"You better give up now," Jimmy Sprocket warns, "Or I won't go easy on you."
Sheriff Rattlewrath narrows his beady eyes. "You'll never stop me, Jimmy Sprocket! I have a whole crate of dynamite right here, and once I've blown up this town, no one will stand in my way! I'll unearth the Seventh Spur and then its power will be mine!"
"You'll find that very difficult." Jimmy Sprocket smiles confidently. "Because the Seventh Spur is already safe with me!"
Sheriff Rattlewrath looks startled for a split second, then bursts into maniacal laughter. "You've made this easy for me then, Sprocket! Take this!"
Sheriff Rattlewrath swings his wand and a blaze of flames shoots from its tip right at Jimmy.
Utopia, the beautiful enchantress, looks on in horror.
Jimmy Sprocket is engulfed by an inferno, but with the power of the Seventh Spur, he dispels the Sheriff's curse with ease.
The evil Sheriff is baffled. That was his most powerful curse! How could anyone survive it? With the Sheriff so distracted, Jimmy Sprocket seizes his chance. A magnificent stream of sparkles emerges from his wand; the pure good of Jimmy's own heart and the power of the Seventh Spur combined.
Jimmy's spell hits its target and...
... the evil Sheriff Rattlewrath is turned into a big ugly toad. Toads obviously can't set off dynamite.
And so Jimmy Sprocket saves the day. He poses heroically while Utopia swoons at his amazing bravery.
Jimmy strides up to Utopia, sweeps her into his arms and...
"Alright everyone," Grace called, "That's a wrap for today."
The actors disentangled themselves from each other while the crew began to pack up their equipment.
Grace sighed, stood up and massaged her temples. She had jumped at the opportunity to be the 2nd unit director on the newest installment of the popular Jimmy Sprocket series, but she had quickly come to regret taking this job. The director was even more capricious than the actors, and despite the enormous amount of responsibility on Grace's shoulders, she had very little say in the actual decisions.
There were fans of the books that had to be pleased, a script that once approved by the original author could not be altered and producers that kept coming up with new and outlandish requests. So it came that Grace was sent to Appaloosa Plains to shoot on location upon the director's insistence, yet found herself spending her days on a cheap set backed by a green screen.
The story was full of cliches; a stereotypical fight between good and evil. The characters were one-dimensional archetypes and Grace seethed inwardly at the sexist portrayal of the female lead.
Grace wanted to make movies about people, interpersonal relationships and things that really mattered. Things that felt real and down-to-earth, not this pandemonium of flashy sparkles and explosions that had to be added in post-production.
Still, having her name featured prominently on a high profile production such as this was the next logical step in her career. She was well on her way to achieving her greatest dreams--so why didn't it feel like it?
Perhaps, Grace reflected, it was just the frustration of her private life spilling over.
Shoot's over for the day. How's Hux? Call me when you have time. Love you.
It was the third text she'd sent Jamey that day, and still no reply.
Dejected, Grace slipped the cell into her pocket and headed for the trailers.
Arcadia Wasp, the lead actress, was already sitting in one of the fold up canvas chairs, having her makeup removed. The bubbly stylist, Fiona Bowman, chatted away happily as she worked. Normally Grace enjoyed the company of Arcadia and Fifi, but today she didn't feel like talking. She made her way to her usual spot and sat down, glancing over at the books spread out on her side table.
There, a nagging reminder, was the script right beside the book it was based on: Jimmy Sprocket and the Seventh Spur. Grace knew that the responsible thing to do would be to spend her sparse downtime studying them, but her eyes strayed towards the third book on her table.
Over a glossy cover image of an impossibly handsome bare-chested man holding a swooning woman, gold-embossed letters read: Swept Off My Feet - Gloria Dutiel.
Grace had been more than surprised to learn that her sister had been writing romance novels. Gloria had never seemed like the type to enjoy something so frivolous, but then again, Gloria had changed a lot recently. In an effort to support her sister's newfound happiness, Grace had started to read the book she'd sent her with great reluctance. After the first few chapters in, she'd been hooked. Her hand reached for the book almost on its own accord.
The naive heroine of the novel had just entered the luxurious drawing room in her new husband's enormous mansion. She'd been lonely ever since the arranged marriage to Lord Merriworth, an older man who didn't seem very interested in her, and roamed the empty rooms of the sprawling estate, lamenting the loss of her simple life in the country. She ran her delicate fingers over the keys of the grand piano lazily, then jumped in surprise when she heard footsteps behind her.
"My apologies, Lady Merryworth, I did not mean to startle you." The young, handsome butler's luxuriant hair gleamed in the golden sunlight streaming through the large doorway behind him. "I had intended to clean this room, but I shall return at a later time."
"Wait," the lovely lady said breathlessly, her chest heaving with nervous excitement, "Please, by all means, stay."
"Grace!" Fifi's voice startled Grace back into reality.
Grace's head jerked around to look at her. "Huh?"
Fifi grinned and put her hands on her hips in mock exasperation. "We were talking about getting the crew to a bar tonight. Are you coming?"
Grace, her thoughts still halfway with the book, nodded absently. "Sure," she said. "Sounds good."
Arcadia, meanwhile, had been eyeing the book clutched in Grace's hands with a smirk. "Whatcha reading," she asked cheekily. "A romance novel?"
"Oh, are you adapting it into a movie?" Fifi sounded excited.
Grace shook her head. "Nah, it's just for fun. I'm only reading it because my sister wrote it."
Arcadia cocked her head. “My sister’s a writer too, but her books don’t have hunks like that on the cover.” Arcadia leaned back and stretched her arms, turning her head to the side to hide a yawn that ended in a gasp when something caught her eye. “... speaking of hunks...”
Both Grace and Fifi craned their necks to see where Arcadia was looking. A tall man in a cowboy hat was unloading crates from the back of a pickup truck, muscles rippling under his shirt.
"Who IS that," Arcadia asked, her interest obviously piqued. "I haven't seen him around before. Is he an extra?"
"He's the caterer," Grace explained, then corrected herself, "Not really a caterer, but a local farmer hired to do the catering--that's why we've been getting all these fresh veggies."
"Well, they certainly grow 'em nice here," Arcadia commented, her tone making it obvious that she wasn't referring to the vegetables.
“His name is Adam Cardwell," Fifi chimed in, "and while he may look like one of us," she touched her own cowboy hat for emphasis, "he's not actually a local. This guy’s from Roaring Heights, if you can believe it. Some kind of bigshot that had enough and ran off to live the country dream. We get those from time to time, but they usually never stay long. This one though, he's been here for a while. I think he’s here to stay.”
The three women watched the farmer for a while. He really did look like the man on the cover, Grace mused, her thoughts dreamily returning to the book.
Pausing briefly to wipe the beads of sweat from his forehead, the farmer glanced over and locked eyes with Grace. She quickly looked away, embarrassed to be caught staring. I'm married, she chided herself silently.
"All done," Fifi announced, stepping back from Arcadia to take in her handiwork. "I'll let the crew know we’re headed out then.”
Arcadia got up eagerly and said, “Great, I'll go and invite that hot caterer.” And she sauntered off.
Grace watched Arcadia approach the cowboy, her motions fluid like a feline stalking prey. Grace suddenly felt a strange pang of jealousy she couldn't quite explain. It had to be because Arcadia was so young and carefree, she decided. Grace had been like that too, not long ago, yet now it felt like it had been in another life.
They arrived at the bar shortly after sunset. It was in the international district--or well, what passed for an international district in a small town like Appaloosa Plains--an Irish pub, right next door to a small pizzeria.
The place was nice enough on the inside though. It was a busy night, attracting lots of locals to mingle with the film crew. A live band played a cover of an upbeat, folksy rock song and after a few drinks most of the patrons were letting loose on the dance floor.
Grace sat at the bar and watched them. She didn't particularly feel like dancing, but going back to her hotel would mean spending the evening constantly checking her phone, fruitlessly waiting for a text from her husband. And so it was her and a glass of nectar, and then another.
She was just halfway through her third glass when the farmer sat on the stool next to her and waved the bartender over.
"A glass of Havenridge Red, please."
The bartender raised an eyebrow. "Never heard of it, man. Sorry. Can I get you anything else?"
The farmer--Adam Cardwell, Grace remembered--looked excessively disappointed. "Just whatever you've got then," he said, frowning.
When the bartender set a glass of nectar in front of the farmer and he took his first sip with a mournful grimace, Grace's curiousity won over. "You really wanted that nectar, huh," she asked, "What was it again? Havenridge--"
"Havenridge Red," Adam smiled. He shot the bartender a furtive glance and then leaned toward Grace to whisper conspiratorially, "I knew they didn't have it in stock here. That's why I asked. It's my nectar, you see, though I'm having trouble getting people to buy it. So I figured, if I go out and create some demand first..." He shrugged and gave a cheeky grin.
"That's... actually a pretty good idea," Grace said, laughing. Then, with a nod towards the dance floor, she added. "Don't you need to get back to Arcadia?"
Adam laughed. "She's hard to keep up with, that one. I don't know, I might be starting to feel my age." He looked over at Arcadia, who was still dancing wildly, but now with a new partner. "I don't think she misses me though."
Grace surveyed the room and her gaze stopped on her lead actor, who was backed against a wall, besieged by fans.
John Pay had been a small-time theater actor before his role as Jimmy Sprocket had catapulted him to instant fame. Despite his considerable acting skills and his confident demeanor when in character, he was desperately uncomfortable in large crowds and around his fans.
"Looks like poor John is a little overwhelmed too," Grace thought aloud, "Those girls aren't letting him get away."
“It’s not every day we get city folk here," Adam said with an apologetic smile, "Let alone movie stars.”
“‘City folk’?” Grace quirked an eyebrow. “From what I’ve heard, you’re from Roaring Heights.”
Adam let out a laugh and said, "It’s easy to forget that sometimes… especially if you’d rather leave things behind."
"And what do you want to leave behind?" Grace asked, then immediately regretted her nosy question. "Sorry, that was rude. I didn't mean to pry."
"I don't mind," he said slowly, "Part of leaving things behind is accepting them." He looked pensive for a moment, swirling the nectar in his glass. "Back in Roaring Heights I was a stock broker. It was a soul-crushing job, and as if that wasn't enough, it was at my father's company. He'd been grooming me to 'take over his legacy' one day, whatever that means. He never asked me what I wanted in life, and at that time, I probably wouldn't have had an answer anyway. I had my whole life laid out before me, but when my wife divorced me... it all crumbled down. That's when I came to live out here."
Grace shifted uncomfortably. "I'm sorry."
"It's alright. We just wanted different things in life," he said and took a gulp of his nectar. Wryly, he added, "Turns out what she wanted was to screw my little brother."
Grace snorted into her glass, then quickly managed another "Sorry."
"There's no need to feel sorry for me," he smiled. "Things are better for everyone now. My brother is taking over the company--and my ex--and my father finally has an heir who actually wants all of that. And that's ok. I'm here now, living a life I chose to myself and I'm... at peace."
Grace smiled as she listened to him talk. Even this guy's backstory was like out of a cheesy romance novel! Grace found herself studying Adam's rugged features, mentally comparing him to the bare-chested man on the cover again.
“Sorry,” he interrupted her thoughts “I’m rambling.”
"No, not at all, I was just..." Grace cleared her throat. She couldn't exactly tell him what she'd been thinking about, so she settled for taking a big gulp of nectar.
“This nectar is nice,” she said, hoping to skate over the awkwardness.
“Really? I thought it’s a bit bland,” he replied smoothly. Then his lips quirked into a cheeky grin. “Speaking of which… you’re shooting a movie about magical cowboys fighting toad people?”
“Heeeyyy,” Grace protested in mock offense. “The Jimmy Sprocket series is really popular, I’ll have you know. Besides, I’m just directing it." She sighed. "It’s not the kind of stuff I’d write."
“Oh? So what kind of stuff do you write?”
Grace fiddled with the stem of her glass for a moment, remembering the way Jamey had reacted when she'd told him about her script. She didn't want another experience like that one and considered evading his question, but Adam had been so honest with her before. He looked at her expectantly, with genuine interest in his eyes, and so Grace was compelled to give him a brief summary.
"So it's like an homage to Corduroy Sunglasses but with a twist," he concluded.
"Exactly!" Grace's face lit up with excitement. "Wow, Rami Simsoni's work is pretty obscure. I'm surprised you know him!"
"Know? More like worship," Adam exclaimed. "I've seen all his movies a million times!"
Thick clouds obscured the stars and heavy rain poured down, soaking the fields and washing the dust off the asphalt outside. Hours flew by, but Grace didn't notice.
She was deep in conversation.
It seemed like an eternity since Grace had been able to talk to another adult simply for the joy of talking. There were no pressing issues to discuss and no problems to solve. Their conversation was a cheerful back-and-forth that meandered effortlessly across a broad variety of topics.
Some might have judged Adam a failure for having given up a prestigious job to become a struggling farmer, but the enthusiasm with which he talked about his future plans was nothing short of ambitious.
There was a sim who truly loved what he did, with no care about what others might think of him. Grace was in awe of his courage and his great sense of humor about all of it. It was truly admirable. And those eyes... were they green... or hazel?
Grace bit her lip and quickly hid her blushing face behind her glass of nectar. I'm married, she reminded herself.
The days went by and as the last few on-location scenes were wrapped up, the production was slowly coming to an end.
There weren't many scenes that required the actors--rather than their stunt doubles--to be on horseback, yet they had trained for weeks for this one. Jimmy Sprocket would pose heroically on his trusty steed before galloping off into the sunset.
It was simple enough, but even working with highly trained animals such as these always brought a certain amount of unpredictability, and so they had saved this scene for last.
In a sudden flurry of movement, sims rushed around the set, barking orders and attempting to lead away the horses.
Grace rushed over to John. To her great relief, his pitiful moans confirmed that he was conscious.
"We need to get him to the hospital," Grace ordered, "and someone get that damn paparazzo out of the way!"
After what seemed like hours, the tests were done and Grace was allowed into the examination room to wait for the results with John.
She was terribly worried to see him looking so downcast when she entered the room.
"John, how are you? Are you in pain? Is there anything I can get you? I--" Grace stopped when she saw John's lips move, but she couldn't make out what he was mumbling. "What was that, John? Sorry, I couldn't hear you." She leaned in closer. "What did you say?"
"The paparazzo's phone! That photo he took. It'll be all over the news! So embarrassing..."
Grace couldn't help but smile. If John was well enough to worry about his public image, things couldn't be so bad.
She took a seat to wait for the results with him.
Soon enough, a doctor entered the room.
She flipped through her notes, barely looking up as she told them that they had found nothing wrong with John. "You're free to go, Mr Pay," she finished.
"That's great," Grace beamed. "Come on John, I'll drive you to the hotel."
The doctor looked over at Grace, apparently noticing her for the first time. "And you are... Mrs Pay?"
Grace laughed. "No, I'm Grace Dutiel. Not his wife, but his director. We’re shooting a movie here.”
At Grace's words, the doctor dropped her papers as her hands shot up to cover her mouth in shock.
Grace was puzzled for a moment, then smiled. It was so cute how excited these small town people were about movies.
But the doctor was more than just excited. Her eyes were brimming with tears.
“Grace… my Grace?” she whispered.
The house was tiny, but well cared for.
A single armchair stood facing an outdated television set hemmed by two large bookshelves. Pictures adorned the walls, but from what Grace could tell, all the photos were of old musicians and movie stars.
In the corner, breathing heavily, a fat cat lay sprawled on a cat tree. Earlier it had glanced briefly at the unknown human entering its domain, before deciding that there was no danger and going back to sleep.
A picture frame on the table beside the armchair caught Grace's attention. It was an elaborate frame, though the paint was chipping from having been handled so often. She picked it up and saw that it held a tattered old photo of two newborn babies in pink swaddling clothes. They were identical--well, even more identical than other infants.
"Is that Gloria and me? We're so tiny!"
The old woman stifled a sob. "It's the only picture I have of you," she said.
They sat at the small coffee table. Grace watched her as she prepared tea with the utmost care. There were certain similarities between them, features which Grace had always thought of as uniquely her own. Now she knew where they had come from: her mother, Charity.
Charity finished pouring the tea into two identical cups and set one before Grace. Then she picked up her own and brought it to her mouth.
Grace wrapped her fingers around her cup, feeling the warmth from within.
"Freddie--" Charity croaked and her voice broke. She took a moment to clear her throat before speaking again. "You have his eyes. Your father, is he--is he well?"
"Dad's doing fine. He's back home watching Huxley, my daughter. He's great with her."
"I can't believe you have a daughter of your own already! I'd love to meet her... though I know I have no right to call myself her grandmother..."
Grace set down her cup and kept her eyes fixed on it. "Why did you never come back for us?"
Charity sighed, her expression troubled. She took a sip of tea before asking, "How much do you know?"
"Dad told us that your family sent you away as a punishment..." Grace looked up from the cup, her own bold eyes meeting Charity's somber ones. "But why did you never come back later? I'm sure they can't control you anymore now, can they?"
Charity shook her head. "No, they're gone. They have been for a long time." Her eyes wandered for a while as she considered. "I've been asking myself this question over and over. Why didn't I go back? I... I suppose I was scared."
Charity nodded slowly. "Freddie has always been popular..." She smiled wistfully. "What if he had someone new, someone who would be a mother to you and your sister like I never was. I've packed my bags so many times... but the thought of what I might find always made me turn back. I've never been brave... I didn't know what I would find in Starlight Shores. I was afraid I'd go there to find a happy family... and me, the intruder."
"It's never been like that," Grace said. "We were doing fine, sure, but Dad never married. There was no new mother. We grew up thinking our mother had died. It... it really messed Gloria up when we found out that you were alive and just didn't want us."
Charity gasped and clutched at her heart, spilling tea as she set down the cup with shaky hands.
"I've always wanted you." she said in a choked voice. "I'm so sorry, Grace... can you... can you ever forgive me?" Tears streamed down her face and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. She let out a strained sob. "No, this isn't fair of me, putting you on the spot like this. I know I don't deserve forgiveness. You'll need time to..."
Grace knew she was supposed to feel angry, furious at her estranged mother and her feeble explanation. Why hadn't she stood up for herself, why hadn't she fought for them? But looking at the old woman's gray hair, her wrinkled face and the tiny house that showed evidence of a life spent in regret and isolation... how much time did they have left, for it to be wasted on resentment?
Grace spent the rest of the afternoon letting her mother show her various photo albums, the old cat curled up on her lap.
There were photos of Charity as a child, her resemblance to Grace and Gloria even more striking. There was also a little boy, unmistakably Freddie, but happier than Grace had ever seen him in her life.
The fat cat purred, its white fur soft against Grace's hands.
Grace couldn't wait to get home to share the news.
I debated for a while how to handle this. Charity was always going to return eventually, but I miscalculated things and this trip to AP came about later than I'd planned. In the meantime Larissa kept spamming romantic interactions on Freddie, so I finally gave in and let her have what she always wanted. That put me in a bit of a pickle though, because CHARITY NEEDED TO COME BACK. (I might secretly be a hopeless romantic, idk.) In the end, I had Larissa die (not really, the old bat is still alive and kickin') so Charity could return without much drama. There's been enough of that in Freddie's life!
Not sure if I ever mentioned this, but Grace got the technophobe trait for her graduation. Bleh. The random traits roll was so good to me until this. But I had to write it into her character somehow... That's the reason she's so disgruntled about magic and special effects--and I feel compelled to tell you that it does in no way reflect MY opinion on those things. I love stories with magic <3
Speaking of good stories, look at that cast of all-stars at the movie shoot: Finley and Junpei Archer from Becky's Archers Again/Goldbeard RLC and Elysia Bee from Owly's A Clover and a Bee. I would have included more people's sims, but I made this quite a while ago!
(It didn't come up in the story, but the horses' names are Loki and Cayenne. Sorry Becky ;P)