Freddie's eyes grew wide when his daughter excitedly shared the news with him: Charity was alive and well, had been living in Appaloosa Plains for all this time, was hoping for a reunion and, more importantly, had never stopped loving Freddie.
It was a lot to take in.
Freddie would need some time to process this.
But for now there was no time for contemplation. There were more pressing matters to attend to: Huxley's birthday.
Freddie shifted uncomfortably, his smile plastered on. As distracted as he was, he could still feel the tense atmosphere in the room.
Grace, too, was preoccupied. She watched her husband as he carried Huxley toward the cake. He was as loving as ever to their daughter, who giggled happily in his arms, but whenever his glance fell on Grace, his expression turned stony.
She had apologized so many times for criticizing Jamey in the past, but no matter what she said, he still seemed irritated with her. He'd shaved his beard, started going to the gym and worked diligently on his book, staying out late to write at the coffee shop. He was obviously making an effort to change, yet the distance between them was growing more pronounced than ever.
Grace kept on trying, but the more she held on to Jamey, the more he pushed away from her. She wasn't sure what else she could do.
For now, she put on a brave face and cheered Huxley on.
It was almost a relief when Grace had to leave for another business trip.
Jimmy Sprocket and the Seventh Spur was about to be released, and with so much of it having been shot in Appaloosa Plains, the publicity team had arranged for several press conferences as well as the official movie release to take place in the small town.
The success of the movie had never been in question--the countless die-hard Jimmy Sprocket fans would always ensure hits at the box office. There was a much bigger sensation for the press to focus on. The previous director, having suffered a serious blow to his image due to a scandal, had stepped down at the last minute, leaving most of the credit for the movie to go to his replacement: the charming up-and-comer Grace Dutiel.
Fortunately the press loved Grace, which saved the public image of the entire production.
Alone in her hotel room after another long day of interviews and photo ops, Grace attempted to call Jamey. It went straight to voicemail. Again.
She began to type a text, then sighed and put down her phone.
What was the point? Jamey wasn't going to reply anyway. Grace slumped down on the bed and stared blankly at the drab wallpaper. Then, making up her mind, she reached for her bag.
Her fingers traced the gold-embossed lettering on the front cover--I Fell for You in Fall--before flipping the book open. Grace's eyes began to dart over the pages and soon all her worries were forgotten.
Grace's rational mind told her that these stories were trite, predictable and unrealistic, but she couldn't help herself. Every free minute was spent engrossed in the sweet escapism these romance novels offered her.
Finally, after an exhausting week of press events and interviews, the last day of the trip came to a close. Grace only had to survive one more party, a formal affair at the Sweetapple Ridge Country Club.
Normally she would have loved the chance to party and socialize. But tonight, seeing all those bright smiles and chic clothes only made Grace want to hide.
The journalist's pen hovered over her notepad in anticipation. "So how does it feel, having your director's debut working on one of the most successful movie series of all time?"
"It's great. A dream come true," Grace lied. The journalist smiled and scribbled down the meaningless words.
What the journalist didn't know was that there was a much bigger scoop that Grace had neglected to mention: The producers had offered her to continue directing the Jimmy Sprocket movies from now on. Grace's first instinct had been to reject the offer, but she knew that this was an opportunity other directors would kill for. She had to accept. It was the only reasonable thing to do.
Still, something didn't sit right with Grace. She was doing what she'd always dreamed of, yet she felt like the life she'd envisioned was further beyond her grasp than ever.
The smart thing to do would be to accept the offer to make a name for herself as a director. That way, she would be able to get producers interested in working with her even if she decided to move away from mainstream movies a few years down the line.
A few years down the line. That's where the problem was.
Grace had always thought that all it took to get through difficult times was hard work and persistence, but at this point, she wasn't sure she had any energy left to do that.
All her life, Grace had always known what to do. When someone needed help or guidance, she was the one they'd come to. But now that it felt like her own life was falling apart around her, Grace was stuck.
She'd lost count of how many cocktails she'd had. Grace got up, took one more sip and then left her half empty glass on the counter. The bartender shot her a judgmental glare, but Grace didn't notice. She needed some fresh air.
Leaving the party and the loud music behind her, Grace ascended the stairs in the opulent foyer, her unsteady footsteps muffled by the soft carpet.
As Grace emerged onto the balcony, the brisk night air washed over her like a wave. A faint echo of the music from downstairs could still be heard if one listened closely, but it was drowned out by the melodic chirping of crickets.
Grace took a deep breath. The cold air filling her lungs was a shock at first, but pleasantly refreshing as it cleared her nectar-hazed mind.
Only then did she notice the solitary figure leaning against the railing. Grace briefly considered turning back around, but she couldn't think of anywhere else to go.
"Oh, hey," she said, "Not bothering you, am I?"
His head jerked around in surprise, but when he saw her, Adam smiled. "Not at all, I just needed some fresh air."
"Same," Grace sighed and sat down beside him. "I'm counting the minutes until it's an acceptable time to leave."
Adam looked surprised. "Oh? I thought you'd want to bask in your glory a bit. After all, it's your movie!"
"Yeah, 'my' movie," Grace scoffed. "All mine, except for the disaster of a screenplay that was already set in stone, the story full of overused metaphors, the walking clichés that pass for characters and the choice to spend all of the money on flashy special effects instead of actual production value--"
She stopped abruptly when she noticed Adam's quizzical smile. She'd talked herself into a rage, her face a grimace and and her breath ragged. Grace felt herself blush, embarrassed. Why was she unloading everything on this man she barely knew?
"I'm sorry," she mumbled. "It's just that... I'm finally doing what I always dreamed of and it just isn't--" Grace bit her lip. There she went again, oversharing. It had to be the nectar.
"Don't apologize," he smiled. "It's okay to feel that way."
There was a pause. Grace smoothed the folds of her dress, trying to remember the last time she had felt this awkward. She wasn't sure she ever had. He broke the silence with a short laugh.
"That said, I don't know anything about the movie industry or how you feel," he admitted, grinning wryly. "I don't want to presume to give advice, but what I learned is that sometimes what we wanted from life isn't what we need to be happy. We don't always have a choice... that is, until we realize that we do."
Grace stared at Adam, letting his words sink in. He was so kind, calmly listening to her outburst and trying to make her feel better about things. And even though she didn't know what to do with his advice, the words had reassured her somehow.
The stars seemed to shine particularly brightly tonight, their twinkling lights reflected in his eyes... and inevitably, Grace's thoughts strayed back to her romance novels.
Before she knew what was happening, she'd leaned forward and pressed her lips on Adam's.
It had been a sudden, uncoordinated movement, her hand on his shoulder being the only thing that kept her from falling over. An uninvolved observer might have expected them topple and plunge over the railing, but the two of them were blissfully oblivious.
Grace clumsily shifted to regain her balance and felt his hand grasp her own shoulder, an attempt to steady her that turned into a cautious caress.
His hand was rough and calloused, the stubble on his face chafing against her skin as he returned her kiss, but Grace relished the feeling. She couldn't quite explain why--it had always bothered her when Jamey wasn't clean shaven... Jamey!
Grace broke away from the kiss with a gasp. "Oh no," she whimpered. "Oh no, no, no... what am I doing?! I can't do this! I'm sorry!"
Adam watched in puzzlement as Grace turned on her heel and ran away.
Grace had attempted to rationalize what had happened the entire way back home. She'd had too much too drink, been starved for intimacy and her mind had been full of those damn romance novels... but none of that changed the fact that she'd kissed another man despite being married.
There were no excuses. Grace had made a terrible mistake and she had to own up to it.
She found Jamey standing by the window, watching the sun descend towards the calm ocean. Maybe I should tell him tomorrow, Grace thought. I could cook us a nice dinner, get Dad to take Huxley out to a movie... Have the house to ourselves for an evening. We could use some time to sit and talk.
But the longer she waited to tell him, the worse the betrayal would feel. She had to do it now, so they could begin to heal together. She straightened her back and began to speak, choosing her words carefully.
"I don't want to say 'it was just a kiss'," Grace finished her account, "because our vows mean more to me than that. What I did was wrong. Marriage is about loyalty and trust and I... betrayed yours. But I hope that, with time, we can work--"
"I want a divorce," Jamey blurted.
"W-what?" Grace gasped. She had expected him to be angry, of course, but this? "Jamey, I--"
But Jamey was having none of it, no matter what Grace said. "It's over," he barked as he turned his back on her.
He left without saying another word.
Ugh, this chapter took me forever to write >_>
To end things on a happier note, here are some pictures of Huxley, because in my effort to trim the fluff I'm kind of glossing over her childhood...
(I've been playing a lot over the holidays, so in game she's already a young adult o_o;;)