Soon after we’d made our decision, winter rolled in. It was a snappy winter, with some days so warm the snow melted into nasty, watery slush that made biking awful, and some days so cold I felt like my lungs would freeze if I went out. I preferred to stay indoors at those times, with a cup of hot cocoa warming my hands and my insides. Rem would go outside even then, breathing in deeply as if he actually wanted to be frozen from the inside.
He was still too quiet, but I could see sparks of him as the time passed. Maybe there was still hope.
Our school’s bake sale came and went without me even noticing it much, but there was a wickedly good gooseberry pie à la Patrick for sale there, just like I’d promised. I had my birthday near the end of February, and I didn’t have much time to think about how it felt like to be thirteen.
We made tons of snowmen, but they were wistful and melted too soon, their smiles turning into frowns before their faces fell off. Patrick blamed global warming, but I just thought I was seeing things differently because these would be the last snowmen we’d build while living in Twinbrook before we moved.
The winter passed all too quickly. It was like one morning I was watching the first real flakes of snow fall to the ground and the next it was gone again, just like we’d have to be in mid-April. If this kept up it wouldn’t take long before the still bare trees would be pushing out pale baby leaves in the crisp air, not caring if the nightly frost froze the leaves before they could open up.
I imagined the leaves shrinking back into the branches, even though I knew that wasn’t how it worked.
The closer April got, the more I thought about the things I’d be leaving behind. Sure, I didn’t have many friends. Even now Bree and Jace were the only ones I could really connect with outside of my family. Now we’d be moving to a new place with completely new people. Maybe I could find someone to talk to there too, but the thought of not seeing my best friends for most of the time still hurt. A lot.
Mum and Patrick had found a new place for us after a while of determined searching. Our new home would be in Sunset Valley, which they said would be idyllic and nice and good for all of us. There’d be more than enough nature around, and a job for both mum and Patrick. And there would be plenty of exciting things for all of us to do. I only cared that it was sufficiently far away from Laketon, even though it meant it would be hours of driving away from my friends. We’d driven there only once to see our new house and had deemed it a good home for us. I didn’t have much more of an opinion of Sunset Valley. I was sure I’d have one by the end of spring, whether I wanted it or not. I hoped it would be a good one.
Until then, we’d all just wait.
When the leaves didn’t shrink back into branches, and instead started opening up, our life was halfway in cardboard boxes and garbage bags. Before really leaving, mum and Patrick insisted on throwing a farewell party, even though we almost never threw parties. We’d all have to dress nicely and mum and Patrick worked all day to cook some delicious but not too fancy food we could eat in our backyard. They had invited some of their good friends and let Rem and I invite some of our friends too. Rem barely invited anyone, and I only wanted Bree and Jace there. We’d all wanted Grandma Brandi and Grandpa Lórccan there, but they had been busy with some neighbourhood meeting, so we’d just invited them for tea the day before.
Now I stood in my room, looking at myself in the mirror and hating what I saw. I’d tried covering up my scars with some makeup, but they were still too rough and stood out almost as if I hadn’t put on anything at all. I’d finally got a new dress, but it wasn’t the one I’d really wanted, because the nice black dress would have exposed my burned left arm. I’d had to do with something that covered me up entirely, but I still wasn’t happy.
I knew it was shallow, but I also didn’t care.
“Lynn?” mum’s voice asked at my door. I reluctantly turned to look at her.
“I’m not going out there,” I said, “I look horrible.”
Mum smiled sadly.
“No, you don’t, honey. You are pretty, like always.”
“You’re just required to say that because you’re my mum,” I said, and it came out snappier than I’d wanted.
Mum’s hand brushed my cheek, wiping off some of the makeup I hadn’t managed to get quite right. She smoothed it out so that it probably looked more natural, and her smile was gentle.
“I’m just telling the truth. And those scars are going to fade with time. Don’t worry about them.”
“The doctors said they’ll never be gone,” I reminded her bitterly, “Not entirely.”
“I know,” mum said, “I’m sorry. But soon they won’t be nearly as noticeable. And no matter what, you’re still beautiful.”
I sighed. This wasn’t going anywhere. I knew mum was trying to make me feel better, even if it wasn’t working right now.
“Let’s just go,” I said, mostly because I knew mum wouldn’t let me stay cooped up in my room. Besides, Bree and Jace would soon be here.
Most of the guests were already there. I recognised Patrick’s friend from work and some of mum’s friends as well, but I didn’t exactly know them. One of them had a little kid, something like two years old, and Rem was already busy playing peek-a-boo with her. She was squealing in delight, and I saw Rem smiling as well. With a small smile of my own I turned to look for Bree or Jace, who should be here by now. I spotted Bree and ran to her, glad that no one had had time to start awkward small talk with me before I found her.
“Hey!” Bree said sunnily, “Nice dress. I love the colour.”
“Oh… thanks. Yours is very pretty too. Very you.”
My compliments sounded a bit unconvincing, even though they weren’t meant to. Bree really did look pretty in her long, yellow flower dress. Bree didn’t mind my awkwardness, though, and just smiled brightly.
“Jace should be here soon, too. His mum is dropping her off. It’s nice that we could come here.”
“Yeah,” I said, “It’s going to be only a week before we’ll be… away. It feels weird.”
“Sad, more like,” Bree said, “But we’ll message each other all the time. And call. And play games online.”
“And we can visit, too,” I said, “Just… not as often.”
“Right…” Bree sighed, “You’re right. It is weird. Hey, look! There’s Jace.”
And indeed he was. He looked sad, but tried to laugh it off. He was wearing a shirt I guessed was a gift from his uncle, because its style had Mr. Bob written all over it.
“Hi! Sorry I’m late,” Jace said.
“You’re not,” I said, “There’s still plenty of burgers left.”
Bree rolled her eyes.
“Jace, we’re here for Lynn, not food.”
“Hey, it’s alright,” I said, “The food is pretty good here.”
“I know right? Your dad’s awesome at cooking, even though he puts all that weird hippie stuff in them.”
“Hey, it’s not weirder than what’s put in chicken nuggets,” I shrugged. Bree giggled, and even I laughed. These normal friend moments had become… well, normal again, and I was so glad about it. I tried not to think about how they would soon be so much rarer.
We ended up playing tag like silly elementary school kids, and I really didn’t mind. I think it started when we watched Rem run around with his friend, and it had escalated from there. It was stupid, but it was fun, even if it did get my fancy dress sweaty and stuffy and some of the adult guests looking at us funny. Mum and Patrick didn’t seem to mind, though. They just were happy that I was laughing.
I ended up near the river that was close to our home. Jace caught up with me after a while, cheeks red from running and his hands behind his back to hide something.
“Hey, Lynn,” he said almost shyly.
“Hey. We’re done running around like crazy?” I asked and saw Bree trying to catch her breath somewhere in the background.
“Yeah, Bree’s too tired to continue for a while,” said Jace, “It’s fine, though. We could take a break and raid the buffet.”
Jace’s face got even redder.
“So, Lynn… you’ll be gone soon.”
“Yeah, thanks for the reminder.”
“Sorry. I mean, I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too.”
Jace nodded and studied his shoes.
“That’s why I’d figured I’d buy you something. You know, a memento or something. Or at least something to read on the way to your new home.”
He brought out a gift that had obviously been wrapped by a store clerk. It was a pretty box that I could assume held a fraction of Jace’s longing smile in it, along with whatever else was inside. Judging by the lazy rattle, the weight and the fact that Jace had talked about reading, it was a book. A thick book, probably.
I felt a smile and tears trying to get to my face at the same time.
“Thanks, Jace,” I said, “You’re awesome.”
He seemed to be gathering up courage, and then hugged me tightly. I stiffened like I still did when someone besides my family hugged me, but then relaxed. It was comforting. But it was also a goodbye.
When we broke apart, I saw Bree grinning at me almost too widely. I was going to miss them so much.
The day when we actually moved was the warmest that year so far. The leaves were already boasting their summer colours and everything was green and flowery. The moving truck started ahead of us, and we took our car to go after it. I felt butterflies in my stomach, and I cast the last look in our house. I knew that when we got back to visit Twinbrook, it wouldn’t be our house anymore. It had already been sold, and the new people would move in in a few days.
Even the swamp around Twinbrook looked nice today. Then it was all behind us, just like that. I leaned my head against the window.
“So, Laketon, I heard you’ve got a visitor today. Glad you’re not completely forgotten.”
“Yeah, thanks, I so appreciate your frickin’ concern.
“Now, now, be nice.”
“Oh, that’s mature.”
“Hello, dear, I hope I’m not… interrupting this deep conversation.”
“It’s you? They never told me who-“
“They don’t know, Nils. And they won’t.”
“Yeah, I don’t care. All I care about is you telling these cops that you made me do this.”
“I can’t help you if you won’t help me first. This family of yours has left, and I cannot find them any longer. Do you have any idea where they could have gone?”
“What? Me? No. If they’ve run, you’re on your own. I got no idea where they are. You happy?”
“Not really. You are pretty much my only lead. I can’t… I don’t think anyone else would tell me even if they knew.”
“Go through archives or something, I don’t care. Tell these people I didn’t do it!”
“Nils, do you honestly think that’s going to get you off the hook? You were never supposed to hurt them, and we never talked about taking the girl as well.”
“You told me to get some payback, and I did! And you were the one who made me do it. You made me think it was a good idea, you freak! I know you did something to me!”
“Most of the stupidity was all you. No one ever told you to go that far.”
“Go that far? Because kidnapping isn’t already crossing a line? If I’m going down because of this, you’re coming with me!”
“I don’t think you understand me, Nils. I was never here. The cameras won’t see me. The moment I leave and you are back in your cell, no one remembers you even had a visitor. You had a chance to get my help, and you blew it. Horribly. You hurt them, and I won’t stand for it.”
“Oh, because you weren’t going to hurt them? That family was pretty damn attached to that freak you wanted me to take.”
“Good bye, Mr. Laketon.”
“Don’t you walk away from me, you bitch!”
“Sir, he’s getting aggressive. Please, get him out of here.”
“Certainly, ma’am. Do you have any idea what he’s talking about?”
“Me? Oh no. He’s being crazy. You might want to look into that.”
“What?! This isn’t over, bitch!”
“Laketon, this really isn’t helping your case.”
“Damn. This isn’t good. They’re really not going to like this back home.”
“Well, at least I can go back home for a longer while. These shoes are killing me.”
“Besides, eventually they’ll all come back.”
Author’s Note: Well, that’s another milestone reached. We’re changing towns! Yay. I’m going to miss Twinbrook, though. It’s nice. But it needed to be done for the progression of things. And for character development that will probably pay off later. Probably. Hopefully.
I had way too much fun shooting those police station scenes. What is it about staging public buildings…? Also, while designing the look of the mystery lady I didn’t know yet that in the Sims 4, aliens look kind of like that and can also disguise themselves as humans. Well, I hope that doesn’t make things too confusing. This is fantasy, not scifi, so spoilers, she’s not an alien.