Tranquil and picturesque as a postcard, the city of Monte Vista sat on its mountaintop, proudly overlooking the endless rolling hills surrounding it.
Small cars and motor scooters wound their way through narrow streets, passing grand sandstone structures that had endured in this place for hundreds of years. Their golden bricks absorbed the summer sun, storing its heat for hours to come. They would feel warm to the touch until late into the night, when the faint noise of traffic would fade and be replaced by the melodic chirping of cicadas.
"WITH YOUR COLLEGE ROOMMATE?!"
Gloria's nostrils flared. As a sister, she was outraged that anyone would dare hurt her twin like this. As a writer, she was offended that the way it had happened was so terribly cliché. "And he's already moved in with the homewrecker?" she growled. "How long has this been going on?"
Grace set down her cup with a clink and folded her hands in her lap to keep them from shaking. The divorce had been 'quick and easy', according to Grace's lawyer, who had been delighted that Jamey would so easily give up all assets and custody to his ex-wife. Grace, however, had found nothing about the process 'quick and easy'. Emotionally draining and devastating was more like it.
Her voice was quiet when she spoke, "Too long. Hux was only a toddler when they started. The worst part is that I don't think he was going to tell me at all. I ran into them, on the street, a few days after signing the papers. I was out running some errands and suddenly... there they were - her heavily pregnant - so I confronted them. It was quite a scene." Her lips twitched into a bitter smile. "The paparazzi loved it."
"Of course they did." Gloria grimaced. "That's something I definitely don't miss about Starlight Shores: the way those vultures used to camp out on our doorstep. It must be worse for you now, being so insanely famous. I saw you on the cover of Sims Weekly - they're calling you a Distinguished Director, a five-star-celebrity! That's what you always wanted since we were young, isn't it? I'm proud of you." When her praise failed to make her sister smile, Gloria shifted gears. "I bet the vultures are having a feast pecking at him though."
"Jamey seems to be enjoying the publicity, actually," Grace said flatly. "All those exclusive interviews certainly helped his book sales."
Gloria exhaled sharply. "What a bastard. Sorry, Grace, but I never liked him. I know it’s shitty to say that now, but I used to think it was just me being jealous... I wish I’d known back then what I know now. Maybe I would have...”
“Stopped me?” Grace offered. “Even if I had listened, imagine what would have happened! I wouldn’t have Huxley now, and that's about the worst thing I can imagine.”
Gloria’s face softened as her gaze went to her niece. Huxley sat by the fountain on the town square, listlessly splashing in the water. Her new uncle Zhan was keeping a steady watch on the girl and it was good that way - her grandparents were too caught up in each other to pay mind to anything else. “How is she taking all of this,” Gloria asked.
“Not well,” Grace admitted. “She's been... difficult."
"That's only natural."
Grace shrugged. "It would be easy to blame it all on the divorce, but Hux has always been headstrong. She's gotten worse though. Last week she threw a tantrum because she didn't want to go to guitar lessons anymore, which she picked up after she didn't want to go continue with the drums, which she picked up after she decided she hated the piano. I gave in again, which probably makes me a bad parent, but then back home I find her playing all those instruments by herself instead of doing her homework. I think Hux lacks direction, but when I try talking to her about her future, she either clams up or throws another tantrum. I don’t know what to do about it anymore, to be honest.”
Gloria took a while before she replied, and when she did, she spoke slowly, carefully considering her words. "Grace, it sounds like maybe you're expecting a little too much of her." She paused. "And of yourself. She's still a kid and you're only... human. Even if you're trying your best to be more than that."
Grace couldn't stifle a snort, but quickly grew serious again. "Other humans manage to keep a marriage going."
"What, so it's all your fault now?"
"No, but it takes two."
There was a long moment of stillness between the sisters. They both watched their family, their father and mother, finally reunited.
It was Gloria who broke the silence. “So what about - what was his name? Adam?” She grinned.
Grace felt herself blush and smile involuntarily. "He asked me to move in with him, actually."
"What?! That's great," Gloria burst out. "Are you going to do it?"
Grace shifted in her seat. "I'm not sure... I have to think about Huxley first. And then there's work... what would I do, all the way in Appaloosa Plains? I mean, I want to, but--"
"Well, then it's settled," Gloria said matter-of-factly.
Grace let out a laugh. "It's not that easy. There's a lot to consider. I'd have to decline some offers... which I never wanted to take anyway. To be honest, it sounds good to me, living somewhere quiet. I could focus on working more independently." Grace stirred her coffee absently as she stared off into the distance, thinking. "What's more important is Hux. Appaloosa Plains isn't out of this world, but she needs to be able to see her father regularly. I don't want to take her out of school... but then again..." Grace's eyes glazed over once more, but she was jolted back into the moment when she noticed her sister's questioning gaze. "Huxley's teacher said she was being 'disruptive' in class, and she's even been in detention. I suppose a new environment could do her good. Or it could make things worse."
In the meantime, Zhan had finally managed to coax Huxley into playing soccer with him, which was an unexpected but delightful sight to Grace.
"I really like him," she told Gloria, who beamed happily.
Gloria's wedding ring glinted in the sunlight, painfully reminding Grace of her own, which now resided in the back of a sock drawer at home. But she'd talked more than enough about her own problems for now, she thought guiltily. "I wish I could've been there for your wedding."
Gloria smiled apologetically. "It was a bit of a snap decision, so there was no time to invite anyone. It was just us."
"That sounds romantic."
"It was," Gloria sighed. "It all happened so quickly. Sometimes I still can't believe how much my life has changed." Stroking her bulging belly, she added, "I'm very happy."
Grace gave a genuine smile, her own troubles briefly forgotten as she relished her sister's bliss. Gloria deserved all the good that had happened to her. "So when are you due?"
"Any day now," Gloria said, grinning. "What about you?"
Grace gasped as her hand found her abdomen. "You know? Is it that obvious?!"
"Don't worry," Gloria giggled. "I don't think anyone else could tell yet. It's Adam's then?"
"Yes, and he's over the moon about it!"
"Another good reason to take him up on his offer."
"It just... seems wrong to jump into another relationship so soon."
Gloria frowned. "You don't have to waste your time mourning him." The venom in her tone made it clear that she was referring to Jamey. "It's not like he died! The bastard cheated on you, and he moved on. So why shouldn't you?"
"I'm not like him."
"Thank plumbob. But let me ask you a question: What will be different if you wait longer?"
Grace considered for a moment. "Yes, I get what you mean," she acquiesced. "But I'm still worried. What if it doesn't work out? All I want is someone I know I'll be happy with, like you and Zhan."
Gloria laughed. "I'd only known Zhan a couple of days before I asked him to move here and marry me!"
"You two are so good together though. It's like you were made for each other. I used to think I had that, but obviously I was wrong. So how can I be sure about Adam? I've only known him for--"
"And you knew Jamey since you were kids and still things fell apart," Gloria interrupted impatiently. At Grace's stunned expression, she softened. "Look, Grace, the point is, no one knows what's going to happen tomorrow. Things change, and so do sims. Nothing is certain. All we can do is make choices that make us happy today."
They spent a few more days in Monte Vista, staying at Gloria and Zhan's new house and basking in the summer sun. Grace thought long and hard about her sister's advice and finally made up her mind.
All too soon, however, it was time to say goodbye again.
Gloria is pregnant! Minor spoilers for her Wishacy. I need to catch up on writing that.
For those of you with the perceptive trait, please excuse the disappearing and reappearing parasol and the shifting shadows >_>