On most days, Grace took the task of preparing fresh food for the family upon herself.
"Mac and cheese for lunch? Nice," Gene approved. "How'd you learn to cook anyway?"
"It's all thanks to Grandma making us play with the toy oven so much," Grace replied truthfully. "You should really give it a try, Gene. It's important to know these things once you grow up."
Gene tried to play with the toy oven. He really did. He even learned all the recipes that came with the instructions and made all the various pies, brownies and cookies listed. But it was just so boring! He preferred playing with his building blocks - or better yet, running around and playing catch outside.
"So, did you learn to use the toy oven like I suggested?" Grace asked before reading Gene to sleep that night.
"Pfft yeah, it was easy," Gene replied. "But the toy oven is lame and useless."
"That's not true at all," Grace protested. "It teaches you skills you'll need when you're grown up."
"When I'm grown up? But it'll take ages until that! By then I'm sure I'll know everything there is to know about everything," the little boy boasted.
"I'll make sure of that," Grace mumbled softly as she kissed him goodnight.
Grace had a lot of things on her mind these days. Her boyfriend Jamey being chiefly among them. But she vowed to always make time for her siblings. Their grandmother had left some big shoes to fill, but Grace was determined to try her very best to keep everything running smoothly.
"But Dad," Gloria whined, "I really don't see why I need to learn to drive already. It's fine, really. I have nowhere to go. And even if I did - I'd just call a cab!"
The wide grin that had split Freddie's face just seconds ago faded. He'd been so sure that he was offering his teenage daughter something amazing. "Uhm... but... Grace is learning to drive too, so I thought..."
"Dad. It's alright. I'm really not interested."
Fred was at a loss. He was spending so much time with Grace while teaching her to drive - he only thought it was right to give his other daughter the same amount of attention. "Well then," he said, "if you don't want to drive, we can do something else to spend time together! We could go swimming, or maybe sign up for a gym membership or go hiking or--"
"Oh Plumbob, please, no," Gloria burst out in dismay. Freddie looked stunned. Softer, Gloria finally gave in, "Okay, I've changed my mind. Please teach me to drive, Dad."
He was trying really hard to become a better father, after all.
Despite not really aiming for it, Freddie had been getting promotion after promotion at the studio. And of course, these promotions came with even more new responsibilities.
It had all started when he'd suggested more explosions, he remembered with a frown. He'd walked by the cutting room, where the director and producer argued over the final cut of their latest movie. Asked for his opinion on the otherwise dull flick, Freddie had remarked that he'd enjoyed the explosion and wouldn't mind seeing more.
The director had stared at him in shock, but the producer had loved the innovative idea of more explosions. "It sells," she'd declared and thereby overridden all of the director's protests.
"This guy right here has spirit," the producer had then announced, shoving a camera into Freddie's hands. "Go out there and get us some some fresh new footage!"
And that's how Freddie now found himself at Lidview Cemetery with thousands of simoleons worth of film equipment in his hands.
He had no idea what he was doing.
Incidentally, another family member was also making waves at Plumbob Pictures.
One day, aunt Faye approached Grace with an urgent request, "Listen, we're supposed to be shooting this cereal commercial today, but the actress is a no-show and we don't have a replacement. Could you maybe fill in, just this once?"
How could Grace refuse her aunt?
It was no surprise to anyone that, much like with everything else she did, Grace excelled. She delivered the embarrassing lines of the cereal commercial with much more fervor than the original actress had ("Plumbob Crunch - Gotta have my Plumbobs or I'll go unsta-a-able!") and even stepped in to assist people with all the insignificant little tasks around the studio. This quickly got her on everyone's good side. Grace simply couldn't help it - seeing the inner workings of the film industry excited her beyond words.
Soon she was offered an actual part-time job and had to head straight to the studio after school on most days.
Of course aunt Faye hadn't only asked Grace for help. Unlike her sister, however, Gloria had been aghast at the idea of doing some work at the studio. Acting in a TV commercial? No way!
"I'd love to help, but I can't," had been Gloria's hastily thought up excuse, "I-- I'm already signed up for shop club at school." It had saved her a lot of trouble at the time, but now she was stuck actually taking shop club as to not blow her cover.
It was a drag, but at least it was the after school activity with the fewest students in it. It would have been okay if she could at least secretly do her homework during this time, but Gloria had always had a hard time concentrating when surrounded by people, even just a handful.
So while Grace breezed through her homework during short breaks at the movie studio and ended up with plenty of disposable free time, Gloria often found herself cooped up in her own room, trying to unwind from the stress of being at school, just so she could muster up the energy to finish her assignments.
The work itself was easy enough for Gloria, but more often than not, she failed to see the point of the exercises, which just made it all the more laborious.
"Hey Gloria," Grace called as she flung the door to her sister's room open. "Jamey and I are going to the movies. Wanna come?"
Was Grace seriously suggesting that Gloria should be the third wheel on a date with her boyfriend? Why would she ever think that was a good idea? Besides, Gloria had only just begun to feel a little relaxed after a long day at school. Going out among crowds of people again was the last thing she wanted to do just now.
"I've got to finish this," Gloria mumbled, turning her face back towards the notepad.
"Oh, okay then." Grace's shoulder's slumped a little as she left and Gloria immediately felt a pang of guilt.
"Why do I have to be such a bitch?" she admonished herself. "What the hell is wrong with me?"
"Then again," Gloria thought, "She probably just asked me to be polite or something. I bet she's forgotten all about me already."
Gene was on a super-secret submarine mission to save the world when suddenly his tummy grumbled loudly.
No one was home at the moment. Daddy had roped a reluctant Gloria into teaching her to drive...
... and Grace was out on a date with her boyfriend. Probably kissing. Yuck!
"Well, it's leftovers again, I guess," he mumbled as he surveyed the contents of the fridge. Macaroni, pancakes... ugh. Nothing sounded appetizing right now.
Annoyed, he slammed the refrigerator door shut and stamped his foot. "I wish," he said out loud, to no one in particular, "I wish I had some yummy food right now!"
To his surprise, his outstretched hand began to sparkle and then...
... a steaming plate of hot dogs appeared out of nowhere.
"That was kind of badass," he noted, setting the summoned food down on the counter. "I rule."
Too bad no one was around to appreciate his awesomeness.
The hot dogs tasted absolutely perfect.
After eating his fill, Gene scampered back upstairs to play with his building blocks.
When Grace arrived back home from her date, her first concern was to check up on her little brother. "Hey Gene, I didn't know Dad and Gloria would be out too. Were you alright by yourself? Did they make you dinner before they left?"
"I don't need anyone to look after me," Gene protested. "I can take care of myself. I even made myself dinner tonight!"
Grace was delighted. "So you did use the toy oven after all? I'm so glad to hear that!"
"No, not with the dumb toy oven," Gene corrected. "I made myself hot dogs."
Hot dogs? Leftovers, then? Grace searched her memory. When was the last time anyone had made hot dogs? It must have been when grandma Evelyn was still around, she realized with dismay.
"You shouldn't eat old leftovers you find in the back of the fridge," she chided him gently, "You could get sick!"
"It wasn't leftovers," Gene snapped back, exasperated. "I made the hot dogs. With magic!"
Grace rubbed her temples. Not this again. "Gene," she replied, trying to keep her voice as level as possible, "We've talked about this. Daddy likes telling you these stories, but it's all just make-believe. Remember how I explained to you that magic isn't real? You shouldn't make up stories like this."
"I'm not making up stories," he insisted, stamping his foot. "It did happen! I'm magic, just like my Mom!"
Usually, she would have kept trying to reason with the boy, but tonight she simply couldn't bring herself to push any further. Things were already difficult enough for Gene with his inexplicable skin condition. It was understandable that he didn't want to accept that the only fact he knew about his mother wasn't a true fact at all.
"Come on," Grace finally said, "Go put on your pajamas. I'll read you a bedtime story."
Whenever they asked about Gene's mother, their father told them the same nonsensical stories - a magical, wish-granting creature, disappearing into a puff of smoke, never to be seen again. Blah blah blah. Grace had heard it a hundred times, and so had Gene. The only difference was that Gene was an impressionable child and actually believed his father's fairytales. The poor kid. He'd probably never know who his mother really was.
All Grace could do was to step into that motherly role to the best of her abilities, just as their grandmother had done for the twins. Making food, getting Gene ready for school and reading him bedtime stories - ideally some that didn't feature magic. Imagination was all well and good, but her little brother didn't need more wild ideas to reinforce those that their dad had instilled in his mind.
Grace smoothed the blanket over the soundly sleeping boy, switched off the lights and silently left the room.
"Hey Todd," Fred called out when he ran into his best friend on the parking lot of the arcade. "Are you coming to Larissa's party tomorrow?"
"I can't. She's dragging me to go shopping with her," Todd groaned, indicating a woman on the basketball court with a nod of his head.
Freddie craned his neck to see. "Oh, Nikki Kerman! I know her," he said.
"Well, yeah, half the men in town know her. All too well," Todd scoffed. "I thought she'd be perfect for some fun on the side. A one time thing." He cleared his throat. "But lo and behold, there she is a couple days later on my doorstep, telling me that her newest baby bump is my doing and that I have to take care of her now! So now I'm going to have a..." he gulped audibly. "... a kid. And the worst part is - she has like five of these things already, all from different guys!"
Freddie wasn't quite sure what to say. "Uhm, congratulations?"
The situation at Larissa's party wasn't much more comfortable. Her relationship with Dereck Avilla had not lasted long. Larissa was now back to living in her mother's overcrowded house, along with her sister and her sister's fiancé Willis Woods. It was Willis who noisily mocked Larissa just when Freddie entered. "Nice party. What are you celebrating? Getting dumped by your boyfriend?"
"Shut up, dumbass," Larissa retorted. "And get out of here. You're not invited."
"I've been living here since before you came back and brought that little brat with you," Willis spat venomously. "I have more right to be here than he does."
Distressed by the rising tension, Fred stepped in. "Patrick is a cute name," he complimented the new mother.
"I call him Pat, mostly," Larissa smiled. "Patrick sounds too much like Dereck, but he insisted on the name, so yeah..."
Man, Fred had failed miserably at steering the conversation to a more pleasant topic. "Uhm, sucks about you and Dereck," he said.
Larissa shrugged. "It's alright. It just wasn't meant to be, I guess."
"I suppose my true love must still be out there somewhere," she purred.
"Yeah, I guess," Fred smiled.
"I really like your place though," he said abruptly. "The cool stage props and stuff. All you need is a disco ball or something. That'd be neat."
When Larissa remained silent, he continued talking hastily. Why did everything feel so awkward all of the sudden? "Oh, by the way, I brought a gift for Pat, but I guess he's still too young to play with it."
"That's really nice," Larissa said absently, now whipping out a bottle to feed the fussy baby. "Just leave it on the table over there."
"It's a limited edition Tiger-X, from the TV show," Fred explained with rising excitement, "Look, it's so awesome! It has whiskers and everything."
"And look here," he continued, settling down on the floor with the toy. "There's a button and if you push it - ha! - it roars! Isn't that cool?"
Larissa watched in silence as Freddie spent the rest of the evening playing with the toy he'd brought for little Pat.
"It's too bad you didn't come along to see Corduroy Sunglasses with us the other day," Grace said. She had cornered Gloria and started talking. All Gloria had wanted was to grab a book, but now she'd have to hear all about how the date with Jamey went. Great. Unperturbed by her sister's pained expression, Grace continued, "It was really amazing. The director is a genius! Jamey thought so too. I'm sure you would have loved it."
"Well," Gloria began, "I didn't want to be a nuisance if the two of you were on a date."
"Oh stop it," Grace laughed, "You know you could never be a nuisance. You're my best friend after all! Jamey wouldn't mind. And you'd like him too! You should totally come with us next time."
"Wait, let's back up here," Gloria interrupted. "Am I getting this right? Out of all the people you always hang out with - those teen stars at the studio, your boyfriend and all those hip kids at school - you're saying I'm your best friend?"
Grace's eyes widened. How could her sister ever doubt that? "Of course! Gloria, you have always been my best friend and you always will be! Forever!"
"Don't you... don't you feel the same way about me?" Grace asked, now with a tone of hurt creeping into her voice.
Gloria felt her heart melt at the sight of her twin's puppy-dog eyes. "Of course I do," she sighed.
The words were barely out of her mouth when Grace swept Gloria into a tight hug.
Okay, just so things don't get too sappy - here's another dumb bonus pic for y'all:
Freddie might not be the perfect parent, but at least he never did this to his kids!
Phew! Awfully wordy chapter. Sorry about that!