Warnings: language, references to death, miscarriage
They'd often jokingly called themselves the Singles household, and there they were a decade later, every one of them as single as they'd ever been.
That evening, they gathered together again for a meal, just like old times.
The drinks flowed and the food was passed around and together they remembered and they forgot. They talked of everything and nothing and for a few hours, all was well in the world and nothing at all had changed.
After they'd seen Erin off, and everyone had shed their funeral attire, Kristen excused herself to take a bath and head to bed early.
"She seems a lot better these days," Lola remarked.
"Who, Erin?" Chloe snorted. "Really? I thought she was as screwy as ever."
"No, Kristen, I mean..."
"Oh. Yeah, you're right. She is doing a lot better. Nearly a full recovery at this point. I think getting back into sports is what did it, mostly. It really helped to bring the memories back. Better than that stupid helmet ever did."
"Oh, be nice."
"Aren't I always nice?" Chloe smiled wryly.
Lola sat down at the coffee table and began thumbing through an old shoebox, smiling as she revisited the collecton of well-worn photographs contained within.
"Haven't seen those in a while," Chloe said, as she picked up the remote to turn on the television.
Lola looked down at Glabe Curious's smiling face, with Chloe and her laughing in the background. They were standing on the lush growth of Gothier Green Lawns, one of their aunt's favourite weekend haunts.
"It's too bad the rest of our family never really had the chance to know her. It seems like such a missed opportunity." She continued to look through the box of photos. "I don't think our father was ever very happy that she decided to leave the family business to travel the world as an exorcist and ghost hunter." Another breath or two, then, "He probably couldn't even begin to understand how someone could decide they'd had enough of UFOs, it being his entire focus in life."
"He seemed happy enough about the convenience when we came along."
"You really should just forgive him for that."
"Yeah, probably. But shit happens. I know it was complicated and blah blah blah, but he could have been more involved. Even before Kitty came along and got her claws in him."
"For yourself, I mean."
"Yeah," she shrugged. "Too bad about that."
"And Kitty wasn't so bad," Lola added. "It's not really fair to blame it all on her."
"And it wasn't all so terrible, was it? You and me and Glabe?" She smiled down at that first photo once more. "I thought we had some very good times together. I wouldn't have changed a thing, really."
"No," Chloe mused. "You're right. We were happy enough. Probably a lot happier than I would have been stuck here in Strangetown at that age."
Lola smiled at her, knowing just how true that was. She gathered all the photos back together and lined them up before placing them back in the box.
She turned to Chloe. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you that I was planning to go with the aliens."
"I thought you would go."
"Still, I know it took you by surprise."
"Yeah. Well, you could have warned me before announcing it to everyone."
"Sorry about that. I guess I thought it would be easier to tell everyone at once."
"It makes sense that you'd go now, with everything that's happened."
"Are you going to be okay here?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. It's not the first time we've been apart."
"This is different. Hard to say if I'll ever be back..."
"I know that. Again, it's not the first time I've had to deal with that." Chloe picked up a photo of Glabe and examined it. "It's a little easier when you see it coming, but not by much."
Lola reached for her hand. Chloe allowed her to hold it, but gave her an expression that warned her not to start getting too emotional. There'd be time for that in their final goodbye, and Lola knew how much Chloe hated emotional scenes, even with her. "I'm going to go," she said, "but I'm still not sure about the breeding aspect of it."
"Ugh!" Chloe rolled her eyes. "Why would you be?"
"Well, it's important for them. And the more hybrids that volunteer willingly... every little bit helps. But yeah... maybe if someone else does most of the work. With the childrearing, and all that." They both laughed. "I've agreed to doing something more hands-on, adventurous. They're going to need defences set up for the new colony, and some of us will need to continue to seek out other hybrids that might like to relocate, and so on. And with my previous work skills..."
"Yeah, you'd be perfect for that." She lowered the photo back onto the pile. "You're so much like her, you know. I've got her hair, but you have her spirit."
Lola smiled, happy with the comparison. "You'll never believe what they call the job position I'll be taking."
"As long as you're not a Pollination Technician..."
"Yeah, no worries about that." She placed a handful of photos back into the box, then stood up and turned around with a dramatic flourish.
"I'm going to be a space pirate."
"Okay, out with it," Pascal said, as he approached Vidcund on the roof. "You're sleeping with her."
"Look, Pascal," Vidcund said, "before you even start, let me remind you who has been creeping around with this kid who is the son of the devil!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, don't be coy with me! I overheard you talking to him."
"You listened to our private conversation?"
"Not intentionally! And like you can talk... But yes, I did overhear it. The devil's son? That is some twisted--"
"Son of Death, not the devil. It's a very different thing. The devil would be the woman you've been going to bed with, it would seem. Cloning people? Really, Vidcund?"
"Oh come on! You know that was Loki. He was a mad scientist and Circe is a surgeon. She's a medical doctor! You know as well as I do that it was him."
"Yes, well what about after that? She just shows up and takes one of them? For someone so smart, you really are stupid about that woman."
"Just because she turned you down..."
"I'm going to pretend you didn't just go there. Like a child."
"Speaking of children... you know how it looks with you being more than twice his age and having him all secretly tucked away like that, right? With you never, ever having any romantic attachments?"
"Didn't you just go on a trip with one of your students?" Pascal reminded him. "Was she under half your age, or maybe just a little bit shy of that? Where's the line for you, Vidcund? Or does it move around, depending on the requirements of your situation?"
"She's a very mature young adult," Vidcund huffed.
"And you are perhaps the biggest hypocrite I've ever met."
"One day, Pascal," he warned. "One day you will wake up and realize that you aren't this... this balding little logical saint that you seem to think you are!"
"How are my follicular problems related to this in any way?"
"That was just to hurt your feelings. If you had any, that is, and weren't just a bipedal computer!"
"I don't see your temper doing you any favours."
Vidcund scowled at him, but reigned himself in, lest he prove his brother right once again. "Okay, but what is the deal with this... Nervous Subject? Why have you been hiding the fact that he's alive from everybody?"
"That was his choice. I was simply respecting his wishes."
"Well, we don't bite. You can tell him that."
"He'll come around," Pascal said. "Eventually." They both looked out over the town, and up at the stars, silent for a moment.
"That was unfair of me," Vidcund said. "About you having no feelings. I remember when we heard that he'd supposedly died in that fire."
"Yeah..." Pascal also remembered that day very well.
"And I know you were good friends. And he's not that young. Or rather, I don't really know how old he is. It's hard to tell. Sort of weird, really. Whatever... it doesn't matter. I shouldn't have said that. I was just being an asshole. As usual."
"I know. It's okay."
"And I know what I'm doing, okay? Circe and I go way back, and she's not at all what you seem to think she is."
"If you insist." Pascal considered mentioning that he thought Vidcund would be better off dating Bottom, or anyone else at all for that matter, but you really couldn't talk to Vidcund, and he didn't want to risk another flare up. He hope the situation would work itself out on its own.
"That Erin is something else, huh?" said Vidcund, shaking his head.
"She's quite the character," Pascal agreed, glad to change the subject to their brother's business instead. "She's very... pink."
"She and Lazlo make quite the pair." Vidcund snorted. "They can amuse themselves with their psychic and telekinetic powers while they're in Foxpiss Hollow, or whatever the hell it's called."
Pascal couldn't help but laugh along.
Jill headed downstairs for a glass of water, and found Johnny in the kitchen, aimlessly searching through the cupboards.
"Hey," she greeted him. "What're you doing?"
He sighed. "Honestly, I'm not even sure I know. Looking for something that's not really here, I guess." He settled on a box of cereal that was uncharacteristically sugary for the Smith household in general and for Johnny in particular.
"Has Mom gone to bed?" she asked.
"Yeah, I just took her in."
"How is she?"
"Oh, you know. As good as she can be, I guess. She's still awake if you want to go see her."
Jill leaned in and gave him an unexpected hug, and an even more unexpected kiss on the cheek. "Goodnight, J.J.," she said. "Don't eat too much of that crap, okay? I hear it's bad for your teeth."
He smiled. "Thanks, Sis. Goodnight." He didn't say anything about the empty couch, all made up for Buck to sleep on, or the fact that Buck had gone upstairs to brush his teeth and never returned. He simply reached over and messed up her hair before she left.
Jill went down the hall to see her mother in the room that was now sadly her's alone.
Upstairs, Buck pulled on waistband of the pajamas that Jill had found for him to wear. Luckily for him, Johnny favoured a looser fit, but they were still too tight at the waist and too long in the legs. He could tolerate it, he figured, or sleep in just his underwear once he was under the covers.
It felt strange to him to be sleeping at the Smith house again, just like after his father went missing. It brought back some bad memories, but also some good ones. He thought of the times he and Jill had spent here as teens, or at his house with nobody else around. The first time they'd done this or done that. Good memories, for sure, despite the circumstances. It had helped him to forget about his father's disappearance, and to stop worrying that his brothers would kill each other in the aftermath. It had been good to forget.
He wished that he could forget everything once again, even for a moment, but being here made all those memories return, and memories of P.T. enter his mind one after the other. It was hard not to think about what had recently happened to him, becoming pregnant and losing the baby. It seemed he could never manage to forget that, no matter how had he tried, and each time the memories returned they felt as fresh as the day it had happened, and were just as confusing.
Should he tell Jill? He was still so unsure. Didn't she have a right to know? Or would it be too painful to hear about that now, given the circumstances? Maybe it would be best to keep it to himself for a while. But telling her would feel less lonely.
Jill entered the room, wearing some of her old familiar pajamas from when she was a teen. When she saw him, her smile was all that he needed to decide that the moment had not yet arrived.
For the moment, they could be happy.
Ripp walked up to the front door of that big yellow house that had always seemed so welcoming to him. He was about to ring the bell, but then decided that it would be better to avoid disturbing Jenny and the kids. They were probably asleep. He walked around to the back and peered in through the patio door.
There was Johnny, sitting all by himself at the table with a bowl of cereal.
"Come on in," Johnny said, as he slid open the door. "You're right on time."
"You were expecting me?"
"I know you, Ripp. I know you very, very well." He ran his hand back through his hair. "Maybe a little too well, I think. If truth were told..."
"Then I guess you know why I'm here, right?"
Johnny gave a slight nod, and turned to walk into the den. Ripp followed him.
He stood there in silence, with his back to Ripp for a moment, then turned around to face him. "Well?" he asked.
"I don't want you to leave."
"Yeah, I know that."
"I'm here to make you change your mind."
Johnny shook his head. "I'm sorry. I already told you I can't do that."
"Yes, you can. Of course you can. What can I do? There has to be something. Please tell me. I'm here to do it, whatever it is. Just tell me what I need to do."
"There isn't anything--"
"What can I do to make you stay?" Ripp interrupted, his voice tinged with panic, "It's the whole thing with you and me and Phi, isn't it? It went too far, so now you're running away from it."
"No, that isn't it."
"Look, I'll back off, okay. It can be just you and Phi, just like it was before. I will never ever touch her again and we can all just forget any of this ever happened. Look, anything. I will do anything. What can I do to change your mind? Please tell me what I can do!"
"Ripp, it's not that. I just need you both to be safe. This is the only way I can be sure of that."
"Neither of us will ever be fucking safe without you! YOU are what keeps us safe. Without you, we're just two lost, frightened sims clinging to each other for dear life."
"I don't believe that for a minute."
"It's not going to work if you go. I'm not... You can't expect..."
"You will be fine."
"Johnny, I will fuck this up. Just look at me! Do you really think I'm up for that? I'm not good enough."
"You are," he said. "You will be. And you'll be enough. For her."
"Okay, listen. It's not about any of that. It's not about you and Phi, or me and Phi, or you and me and Phi. This is about YOU and ME."
Johnny nodded. "Right."
"You can't go. For me. I can't live without you. I'm only half a person, and not even the good half."
"Yeah, well some might argue differently."
"I just... I fucking love you, John."
"I know, Ripp. Haven't we covered this a thousand times before?"
"No, I 'love you' love you."
"Yeah. I know."
"You're not getting it. I'm not sure how the fuck else to say it."
"Ripp, you have this... thing, where your mind and your heart and your body are all mixed up, like they're the same thing. So you feel this intense thing, and then you think that means maybe you want into my pants too. It's like you don't even know the difference. It's all just an extension of your... Ripp-ness. God help me, but maybe I know how your mind works even better than you do at this point. Maybe I'm not even all that different from you anymore, after all we've been through together."
"Uh, what exactly are you saying?"
"It's not that. It's not what you think you're trying to say to me. That's not what we are. What we have is so much more than that. It's not a physical thing... not about sex or any of that. We're like family, but we're more than that too. It's this pure, yet completely messed up thing. We are, like you said, parts of the same whole."
Ripp paused, unsure of what to say.
"Remember we saw those two trees in Three Lakes, the ones that were all tangled together? Someone had planted them too close together and so they grew like that and twisted around and around and it shaped them. Now if you uprooted them, they'd each still have that shape. The imprint of the other tree would still be there as this empty space. THAT is us. That's what we are."
"You are, by far, the most important thing in my life. You're my everything. And there's nowhere I could go where I wouldn't take a part of you with me."
"God, John... that's... that's beautiful."
"Well, I mean it."
"Thank you," he said. "But fuck you, I still need to do this."
Of course you do...
It was quite some time before either of them spoke.
"Were you just eating Aspiration Charms or something?" Ripp asked.
"Yeah. Something like that."
"That's a little strange for you, don't you think?"
Johnny turned around and gave him a look. What could he even begin to say to that? There was a faint glimmer of a smile between them before he turned away again. "Feel better now?" he asked.
"That all depends on whether or not you're still leaving."
Johnny said nothing. He picked himself up off the floor, letting his silence say it for him.
"Were you really planning to just skulk off in the middle of the night without saying goodbye to me?"
"I tried to say goodbye to you, in the cemetery."
"You call that a goodbye?"
"Does it really matter how I say it?"
"No, I guess not."
He reached up to hold Johnny's face in his hands. "So don't say it."
"Ripp, you know I have to do this. We both have to do this. We need to grow up. It's time. I know we can." I can't save you from yourself forever. You need to learn how to stand on your own two feet... and so do I.
"Ripp." He grasped his shoulders firmly, held his gaze as Ripp's eyes filled with tears and they poured down his cheeks. "We can do this."
"You know I'll never ever fucking stop waiting for you to come back. Every day, every minute, I'll be thinking about how much I want you to be there. There'll always be something missing, an empty space where you should be. I'll watch the door, waiting, hoping you'll come through it. If you never come back, it'll haunt me to the end of my days."
"I know." He pulled his friend close. "And I'm sorry."
That was it. The final word. Ripp hung nearly lifeless in his arms, and he shook. Johnny felt a tear escape down his own cheek.
But that was it.
That was goodbye.
You're wrong. Maybe about all of it.
You're wrong about me.
I can't... I can't do this. I can't do it on my own.
I can't walk away from you.
I can't even walk.
He would get back up, and continue to walk away, but it wouldn't be easy.
It would never, ever be easy.
Well, it feels good to finally put a fork in that final scene and move on. I'm not sure if I'll ever talk about all the changes (both subtle and not so subtle), and how different it might have been at different points in the story, but it had very much a mind of its own. And there it is, for better or worse.
Thank you to everyone who suggested funeral-appropriate attire for the funeral scene in this chapter.
I believe it was originally madame_ugly who called Riverblossom Hills "Foxpiss Hollow." It seemed like something horribly mean and funny that Vidcund would come up with.
As always, a huge thank you to Sophie for her invaluable help with the editing and putting it all together. I very much appreciate it! You rock! :)
And thank you for reading! I can't even express how much I appreciate everyone that's stuck with this story over the years, and all your kind feedback. I have a lot of story left to tell, and I'm going to try my best to finish it.
- Current Music:Country Feedback by R.E.M.