Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chapter 1.36

Chapter 1.36- No One Else

            Just because he’s smiling doesn’t mean he likes birthdays. Though, truth be told, Buck is looking forward to this birthday just a little. Growing old should mean he’ll be able to slow down a little bit, something he won’t mind at all.

            He’s lived a good life so far. It’s not every man that could claim such a sweet and pretty daughter as his Layla. His little Laydee Bug. Level headed. Kind. Thoughtful.

            Then his son, Galen. Strong, smart, sometimes a little clueless but overall a nice young man. Galen had plans for his life. He was going to work at the local branch office of a large corporation. He was going to be their tech-support agent, and with his head for computers he’d do well Buck thought.

            Then again, it could be a lot of Galen’s plans were made so early on because his girlfriend was a force of nature. Looking closely at his son, worry began to cloud Buck’s mind. Maybe Galen wasn’t such a strong young man as he could be. Perhaps Buck should have given him more spine.

            He looked over his shoulder at his wife, Helen, cheering him on. For most of their time together Helen had been so strong willed and bull-headed that Buck himself hadn’t really shown much spine. Usually, he had gone along with whatever plans she had forced on him. Was Galen’s weakness in the face of a strong personality his own fault?

            Smiling a little, Buck pushed the thought out of his mind. He loved Helen. And lately she’d begun to mature a little, leaning on him more and more. It made him feel so needed and loved. No. He’d taken the right course with Helen. There was no one else he could imagine spending his life with. No one else he wanted by his side as he grew old.

            Always easily startled, the sparkles caught Buck completely by surprise.

            It takes Helen by surprise when she sees how Buck has changed. His new look will take some getting used to, sure. But overall she’s pleased. It’s nice to still have a handsome man at her side.

            Even Buck is happy with the change. If this is what getting old feels like, he thinks that he’ll be getting used to it fairly easily.

            It isn’t until he sits down between his two wet-behind-the-ears teenagers that a few things finally hit him.
            He has two teenagers. Two! And both of them are going to want to make their own way in the world. Both are going to want to get married. Galen has already talked about the wedding plans his Arden has begun to make. And though Layla hasn’t brought up marriage, she’s got a steady boyfriend and they spend plenty of time together. How on earth is he supposed to provide money for all of that?
            And though he believes that Helen was his right choice, how is Galen supposed to known that Arden is going to be the right choice for the rest of his life? A teenager doesn’t always know what is best for them. Should he say something? In his opinion, Arden is far pushier than Helen ever was.

            Then a long ago statement made by Phedra comes ringing back in his ears. Layla wants to travel too. That’s why she runs around trying to collect jewels and precious metals every afternoon. She wants to save up to travel. But does that mean she doesn’t want to stay here? And does Galen realize that’s what she’s going to do? Does Helen?
            Looking up from a bite of cake, Layla spots Buck’s concern. Nope. Concern was passed about 30 seconds ago. He looks almost panicked.

            Unable to meet her father’s wide-eyed stare, Layla stares down Galen hoping for an intervention of some sort. Galen is oblivious as usual, shoveling cake as though each bite is his last.
            Sighing, she lowered her head. When she raised it to see Buck still focused on her, she gives him a tight-lipped nod before finally starting on her own cake.

            Taking it as acknowledgement of his thoughts, Buck deflates. Closing his eyes as he tries to come to grips with his children growing up. He sighs. Finally, Galen looks up, frowning, watching Buck before catching Layla’s eye. Perhaps they aren’t as close as they were as children, but they still know how the other thinks.

            It isn’t until Buck has risen and washed his plate that Galen finally makes his thoughts known.
            “He’s gone senile,” Galen whispered, a sinister look in his eyes.
            Trying hard to suppress her giggle, Layla grins broadly back. It’s the first thing the other has said to each other in a long time that didn’t have to do with how the future should be mapped out, or not.
            Pushing his chair back, Galen grabs his plate to wash it up.

            Galen had no idea that Buck was still standing right behind his chair.
            “I’ll have you know,” said Buck. “I’ll have you know that I am not senile. And just because I’m a little older doesn’t mean my hearing has been affected one bit! You young whipper-snappers have no idea what it’s like to become old.”
            Helen can hardly smother her laugh.
            “You’ve been a Senior Citizen for all of 20 minutes. How do you have any idea?”
            “I’ll fix your wagon later,” Buck grinned back. “I want a word with this one first.”
            Swallowing hard, Galen nodded back at Buck.

            Helen went off to sort some laundry as Layla finally finished her cake, taking her plate to the sink, she purposely dallied trying to hear some of the conversation between her brother and her dad.
            “Alright boy,” Buck began, his tone serious and gentle. “Just what are your plans with this girlfriend you’re so serious with?”
            Frowning, Layla turned the water on. Was he really worried about Galen? Or Arden?
            “Well,” Galen was as shocked as Layla. “Well I think we’re probably going to prom next weekend. At least, she told me we’re going together and what kind of corsage to get her. She also helped me pick a place to rent a limo from.”

            “And she’s found this organic Chinese place we’ll go to first for dinner. They make an amazing vegetarian Dim Sum-“
            “You’re taking your sister and her beau along aren’t you?” Buck interrupted Galen’s recital of Arden’s plans.
            Spluttering, Galen was taking completely aback. Arden hadn’t said anything about anyone going with them. He didn’t want to ruin their plans or their night by doing something Arden hadn’t planned.
            “Of course you are!” Buck answered for him. “You want to make sure your sister is okay for the night. Now then, those are not the plans I was askin’ about. I was asking about your plans for after high school. You’ve mentioned that you’ve got plans to marry this girl. Don’t you want to look around any after school first? Is this really what you want?”

            Eyebrows shooting up, Layla was surprised by Buck’s question. Her curiosity burned to sneak a peek behind her to see the look on Galen’s face. Putting an extra shot of dish soap in the sink, she slowed down scrubbing her plate even further.
            “Well,” said Galen slowly. His mind was still racing to come up with an answer. “Well, I guess so. I don’t see why not. There’s no one else at school-“
            “-But I’m not talking about school,” interrupted Buck. “I’m talking about the rest of your life. You may have found a nice girl to be with at school, but what if there’s someone better out there that isn’t at your school? And you’d better not guess this time. Guessing is only going to land you regrets.”

            There was no answer from Galen, whose face had fallen into stunned concern. Nodding sagely, Buck looked down at the carpet to give Galen a moment for his own thoughts.
            Finally, after an eternity during which Layla dried her dish 4 times, Galen cleared his throat.
            “I love computers. I’m going to work with computers. And I’ll marry Arden,” Galen said slowly.
            “Well then,” Buck smiled sadly. “So long as you know.”
            And he left the room to go and find Helen. Leaving both teenagers lost in their thoughts.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

            I forgot to get a headshot of Elder Buck to put on the Generational Goals page. Sorry! I’ll have one up soon.
            I really didn’t intend for this to be all “Buck has an epiphany” or anything. But I did want to show that Buck and Helen aren’t totally oblivious to what is going on with Galen and Layla. It’s just that out of the two, Buck is always going to get there first and have to bring Helen in on the conversation.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chapter 1.35

Chapter 1.35- Swan Song

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.

-T. E. Lawrence

            “Nothing at all?” Even at this eleventh hour, Helen was still trying her very hardest to convince Phedra to stay. Convince her to have a birthday party. Convince her of anything.
            “Nothing at all,” Phedra parroted her mother’s words. “I already have other plans.”
            “That don’t include your family.”
            “They include family.”

            “Just not all of your family,” said Helen. “You know we’re all going to miss you. Not just a few of us.”
            Phedra hung her head, but didn’t back down. It was the day of Phedra’s age-up, and she had taken a berth on a ship leaving the docks that very evening. Helen wanted to throw Phedra a big birthday party as a farewell. Phedra had other plans for how she wanted to age-up.

            Sighing loudly, Helen wrapped her arms around herself, looking around the girls room. It had been a while since she had really been in it or the boys room. All the pictures of Cyrus were in these rooms and the wounds were still a little too tender to make seeing them easy.
            “Not all my family is here anyway,” whispered Phedra almost hoping her mother wouldn’t hear her.

            “If you’re referring to your biological father,” Helen’s tone was needle sharp. “We can always give him a call and get him to come over, your other siblings and their mothers, too.”
            Taking in a quick breath, Phedra straightened up, throwing her shoulders back, ready to do battle. Normally Helen and Phedra’s relationship was easy. Since she had officially announced that she had a boat passage to some outlandish city where she would then take flying lessons for 6 weeks, before flying to some other outlandish city to take language lessons and prepare to live amongst a tribe of Bush-Sims to teach the children how to speak, read and write Simlish Phedra and Helen had been at loggerheads. Phedra was ready to go. Helen was determined that she was not.

            “And if you’re referring to Cyrus,” Helen raised her voice to be heard over Phedra. “If Cyrus had cared he wouldn’t have left in the first place.”
            Unable to look at her mother and confirm that she had indeed been referring to Cyrus, Phedra folded her arms looking away. Before Layla, Cyrus was the one she was closest to. Not that she wasn’t close with Helen, but sibling relationships are different. Losing Cyrus had been like losing a limb. Though she had finally learned to function without him, she missed him. And sometimes, she still ached thinking that she might have been part of the problem. But it was in the past. And the past had no more hold over her.
            The silence stretched. Helen watching Phedra’s face hoping to read some of what was going through her head.

            Finally getting an idea, Helen broke into Phedra’s thoughts.
            “What about Layla? I know she’s saying she okay with your departure, but really. You’re her reason for even going to school. You’re the friend Galen used to be for her, before he had Arden. You’re her anchor to a world with other sims in it.”
            The gentle reminder of a sister who had pulled her from a very dark place hurt Phedra. But Layla had always known that she was leaving one day. And Phedra couldn’t shield her forever.

            “Layla will learn to live her life without me,” Phedra was able to respond with confidence. “I am nobody’s crutch.”

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

            “Mom came and tried to talk me out of going again.”
            It was a warm fall day, perfect for being outside. And in honor of her age up day Phedra had decided that the two girls would spend the entire day outside until it was time for her to actually age.
            “You sound like you didn’t think she’d do it,” Layla was a little bored. Normally when she was outside she was moving. Sitting still on the little island watching a boat filled with student pilots guide it in lazy and irregular circles made her chafe. She should be doing something, not watching someone else do something.

            Laying down on the grass, watching the clouds float by Phedra sighed. She knew just how restless Layla was. In fact, she was most likely the only one who knew just how restless. For a while, she worried that Layla would end up doing something she’d regret. She held it all in, kept herself cool. But she hid a fire inside that was one day going to burst forth, burning everyone in its path.
            “Laydee,” Phedra sighed. “Laydee I’m always surprised when people I know, and who supposedly know me very well, act like they didn’t see something coming that was glaringly obvious.”

            “See that boat?” Phedra continued, peering at the boat. “I know that boat is going to turn portside and not starboard. Why? Because that’s all it has done since we’ve been here.”
            Layla went ahead and made herself more comfy. Layla could go on for a while once she got wound up. And she looked very wound up.

            Flipping over to better see the boat, Phedra didn’t lose her thread for an instant. “I’ve looked through the book mom kept of our sayings, first words, first steps. I know that I’ve talked about taking a rocket, or an airplane, and travelling the world since I was tiny. Why should she be surprised that I didn’t change my mind?”
            There was no response. Layla’s mind had been full of her boy problem since Anthony had kissed her several days ago. Phedra had been right that someone would get hurt. But-but…but. And in the end Layla tuned Phedra out to reason with herself on her own behavior. She’d heard this argument before. Many many times before.

            “I’ve always known I wanted to travel the world,” Phedra did indeed continue. “I’m not staying here just because Cyrus ran off and left us to wonder ‘what if?’ I’m ready to chart my own course, to go out and live my life my way. I’m going to see so much that mom never did. I’m going to help people. I’m going to do things that most of the folks around here only see on tv. In short, I’m going to go and live. Why can’t she just be happy that I want to be happy?”
            There was no answer from her sister. And so the two sat and watched the boats progress. Each wondering how to solve their own problems and assuage the guilt they felt.

            Each sighed countless times, wrapped in herself and letting the silence go unbroken.
            Finally, Layla changed her position and Phedra felt that maybe Layla was finally going to be able to say something she’d obviously been gathering her courage for.
            “Please, stay,” Layla said softly, bowing her head. “For me.”
            “Layla,” Phedra felt like she was stabbing her own heart. “Layla, it’s time for you to be comfortable with who you are. It’s time for you to learn how to stand on your own two feet. It’s time for me to go.” And Phedra stood up.

            Seeing Phedra rise, Layla got up off of the ground too.
            “Quit that,” sounding a lot like Helen, Phedra was annoyed at Layla’s hangdog look. “You knew my answer a long time ago. If you want to travel someday, travel for you. But you need to learn how to live your own life.”
            She knew that Layla wasn’t going to answer, but she paused anyway allowing room for one just in case.
            “Come on,” sighed Phedra. “Let’s go. You said you’d found the spot?”
            Still not raising her head, Layla nodded soundlessly.
            “Then lead the way.”

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

            “I love this view,” admitted Layla, a little shyly.
            A few days ago Phedra had approached her sister asking her to find the very best view of the sunset in the city. It had taken Layla a lot of walking, but she had finally settled on this particular hill.

            “Are you sure the sun is going to set over there?”
            “Really? ‘Cause I think we’re turned wrong.”
            “Look at your shadow, you goob.”

            “I can’t see my shadow,” Phedra was a little exasperated. She had this planned to the moment. It had to be perfect!
            Layla rolled her eyes.
            “I have no idea how you are planning to travel the world when you don’t know how to use your own shadow. It’s behind you. And it’s behind you because the sun is going to set in front of you.”
            Finally, Layla turned a little, actually looking at Fay. She giggled.
            “What?” Phedra asked, still staring hard at the distant mountains.

            “Well,” Layla couldn’t keep the smile out of her tone. “Well, you are turned the wrong way. You’re looking at the fall festival lights.”
            “Yeah, yeah. I meant to do that-to look at those.”
            Layla just nodded, a knowing look on her face.
            Standing there a moment, Phedra finally turned to Layla.
            “Right then, I’ve seen them now. Where do I look Laydee?”
            “At the twin mountain peaks in the distance over here. It sets where they split.”
            “Then let’s make sure I’m facing that way. Is it getting close now?”
            “In a little while. You really need a compass and a watch if you’re going to travel without knowing how to use what’s around you.”
            “That’s for the wilderness. I’ll be around other people who will know that stuff for me.”
            “You’re in for real surprise, Fay.”
            “Actually, you’re in for one.”
            “Yup. I’ll tell you when it’s almost sunset.”

            “Is it almost time yet?” Layla had been waiting, making idle chat with Phedra for long enough. The sun was starting to set. Surely it was almost time.
            Suddenly nervous. Phedra dug the toe of her boot into the grass, making a little green stain on the suede. “Yeah.”
            She took a deep breath, looking up and around her. Throwing her shoulders back she suddenly looked very different.
            “Over there,” Fay pointed to a spot slightly behind her. “Go and stand over there. And listen to me this time. I think I’ve finally learned something and you need to learn it too.”
            Curious, Layla moved to the spot Fay had indicated.

            On tiptoe, Phedra threw her head back, arms open, rejoicing in the suns fading rays.
            “I’ve learned that being comfortable with who you are is more important than anything else. That you can’t hide from yourself. You can’t hide from others. You can’t hide behind stronger people, or with weak people at your side.”
            “You know people driving by are going to think you are nuts,” Layla threw at her.
            “Let them,” Phedra’s voice was calm and quiet. “I don’t care. I just don’t care anymore what others might think. It isn’t worth it. What you think about yourself is all that matters. Having the confidence to be you is worth more than any friend, and is stronger than any enemy. It can crumble mountains. It can dry up oceans. It can cut through diamonds, and it can be crushed like the most fragile flower. But only if you let others chip away at your confidence.”

            “I’m tired of all these layers, and this hair style I use to hide behind,” Phedra raised her arms as though she were going to take off into the sunset. “I’m tired of caring that others may not think I’m pretty enough. I’m tired of trying to be better than everyone else just to make myself feel better. I’m tired of people telling me I can’t do what I want to do. And so now, I’m going to do it. I’m going to revel in just being me. And, Layla?”
            Bowing her head, knowing she was guilty of so much of that, Layla closed her eyes tight, letting Phedra’s words wash around in her mind. What was there to be confident about when everyone else thought she was supposed to act another way? These words might work for Phedra, who was about to fulfill her dream of flying away, but it couldn’t ever work for Layla. Everyone else had it all planned out for her.
            “Layla, it’s okay for you to be you. It’s okay for you to be different than what Galen wants, or what the kids at school want. With just a little confidence, you can be free.”
            A gentle wind ruffled Layla’s hair as she stood there, humbled by Phedra’s sudden attitude toward life.

            “I am free.” Phedra said firmly, finishing her swan song.
            The wind intensified for a moment, just a tiny gust, and was replaced by the calm of twilight.
            “And I am now ready to move forward, unencumbered, unburdened, unbound.”

            Layla had raised her head, opening her eyes to see an entirely different creature in front of her. Her breath caught, jaw dropping, there was nothing she could say.
            Phedra, finally concerned at her sister’s silence, turned.

            “What’s wrong?” Phedra asked, turning.
            Shaking her head, Layla responded, “Nothing at all. It’s… It’s just-just you.

            Phedra surveyed herself for a moment. Looking over her torso, arms and legs. With her hands, she patted her hair, smiling to herself the entire time.
            At last, she looked up at her little Laydee with a bright smile and gave her two thumbs up.
            “See? Confidence!”

            Turning her eyes from the dazzling vision in front of her, Layla felt tears prick her eyes.
            Shoulders drooping, Phedra strode quickly to stand in front of Layla.
            Layla nodded.
            “It’s still me.”
            Again, Layla nodded without answering verbally.
            “Look at me, please.”

            Forcing a bright smile, Layla looked up at Phedra.
            “There’s the confidence I want you to have,” said Phedra softly. “Really. You’re going to have to start standing up for yourself and what you want. Quit letting people walk all over you. You’re too kind to be broken so early.”
            Layla nodded again. “Yeah, I have a question,” she spoke.

            “Ask away Laydee,” Phedra grinned. “There’s no need to be afraid of me just ‘cause I’m a little bit older.”
            “Take me with you,” Layla pled again.

            Phedra looked at Layla sadly. Her words had bounced right off hadn’t they? The message hadn’t gotten through. She’d so hoped that she could help her baby sister before she left, to help her gain a firmer footing. But the time for her help was over, and her boat was already in the docks ready to sail at any moment.
            “No,” shaking her head. “No, Layla. It’s time for you to use your own wings. I can’t help you fly anymore.”

            A sudden blast in the distance made both of the girls jump.
            “That’s the boat,” gasped Phedra. “Quick!”
            She pulled Layla into a brief hug that would have to last for a very long time.
            “If I find Cyrus, I’ll send him to you first,” she whispered.
            Layla nodded against her shoulder. Phedra was going to use her down time between flying and language lessons to try to track down their half-brother. Helen had no idea, and never would.

            Standing at the apex, Layla watched her sister run down the hill and hail a cab. She stood and watched until the night sky swallowed all but the twinkling lights of the little town. And suddenly, she felt alone.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

I really wanted Phedra to go out in a special way. Her character is so big that I just couldn’t do the cheesy poses and sparkles and traditional cake. Besides, Phedra hates tradition. Phedra breaks molds. That’s her MO.
Also, I know that the sunset pics don’t quite line up, but it took me an entire DAY to get that just right so just shift the sun down about half a degree in your imagination in her second sunset swan pic. 
Last thing, there is a better pic of Phedra as a YA under the Generational Goals tab at the top.