I did get the job as the local witch’s gardener even after talking to my parents about it. Patrick and mum thought it was a good idea, especially since Patrick had been a bit reluctant to let me do the gardening in his vegetable patch. Not because he didn’t trust my weeding skills, but because he loved to take care of his garden himself. I had to applaud him for giving up even a part of something so dear just so I could have an excuse to ask for money. Now, though, I had another patch of land to clean up and water, and it was going to take a lot of work before that patch would start resembling anything other than something a dryad had thrown up.
Patrick actually went to see Sabine with me, and talked with her about the finer points of gardening for what felt like hours. She seemed pleased, and didn’t mind when Patrick ended their pleasant chat by making her swear not to overwork his precious stepdaughter. Embarrassing? Oh, yeah. I sat there quietly with my face and ears red and felt like I now really understood the other teens when they told about how embarrassing their parents could be. Sure, Patrick occasionally stood on soapboxes – metaphorically, thankfully enough – and always walked around in decade-old second-hand clothes, but I didn’t mind. He was mostly cool. But this… I could have done without.
Still, we got all the details on my unofficial job sorted out, and I promised to start right after my schoolwork wouldn’t demand so much of my time. The essay on owls was done, but now the teachers had thrown a whole new pile of reading assignments, writing projects, and even a dreaded presentation our way. I didn’t mind a small delay, though. The secret of the letters had waited for this long; it could wait a bit more now that I knew I actually had a chance of finding it out. Also, Sabine’s backyard was in such a terrible shape that it couldn’t get any worse in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile there was the party to worry about. The party at Faroffingtons’. I had never been to their fancy house, if one didn’t count the time when I’d sneaked to their yard to scare Carla with ladybugs. It felt odd to be actually invited there, although I had a feeling that the rest of us had been invited just so mum wouldn’t complain about it. Not that she would; she was too nice for that kind of thing. I still wasn’t too happy about going, but I didn’t really have any allies to back me up about it.
When Rem was asked if he wanted to go, he had simply said yes and only frowned when mum had told him he would have to wear his dress shoes. There was even a small argument about the shoes, but in the end mum won and Rem promised to wear them. Rem’s distaste for shoes was a bit funny to me, actually. I personally liked how grounded shoes made me feel. I stomped around in our house in my combat boots, and even though mum usually insisted that we shouldn’t wear the same shoes outdoors than we did indoors, she had caved in to my boot-wearing habits long ago as long as I took good care of cleaning the soles whenever I got inside.
After mum was done with approving of Rem’s formal clothing, she turned her attention to me. I didn’t have a proper formal dress, so she took me out clothes shopping. It was brave of her, because I knew finding a formal outfit I’d say yes to would take a lot of time and disappointments and complaints. Almost everything was too girly or too uncomfortable or too short-sleeved. And the suits didn’t feel right either. And the clothes in the men’s section were too big for me.
“You know,” I said after we’d exited the sixth or seventh shop – we weren’t fancy enough to go to boutiques – empty-handed, and a spring shower had caught up with us, “I could just stay home in my jeans and hoodie and look after Mer while the rest of you go.”
Mum seemed to think about it for a while, or at least pretended to. I had a feeling that she had already decided that I should go, though.
“You could do that, sure,” she said slowly, “But then you’d miss a chance to try something new.”
“I’m good, trust me.”
“And,” said mum, with her special “mum” tone of voice. I’m pretty sure that all mothers had their own version of it, and it always demanded people’s attention, “This could be your chance to show one of your classmates that there is no ill will between you.”
“What?” I blurted out, “That’s what this is about? I’m fine with Carla! I haven’t clashed with her in ages.”
“That tends to happen when you avoid someone,” mum said.
“Has Patrick been feeding you info about the school’s relationship messes?” I asked in a surly tone, “Because it’s weird that the teachers who are supposed to be old and not in with the times actually know what’s going on.”
“It’s normal. You kids just think they are clueless.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“You don’t have to be the best of friends, just… trust me, it’s better to not leave things like this just hanging.”
“You make that sound like there’s someone out there that you have an eternity of bad blood with,” I said, “And that’s even weirder. Because you’re you. You never get into fights with anyone.”
“Oh, believe me, I wasn’t always this friendly. And I’m sure you can guess that a quiet young writer with glasses and tons of freckles is a good target to be picked on.”
I stared at mum and tried to see a nerdy young woman instead of the slightly nerdy middle-aged mum she was now. I couldn’t, but I knew she was somewhere in there. Maybe. I’d seen a bit of her in old pictures.
“Oh,” I just said, “Look… just, well… fine. I’ll go. But don’t expect me to have a tearful hug with her.”
“Just being there is enough,” said mum, “Now let’s see if we can find something for you to wear. I’m not ready to give up, yet.”
In the end we did find a long-sleeved outfit that I liked. It was a bit short at the hem, and mum frowned at it a bit, but I promised to wear thick leggings and the matter was settled. I wasn’t one to show off my body anyway. Firstly, there was nothing to show off. Secondly, I really didn’t see any point in it.
I did have a bit more of a point in actually going to the prissy party at the Faroffingtons’ estate now, though. Even if it was just for mum. It would do.
We didn’t get a babysitter for Merrill. Usually a girl Rem’s age named Candy Ashleydale was our go-to sitter, but she was busy with other things on the day of the party. So Patrick stayed home, just like Mr. Faroffington had hoped, and assured mum that it would be for the best.
“You know me,” he said, “I’d just end up in an argument with the big shots of the town.”
He actually probably wouldn’t. But it was a good enough excuse. So he and Merrill waved at us when we packed into our car and drove off. I couldn’t help thinking that Patrick had got the easy way out. Apparently mum didn’t think there was any bad blood he needed to sort out by attending.
The Faroffingtons’ house looked pretty much the same as before: kind of like a very modern castle. When we got inside I noticed that the downstairs space, which had been pretty empty from what I’d seen through the windows a few years ago, had now been transformed into something like a ballroom, or at least a very big dining room. I think a part of it consisted of an old garage that had been very expertly merged with the rest of the space. Maybe the Faroffingtons’ had tried to appear greener by getting rid of their third car or something. Anyway, the place was elegant, I guess, with its light colour scheme and the grand piano in the corner. It was also full of people in formal clothes, most of them probably very important folk. I could recognise some of the Altos, and at least one Landgraab. It was a bit intimidating, being there in the midst of so many people I’d heard about but didn’t really know.
“Okay, kids,” said mum, who actually blended in really well in her new black dress and the fact that she probably knew all of the people at least somehow. Despite all that I could see even she was a bit nervous about being there, “Here we go.”
“Margaret Farley!” said the voice of Sindy Faroffington, who strolled to greet mum like the hostess of the evening was supposed to, “And your children made it here too! How lovely!”
She had a surprisingly real smile for a member of the family I usually associated with pretentiousness. Mum smiled back at her.
“It’s exciting to be here, Sindy,” she said, “Patrick couldn’t make it, though. We didn’t find a sitter for Merrill.”
“I’m sure we’ll manage,” Sindy said pleasantly.
Mum gave Rem and I a look that told us to enjoy our evening and go talk to the other teenagers who were present. Or then it said “sorry I dragged you here. Try to make the most of it and don’t mope in a corner.” I wasn’t sure which. I detached myself from the wall and made it to the buffet tables at the back of the room. There was some good-looking salad there, and I ate a little of it. I tasted the sugary cocktails – after making sure they were non-alcoholic because mum would freak out if I got drunk there – and then somehow ended up sitting in the same table as Carla’s brother Michel and Carla’s boyfriend Mark Jones. I guess that was better than actually talking to Carla, who was exchanging pretty pleasant words with Rem of all people. I sat there awkwardly and waited for either of the two guys to start the conversation because leaving the table randomly would just be too weird.
“So, you were the notebook girl?” said Michel suddenly, “From Carla’s class?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Lynn Farley. That’s me. That’s old news, though. Get in with the times. Now the laugh of the day is the guy who fainted in biology when we were dissecting frogs.”
“Oh, I know of him, too,” Michel said, “Bob Preston?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” said Mark, “It was hilarious!”
“Didn’t he hit his head a bit?” I asked, “That part wasn’t so funny.”
“Oh, right, ruin my fun.”
“Well, sorry,” I said, “But hey, schadenfreude doesn’t suit you anyway.”
“What’s that?” said Mark, frowning like a monkey trying to figure out advanced coding.
“It’s happiness derived from others’ suffering,” said Michel.
“Oh, gotcha,” Mark glanced a bit angrily to the side, towards Carla and Rem, who were still hitting it off pretty well, “Hey, look. You guys have fun with your fancy words. I need to go there and make sure Lynn’s brother doesn’t completely steal my girl.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said when Mark stood up, “He’d be too good for her anyway.”
I saw Mark flip me off covertly and wondered if I’d gone too far. Well, what was said was said, and at least Mark didn’t start a scene. He just walked away and slipped into Rem and Carla’s conversation actually kind of smoothly.
“Well, there he goes,” said Michel, “Hey, are you as bored as I am?”
“What?” I turned my attention back to him, “Me?”
“Yeah, you sure look like it.”
“Depends on how bored you are.”
“Very. Dad insists I have to be here, but I’d much rather shut myself upstairs and play video games or something.”
“What kinds of video games?” I asked. The conversation had turned interesting immediately.
“RPGs, shooters, and survival horror,” Michel listed quickly, “My favourite right now is Mass Effect.”
“Ooh, I love it too! Especially the second one.”
“That’s the best one, naturally.”
Michel thought about it for a moment.
“Hey, mum took my controllers so I can’t sneak upstairs to play like I’ve done sometimes, but there is a foosball table up there they didn’t account for. Wanna play?”
“You have your own table soccer?” I gasped, “That’s awesome!”
“Yeah. I guess it is.”
“All we have is an actual soccer ball. And I never play with it. I suck at soccer.”
“Well, then this should be an easy match, then,” Michel said.
“Don’t get too cocky,” I grinned, “Foosball has absolutely nothing to do with soccer.”
Michel laughed. He got up from his seat and led me upstairs. As we got there– to the third floor because these people apparently needed one – it turned out that Michel hadn’t been kidding. There really was a foosball table in there. I immediately took a side and grabbed some of the handles.
“Wow, this is so great!”
“You play table soccer often?” Michel asked.
“Nah, but it’s a lot of fun,” I hit one of the handles so that it sent the entire row of blocky players into a dizzying amount of somersaults, “There’s a table at this old café and I always take it over whenever I’m there.”
“So, are you really any good?” Michel asked, “Oh, wait, don’t answer. We’ll see that soon enough.”
I wasn’t very good, to be honest, but I didn’t care. Soon we were laughing and pushing the little players around with randomly changing tactics. The sounds of our voices and the table’s mechanics were enough to mostly cover up the sounds coming from downstairs. I thought I recognised Rem’s slightly agitated voice at some point, but I pushed it from my mind. I was sure it was nothing really bad. Maybe he was just as bored as I was and didn’t get an escape into the world of small plastic people, who had been enslaved into playing endless soccer.
“Rem, stop running! We don’t want to start an incident in a nice party, do we?”
“Okay, fine! You win! You wanted to talk, then talk!”
“I’d show a little more respect if I were you! Especially since I have the answers to all the questions you keep asking yourself.”
“Okay, first of all, I don’t even want to know how closely you’ve been stalking me. Second, maybe I would be more inclined to listen to you if you hadn’t messed up our life first!”
“I said I was sorry! And besides, I tried asking you to come home before…”
“You think sorry is enough? And I was ten! And in a loving family! What the hell did you expect?!”
“Yes… yes, I know. And that’s why I left you be after… after it all went wrong. Now though, things have changed again. First of all, you’re becoming an adult. You will need help in order to keep control of you magic.”
“Yes! That should be obvious now! Gods, you can be stupid!”
“Hey, either stop insulting me, or leave.”
“Sorry, sorry. I didn’t… the other thing is more difficult. But you do need to know. Your… your mother passed away a few months ago.”
“…What? I… you knew her?”
“Of course! I was her friend.”
“She’s dead, yes. I’m sorry. She was dear to us. She was our clairvoyant. And now we need a new one.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You, Rem. You can see things before they happen. That’s just one of the skills you need to master if you don’t want to end up hurting these people. And to do that, you have to come with me.”
“Oh, there it is again. What, you just come here, casually tell me my mum’s dead and then still want to kidnap me or whatever? I’m trying to believe you, but… but I just want you to stop hiding things from me!”
“Well? Are you happy now? I mean oh no, you’ve got through my glamour! The shock and horror.”
“I told you to stop mocking me!”
“Look, I can see this is a lot to take in, so I’ll give you some time to think. And you should really stop trying to tear down my defences, it’s just going to wear you down, and…”
There was a screech, like something out of a horror movie. It sounded inhuman, closer to a machine coming to a forced halt than anything living. I gasped when a series of pictures scrolled rapidly through my head. Forests and fairies and boogeymen, melting into a watercolour sketch and then sharpening up into an almost realistic image. I gasped and shook my head to clear my vision.
“What the hell was that?” Michel exclaimed.
There was a shout of pain, and I paled when I realised that I recognised the voice.
“Now look what you did! Stop that! I realise you’re trying to keep control, but you are just creating illusions willy-nilly and it’s not helping!”
“Rem. Rem, listen to me.”
I rushed downstairs with Michel, but only made it to the second floor when I spotted a blonde woman in a nice dress standing over the huddled form of…
“Hey!” I snapped when I saw the pained expression on my brother’s face, “Leave him alone!”
I barely registered the trees and weeds growing from the floor, and I had no idea if Michel saw them too. I was ready to push the stranger away from Rem, but another shout stopped me, or at least slowed me down a bit.
“Kids? Are you okay?” it was mum, followed by a:
“Vivian? Wait… what’s going on here? Who the hell are you?”
That voice belonged to a very perplexed Sindy Faroffington. The woman in front of us growled something incomprehensible and, when Sindy threatened to call the police, turned towards her only viable escape route. She rushed to open a glass door to one of the many balconies of the Faroffington estate.
“Hey!” I shouted, “Wait! Stop!”
But she was already going. She vaulted over the balcony’s railing and jumped impressively high before landing with only a little bit of stumbling because of her high heels. Then she ran, so fast I could barely keep up with her with my eyes. Before any of us could stop her, she was already gone.
I stared at the scene, not really knowing what to do. I really didn’t even know what had just happened. Sindy stepped aside to call the police, leaving mum to comfort a very badly shaken Rem.
“Sweetheart, what happened?” she said in an almost too gentle voice she had used more often when we had been younger, and especially when we’d been in the darkness, “Did she hurt you?”
“I… no. I don’t know,” Rem mumbled. His eyes were misty, and I was again reminded of the time when his pupils had disappeared. At least the place wasn’t filled with not-real plants anymore, “I don’t know what she wanted.”
“I’m really, really sorry about this,” said Sindy when she had been given permission to hang up her phone, “I don’t know what happened. I could have sworn she was an old friend of mine, but… I don’t think that was right.”
“It wasn’t,” Rem said very quietly, staring at the floor like that was the answer to all of his problems, “She tells lies, and she can make people think they’re not lies. At least… I think that’s what she does. She lied to me too.”
I looked at the still ajar glass door and shivered. I had a feeling we’d just met the Tree Lady Rem had once been so afraid of. I glanced at Michel, who clearly didn’t know what to do or say about this all. Not that any of us did. I felt like we were standing in a dream. And the most surreal part of it all was that downstairs, the party was still going like nothing had happened.
We got home later than intended, because we had to wait for the police and give them our reports. They didn’t seem too worried about the situation. Not that I blamed them. We didn’t have proof that the woman had done much more than scared one teenager, and then run off admittedly suspiciously. However, Rem had been convinced that she had tried to do something bad, however. Like take him away. The police had then launched into a full-blown third degree about why Rem would think that, and I could see his panic levels rising until mum told the police very sternly to back off and stay in the subject.
The whole interrogation felt endless, and I could only imagine what it had felt like for Rem, who had again retreated into the creepy corner of his mind that was probably just darkness. I remembered that place from my own mind and hoped that Rem wouldn’t slip back there. Finally we got home, and mum led Rem inside and told Patrick what had happened only after Rem had calmed down enough to go upstairs to sleep. I stood near the living room, momentarily – and understandably – forgotten, when Patrick fought to keep his voice down while taking in the news of what had happened.
“What? Who the hell was she?” he was saying, “The police will catch her, right?”
“I really hope so,” mum said, “But I doubt they think that she’s all that dangerous. I mean, according to Rem she just talked to him, and the police isn’t convinced she was actually trying to hurt or kidnap him. We have no idea who she was. Sindy told us that she claimed to be named Vivian Kenson, but Rem said she was called Vilya… or something.”
“I had hoped that Sunset Valley would be a new, safe start for us. That we’d never have to worry about anything like that. I know it was silly to think that.”
“Maybe it was,” Patrick said, “But I hoped that too, so I guess we were silly together.”
Mum wrapped her arm around Patrick, and I really didn’t know which one needed the comfort more. Maybe both. Even I felt a bit like hugging someone, so I wrapped my arms around myself and quietly retreated upstairs to my room. Or tried to. I found Rem sitting in front of his door, and it was kind of hard to just walk past him when he had clearly been crying.
“Hey, Rem?” I whispered, “Are you gonna be alright?”
Rem nodded slowly. I sat next to him on the floor.
“It was quite a night, huh?” I said, “So… hey, I’m sorry I’ve been dismissive of the whole Tree Lady -thing. That was her, wasn’t she?”
Rem nodded again.
“She’s the one who told Laketon to… take us.”
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Rem had said something about that before, sure, but now I actually thought about it. I had a new face to put into that trauma. A pretty, very hard to read face that was attached to someone who had just hurt my brother and jumped off a balcony.
“Wow,” I finally said, “Just… yeah. Bitch.”
It felt like a weak thing to say. Hell, I felt weak. I unconsciously touched my scarred cheek that would never look even remotely pretty and remembered the darkness again. I hoped Rem was wrong. But he had turned out to be right about the strange things too often.
“I don’t think she meant it, though,” Rem said, “I thought she did at first, but then… I doubt she lied about that.”
He sighed, and more tears fell on his cheeks.
“She didn’t even hurt me, really,” he said, “I did.”
“With magic. She told me that it would be hard to control it, because I’m becoming an adult. I think she was right.”
“So you’re going through magic puberty too, now?” I said, and couldn’t help the doubtful tone that crept in, “Right.”
“She’s not coming back,” Rem said, “Not for some time. The police has her scared, and now that people saw her, it will be harder for her to hide.”
He sniffed, and pressed his cheek against his knees.
“I think… maybe it would be better if she did get me. Or if… if I’d never been a part of this family.”
Okay, that was getting way too dark.
“Hey, don’t say that,” I said, “You’re awesome. And mum loves you too. Mer absolutely adores you. And Patrick… well, he’s your dad and loves you more than anyone.”
“Yeah,” Rem said weakly, “Yeah, I guess so.”
It wasn’t convincing. Rem suddenly stood up, thanked me and then went into his room, leaving me alone on the floor.
A few days passed and we didn’t hear anything from the police. Rem seemed to get a bit better after his shock, or at least to not care anymore. I hoped it would last, but by now I knew that it wouldn’t.
If there was one good thing that had come out of the party, it was that I’d made a new friend.
I now regularly played video games with Michel Faroffington, and occasionally fawned over the old arcade machine he had in his room. We played foosball too, and sometimes we even went outside to play actual soccer, even though we both sucked at it. It reminded me a bit of my time with Jace in the park back in Twinbrook. The few times when I managed to arrange something to do with both Min and Michel at the same time I almost felt like my old friend posse was back together. Except it was very different, because of course it was. Still, I loved it, and I don’t remember ever having so much fun after moving to Sunset Valley. When I told Bree and Jace about it over the Internet, they sounded a bit jealous, but I knew they weren’t really serious about it.
And then I finally had time to start working for Sabine, too, and I could again focus of her mysteries. And money. At this point, though, it was mostly to forget what had happened at the party, and how Rem seemed to be jumpier than before. About how I wasn’t sure if our family could take another incident like what had happened in Twinbrook.
Author’s Note: My old acrylic painting returns with a vengeance! I should paint more stuff I could use to spice up my pics randomly. I mean, symbolically, and to give this story a unique feel. Yeah. I’ve been drawing mostly portraits and other pics with people in them lately, so more fairytale landscapes would be a welcome change.
I had soooo much fun shooting this chapter. And I’m really excited to start working on the next one. Just goes to show how much easier for me it is to get things done when the story gets less happy. And it will go even more downhill for a while again. Sorry, my darling Sims!
I think I’ve said some time that I don’t want to put many obvious real-life references into my Sims stories, but it is pretty clear that the EA Games -titles exist in the Sims -world (because product placement), so I figured I could name-drop Mass Effect because I needed something to make the video game conversation seem a bit more realistic. Also Mass Effect is one of my favourite game series so why not?
Also, I managed to go on a pointless bit about shoes. I myself find the thought of shoes indoors very uncomfortable and just a very good way to mess up the floors, but I hadn’t really thought about starting to switch the shoes on and off all the time before I was in chapter 10 or so. Oh, well.
The tear makeup is from http://dd709394.pixnet.net/blog/post/37143673.