stay out here, though –” she blurted suddenly.<br />“If that’s alright with you –” he interrupted her, then stopped.<br />
  11. 11. Both of them laughed, nervously.<br />“I haven’t been on a date before, so you’ll have to tell me what kind of things you talk about on one,” Gavin said, after a moment of silence.<br />Nymea smiled sweetly at him. “Why, I’d be perfectly happy to. This is the first date, so we’re supposed to get to know one another.”<br />“Okay,” he agreed readily.<br />Suddenly, an idea struck her. “So, Gavin, tell me about yourself,” she said in her sweetest voice, the one that she knew would always get her way for her.<br />He looked perplexed for a moment, but it was too dark to tell, and he started immediately after. “Well,” he began, “I have three sisters and two brothers.”<br />
  12. 12. “So many? That must be difficult.”<br />“Yeah,” he agreed, “Especially since…” he trailed off into silence, then started up again. “I don’t really mind, though,” he continued cheerfully, “I’d do anything for them. I want Gabriella, Gallagher, Garrett, and Georgia to have the best in life, you know?”<br />“Of course,” she nodded, though she didn’t see why he would go out of his way for his brothers and sisters, “I understand completely. I want the best in life, too.”<br />He smiled at her. “Well, the only other thing you should know is that we all just moved to a new place downtown.”<br />She couldn’t help the smile that broke out across her face as the evening just got a little more interesting. “Downtown?” she repeated, “How interesting. Tell me more about it.”<br />
  13. 13. “Well, I haven’t been to a lot of places there yet,” he admitted, “I’ve been a bit busy…”<br />“Moving in?”<br />“Yeah, that. But I plan to go see some of the famous ones soon – the De Jahvu art museum, the park district you know – and I’m looking forward to it. Maybe – if it’s all right with you – you could come along?”<br />Inwardly, her heart was beating fast. “Is this your way of asking me on a second date before the first one is even over?” she asked coyly.<br />Her practicing in front of the mirror paid off, because he blushed immediately.<br />“Kind of,” he admitted, “I mean, I sure wouldn’t mind dating you again.”<br />
  14. 14. “What do you mean?” she asked, disappointed. Wouldn’t mind? What was that supposed to say?<br />“Well, it’s getting really close to curfew,” he explained, “and even though the matchmaker brought me here, I’m not really certain of how to get back. Though I’m really sorry that I have to call it off early.”<br />“Oh,” she didn’t have enough control to keep the disappointment from seeping into her voice, but it hardly mattered if she drove him off now.<br />“Do you mind if I tell you something?” he asked, leaning forwards near her ear. “You’re really pretty.”<br />
  15. 15. Only pretty? She frowned – she’d seen the other girls at school, and she knew she was more than pretty. Who was this stupid boy? She could do better than him, anyway…<br />She was so absorbed in her own thoughts that it came as a surprise when he leaned in and quickly kissed her cheek. She blinked in surprise.<br />“Sorry,” he apologized immediately, “I guess I just – well, I think you’re pretty, and I should have asked – is it okay?”<br />What would if feel like to have a proper kiss? A first kiss? Maybe this boy wasn’t so bad after all. Bringing out her best flirtatious manner, she looked at him through her discreetly blackened eyelashes. “Only if you give me a proper kiss,” she said, softly.<br />Very politely, he complied. “Until next time, then?”<br />She nodded. “Until next time.”<br /> * * *<br />
  16. 16. Midina’s sponge squeaked cheerily against the tiles, and she paused to straighten up and listen for other noises within the apartment. Noises which would indicate that the babies were awake, hungry, or – in the case of Orion – systematically removing all of the pots and pans from the cabinets. <br />There was nothing. It would seem that they were still asleep. But it was such a relief to be able to stand up straight!<br />
  17. 17. With a small sigh, she left the bathroom and headed out to the miniscule balcony that overlooked the courtyard. She was nervous: nervous enough to clean the corners of the tiles in the bathroom, and fuss about the little white water marks on the showerhead that were impossible to get off. Perhaps it was the knowledge that, no matter how hard she might try to clean the new apartment, her friends back in Lake Valley had whole houses to keep clean. Yet she had never been ashamed before to show Chalimyra and Eluisa the meager gray rooms that she had inhabited, with Makir and the children, not too long ago.<br />
  18. 18. Midina Leans on Balcony<br />No. She knew it wasn’t just that. Chalimyra had a way of never seeming to compare two things – doubtless a trait that served her well in her legal career – and Eluisa understood. Eluisa probably knew what the root of the problem was better than Midina did herself.<br />I shouldn’t feel ashamed of my own home, she thought, though the knowledge did her no good. Not even if Viridia lives in a palace. Though, given how long it had been since she had seen the sprawling log-cabin that the Elvensongs lived in, it could very well have turned into a palace when she wasn’t looking. <br />
  19. 19. It was precisely those thoughts that she needed to get away from. She was happy here – the children were happy, and far safer than they ever had been back in the old neighborhood. That she and Makir could afford this apartment was a minor miracle in and of itself. <br />
  20. 20. The first thing that she had noticed about the building was the flowers. Though spring was generally slow in coming to the city, and showed little evidence when it did arrive, the courtyard was a riot of blooms. They were only daisies and common shrubs, but they were beautiful. There was something about them that caught at the heart, suggesting that this place could possibly be home. <br />
  21. 21. They had been looking at apartments for a little while – there just wasn’t room in the flat anymore – but this was one of the first that Midina didn’t immediately dislike. So many of them were grey and hopeless and in entirely the wrong side of town for children playing in the front yard. And that was in the cases where there actually was a yard.<br />She had seen cities before, and she knew what fate eventually awaited the children kept away from the sky between the grimy walls of alleyways and the dingy back gardens. And years ago, she had promised herself that Lydia’s life would be better than that, when, had it just been her own self, she would likely have given up. The same went for Orion and the unborn baby who protested climbing so many stairs by kicking at her pelvis.<br />
  22. 22. There were many units in the apartment complex, but somehow she knew the moment she stepped in the door. It was bright and clean, and she could already see the four of them eating breakfast, Orion rolling on the floor as Lydia tickled him, the new baby staring at them from a crib or a blanket. She hoped fiercely that the child looked like Makir, and for a moment, the future stretched out infinitely before them all.<br />But she had heard the prices earlier, and she had to keep a tight hold on her disappointment. The apartment was perfect. It was also worth far more than they could ever hope to afford.<br />
  23. 23. Needless to say, it had been a great shock to find out about the painting.<br />Makir had seen, despite how careful she had been, how this one apartment had caught at her secret hopes. And when he had walked up to the landlord and sealed the deal, she had been too startled to protest. It was only afterwards that she had been mortified at how much money the rent would take, and where Makir could possibly have gotten the simoleons for the deposit. <br />The painting had just been something that Makir did, often late at night when she and the children were asleep, and though she had always known he was an artist worthy of great fame, she had never dared to hope that success could come so quickly.<br />
  24. 24. It wasn’t until she had walked once more through the entire empty apartment, wandering into the three bedrooms and running her fingers over the freshly painted walls, touched the counters and the bathroom fixtures that she even believed it was true.<br />And when she had walked into what would soon be Orion’s room, and seen both the crib for the toddler he was and the full-sized bed for the boy he would soon become, she felt as if her heart was being squeezed. Happiness was it’s own kind of pain.<br />
  25. 25.
  26. 26. It was from the balcony that she saw them coming: and the arrival of her guests snapped her neatly and immediately out of her reverie.<br />
  27. 27. The crowd standing out in the courtyard had to go up the steps and through the door to the apartment in single file. Most of them wore smiles despite that fact – and the fact that Calla, Achenar, and Elirand were attempting, and failing, to all take the stairs at the same time, which was blocking traffic considerably. <br />Eluisa was the first one in the door. She was wearing a somewhat pensive expression, which cleared the moment that she saw Midina and Makir standing in the still-bare living room, waiting. <br />
  28. 28. “So, where is the birthday boy?” Eluisa asked, looking around as if she expected Orion to come toddling out to see her at any moment. She probably did – Orion was always happy to see his “aunties.”<br />“Upstairs, taking his nap,” Midina replied, still watching her friends file in, and wondering if her tiny apartment could hold them all. “Or he was, ten minutes ago. No doubt he’ll wake up soon and be yelling for attention.”<br />Lydia watched their conversation for a little while longer, but they didn’t do or say anything that she considered interesting. Actually, it seemed like they were trying not to say something.<br />
  29. 29. But she caught sight of a familiar head of red hair and immediately dismissed the thought.<br />Anariel looked lost, trailing into the apartment very slowly with her eyes pointed directly at the green carpet. Lydia didn’t like to see her friend looking sad, but fortunately, she knew all about how to fix that.<br />“Ana!” she yelled and ran forward to give her best friend a big, giant hug. <br />
  30. 30. “Eeek!” Anariel squeaked in alarm when she looked up to see Lydia jumping forward, about ready to tackle her. “Don’t do that, Lyd!”<br />Lydia gave her a quick hug anyway, and prepared to inform her best friend of everything that had gone on since they last saw each other.<br />
  31. 31. “I have my own little sister now,” she said, leaning towards Aranel’s ear, “Her name’s Delphina and Mom says she has Makir’s eyes, not like me and Orion.”<br />“That’s great,” Aranel replied, though without enthusiasm. Now that Lydia had a sister, would they be best friends anymore?<br />“Yup. And Mom says that I have to help teach her everything and protect her, just like Orion. You can meet him properly today once he’s grown up – he’s only a little bit younger than us.”<br />
  32. 32. “Ana? What’s wrong?” Lydia asked as her friend made a face and turned away.<br />“You won’t want to play with me anymore now,” Anariel stated bleakly, “not now that you have a sister to play with.”<br />“Of course I will!” Lydia replied immediately, “People don’t tell their friends to go away just because their mom had a baby, silly! And besides, she’s only a baby, and she’s not going to be big enough to play with for ages!” Anariel didn’t look convinced, so she tried a different tactic.<br />
  33. 33. “Anyhow, don’t worry about it,” she continued, “Because I’ll always like you best.”<br />“Really?” Anariel asked, not believing it, “Pinky swear?”<br />“Pinky swear forever,” Lydia replied, “Because we’re best friends, remember? Now stop worrying so much about everything! This is supposed to be a party!”<br />Aranel had to laugh at that. The two of them continued to talk, an island of their own, not noticing the chatter of the adults and older children, or the fact that Orion had been brought downstairs from his nap. <br />
  34. 34. “Psst,” Anariel said suddenly in Lydia’s ear, “this is a secret, so don’t tell anyone, but I really wish you were my sister instead of Aranel.” <br />She felt somewhat treacherous saying it, because Aranel was her big sister, after all, and she’d been less crabby lately, maybe even trying to be nice, or at least not mean. <br />“Why?” Lydia whispered back.<br />“Ara’s no fun,” Anariel replied, not wanting to go into all of it.<br />Lydia thought for a minute. “Well, it’s okay that you’re not my sister, because this way we can be something even better!”<br />
  35. 35. “Like what?” Anariel asked skeptically. She couldn’t think of anything better than spending all day, every day, with Lydia. At least not at the moment.<br />Lydia had to think for a moment. “We can have a secret,” she replied slowly, working it out, “And the secret is, we’ve pinky-sworn to be each other’s best friend forever. It’s better than sisters, because you can always have more brothers and sisters, but you only get to promise to be best friends forever once. And that means that no matter what, we’ll always be together.”<br />“Always and forever?”<br />“Of course.”<br />
  36. 36. Eluisa shifted her gaze from the two youngest girls to the rest of the party, just in time to see Viridia walk past, with a familiar expression on her face. It was the one she always used to wear just before she began arguing with Eluisa, and the fact that she’d just walked right past wearing it meant nothing good. <br />Eluisa sighed. She knew it was too much to hope that Viridia and Midina could magically put aside their differences just because she’d tricked them both into facing each other once more, but all the same, it would have just been easier. Especially now that their daughters were such good friends. <br />
  37. 37. Eluisa drifted towards the kitchen – not eavesdropping, exactly, but close enough to know if they started arguing. Close enough to intervene, if she had to. Viridia might be offended, Midina might have been acting foolishly, but neither of them was in possession of all the facts. Midina would tell Viridia when the time was right. <br />Of course, Viridia had all the tact of a rampaging bull.<br />“You never told me you were engaged,” she began, obviously trying to make small talk. Eluisa winced, while Midina fiddled with her ring uncomfortably. “How long has it been.”<br />
  38. 38. “A few months,” Midina replied, twisting her ring back and forth and not meeting Viridia’s eyes. She resolutely determined not to look up and see whether or not Viridia’s gaze shifted to the living room, where her son appeared oblivious to the rest of the party. “Lots has happened,” she replied lamely.<br />“Yes, lots has happened,” Viridia replied, a frown starting on her face, “And I’d have known about it already if you had ever bothered to talk to me.”<br />
  39. 39. Midina’s gaze snapped up. “Viridia…” she began, but Viridia didn’t let her get any further.<br />“You disappeared, Midina! We spent ages looking for you after you just snuck away! Do you know what that does to people – to wake up and find that one of their friends has decided to abandon them? You could have been anywhere – for all we knew, you’d died – and then when we find you living happily with your newest boyfriend, you expect everything to just be fine again?”<br />
  40. 40. “Viridia…”<br />“After you lied?” Viridia continued, “After you deserted us and ran away? After you couldn’t be bothered to call and at least let us know you were alive? How can you expect everyone to just accept your choices and pretend that nothing was ever wrong after you’ve done all of that?”<br />There was a momentary silence while the two women glared at each other. <br />
  41. 41. It was broken by Midina, who obviously was hoping to calm Viridia down. “Look, Viridia, there are reasons… If you’d only listen – Everything’s a lot better now than it was back then…”<br />Viridia, her anger mostly expended, turned away. “Don’t ask me to pretend to be happy for you, Midina,” she said. “Not after all of that. Not after you abandoned us for some random grey man.”<br />
  42. 42. That was the last straw. Though Midina was several inches shorter than her, the sudden cold fury in her words made Viridia back a few steps away.<br />“Abandoned you?” Midina replied, “God, Viri can you get any more self-centered? I left because I had no other choice, and while you were happy at home with you perfect little family I was working in a run-down bar so that my daughter could eat. And do you know what? I don’t care what you think about that.”<br />
  43. 43. “I don’t care what you think of my behavior,” she continued, her voice dangerously even, “I don’t care what you think of my choices, because you don’t know the first thing about my life. Go ahead, continue shunning me and refusing to allow me a chance to see you. Be judgmental, condemn me all you like for having three children out of wedlock and daring to fall in love with some “random grey man,” instead of having some fairy-tale romance, but you will leave my children and my fiancé out of it.”<br />
  44. 44. The first expression on Viridia’s face was one of shock. The next was impossible to see, as she turned her face to the window. Midina stood quietly, her brief anger expended. <br />“I never said that,” she said quietly, “I never meant that.”<br />“Well, it sure sounded like you did,” Midina replied coldly.<br />Viridia hung her head. There was a long silence before she continued. “I only ever wanted you to be safe. Happy, like the rest of us. And all that time, never able to discover whether you were dead or alive, always worrying… I don’t want to condemn you for anything, Midina. I… I didn’t mean to say that about your fiancé – It doesn’t matter if he’s blue with polka-dots, so long as he loves you and treats you right. I’m not going to try and change your life. I just want to know that you’re all right.”<br />
  45. 45. There was another silence between them, during which Viridia didn’t look up.<br />“Yes,” Midina replied heavily, “I am all right. I won’t pretend I didn’t make mistakes,” she continued, and her memory, for just a brief second, flickered backwards, “but without those mistakes, I’m not sure I’d be here now. I was too proud. I was too scared. I shouldn’t have shut you all out, and I’m sorry for that.”<br />Viridia looked up, to meet a small, somewhat sad smile on the face of her friend, and ventured a smile of her own in return. <br />
  46. 46. “It’s a good thing that our daughters aren’t as stubborn as we are,” Viridia ventured hesitantly.<br />Midina gave a small laugh. “I somehow doubt it. It’s just that they pick better things to be stubborn about.”<br />“I guess so,” Viridia replied. “Are you… do you think we could put this one aside?”<br />“I don’t know,” Midina replied, honestly, “Do you think so?”<br />“Yes,” Viridia nodded, “Though only if you promise to call.”<br />“I’ll call,” Midina confirmed, “But you’re getting properly introduced to my fiancé.”<br />
  47. 47. “Well, I think that settles that,” Makir declared, the wide grin on his face only visible to Eluisa at the far end of the counter. <br />Both Viridia and Midina looked around, embarrassed. It was clear that the other two had been present for some time. Eluisa smiled back and continued wiping down the counter. “I think it does,” she replied, satisfied. “Now, I think it’s about time for the cake.”<br />“Now, wait just a minute, Elu,” Viridia protested immediately, “You tricked both of us…”<br />
  48. 48. With everyone crowded into the apartment’s green and yellow kitchen, Midina bounced her laughing son in her arms one last time before he got too big. It didn’t worry her that each birthday marked the passage out of one irretrievable era into the next. Worries, after all, were for other days. The past was like an old, battered jacket, smelling of paint and coffee, which protected you from the rain. Heavy and stained and torn – but comfortable from the way you yourself had shaped it.<br />To cheers, she blew the candles out on the wish for a better future.<br />
  49. 49.
  50. 50.
  51. 51. Orion ran his fingers through his hair so that it stuck up on the top and inspected his brand-new clothes once in the mirror before he was satisfied. Out in the kitchen and living room, the adults were doing boring, adult things, and the cake was long gone, but he hurried anyway.<br />His shirt was on the right way and he’d managed to tie his shoes properly – it would have to do.<br />“All right,” he told his reflection, “It’s time to go on out and play with the big kids. <br />
  52. 52. The joys of childhood beckoned.<br /> * * *<br />
  53. 53. “Anyway, Nymea wants to know if I can come roller skating with her and one of the other girls from school on Saturday,” Aranel told her parents, hoping that playing her strongest card would get her what she wanted. Her mother and father, clueless as to the fact that Nymea had also participated in Aranel’s midnight escapade, still considered the other elven girl a ‘good influence.’<br />“They’re pretty much my two best friends at school,” she continued, “but I told Nymea that I would have to ask and see if I was un-grounded first.” She had to wait a minute for that to sink in, before she continued, sweetly, “So am I un-grounded?’<br />
  54. 54. Viridia exchanged glances with Haldir. Surely, Aranel had been grounded long enough to learn her lesson? And it wasn’t as if they were about to let her go out with the same friends who had gotten her into trouble in the first place.<br />Viridia did not want to prevent her daughter from spending time with her friends. She knew that there was never enough time.<br />“Nymea is a good girl,” she finally said, “Yes, you may go roller-skating on Saturday. But during the rest of the weekend, you may only go to Nymea’s house or run errands for me, and we’ll see how it is on Sunday night.”<br />
  55. 55. There. That was fair enough – Aranel wasn’t getting off lightly, but Viridia had been reasonable, too. Ara made a disappointed face and went back to eating her cereal.<br />Surprisingly, she didn’t try to argue the point further, and Viridia took it as a sign that she had, in fact, learned her lesson.<br />
  56. 56. Satisfied, Viridia went back to making plans with her son for his birthday party that evening. He wanted, of course, to share it with the twins, so Viridia and Chalimyra had come up with the scheme of holding his transition quickly at the Elvensongs’ house, then all running across to the Elkthorn residence for the twins’ transition. Achenar wanted to transition at the same time as the twins, but his parents had finally explained to him that it was impossible to transition on any lot but the one you lived in. <br />Now, Viridia was assuring her son that the weather would clear up by the time that he and the twins got out of school.<br />“Yes, of course it’s going to be sunny,” she told him for the third time, “Just not until this afternoon.”<br />
  57. 57. “Mama,” Anariel piped up from her seat next to Achenar, “May I bring Lydia to the party?”<br />Viridia inwardly cringed a little. If she hadn’t been so stubborn, so unreasonable, in the first place, her youngest daughter wouldn’t even have had to ask that. She would have known Lydia from the very beginning of her childhood, the way Achenar had known the twins.<br />“Of course you may,” she replied warmly, hoping that it wasn’t entirely too late to make up for lost time.<br />
  58. 58. “Of course she gets permission to hang out with her friends,” Aranel grumbled into her cereal. Viridia didn’t hear her, but Anariel did. She turned to her sister with an accusing expression.<br />“At least my friends aren’t rude like yours,” she replied petulantly.<br />“What friends?” Aranel shot back under her breath, “you mean friend, since you only have one. And that’s why you’re always trying to tag along with me, isn’t it?”<br />“No it’s not,” Ana protested, but her sister had already finished.<br />
  59. 59. Anariel stared at her cereal as her older sister got up and put her dishes in the sink. She shouldn’t have said anything. <br />She knew Aranel could be a good big sister – after all, Achenar wouldn’t look up to her so much if she wasn’t – but Ana always seemed to be the one who made her get angry and mean. <br />It would be different, she thought, if Lydia was her sister. Lydia would have been a good bigger sister, even if she was only a few days older. She would have looked out for Anariel instead of always getting irritated with her like Aranel did.<br /> * * * <br />
  60. 60. It was a warm spring day, clouds drifting about the edges of the sky promising eventual rain, and best of all, it was a Friday. <br />Though she would never actually admit to it, Nymea liked high school. And why shouldn’t she? Her friends were there, and everyone knew her name and who she was. She and her friends ruled the school. Also, when she was at school, she wasn’t at home. She could forget that the house was old and worn down and didn’t even have a television. <br />Or, she would have been able to forget, if it weren’t for two nagging reminders who had to walk immediately behind her. <br />
  61. 61. Why couldn’t she have been born an only child? Well, technically she had, and she could only assume that contraceptives hadn’t been invented in the crummy elven kingdom of wherever, because her parents had immediately ruined a good thing by producing her pathetic brother and sniveling idiot of a sister. It was bad enough being related to them – having to acknowledge them to the rest of the school would be pure torture. <br />“Rean, take Ida and scram,” she instructed her brother coldly. “I don’t want to have to look at either of you.”<br />
  62. 62. Fortunately, Nymea didn’t have any classes with Rean, and Idalese was too much younger, so she was able, most days, to pretend that they didn’t exist. And all but one of her friends was oblivious to the fact that they did.<br />“And then Mrs. Crackel fell asleep in the middle of the movie,” Aranel was saying. “And snored through the whole thing – we could hardly hear the narrator. But the best part is that, when the narrator said ‘this is the mating call of the male bullfrog,’ she snored so loudly that we couldn’t hear it at all!”<br />Debbie giggled, Sharlene smirked, and Amy simply looked bored. Then again, Amy almost always looked bored. <br />
  63. 63. “Really, do we have to talk about classes?” Amy sighed, “They’re boring enough when we’re actually in them.”<br />Debbie giggled some more – the stupid girl thought almost everything was funny – and Sharlene raised an eyebrow. But the criticism seemed to slide off Aranel like water off of a duck’s back. Amy was very good at making other people remember exactly who they were and who they were talking to: Aranel seemed to just ignore it.<br />
  64. 64. “We could talk about politics instead,” Aranel offered, to a collective groan. “There’s some sort of scandal going on with one of the representatives.”<br />“How boring,” Amy drawled. She dragged it out like a socialite would pronounce dah-ling, and seemed like she enjoyed doing so. “In any case, don’t you know that you are not supposed to talk about business or politics in polite company?”<br />“No wonder there’s never a civil discussion to be had about them,” Aranel replied, “If they’re only ever spoken of in impolite company.” She smiled a little, confident that she had just scored a point.<br />
  65. 65. She waited a tick. From the four blank faces that surrounded her, no one had gotten it.<br />“In any case, what was it that you wanted to talk about, Nymea?” she added quickly knowing that a good half of Amy’s conversations started with the words “my parents” and got worse from there. Nymea had been very anxious to tell her about something before the bell rang that morning, but Aranel didn’t have homeroom or any morning classes with the other four, in part because she’d elected to take band and art, despite the fact that her friends thought that both subjects were ‘lame.’<br />
  66. 66. Nymea brightened up instantly.<br />“Well, as of just last night, I officially have a boyfriend,” she proclaimed proudly. There were murmurs, sounding pleased, coming from the far end of the table where Sharlene and Debbie sat, and Nymea preened a little, brushing a strand of hair back behind her ear. “Gavin called and said that he wanted to go on another date with me tonight. I think he’s buying me dinner and a movie.”<br />
  67. 67. “Ohmigod, that’s soooo adorable!” Debbie giggled. Sharlene winced as their friend went into rabid romantic mode. “Has he kissed you yet? Are you going steady? Did he send you roses?”<br />“Let her answer a question before you ask another one,” Sharlene told her, to no effect.<br />“Now, I just bet he’s so handsome and a perfect gentleman,” Debbie continued, slightly less giddy than before, “And you just have to let us meet him! Maybe he has hot friends… What school did you say he goes to?”<br />
  68. 68. A corner of Nymea’s self-satisfied smile sagged. Aranel wondered why for a moment, then turned her attention back to what her friend was actually saying.<br />“Actually, it never came up,” she replied, slowly at first. “It’s downtown – but how pathetic would it have been if we ran out of things to talk about and had to talk about school on a first date?” She gave a little laugh.<br />
  69. 69. “That’s what making out is for,” Sharlene replied with a wicked grin, “To stop you from talking about things that are lame.”<br />Debbie looked scandalized, so Aranel, Nymea and Amy laughed at her. Egged on, Sharlene continued.<br />“For example, if Nymea’s boyfriend starts talking about school, or worse yet, politics –” she darted a grin at Aranel, who took the jibe as it was intended, “Nymea can just pucker up and…”<br />Everyone but Nymea and Debbie dissolved into laughter.<br />
  70. 70. It wasn’t until a scandalized Debbie had begun an argument with Sharlene over how un-romantic she was, with Amy injecting her opinion at different points, that Aranel turned to Nymea. <br />“When is your date tonight?” she asked, thinking quickly, “Because if it’s after six or so, you can still make it to the party at my house.” It was Achenar’s birthday, after all, and Nymea had been to every birthday party at Aranel’s house since they’d become teens.<br />She expected Nymea to accept the offer, as she always did, through a screen of complaints about how lame little kids’ parties always were. She was surprised to discover that this wasn’t the case.<br />
  71. 71. “Please, Aranel.” Nymea replied, exasperated, “As if I’d spend time at a kids’ party when I have a date tonight.”<br />It was very seldom that Aranel couldn’t think of something to say to Nymea. But she hadn’t expected that.<br />“I just thought…” she finally managed. But it wasn’t enough, and she couldn’t sound as casual as she wanted.<br />Nymea sighed, “Aranel, really. I’m sick of going to your house because you got grounded. I don’t really care about your brother or sister or whoever’s birthday. I am going out on a date and I intend to have a good time.”<br />
  72. 72. Nymea wasn’t even looking at her, so she couldn’t see how fake the smile that Aranel was wearing was. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway – Nymea was still talking.<br />“Anyhow, if I don’t go on any more dates this weekend, maybe we can go out shopping or something. I definitely need new clothes. Oh wait, you’re still grounded aren’t you? Aranel?”<br />“Yeah. Your house and errands only, except for roller skating.” Aranel replied through the stiffness of her fake smile. <br />Nymea gave an irritated sigh. “Well, at least it’s not your house. We’ll have to put off shopping until you can talk some sense into your parents…”<br />There was some more conversation during the rest of lunch, but Aranel didn’t hear it.<br />* * *<br />
  73. 73. “No, thank you, I understand,” Ginger said. “Yes, we can be there on Saturday. Yes, I know. Thank you.”<br />There was a click from the other end, and she sighed. Less than twenty-four hours notice – she could only assume that the court system had already come to it’s conclusion. She didn’t know what she should do, but if she’d insisted that they reschedule, would they have dismissed her as a temperamental teen, or would they have recognized that with all her other obligations, there was no way that she and her siblings could be ready for their hearing so quickly?<br />
  74. 74. “Well, that’s it, Gavin,” she said, “They scheduled the hearing for two o’clock on Saturday.”<br />“Saturday?” Gavin asked incredulously, “They think we’ll be ready for a hearing by Saturday?”<br />Ginger gave him a level look which told him all he needed to know. Of course they wouldn’t be ready for a hearing on Saturday. The Department of Social Work knew that all too well. But that didn’t mean that they didn’t have to try. <br />“I’ll join you in a minute,” Gavin sighed, “I just have to cancel my date.”<br />He was absolutely certain that, given the circumstances, she would understand. <br />
  75. 75. “Hello, Greenleaf residence, Nymea speaking – Oh, hello Gavin!” Nymea answered the phone cheerily, anticipating her date with excitement. “Are you as excited about this movie as I am? It’s going to be so perfect, and of course I have some suggestions for some very nice restaurants for dinner…”<br />There was a sigh on the other end of the line as she chattered on.<br />“Nymea… I’m going to have to cancel. Just for tonight. There’s – something of a family crisis going on.”<br />
  76. 76. “Family crisis?” she replied sharply, “Can’t your parents deal with it?”<br />“No, actually.” Gavin replied, “I need to take care of my brothers and sisters tonight, okay? I promise I’ll make it up to you later.”<br />“You call to cancel three hours before a date?” Nymea asked incredulously. “Do you have any idea of how much I’ll be missing because you planned a date you can’t even make it to?”<br />“Look, I said I was sorry,” Gavin replied, “It’s not like this is something I plan on having happen again -”<br />“It better not be.”<br />
  77. 77. “But I’m really sorry and I swear I will never let this happen again,” Gavin continued, “And I have a good explanation – I promise I’ll tell you everything when we meet up again.”<br />“Fine,” Nymea huffed. It really wasn’t fine with her – she was extremely ticked that Gavin hadn’t thought of her at all when he promised to help his parents or whatever – but she didn’t want to loose her boyfriend, not after having paid good money to the matchmaker. <br />“Thanks. I’m really sorry – but I promise I’ll go out with you next week. You’re the best, Nymea.”<br />
  78. 78. Of course I am. “All right, then I forgive you this time,” Nymea conceded graciously. She would have to avoid any questions about the date tomorrow. What a chore – she’d been planning on calling Aranel to gloat at the earliest opportunity. “But you had better follow through on your promise to take me somewhere great next week.”<br />“Don’t worry,” Gavin replied, “I will. See you next time.”<br />“Goodbye.” Nymea looked at the phone. Strangely, he’d seemed like he was a little upset towards the end of the call. Maybe it had finally sunk in for him exactly how inconvenient this was for her.<br /> * * *<br />
  79. 79. “Two for flinching!” Elirand called out gleefully.<br />“I did not!” Achenar protested. Elirand thumped his right arm twice anyways. “In about ten minutes, I’m going to be twice your size,” Achenar informed his friend, rubbing his arm, “So you’d better be careful. I’ll push you over.”<br />Elirand just laughed. “Yeah, but you’re going to be twice my size for what, about half an hour?”<br />He was right. Achenar shrugged. “Where’d Calla go?”<br />Elirand looked around and saw that they were alone. “I think she’s trying to sneak cake.”<br />
  80. 80. Calla was, in fact, inside, enjoying a last game of Don’t wake the Llama, as she was unsure of whether she would grow out of it when she became a teen. It was also a chance to talk to Lydia and Orion, who she didn’t know very well yet, while they were all still children.<br />She was old enough already, however, to understand that Eluisa was cheating, deliberately trying to let the younger kids win by placing easy straws when she could have easily forced them to knock over the whole tower. <br />
  81. 81. Despite the unusually high number of sims present, Achenar’s birthday was supposed to be a quick party – the real celebrating would be done at the Elkthorns’ house later that night, after the twins aged up. <br />And since the party was a quick one, there was a good excuse on hand for the adults not to talk to one another if they didn’t want to. Achenar watched as Midina and Makir took up a position on the side of the cake furthest away from Viridia. Being an adult apparently wasn’t all that different from being a kid, then.<br />
  82. 82. In the rush to get his candles blown out, he almost forgot to make his wish. <br />Adventure forever, he thought as the last of the smoke spiraled upwards, with Calla and Elirand, of course. <br />No sooner had he thought that than the half-remembered tingling started in his toes, moving upwards through his knees. He’d made his wish just in time.<br />
  83. 83. The last thought of his childhood, as the swarm of sparkling lights and confetti engulfed him, was to wonder what Calla and Elirand were going to wish for. He hoped it was something good, but he couldn’t ask them or it wouldn’t come true.<br />Secrets were something of an annoyance.<br />
  84. 84. “Well, that’s not bad,” Achenar said, looking at the arms of his leather jacket. The feel of leather on his skin was a little strange, but he could get used to it. It looked cool.<br />There was laughter from across the living room.<br />“You’d better look further down, Achenar,” Aranel told him. “Those shorts…”<br />A short glance down confirmed that the shorts were green, baggy, and, well…<br />“All right, I’m going to go change now,” Achenar announced.<br />
  85. 85. He changed in a hurry and came back quickly enough that he almost ran into Calla. <br />“Why the long face?” he asked her, looking down an unusually long distance. He liked it better when they were all the same height.<br />“You got really tall,” Calla said, a trace wistfully. “And me and Elirand are still short.”<br />
  86. 86. “Oh.”<br />There was a moment of silence as both of them adjusted to the momentary inequality. It was odd for Achenar to look down at Calla and think that he’d been the same height only moments ago. Being a teenager didn’t feel different – not yet, anyways. But it felt like there was a barrier between them now, and he didn’t like it at all.<br />“Yeah, I guess I did.” Achenar continued lamely. “Still, there’s about twenty minutes until we have to go over for your party – I won’t be taller than you for long.” Or older. As far as he was concerned, being a teen while his friends were still children was just awkward.<br />
  87. 87. “Good.” And for the first time in his life, Achenar had to bend over to give Calla a hug. <br />“I’ve got to make sure you’re still the same Achenar on the inside,” she explained. “Even when we’re different sizes. I’m not sure what I’d do if you weren’t.”<br />Weirdly, Achenar was comforted by that, even while his teenage brain thought that it seemed like a childish thing to say.<br />“Don’t worry Calla,” he replied, “I’ll never change. I’ll never want to.”<br />“Then don’t.”<br />
  88. 88. “Guys!” yelled Elirand from across the room, “Hurry up, everyone else’s ready to leave! You’re so slow…”<br />Their hug ended, Calla and Achenar straightened up. Calla wore an enormous grin on her face.<br />“You do realize we’re making Elirand wait to grow up, don’t you? Is that so you can gloat that you’re taller than him for a little while longer?” she asked mischievously. <br />“Well, no, not really,” Achenar replied.<br />“It’s your last chance,” Calla told him, grabbing his hand and pulling him towards the door, “because now it’s time for my birthday.”<br />
  89. 89. Several minutes later, they all found themselves on the beach at the Elkthorns’ house, standing in front of a pair of birthday cakes. It took a while, however, for everyone to gather around the twins and their cakes, continually shifting for a better view. <br />
  90. 90. The twins traded a final glance once everyone had a found a spot where they were able to see. <br />“You ready yet?” Elirand asked his sister. <br />“Of course,” she replied. “Same time?”<br />“Duh,” Elirand rolled his eyes, “like I’d try to grow up without you, even if I am older.<br />“Only by a minute!” Calla protested, and the two of them blew out their candles at the exact same time. <br />
  91. 91.
  92. 92.
  93. 93. And with that, the twins joined Achenar once more. They spent a few moments reveling in the novelty of their new height – Elirand flexing his new muscles until his sister poked him with her elbow – and then both retreated indoors. Elirand was already complaining about “grandpa pants” and not being “that much of a prep,” but Calla, who liked her transition outfit enough to keep it, only stepped in for a moment to fix her hair and then came back out. <br />
  94. 94. She was in and back out before Elirand, who had been held up by a conversation he’d started with Eluisa, had the chance to even get inside.<br />Achenar experienced a moment of confusion. Of course he recognized her – she was still Calla - but she didn’t look the same. It was a relief to be the same height again, but it was still unsettlingly different.<br />“Achenar? ‘Enar, stop zoning out on me.” Calla cut into his thoughts. “Come on, pay attention here.”<br />“Huh? Oh, yeah…”<br />
  95. 95. He was unprepared when she engulfed him in a hug.<br />“None of us have changed,” she reminded him, “we’re just taller now. So stop looking like you’ve seen a ghost!”<br />“I actually wouldn’t mind seeing a ghost,” he admitted, “just to prove that they exist, of course.”<br />“Me neither. You ended up a knowledge sim too? Great!”<br />“It just seemed right,” he admitted.<br />She squeezed him tighter. “Same here.”<br />“You can stop squishing me now, Calla.”<br />
  96. 96. “Oh, sorry.” Her look of remorse was fleeting, however, as another thought crossed her mind. “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if it turned out that all three of us were knowledge?”<br />“Yeah, it would,” Achenar agreed. They always did everything together, after all. It stood to reason that choosing their aspirations would be the same – and really, the twins weren’t much different than him. Now that he thought of it, he couldn’t see Elirand picking anything other than knowledge. All the adventures they had planned to go on as children had obviously been the result of an overactive sense of curiosity.<br />“Let’s go in and ask him then,” Calla replied, and they headed inside.<br />
  97. 97. “Knowledge? No, I chose fortune as my aspiration. Like dad. What makes you think…” Elirand trailed off as he put two and two together, with the pair of faces regarding him. “Let me guess. Both of you chose knowledge.”<br />There was a pair of nods, and Elirand sighed into the swift summer darkness that had fallen as the whole party headed inside. He hadn’t thought of aspirations until just a few minutes ago, but if he had thought of it, he wouldn’t have guessed at this outcome. Aspiration wasn’t a big deal… but he hadn’t expected them to be united where he was alone.<br />“Huh. I thought Calla would be fortune or popularity,” he confessed. <br />
  98. 98. “All four of my outgoing points must have lead you to that conclusion,” Calla replied dryly. To all appearances, she was considering her next move – all three of them were trying very hard to dispel the tension that each was convinced existed only in their own minds.<br />“Hey, unlike some people, you don’t act like you only have four,” Elirand protested, “and just because you’re both knowledge sims does not mean you get to start ribbing me if I ever get something wrong.”<br />
  99. 99. “Come on, Elirand,” Achenar intervened before the twins could start arguing. “We don’t think you’re stupid just because you’re a fortune sim. I bet you there’ll be some knowledge sims at high school who can hardly tie their own shoes.”<br />“Then don’t start by making digs at me,” Elirand grumbled.<br />“I was not,” Calla replied with dignity, “so don’t start by assuming that I am.”<br />“Aspiration’s not a big deal anyway,” Achenar put in, before they could start a new argument about who was assuming what. “Now let’s go upstairs or something.”<br />
  100. 100. Getting a large portion of the party upstairs and dancing proved to be just what the doctor ordered. The three teens quickly forgot their arguments and put aside the worries that had started them, and tried to stay in step with the infamous smustle. They watched as Makir and Midina packed up their children, and then they smustled well into the night.<br />
  101. 101. But Achenar couldn’t help but wonder. Things as they had always known them were different now. He couldn’t exactly put his finger on why, unless it was all the new thoughts and emotions that were still racing around his head as a result of the transition. Aranel hadn’t seemed this confused when she aged up… then again, Aranel was never confused about anything.<br />Still, bringing these things up was likely to get another pointless argument started. It was better to just pretend to let things go, and hope that things settled down and became normal once more after a few days.<br />Calla, however, seemingly had other plans.<br />
  102. 102. “Hey, Aranel!” she called out, “come dance with us!”<br />“Maybe not,” Aranel replied as she took in their unskilled spinning and clapping.<br />“Come on! At least tell us about high school!”<br />“There’s really not much to hear,” Aranel confessed, “There’s teachers, homework, and other kids. That’s about it.”<br />“What are the classes like?”<br />“Crowded. Usually noisy. We’ve got some good teachers though.”<br />Achenar stopped paying attention to their conversation there. <br />
  103. 103. It was only a few moments, though, before the dancing broke up.<br />“Augh, get off Calla,” Aranel complained, though anyone with eyes could see that she wasn’t as mad as she pretended to be. “You don’t have to hug me.”<br />Chuckling, Achenar turned around. “You’d better let go before she starts getting cranky,” he said.<br />“This is what happens when you shrimps are the same height as me,” Aranel groused.<br />“I think it’s time you stopped calling us shrimps, Ara,” Calla put in mischievously, “there’s three of us and only one of you!”<br />
  104. 104. Aranel moved off almost immediately, only to be followed by Elirand.<br />“What?” she asked, when he tapped her shoulder.<br />“Does your aspiration really make you smarter or dumber?” he asked, worriedly.<br />“Of all the stupid… of course it doesn’t!” She exclaimed, “You don’t see me being some sort of giggly bimbo just because my aspiration’s popularity, do you?”<br />Elirand looked relieved. “Well, it’s just that my lifetime want is to become Chief of Staff, and that kind of sounds like it should be a knowledge one…”<br />
  105. 105. “Nope, there’s lots of money in medicine too,” she reassured him. Then, seeing that he still looked downcast, she reached out and gave him an awkward hug. <br />“Hey, I heard about it,” she said, “Don’t get disappointed just because your twin has a different aspiration. It’s not like you have to be exactly the same, is it?”<br />“But Achenar’s knowledge too, and…”<br />“You only get one hug, so don’t waste it,” Aranel told him. “And for crying out loud, why is aspiration suddenly such a big deal anyway?”<br />
  106. 106. But despite the older teen’s advice, and the fact that the dancing picked up once more, Elirand couldn’t help but feel isolated during the rest of the party. Achenar and Calla were clearly having a good time, chattering and laughing, but Elirand wasn’t certain he could join them just yet. <br />As a little kid, he’d worried that being friends with Achenar would mean that there would be less of Calla to be just his twin. He’d more or less dismissed that worry… until now. He’d been prepared to share his sister’s friendship, but he knew that it would be horrible if Achenar managed to take it all for himself.<br /> * * *<br />
  107. 107. “Come on, sliding’s fun!” Lydia yelled, encouraging her best friend to climb faster up the play structure and try it herself, “You know we don’t get to spend enough time together.”<br />It was true – between going to different schools and living in different neighborhoods, chances to play together were few and far between. They were much to precious to waste worrying, but Ana was worried anyway. Next week, as she had been told by all her teachers the previous day, was the big speech contest for her school. It wasn’t really a big deal if she lost – the winner would be awarded a scholarship to private school – but she hated talking to lots of strange people. <br />
  108. 108. “Lydia,” she asked as her friend ascended to the top of the tower, “do you think that there’s any way that I could get out of the speech competition?”<br />“You mean, like faking sick?” Lydia replied. “Nah. I don’t think any of the judges would buy it.”<br />“But I don’t have anything to say!” Anariel protested, “I mean, I don’t like talking to so many people, it makes me feel like I ate something squirmy, and I don’t have a speech for the contest anyway. Couldn’t I just sit out?”<br />
  109. 109. “Weren’t you supposed to write one?” Lydia asked. <br />“Well, yeah. But I don’t know what to say!”<br />“Just say any old thing,” Lydia told her, “You could write a speech about aliens. Or about protecting our fort from boys -”<br />“We don’t have to do that here anymore, Lydia. My brother’s a teen now and he’s over at his friends’ house anyway.”<br />“Check anyhow,” Lydia told her, and Ana scanned the conspicuously boy-free horizon. “And you don’t have any trouble talking about stuff normally, why’s it so hard to write it down and read it?”<br />
  110. 110. “Um, I don’t know… maybe because there’s too many people there and I don’t know them.”<br />“Well, just pretend you’re talking to someone you do know,” Lydia told her, “like me. And stop worrying about it, I thought you wanted to play pirates?”<br />“Aye aye, captain!”<br />“All right, then tell me what you can see from the crow’s nest.”<br />“Um, my house and our moms, sitting on the porch.”<br />“… You know you’re supposed to make something up, right?”<br />
  111. 111. “Look at them,” Viridia said, “not a care in the world.”<br />“Yeah,” Midina replied absently. “I’m glad Lydia can get out here… playing with Ana’s a nice change from bossing her brother around. He idolizes her, of course, but I’m glad they both have other friends.”<br />“Lydia’s a good friend for Ana,” Viridia agreed carefully. “She needs to be brought out of her shell.”<br />“Well, Lydia’s the person for that.” There was a pause, while both of them watched their girls shriek and run.<br />“You know, I am sorry,” Viridia offered. “I… well, I’m glad that you’re back.”<br />Midina thought for a moment, then nodded. “It is good to be back. And… I forgive you. Or at least, I’m willing to try to. It’s stupid to continue fighting about something that’s in the past now.”<br /> * * *<br />
  112. 112. “The two of you are already thinking about scholarships?” Achenar asked, stunned, “But, we’ve been teens for only a day!”<br />Calla shrugged. “We both aged up only a few skill points away from a bunch of them, as our father was so quick to point out. And you have to admit that they will help with college.”<br />“Come on, they’re free money,” Elirand put in.<br />“I guess it’s too late to be surprised that you’re both already thinking about college,” Achenar replied. <br />
  113. 113. “Yeah, kind of.”<br />Calla rolled her eyes, but her twin couldn’t see it. “It’s not like we’re going tomorrow, Achenar. After all, your sister’s going to be a teen soon – okay, not very soon, but soon enough – and we have all of high school ahead of us. Plenty of time for all of us to earn some scholarships.”<br />“Remember, free money,” Elirand chipped in, “Not much beats that. Though I have to say, college sounds like it’s going to be great.”<br />“We haven’t even been to high school yet!”<br />“Oh yeah. I forgot about that. Say, do you think that Meadow girl grew up too? She was in our class.”<br />
  114. 114. Calla rolled her eyes again. “I have been telling you all morning that I have no idea. And I don’t need to hear another word on your speculations about what Meadow will look like grown up.”<br />“Hey,” Elirand said, hauling himself up off the arm of the couch, “I can’t help it if I think she’s probably hot.”<br />“You haven’t even seen her again yet! And last time you did, she threw a shoe at you because you told her you were going to infect her with cooties!”<br />“But she’s blonde…”<br />“Augh!”<br />Achenar just watched. It seemed like things were mostly back to normal. <br />
  115. 115. The contentious subject of Meadow Thayer notwithstanding, the three of them spent the morning talking about more or less the same things as they had when they were children. All three of them agreed that several of their childhood schemes, such as riding a rocket to the moon, were unlikely to work, but there were some good ideas hidden in there all the same. And now that they were teenagers, with the ability to go places and do things for themselves, they were bound to have some great adventures. They could go exploring in Bluewater Villiage and Downtown, where they had never been before.<br />
  116. 116. But all of that could wait a few days, at least. Today it was hot and sunny, perfect weather for swimming. So the three of them put on their suits and headed down to the beach.<br />Achenar couldn’t help but notice that while his suit and Elirand’s were basically the same as their swimsuits from when they were kids, Calla’s was not.<br />And… well, there might be something to what Elirand said about girls. Not Calla, obviously, she was his best friend, but girls in general. They were suddenly a lot harder to figure out than when he’d been a kid. <br />
  117. 117. “Hurry up, slowpoke!” Calla chastised him, splashing water backwards at him, “You swam here before, nothing’s going to eat your toes.”<br />“What about that crab you found that one time?” Achenar asked her. <br />“Pfft. You know that crabs only like to pinch fingers,” Calla replied, “Now get in the water before I make you get in.”<br />Achenar just grinned as he waded in. It seemed like some things stayed the same, no matter what. <br />
  118. 118. Worrying about silly things like aspiration and college seemed like a waste of time in the bright morning light. <br />After all, Calla and Elirand were his best friends, and had been for years. Nothing would ever really change between them. <br /> * * *<br />
  119. 119. Roller skating was not as much fun as Aranel had thought it would be. Of course, the five girls had hardly even managed to get their skates on yet, so maybe it would improve once they were actually out on the rink. But somehow, she doubted it. <br />“Wow, I didn’t peg either of you for Renaissance Fair freaks,” Amy St. Julien was saying, looking Aranel and Nymea’s long dresses up and down, “Just goes to show, doesn’t it? What do you dress up for Halloween as, normal people?”<br />Amy was apparently under the impression that her choice of conversation topics was polite and funny. <br />
  120. 120. Nymea didn’t appear to be taking any of it well. Aranel knew that she had no dearer ambition than to be just like the other girls, and in any case Aranel wasn’t going to put up with Amy’s stupidity any longer. <br />“Excuse me?” she said angrily, “These clothes are part of our heritage. If you’ve got a problem with us being elves, then why don’t you just say so?”<br />Amy backed off quickly. “Geez, guys,” she said, “I was only making a joke. Don’t you know how to take a joke?”<br />“I think your sense of humor needs adjusting,” Aranel grumbled to herself, but Amy didn’t hear. <br />
  121. 121. “Well, of course you couldn’t have known,” Nymea told Amy in a superior tone, “You’ve probably never seen authentic elf fashions before, given how expensive they are.”<br />Amy’s attention had returned to Nymea, who smoothed the fabric of her hated dress over her knee. Aranel knew she was lying, but decided that Amy deserved to be lied to.<br />“Each one is imported and hand-stitched,” she continued, as Amy’s mouth hung there. “They’re very exclusive.”<br />“Aren’t you afraid you’ll ruin them roller skating?” Debbie finally piped up. <br />Nymea just laughed. “There’s more where these came from, Debs.”<br />Aranel, unseen by the rest, just rolled her eyes. <br />
  122. 122. Once they finally made it out onto the rink, there was much less time and energy for idle discussions. Especially not about fashion. Though Aranel had to admit that Debbie probably had the right idea, wearing capris which didn’t tangle her legs up when she fell down. <br />
  123. 123. However, it took less than an hour for the other girls to become tired, or bored of skating, and they all ended up in the lounge area, trying to talk over the sounds of some horribly high-pitched pop singer on the stereo. There was laughter in their conversation: Amy was quick to note that the pop singer had probably started their career when her grandparents had been young, and that the décor of the whole skating rink looked “like the eighties threw up,” but Aranel quickly grew bored. The conversations that Nymea had with Amy were so trivial, and Debbie was something of an airhead. <br />
  124. 124. Finally, Sharlene stood up. “It’s about time to go, guys,” she said, looking mostly at Amy and Debbie.<br />“Go? We just got here,” Nymea replied.<br />“Well, Amy and Debbie and I have somewhere we were supposed to be,” Sharlene replied, obviously uncomfortable.<br />“Yeah,” Amy pitched in, with a sickly-sweet smile at Nymea, “Sharlene has invited Debbie and I to a party at her house. It’s going to be awesome – she has a pool and a hot tub. It’s a sleepover too, and we’re probably going to be there until really late on Sunday.”<br />
  125. 125. There was a long and awkward silence as Sharlene and Debbie headed towards the doors, and Nymea got up automatically before remembering that she hadn’t been invited. But of course, Amy couldn’t resist a parting shot as she walked out the doors. <br />“Have a good time at the skating rink for the rest of this afternoon, girls,” she said, shooting them the finger guns as she left, “See you at school on Monday.”<br />
  126. 126. Aranel and Nymea sat in silence for a minute. Aranel just simply couldn’t believe the nerve of Amy – and people claimed that she was rude! While Nymea was in some sort of shock. Amy had clearly won this round.<br />“Well, there’s nothing stopping us from going back out on the rink now that the others are gone,” Aranel offered, finally.<br />“Really?” Nymea asked incredulously, “how boring.”<br />Aranel tried very hard not to roll her eyes. “We’re still downtown and we told our parents we’d be back for dinner,” she pointed out, “We might as well make the most of it. We can find something else to do.”<br />
  127. 127. For a city with so many interesting businesses, downtown was certainly a very boring place. There wasn’t anything cool or fun to do – or anything that Aranel could get Nymea to do for more than a quarter of an hour, anyway. According to Nymea, roller skating was boring and had been out of fashion since the dinosaurs walked sim earth, bowling was lame and “a sport for fat kids,” and the arcade was “a waste of time and only fit for ugly nerds anyway.” Of course, bowling had cost money, and even though Aranel offered to give Nymea a turn at the pinball machine, she’d run out of quarters pretty quickly. Nymea just wasn’t any good at pinball or bowling. <br />
  128. 128. “Then what do you want to do?” Aranel finally demanded, having had enough of playing a “stupid” game of pool with Nymea, who obviously didn’t want to be there. She was tired of her suggestions getting shot down as fast as she could make them. Museums were lame, filled with “gross old people,” and worst of all, educational. City parks and gardens were supposedly boring to a deadly degree, and the live art and music shows were “pretentious.”<br />“I told you that downtown is snoresville until all the clubs open,” Nymea replied with a shrug.<br />
  129. 129. Aranel shot her a glare. “If everything’s so crappy, why did you want to come here in the first place?” she snapped.<br />“Gee, Aranel, take it easy. There’s no need to be so crabby about it.”<br />“You still haven’t answered my first question,” Aranel replied, trying very hard not to shout at her friend, “you’re the supposed expert, why don’t you find us something to do?”<br />Nymea laughed. “You’re so naive, Aranel. Anything actually worth doing downtown costs money, and you blew all our cash on bowling and stupid arcade games.”<br />
  130. 130. “Excuse me, our cash? I paid for a full game of bowling and you wanted to leave after the third frame!”<br />“Well, I can’t help that you choose to spend your money on lame things,” Nymea replied, calmly chalking up her pool cue. “And I wish you wouldn’t get so uptight about it. You need anger management, fast.”<br />Aranel tried very hard not to imagine throwing her pool cue at the other elf. It didn’t work.<br />“In any case, since you’re so desperate for something to do, let’s leave this blue and orange hole in the wall and go somewhere else.”<br />
  131. 131. “Shopping,” Aranel grumbled to an overpriced decorative vase, “The thing that’s so much more exciting than bowling, roller skating, pool and video games is shopping?”<br />She wondered if someone had reached into Nymea’s head and scrambled her brains. Shopping was about the most boring thing she could think of, offhand.<br />“Well, it’s certainly more important,” Nymea replied, picking through a rack in the boutique she had selected. <br />“And you’re the one who has no money…” Aranel grumbled.<br />
  132. 132. There was quiet from behind her, as she poked listlessly at a sculpture of a frog. It seemed as if Nymea had even stopped picking through the racks. <br />“How rude of you,” Nymea said finally, “to be commenting on how poor my family is.”<br />Aranel knew that with respect to finances, her family was doing just fine. They just didn’t spend as much as the families of a lot of girls at school – and with good reason, they were still working on building the house. But she’d forgotten that money was always a sore spot with Nymea. <br />
  133. 133. But when Nymea came out of the dressing room, she changed the subject as if nothing had ever happened.<br />“Don’t you think that this dress looks beautiful on me?” she asked.<br />“Yeah, it does,” Aranel replied without conviction, thinking that she’d settle for a pair of jeans.<br />“I think I could wear it next time I go on a date with Gavin,” Nymea continued.<br />Grateful to be talking about something that wasn’t clothes, Aranel changed the subject quickly. “Yeah, how did that go?’<br />
  134. 134. “Mmm,” Nymea replied vaguely, inspecting the dress in the mirror. It was a pity that she didn’t have the money for it – it fit her beautifully.<br />Someday, she promised herself, I will have enough money to buy anything I like. <br />As it was, though, she couldn’t afford it. And she wasn’t about to encourage Aranel asking her about a date that never took place, nor would she admit that she’d been blown off. The only way that this dress would be better on her was if her hair were a lovely golden blonde instead of boring brown. She’d come to hate the color of her hair. Even red like Aranel’s was a more interesting color. Why was Aranel prettier than her? She certainly never did anything to work for it.<br />“I’ll be right back out in a minute,” she told Aranel, before heading into the changing booths.<br />
  135. 135. “Do you know, I’ve just had the most wonderful idea!” she exclaimed when she emerged, “let’s get you a makeover!”<br />“A what?”<br />“Well, makeup and a haircut…” Did she have to explain everything?<br />“What’s wrong with my hair?” Aranel protested automatically.<br />“Nothing, but you’re always complaining about it,” Nymea said persuasively, “Weren’t you just saying a while back how much your long hair got in the way?”<br />Long red hair… well, red wasn’t a very pretty color to begin with, but it was better than brown and Nymea was sick of looking at it.<br />
  136. 136. “Well…” <br />“Oh, come on. You know you’ll look great,” Nymea said sweetly, “And taking a few inches off isn’t a big deal, right? It’s just hair.”<br />Aranel thought about it for a minute. She’d worn her hair shorter as a child, it was true, but until she’d become a teenager she hadn’t been at all concerned with how it looked. And Nymea was the one who was into fashion and all of that, so she would probably know…<br />“All right,” she decided. “But just the hair. My mom would kill me if I came back with purple lips and lime green eyelids.”<br />
  137. 137. The stylist had extremely short hair, Aranel couldn’t help but notice. Of course, it didn’t make any sense to be anxious about loosing a couple of inches of hair, but she did wonder as Nymea described her idea to the stylist if maybe she should have asked for a picture of what it was going to look like first. Still, she trusted Nymea’s fashion sense, if only because she didn’t care as much herself. It wasn’t as if Nymea was going to ask for something ugly – after all, Nymea was her friend and she was the nicer one out of the two of them. <br />“You’re certain about this?” the stylist asked as she sat down in the chair, “It can be a big change from wearing your hair long.”<br />“Bring it on,” Aranel replied.<br />
  138. 138. Aranel was instantly engulfed in a cloud of pink dust and frenzied activity. She closed her eyes and hoped very hard that the hairstylist was careful around the ears.<br />Nymea, meanwhile, admired her own reflection in the mirror above the sink. There was a certain elegance to having hair long enough to fall most of the way down her back. It showed that she was classy, not like some of those other girls.<br />
  139. 139. “Hmm, well, I have to say it’s a little strange to see with that dress you’re wearing…” the stylist mused when she finally stepped back, having shorn off most of Aranel’s hair and lightened it as well, “but it is very chic.”<br />Aranel brushed a strand of hair out of her face, and for a panicky moment wondered why it was so short. <br />
  140. 140. It was very short. Aranel grinned into the mirror that she was given for inspection. It was inches above her shoulders, and she loved it. She wouldn’t even have to tie it back anymore. <br />“All right,” she said, “wait until the girls at school see this.” She even spared a grin for the stylist.<br />
  141. 141. “All right, I admit it,” she said to Nymea, “you were right. It’s awesome.”<br />“I’m always right,” Nymea replied.<br />“So, do you think anyone will recognize me when we go back on Monday?” Aranel asked mischievously, “I bet it’s going to take Debbie at least five minutes to figure out who I am.”<br />“Probably.” Aranel’s long red hair was gone – Nymea should feel somewhat pleased. But despite all of the odds, the shorter hairstyle was cute.<br />
  142. 142. The hairstyle was annoyingly cute – and the other girls at school were sure to like it. It was just more interesting than Nymea’s brown hair. <br />“So, what about you?” Aranel asked, and Nymea, who hadn’t been paying attention, was unaware. “Do you want a haircut too? You could get the same thing.”<br />Nymea just looked at her for a second. “I don’t need a haircut to be pretty,” she replied, stiffly, though her words rang hollow in her own pointed ears. <br /> * * *<br />
  143. 143. “And that, your honor, is why it would be completely irresponsible for this court to allow six minors to continue to live unsupervised, or indeed to allow the four children to remain in the custody of the two teenagers. It is in the best interest of the children involved for this court to order a return to foster care.”<br />
  144. 144. Silently, the Newsons sat and fidgeted. Ginger and Gavin knew better than to think that they could win, and Gabriella and Gallagher had been instructed to keep Georgia and Garrett quiet. Ginger wondered if either of them had figured it out – Gabriella was uncharacteristically quiet, and Gallagher hadn’t stopped staring at the floor. Two hours they’d sat there, listening to all the reasons why they were going to be split up. All of the reasons that they were going to be separated and alone. <br />
  145. 145. The face of the woman from the department of social services was composed, with no detectable traces of emotion. There was no malice in her gaze, just boredom. <br />That was the worst part, Ginger thought. She didn’t have anything against them – she was just doing her job as she saw it, and one case was exactly like another. Because she was just following a routine, it would be impossible to appeal to her, to make her see that they were different.<br />
  146. 146. Soon enough, Ginger would be alone, just like she had been before. And then, what would happen to the rest? Would she ever see them again? For her and for Gavin, at least, there were only a little while left to bear before they became adults and were on their own. <br />And what about everything that their mother had done for them? Was all of that wasted now, simply erased?<br />
  147. 147. It was a moment before their own lawyer began to speak. <br />“These six children, your honor,” she began, “May not be the picture of a family that first comes to mind. Nevertheless, they have all made considerable sacrifices in order to remain together. Is the foster care system prepared to comfort children who, after first being deprived of their mother, are torn away from their brothers and sisters as well? Is it our duty to demolish the family that Miss Gloria Newson knit together? Is it not irresponsible of us to disregard the provisions that she made for her children?”<br />
  148. 148. “The opposition,” she continued, “Will argue many things, which in essence state that, not being united by the ties of blood, these children are not a proper family. That attitude, however, is both false and disrespectful to the laws and to our own court. These children are not biologically related, but they are brothers and sisters in the eyes of the law, in addition to being united in spirit. I ask the court to consider how their attitude towards them would be different if Ginger, Gavin, Gabriella, Gallagher, Georgia and Garrett were blood siblings, with Gloria Newson’s name on their birth certificates. Certainly, a greater effort would be made to keep them together, rather than scattering them across the county.”<br />
  149. 149. “But all of that is tangential to the central argument,” she continued, “Which is, or should be: are Ginger and Gavin Newson capable of caring for their younger brothers and sisters? They are willing, or they would never have attempted such a daunting task. That they are responsible can be argued from the multitude of evidence already presented, including their prompt cooperation with this court.<br />“Legally, both Gavin and Gabriella have already arrived at the age at which it is possible for a teenager to sue for emancipation from their parents, and at which it is possible to apply for custody of a sibling not yet old enough to be emancipated.”<br />
  150. 150. “The weight of evidence as to their responsibility and sincerity shows that the court would be wise to award Ginger and Gavin the custody of their younger siblings rather than burdening an already overtaxed department of Social services. Furthermore, as their mother has already left the Newson children everything in her will, it would be both responsible and expedient of this court to allow them access to the money that is now theirs by law. Investigation of the will shows that the amount will be sufficient to maintain the six of them for several years, at least until Gavin and Ginger are old enough to begin their careers.<br />“In conclusion, there is no further obstacle to awarding Gavin and Ginger custody of their siblings.”<br />
  151. 151. Gavin and Ginger made eye contact over the heads of their siblings. They didn’t know whether to believe that they had a chance or not. After all, they’d never heard of anyone else being able not only to live on their own, but being awarded custody of a younger sibling. But Gallagher and Gabriella were already grinning with a child’s confidence, certain that they had the better lawyer and would win easily. The two teens, however, knew that the rules of some courtroom drama on TV didn’t necessarily apply in real life. <br />
  152. 152. It seemed like a very long time before the blonde, balding judge, who had said very little this whole time, made his decision. The Newsons waited with baited breath, knowing that, should he rule against them, they would likely be separated by the time night fell. The woman from the department of social services and the lawyer representing her had made it very clear that they were prepared to “help” them immediately.<br />Even so, the official ruling took a moment to sink in.<br />
  153. 153. “Did you hear that?” Gallagher whispered to Gabriella after what seemed like several years of silence. “Does that mean we get to stay together?”<br />“Yes,” said the voice of their lawyer in front of them. “It does.”<br />
  154. 154. All of the Newsons looked up, having almost forgotten that their lawyer was there. She smiled at them from where she sat, as the judge, the woman from social services, and the opposing lawyer left the room.<br />“Congratulations,” she told them. “It will take a little while to get things set up with your inheritance, but the judge has ruled that you have custody of your brothers and sisters.”<br /> * * *<br />
  155. 155. Sunday also dawned bright and clear, with birds singing to let the world know that summer had finally come. As soon as everyone was awake and dressed, their parents had called them into the living room for a quick talk.<br />Whatever the children had thought that their parents wanted to talk about, they hadn’t expected a huge smile to break out across their mother’s face.<br />“Your father and I,” she said, “have a great announcement to make.” <br />
  156. 156. “You’re about to say that from now on everyone gets their own rooms, right?” Aranel piped up.<br />“Well, no, not exactly,” her mother said, “And sweetheart, I still don’t understand what you’ve done with all your lovely hair…”<br />“Mo-om, I told you yesterday, all the girls are wearing it short now. Besides, it’s not like it won’t grow back.”<br />“Nymea’s not wearing it short, dear.”<br />“I already told you, I like it like this.”<br />“Well, if you’re certain…”<br />“Yeah, just go ahead and tell us the news already mom.”<br />
  157. 157. Viridia took a deep breath before continuing, positively radiating happiness.<br />“We’re having a baby.”<br />
  158. 158. The reaction from their three children was not what she had hoped.<br />“Um, what?” Achenar asked.<br />“April Fool?” Aranel added hopefully.<br />“Ara, it’s summer already.”<br />“Well, clearly it’s a joke, they’re too old to have another kid. I mean, they have us already, and Ana’s halfway finished with childhood…”<br />“Mama, does this mean that you’re going to get really big around the middle like Lydia’s mom did?” Anariel asked, ignoring the discussion her older siblings had already started. <br />
  159. 159. “Well, yes, sweetie, I will. Very soon, actually… your baby brother or sister is due in just a few more rotations.”<br />The confirmation that they were going to have a younger sibling shut Aranel and Achenar up for a moment.<br />“You’re all very grown up now,” Haldir cut in, “so you’ll understand that your mom will need some more help around the house now. But if all three of you pitch in, I doubt you’ll notice the difference. <br />
  160. 160. “What. The. Hell.”<br />“Language, Aranel!”<br />“What exactly are you guys thinking? I thought you’d decided that three of us were enough – Dad’s lifetime want will get fulfilled, there’s three possible heirs for the legacy, everything was good!”<br />“Actually, we thought we were done too…”<br />“Ew! Gross, Dad! I don’t want to hear it!”<br />
  161. 161. “Aranel,” Viridia began, “You’re old enough by now to know that a baby is one of the most fulfilling things a woman can have…”<br />“After she’s been to college, has a career, and is married,” Haldir put in quickly.<br />“And quite frankly, I’m disappointed in you,” Viridia continued. “You’re smart enough to know that just because we’re having another baby doesn’t mean that we love any of you any less. I know that you don’t like sharing a room with your sister, but you’ll be in college in a few more years and I don’t see why you can’t learn to live with it for the time being. Now I expect you all to be helpful and welcoming, and not to start complaining about this baby before it’s even born. Do I make myself clear?” <br />
  162. 162. “Yes ma’am,” Achenar put in, before Aranel could start arguing with their parents.<br />“Is it true that the baby starts out about this big?” Anariel asked, holding her thumb and forefinger close to her eye.<br />“Yes it is, but it gets bigger, sweetheart.”<br />“Why do people start out so small? Is it like a miniature person?”<br />“It’s only a couple of cells, moron.” Aranel muttered, but so low that only Achenar could hear her.<br />“Not exactly, but it will be,” Achenar told his sister. “It has to grow all of its fingers and toes and everything still.” <br />
  163. 163. “Wow.”<br />“Yes it does,” Haldir confirmed. “Now, we do need all of your help on something important. We want to decide on a name – well, names – as soon as possible.”<br />“Sure,” Achenar was quick to agree. Anariel nodded.<br />“As long as they’re not ‘A’ names,” Aranel said. “We already have too many A names in this family.”<br />“Actually, we were thinking Aaron or Darion if it’s a boy,” Viridia said, “But we haven’t decided on any girl names yet.”<br />
  164. 164. “Um, how about Lizzie or Maddie?” Anariel supplied, “There’s lots of Lizzies and Maddies in my grade. But I like Anastasia or Aurora – and there’s a Rainey in my class, I like that name.”<br />“Please no more A names,” Aranel said. “It’s confusing enough around here already.”<br />“Well, we were thinking of something a little more… Elven sounding,” Viridia told her tactfully, “And, like you said, there’s a lot of Lizzies and Maddies around.”<br />
  165. 165. “Oh. I guess I’d better think of something else then.”<br />“I really don’t have an opinion on it,” Aranel admitted, “As long as you don’t make things more confusing than they already are.”<br />“All right, what about you then, Achenar?” Viridia asked, somewhat crestfallen.<br />“Well, I don’t really know any elven names except for the ones that other people are already using,” he said, “but we did a unit in Greek mythology a couple weeks back and I really like the name Ariadne.”<br />
  166. 166. “Ariadne?” Haldir repeated, “I like it too. How about you?” he added, turning to address his wife and squeezing her hand.<br />“Same here,” she said, squeezing back. “And Riann as a middle name.”<br />“I can’t believe it’s another A name,” Aranel said from her corner of the couch. “As if we didn’t have enough of those.”<br />“Ara, I think we heard you the first time,” Achenar replied. <br />Since the family talk was obviously over, the three children scattered, rolling their eyes at their parents’ lovey-doveyness. Aranel headed for the farmer’s market in Riverblossom, since she’d been instructed earlier to pick up some fresh vegetables.<br />
  167. 167. Fortunately, it was only a quick walk down into Riverblossom Hills, where the vegetable stand owned by the Greenman family seemed to be unusually busy, with customers milling about between potted plants, garden implements, fresh vegetables and flower arrangements.<br />
  168. 168. Aranel headed towards the vegetables, in no real hurry to buy them and go home, but she couldn’t help but overhear a piece of a conversation.<br />“And why can’t I, you stupid piece of green garbage?” demanded a boy’s voice angrily, “I’ll do whatever I want.”<br />“Because… Because it’s wrong,” Daisy replied hesitantly, “because it isn’t yours.”<br />“Well, it’s mine now, so it’s none of your business, is it?”<br />Aranel headed behind the shelves.<br />
  169. 169. “Dude,” she said, stepping between the angry blonde boy and Daisy, “I don’t know what your issue is, but leave Daisy alone.”<br />“Why are you sticking up for her?” He demanded, “It’s not any of your business.”<br />“Picking on her isn’t your business either.”<br />“Who made you captain hero? Stop messing around in other people’s business, ginger. It’s not like the green retard is even worth it.”<br />
  170. 170. “First off, no one had to make me ‘captain hero,’ because you’re already being a massive asshole,” Aranel spat back, “Second of all, Daisy’s a family friend, so it is my business, and I’m telling you to back it off, mister, because I can make you regret it. And third, it’s just plain wrong to be picking on her.”<br />“Yeah, right,” the boy replied, smugly, “I bet you hit like a girl, you pointy-eared freak. But I guess the retarded bitches have to stick together.”<br />
  171. 171. “What did you just say!?”<br />“What, the bit about both of you being disgusting freaks of nature that should have been drowned at birth, or the part about you being a stupid bitch who can’t mind her own damn buis-” <br />
  172. 172.
  173. 173. Aranel looked down at the blonde boy, who was moaning in the ruins of a potted plant. She was surprised how good hitting him had felt, except for the pain in her knuckles. She supposed that she should feel sorry that she’d done it, but she didn’t, actually. He’d deserved it.<br />“If I hit like a girl, then I hit like a pretty damn good one.” She told her opponent. “I did warn you.”<br />And with that, she turned and headed off to purchase her vegetables.<br /> * * *<br />
  174. 174. Author’s note.<br />This is might not be the longest proper chapter, but it definitely feels like it, probably since I haven’t played the actual legacy neighborhood in several months. Several lines of the plot have taken their sweet time getting here, and a few of them have reached some sort of resolution. I suppose that’s only fitting – chapters from here on out will be taking care of larger chunks of time than they have been of late, and there are only a few left before generation one starts heading off to college. <br />By the way, did you know that there are fourteen candles on a sim’s birthday cake when they become a teen? (Instead of, say, thirteen?)<br />
  175. 175. I’m not certain what happened to stage! Chali’s eyes here, but I fixed the problem in the real neighborhood. Her eyes really are blueish grey, and all the blue seems to be gone in this picture. <br />This was also the worst scene to film because of the legal babble, and the fact that I had to quit without saving a couple of times because the real social worker came for the kids. Even though it was the Monday that they moved in, when they aren’t supposed to have to be at school, and all their motives were fine. Eventually I just switched the day to Saturday and got on with it.<br />
  176. 176. Meant. To. Be.<br />More or less natural two bolts. I keep having to watch these two now… And I had to find the newer version of ACR that allows people to be “friends zoned,” because if I see “kiss Elirand” in Aranel’s cue one more time I might either hurl or die laughing. Actually, it’s Elu who is trouble, really, and she’s pop/knowledge…<br />No, this is all, I promise. <br />