A/N: Sometimes it amazes me what pictures you can take in the Sims 3. Seriously, if you haven’t played with the fog emitter yet (Buydebug -> Misc if you have Ambitions) you should check it out. ;)
Also, eagle-eyed readers will spot that the founders of my two other legacies have a cameo in this chapter (albeit with jarring personality transplants). Enjoy! :)
People say that dreams can’t hurt you. They are, after all, the subconscious manifestations of things your mind can’t work through during the day.
Or… something like that. I read it in a horoscope once.
Perhaps that’s why I walk the streets of Bridgeport at night.
Perhaps that’s why I find myself again and again in James Frank’s apartment, in the place I felt trapped for so long.
But in my dreams, the apartment is burning.
I am burning.
Ash chokes my screams. Flames scorch my tongue. Clothes melt, searing irrevocably onto my skin. My tears dry instantly, evaporating in the overwhelming heat.
“Dreams can’t hurt you,” they say.
Well. They’re wrong.
And, inevitably, he is there.
Lips hot on my skin, his caress is worse than the fire’s breath.
“Please, stop,” I whisper, as his hands crawl down my arms, my ribs.
His voice is nothing more than the crackling laughter of the flames.
And then I’m on the bed, but my body won’t respond. I’m helpless.
I want to wake up.
I need to wake up.
Please, let me wake up.
I opened my eyes to stare up into Jamie’s pale, anxious face. My throat felt like sandpaper and it hurt to swallow. My head pounded behind my eyes. Scratch that. My eyes were throbbing. I groaned and shut them again.
“Are you okay?” Jamie asked. “Do you want some water? Or something to eat? I could -”
I made myself sit up, opening my eyes again and squinting in the garish yellow light. Jamie broke off.
“What time is it?” My voice sounded hoarse.
Jamie looked around, eyes flicking to the broken clock beside me and then to the window.
I scrubbed my hand over my face with another groan.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered. “Did I wake you?”
Jamie hesitated for a moment, before saying softly, “You were screaming.”
I swung my legs around and forced my protesting body to stand up; there was no way I was going to get back to sleep.
“I’m going for a walk,” I said, brushing off Jamie’s comment. “Clear my head.”
There was a pause.
“Now? It’s like… the middle of the night.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“You have school tomorrow, Jamie.”
“But I’m not tired…”
Eventually, I gave in; even if my fledgling parental instinct told me I should insist on Jamie going back to sleep, the rest of me was glad of the offer.
We ended up at the small park where I had spent that first night, months ago now. Jamie was shivering, hugging his thin shirt around himself as he perched quietly on one of the chairs. Not wanting him to catch a chill or something, I made myself light a fire.
I couldn’t help but flinch as the flames caught, greedily licking at the charred wood.
Jamie relaxed visibly once the fire was crackling merrily, sending waves of warmth washing over the clearing. I knew that he was afraid of the dark, which made me all the more grateful he had wanted to come along.
I must have really worried him.
Sure enough, after a stretch of companionable silence, he asked, “Why were you screaming?”
I poked the fire hesitantly, pushing the burning coal away from myself, making it crawl up the opposite side of the fire pit.
As I mulled over his question, Jamie picked up another stick and began to ‘helpfully’ even out the coals again.
I didn’t know what to tell him. If I lied to him now, surely it would backfire on me later? Surely he would use it against me in a future fit of rebellion?
But could I trust him with the truth? Would he hate me?
He had confided in me a lot about his own past in recent weeks, however – things that were obviously hard for him to share. Surely I owed it to him to do the same, to trust him as he had trusted me?
I let out a long, low sigh, steeling myself.
“I was dreaming about James Frank.”
Jamie looked up in surprise.
“The dead actor? Why would you – ?” A swirl of emotions passed over his face as he put two and two together and, all at once, tentative realisation dawned. “You know what happened to him?”
My chest constricted suddenly with panic, my fingers tightening on the poker. What if Jamie went to the police now? What if this – my new life – had all been for nothing?
I swallowed my fear.
Jamie had no one else but me. Just what would he do if he ratted me out to the police?
Self preservation wins over all but the most stringent of moral compasses.
“It was an accident,” I told him quietly. “I just… I didn’t want to be his… his toy anymore.”
“I get that,” Jamie said quietly, after a moment of silence.
He gazed down at the flames, not really looking at them. He had a far off, sad look in his eyes and somehow I had the feeling that he was no longer thinking just about me and James Frank. Hot guilt bubbled up in my stomach; I hated seeing him so sad.
He started at my voice and looked up at me, giving me a weak smile.
“Don’t worry. It was a bit of a shock, but your secret’s safe with me.”
I wanted to hug him.
But the moment passed, and suddenly Jamie was smiling genuinely again.
“We should toast some marshmallows.”
“Marshmallows?” I repeated. “But we don’t have any marshmallows.”
“Au contraire,” Jamie said, grinning.
He pulled out a bag of the aforementioned fluffy treats and waggled them at me. I couldn’t help but grin back, appreciating his effort at breaking the tense and uncomfortable mood.
“I’m not even going to ask where you got those from.”
We sat in a comfortable silence whilst Jamie set up some marshmallows on a stick for himself.
When he was finished, he tossed me the bag with another grin.
“Have you spoken to Susie yet?”
I’d talked to Jamie about my problems with Susie before, mostly when I was moping about and needed a sympathetic ear. He was of the opinion that I should talk to her about what had happened (I hadn’t gone into details). Otherwise I would never know if it had just been a horrible misunderstanding.
But I was worried it hadn’t been a horrible misunderstanding.
“Not yet,” I replied in what I hoped was a nonchalant voice, skewering a single marshmallow.
Jamie laughed softly.
“You’re hopeless, Gabe. How do you expect to make up with her if you don’t talk to her?”
I was spared having to reply by Jamie’s marshmallows suddenly catching fire.
“Crap!” He waved the burning stick around ineffectually. “What do I do?!”
“Put it out!” I cried, recoiling.
“I don’t know!”
When the fire eventually died, Jamie was left with some rather sorry-looking marshmallows.
The marshmallow disaster may have pulled attention from the matter of Susie and I, but I knew deep down that Jamie was right. I would have to talk to her if I wanted any sort of closure.
Even if she never wanted to see me again.
The next morning, a rather bleary Jamie headed to school.
He had looked so exhausted that I offered to let him take the day off, but he refused.
I was proud of him.
Even though he hated school sometimes (believe me, I had heard enough complaints and rants from him), he recognised how lucky he was to have this second chance. He was determined to graduate, even if he had to trundle through some days as a zombie.
I watched the school bus roll away down the hill as I finished off the morning’s gardening. I hoped that I would have good news for Jamie at the end of the day.
He didn’t know it, but I was determined to take his advice to heart and talk to Susie.
When I’d finished my chores out in the garden, I found myself staring at my reflection in the cracked bedroom mirror. I was starting to have doubts about my plan already.
Maybe it was stupid. Maybe Susie would just laugh in my face.
Maybe she had found better friends.
How do you expect to make up with her if you don’t talk to her?
Jamie’s words reared up in my mind, demanding attention. I couldn’t ignore them – as I said before, I knew he was right. I had to talk to her.
Newly resolute, I straightened my hat in the mirror.
Let’s do this.
I found myself outside the theatre, hovering indecisively. Since I didn’t know where Susie lived, her place of work seemed like my best shot.
But what if she wasn’t there?
It was quiet at this time of day. Eerie even. I almost – almost – turned around and went home. I had given myself enough stupid reasons to, enough justifications to walk away and forget we ever had a friendship. To forget everything.
Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I went inside.
I was directed by a helpful usher down some long corridors to the staff break room. It was a dingy little place, cheered up by a smattering of posters.
Sure enough, Susie was there.
She was playing a portable piano, her fingers fluttering over the keys. A man stood beside her, accompanying her on the guitar, the strong, rich notes complimenting the tinkling of keys perfectly.
They were good.
Susie had always been extremely modest about her musical talents – she had me believing that her repertoire consisted only of Hot Cross Buns and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. But this was…
For the first time, I realised that Susie could go far.
Even if she didn’t have the confidence in herself yet.
Then, I stopped listening to the music and just… looked at her.
And she took my breath away.
I was so caught up in looking at Susie that I didn’t notice the man who had been beside her had stopped playing.
Without a word, he put down his guitar and strode over to me. I suddenly felt rather awkward.
“Er, hi. I’m here to -”
He cut me off, jabbing his finger at my chest.
“This area is staff only. Get out.”
I was taken aback at his aggression.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Susie stop playing and slide off the piano stool.
Maybe she was coming to rescue me.
Or perhaps she was coming to give me a slap.
I hoped it was the former.
“Isaac, are you picking fights again?” she asked, walking towards us.
Her voice was even sweeter than I remembered.
“He’s not supposed to be in here. I want him out.”
“It’s okay,” Susie said softly, taking the man – Isaac – by the arms. “Gabriel’s a friend.”
She glanced at me, and then looked back at Isaac. He smiled at her.
“Well, I suppose if he’s your friend…”
“Thank you, Isaac.”
Then, Susie turned to me and my mind went blank.
What was I supposed to say to her after all this time? She had called me a ‘friend’, but was that just her way of stopping that Isaac guy from beating the crap out of me?
Maybe I was over-thinking this…
I trailed off. My tongue felt heavy in my mouth, my throat tight.
I couldn’t do this.
“Gabe… it’s okay. What are you here for?”
I swallowed, glancing over at Susie’s two co-workers. I needed something to look at that wasn’t her.
They were watching us intently, hanging on every word.
At this realisation, I felt even more uncomfortable. A cold sweat trickled down my spine. I thought I might vomit.
“Is there any chance we can go somewhere more private?” I asked, my voice low so that only Susie could hear.
“Gabe… I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
My heart plummeted. Crashed.
“I… I understand.”
“My lunch break is almost over,” Susie added, smiling now. “But I have the day off tomorrow. We could meet up then?”
My heart revived. Gave an experimental jump.
My smile felt as though it would split my face in two.
“Yes, you silly man.” She batted my arm gently. “Now go, I have work to do.”
“Don’t come back!”
Looking back, I might have been imagining the almost-friendly way Isaac said that.
“So, I’m meeting up with her tomorrow.”
I finished explaining what had happened to Jamie in a tone of quiet desperation. We were working on his science homework together, but, to be honest, I was about as much use to him as a dead squirrel.
Jamie gave me a look.
“So… like a date?”
“It’s not a date!” I protested, perhaps too quickly.
A heated flush rose up in my cheeks; Jamie looked disbelieving.
“Uh huh… well, it seems as though you have it all under control.”
“But – help me…”
“Nope, first you have to help me with this. My teacher wants me to explain why the sky is blue.”
“The sky’s always been blue.”
“I know, but she wants a ‘scientific explanation’ and I fell asleep whilst she was explaining it.”
“Can’t you just say something like… ‘God painted it blue?’ and any other answer would go against your obviously strong Christian beliefs?”
“Somehow, I don’t think she would class that as ‘scientific’, Gabe.”
“Perhaps you’re right…”
“Ugh, I give up.”
That night, I dreamt of James Frank again.
I’m in his arms, balanced precariously on the edge of the old apartment building. The railings are on the wrong side. The wind buffets at my body, but he stands firm. Strong.
One step to the left and I’ll fall into open sky.
“You know why you’re here, Lucas.” His voice is snatched away by the wind.
I try to move away, to get back to safety, but my body won’t obey. I’m frozen in his embrace.
“Please,” I beg. “Let me go.”
“It’s time for you to pay for what you did,” he whispers.
And then, I’m falling.
I sat bolt upright in bed, breathing raggedly. My shirt and my sheets were soaked with sweat. My palms have crescent-shaped grooves where I had clenched my fists tightly in the night and dug my nails into my skin. My heart was racing, clattering against my ribcage.
This was getting ridiculous.
Later that day, James Frank’s words still ringing in my ears, I met Susie at our old meeting place, the gazebo. She was already waiting on our bench, looking nervous, as though she wasn’t really sure what to expect.
I am ashamed to say that, still shaken by my nightmare, I wasted no breath on small talk.
“Why did you stop seeing me?” I asked bluntly as I flopped down on the bench beside her. “Did I… did I do something wrong?”
“What?” Susie looked shocked. “No… nothing like that.”
“Then what happened?”
I needed to understand, needed to know that there was some reason to all of this. Susie looked at her hands.
“I just… I needed some time to think,” she said quietly. “What you told me… it was a big shock.”
“But… you just stopped seeing me.”
Susie shook her head.
“I came back after a couple of days, but you’d stopped coming.” She paused for a moment, and then shook her head again. “I thought… I thought you didn’t want to see me any more.”
“I guess… I guess we both jumped to conclusions.”
I felt relieved. And like an asshole for practically leaping down her throat.
Susie was silent for a long moment.
“There’s something else… I went to the police, Gabe.”
My heart actually stopped beating.
“Y-you did what?” My voice was strangled with panic.
But suddenly, panic was suffocated by anger.
“Wh-what if they suspect me of killing him?” I snapped. “Did you ever think of that?!”
“I thought they might need a new lead, and the thing about James Frank being a horrible person, well… that opens up a whole new range of possibilities. I didn’t mention your name.”
She paused. Let out a shaky sigh.
“Besides, the policeman I told didn’t even believe me. Said I was a bitch who wouldn’t know a truly good person if they pulled my mother out from in front of a speeding car.”
Now I felt like even more of an asshole.
Especially because I was lying to her.
“Look… it doesn’t matter.” I tried to make my voice as gentle and apologetic as I possibly could. “I’m sorry. I guess I just… panicked there for a moment.”
After a moment of silence, I added, “That policeman is a dick.”
Susie gave me a weak smile.
“His name was Richard, so…”
Now, I’m not sure how it happened.
One moment we were laughing over the horrible policeman’s unfortunate name, the next… we were kissing.
I had never kissed anyone like that before.
James Frank was never one for sweet, innocent kisses.
She had amazingly soft lips, although they were hesitant against mine. But what surprised me the most was the way Susie tasted, a mixture of sunshine and mint that made my head reel. I wound my arm around her shoulders, resting the other (gentleman-like) on her waist.
She surprised me more by resting her hand on top of mine.
Eventually, we pulled apart, and my eyes met Susie’s anxious ones. My stomach felt as though it was filled with grasshoppers. In a good way.
“That wasn’t meant to happen,” Susie whispered breathlessly, but she didn’t pull away.
“I don’t know how it did,” I admitted.
Not sure what else to do, we sat and talked until the sun sank behind the town hall, catching up. I told her about Jamie; she told me how she was starting a band with that guy Isaac and the woman I had seen earlier, Sugar. It was… nice. Calming.
“I should go,” Susie said finally, standing up.
I followed suit.
“When can I see you again?” I asked, hoping I didn’t sound too eager. Hoping I wasn’t being a complete idiot.
She turned to look at me, her eyes dancing in the sunset.
I gave her a warm smile. And had (what I thought was) a brilliant idea.
“Susie Moss, would you like to go on a date with me?”
She laughed, but her eyes lit up like the sun. I compared her to the sun too often.
“Okay.” Her lips twitched with another smile. “Since you asked so nicely and all.”
I walked home with a spring in my step.
My buoyant mood spiralled into oblivion when I reached the house (which took a little over an hour, since I lived so far out of town). The lights were out, meaning Jamie had already had dinner and gone to bed, but that wasn’t the reason for my sudden emotional nose-dive. Or perhaps it was a sudden emotional roller-coaster? Something like that.
A woman was standing outside the front door, hugging herself and shivering. Maybe even crying.
A strangely familiar woman.
I stopped dead in my tracks and must have made some noise of shock. The woman looked up at me, recognition sparking to life in her eyes as she took a staggering, stumbling step away from the wall.
“Lucas… I need your help.”