The house was unusually quiet that evening.
Mal swam. Up and down, up and down until it grew so dark that he could barely see his hands in front of him.
Ellie curled up on her bed and cried into her pillow. She didn’t want the others to see her.
Al tried his hand at painting, though he soon found that it was harder than it looked – especially through eyes made blurry by tears.
Leo worked out, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was doing it for the exhaustion he knew would follow, so he punched, and punched, and punched.
Shea played a life simulation game, with ageing turned off.
Lyra just danced – concentrating on the moves left little mind-space for anything else, and she was grateful.
Lor cleaned every surface in the house, and he baked. When Malik finally came inside, shivering and tired, Lor wrapped his arms around his husband and held him close as the younger man cried. It would take time, but they would get through this.
Until then, he would be strong enough for all of them.
Four Months Later
“Hey, Uncle Mal?”
“Is this really what you do for a living?” Shea asked, turning in her seat to look at his screen. “Grandma always told me that video games wouldn’t help me get a job.”
“Your grandmother was partly right. You still need to do your homework and learn things, but if no one made a living from video games, they wouldn’t exist.”
“What are you doing?”
“Freelance programming – someone wants a mod for R.E.F.U.G.E. so that when the menu pops up the game pauses. They’re fed up with getting killed whilst messing around with graphics settings.”
“That does sound annoying,” she said, nodding as she watched her uncle tweak a line of code and go back to testing. “Do you think I’ll be able to do that some day?”
Malik grinned. “Tell you what – you finish your homework and I’ll show you some of the basics, ok?”
“Papa, I don’t need additional stabilisers!”
“Yes, you do. You aren’t going up in this rocket until I’m satisfied that it’s safe.”
Ella had been busy glaring at her father, so she was taken by surprise by the sight of a young red-headed woman peering at them over the half-built rocket ship. She stared right back.
Lor looked from one to the other as the seconds passed. Neither seemed willing to break off the impromptu staring contest, so he shook his head and wandered back inside. Ellie registered this in some part of her mind, but she wasn’t going to back down.
The fact that she wasn’t sure what she was refusing to back down from didn’t make any difference to her.
“I like your hair,” the young woman said. She still didn’t blink.
“I like your top.”
“Thank you – I bought it in Windenburg last year.”
“You’ve been to Windenburg?”
“I’d rather go to space,” she said, before grinning and looking up at the rocket. “This is beautiful.”
Ellie smiled at the compliment and patted the metal casing affectionately. “It is, isn’t it? Another couple of months and she’ll be space-ready, I just know it.”
“Have you decided what to call her?”
“Not yet,” she said, smiling. “I want to make sure it will suit her, so I’ll wait until she’s finished.” She smiled over at the young woman, happy to see the excitement she felt reflected in someone else. “What’s your name?”
“Oh! I’m sorry. My name’s Ashlynn.”
“I’m Ella. Would you like to see my blueprints?” Ellie cringed as she heard the words leave her mouth. Wow, Ellie. Smooth.
“I’d love to!”
“What’re you doing?” Lyra said, watching her twin mess around on his phone. “You said you’d tell me what you thought of my new move.”
“I’m looking up cocktail recipes. Want one?”
“Why are you guys so nice to me?”
Al looked at her, head tilted. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” she said, looking down at her hands, “I took Ellie’s room, I eat all the food, and whenever I have a friend over you have to wear your disguise. Why don’t you hate me?”
Al hugged her, smiling at her muffled squeak of surprise. “You’re family, that’s why.”
“But I don’t look like family,” she sighed.
“Looks aren’t everything, Shea.”
“Then why do you hide so much?”
“It’s because you want to fit in, right?” Shea continued. “If looks aren’t everything, then why do you pretend to be a Sim?”
Shea rested her hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“Ahhh~!” Lyra squealed, dancing happily in her seat. “Isn’t it pretty! Do you think we’ll ever get to go to a market?”
“I don’t know if we’ll get to one of those, but maybe we could hold our own one.”
“When I’m a famous dancer, I’ll go all over the world and visit all of these places,” she said, eyes sparkling. “I bet I’ll meet that lady on the screen. I’ll go up to her and say One melon, please and she’ll smile at me and tell me it’s about twenty million simoleons but I won’t mind. And I’ll bring the melon home and share it with all of you!”
“That’s a pretty big dream, Ly,” Altair said, grinning at his sister. “I look forward to the melon.”
“What does a melon even taste like?” Leo wondered out loud.
“I don’t know, but I bet it’s wonderful~”
“Leo? Is that vodka?”
Leo looked up at his papa with a beguiling smile. “Of course not. You stocked the bar, remember? It’s just flavoured water. Want a drink?”
“Not right now, but thank you.”
Leo watched him leave, glanced around, quickly ducked his head under the bar and grabbed the bottle he’d hidden there earlier. If anyone asked, it was grape juice.
“Leo Centauri,” Lyra said, leaning forward and smirking at him. “Is that wine?”
“Would I drink such a thing?”
“Not without your sister, you wouldn’t.”
“Bottom shelf, secret compartment,” he said, and winked. “Want some, Al?”
Altair was absorbed in a text conversation, giggling occasionally as he typed out replies.
The twins looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
I managed to fit an extra bedroom in the house! Shea has Ellie’s old room, and I made Ellie a room in the roof. It looked really weird with the exterior, so I turned the awkward part into a roof garden! I kinda like it 🙂