Author Topic: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley  (Read 173716 times)

Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 63
« Reply #240 on: May 04, 2018, 03:21:08 AM »
I enjoyed this update immensely. (Do I say that every time?)
It's so fun watching Orion and Iris growing up! You depict their unusual presence at school so realistically.
Some things I never considered before:
* Iris resembles Susan, but does Orion similarly resemble Boyd?
* I've forgotten who Boyd's "perp" was and assume it wasn't Eni Jishi Yip. Has Boyd ever met or communicated, even indirectly, with his pollinator?
   (In Sims 4, I recently noticed that Senior Pollinator Tech #3 appears in her brood's relationship panels but not for her abductees.)

Also, I will need to go back someday soon to re-read your chapter describing that novel by Maria (or her descendant?). My memory is so hazy!!!
How great that Eni has developed some cultural sensitivity around the Wainwrights.
I was absolutely tickled by the excitement of Orion and his entire family over her gift to Orion of a spacecraft.
Is it too early to start shipping Orion and Rachelle? hehe

Thank you! To answer your first question, Orion doesn't resemble Boyd nearly as much as Iris does Susan. He pretty much has alien features, and his sliders are unique. They don't match Boyd, and he's not a male clone of Eni Jish Xip, either.

The alien that abducted Boyd was a pollination technician named Ahilac. He's never interacted with him aside from the abduction, although way back in the chapter where Boyd had his nightmare/flashback while he was pregnant with Orion, I did stage that alien in that scene with the help of the master controller mod. Orion's family tree in game shows only Boyd as his father with Susan as a step-mother, and Eni Jish Xip as his mother.

As for the shipping, I'm curious what you'll think after this chapter. ;)

Chapter 63

It was the last weekend of summer, warm and balmy, and a beautiful day.  Iris ran around the yard playing tag with Patches while Boyd and Susan chatted about their projects.  “Those egg and cheese plants are doing well,” he told her.  The plants were rare grafts they created after discovering the process in an old journal that turned up in the lab archives.  They had never seen viable specimens of said plants, so naturally, they tried growing them.

“If these thrive, we’ll have to try the meat grafts next.”

“I still can’t believe they improperly archived that.  It could’ve been lost forever.”  Boyd shook his head.  “Amazing how we can still find new stuff there after all this time.  Speaking of which, you know that assassin bug camouflage compound study the military wants to commission us for?  They called again asking if we wanted the contract.  What do you think?  It’s good money, and it’s interesting research, but… well, you know me.  Perpetually paranoid about what nefarious use the government might put our research to.”

“Well, I look at it this way.  If our lab doesn’t get the contract, another one will.  We might as well take it, get the money, and see what we can discover with it.  If nothing else, we’ll know about it.”

“Until they decide we know too much and we’re a risk that needs to be silenced.”  Boyd was only half joking, and Susan patted him on the shoulder.

“If it comes to that, we pull in a favor in with Vita Alto and disappear,” she replied dryly.  “After all I’ve donated to our dear neighbor at her fundraisers over the years, I’m sure she’d help us out.”

Boyd chortled.  “Okay.  Fair enough.  I’ll call them back Monday.”

“Now we have an excuse to take a vacation to Shang Simla to capture live specimens.  It’s been a while since we went on a trip.”

“It has.  I think our passports are still valid, but Patrick’s will need renewing.  He was a kid when we went to Champs Les Sims, and Orion and Iris don’t have them.  We’ll have to get those.  We are taking the kids, right?”

“Definitely!  We should talk to Blair.  Maybe she and Cycl0n3 can get some time off and come with the grandkids.  It’d be great if they could see Shang Simla with us!  Travis probably wouldn’t remember much, but Chris would.”

A little while later, Boyd supervised while Orion drove his car on his learner’s permit.  Although Orion didn’t need a license to pilot the Galaxa, he was still enrolled in driver’s education and had to pass a test to drive a standard human car.  Besides, as cool as it was, the Galaxa was not something he could just park at the grocery store or school without having unwanted questions asked.

“This thing handles so clunky,” Orion groused after Boyd informed him that he took his last turn far too sharply.

“Hundred and ten thousand simoleon luxury sports car and you call it clunky.”  Boyd cringed as Orion hit the brakes hard to avoid running a stop sign.  “And you don’t want to know what it costs to insure with two teenage drivers in the house, so please, don’t slam on the brakes like that.”

Orion flashed a cheeky grin.  “Hey, I didn’t run the stop sign!”

“They’d mark you down for that on the test.  And they wouldn’t like how narrowly you missed that pothole back there.”

“They don’t have potholes in the air.  Or stop signs.  All these road rules suck!”

“Be that as it may, you’ve got to obey them.  If you get any tickets, you’re not taking any of the cars or the Galaxa out.”

“I know.  But they’re still annoying.”

While Orion learned the joys of traffic laws, Iris fished in the park across the street.  She’d learned how in scouts, and on one of their scouting trips, had a little luck at it.  Now she wanted to try it on her own.  There were fish in the Summer Hill Springs pond, but it didn’t seem like many were biting.

She was excited when she finally got a nibble, but when she reeled in her catch, it was disappointing.  “Aw, you’re just a baby fish.  I’m not going to keep you.”  She gently unhooked it and put it back.

Patrick worked on a painting all morning and well into the afternoon, and Susan came in to chat with him.  “How’s it coming along?”

“Pretty good.  Just got started this morning.”

“That’s great, but don’t let time get away from you.  It’s almost 1 already.  I’m sure Maria wouldn’t be happy if you were late for prom.”

“No, no she wouldn’t!  Don’t worry.  I haven’t forgotten.  I wouldn’t forget.”

“Then you remembered to get her a nice corsage?”

“Mom, I haven’t stayed with her since our first prom by not remembering stuff like that.”

“Just making sure.”  Susan smirked.  “Your older sister had a boyfriend who managed to forget Love Day once.”

“Wow, really?  I don’t even want to think about how Maria would take that.”  He shuddered.  “What did Blair do?  Dump him?  Nah, probably not.  She’s too nice.  But I bet she gave him a hard time.”

“Actually, she married him.”

Patrick laughed.  “I should’ve known it was Cycl0n3.  How much flowers and chocolate did it take to get him out of that one?”

“If I remember right, it was a pleading phone call and her hanging up on him the first time because she was crying so hard.  But once she calmed down, she forgave him.”

“I’d probably have to buy the Simdiva factory and climb a mountain to pick a rare orchid or something to get Maria over something like that.  So, I think I’ll do myself a favor and just not forget.”

“Good plan.  And for Chris’ sake, let’s hope he takes after his mom and not his dad when it comes to that sort of thing.”

Chris was looking forward to prom.  He had the day off so he could relax beforehand, and he spent some time with Diddy before it was time to get into his formal wear.  He’d noticed that Diddy had been slowing down and seemed less energetic lately.  When the vet checked him out, he was relieved to hear his beloved cat was not ill, just old.  “He’s a few years older than we thought,” the vet told him.  “He’s a senior kitty now, and he’s got some arthritis in his hips.  He’s in good health, though.  Just needs to take it a little easier.”  He got a supplement to give Diddy once a day to help with the arthritis, and once they were home, Chris spruced up Diddy’s favorite chair with a comfy pillow for him.

“You look like you’re feeling good today.”  Chris picked him up.  “I can hold you for now, but once I get dressed, I’ve got to let you be.  Can’t go to prom with cat hair all over me.  You’ll be good tonight, right?  No stealing food from Travis?”  The night before, Travis wandered away from his plate to look at the television, and Diddy stole the hot dog right off of it.  Cycl0n3 chased after the cat, and while Chris was glad Diddy was spry enough to pull that off, Cycl0n3 was aggravated to be outdone by an elderly food thieving cat.  Especially when Blair pointed out that when an old cat with arthritis could outrun him, it might be time to consider the gym again.

As prom time neared, Chris paced in the living room waiting for the limo.  The driver was picking him up first, and then they would get Tad.  “I think I’m ready.”  He checked the time.  “I hope they’re not late.”

“They won’t be.”  Blair smiled at him.  “Look at you!  So handsome.  My little boy is quite the dashing man for his prom.”

“Aw, c’mon, Mom.  I’m not Travis.  You don’t have to baby talk me.”

“You’ll always be my baby, but okay.  You do look very nice, though.  I’m sure Tad will think so, too.”

Chris blushed.  “Mom!”

“You won’t change her.  You ought to know that by now,” Cycl0n3 teased.  “But she’s right.  You look good.  You’ve got the formal snooty dance look down.”  He gave him a thumbs up.  “Hope it’s not as uncomfortable as I remember mine being back when your mom and I went to prom.  And those shoes, ow.”

“Don’t even talk to me about ‘ow’ shoes until you walk around in high heels that pinch your toes.”  Blair wagged her finger playfully at Cycl0n3.  “But they were so pretty and went perfectly with my dress.”

“Yeah, you were pretty hot,” Cycl0n3 agreed.  “Bet you could still wear that dress.”

“I can.  It’s in my closet.  I kept it.”  She let out a happy sigh.  “Your father hasn’t worn a tux since then, except for our wedding.  But I still remember him coming out of the limo to greet me at the door.”

Chris smirked.  “Did he trip over the tail of the dinosaur pulling it?”

“Oh, har har,” Cycl0n3 quipped back.  “One day, you’ll be our age, reminiscing about your good old days, only to have your wise llama of a teenager pick on you for being old.  And when that happens, you can remember me saying ‘I told you so.’”

The limo pulled up, and Chris straightened.  “Have fun,” said Blair.

“Yeah.  Knock ‘em dead with your dance moves, but don’t knock anyone over.”

“I’ll do my best.”  Chris headed out to the limo.

The limo that came to the Wainwright mansion picked up Maria first, so this time, she greeted Patrick.  “Wow!  You look gorgeous,” Patrick said as she approached.  “You get prettier with each prom.”

Maria beamed.  “And you know just what to say.  You look rather dashing yourself.”  She took his hands.  “We’re going to dazzle everyone tonight.”

“You already dazzled me,” he said flirtatiously.

“We better dazzle our way into the limo before things start without us,” Orion remarked as he joined them.  It was his first time attending a prom, and he did not have a date—something Buddy had a field day mocking him for while he and Patrick were getting dressed—but he refused to let that get him down.

“You look nice, too, Orion,” Maria complimented him.  “That tux gives you a very Starlight Shores kind of look.  It suits you.”

“Thanks.  And I agree with Patrick, you look very pretty.”

“Thank you.  I’m sure any of the single ladies there will be happy to give you a twirl on the dance floor.”

“I’m not,” Buddy sneered from the door.

“I’ll see you in the limo,” Orion said, while Patrick pulled Maria close.

“Starlight Shores, huh?  So, what about me?  What’s my look?”

“High society Bridgeport all the way.”

“Works for me.  Especially since my date defies classification with her beauty.”

“And that earns you this.”  Maria kissed him and walked hand in hand with him to the limo.

When they got to the school, Maria went in to wait in the air conditioning while Patrick tipped the limo driver.  Julius’ limo was behind them, and he gave Patrick a dirty look.  “Typical.  Even your limo has to hog the curb.  Maria’s ego needs center stage for everything, huh?  You ever get tired of trying so hard to impress her?”

“Kiss my plumbob,” Patrick retorted.  “Or better yet, save it for Bianca.  She’s the one with bad taste going with you, isn’t she?”

“She’s got a lot better taste than Maria.”

Patrick clenched his jaw and his fist, but Orion came up behind him.  “Let it go.  He’s a llama.”

“To put it nicely.  But yeah.  You’re right.”

He went inside, while Orion noticed Rachelle Steel getting out of another limo by herself.  He thought she looked lovely in her sparkly cobalt blue dress.  Maybe he would ask her to dance at some point, he mused as he headed in himself.

“Wow.  This is it!  Our senior prom!”  Maria was excited.  “The night already feels perfect.”

“Yeah.”  Patrick’s mood was already improving after the run-in with Julius.  “Hey, look.  This time there’s no punch bowl.”  He gestured to the chocolate fountain that stood in place of it.  “Guess they learned their lesson.”

“Well, Gretchen is here,” joked Maria.  “Though I’m afraid to touch that in this dress.  I’d just die if I dripped chocolate on it.”

“Maybe I can get one for you later and hold it for you with plenty of napkins.”

“Hand-feed me chocolate dipped fruit?  How sensual and romantic,” she said flirtatiously as they went out onto the dance floor.

Patrick hadn’t thought of it that way, but he was happy to take the bonus of looking like he had.  He smiled as they started dancing.  “I do my best.”

Chris and Tad came in together.  “Here we are.  Prom.  Hope it’s classy enough for you.”  He recalled Tad’s remark that day by the spa dumpster.

“Oh, yeah, I’d say so.  I felt like a rock star riding in the limo like that.”

“It was pretty cool,” Chris agreed.

“Speaking of rock stars, I forgot to tell you since we were, uh, preoccupied on the ride over.”  They’d spent most of said ride enthusing about prom and smooching in the privacy of the back of the limo.  “I found out today I’m going to be a big brother.”

Chris’ eyes went wide.  “What?  Oh no, you mean Kaylynn’s baby really is…?”

“No!  Oh, no.  Not as far as I know, thank the Watcher.  I mean my mom.  She told us today.  She’s pregnant.  By her boyfriend, Stiles, the rock star.  Hence the reference.”  He shrugged.  “I didn’t even know Mom could still have babies.  Anyway, she said he’d always wanted a family but never found anyone until now, and she’d always wanted a big family.  I think they’re kind of old for it, but it’s cool.  I like Stiles.  He’s nice to me and Maria, and Mom really loves him.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her this happy before.  Never with Dad, that’s for sure.  So now Stiles is moving in with us.  I think they’re going to get married, though she didn’t say that.  Just kind of hinted.  Maybe it’s not official yet.”

“Wow.  A rock star for a stepfather.  It’s funny.  He used to live with my mom and dad a long time ago, before his band hit it big.  Back when they were just roommates before my parents were married.”

Tad nodded.  “He told us.  I mentioned you and he was like ‘Oh, Blair’s son!’ and he talked about how he and your mom and dad and their friends all lived in that loft complex.  He said nice stuff about your parents, though he said not to take anything ‘boneheaded’ your dad said personally.”

Chris couldn’t help but laugh.  “Dad’s reputation precedes him.”

“Yeah.  Hopefully they won’t let him do any toasts at their wedding.  Since you’re my boyfriend and he’s friends with them, I’m sure you’ll all be invited if they do.”

“Guess I’ll have to get all dressed up like this again, then.”

Tad gave Chris an appreciative look.  “I wouldn’t complain.  It looks good on you.”

“You look good, too,” a flattered Chris replied as they headed off to the dance floor.

“Hi, Orion,” Penny said as she approached him.  “You here alone, too?  I’m glad I’m not the only one.”  She sighed.  “Wilbur was supposed to be here with me, but they called him in to work and it’s a new job so he couldn’t say no.”  Now that Wilbur had graduated, he’d moved out on his own and had bills to pay.  Penny was disappointed, but she understood.

“We could dance, if you want.”

Penny brightened.  “Sure.”

While Orion danced with Penny, he overheard Sommer Wan talking to Guillermo French.  “So, I guess this is the singles corner, huh?”  She seemed wistful.

“Yup.  The loner zone.”

“At least we’ve got each other to talk to or dance with, I guess.”

Orion felt for her, even though he did not know her well.  They shared some classes but had never talked much.  Much like Guillermo, Sommer was introverted, but in a different way.  While he was generally content to be left alone doing his own thing, Sommer struck him as just shy and lacking confidence.  She seemed comfortable enough talking to Guillermo, though.  “Maybe they’ll end up together after tonight,” he mused to Penny.

She laughed.  “I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“They’re not each other’s type.”

“Really?”  Orion was surprised by that, as it was clear Sommer and Guillermo were opening up as they chatted.  “Why not?”

“Well, she’s into girls and I’m pretty sure he’s not.  So that’s not going to work, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh.”  Orion had never noticed.   “I didn’t know.”

“She dated Shayla Blue, Starla’s babysitter, for a while.  But they broke up.  And I think Guillermo’s got the hots for Mario.  At least it looked to me like they were flirting in the lunch line the other day.  Though I bet his date doesn’t know that.”

After the song ended, Penny went to the chocolate fountain, while Orion noticed Rachelle standing by herself.  “Hi, Rachelle.”

“Oh, hi!  You having fun?”

“Yeah, so far.  You?”

“Yup!  Me too.”

Orion decided that now was as good a time as any to ask if she’d like to dance.  “So, I was wondering if—”

“I’m back,” Mario Kayes interrupted them as he approached.  “Ready to hit the floor again?” he asked Rachelle.

Her smile brightened as she met his eyes, and Orion realized that she had a date after all.  As it turned out, the same date that Penny said Guillermo was flirting with at lunch.

“Sure.  Nice talking to you, Orion.  See you later!”  She waved and went out onto the floor with Mario.

“Didn’t know they came together?” Guillermo asked quietly beside him.

“No.”  Orion was more disappointed than he expected by that.

“I did.”  Guillermo sighed.  “Sorry.”

“She came in by herself, so I thought… oh, well.”

“Nope.”  He sounded a little sour himself.  “I didn’t know you liked her.”

“I didn’t know you liked him.”

“Guess we both struck out.”

“Maybe they’re not that serious?”  Orion glanced over, and Guillermo followed his gaze.

Just then, Mario dipped Rachelle low in their dance, and kissed her.  Both seemed delighted in each other’s company, and they continued to dance, oblivious to anything but each other.

“Or, maybe I’m completely, totally, and absolutely wrong.”

“Guess it’s back to the loner zone for us.  But hey, at least it’s got the chocolate fountain, right?”

Across the dance floor, Chris and Tad danced close, until Tad mis-stepped and his heel crunched down on Chris’ big toe.  “Ow!”

“Yikes.  Sorry!  Wow.  Real smooth.  Way to go,” he chided himself.

“It’s all right.  I can still walk,” Chris joked.

“Guess I need to work on my dance moves.”  Tad drew Chris back into his arms.  “Good thing you like all my other moves, huh?”

Chris smiled at him as they settled into a rhythm.  “Yeah.”

A song came on that both Patrick and Maria loved, and she hummed along to it as they danced.  “Did I tell you I learned this one on guitar?” asked Patrick.  “We should cover it together sometime.  I play, you sing.”

“I’d love that.”  She sang some of the lyrics and leaned in close.  “Maybe someday we could be on stage together for something other than karaoke.”

“If I’m ever in a band that needs a female vocalist, I promise you’ll be the first I ask.”

Maria sighed.  “I should’ve learned to play an instrument in high school like you did.”

“What, you regret not being a band geek?” he teased.  “Besides, you learned so much in art club.  You showed me a lot.  And you’re good at your writing, too.  At least what you’ve let me read.”

“Thanks.  That means a lot.  But now you’re going into the music and fine arts program at University after we graduate, and I’ll be doing communications…”

“Hey, we’re still going to the same school.  Just different majors.  Your counselors were right.  You should focus on your writing.  You’ve really got a gift for it.”

“It’s just, I had this dream where you and I would be like world class performers together or something.  I know it’s silly, but—”

“It’s not.  And nothing’s saying we still can’t do something like that someday.”

“True.”  Maria leaned her head on Patrick’s shoulder.  “I wonder how much things will change after we graduate.  I mean, I’m not worried about us, but you know.”

“Don’t,” he assured her.  “I love you.  I’ll love you at University, too.”

“Even with all the parties and hot college girls streaking all over the place?”

“Even then.  Especially since you’ll be a hot college girl yourself.”  Patrick smirked.  “And you could always do some streaking if you really wanted to.”

“Oh, you llama.  You first!”  She giggled, and then glanced over Patrick’s shoulder as some raised voices caught their attention.

While their dates were elsewhere, Julius and Gretchen were having a tense conversation.  “I’m just saying.”  Her voice carried dramatically over the music.

“Yeah, you say a lot of things.”  Julius was obviously annoyed, and Gretchen smirked cattily.

“You used to like that.”

“Guess Jamaal must anyway, if he’s back with you.”  He looked around.  “Where is he?”

“Probably still stuck in a long line at the bathroom like Binky,” Gretchen said with a roll of her eyes, while Bianca returned and gave her a haughty look.

“It’s Bianca, and don’t you have your own date to talk to?”

“Oh, are you worried I’m going to steal yours?”  Gretchen laughed.  “Don’t.  Already been there, done that.”

“And half the other guys in school,” Bianca muttered disdainfully, while Julius frowned at Gretchen.

“Didn’t stop you with Jamaal.”

“Don’t be bitter.  You should be used to girls ditching you for something better by now.”  She gestured to Maria and Patrick.  “But maybe with Binky here that’ll all change.  Have fun, lovebirds.”  She gave a sarcastic wave and moved on.

Maria was irked.  “Ugh!  I wish Gretchen would leave us out of her stupid drama.”

“Yeah.  I already had to deal with Julius once tonight already.  That was enough.”

“I still can’t believe he had the nerve to try and start something with you outside.  What a jerk.  It must suck to be so bitter and pathetic.”

“Well, drama aside, Gretchen did have a point.”  There was a smug gleam in Patrick’s eyes.  “Come on.  Let’s dance.  We can’t let Chris and your little brother outshine us on the dance floor.”

Maria saw them cutting loose to the fast beat of the music.  “I’m impressed.  They haven’t knocked anyone or anything over yet.  But give them five minutes.  In the meantime, we should stay out of their elbow range.”

“Elbow range?  I’m worried about a domino effect,” Patrick retorted as Chris’ back hit one of the balloon decorations.  “One goes down, the whole room does.”

“Yeah, on that note, we’ll stay right here.”

“Sounds good to me.”  They resumed dancing, and Patrick spun Maria around and dipped her low in a flourish, much to her delight.

Tad and Chris weren’t the most graceful couple at the prom, but they had fun.  “We’ve set a record,” Chris pointed out with a grin.  “It’s been two songs since we bumped into anyone.”

“And three since either of us stepped on the other’s foot.”

“Go us!”

Tad responded by pulling Chris toward him, but Chris tripped over his own feet and lost his balance.  Tad stumbled backward, and they stumbled against Tara Keaton and Tom Sekemoto.

Chris cringed.  “Sorry.”

“Sorry,” Tad said at the same time, and he and Chris stepped back into their own space.  “Guess our record was just reset.  And the DJ said this next song will be the last.”

“It was a good run,” Chris said as the song changed.  “But we can still make it through this one all right.”  He and Tad settled into a slow dance, and Tad leaned in close.

“I think so.”

As the dance wound to a close, Orion was in good spirits.  Although going single hadn’t been ideal, and he’d been disappointed about Rachelle, he ended up having a good time anyway.  Those in the “loner zone” spent the evening socializing and doing some friendly dancing with each other, and even though no romantic connections were made, they left prom having made new friends.

After prom, the limo took Chris home before Tad, so they said good night at the door.  “Tonight was awesome.  Thanks for going with me.”

“Like it was such a hardship.”  Tad smiled at Chris.  “Well, maybe on our feet.”

“You’re worth a few stomped toes.”

“Thanks.  I’m glad you love me enough to put up with that.”

“I do,” Chris said, suddenly serious.  “Love you, I mean.  You know that, right?”

Tad smiled at him.  “Kind of guessed, but it’s nice to hear.  I love you, too.”  They kissed.

“Thanks for another wonderful prom,” Maria told Patrick after he kissed her good night.  “It was a great night.”

“It was.  I hate to see it end.”  He stroked her cheek.

“Me too.  I wish we could stay together all night.”

“So do I.  But it’s not too long until graduation, and then we can be together as much as we want.”

“I can’t believe it’s so close.  We’ll be on our own, able to do our own thing.”  She took his hands.  “Together.”

“Yeah.”  The thought made Patrick both happy and excited.  “You and me.”

Offline oshizu

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #241 on: May 04, 2018, 07:00:22 AM »
Cycl0n3 and Chris were hilarious together as Chris prepared to leave for prom.
And how great that Stiles has finally found love in Tad's mother.
Did MCCC/NRAAS put them together?
I love how that will possibly move the Wolffs into a social circle with Wainwrights, especially Blair and Cycl0n3.

I thought Orion's convo with Guillermo French was adorable. Penny really keeps tabs on who's interested in who, doesn't she?
And I'm not that set about Orion and Rachelle. I'd  just Orion to eventually have a special friend and feel less of an outsider.
I'm glad he and the other singles enjoyed making new friends in the loner zone.

Thanks for explaining Orion's relationship panel. I was surprised that Eni Jishi Yip appears as his mother?
She was the surrogate mother? Lol, maybe it's better not to think about it too hard...
Great update!

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Offline Magpie2012

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #242 on: May 06, 2018, 12:17:29 PM »
@oshizu I've always thought of it as Eni Jishi Yip having donated the female portion of the genetics, thus she is Orion's biological mother.

I'm sort of shipping Orion with Penny (Orinny? Pennion?) but, maybe Rachelle would realise what a jerk she's with and ditch Julius for Orion (Orichelle? Orielle? Rachion?). Do you think Juju could handle losing ANOTHER girlfriend to ANOTHER Wainwright bwahahahahahahaha
because... Math *Pippin The Most Tenacious Simmer*

Only 2 things are infinite... The universe and human stupidity. And I'm not sure about the universe. *Albert Einstein*

Don't believe all the quotes that have been attributed to me. *Albert Einstein*

I can't ignore ALL of the voices in my head - Some of them actually make sense! *Blayzen*

Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 64
« Reply #243 on: May 11, 2018, 02:08:14 AM »
Cycl0n3 and Chris were hilarious together as Chris prepared to leave for prom.
And how great that Stiles has finally found love in Tad's mother.
Did MCCC/NRAAS put them together?
I love how that will possibly move the Wolffs into a social circle with Wainwrights, especially Blair and Cycl0n3.

I thought Orion's convo with Guillermo French was adorable. Penny really keeps tabs on who's interested in who, doesn't she?
And I'm not that set about Orion and Rachelle. I'd  just Orion to eventually have a special friend and feel less of an outsider.
I'm glad he and the other singles enjoyed making new friends in the loner zone.

Thanks for explaining Orion's relationship panel. I was surprised that Eni Jishi Yip appears as his mother?
She was the surrogate mother? Lol, maybe it's better not to think about it too hard...
Great update!

Thanks! The Stiles/Morgana pairing was the work of NRaas SP. I was so glad it was finally nice to them after giving them both such a hard time earlier in the game. The pregnancy was also SP's work. I'd just lowered the "near elder" limit to 6 days. I originally had it off, but had too many sims getting pregnant right before their elder birthday, so I moved it to 3 days so I wouldn't have to manually adjust their ages after having babies. Then I had a couple more sims get pregnant right at the line, so I changed it to 6, and that was just where Morgana was. She should last well into the baby's teen years, at least, though Stiles is already elder.

As for Eni Jish Xip, Magpie2012 is right. They used Eni Jish Xip's genetics and Boyd's to create Orion's embryo, and then stuck him back in Boyd. So genetically, she's one parent and he's the other, but they're labeled as mother and father due to gender. Though if you go by who gives birth, Boyd is the mother and Eni Jish Xip is the father.  ;D

@oshizu I've always thought of it as Eni Jishi Yip having donated the female portion of the genetics, thus she is Orion's biological mother.

I'm sort of shipping Orion with Penny (Orinny? Pennion?) but, maybe Rachelle would realise what a jerk she's with and ditch Julius for Orion (Orichelle? Orielle? Rachion?). Do you think Juju could handle losing ANOTHER girlfriend to ANOTHER Wainwright bwahahahahahahaha

I hadn't thought about Orion and Penny, though they could be cute together. Who knows what will happen next! The teens Orion's age have their own set of drama going on in story progression.

As for Julius, in game he's just turned young adult at the time of this chapter. Though I'm sure Patrick will be glad to finish his last bit of school without him around once he gets back from vacation, I'm sure they haven't seen the last of each other. ;)

Chapter 64

It was the first day of fall and the Wainwrights had just finished decorating their home for the season.  They were enthusiastic about their upcoming combined research and vacation trip to Shang Simla, and now that they had the dates worked out, they wanted to confirm that Blair and her family were joining them.  They had already seen to it that Patrick, Orion, and Iris were excused from school, and they couldn’t wait to go.

“Hey, Mom.  What’s up?”

“I’ve got the dates for the Shang Simla trip.”  Susan gave her the specifics, but she was disappointed to hear a sigh of regret on the other end of the line.

“Oh, Mom, I’m sorry.  I really wish we could, but we can’t.  I talked to Hank and the others at work, and this high-profile investigation we’re on, well, I can’t give you details, but it’s not something I can just walk out in the middle of for a vacation.  I need to be here in town until it’s over, and I can’t ask you to postpone your trip when you’ve already made plans and I have no idea when it’ll be finished.”

Susan was just as disappointed as her daughter.  “Are you sure?  We were really hoping you could come.  I hate that you didn’t get to go to Champs Les Sims with us back when we went, and now this time, too…”

“I know.  But there’s no way.  I’m sorry.  If it was just me, I’d send Cycl0n3 and the kids off without me to go and have fun for me, but unfortunately, he can’t go, either.”

“He can’t?  How come?”

“You know that cold Travis had?  It turned into bronchitis, and he’s had a bad fever.”

“Oh, no!  Is he all right?”

“We took him to Dr. Hart yesterday, and she said he’s on the mend now, but he’s still got a bad cough and won’t be in any condition to travel.  Being on a plane and in a foreign country is too risky.  And because of my investigation, I’m just not home enough.  I was in 65 hours last week alone.  With him sick, that’s a lot of time to leave him with a babysitter.  So we agreed Cycl0n3 would work from home as much as he can until Travis is better.”

“None of you can make it, then?”

“Chris can.  We talked it over, and we don’t want him to miss out just because his little brother is sick and his mom has to work.  So he’ll be going with you guys.”

“I’m glad he can come, but we’ll miss the rest of you.”

“Just promise to take plenty of pictures and videos for us.  We’ve already talked to Chris, and we’ll make arrangements with the school and with his job at the spa.”

“All right.  I hope Travis feels better soon.  Give him a hug from me and your dad.”

“I will.  Have fun on your trip.”

“We will.  Good luck with your investigation.  I hope you get the results you deserve from all that hard work.”

“Thanks.  Me too.  Feel free to bring us back something cool to make up for missing it.”

Susan smiled.  “I’ll be glad to.”

When vacation time came, the Wainwrights were excited to arrive in Shang Simla.  Their research sponsors arranged for them to stay at a place that had a bed and breakfast kind of feel, where the rooms were just sleeping quarters with shared bathrooms, recreation areas, and kitchen.  Susan would have preferred an upscale hotel with room service, but the place was nice enough that she did not complain, since she did not want to offend their associates.  She had to admit that it was wonderfully located, near the marketplace and many landmarks, and had gorgeous views.

“Check out the Dragon Cave!”  Orion pointed to the famous site, which they could see from the balcony.  He’d been browsing Shang Simla trivia on his tablet and talking about it on the flight over.

Patrick was impressed.  “It looks even cooler in person.”

“We definitely need to get a panorama shot of that,” Susan agreed.

Iris was amazed as a huge puff of steam came out of its mouth.  “It looks like it’s going to breathe fire!”

“Fits for something called the Dragon Cave.”  Chris took a photo of it on his cell phone.

“The steam is from naturally occurring volcanic activity in the mountain,” Boyd explained, and when Iris’ eyes went wide, he reassured her.  “Don’t worry, it’s not going to erupt.  Scientists monitor that, and they’ve got equipment that would warn everyone if that was going to happen.”

“And you know your father.  He checked those reports before we left,” Susan said with a knowing smile.

Susan and Boyd were not due to meet with their contact about assassin bug hunting until later, so they discussed what to do in the meantime, especially since the kids did not have to tag along for that.  “There’s so much to see.  Should we do the tourist thing and go sightseeing, or check out the market and see what neat stuff they have here that we don’t at home?”

Boyd stretched.  “I’m a little sore from that long plane ride.  I could do with taking it easy shopping this afternoon and doing the sightseeing another day.”

“You’re out of shape, Dad,” Orion teased.

“I know!  We could go to the dojo and learn martial arts.”  Chris imitated some dramatic chopping moves.  “You could get in shape ninja training, Grandpa.  You could try it too, Grandma.  We could all learn it.”

Patrick snickered at the thought of his parents doing martial arts.  “I can picture it now.  You’re all going to be sim fu fighting.”  He broke into an imitation of the old song.  “Your kicks are as fast as lightning…”  He paused.  “Or not.”

“Don’t be jealous because you know Orion and I would kick your plumbob,” Chris teased.

“Hah!  You wish.”

“Oooh!  I want to see you karate kick each other,” giggled Iris.

“I want to learn martial arts while we’re here,” Orion said.  “I’ve heard it’s good for the mind, too.  Helps you focus, and since I already meditate anyway, I think I’d be good at it.  But maybe you should, too.”  He looked at Patrick and his father.  “Especially since you worry a lot, Dad.  It’s supposed to help with stress.”

“I don’t know.  I’ve been told exercise helps with stress for years, and it’s never done anything but make me miserable.”

Patrick shrugged.  “And I don’t stress like Dad.  I don’t think anyone stresses like Dad.  Besides, I get mine out in art and music.  I don’t need to wear pajamas and kick dummies playing Karate Sim.  You guys have fun with that.  I’ll chill.”

“I think after that flight we could all stand to chill,” said Susan.  “Let’s head to the market and get something to eat that’s better than that terrible airplane food.  Try some genuine local cuisine, maybe do a little shopping.  See the sights in the town square.”

“Sounds good to me,” Boyd agreed.

At the marketplace, Boyd, Susan, and Iris browsed the relic shop while the boys moved on to the bookstore after a brief look around.  “These vases are beautiful.”  Susan admired the ornate artwork on one and showed it to Iris.  “Imagine how pretty your flowers would look in it.”

Iris smiled, and then went over to the bonsai plant.  She stared at it for a moment, and then touched one of its branches.  “It likes me,” she said proudly.  “It hasn’t seen a plantsim before.”

“You plantsims are rare all around the world.  Not just at home,” said Boyd.

“I told it was I glad to meet it, too.”  She touched it one last time, and then looked at a dragon figure while her parents finished browsing.

The boys browsed the shelves of the Shang Simla book shop.  “The International Reader of Fried Rice.”  Patrick picked it up and thumbed through it.  “I’m not sure if this is a history book, cookbook, or both.”  He put it back and picked up another one off a different shelf.  “A Wall Between Us.  Local bestseller here, apparently,” he noted after reading the jacket.  “Looks like the kind of thing Maria would be into.”

“You should get it for her,” Orion suggested.

“Thinking about it.”  He gave Orion a sly look.  “What about you?  Getting anything for your ‘friend’?”

Catching on to Patrick’s tone, Chris raised an eyebrow, curious.  “Friend?  Who’s that?”

“The friend who went to prom with Mario and practically made out with him on the dance floor, you mean?  No.”  Orion stared at the shelf.

“That sucks, dude.  Sorry,” Chris said.

“Yeah.”  Patrick felt bad that he hadn’t noticed that at prom and brought it up.  Orion hadn’t said much about the dance one way or another afterward.  Although it had been clear he hadn’t hooked up with anyone special, he hadn’t come home upset or disappointed, so Patrick didn’t realize anything went wrong, either.

“It’s no big deal.  We’re not even that close of friends.  Patrick’s just reading too much into things.”

It was obvious from Orion’s tone that Patrick had read him exactly right, but neither he nor Chris were going to say that and make him feel worse.  “Eh, maybe you’ll meet some cute Shang Simla girl.  Have a steamy international fling.”  Patrick held onto the book for Maria and continued to browse.

“I’m not worried about it.”  Orion picked up a book called Sim Fu: Jumping Kicks off the shelf.  “There’s plenty of other stuff to do here.”

“Like martial arts,” Chris said, changing the subject.  “I say we should hit the dojo and try it out.”  The aroma of freshly cooked food wafted in, and they noticed Boyd, Susan, and Iris waving by the door.  “Or get lunch.  Whatever Grandma and Grandpa picked up smells amazing.”

“Yeah, it does.  Let’s go.”  Orion put the book back on the shelf and headed for the door.  Chris followed, while Patrick purchased the book for Maria and headed out after them.

After they ate, Boyd and Susan met with their contact, Shing Hong, a local entomologist.  Although they knew enough about the assassin bug to find it on their own, there were local property laws and customs regulations that had to be followed.  He met with the Wainwrights to direct them to the prime hunting grounds and made sure all their paperwork was in order.

He was a pleasant fellow, and they had a nice chat with him not only about the assassin bugs, but other shared scientific interests and local lore.  Once they were done, they headed out to find their specimens.  Susan let Boyd do the dirty work in the field.  She served as the guide while he got down in the dirt and grass to search for the elusive critters.  After some diligent searching, they found some specimens just as the sun started to set.

While Boyd and Susan did their research, the kids did some exploring on their own.  Patrick was left unofficially in charge as the oldest, but it was Chris who spotted Iris skipping off on her own toward the river.  “I’ll chase her down.  I run faster,” Chris said before running to catch up with her.  “Iris, you can’t just take off like that!  We almost didn’t see you until you were gone.”

“I didn’t go that far!  I was just looking at the plants and stuff.  And the neat rocks, like in scouts.  Look!”  She held up an uncut jade she found by the riverbank.  “It’s pretty.”

“It is.  I think it’s jade.  One of the rocks you can find here in Shang Simla, but not at home.”  He looked at it, then handed it back to her.  “But you still need to make sure one of us knows where you’re going.”

“All right.  Since you’re here, want to look for rocks here by the river with me, then?”

“Sure.”  He texted Patrick to let him know he was with Iris and what they were doing, and he texted back saying they’d meet back up later.  “Okay, let’s go.”

Iris took off toward the river bank.  “Come on!”

After Chris and Iris went exploring, Patrick and Orion wandered around town and took a tour of the Halls of the Lost Army.  They enjoyed looking at the statues and reading the plaques, learning some Shang Simla history and lore.  “Too bad Chris and Iris are missing this stuff.  It’s pretty cool,” Patrick remarked.

“They can always come see it if they want.  We’ve got a few days here, after all.”  They were still touring when Orion noticed a panel that looked a little different than the others on the floor.  “Hey, Patrick.  Look.  That tile is different.”

“Yeah.  Weird.  It doesn’t look like a mistake, though.  It looks like it was designed that way.  But why?”

“I don’t know.”  Orion inspected it more closely, and then acted on a hunch he got when he got close.  He hopped down on it hard, which earned him an odd look from Patrick, but they were both shocked when they heard a rumbling noise in the floor.  A part of it slid aside, revealing a hidden staircase.

“Holy llama!  Did you just find a secret room?!”

“I think so!  Come on!”  Orion headed for the stairs.

Patrick looked around to make sure security wasn’t taking issue with what they were doing, but no one else was around.  “Orion… wait!”


“I don’t know if we should—”

“We find a secret passage and you don’t want to check it out?”  Orion was incredulous.

Patrick looked over his shoulder again.  “I do, but… this is a historical landmark in a foreign country.  I don’t think we’re supposed to just break into hidden rooms and tour them!”

“We didn’t break in.  We stepped on a tile and the door opened.”

“You jumped on it,” Patrick pointed out.

“Still wasn’t locked or anything.  Come on.”  Orion went down the stairs, and despite his reservations, Patrick followed.

The staircase led down a dimly lit corridor with a heavy door at the end.  It was locked, but it did not have any keys.  “Guess we’re not getting in here after all.  Because you’re not doing the alien lock pick thing, right?”

“Look at this.”  Orion pointed to the panel at the side of the door.  “There’s a stone cutout.”

“Looks like some kind of carving.  Weird.”  Patrick noticed a key-shaped stone that looked like it fit in it on the floor by the foot of the stairs.  “Hey, I think this fell out of it.  Look.  I wonder if it broke.”  He gently picked it up and admired the carving before trying to place it in the wall.  “Yeah, it’s all the same piece.”

“They’d probably appreciate us fixing it, then.”

Patrick snorted.  “I’ll let you tell that to security when they give us plum for being down here.”  He placed the stone in the carving, and to their amazement, the door made a loud clicking noise like it was unlocking.

“Oh, awesome!”  Orion practically bounced with enthusiasm.  “It’s a puzzle lock!  Come on!”

“Orion, that was locked.”

“They left the key on the floor.  They can’t be that worried about security.”  He pushed the door open and went through.

Patrick shook his head and followed.  “Puzzle locked door at the bottom of a hidden staircase, and you think that’s not real security?  You’re something else.”  He laughed.  “We really shouldn’t be down here.  You know that?  Yeah, it’s cool, but… aren’t you just a little worried about causing some international incident trespassing on a national monument in a foreign country?!”

Orion started snickering.

“What, you think it’s funny to get arrested?”

“I’m sorry, Patrick, but do you know who you sound like?”


Orion straightened, adjusted his sunglasses, and assumed a facial expression and vocal affectation that was a near perfect imitation of their father.  “What if you get caught?  Security’s going to throw you in jail forever!  You’re going to cause an international incident!  Wars will be started over you poking around in the basement of a museum!”

“Oh, come on!  I’m not that bad.”  He folded his arms.  “Fine, you want to play Simdiana Jones poking around in a dusty museum secret basement, go for it.  But if we do get caught, I’m totally blaming this on you.”

“Okay, Dad,” Orion said with a grin, and headed through the door.

Beyond the locked door was a small room with a heavy stone statue, some coins on the floor, and lots of dust.  Patrick wrinkled his nose.  “Ugh.  They clean down here less than Mom and Dad do our basement.  Neat old coins, though.  Wonder why they’re just lying around.”  He stuffed a couple in his pocket for souvenirs while Orion went on to the next room.

The secret basement turned out to be a twisted maze of rooms full of oddities and old stuff, much of which looked like it hadn’t been touched in years.  “This is so weird,” Patrick remarked.  “I wonder when the last time anyone was down here.”

“Judging by the dust, a long time.  Hey, look!  What’s with the weird hole built into the wall?”  Orion peered in, and then put his hand inside to feel around.

“What are you doing?  There could be some kind of huge spider or nasty thing in there.  At least look with the flashlight app on your phone first!  You don’t even know if the spiders in Shang Simla are dangerous.”

Orion fumbled around, snickering again.  “I don’t know, Patrick.  I’m starting to think you should dye your hair gray and throw on some glasses and a snakeskin jacket.  You sound a lot like that commercial where the people are turning into their parents.”

“Oh, bite me,” Patrick retorted.  “And don’t whine to me if you get bit by something, you llama.”

“There are no bugs in here.”  Orion’s amusement turned back into curiosity when he felt a switch and triggered it.  A panel on the wall opened, revealing another door.  “This is wild!”

Behind the hidden door was a room with a concrete well-like structure in it.  “Wow!  An ancient well or something?  I wonder what kind of ruin this place was built on, and how old this place is.”

“I don’t know.”  Patrick was as amazed as he was anxious.  Although he still thought they were being a bit reckless, he had to admit it was fun in a way.  It would make a great story to tell back home, that was for sure.  “That well reminds me of the one in the basement in the nectary at Champs Les Sims.”  He peered into the murky water.  “That was a long time ago.”

“Yeah, I remember I was really little and stayed at Blair’s while you and Mom and Dad went.”

“They were a lot more paranoid about your alien stuff back then.  They were probably afraid to get you a passport.  They’ve had over a decade to come up with better cover stories and fake paperwork since then.”  Patrick watched Orion lean far over the edge.  “Can you even see how deep it is?”

“Nope.  But I’ll find out.”

“Wait, you’re not…?”


Patrick sighed.  “Of course you are.  My crazy little alien brother, hopping in ancient wells in a secret underground basement.  You’re going to be soaked and filthy, you know.”

“It’s not like I can’t climb right back out.  And whatever, I was already pretty dusty.  Free bath.  I can’t touch the bottom, by the way.”  He held his breath and dove under.  Patrick just shook his head and waited until Orion came back up.  “I found some coins down there.  More keepsakes.”  He climbed out, soaked.  “One more door.  Want to do the honors this time?”

“Sure.”  Patrick headed through with a soggy Orion behind him.

That room had some chests in it, which held some old stored relics and more of the odd coins.  “And I thought our parents had a weird basement,” Patrick said.

“I’m just glad we saw that strange tile and got to find it!  This was crazy.  I wonder how many other places in Shang Simla have secret rooms like this.”

“I don’t know, but we probably pressed our luck enough today poking around this one.”  Patrick peeked in the last chest, and there was a clicking noise as something triggered.  A wall panel slid aside, revealing yet another hidden door.  He and Orion exchanged surprised looks.  “Well, we’ve come this far.  Come on.”

When they went through, they recognized where they were: at the foot of the same hidden stairs they came in from.  “It’s a hidden door from other side.  That was so cool!”

“Yeah.  Mom and Dad could take some lessons from the Shang Simla architects on how to hide their secret basement lab.”

“Are you going to tell them?”  Orion was surprised.

“Are you even crazier than I thought?  Maybe someday.  Like, when I’m out on my own and too old to ground.  Not while we’re still here.”

“Right.  I don’t want to hear that lecture, either,” Orion said with a grin.

Their adventure at the Halls of the Lost Army kept them out longer than they anticipated.  They were on their way out when Patrick got a message from his mother saying to meet back where they were staying for dinner, and that Chris and Iris were already there.  When they arrived, Susan was already done with her eggrolls and fried rice while Chris and his father chowed down on seconds.

“This is great.  Much better than the takeout back home.”  Chris was using chopsticks like the locals, but he was nowhere near as graceful with them.

“Authentic always is,” Boyd remarked as Patrick and Orion sat down with their plates.

Also full from the big meal, Susan walked around a bit behind them to stretch her legs.  “I spoke with the staff about getting the recipe.  I’d like to try making this at home sometime.”

“So, did you two have fun at the Halls of the Lost Army?  I take it it’s worth seeing?” asked Boyd.

“Yeah.  There was a lot of unexpected stuff there.”  Patrick exchanged a knowing smile with Orion, who grinned back.

“Definitely try to get the full tour.”

After dinner, Boyd and Susan played chess together in the lobby while the kids did their own thing.  She won, being the chess grandmaster, but Boyd came away feeling like he’d put up a decent fight and sharpened his skill a bit regardless.  “Nice victory, Grandmaster,” he congratulated her on a flirtatious note.

“Thank you.  You were a most worthy opponent, as usual,” she flirted back, and moved in closer to him.

He smiled.  “I didn’t tell you before.  I learned a little something from Shing Hong while you were filling out that mountain of paperwork.”

Workaholic that she was, Susan had insisted on doing all the customs paperwork herself right away.  “Oh?”

“We talked about this and that, and he, uh, taught me a little local tune.  A serenade, for my lovely wife.”

“Another foreign love song, hmm?  I think our son’s love of music is starting to rub off on you,” she teased.  “Let’s hear it.”

“Well, I don’t have Patrick’s talent or stage presence, but since it’s just us…”  Boyd sang The Love of Xing Lo in a low and gentle tone to her, and she smooched him on the cheek afterward.

“Very sweet.  You’ll have to teach it to me like you did the French one.”  She gave him a coy look.  “Upstairs.  In our room.”

“And on that note, I say, let’s say good night and head on up.”

Since he did not sleep, Orion was awake well after the rest of his family turned in for the night.  He only had to meditate a short while before he was full of energy again.  Earlier, Chris gave him a space rock that he’d found while out rock hunting with Iris, and Orion practiced his alien abilities with it for a while.  Afterward, he read a book on martial arts that Susan gave him.  His parents had stopped in at the bookstore after their bug hunting expedition, and she’d picked it up since Orion expressed an interest in it.  He spent most of the night reading, and he looked forward to going to the dojo to try out some moves.

The next day of their vacation, the Wainwrights visited the Scholar’s Garden and the Academy, which were next door to each other.  Boyd, Susan, and Patrick hung around the quiet garden reading and enjoying the tranquil setting, while Chris, Orion, and Iris just took a quick tour and headed on to the dojo.

Susan took a leisurely walk around the garden before joining her husband and son in the reading room.  “This place is so lovely and relaxing.  It puts our landscaping at home to shame.  The natural beauty with the peace and quiet… I wish I could bottle this ambiance and put it in our study.”

“It’s nice,” Boyd agreed.  “Maybe it’s just the atmosphere or the inspiration of the trip, but I’m beginning to think Orion had a good idea about me trying that meditation stuff.  Maybe it would help me feel less keyed up all the time.”

“You want to learn martial arts?”  Susan was surprised.

“I don’t know about the sim fu kicking, but maybe the more low-key aspects.”

“It does sound kind of fun to chop through boards like you see in movies, but I don’t know.  I might hurt myself.”  She sat down and turned her wrist over.  “I do have delicate bone structure, after all…”

Patrick looked up from his book.  “Are you two serious?”

“Why not?  Like your father said, it might do his nerves some good to learn Eastern meditation techniques.  I’m willing to try something that can sharpen and expand your mind.  At least once, anyway.  As long as it doesn’t hurt.”

“Mom, you didn’t even like the Woo Fit yoga.  Remember when Blair insisted you try it?”

Boyd chortled.  “Yeah, the exercise video game she gave us because Cycl0n3 never used it when she got it for him.”

“At least Orion liked it.  He played the bowling thing on it a lot.  That one wasn’t bad, but the others?  Meh.”  Patrick set his book down.  “I read some of Orion’s martial arts book on the way over.  It’s a lot of mind-body connection stuff.  Not my thing.”

“So you won’t try it with us?”  Susan was a bit disappointed.

“I guess I could.”  It wasn’t anything Patrick was into, but if everyone else was going to, he supposed he could humor them and join in for an afternoon.  He figured he couldn’t be worse at it than his parents, considering how old and out of shape they were.

Boyd, Susan, and Patrick headed over to the Academy and caught up with Chris, Orion, and Iris.  Orion and Chris were already in practice martial arts uniforms, pounding away at training dummies, while Iris practiced chess on the table.  An attendant greeted them when they arrived and showed them some starter techniques.  Boyd changed into a practice uniform, but Patrick just stayed in his street clothes as he imitated the moves.  Susan had no interest in trying the training dummy, so she sat down with an instructional manual on the deck with Iris instead.

“That’s cool you’re learning martial arts, too!” Orion cheered from over at his dummy.  He picked it up fast and was doing well at it.  His time in ballet and natural inclination toward meditation made it easy for him.  “Maybe we could try some sparring matches.”

“Yeah, Orion and I sparred.  It was fun.  I beat him the first time.”

“And then I beat you the second.”

Patrick did not enjoy the training dummy at all, and when a poorly executed kick resulted in him getting a thwack to the side of the head from one of its arms, he was done.  It amused him to watch his family play at being sim fu masters, though, and he made good-natured snarky commentary as they practiced.

Chris and Boyd tried out some of their new moves on each other.  “And here we see Chris vs. Grandpa!” Patrick said in a fake announcer voice.  “Will Sim Nation’s biggest klutz prove victorious in this Shang Simla showdown, or will he get his plumbob kicked by his out of shape grandfather and become an international laughingstock?”

“I’m not sure which of us should be more insulted by that,” quipped Boyd.

“Look at it this way, Grandpa.  He didn’t even need an opponent to lose a match.  The dummy kicked his plumbob.”

Patrick pouted in mock offense.  “Yeah, well… it cheated.”

Susan eventually tried on the practice uniform and tried some basic poses and moves inside.  When she came out, Chris and Boyd were sparring and she joined the others watching them.

“Boyd, don’t hurt yourself,” she called out.  “And Chris, be careful.  Your grandpa has a bad back…”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, honey.”  Boyd blocked a shot from Chris.

Susan sighed.  “You know I didn’t mean it like that.  I just don’t want you limping around in pain from overdoing it for the rest of the trip.”

“Don’t worry, Grandma.  He’s getting in shape with me.  We’re lean, mean, fighting machines.”  Chris spun and kicked, but lost his balance and fell on his rear end.

“Machines that need a tune-up,” Patrick said, while Boyd offered Chris a hand up.

“You all right?”

“Yeah.  I still didn’t lose to a dummy.”  He grinned.

When they were done at the dojo, they went back to their rooms to clean up and change, and then went into town to have dinner.  They each tried something new and different, and when they were done, Susan was so inspired that she picked up some recipe books.  Orion thumbed through his martial arts book while Boyd finished his meal.

“So what does that say about martial arts that we didn’t learn at the dojo?” Chris asked.

“More of the philosophy behind it, stuff like that.  You want to borrow it later?”

“Maybe.  I like it.  I might see if I can get Tad into it when we go back.  It’d be easier to train with a sparring partner anyway, since I don’t think I can pack my own training dummy on the airplane.”

“Oh, we could have something like that shipped if you really want it,” Susan offered.  “I don’t think your mom would mind.”

“She might even try it herself.  Dad never would, though.  I think he’d fail even harder against a dummy than Patrick.”

“I’d pay for international shipping just to see that,” joked Boyd.

After dinner, they checked out a local hotspot, a little bar and hangout that had been renovated from an abandoned home.  It was a tiny place, but it had good music, drinks, and games.  Patrick and Chris enjoyed some juice—legal for them to purchase in Shang Simla—while Orion chatted with his father.

“I think we ought to keep an eye on Chris with that juice,” Susan remarked as she joined Orion and Boyd.  “He seems a bit giggly.”

“He’s built like a beanpole.  Probably doesn’t take much,” said Orion.

Boyd chortled.  “In all fairness, it’s not like he comes from muscle man stock.  He gets ‘beanpole’ from both sides.”

“See, that’s another reason martial arts is good for you, Dad.  It builds those muscles.”

“I think I used muscles today I haven’t used in twenty years.  That was enough.”

Susan gave him a concerned look.  “Oh no.  Was I right?  Did you overdo it?”

“I refuse to admit that.”

She patted him on the shoulder.  “Then I’ll magnanimously refrain from saying ‘I told you so.’”

When they got back to their room, Susan couldn’t resist teasing Boyd a bit more, although it was touched with concern.  “So, Sim Fu Master, how bad did you strain yourself today?  Emit’s treatment isn’t that strong in us anymore.  We still look younger than we are, but as much as I hate to admit it, that’s still not that young.”

“I know.”  Boyd smiled despite himself.  “I got a little caught up in it.  The kids’ enthusiasm was contagious.  Chris is pretty good.  I think he and Orion should stick with it.  Patrick, well, he’s too much like us in that regard, I’m afraid.”

“Poor Patrick.  He’ll be happier doing his art and guitar.  Hopefully he’ll enjoy himself more tomorrow when we go sightseeing.”

“At least he had a pretty good time tonight.  He and Chris were laughing it up at the bar.”

“It was kind of cute.  They think they’re so grown up.”

“Most kids do, at that age.  We knew everything then, too, remember?”

Susan laughed.  “They’ll find out the hard way soon enough that they don’t.”

“But hopefully not too hard.”  Boyd kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the bed while Susan lay down beside him.

“Hopefully not.”

Offline oshizu

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #244 on: May 11, 2018, 03:00:59 AM »
What a fun update! I never played World Adventures so I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I felt like I traveled along with the Wainwrights to Shang Simla. It's great that everyone found something of interest to do.
Awwww, it makes me sad that Susan and Boyd are ageing.
As much as I'd like to see the second-generation grow up and start lives of their own, I don't want to let Susan and Boyd go.

Offline karlissa

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #245 on: May 12, 2018, 03:11:07 PM »
I have a feeling that Patrick getting beaten up by a training dummy is going to be the new Boyd doing a keg stand in terms of Wainwright family gossip. :)
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Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 65
« Reply #246 on: May 17, 2018, 11:00:38 PM »
What a fun update! I never played World Adventures so I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I felt like I traveled along with the Wainwrights to Shang Simla. It's great that everyone found something of interest to do.
Awwww, it makes me sad that Susan and Boyd are ageing.
As much as I'd like to see the second-generation grow up and start lives of their own, I don't want to let Susan and Boyd go. :'(

Thanks!  Even though they're close to elder (2 game days away as of their Shang Simla trip), they'll get to live out their elder years fully and still have important roles and stuff going on. So they'll be around until Grim comes for them.

I have a feeling that Patrick getting beaten up by a training dummy is going to be the new Boyd doing a keg stand in terms of Wainwright family gossip. :)

It's definitely not something they'll let him forget anytime soon! :D

Chapter 65

Plum pancakes were served for breakfast the next day of the Wainwrights’ vacation in Shang Simla, although it was a bit different eating them with chopsticks.  They could’ve used traditional silverware, if they wanted, but learning to use chopsticks while there had become a little fun challenge for them.

“I think that’s cheating, Dad,” Patrick said as Boyd, frustrated after his pancakes broke down into mush after putting too much syrup on them, lifted his plate up and began shoveling it in.

“Time to admit defeat, Grandpa.”

Iris giggled.  “I don’t even eat much food and I use these better.”

“I can’t help that my pancakes became structurally unsound.”

“You can help talking with your mouth full.”  Susan passed him a napkin with a tsk-tsk look.

He set his plate down and wiped his mouth.  “Sorry,” he said, then licked the last of the syrup off of his chopstick.

Susan shook her head, both amused and frustrated.  “You’re hopeless.”

After breakfast, but before they went out for the day, Patrick sat down with some of their lodging’s stationery.  Orion was still in the shower and his parents were busy programming the directions for their destinations into their mobile GPS apps, so he used the time to write a letter to Maria.

Dear Maria,

Even though I’ll talk to you and probably see you before you get this, I thought it’d be cool to write you one of those traditional love letters like you see in the movies.  I know you like that sort of thing.  ;) (Good thing I can draw non-crappy emojis in real life, right?)

The trip has been fun, but I miss you and wish you could’ve come with us. Orion, Iris, and Chris are all right, but it’s not like hanging out with you.  There were some cool art pieces in the Halls of the Lost Army I know you would’ve liked.  I took pictures and I’ll show you when I get back.  Today we’re going to see the Terracotta Army.  You’d like that and probably the Hot Springs where we’re going after.  It’s natural mineral water pools like a spa.  When I get back you’ll have to tell me if my skin is softer after I swim in it.

I wish we could’ve traveled together. Someday we can, especially if you count University.  I hope you’ve been having a nice time in Sunset Valley and you’re not too bored or anything.  If you did any art or writing, show it to me when I get back.  You probably already will have by the time you get this, but you know what I mean.

I love you and I miss you.  I can’t wait to see you again.  I’ll be thinking about you.


He read it over when he was done and hoped it wasn’t too corny.  Patrick wasn’t used to expressing himself with the written word; he was better at conveying things through art and music, or even just talking.  But it also felt nice to send a kind of keepsake that was more personal than a postcard and more hands-on than something digital like a message or picture over the phone, which they’d been sharing all along.

Chris came over and gave him a curious look.  “What are you doing?”

“Writing a letter to Maria.”  He sealed it up before Chris could see any of it.  “Just finished it.  Wanted to do something more personal than the generic postcard type thing.”

“Oh.”  Chris thought for a moment.  “Do you think Tad would want me to do something like that?”

“I don’t know.  He’s your boyfriend.  Is he a romantic like that?  Maria’s kind of traditional that way.  She likes the flowers, candlelight, show-me-you-love-me type stuff.”

When he thought about it, Chris supposed that while Tad was not gushy about romance or as needy for attention as his sister, he’d probably appreciate a similar token of thought.  Especially if Maria decided to brag about how much Patrick cared and loved her while he was away, and made comparisons or implications, either intentional or not.  Tad could get sensitive about that sort of thing, and Chris didn’t want to leave the door open for that.  “Yeah, I’ll write him one, too.”

Patrick showed him where the stationery was, and Chris sat down to pen his letter.


Bet you never thought I’d send you a letter from Shang Simla, huh?  Surprise!  I know I said I’d send a postcard but I thought this would be better. (But I stuck a postcard with a cool picture in the envelope so it still counts.) With how slow the mail is, it’ll probably get there after I’m home, but I’m not planning to spoiler you that this is coming.  Unless the mail loses it, which would suck.  I’ve had fun here in Shang Simla, but wish you could’ve been here too.  We’ve seen and done a lot of cool stuff, but I’ll have told you about all that by the time you get this.  I also got you something but I’ll have probably given that to you already, too.

I miss you though and I think we should take a trip like this sometime.  Maybe here or maybe somewhere else.  You’d like it here and it’d be cool if you could see the Dragon Cave and the Terracotta Army (where we’re going today) and Temple of Heaven (tomorrow) in person.  We could also sit on the balcony where you can see the stars and Dragon Cave lit up at night.

Can’t wait to see you when I get back.


Although the Terracotta Army was located at the top of steep hill reachable only by footpath, even the most out of shape of the Wainwrights had to admit it was worth the hike to see in person.  Photos did not do the statues justice, and they were quite an impressive sight.

“Did an army invade here and that’s why there are statues?” Iris asked.

Susan showed her a plaque explaining the historical significance.  “Nope.  This is an army of statues made for the tomb of an ancient emperor.  He’s buried in this mountain.”

“Wanting security like this, the poor guy was probably more paranoid than I am,” remarked Boyd.

“Hey, is this one of those places with a curse, like if you violate the tomb, the statues come to life and kick your plumbob?” Patrick wondered.

Chris smirked.  “If it is, you better stay out, then.  We all saw how you did against the dummy.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“I think it’d be kind of cool to see something like that,” said Orion.

“You would.”  Patrick shook his head, while Boyd raised an eyebrow.

“Cool perhaps from a nice safe distance.  Though if you’re not afraid of ancient curses, I haven’t done my duty as a parent and shown you the right shows and movies so you’d know that’s a bad idea.”

“Really,” Susan agreed.  “I could come up with a good playlist to sit you down with some night when you can’t think of anything else to do while we all sleep.”

After seeing the Terracotta Army, they visited the Hot Springs.  It was refreshing after the hike up and down the trail by the Terracotta Army, and the more leisurely walk from the road to the springs themselves.  The swimming pool was not hot, although there were several natural ponds there formed by the springs, some of which were.  Others were cooler and full of fish.  The pool was perfect that warm afternoon.  Patrick lounged lazily on a float while Orion and Chris swam around.  Susan read a book in one of the lounge chairs, and Boyd fished while Iris explored the different ponds and plants on the hills.

“I hear they have dragon fish up here, and at Dragon Springs farther up the mountain.  I’d love to catch a live specimen or two.”

“They’d look great in our fish tank,” said Susan.  “And we’ve already got the customs forms for the assassin bugs.  What’s another for dragon fish?”

“Isn’t Dragon Springs up there, though?”  Patrick looked at the steep mountainside beyond the top of the Hot Springs roof.  “I don’t think so.  I’m done hiking today.”

Orion swam toward his older brother.  “I’d have thought you’d want to see it.  Inspiration from nature, and maybe some cool things to find?  You still have a knack for that from scouts.”

“Yeah, maybe if I wasn’t beat.  But that’s a big hill, and there’s plenty of nature to be inspired by right here.”

“I’d go!  It sounds neat!” Iris declared from where she stood by a tall bamboo patch.

Boyd looked at the hill and his inclination was the same as Patrick’s, that it was a little steep and the trail a bit long for his taste.  “Maybe if I don’t catch any dragon fish here.  Or maybe tomorrow.  We’ve still got a day left.”

Unfortunately, Boyd didn’t catch any dragon fish.  Iris wasn’t able to talk him into going up to Dragon Springs to try there, but he promised to go with her the next day after they saw the Temple of Heaven.  Susan was glad because she did not feel like going up another mountain trail, either.  It was already late afternoon and the sun would be setting by the time they got up there.

They decided to eat where they were staying and unwind there the rest of the night.  Iris got out her sprite, which she brought with her, and played with it with Chris, who’d also brought his.  It made a fun distraction on the plane ride over, though he hadn’t gotten it out since getting to Shang Simla.  “Orion showed me how to unlock this one,” she told Chris proudly as she showed her most advanced one off.

“It’s pretty neat.  I didn’t get that one yet.”

“I’ll show you!”  She set up the interaction on their sprites, and Chris’ morphed into the new form.

“Nice!  Thanks!  I’m behind on this game, I guess.”

“I’m behind Orion.  He plays it a lot.”

“When you don’t sleep, you have a lot more free time.”  Orion browsed the contents of the juice bar.  He recognized some as the same stuff his parents had in their bar back home, but others were obviously local Shang Simla bottles.  Unlike Patrick and Chris, Orion had never had juice beyond a curious taste.  Although Boyd and Susan told the teens they could sample drinks since it was legal in Shang Simla, they made it clear they were not to be foolish or reckless about it, or it would be their last juice anywhere until they were of legal age back home.  “I can get you the forms you’re missing if you want, Chris.”

“Sure.  That’d be cool.  Wish I knew where you got these.  Tad wants one.”

“Tell Mom and Dad.  They can probably get another one.”  Orion picked up a bottle and opened it.  “This smells like pomelo paint thinner.”  He put it back.

Chris and Iris weren’t the only members of the family to bring future tech with them.  Patrick brought his Laser Rhythm-a-Con unit, since it was light and portable and he figured he could mess with it during hotel downtime.  He was glad he did, especially since his bedroom had no TV and the painting app on his phone was too basic to keep him entertained long.

“You’re getting pretty good with that,” Boyd noted as he listened to Patrick play a tune.

“What song is that?” asked Iris.  “I haven’t heard it before.”

“It’s one I made up.  Just a tune in my head.”

Boyd was proud hearing that Patrick was already trying original compositions.  “It’s good.”

“It is,” Susan agreed, looking up from her e-book.

The compliments inspired Patrick more.  “Thanks.”

Orion came into the hall where his parents were talking.  He wanted to ask them about their plans for tomorrow but paused to wait for a break in their conversation.

“Not quite.  I think this was the inflection.”  Boyd sang a line of a song in the local language.

“Oh, okay.”  Susan tried again, that time altering her tone a bit.

“That’s it.”  He smiled flirtatiously.  “I must say, I like how that sounds coming from you.”

She leaned in close.  “I bet you do, considering what it translates to.”

Orion also knew the song, because Patrick had picked it up chit-chatting with another tourist staying where they were.  He’d taught it to him and Chris, along with what the lyrics meant.  That was enough to send Orion right back into other room, leaving his parents alone to song-flirt.

“What’d they say?”

“Nothing except stuff I’d rather not hear.”  Orion made a face.  “Mom’s trying to sing that local love serenade.  Or learn it.”

Patrick cringed with him.  “Oh, man.  Don’t blame you for bailing.  If they want to get it on, we don’t need to hear about it.”

“Ugh.  Thanks for making sure I got that picture in my head.”

“Anytime!”  Patrick’s thoughts drifted to Maria, and how nice it would be to have her there to sing that to and maybe go off to his room with, but he left it unsaid.  “What are you doing for the rest of the night?  I’m kind of tired so I’ll go to bed soon, but without even a TV in our rooms, it’s got to get boring for you.  Do you just watch the lobby TV or use the public computer?”

“Yeah, there’s that stuff.”

“Guess there’s also the lobby books, or your martial arts book.  Can you practice that here without a dummy?”

“I finished it last night.  And without a partner to spar with, there’s not much I can do but basic stuff.  So, no, not much to do… here.”

“You say that like you’re thinking of going somewhere else.”  Patrick raised an eyebrow.  “You know Mom and especially Dad would flip their plumbobs if you left in the middle of the night to go out and do random stuff.”

“I know.”

Patrick recognized the look on his brother’s face.  It was the same one he’d had in the basement of the Halls of the Lost Army, that he got whenever he made some tricky concoction on the chemistry table, and that he’d even had that day ages ago when he first used his telekinetic abilities to pick the lock of their parents’ secret basement lab.  “You’re going to do it anyway, aren’t you?”

“Don’t worry.  I’m not going to get in trouble.  Just take a walk.”

“We’re in a foreign country, and you want to go out for a midnight stroll while everyone’s asleep.  Oh, my Watcher.  Dad would… and don’t even get on my case saying I’m being like him here.  I’m just saying what he’d do, and what Mom would do.  They’d freak the plum out.”  He gave him a pointed look.  “Don’t you remember how much trouble I got in for Maria’s party?”

“That was different.  Her parents weren’t there, you were all drinking, and the cops brought you home.  This is just me taking a walk and checking stuff out.  I’ll be fine.  They won’t even know.”

Patrick sighed.  “Orion…”

“You can come, if you want.”

“No.  I need to sleep.  I won’t say anything, but please, don’t do anything crazy and be careful, okay?”


“Good night.”  Patrick went to his room.

Orion kept his word and only took a walk after his family went to bed, although he went much farther than he implied he would.  It was a calm and clear night, and the hike up the Shang Simla mountainside did not faze him in the least.  He stopped at a clear ledge to admire the view and enjoy the night air and sounds around him.  It was so relaxing that he felt he could meditate better there than in his room.

He closed his eyes and cleared his mind, and he was about to sit down when he sensed something.  It was the vibration of a space rock.  He could feel it not only below him in the ground, but also above.  What is that?

He focused harder and felt energy pulling beneath and above him, like he was wading through a magnetic force he could feel in his both his mind and body.

He concentrated until he could channel and gain control of the energy, and he realized he was sensing two space rocks of the same type.  One buried deep in the ground, and a larger one above.  That must have been why they had the same vibration and connected to one another.  He decided to focus on the one above and draw it to him.  It had less resistance than pulling through dirt, and although it was farther away, he could tell it was much larger and had more energy to harness, especially while in sync with the buried rock beneath him.

Taking a deep breath, Orion focused his mind the way Eni Jish Xip showed him.  Energy built up inside of him and fed off of the space rock vibrations, and his hands began to glow.  It was powerful, and draining, but he felt the path of the rock above shift and align with him.

It’s coming…

Orion experienced a dizzying rush as the vibrations intensified.  He looked up and saw a glowing mass in the sky growing brighter as it neared.

It worked!

He took a step back to watch, only then realizing how lightheaded he’d gotten… and just how big that space rock actually was.  His breath caught in his throat, and he stared, amazed.


There was a brilliant flash, a rush of heat and light, and a near-deafening crack as the meteor slammed into the ground.  Orion instinctively shielded his face and was lucky not to be hit by any of the chunks that blew off on impact.  He braced against the heat and smoke, but they dissipated quickly in the breezy mountain air.

When it all cleared, Orion saw a far larger meteorite than he imagined sitting in the crater it made, as well as a sizeable chunk just a foot from where he stood.  Good thing that didn’t hit me! He recalled Eni Jish Xip warning him to be mindful of the size of the rocks he summoned and realized this must have been what she meant.  From a distance, it was hard to tell just how big a rock was.

Orion went toward the crater, but when he tried to walk, he got dizzy and stumbled.  He knew his powers could be draining, but they’d never left him that woozy before.  He wondered if he’d screwed up.  He doubted he could make it back to the hotel without passing out.

“Better rest,” he murmured, and sat down.

Orion was so out of it that he never noticed that someone else saw what he’d done.  Not any of the locals, or anyone back at the hotel.  Most of Shang Simla was asleep, and even late night sky-watchers would’ve assumed it was just a natural meteor falling.  But fifteen minutes after impact, while Orion was deep into recovering his energy, another alien appeared at the top of the trail.

What are you…?  Oh.

Orion heard the voice in his mind and it snapped him out of his trance.  He was as surprised to see the other alien as the alien was to see him.

Who are you? Orion thought back at him as he stood to greet him.  He’d recovered enough to stand and walk again, but he was still exhausted.

I was about to ask you that, after asking why you summoned a meteor planetside when I was told we were all supposed to be on stealth. The alien’s telepathic voice paused in his mind.  Then I realized you are not one of us.  You are an Earth Child. He eyed the crater and rock, and then Orion.  And young.  Is this your first time bringing one in that size?

You could tell?

We all get a little overzealous when learning our limits. His mental tone was kinder now.  I did not realize there were any Earth Children in Shang Simla.  Usually that is notated on our mission maps.

I’m just visiting.  I live in Sim Nation.

I see.  He straightened.  I do not have diplomatic clearance to interact with any Earth citizens, so I should terminate this conversation and leave before I am obligated to file an unplanned encounter report.  He smiled.  That said, off the record I advise you to use caution when summoning rocks from the sky.  They can cause catastrophic damage, as you can see, and that is not even a particularly large one.  Be glad you did not summon that in your home, and that you still had the strength to get out of harm’s way.

Yeah, Mom and Dad wouldn’t appreciate me making a new skylight out of our roof. He looked at the alien.  I’m okay, though.

Meditate to regain your strength.  He pulled out an instrument.  I would be inclined to take this specimen for fuel myself, but you deserve to keep your prize if you want it, Orion Wainwright.  Do you?

Orion was startled that he knew his name, but he realized that he must’ve picked it up telepathically, the same way he now knew the alien’s name was Zuvihac Xip.  “Yes.”  He switched to the spoken word, which he was more comfortable with.  “I know your name… it’s similar to Eni Jish Xip.  If your names work like ours do, does that mean you’re related to her?”

He answered telepathically. I can understand your thoughts but cannot speak your language.  I am only familiar with the local Earth tongue of Shang Simla for field work, but I do not think you speak that.

Oh.  No.  Sorry.

It is not a problem.  To answer your question, I know that name as the new ambassador to Earth, but we are not acquainted.  We do not work in the same units and are not kin to one another.  Xip is a common name component on Sixam.

Oh, okay.

I must continue with my mission now, but it was a pleasure making your acquaintance, Orion Wainwright.  Please do not tell your Earth companions about our meeting.  Not only do I not wish to file an unplanned encounter report, but I find mind-wiping humans unpleasant and distasteful, and my superiors will compel it if anyone knows I interacted with you.

Orion thought about how his father was still affected by the abduction and subsequent mind-wipe.  He never wanted to see anyone he cared about put through that because of something he said or did. I won’t say anything.  I promise.

Thank you.  I appreciate it.  Goodbye.

Bye, Orion projected in parting, and Zuvihac Xip waved before disappearing in a teleporter beam.

Orion meditated until almost dawn before returning to the hotel.  By then he’d regained enough strength that he could hike back while using his telekinetic powers to help carry the huge rock.

He brought it onto the balcony, and Susan exclaimed “My Watcher!” when she saw him with the rock.  She and Boyd, the only ones up and out of their rooms so far, rushed over from the breakfast table.  “Where did you find that?”

“Where were you?”

“Oh, I just took a walk up the hill.”  It wasn’t a lie, although he was content to let them think it was just an early morning stroll and he’d only been gone a short while.

Susan was amazed.  “And this was up there?  What a specimen!  How did you lift it?”

“My powers,” Orion replied proudly, while Boyd did a quick analysis.

“That’s incredible!”

“You want to know what’s really incredible?  I summoned it.  Last night when I was up, I felt its vibration above.  I focused on it and concentrated hard to try and channel it… and I kind of brought it down.”

Boyd gasped.  “You brought a meteor down?!”

“Holy llama, Orion.”  It was rare for Susan to be so crude, but she was truly stunned.  “You can do that?”

“It was the first time I tried.  It took a lot out of me, and I had to meditate a while before I could bring it back, but yeah.  I did.”

Boyd eyed him with concern.  “You’re all right, though?  Oh, Orion.  This is huge!  It must’ve left a hell of a crater on impact.  You’re lucky it landed in the wild and didn’t head right for you!  Imagine if hit here in the hotel.”

Orion didn’t correct their mistaken impression that he’d done it from his room, and just nodded.

“Do you feel all right?  That kind of mental energy drain didn’t strain or hurt you at all?  No headache or any kind of side effect?”

He shook his head.  “I’m fine.  It just wore me out a little.”

“I’m glad you’re okay.”  Susan looked at the meteor.  “That’s going to take a few special customs forms to get home.”

Boyd chortled.  “Good thing we’re filthy rich lab owners, huh?  But this is worth a small fortune itself, not only in cash but to science.  Octahedrite, and what a chunk of it.”  He put his hand on Orion’s shoulder and gave him a meaningful look.  “But no rock will ever be worth more than you.  I’m impressed, but—”

“Be careful.  I know.”


The exciting story of Orion and his meteor set the bar high for their last day of vacation, but visiting the Temple of Heaven made a respectable follow-up.  The mountaintop landmark was another that had them hiking up a trail, but it was a nice day and they took it at a leisurely pace.  It was worth the hike to see the monument and tour it.  They even made the hike to the small park above it to eat the lunch they’d packed, which was the highest point in Shang Simla with unparalleled views.

Iris pointed down one side of the mountain.  “Look!  It’s Dragon Springs!  And the hot springs!  Down there!”

“Yeah, from here it doesn’t look nearly so high.”  Patrick turned to Orion.  “And you were right.  This view is pretty inspiring.”  He took a panorama shot from his phone.  “I’m glad we came here.”

After they left the Temple of Heaven, they split up to see different sights that interested them.  Boyd took Iris to Dragon Springs, as promised.  His feet and back were sore from all the hiking by the time they got there, but he tried not to let it show since she was so enthused.  He took some pictures of the natural beauty of the area, then set up to fish in the most promising pond.  Iris fished with him for a little while, and then played in the grass and ponds and flowers nearby.

The trip ended up worth their while.  An hour and a half later, Boyd finally caught his dragon fish, and it was a prime specimen.

“Wow, Dad!  That’s so cool!”

“It is,” he agreed with a grin.  “It’s going to look even cooler in an aquarium at home.”

He carefully bagged it so it would last the trip back.  “You ready to head back?”

“Yup!  Let me just tell the bamboo bye!”  Iris put her hand on a thick stalk, laughed, and then skipped down the trail.  Boyd followed, happy and glad that this part of the walk was all downhill.

Susan traveled with the boys to the Academy, and then went on to the Scholar’s Garden while they did martial arts.  She was surprised that Patrick stayed with Chris and Orion given his lack of enthusiasm for sim fu compared to them, but she supposed hanging out with the others closer to his age trumped hanging out with his mother studying in the Scholar’s Garden.  That was how she spent her afternoon, admiring the gardens and checking out some rare astronomical sights that were visible even during the day there in Shang Simla.

She made some notes and mused that it was too bad Boyd didn’t get a chance to see them, as she knew he’d have appreciated it.  She hoped he had the luck he wanted fishing.  She still did not enjoy that hobby; it was wet and smelly and messy, and hiking halfway up a mountain to do it made it appeal even less.  The serene landscaping and studying the skies in the Scholar’s Garden was much more her speed.  She was sure Dragon Springs was lovely, too, but she would be fine with seeing the highlight reel from Boyd’s pictures.

Over at the Academy, Orion and Chris improved their martial arts skills at an impressive rate.  They practiced on the dummies and broke some foam boards on the board breakers, then they sparred against each other.  They were close in skill level and challenged each other just enough that it helped them both improve.  Patrick got a kick out of watching them.

“You guys almost make that look fun, except when one of you gets a foot to the face.”

“Yeah.  Chris’ feet stink, too.”

“Yours aren’t exactly a garden of cherry blossoms, either,” retorted Chris.

Patrick smirked.  “More like skunk cabbage, right?”

“Stick a space rock in it, before I do it for you.”  Orion chopped at Chris, who deftly blocked him.

“Oooh, he summons one little meteor and suddenly he’s a bad llama.”  Patrick laughed.  “Seriously, that is so cool!  I wish you could teach me that.”

“What would you do?  Drop one on Julius Langerak?”

“He already wanted to use the Galaxa’s lasers to burn obscene images into his lawn,” Orion told Chris.

“I was joking,” Patrick protested.  “It’s not like I did.  Though I still say it’d be funny.”

After their outings at Dragon Springs, the Academy, and Scholar’s Garden, the Wainwright clan met up briefly before splitting up again to see the last of the sights they wanted on their final evening in Shang Simla.  Patrick, Chris, Orion, and Iris went to check out the Land of the Ancestors, Shang Simla’s famous cemetery, known for its unique architecture and lore.  Although Boyd and Susan would’ve liked to see it as well, they had not yet gotten to the Halls of the Lost Army and wanted to see that for themselves before they left, so the kids went on their own.

“That was creepy but cool,” Iris said after they finished touring the mausoleum.  “I know there’s got to be ghosts here.”

“Not until after dark,” said Chris.

Iris eyed the sky warily.  The sun had already set and the last light was fading beyond the mountains.  “It is almost dark.”  Naturally attuned to the sun as she was, night wasn’t her favorite time of day anyway, but being in a graveyard just intensified it.

“We’ll be fine,” Patrick assured her.  “No ghosts will bother us.”

“That’s right.  Chris and I know martial arts.  We’ll kick their plumbobs if they try.”

“You can’t kick a ghost.  They’re all wispy and you’d go right through them,” Iris argued.

“But that means they can’t hurt you, either, right?” Chris pointed out.

Iris considered that as the lanterns around them came on.  “I guess.  But let’s go anyway.”

After they toured the Halls of the Lost Army and shopped for the last of their souvenirs, Boyd and Susan shared a romantic dinner together at the Shang Simla Market.  “I’ve gotten pretty good at these chopsticks.  I’ll have to make some of these recipes at home just for an excuse to use them.”

“I’d much rather use them on the shrimp than pancakes, that’s for sure.  But I think I prefer my fork, all things considered.”

“I guess the culture here didn’t stick with you much.  Except for those songs.”

“You said you liked them.  And did you hear Iris learned one?  That boy she was playing with taught her one called Ping and His Checkers.”

“I heard her singing it.  So cute.”

“She sang it to the bamboo up at Dragon Springs today.  She had a good time,” Boyd told Susan with a smile.  “Though I think she’s getting a little homesick.”

“I can relate.  I love vacation, but I miss the comforts of home, too.”

“Like your own bathroom?” Boyd said with a knowing look.

“Yes, that would be one of them.”  Susan chuckled.

Lodging nit-picks aside, Susan and Boyd were content to go back to them after dinner and enjoy their last night in Shang Simla together.  The kids entertained themselves with the lobby activities while Boyd and Susan enjoyed the stars and view out on the balcony.  “The Dragon Cave looks so cool at night,” Boyd remarked.  “I’m glad we got a chance to see it in person.”

“Me too.  I always wanted to do a little more traveling, but…”

“Life kept throwing us monkey wrenches.  And kids.  You’d almost think we were Bunches.”

“We’re not that prolific.”  Susan let out a wistful sigh.  “Poor Judy.  I miss her.  Ethan said Jack hasn’t been himself since losing her.  Even with little Morris being born and spending time with the other grandkids.”

“I can’t blame him.  I’d be beside myself without you, too.  You’ve been a part of my life for most of it.  All but the first fifteen years.”  He brushed a strand of her hair aside.  “You not being there is something I don’t like thinking about, either.”

“It’s inevitable, you know, unless Grim nabs us both at the same time.  One of us will be gone before the other.”

“Statistically, probably me before you.  You women tend to live longer.”

“Often, but not always.”  She met his eyes.  “It’s hard to fathom what it’d be like with you gone.  Without you there to turn to, to talk to… like you’ve always been.”  She rested her head on his shoulder.  “So let’s try to stick around until we both drop together.  Deal?”

Boyd held her close.  “Deal.”

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Offline oshizu

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #247 on: May 18, 2018, 01:25:36 PM »
What a delightful continuation of the Wainwrights' stay in Shang Simla.
Seeing eating pancakes with chopsticks seriously cracked me up. In Japan, pancakes are eaten using forks. I don't know any Chinese-Americans who use chopsticks for pancakes.
Is that a Sims 3 thing?

Loved Chris's sappy face as he composed his love letter to Tad.
I also enjoyed Orion's clandestine midnight stroll and undocumented encounter with the alien.
It would have been cool if they'd been distantly related. Now I'm curious if and when Orion will ever travel to Sixam.

Susan and Boyd's musings about mortality made me sad. (;_;)

Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 66
« Reply #248 on: May 25, 2018, 02:36:43 AM »
What a delightful continuation of the Wainwrights' stay in Shang Simla.
Seeing eating pancakes with chopsticks seriously cracked me up. In Japan, pancakes are eaten using forks. I don't know any Chinese-Americans who use chopsticks for pancakes.
Is that a Sims 3 thing?

Loved Chris's sappy face as he composed his love letter to Tad.
I also enjoyed Orion's clandestine midnight stroll and undocumented encounter with the alien.
It would have been cool if they'd been distantly related. Now I'm curious if and when Orion will ever travel to Sixam.

Susan and Boyd's musings about mortality made me sad. (;_;)

Thanks! Yes, that's a Sims 3 thing. When sims are in in China they eat everything but the obvious soup like stuff with them.

I thought it was interesting that the NPC alien who spawned in the world had the Xip name, but when I checked the family tree with master controller, there were no connections. So I guess it's just a coincidence of the name generator.

Chapter 66

The first thing the Wainwrights did after they got back from Shang Simla was take Chris home.  Patrick, Orion, and Iris stayed behind to unpack and unwind after the plane ride, but Susan and Boyd wanted to catch up with their daughter and her family.  “Welcome home!”  Blair hugged Chris, and then her parents.

Travis toddled over, and Susan scooped him up.  “Well, look who’s feeling better!  How’s he doing?”

“Much better.  His cough is gone and he’s back to his usual self.  I’d say full of energy, but he’s never been a high energy kid.  At least not compared to Chris.”

“He knows the good life, taking it easy,” Cycl0n3 remarked.  “Speaking of high energy, I hear you all became Sim Fu masters.”  He looked from Chris to Boyd and Susan.  “Even you two?  I’d pay to see that.”

“And I’d pay to see you try Chris’ training dummy that should be delivered today,” Boyd replied wryly.

“Ha!  Sorry, Space.  Not giving you that satisfaction.  Unlike the Captain, I don’t leave witnesses to tactical blunders.”

Blair giggled.  “Chris told us about poor Patrick losing to the dummy.  That’s here already, by the way.  We set it up on the patio.  So where is the Captain?  And Orion and Iris?”

“They’re at home.  Unpacking, probably washing the funk of a long plane ride off.”  Susan grimaced.  “I know a long shower’s the first thing I’m doing when we get home.”

“Yeah, though after that, I expect Patrick to be on his way to Maria’s.  He was pretty eager to see her,” Boyd remarked.

“Aw, young love.  So sweet.”  Blair lowered her tone so only her parents could hear.  “I won’t be shocked if someone else takes off shortly for the same reason.”

Diddy had been napping in Chris’ room, but he came out when he heard his voice.  Chris picked him up, and he purred loudly.  “Aw, did you miss me?  I missed you, too.”  He petted him.  “I hope you were good while I was gone.”

“He was fine,” Cycl0n3 said.  “Though I’m glad to relegate you back to litter box duty now that you’re back.”

Blair rolled her eyes.  “Like you even scooped it more than twice.”

“Hey.  I distinctly remember at least three times.”

“Oooh.  Three whole times.  Wow.  Whatever.  I just know I did it a lot more than you, and you were home a lot more than me.”

“Well, luckily the master scooper is back, with all new sim fu poop removing moves.  So are we going to get a demonstration of your martial arts?  Maybe against Grandpa here?  Or Grandma?”

Susan scoffed at the notion, while Boyd shook his head.  “I prefer to focus on the peaceful philosophy of it.  Meditation.  Zen.  I leave the fighting sim fu to the young and spry.”

“Right, ‘cause you’re the most zen person I know,” Cycl0n3 joked.  “Good luck with that.  So, that picture Patrick put up of you and Chris sparring was just a one-time deal?”

“Yeah.  We were all at the dojo and I practiced with the kids for the hell of it.”

“And then his back gave him hell for it,” Susan said.  “That’s why I didn’t do much beyond the practice stretches.  It was an experience to try once, but personally?  It’s not for me.”

“It’s great exercise, though!” Blair pointed out.  “Maybe you just overdid it to start.  I don’t think you should give up if you enjoyed it, Dad.  Just ease into it.”

“Saying I ‘enjoyed’ it would be a stretch.  Like your mom said, it was an experience.  Not something I’m cut out for on any kind of regular basis.  Sorry.  I know how much you’d like me to get in shape, but it’s not happening.  I’m old and stuck in my ways and I can admit that.”

“I’d just rather not see you stuck on a cane or immobile as you get older,” Blair replied earnestly.  “Either of you.”

“We’re hardly falling apart, thank you.”  Susan bounced Travis a bit.  “I can still carry this guy around, even though he’s getting so big.”  The truth was, he was starting to feel uncomfortably heavy in her arms, and she’d considered putting him down, but there was no way she was going to admit that now and risk a reinforcement of the exercise lecture.

“That’s because he’s got a birthday coming up.”  Blair tickled his tummy.  “Isn’t that right?  You’re going to be going to school before long.”

“School,” Travis babbled back, enjoying the attention.

While Travis heard about his upcoming birthday, Iris enjoyed her last day to play outside before she had to go back to school.  Even though fall had started, the afternoon was still summery and warm.  She knew she would not have many more nice days like that before the cold weather came and she’d be stuck inside or in the greenhouse.

She told Patches all about her adventures in Shang Simla while they played on the jungle gym, and after that they played tag.  Patches had just made her “it” when Orion came up to them.

“There you are.  I wondered where you went.”

“Just playing tag with Patches.”

“Yup.  Hi, Patches.”  Like Buddy, Orion couldn’t see her, but he could hear her sometimes.  “Patrick just left so it’s only me here until Mom and Dad get back.”

“I saw him go.  Probably to do kissy stuff with Maria.”  Iris giggled, and Orion laughed with her.

“He went to see her.  And yeah, probably kissy stuff.”

“I wonder if one day they’ll get married.  I bet they will,” said Patches.

“I bet they will, too,” Iris agreed.

Orion shrugged.  “Maybe.  We’ll see.  Oh, hey, while I’m out here, do you have your sprite on you?  January’s mood needs a boost.”

Iris pulled out her sprite.  “I haven’t got her out since the airport so she probably needs a big boost.  We can chat them.  Did you see I got the Chromec form?  Patches thinks it looks like a unicorn.”

“It kind of does.”

“Did you ever see the unicorn?  The real life one I mean?  I heard it comes to the ponds like across the street at night.  And you’re up all night so I bet you could see it if it did.”

“I’ve never seen it, sorry.  But I haven’t really looked,” Orion admitted.

“Could you?  And if you do, wake me up?  Patches and I really want to see it!”

Orion smiled at her.  “I’ll keep an eye out.”

After unpacking and freshening up, Patrick met Maria at the diner for lunch.  “I missed you sooooo much!”  She threw her arms around him in a dramatic hug.  “Welcome back to Sunset Valley.”

“Thanks.  It’s good to be back.”  He couldn’t hide his smile being back with her again.  “I really missed you.”

“I hope you had fun, but not too much,” she teased.  “I don’t want to hear about you meeting any Shang Simla girls or anything.”

“Of course not.  You know there’s nobody else that’d compare to you.”

She beamed at his answer.  “I’m glad.  And don’t leave again, at least without taking me.  It’s so boring here without you.  It was almost like being grounded again, though not that bad.  At least I could hang out with friends and stuff.  Just without you.”

“Who’d you hang out with?”

“Penny a couple of times.  We went shopping.  She and Wilbur are talking about getting engaged after she graduates.”

“They are?  Well, they’ve been together a while, I guess.”

Maria took his hand.  “Not as long as us,” she hinted.

“No.  We’ve got them beat.”  Patrick met her eyes.  “And after we’re done with University… we could talk about that, too.”

She leaned in close.  “I’d love that.”

“In the meantime, I’ve got something for you.”

“Oh, you brought me a souvenir!  You’re so sweet!”  Maria opened the gift box and saw the copy of A Wall Between Us as well as a carved piece of jade that Patrick got from the relic shop.  “Wow!  Is this jade?”  She held it up in the light to admire it.  “It’s beautiful.”


“I love it!  And the book?”

“On the best-selling list over there.  I know how you love your fine literature, so…”

“It’s a nice hard-cover, too!  It’s really thoughtful.  Thank you.  I can’t wait to read it.”  She kissed him on the cheek.  “Let’s go get lunch.  I’ve got lots to catch you up on, and then you’ve got to tell me all about the trip and the cool stuff you got to see.”

“Sure.”  He put his arm around her waist and they went inside.

After getting home from Blair’s, Boyd and Susan went back to their projects.  Some equipment they’d ordered was delivered to their house while they were away, and they started their planned modifications of it.  “It’s beginning to feel a bit Oasis Landing here with this stuff.”

“I know!”  Boyd tinkered with what they were making into a prototype food synthesizer.  “I can’t wait to see if this works.  What do you think we should test in it first?”

“Something simple, I think, but with multiple distinct flavors, textures, and aromas.  So we can easily tell what might need tweaking.”

“So, what, like a burger, maybe?  Juicy meat, a toasted bun, melted cheese, the crisp fresh pickle and other toppings…”

“With bacon, for a smoky salty component, that could work.  Though it feels a bit lowbrow to have our test subject be a burger.  Fancy future tech, and what do we make with it?  One step up from McSims?”

“Just for testing.  And for the record, your burgers are a lot better than McSims.”  Boyd pried open a plate to get at some internal wiring.  “That was just what popped into my head for simple but varied, but whatever you want is fine.  You’re the cooking buff.”

“I’ll think on it,” Susan mused.

After his parents got home, Orion went to the gym.  He was not surprised none of his family wanted to join him for that, but he didn’t mind going by himself.  He saw the dance room was empty and decided to warm up with some of the moves.  He hadn’t done ballet in a while, but he hadn’t forgotten what he learned.  He was mid-move when he heard someone call over to him.  It was Tara Keaton, his old ballet partner from class and recitals back in the day.  “Hey!  Keeping the old moves from getting rusty?”

“Kind of, I guess.  The room was empty, so…”

“Yeah, they run classes here a couple afternoons a week.”  She came over.  “I didn’t know you still danced.”

“Sometimes.  It makes a good warm up before a workout.  What about you?”

“Not so much these days.”

It felt like the conversation ended, but Tara lingered.  “So, you don’t like it anymore?” Orion asked.

“No, it’s not that.  I just haven’t danced in a while.  I was on my way to the room they do the martial arts classes in, actually.”

Orion had no idea the local gym ran martial arts classes.  Before the Shang Simla trip, he hadn’t thought much about it, but now he was interested.  “Is there a class now?”

“Not today.  But the room’s open for people who want to try it out on their own.”

“I didn’t know you knew martial arts.”

“I don’t.  I want to learn.  It looks cool, and I kind of like the idea of going all sim fu on something right now.”

Orion let go of the bar.  “I just learned some sim fu on vacation in Shang Simla.  Want me to show you some basics?  I got a couple belts while I was there.”

Tara was impressed.  “Wow.  You went to Shang Simla?  I knew you weren’t in class, but I figured you were out sick or something.  Because of maybe, you know, your condition.”  Her eyes lingered on him as if she realized a moment too late she’d said the wrong thing and now didn’t know what else to say as another awkward silence fell between them.

He tried not to be offended because he didn’t think she meant to be rude, but sometimes being reminded that he was so different from everyone else got a little old.  “I’m not sick.”

“Oh, sorry.  I mean, good.  That’s good you’re not sick.  I didn’t mean—”

“It’s okay.  Don’t worry about it.  Come on, let’s check out the martial arts stuff.”

The martial arts training room was small, and it turned out the classes, when they ran, were limited in size.  Orion had learned enough in Shang Simla to practice on his own, though, and he figured he could teach Tara how to use the training dummy at least.  He demonstrated the beginner moves and then had her try.  She was a natural at it and picked it up easily.  Once she was confident enough to go on her own, he practiced on the board breaker.

“Wow.  You can really slam through five boards at once?  You must’ve trained a lot in Shang Simla.”

“They’re just foam.  I mean, it’s not like smashing through bricks.”  He grinned.  “Yet.  Someday, though.”

“That’d be awesome!”  Tara kicked the dummy.  “I’d love to smash through some bricks.”

“Keep practicing.  You could get there.”

Tara got better at the moves the more she did them.  “I’m definitely going to sign up for this class.  Thanks for showing me how to get started.”

“No problem.”  Orion brought his hand down, and the foam boards snapped cleanly under his blow.

“Nice job!  Remind me not to make you mad.”

“Thanks.  The teachings say fighting should only be a last resort.  It’s more about the discipline and mind-body connection.”  He smiled.  “Though breaking boards is fun.”

“I know.  But I still wouldn’t want to be on your bad side if that last resort happened.”

If you knew about the meteors, the boards wouldn’t be impressive at all, Orion thought, but of course he kept that to himself.  “Sparring is fun if you want to do the fighting moves without actually fighting.  Maybe once you’ve done them enough, we could try it sometime.”

His gaze lingered on her lithe form and fluid moves as he picked up his broken boards to dispose of them.  “I mean, we made pretty good partners at ballet.  I bet we could sync up.”

Tara turned around and met his gaze.  “Yeah, we used to sync up pretty well.  At the recitals, I mean.”

“Yeah.”  Orion couldn’t help but notice her smile, and thought it was too bad she had a boyfriend.  He hadn’t thought of Tara that way before, but she was pretty and it was cool to have an interest in common with her.  “Do you want me to show you a couple more moves on the dummy?”

“Sure.”  They went back to practicing, but Tara got overzealous and hit the dummy hard.  It spun impressively from the force of her blow, but she winced in pain afterward.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah.”  Tara rubbed her hand, and then reached for her shoulder.  “Think I might’ve strained my shoulder on that.  Ow.”

“Do you want me to get you a cold pack or something?”

“No, that’s okay.”  She rubbed it again and glanced into the adjoining room where there was a massage table.  “Actually, if I lie down over there, could you massage it for me?  I can’t really reach it myself too well.”  She reached behind her back to demonstrate.

Orion felt a little awkward at that suggestion, not because he minded, but because he was not used to girls asking him for massages.  Especially not girls who had boyfriends, and that he was not all that close with yet.  Yet, his thoughts echoed, eager about changing that.  “Uh, sure.”  He glanced at the table and joked to lighten the mood.  “Tom’s not the jealous type, is he?  Not going be mad you’re getting a massage from your old ballet partner?”

The laugh Tara let out was not the lighthearted response he’d anticipated, but an angry and bitter one.  “Like he freaking cares, or I’d care if he did, the llama.  He cheated on me.  We broke up this morning.  He’s been having a thing with Bianca Landgraab behind my back.”  Her voice was thick with emotion.  “He kept saying they were just friends, but nope!  Turns out as soon as she found out Julius slept with Gretchen behind her back, she went crying to Tom and they ‘kind of accidentally’ just fell for each other, or some bull like that!  I found out from Sommer.  She told me she saw them sucking face at the beach when she was out her deck the other night, and when I called him on it, he confessed,” she ranted bitterly.  “So don’t worry at all about Mr. Lying Llama Sekemoto and what he thinks.  He and I are done.  Done.  DONE.”

“Oh.  Sorry.  That sucks.”  Orion didn’t know what else to say.

“Whatever.  Bianca can have him.  Like I said, I’m done.”  She rubbed her shoulder.  “That’s what inspired me to come here today.  Figured I could sim fu a dummy and picture his stupid face on it.”

“See, you’ve already got the philosophy down in spirit.  You beat up a dummy instead of the dummy, so to speak,” Orion said to cheer her up.  “Come on, let’s work on your shoulder.”

She sniffled.  “Thanks.”

Tara climbed onto the massage table and showed Orion where she’d strained herself.  He didn’t feel any swelling or sign of serious injury, so he hoped the massage and letting it rest would do the trick.  It was too bad he couldn’t use his alien powers to bio boost her, but there was no way to do that without her knowing something weird was going on, and he couldn’t very well explain it to her.  Since it still had to be kept secret from anyone outside the family, she had to keep believing he just had some unfortunate “condition” rather than know the truth.  He worked his knuckles against the sore spot.  “How’s that?  I don’t want to hurt you.”

“It’s fine.  You could go a lot harder and not hurt me.”

“If you’re sure.  You said it was sore.”  He applied a bit more pressure.  “I don’t want to be too rough.  It’s my first time doing this.”

“That’s okay.  It feels good.  I kind of like it rough.”  She snickered.  “Wow, would someone get the wrong idea if they walked in and heard that.”

Orion snorted with a laugh he couldn’t hold back because he’d had the same thought but didn’t want to say it.  “Yeah.  They would.”

After the massage, Tara’s sore shoulder felt better.  “Thanks.  That helped a lot.”

“I’m glad.”  Orion smiled at her.

“And thanks for listening and training with me and stuff.  It was good to vent it out.”

“Sure.  No problem.”

“You’re… you’re a really sweet guy.  I never realized that before.  I mean you were always nice, like back in ballet, but you were kind of just there.  The green guy I danced with and never talked to much outside of that.  But I’m glad we hung out today.  You’re pretty cool.”

Orion wasn’t sure how to feel about being classified as the green guy she danced with, but he supposed it wasn’t a negative evaluation, even if not the most flattering.  “Thanks.  I, uh, like you too, Tara.  Maybe we could do more martial arts sometime.  Like later this week?”

“A sim fu date?  Sounds like llama kicking fun.  I’ll message you.  But now I better head home.  I don’t want to strain my shoulder doing more.  Not to mention my dad is like the world’s biggest worrywart and he’ll freak out if I get home later than I said I would, and I said I’d be home around dinnertime.”  She fidgeted nervously.  “And I really hate getting lectured.”

“Oh, I know how that is.  Believe it or not, my dad’s the same way.”

“Hah.  Lucky us, then, right?  I’ll see you later.  Bye!”

“Bye.”  Orion waved as she left.  He wasn’t positive, but he was pretty sure he’d just gotten himself a date.  Not bad for what he’d originally expected to just be a run-of-the-treadmill gym workout.  He headed for the locker room in high spirits.

Chris caught up with Tad late that afternoon.  “Well, look who made it over to see me, finally.”  Tad was only half-teasing when he let Chris in.

“Aw, are you mad that I crashed after that plane ride before coming here?  I was seriously beat.  I couldn’t sleep in that seat on the plane.”

“No, I’m not really mad.”  Tad sighed and hugged him.  “Just missed you.  Maria left hours ago to see Patrick, and I guess just stuck here with the baby, waiting for you to wake up and come over with nothing much to do, it put me in a mood.”

“Sorry.”  Chris looked over at baby Caleb, Tad and Maria’s newborn half-brother, resting in his baby mat.  “So, you’re babysitting, huh?”

“Yeah.  Mom got called in to work, and Stiles is… at work, too, I guess.  Probably.”  He shrugged.


“Don’t get me started.  At least, not before you tell me about the trip and actual fun stuff.”

“It was great.  I wish you could’ve been there to see it all too.  It was so cool!  The Dragon Cave, the Terracotta Army, and the dojo!  Remind me to show you my sim fu moves.”

“Yeah, I want to see that!  Do you have the belts and robes and all that?”

“Yup!  And a training dummy at home.  I can show you if you want to learn it, too.”

“That sounds cool.”

“Oh, and I got this for you.”  He handed him a box, and Tad opened it to find an ornate green enameled incense holder as well as several sticks of incense.

“Chinese incense?”  He sniffed it.  “Neat.  Not really the party atmosphere kind of stuff, more like… I don’t know.  Tingly.”  He wiggled his fingers.  “Invigorating?  Not physically but like it wakes up your mind.  Mental caffeine?”

“Mental caffeine, that sounds like some kind of aftermarket energy drink or a D-list metal band.  But you’re right, it’s actually a blend for mental acuity.”

“You got me homework boosting incense.  How romantic.  You nerd,” Tad teased him.  “But thanks.  Seriously, it’s cool.  I like it.”  He smooched him.  “And I’m glad you’re back.”

“I’m glad to be back, too.”

Tad set out the incense holder and lit it.  “Maybe will this stuff not only improve my grades but help with the dirty diaper smells.”  He went over to Caleb, who had started to fuss.  “And that better not be one now.  I just changed you like twenty minutes ago.”  He picked him up.

“So, you seem to have the whole big brother thing down.  I’ve got to say I don’t miss having to deal with Travis’ diapers when I babysit.  So glad he’s past that now.”

“It’s all right.  I don’t mind most of the time, but I can live without the diaper apocalypses he’s been leaving.  Seriously, why can’t he save that for when Maria’s babysitting?  It’d be nice to see someone give her crap for a change.  Or Stiles.”

“What happened with Stiles?  You seem mad at him.”

Tad sighed.  “Yeah, kind of.  I didn’t want to get into it while you were away and whine at you on your vacation, or type it all up on messenger, but basically, after Caleb was born he and my mom started arguing a lot.  Over stupid stuff, and money.  Did you know he’s a real tightwad?  A rock star, and he gripes about pizza deliveries and Maria’s six diet soda a day habit as ‘wastefully expensive.’  Whatever, I guess he needs a zillion dollars in his bank account to feel secure.  He kept saying we lived ‘a little lavishly’ and wanted to sell the house for a cheaper one.  Obviously, Maria and I were like no we like it here, and Mom does too and she didn’t want to move, either.  He said this house was kind of crowded anyway and I guess he needed ‘space,’ and moved into some house he bought assuming we’d all be cool with moving to without even asking.  I don’t know.  He and Mom didn’t break up, exactly, but they’re kind of touchy and I don’t even know if they’re going beyond just being parents to him at this point.”  He shifted Caleb in his arms and sighed.  “It just sucks.  You know, I liked him.  And now Caleb’s probably going to have a dad that just visits sometimes and calls on birthdays or holidays or whatever just like Maria and I do.  I’m used to it, and I know Dad’s always going to be how he is, but I didn’t think Stiles was like that.”  He looked at the baby.  “And I feel bad for him if he is.  I know what it’s like.”

“Maybe it won’t be like that with Stiles, though.  I mean, he is kind of old and never had kids before now, right?  Maybe he’s just adjusting and needs time to get used to it or something,” Chris said hopefully.

“I don’t know.  Maybe.  I hope so for Caleb’s sake.”

“You said they wanted him.”  Chris hesitated to finish his thought, but Tad knew what he was thinking anyway.

“Yeah.  Not like how Dad never wanted me and Maria.”  He wasn’t angry at Chris, just at the truth of it.

“And even if he is like that after all, Caleb will still be okay.  He’s got you guys.  Your mom, you, and Maria.”

“Yeah.”  Tad looked at Caleb again.  “I just know that when I have kids, I won’t treat them like that.  I won’t be like that.  I don’t ever want to be like that.”

“You won’t,” Chris assured him while he put his little brother back on his baby mat.

“Anyway, enough of that depressing stuff.  You got here so late that there’s only a couple more hours before Mom comes home and we won’t have the place to ourselves anymore.”  He gave Chris a flirtatious look.  “So how about you show off some of your sim fu moves for me, huh?”

“In here?”  Chris looked around and saw all of Morgana’s expensive vases, fancy plants, and furniture.  “I’d probably break something.”

“There’s some open space in my room, if you want to go in there.  I can take the baby monitor and Caleb will be fine here.”

Chris laughed.  “Your room?  I thought you said sim fu, not kama simtra.”

“Either or.  I’m flexible,” Tad said with a smirk.

Chris grinned back at him and followed him down the hall.  “I know.”

Offline oshizu

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #249 on: May 25, 2018, 12:33:27 PM »
That was a surprising development between Orion and Tara!
I appreciate that they are somewhat familiar with each other's rhythms and that she already seems to trust him (from their duets?).
Or did she just fall for him after revisiting Orion in spandex? Lol.

Even though Maria and Tad are siblings, I enjoy Chris and Tad together so much more.
Perhaps because Maria is more about how she wants her life to be, while Tad is one who shares with us--through Chris--how life at the Wolffs really is.
Tad's passing remark about "when I have kids" intrigued me but unfortunately (for me, haha), Chris did not ask for details about that future scenario.
How strange and tragic that Stiles has bought a house elsewhere and moved out. Caleb is still a nooboo, dude!
I hope he comes to his senses and that he and Tad's mom can work things out.

Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 67
« Reply #250 on: June 02, 2018, 03:03:52 AM »
That was a surprising development between Orion and Tara!
I appreciate that they are somewhat familiar with each other's rhythms and that she already seems to trust him (from their duets?).
Or did she just fall for him after revisiting Orion in spandex? Lol.

Even though Maria and Tad are siblings, I enjoy Chris and Tad together so much more.
Perhaps because Maria is more about how she wants her life to be, while Tad is one who shares with us--through Chris--how life at the Wolffs really is.
Tad's passing remark about "when I have kids" intrigued me but unfortunately (for me, haha), Chris did not ask for details about that future scenario.
How strange and tragic that Stiles has bought a house elsewhere and moved out. Caleb is still a nooboo, dude!
I hope he comes to his senses and that he and Tad's mom can work things out.

Tara is an interesting sim. She knows Orion from doing ballet in elementary school, but she's also got a rather colorful mix of traits (inappropriate, socially awkward, and neurotic all in the same sim!) so she doesn't get boundaries all that well. Though the spandex certainly didn't hurt matters! ;)

As for Maria and Tad, both have deep insecurities that stem from growing up in the situation they did, with a father who dislikes children, but as you pointed out, they manifest differently. Maria craves attention and validation, while Tad just broods and holds onto resentment about it.

Stiles, I suspect story progression fires negative scenarios in his relationships due to his loner and frugal traits, although he's really had bad luck in this save compared to other sims as far as romance goes. I was shocked when I got the notice he moved out. When I checked, he and Morgana were still steady, but with a deep red relationship that had previously been a full green. :(

Chapter 67

Vacation was fun, but Boyd and Susan had plenty on their plates when they got back to work.  Not only was the assassin bug study now underway, but there were multiple projects in the pipeline as well as their personal pet projects at the lab.  There was a lot to do and even more to keep track of, and while they kept tabs on all of it, the truth was that they needed to lighten their load of micromanaging and turn over the reins of some things to trusted employees.

One such project was the management of the aquatics lab.  After some discussion, the Wainwrights decided to promote Christopher to the position.  He had been with the lab a long time now and was a valuable employee as well as a friend.  In addition to that, his passion for fishing and the knowledge he’d gained over the years made him a natural for that branch of research.  Susan went to his lab to tell him the good news.

“Wow.  I didn’t expect that!  I’m honored.  Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.  We know you’ll do a top-notch job running it.  Nobody here knows these tanks better than you.”

“They are my favorite project.”

“And now they’re yours, along with a new title and raise.  Keep us updated on the progress, and anything the lab needs.  We already authorized two new tech positions for the lab to help you out.  They’ll report directly to you.  That’ll free you up the time you’ll need for study design and oversight.”

“New techs?  Great!  I can definitely use a hand with all we’ve got going on.  The death fish enzyme replication study, the starfish cloning project, and of course the robot fish, my babies in the pond out back…”

“You can tailor the positions and qualifications to whatever you think will work best.  From here on out, aquatics is your department.”

“Thanks, Susan.  I promise I’ll give it my all.”

She smiled.  “I have no doubt of that.”

While Susan promoted Christopher, Boyd went to Madison’s lab to tell her about the new position they decided to grant her.  She had been with them as long as her husband, and they were happy to reward her hard work as well.  She had come a long way from her early days when she’d been Boyd’s chatty young assistant making clumsy newbie mistakes with cow plants.

“You’re putting me in charge of the whole cow plant lab?”

“That’s what I said.  You deserve it.  You’re good with them.  You know the research and you’ve been on all the important projects involving them for a while now.  You’re practically their mom.”

“What does that make you?  Their grandpa?” she teased, and Boyd laughed.

“Yup.  Their crazy grandpa.  Susan and I will still want updates and reports on how it’s all going, but you can design and manage their studies from here on out.  I’ll still stop by once in a while to toss them a swordfish, though.”

“I really appreciate the promotion, but I hope this is because you’ve got other projects and not because you’re leaving us for retirement.  Not that you don’t deserve it, but…”

“Ah, are you thinking about that birthday party coming up that Susan sent the invites out for?”

Madison nodded.  “We’d miss you two around here.”

“We own the place.  You won’t get rid of us that easily,” he joked.  “It’s true we’re stepping back from some things and narrowing our focus on what we’re staying involved in, but as long as we’re still alive and kicking, we won’t be strangers here at the lab.  I promise.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that, because it wouldn’t be the same without you.”  Madison grew a little wistful.  “I’ve been here a long time now.  I remember when I started, working with you and Gobias.  Did you hear he passed?”

“I did.  It’s a shame.  He was a good guy.  We all had some good times here back in the day.”

Toward the end of the work day, the Wainwrights caught up with Ethan and had a conference with him.  He was not experienced enough yet for a promotion to the levels that Christopher and Madison were at, but he was a hard worker and doing well at his current duties.  They felt he’d earned a promotion and more challenging work as well.

“Third tier and I can be the primary on my own studies?”

“We know you can handle it,” Susan told him.  “You’ve worked on many with no issues and you’ve got a mind for research.  You deserve a chance to sign your name to the reports and get the credit for the results.”

“Thank you.  That’s so exciting.”

“Well, you may change your mind about how exciting it is when you get bogged down in reports with looming deadlines, but we’re glad you’re eager for it,” Boyd said.  “Your mom would be proud.”

“Probably.  She always told me she thought I’d make a good scientist.  I hope I do her proud!  Oh, that reminds me.  Penny’s looking for a job after graduation and asked if there were any positions here.”

Susan and Boyd exchanged looks.  “Actually, we just approved new tech positions for both the aquatics lab and the cow plant studies.  Have her submit an application.”

“Thanks.  I’ll let her know.”  He looked from Boyd to Susan.  “So, I heard you two were scaling back your involvement in some stuff here.  Is the rumor that you’re retiring true?”

“Wow, the gossip travels fast,” Susan remarked.  “No.  We’re not retiring.  We just want to focus on other aspects of our research some more, and there’s only so much time in the day.”

“And it was high time a lot of you here got rewarded for all the work you’ve been doing.”

“Well, thanks again for that!  The raise will come in handy.”  A dark look crossed his face for a moment before he resumed his usual upbeat manner.  “Hey, by any chance, are you two free after work this evening?  Dad’s doing some last-of-the-warm-weather grill and beers at his house just like the old days.  He invited his girlfriend and said to pass along the invite to you guys if I saw you today.”

“Girlfriend, huh?  That’s nice Jack found someone,” Boyd said.  “You said he’d been pretty lonely since your mom died.”

“Yeah.  He and Jocasta kind of connected in the hospital visiting Angel and Bella after she had her.  Even though they’ve already both got Starla as a grandkid too, hanging out in the hospital with Arlo, Bella, and the baby was the first time they really spent time together since Mom died.  And you know Simis died when Starla was still a baby.”

“Good for them.  I’m glad they’re happy,” said Susan.

“Me too.  Someone deserves to be.”  Ethan frowned again, then stood.  “Anyway, I’ll tell Dad you’ll be by, then?”

Susan nodded.  “Sure.”

“We can’t stay long because Iris has a scouting ceremony this evening and Patrick’s got a recital after that, but we’ve got time for a hot dog or two,” Boyd told him.

“Great.  See you then.”

After leaving work, the Wainwrights went over to their old neighborhood and visited the Bunch home.  It had been a long time since they’d been there, but not much had changed other than the residents.  All the kids but Penny had grown up and moved out, although there were still plenty of toys around for when the grandkids visited.

“Hey, Ethan,” Penny greeted her brother before waving to Boyd and Susan.  “Hi.”

“Hi, Penny,” Boyd said, while Jack came over with Jocasta beside him.

“Susan!  Boyd!  Oh, it’s great to see you.  Ethan said you were stopping by.  It’s been a while, huh?  Glad I’ve got some friends to help me eat all the hot dogs.”

“I admit, I’m kind of surprised not to see more of your family here,” said Susan.

“Ah, well, you know how it is.  Lisa and Kristian are coming over later, and Darlene’s at work.  Arlo and Bella are bringing the baby by after he gets off shift.”

“Michael’s got Starla out at the park, but they’ll be by later,” Jocasta told them.

“Where are Kaylynn and Morris?  Are they coming?” Boyd asked Ethan.

“Yeah, we haven’t met your little boy yet.”

Penny looked at her brother.  “I guess you didn’t tell them?”

Ethan frowned and looked away.  “No.  I… I’m kind of crashing here at the moment.  I found out Kaylynn’s been seeing someone behind my back.”

“Oh, Ethan.  I’m so sorry.”  Susan and Boyd were both sympathetic.

“Thanks.  She’s getting Morris from daycare after work, but I’m keeping my distance for a bit.  I need some time to work things out.”

“I can imagine,” said Boyd.

“So, not today anyway, but someday I’m sure you’ll get to meet him.  I’m real proud of him.”  Ethan brightened and showed them some pictures of the baby on his phone, then looked over at Penny.  “Oh, I also I told them you were interested in a job at the lab.”

“Just come on by and turn in an application or a resume,” Boyd told her.  “We’d be happy to have you on the team.  Are there any specific areas of research you’re interested in?”

“Um, I like the gardening and plants all right.  Not sure about the cow plants, though.  They make me kind of nervous.”

“Understandable, although I’m sure you’d do fine with some training,” Susan assured her.  “But we’ve got openings in different departments.  Our aquatics lab is looking for new techs.”

“You could put some of those fishing skills I taught you to good use,” said Jack.

“Dad, I haven’t been fishing since I was a little girl.”

“Yeah, I guess it has been a while, huh?”

“So, how are you doing, Jack?” asked Susan.

“Pretty well, actually.  The house still feels a little quiet sometimes, but at my age a little quiet’s not a bad thing.  I’ve got my hobbies and my grandkids, and Jocasta.”  He smiled at her.

“We never realized how much we had in common until recently.  Gardening, fishing…”

“She loves all the outdoor stuff that I do.  It’s nice to have someone to hike up to Pinochle Pond and throw a line out with me on a nice afternoon like this.”

“Not that we’ll get too many more warm ones like today.”  Jocasta shivered.  “I can feel that autumn chill in the breeze.”

Susan nodded.  “I feel it too.  I’ll miss the pool weather, though not as much as Iris.”

“That’s their plantsim daughter,” Jack told Jocasta.

“Oh, she sounds absolutely delightful.”

“She is,” Susan said proudly.  “In fact, we’re going to have to head out before too much longer to take her to her scout badging ceremony this afternoon.”

“Ah, scouting ceremonies.  I remember Ethan and Darlene’s like they were yesterday.”

“And I remember Michael’s,” Jocasta mused.  “He loved scouts.”

“Now Darlene and Michael’s little girl will be going to school before long,” said Jack.  “When did we all get so old?  Ah, well.  Come on.  Let’s get you two each some hot dogs and a drink before you head out.  It wouldn’t feel right letting you leave with empty bellies.”

Boyd chuckled.  “In all the years we’ve known you, that’s never happened at a barbecue of yours, Jack.”

“And I won’t start breaking tradition now!”  He headed for the grill.

When Boyd and Susan got home, Iris was already dressed up in her scouting uniform with her badges on display.  “Nice job,” Patrick, also dressed up for his event, told her.  “You earned a lot of them.  I remember getting some of these same ones.”  He looked at the fishing one.  “Is that for that huge red herring you brought home?”

“Yup!  And this one was for the luminorious gem I found in the woods on the hiking trip.”

“Congrats.  I remember only a few of us in my troop got the ultra-precious stone badge.”

“You got one, though, right?”

“I found a rainbow gem on one of our trips.”  He noticed a badge he hadn’t seen before with a plantsim emblem slightly different than the one he’d been given for having met a plantsim, back when she was a baby.  “What’s that plantsim badge mean?”

She beamed.  “It’s a special one they got for me, being a plantsim in scouts!  I’m the first one they ever had in our school, and they had to order it from the main troop association.”

“Wow!”  Orion was impressed.  “You must feel pretty cool with that.”

“I do!  Patches and I were so excited.”

Buddy scoffed from behind Patrick.  “Heh.  Patches.  She’s nothing special.  She’s just some dumb kid.”

“Be nice,” Patrick murmured.  “She is just a kid, and Iris likes her.”

Iris frowned.  “Is Buddy being rude again?”

“When’s he not?” muttered Orion, while Susan and Boyd exchanged uncomfortable looks.

“I’m glad to see you’re both ready,” Susan said, changing the subject.  “I can’t wait to see you both on stage tonight.”

Boyd nodded.  “We’re proud of you both and all that you’ve accomplished.  Congratulations!”

“So, are you going to play a guitar solo tonight?” Iris asked Patrick.

“Sort of.  The club’s performing the songs we rehearsed together.  I have a couple of parts that are like that, but not like you’re thinking, where I rock out like you see in concerts.”  He imitated the moves.  “The show we’re doing is more traditional, less wild stuff, if you know what I mean.”

“Aw.  That’s too bad.  You do that guitar move stuff good!”

“Well,” Susan interjected.  “He does it well.  Speaking in proper Simlish is important, sweetie.”

Since her mother couldn’t see her face, Iris rolled her eyes subtly, much to Patrick and Orion’s amusement.  “Okay, Mom.”

Both the badging ceremony and the music club recitals went well, and Iris and Patrick came home with their awards for their achievements in their afterschool activities.  Susan and Boyd took everyone out to dinner afterward to celebrate.  Patrick invited Maria along, as she’d been in the audience for his recital as well, but she wasn’t able to go.  “So, what happened to Maria?” Boyd asked while they waited for their drinks.

“She had to go home and babysit Caleb.  Her mom got called into the hospital on an emergency and there was no one else to watch him.  Stiles is doing a gig and Tad and Chris are at the movies so he wasn’t answering.”

“That’s a shame,” Susan said sympathetically.  “I know you wanted her here tonight.”

“I’ll see her tomorrow, but yeah.”  Patrick browsed the menu.

“That’s okay, Patrick.”  Iris gave Orion a teasing look.  “Orion doesn’t have his girlfriend here, either.”

If Orion could’ve turned red, he would have, but instead he just shot his little sister a sharp look and fidgeted in his seat.  “I don’t—”

That was the first Susan or Boyd heard of Orion dating someone.  “Girlfriend?”  Susan smiled.  “I didn’t know you were seeing anyone.”

“Because I’m not, really.”  He studied the menu intently as a distraction.  “We just do stuff together.”

“Yeah, that’s what you do with a girlfriend.”  Patrick waggled his eyebrows.  “Stuff.”

Iris let out a giggle.  “Orion and Tara, sittin’ in a tree.  K-I-S-S—”

“Shut.  Up.”  Orion debated using his alien powers to stuff one of the complimentary rolls in her mouth to drive the point home, but he refrained.

“Stop teasing your brother,” Susan admonished lightly, while Boyd changed the tone of the conversation.

“Tara?  Is that the same Tara you did the dance recitals with?”


“Tara Keaton, right?  Wilbur’s little sister?” Patrick asked.

“Yes, but like I said, it’s not like you think or Iris is saying.  We mostly just do martial arts practice together.”

“And go to the diner, and hang out, and…”  Iris made a kissy face, but stopped when Susan looked in her direction.

“Well, anyway, it’s nice you found someone to spend some time with,” Boyd said on an encouraging note.

“If you ever want to bring her over, she’s more than welcome,” Susan added.

“Okay.”  Orion breathed a sigh of relief as the waiter came over and took their order, ending the conversation.

Right on the heels of Iris’ scouting achievement ceremony and Patrick’s final recital came another important milestone: little Travis’ birthday.

“I can hardly believe it’s been so long since you were born!  It seems like you were just a baby yesterday, and now you’re almost too big to carry.  It’s only because I work out that I still can!”  Blair shifted as he put his arms around her neck and asked for a piggyback ride.  “This is going to be one of last ones!  You’re just too big now!”

Cycl0n3 would have said he’d already given Travis his last piggyback ride after how his back reacted the last time he did it, but he didn’t want to hear about exercise or the gym.  “And think, he’s starting school and Chris will be done with it next year.”

“Oh, that makes me feel sooooo old,” Blair groaned as she went around the living room with Travis on her back.  “So does Patrick’s graduation soon.  Think about it.  The Captain was just a baby when we got married.  Where did the time go?”

“At least we’ve got your parents coming over for cake to remind us what old really is,” Cycl0n3 said with a grin.  “No matter how old we get, they’ll always be ancient in comparison!”

Blair snickered as she piggybacked Travis past him.  “I dare you to say that to my mother.”  Cycl0n3’s eyes lit up, and Blair quickly added, “I’m kidding!  Don’t actually say that.”

“Aw, you ruin all my fun!  What, are you afraid she’ll beat me to death with a cane?  Or some of those alleged sim fu moves?”

“Well, blood stains are hard to get out of the flooring,” Blair retorted playfully.  “It’s more like I’d rather you not get Mom all huffy on Travis’ birthday.”  She set him down now that the piggyback was over.  “You don’t want Daddy to make Grandma all grumpy, do you?”

Travis wrinkled his nose and made a face.  “Grumpy!”

“Maybe that’s where he gets it from,” Cycl0n3 teased.  “Because he sure was when I tried to get him to take a nap a little while ago.”

“No nap on my birthday.”  Travis pouted.

Blair made a playful face back at him.  “No, no nap today, then.  Today is cake day.  Who wants to sleep on cake day, right?”

Blair and Cycl0n3 held a small celebration of just family for Travis’ birthday that evening.  As much as he was his mother’s son in looks, he also shared her aversion to crowds and strangers, so Blair did not want to stress him by having a lot of unfamiliar faces around.  Lately it seemed that Travis could get quite cranky when he was out of sorts, much more so than Chris ever had, or Blair had ever noticed Patrick, Orion, or Iris being, even.

When her parents and siblings got there, Blair gathered everyone around the cake to sing happy birthday.  Travis enjoyed that as much as everyone else enjoyed the snow cones Chris had ready in his machine for the occasion.  While Travis blew out the candles, Cycl0n3 called out, “Happy birth and sugar rush day!”

“Did you remember to make a wish?” Blair asked while Travis got the first slice.

“Yup.”  He half-smiled.  “But don’t ask me to tell because I don’t want to ruin it and not have it come true.”

“My son, the optimist,” Cycl0n3 joked as he took his slice.  “You may have just had a birthday, but you’re too young to sound so cynical.”

“What’s that mean?”

Blair took her piece of cake.  “It means a grumpy-pants, kind of.  Like you’re seeing the downside of things all the time instead of the upside, the good stuff.”

“I see good stuff.”  He stuck his finger in the icing.  “I’ve got cake!”

“Can’t really argue with that,” Orion remarked as he grabbed a snow cone before having his own slice of cake.  “Happy birthday, Travis.”

Blair went out on the patio to enjoy her cake, and Boyd and Patrick both decided to sit with her even as it started to rain.  “Oh, phooey,” she lamented.  “I forgot how often it just starts raining out of nowhere in the fall.”  They scooted the table back a few feet under the roof.

“Yeah.  Hopefully it’ll get it over with before Spooky Day.  I imagine Travis will be going out trick-or-treating for it.”

“That used to be fun,” Patrick agreed.  “Maybe this year we’ll just have to throw a kickin’ Spooky Day party at our house instead.”

“A costume party?”  Boyd was amused by the idea.  “Sure.  Why not?  I’d like to see what kind of getups people show up in.  Maybe I’ll go as one of the cow plants.”

“You should have Cycl0n3 wear a hot dog costume,” Patrick suggested to Blair, who raised an eyebrow.

“Why?  Because it’d be funny, or because you’re trying to imply that your dear brother-in-law is a weenie?”

Patrick grinned.  “Bit of Column A, some of Column B.”

“Shame on you, Captain,” Blair tsk-ed him playfully.  “I think you should wear a Starfleet uniform to fit your name.”

“I know a site where you can find some top-quality ones if you do,” Boyd said.

“Nah, I’ll leave that to you and Mom.”

“We’d probably go original series if we were going to do that.  Not next gen.”

“Oh, my Watcher, Dad.  Don’t tell me you still have those costumes from that year you did that back when I was like, what, thirteen?”

That was the first Patrick had heard of it, and he gave his older sister a curious look.

“They did a Star Trek costume thing one year when the Goths threw a party.  Which was kind of cool for Spooky Day because you know how their house is, but anyway.  Dad did the full Spock thing.  Pointy ears.  Black gel in his hair combed out to look Vulcan, and makeup for the eyebrows.  Mom wore the red dress outfit Uhura does, short sixties miniskirt uniform and all.”

“Hey, your mother looked fantastic in that outfit.  But you can relax, because I don’t think we have them anymore.  Unless maybe they’re in the basement somewhere, but I haven’t seen them since we lived on Maywood.  Not sure they made it through the move.  If we do costumes, it’ll be something else.”

Inside, Susan sat down at the table to have her cake with Chris while Travis, Iris, Orion, and Cycl0n3 ate on the couch.  “Cycl0n3, did you forget to put your laptop away?”

He looked over at the closed laptop still on the table and shrugged.  “Oh.  Actually, that’s Blair’s work laptop, but one of the USB ports was acting up and she had me look at it earlier.  Turned out she just had a bad wire on her external drive.”

“I could put it in their room if it’s in your way, Grandma,” Chris offered.

“No.  It’s fine.  Just not exactly party ambiance, even for a nerd like me.  How are you doing?  How’s school?”

“It’s okay.  You know.  Same old, same old.  Go to class, listen to boring teachers, get bored, come home, do homework.”

“Well, as long as your grades are good?”

“Yup.  Mostly A’s.”

“He’s a good student,” Cycl0n3 said from over on the couch.  “Bored for the same reasons his mom and I always were.  Stuff just comes easily to us in school.”

“That’s good, but remember, it won’t be like that at University.  You’ll have to study more to keep up there.”

“I warned him about that,” said Cycl0n3.

“What are you thinking of studying when the time comes?” Susan asked her grandson.

“I thought since I like cats so much, and I like other animals too, I could be a veterinarian.  Especially since I like my science classes anyway.”

“That’s great!  You do definitely have a way with cats.”  She looked over at Diddy, snoozing on his favorite chair.  “He looks like he’s doing well, especially for an older animal.  Has he gotten fatter?”

Chris laughed.  “He’s kind of on a diet.  He doesn’t like it.  But I had to turn the auto feed part of the auto feeder off because the vet said he was too fat and it was making his arthritis worse.”

“Now he begs whenever he’s not napping.  Only time you see that cat run anymore is when he runs to the kitchen,” Cycl0n3 remarked.

“Or when he tries to steal my food!” Travis piped up.

“That’s because you leave it lying around while you’re watching TV,” Chris retorted.  “But it’s okay.  We love Diddy even if he steals our food, ‘cause he’s cute.”

After cake and opening presents, Iris answered some of Travis’ questions about school.  “We’ll have recess around the same time but that’s probably the only time I’ll see you in school.  Our grades don’t do a lot together except at, like, assemblies and stuff.  It’s too bad my scouting is over because then we could’ve been in that together if you took it.”

“I don’t know.  I might.  I don’t want to do that dancing stuff or anything.  But I don’t know if I’d like doing scouts either.”

“You don’t have to join any clubs.  They’re just for fun.”

Travis seemed anxious at that.  “There’s a lot of other kids in them, though.”

“But that’s not bad.  They could be your friends.”

He frowned.  “I don’t know them.”

“You will after you go to school with them.”

“I guess.”  He shrugged.  “Do you want to go and play in my room?  Mom and Dad got me some new blocks for my table.  We could make some cool stuff out of it.”


Travis got more upbeat after he and Iris started playing with the blocks.  “See, if we use this one, I bet we could put that with that and make a big base.  Then we could make it tall, like up to here.”  He held up his hand.

“Okay.”  Iris sorted through her pile.  “Let’s try this one.”

“That should work.”

They played a little longer, until Patrick poked his head in.  “Hey, Mom and Dad told me to come get you.  We’re heading out in a few.”

“Aw, okay.  We just had a little bit more.”

Patrick noticed their in-progress structure.  “Sorry.  I see you were on a roll there.  Think you can finish it on your own, Travis?”


Iris stood up.  “Guess I’ve got to go.  See you in school!”


“Hope you enjoyed your birthday.”  Boyd hugged Travis goodbye.

“I did.  Thanks for the games!”  They had given him some new video games for his birthday, since Blair and Cycl0n3 had told them how much he enjoyed playing on their console.

“You’re welcome.  Have fun with them.”

“I will!  I like the elf game a lot.”  It was a single-player RPG that had colorful graphics and a storyline and gameplay targeted toward the younger kids Travis’ age.

“You’ll have to let us know when you beat it.”  Susan put on her coat after giving him a hug as well.  “Have a good night, and happy birthday again!”

“Don’t stay up too late playing your games,” Boyd said with a smile.

“I won’t!  Good night!”  Travis waved to his grandparents and Iris, Orion, and Patrick as they left, then sat on the couch, picked up his controller, and spent the last of his birthday playing his new game.

Cycl0n3 and Blair exchanged knowing looks as they watched him play.

“How hard do you think we’ll have to pry him away to get him to bed so he’s not exhausted for school tomorrow?”

“Your son?” Blair teased.  “Pretty hard.”

“My son?  He looks more like you to me,” Cycl0n3 joked back.  “But yeah.  I suspect we’ll have a full-on grump-fest on our hands come bedtime.”  He checked the clock.  “Even a delayed birthday one where we let him slide an hour or two late.”

“Just think what a joy it’ll be in the morning.”

“True.  But happy as he is now?  Worth it.”

“Yes.”  Blair smiled.  “I agree.”

Offline oshizu

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #251 on: June 02, 2018, 12:31:46 PM »
How bittersweet that Susan and Boyd are scaling back their research at their lab to focus on their favored projects.
I did enjoy seeing them delegate some of their responsibilities toward that aim.
Poor Ethan, yet another victim of Master Controller!
Iris just gets prettier and prettier--she looks more like Susan at every life stage. I laughed at her teasing Orion and his utter embarrassment about the whole family discussing Tara.
Happy birthday, Travis! He looks so much like Blair! And I'm still loving Blair and Cycl0n3 together! Makes me happy to see them going strong! <3

Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 68
« Reply #252 on: June 09, 2018, 04:12:09 AM »
How bittersweet that Susan and Boyd are scaling back their research at their lab to focus on their favored projects.
I did enjoy seeing them delegate some of their responsibilities toward that aim.
Poor Ethan, yet another victim of Master Controller!
Iris just gets prettier and prettier--she looks more like Susan at every life stage. I laughed at her teasing Orion and his utter embarrassment about the whole family discussing Tara.
Happy birthday, Travis! He looks so much like Blair! And I'm still loving Blair and Cycl0n3 together! Makes me happy to see them going strong! <3

I feel bad for Ethan, too! I figured I'd write in him finally finding out about Kaylynn and Thornton's affair, since in game around this time, I saw his sim thinking the betrayal speech bubble. When I checked his relationships, sure enough, his and Kaylynn's had tanked due to him finding out about the cheating.

I'm glad you enjoy Blair and Cycl0n3 so much. They are cute. Wait until they're elders, one inappropriate and one childish. That should be fun!

Chapter 68

“I know she ordered three cakes from Emma.  One for each of us.”  Patrick and Orion discussed the party their parents were throwing that evening in honor of Patrick’s birthday and upcoming graduation, as well as Boyd and Susan’s birthdays.  They still looked far younger than their chronological age, but time was catching up with them, and the age they were was too important a milestone not to celebrate.

“It’s raining on your birthday.”  Iris came in from the patio, somewhat soggy.

Boyd looked over and frowned.  “You shouldn’t let your school clothes get wet, especially in fall rain.  You’ll get a chill.”

“I’m fine, Dad.  It’s not that cold out.”  She shut the patio door just after an autumn gust blew in.

“I think that’s up for debate.”

“Hey, it was sunny on our birthdays where guests dropped dead at the parties,” Orion pointed out.  “Maybe the rain’s a good omen that it won’t happen this time.”

“I didn’t know you were so superstitious,” Susan teased as she got a bowl of fruit parfait.  She glanced up at the clock.  “And you two, don’t forget to eat.  The bus will be here in half an hour, and you’ve got that field trip to the lab today, Orion.”

“Are you two leading the tour?” asked Patrick.

Boyd shook his head.  “Afraid not.  We’ll be holed up in our lab all day working on our plumbotics project.”

“We delegated it, but I promise we made sure your guides will show you all the good stuff,” Susan added.

The weather didn’t improve any by the time Orion’s class headed to Wainwright Innovations, but aside from having to hurry from the bus to the lobby, the students didn’t mind.

“Being that your parents own this place, I guess you’ve seen it all before, huh?” Tara said to Orion as they waited for the tour to begin.

“Some of it.  Not as much as you think.  They’re pretty busy.  The last time they showed us around here was back when we were still in ballet together and my little sister was like four.”  He gestured down a hallway that had a receptionist station through a counter window at the end.  “Since then, I haven’t really been anywhere other than there, where you turn in specimens.  When we came back from China, we brought in some of the stuff we collected.  Patrick found a yellow band dart butterfly and some raw jade.  He’s good at finding rare things.  Chris and Iris had a couple of things and I had some space rocks and a piece of lapis lazuli they identified for me.”  He left out the part about the giant octahedrite meteor he’d summoned, which had also been shipped there.  It was being stored at the lab for now, until Orion decided where exactly to display it at home.  It was too big to just put up in his bedroom.

They didn’t get a chance to talk more before the class was split into smaller groups for touring.  Ethan Bunch started with the group that Orion was in along with Tara, Guillermo French, Corina Hart, and a new kid, Zachery Hoffman.

He brought them to the development shop and robotics labs.  “This is where we work on new machinery and inventions.  Some end up just being used here at the labs, like special equipment for experiments, and others end up being patented and sold.”  He drew their attention to the white board.  “Here, we’re working out tweaks to that brain wave analyzer.”  He gestured to the machine next to Corina.

“You’re not, like, going to stick one of us in there and probe our minds, are you?” she asked, a little wary.

“No,” Ethan said with an easygoing laugh.  “Contrary to what rumors might go around, we don’t do nefarious experiments on anyone here, and anyone who does volunteer for a study gets paid.”

“Could we volunteer if we wanted?” asked Zachery.

“Possibly, although with you being minors, I’d have to check that first.  There won’t be any time for that on the tour today, though.”

“I’ve been in one of those before,” Orion volunteered.  “It’s kind of neat.  It doesn’t hurt or anything.  It doesn’t feel like much at all, but afterward you feel kind of, energized?  I guess that’s what I’d call it?”

“Ah, your parents ran a scan or two on you, huh?”

“Yeah.  Research.  For my, um, condition.”  It still bothered him to call what he was—half-alien—a condition, but it was the simplest way to put it for people who couldn’t know the truth.

Tara side-eyed the machine.  “Well, you’ll never get me in one of those.  I don’t want anyone probing my mind and learning all my thoughts and secrets or nuking my brain with waves or radiation!”

“I wouldn’t, either,” Ethan reassured her.  “But that’s not how it works.  It’s completely harmless.  Certain settings are just for observation and have no effect on the subject, and the interactive settings just send impulses that temporarily improve brain function.  We’re also exploring its potential for medical procedures that could help people recover from injuries and disease.”  He looked at the clock.  “And I’m afraid that’s all the time I have with you today.  It’s time for the next part of your tour.”

Ethan took them to one of the lower levels where he passed the group on to Madison.  “Welcome!  I’m sure you’ve all heard stories about our friends the Laganaphyllis simnovorii, or as they’re commonly called, cow plants.”

“Yeah, I heard they eat people,” remarked Tara.

“They do, although they’re not as aggressive as you might think.  The plants get hungry, just like we do.  But they don’t only eat us, or live prey.  They do just fine with a large hunk of meat or fish.  They’re carnivores and thrive best on a high protein diet.  When they’re not hungry, they’re actually quite docile.”  She went into the gated area and petted one on the nose.  It made a mooing noise and nuzzled against her.  “They also enjoy interaction and have an animal-like reaction to us, as you can see.  This one here was just fed a swordfish a little while ago, so it’s not hungry at all and has no interest in luring us in to eat.”

Guillermo pointed to the one near Tara.  “That one’s not.  It’s waving cake.  I know what that means!”

“Yes.”  Madison came back out and stood by the railing.  “The cake display behavior is a sign that it’s very hungry, and this is the point that they do become aggressive.  This plant here was fasted for demonstration purposes.  That’s why it’s important that anyone not trained in tending these plants does not go into the gated area.  And you might want keep your arms on this side of the fence and not lean too close,” she said with a glance at Tara and Orion, who eyed it with fascination.  Tara skittered back, but Orion stayed where he was.

“That is so cool.”  He sniffed.  “I can smell the cake.  It smells good.”

“Orion Wainwright, you of anyone in your class should know that cake is a lie,” Madison said with a smile.  “Your parents have been working with these plants since before you were born.”

“Oh, I do.  It’s just, they’re really cool and I never saw one so close.  Especially not with its cake out.”

“Watch out!  That thing could bite your head off.”  Guillermo shook his head.

“I thought as long as you don’t take the cake, it can’t eat you, though?” Corina asked.

“That’s correct.  As long as you stay behind the safety fence, you’ll be fine.  The plants have to lure their victims in close with the cake, which is made appealing to us by what we call the ‘bakery effect’ in layman’s terms.  As you get near it, you can smell hints of vanilla and sugar, like buttercream frosting on a cake fresh out of the oven.  What you’re actually smelling is the plant’s hormones.  It gives off a scent that triggers our senses, to bring us around looking for the sweets we smell.  Then when we go to grab it—” She brought her hands together in a dramatic clap imitating its jaws snapping.  “—it’s got its meal.”

Corina made a face.  “I don’t know about you guys, but that’s kind of put me off cake for a while.  Guess it’ll make sticking to a diet easier, though!”

“Not me,” said Orion.  “My parents are throwing a huge birthday party for my brother and them tonight.  I’m going to have cake coming out my… well, a lot of cake.”

“Hopefully they don’t make the guests get it off of the plants,” Tara joked, but Orion didn’t find it all that amusing.

“Come on, my parents aren’t crazy mad scientists.  Sure, they’re a little eccentric, but they’d never do anything like that.”

Tara felt bad when she realized her quip had offended him.  “Sorry.  I didn’t mean anything by it.  It was just…”  She sighed.  “Sorry.  It was stupid.”

“It’s all right.  Don’t worry about it.”

Madison was about to say more about the plant when it snapped loudly behind her.  Although she was correct that it couldn’t reach past the fence, as hungry as it was and with as many bodies as there were nearby tempting it with their flesh, it was motivated to try anyway.  She jumped, startled.  “Yikes!  Okay, okay.  I got the hint.  I’ll get you a fishie soon.  I guess we should move along before someone gets too hangry on us.”  She wagged her finger in the plant’s direction.

After they were done with the cow plants, they were turned over to Christopher for the final leg of the tour.  He showed them the aquatics labs, with all of their tanks of rare and unusual fish on study, and then he brought the students outside to the pond in the back.  The rain only fell in a light mist now, but it was still wet and a bit chilly out.

“Here are our grown semi-wild specimens of robot fish,” Christopher told them.  “They’re part of an ongoing study where we see how well they can survive in natural conditions without our intervention.  We released healthy specimens in the pond when it started, and since then, we’ve gone hands-off aside from regular observation and measurements.  We keep tabs on the water conditions—temperature, pH, oxygenation, bacteria count—but don’t tamper with it because we want to see how they’re managing in natural fluctuations.  We catch them only to tag them and keep track of the population, and to keep an accurate count.  They feed and breed completely independently of us, just like a wild fish would.”

“Robot fish that can get it on and make baby robots?  That’s some wild sci-fi stuff there,” Tara said, and Orion grinned.

“I know!  Isn’t it cool, though?’

Corina didn’t agree.  “I don’t know.  What if they’re the first step in replacing us with robots or something?  I think it’s kind of creepy.”

“Sounds like the plot for some sci-fi movie, call it ‘Robot Fish from Neptune’ or something,” said Zachery.

“I’d watch that,” Guillermo said, and then pointed out where a metallic-bodied fish leapt out of the pond to snap at an insect on the water.  “Whoa!  That was one of them, wasn’t it?  But huge!”

Christopher nodded.  “They get quite large in a natural body of water compared to the tanks.  Some have nearly quadrupled in size since they were released.”

They stayed out there while Christopher explained more about the fish, and the students spent a few minutes watching them in the pond.  There were some smaller robot fish in the shallow water by the deck that were easy to see, and Guillermo and Zachery both had questions that Christopher was happy to answer for them.  Orion peered down into the water while Tara came up beside him.  “They’re pretty cool.”

“Yeah.  I wonder why my parents never put those in our aquarium at home.   The dragonfish we have are pretty cool, and the angelfish are pretty, but these are amazing.”

“Dragonfish?  I’ve heard they’re super rare.”

“They are.  Dad caught them in Shang Simla.”  He looked over at her.  “If you come over sometime, I could show them to you.  They’re not robot fish, but…”

She met his eyes.  “Yeah, sure.  When?”

“Uh, well… we’re kind of having a big party tonight, like I said earlier.  For my parents’ and brother’s birthday.  You can come, too.  Consider yourself invited.”

“I would, but I can’t tonight.  I’ve got to with my parents over to Wilbur’s for dinner.  He said he’s got something important to tell us.  I think he and Penny got engaged.”  She smirked.  “Hopefully not because he knocked her up or anything, like I heard Gretchen was.  But I’ve got to go there tonight.  Sorry.”

Orion was disappointed, but he tried not to let it show.  “It’s okay.  Maybe another time then?”

“That would be cool.”

“And maybe we could even, you know, get coffee or dinner or something together first?  Or after?”

Tara gave him a coy look.  “You mean like a date?”

“Yeah.”  He met her gaze.


Their moment was interrupted when Corina cleared her throat loudly by them.  “Hey, you guys.  In case you didn’t notice, everyone’s heading back inside.”

She was right.  Christopher, Guillermo, and Zachery were already off the deck and Corina had her umbrella out.  The rain had picked up again, but Orion only then noticed it.  “Oh.  Yeah.  Guess we’d better go.”


“So where and when?” Orion asked as he and Tara hurried down the sidewalk behind the others.

“The diner?  They make a mean lobster roll there.”

“I’m good with that.  Tomorrow?”

Tara smiled back at Orion in a way that made him feel fluttery inside.  “Tomorrow,” she confirmed.

After school, Maria came over before the party to spend some time with Patrick before the guests arrived.  “Happy birthday!”  She handed him a gift box.  “I wanted to give you this when it was just us.”

“Oh?  Don’t tell me there’s something naughty in here I shouldn’t open in front of a crowd,” he teased flirtatiously.

“Yeah, you wish!  Besides, if I was going to do that, I wouldn’t hand it to you in your living room!”

He grinned as he opened it.  “And if you did, I hope you know I’d much prefer to see you in a skimpy outfit than myself.”  His expression changed as he opened the box and saw three musical composition books.  “Wow!  I’ve wanted to get the music for these for a while.”  He held up one.  “I’ve always loved this song!  I can’t wait to try it.  Thanks!  I’m going to learn these as soon as I can and play them for you.”

“A private concert, huh?  I look forward to it,” she said sweetly as he set the box down and drew her into his arms.

“There’s nobody I’d rather play for.”

“Happy birthday.  I love you.”

“I love you, too.”  Patrick kissed her.

“Maybe you should take it to your room,” Buddy quipped from over by the television.  “Get a little birthday action!”  He made a joking lewd movement.

Patrick would have liked to fire off a comeback, but with Maria there, he ignored him.  Although Patrick had confided in Maria about Buddy to a point, she did not truly get what it was like for Patrick when he was around.  They had been involved a while before he even told her.  Given how his own parents acted about it, and how jerks like Julius still brought up his childhood mentions of Buddy to mock him, Patrick had wondered if Maria would still want to be with him if she knew.  But he supposed if she didn’t, it was better to find out sooner rather than later, so he eventually told her.

To his relief, she’d been understanding when he did.  Even though she could be dramatic and overly concerned with appearances at times, she was not the type to walk away from someone she loved over “a weird little quirk” as she put it with a reassuring smooch at the time.  Maria had never heard or seen anything at Patrick’s house, but she had to admit that when she looked at the Buddy doll, it did seem to stare back sometimes.  She chalked it up to his artistic imagination run wild, and as an artist herself who often got lost in fantasy worlds, especially when reading, she could accept that.  It wasn’t any weirder than what her father had once told her and Tad about their distant cousins in Moonlight Falls, at any rate.  Since she wouldn’t want to be judged on that, she wasn’t going to throw stones about Patrick’s doll spirit or whatever it was.

Still, Patrick was not inclined to react to Buddy when anyone else was around, except for perhaps Orion or Iris, so he simply pretended not to hear him when he was with Maria.  Eventually, that became a game of sorts to Buddy.  When Maria visited, he would follow them around, leer, and make comments until Patrick either gave some sort of reaction, or he got bored trying to get one.  Then he’d just revert to doll form and sleep until Patrick’s girlfriend went home.

Soon, the guests started arriving and the party kicked off.  “Happy birthday, Captain!  You made it.  Legally an adult today.  Wow.  Congratulations!  I wasn’t much older than you are when you were born.  I guess that makes me pretty darn old now, huh?”

“Nah, you’re not that old.  Maybe Cycl0n3, but not my favorite big sister.”  He grinned.  “He’s just far enough ahead of you that he keeps knocking back the old threshold a year every time.”

“I like your logic,” Blair replied with a grin.  “Although being I’m your only big sister, I’m not sure how much of a compliment ‘favorite’ is.”

“You know I mean it.”

“Yeah.  I know that.  I also know you’re almost as big of a smart llama as Chris.  But not quite.”

“What can I say?  I’m talented,” Chris quipped as he headed past them into the kitchen.  “Happy birthday, Patrick!”

Patrick had invited his friends from school and music club to the party, including Jamaal and Gretchen.  He hadn’t seen either of them in a while since they’d been in the previous graduating class, but he was surprised when she came and he did not.  “Hey, Gretchen.  How are you?”  Like Tara, he and Maria had heard the rumor that she was pregnant, and when she got there, it was obvious it was true.  She was already showing a bit.

“Eh, hanging in there.”

“I heard about your mom.  Sorry for your loss.”  Another bit of news that had made its way around town was that her mother had passed.  The obituary had been in the paper and online that day.

“Thanks.  It’s been pretty rough.  I miss her a lot.”

Maria joined Patrick’s side.  “I’m sorry, too.  So, Jamaal didn’t come with you?”

“Oh, Mr. Maturity refused to come if I did.  Not speaking to me.  Yeah, we broke up and he’s all mad, but seriously!  It’s your birthday and he’s supposed to be your friend, too.  You’d think he could manage to be in the same room with me, but whatever.  I’m not missing your party because he’s being a llama.”  She rolled her eyes.  “And he’s going to have to get over it by the time the baby comes.”

Patrick was glad she brought that up first.  He and Maria were both curious but couldn’t figure out a polite way to ask about the spicy rumor going around.  Supposedly, Gretchen and Jamaal had gotten serious, she got pregnant, and then he found out she’d slept with Julius behind his back around the same time and dumped her.  “Ah, wow.  Well, congratulations on the baby, I guess?”

“Thanks.  It was kind of unexpected, but not bad, really.  I’ll figure out the Mom thing.  Mine did.”  She patted her stomach.  “I’m more bent out of shape about having to wear all this frumpy loose stuff because nothing else fits.  And Jamaal being such a pain doesn’t help.”  She looked from Patrick to Maria.  “And yes, it is his.  I’m sure you both heard the crap he’s been saying about it being Julius’.”

“Yeah, we heard,” Patrick admitted.

“I was honestly surprised he could say that.  No offense, but why Julius?  Ugh.”

“Aw, come on, Maria.  I know you and Patrick here are, like, totally in love and only have eyes for each other and have been together forever now, but there was a time you dated ol’ Jules.  Probably for the same reason.  Sure, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer and kind of a llama, but he’s got a couple things going for him.  He’s not hard on the eyes and he’s got a big—”

Patrick snorted derisively.  “More like he is a big—”

Gretchen laughed.  “Won’t argue that.  But whatever.  It was just a bad decision on a bad night and now it’s over again.”

Patrick’s phone beeped with a text.  “What do you know?  That was Jamaal.  He told me happy birthday and he’s sorry he can’t make it, but he doesn’t want any scenes at my party so he’s staying away from the ‘drama factory’ and hopes I have a good birthday and you don’t ruin it.”  He looked at Gretchen.  “He’s definitely still pretty steamed at you.”

“Not surprised.  Sorry he wouldn’t come because of me, though.  I wouldn’t have caused a scene.  Happy birthday, Patrick.  Nice seeing you again.  You too, Maria.”  She went to grab a handful of chips and talk to other guests.

When Christopher and Madison arrived, their daughters came along with them.  Orion hadn’t realized that Rachelle was going to be there, although he supposed it made sense.  His parents worked with the Steels, and Kristal was in Iris’ class like Rachelle was in his.  “Hi,” he greeted her.  “How’s it going?”

“Pretty good.  When my parents had me come with them, I wasn’t sure who’d be here that I know, other than you.  I don’t really know your brother or your parents.  I didn’t even see them on the lab trip today.  Though I saw mine.  That was a little weird.  Having them running parts of the tour and everyone knowing that’s my mom or dad talking about cow plants or robot fish.”

Orion laughed.  “You’re not used to that?  My parents talk about that stuff all the time.”

“I guess, but you know what I mean.  I felt a little self-conscious about it.”

“I get what you’re saying.  Your mom mentioned how my parents own the lab and Ethan brought up stuff, too, so… yeah.”

“Are we the only ones from our class here?”

“Zachery’s here.  I invited him on the bus ride back.  He doesn’t really know a lot of us here in town yet.”

“Oh, yeah.”  She noticed him dancing by the stereo.  “I haven’t talked to him much.  I’m surprised Tara’s not here.  I thought you two…”

“Oh.  She couldn’t make it tonight.  Family obligations.”  Orion felt odd about her mentioning Tara.  While he was glad it was apparent to their classmates that he and Tara had a thing going, it being Rachelle of all people to say it nagged at him.   Was it because a part of him still couldn’t help but notice her eyes and her smile?  But he was seeing Tara now, and Rachelle was happily with someone else, so why would he think that?  He dismissed the thought.  “Hey, would you like something to drink or eat?”

“That would be great.  Thanks.”

“Sure.  No problem.”

After giving the guests enough time to mingle, they brought the cakes out.  Patrick was first to blow out his candles.  This is it! he thought.  Adulthood.  Freedom.  No more curfews or parental crackdowns, and he’d be able to do whatever he wanted from here on out.  He blew out his candles and imagined all of the things ahead of him.

Boyd and Susan were proud to see their son now grown up.  Their cute little later in life surprise baby that used to sit in the “Captain’s Chair” watching TV for hours with them in their old home on Maywood Lane was now a young man.  He was bright and talented, and even though he’d become a bit impulsive and volatile at times, they imagined his passionate nature would serve him well in his pursuit of the arts.  Soon he would be going to Sims University to major in music, and they had no doubt he would succeed and create great works someday.

Blair looked over at her parents.  “Mom, Dad, you’re up next!  Who’s first?”

“Don’t wait too long to decide.  That many candles going at once might set this whole place ablaze,” Cycl0n3 quipped.

“Well, I know whose direction to blow the smoke in now,” Susan retorted.

“Masterful as he is at blowing smoke, I’m sure he can take it,” Boyd remarked before turning to Susan.  “You want the honors first, or do you want me to get old before you?”

“It’s not like either of us is technically any younger before or after cake, so I’ll get it over with and own my age.”

Boyd kissed her on the cheek as she stepped up to the cake.  “Happy birthday, honey.”

“Happy birthday, Mom!”  Patrick waved a party favor, while Blair did it with even more enthusiasm.

“Happy birthday!”

Although Susan wasn’t in denial about how old she was, blowing out the candles on that cake really brought it home.  She’d had a lot of extra time thanks to Emit’s treatment, but she and Boyd were in their twilight years now.  Unless they decided to use their still-experimental formula on themselves, they only had so long left.  That was more apparent day by day, as they saw others their age old and dying, and even some younger than them, like Gretchen Ursine’s mother and their neighbors, Nick Alto and Nancy Landgraab, succumb to old age themselves.

Still, despite the vanity of not liking to think of herself as old, Susan accepted it gracefully enough.  She did not plan to give up and not live what years she had left to the fullest.  She would stay invested in their lab and their life’s work until the day Grim came for her.  She wanted to be there to see Blair’s children grow up, to see Patrick graduate University and hopefully start a family of his own, and see Orion and Iris grow up.  If they were lucky, she and Boyd would make it to seeing their children, too, before the inevitable.  Whatever her fate was, Susan was determined to make the most of it.

After Susan blew out her candles, it was Boyd’s turn.  “So this is it, huh?  Admitting I’m old?”  He looked over at Cycl0n3 before he could say anything.  “Yes, I know.  I’ve always been old, ancient, and decrepit as far as you’re concerned.  Beat you to it.”

“Happy birthday, Space.  You are ancient, but I’m glad you and Susan are still around and kicking with us.  Now blow out that fire hazard so we can have cake.”

“Happy birthday, Dad!”  Blair cheered and blew a party horn, and Susan joined her.

“Happy birthday!  Come on and symbolically join me in our old age.”

Boyd smiled.  “An invitation like that?  How can I turn it down?”

Although Boyd was a rational scientist, he was still superstitious enough to make a wish at the birthday cake, even at his age.  He wished that his time left would be the best he could make of it.  That meant achieving the things he wanted to finish most, seeing his children and grandchildren thrive and succeed, and Susan being there with him for all of it.  He blew out his candles to the cheers of his family and friends, grateful to have so many there and wishing a few others still could’ve been.  He and Susan had accomplished a lot in their lives, especially in the later years, and he was glad they’d have such a strong legacy to leave behind when the time came.

Not that he wanted that to happen anytime soon.  There was a reason he kept a supply of death flowers in the greenhouse.  One never knew when a terrible accident could happen, and while he had pondered the moral implications of living too far beyond a natural lifespan by artificial means, he did not feel like he was there yet.  Especially considering all the things he still wanted to do, see, and discover.

While Boyd went back for a second slice of cake—joking that if it hadn’t killed him yet, some extra junk food wouldn’t do any harm now—Chris couldn’t resist ribbing Patrick a bit.  “I can’t tell if you’ve gotten taller, or if it’s just the four inches of gel in your hair.”

“Hey, don’t hate.  You wish you looked this good,” he teased back.

“Yeah, okay.  Whatever.”  Chris laughed.  “And who’s hating?  I didn’t say it looked bad.  Besides, there’s at least a year of job security for me at the spa with all the product you must’ve put into that.”

“You know, it was one of your pals down there that gave me this haircut.”  He preened.  “I think it looks cool.  Goes with my guitar look.  Besides, Maria likes it.”  It was true.  She had complimented him earlier.

“Ah.  Much becomes clear.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Chris just grinned and made a whipping sound and gesture, then went back into the kitchen to sample one of the other cakes himself.

“This has been a wonderful party,” Lisa Bunch complimented Susan.  “And I have to say, you look amazing for your age.  What’s your secret?”  She leaned in close.  “Even if it’s super expensive, let me know, because I want to look as good as you do when I get so old.”

Susan tried not to let Lisa’s phrasing rub her the wrong way.  “Oh, I take care of myself.  Speaking of which,” she changed the subject, “you’re positively glowing.  When’s your baby due?  Jack told me he had another grandchild on the way.”

“Yeah.  VJ and I decided to give Kristian a little brother or sister.  I think this one’s a girl.  At least I hope so.  One of each would be great.”

“I’m sorry your son couldn’t make it.  I imagine he’s gotten big since I last saw him.”

“You’re telling me!”  Lisa sighed dramatically.  “He’s out on a date with his girlfriend Corina.  Girlfriend, can you believe it?  Already?  I swear Kristian was just a baby himself yesterday.”

Susan looked over at Blair, chatting with her father, and then Patrick.  “They grow fast.  Faster than you can believe sometimes.”

She noticed Patrick grab yet another party drink from the bar while Maria kept dancing.  “I know you’re of age now, but you might want to take it easy on those.  They’re a little strong.”

“Uh-oh.  Old person lecture incoming!”  Buddy made a face at Susan while Patrick tried to reassure her and head off said lecture at the pass.

“I’m fine, Mom.  I’m good.  I can handle it.”

His answer did not sit well with her.  If he was just bragging, he would have a heck of a hangover in the morning if he wasn’t careful.  If he was telling the truth, it made her wonder just how often he’d sampled nectar and juice that she and Boyd didn’t know about.  “All right.  But remember, Maria’s still underage.  I know her birthday’s right around the corner, but legally…”

“She hasn’t had any.  She drove over and has to drive home.  Don’t worry.  You know I’d never let anything happen to her.  Even if I get a little… crazy!”  He flashed a cheesy grin and pumped his fist.

“Yeah, Grandma!  Stop being such a buzzkill!  It’s our birthday!”

Even without hearing Buddy, Susan was not reassured, especially as she saw Patrick’s eyes dart briefly toward the empty space she suspected that to him, Buddy occupied.  “Just take it easy.  I may not worry like your father, but I’d still rather not see you learn your limits the hard way, okay?”

He nodded.  “I got it.”

“All right.  Have fun.”  She moved on and joined Boyd chatting with Blair.

Patrick sipped at his drink.  “Nothing makes you feel more grown up than Mom doing the mom thing to you at your own party,” he muttered when it was just him and Buddy by the bar.

“Wonder if she nagged your dad like that back at that infamous keg party.  Or if she made him sleep it off on the couch.”  He sniffed the drink.  “Ooh.  Those are strong.  How many did you have?”

“Just a couple.  This is my third, I think?  Not that much.”

“That’s cool, but remember, if you do pass out, I’m not hauling your butt up those stairs to your bed.  The farthest I’m willing to drag you is the couch.”

Patrick laughed.  “Thanks.  You’re a real pal, Buddy.”

When the party was over, Blair gave each of her parents a heartfelt hug.  “I just wanted to say again how glad I am that you’re both still here with us and healthy and happy.”

Boyd hugged her back.  “We’re not planning on kicking off anytime soon, I promise.  I’m in no rush to meet old Grim.”

“You better not be.  I love you both.  I want you around a long time.  So, don’t work too hard, and take the time to do lots of fun stuff.  Especially you.”  She gave her mother a meaningful look.  “I know you still can’t go an afternoon without checking in.”

“Yes, but sometimes a quick check-in is all I do now.”

“She’s been working at not working so much,” Boyd said wryly.

“That’s progress, I guess.  Happy birthday, both of you!  Good night.”

Despite Susan’s concerns, Patrick hadn’t over-indulged on the party drinks and was fine when it ended.  He walked Maria out, but they lingered on the porch for a good night kiss.  “Thanks for being the best part of my birthday.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it.  Next we get to celebrate mine.”

“I’d better get busy learning those guitar songs, then, so I can play them for you at your party.”

“I don’t know.”  She met his eyes.  “I think I like the idea of that private concert better.  Where you play just for me and only me.  A romantic serenade.”

“I can do that.  Play a birthday party of two.”

“I like the sound of that.”  She smooched him again.  “Love you.  Good night.”

“I love you, too.  Good night.”  He stayed out there until Maria’s car left the driveway, and then went to bed, imagining how nice it was going to be when she could just stay over and curl up next to him on a night like that.

Boyd and Susan unwound in their room after cleaning up the worst of the party mess.  The maid was coming the next day and Boyd would have just left it all for her to take care of, but Susan insisted on at least piling the dishes in the dishwasher, putting the food away, and disposing of any half-eaten food or drink.  When they got upstairs, Susan shivered a bit.  The chilly autumn rain had brought in a cold and damp fog and it had started to seep into the house.  “Time to turn the heat back on,” she murmured as she adjusted the thermostat.  “My old bones are feeling the cold.”

“Old bones?  I don’t see any old women here.  Just a mature, respectable, and might I add, quite attractive lady.”

Susan couldn’t help but smile.  “You know just what to say.  Angling for a little birthday love, are we?”

“Wouldn’t turn it down,” he replied flirtatiously. “Besides, at my age and after all our years together, it’d be pretty sad if I hadn’t learned how to charm you at least a little.”

“You’ve got a point.”  She put her arms around Boyd.  “So how about you give me a kiss to warm these cold, mature bones?”

He drew her into a close embrace and met her eyes with warmth and affection as their lips touched.  “Yes, dear.”

Author’s Notes:

Sorry for the inconsistency in some of the screenshots in this chapter. The aging mod didn’t kick in for Boyd and Susan’s age-ups when they blew out the candles, so they went straight to default EA elder until the mod fixed them a bit later. I was only able to fix their wardrobe right away.

Also, Orion’s friend Zachery completely changed in appearance between the trip and party, which were the same game day. I have my NRaas mods set to re-roll the genetics of all game-generated sims using genetics of sims from my bin so I don’t have a town full of the same-looking 0-slider faces. When Orion came home from school, he had a wish to be friends with Zachery, so I invited him to the party in the save I play.  When I staged the scenes at the lab for this chapter, I pulled him out to be in the group, but the mod hadn’t gotten to him yet in the older save I used for that.  So that’s why he’s got a totally different face and skin tone at the party compared to the field trip.

Offline oshizu

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #253 on: June 11, 2018, 11:43:13 PM »
Things are heating up between Orion and Tara! I'm so glad he's found someone special who gets him!
Patrick aged up into such a handsome young adult! I love his rock star hairstyle.
But will Patrick never outgrow Buddy? Isn't it time yet? Lol

It's shocking to see Susan and Boyd as elders. :(
On the other hand, I am looking forward to seeing Orion and Iris grow as they are both such unusual sims. *sighs

Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 69
« Reply #254 on: June 16, 2018, 02:56:09 AM »
Things are heating up between Orion and Tara! I'm so glad he's found someone special who gets him!
Patrick aged up into such a handsome young adult! I love his rock star hairstyle.
But will Patrick never outgrow Buddy? Isn't it time yet? Lol

It's shocking to see Susan and Boyd as elders. :(
On the other hand, I am looking forward to seeing Orion and Iris grow as they are both such unusual sims. *sighs

Thanks! I'm glad Orion found some romance, too! The story progression mod aggressively pairs single sims so it's hard for the active teens to find someone who isn't already paired off. Patrick got himself an enemy in Julius doing that, but luckily for Orion, he didn't get any enemies since Tara's romantic interest decided to go steady with Bianca Landgraab instead of her.

I'm looking forward to Iris becoming a teen. I haven't played a teen or adult plantsim before her.

Chapter 69

After their birthday, Boyd and Susan continued with their projects.  Boyd was determined to build a plumbot prototype in the here and now, and he spent many an afternoon and evening shuffling between the garage workshop and the basement lab tweaking the designs and schematics.

Despite the increasingly cold fall weather, their greenhouse kept their plants going strong, and Susan was thrilled at the quality of their now mature egg and cheese plants.  The analysis results proved them incredibly similar to the traditionally farmed and prepared varieties.  “I’m so glad we found those old journals,” she gushed one evening in the kitchen.  “Now I’ve got to see if they cook and taste like the real things.  Perhaps I’ll do a nice quiche for a trial run.”

They didn’t just immerse themselves in work and science projects, however.  They took Blair’s suggestion to heart and also spent time doing the more leisurely things they enjoyed.  They caught up on their favorite TV shows and did some long binge-watching sessions with new ones on Plumflix on their big screen TV.

Of course, they had their formal date nights as well.  Even though she’d become a great cook over the years, Susan still enjoyed the high life and being wined and dined with gourmet fare.  She and Boyd went out to fancy places a bit more often, where they tried new things together.

“That chef special was absolutely divine!  I need to figure out the recipe.  I’ve never been so glad they mixed my ceviche order up with a mystery dish.”

Boyd nodded.  He’d tried a bite of the special Susan accidentally got and had to agree that it was one of the best things he’d ever tasted, too.  “You lucked out.  You definitely made the right call not sending it back.”

“Well, I wasn’t pleased they screwed it up, but I was feeling adventurous.  It looked so unique.  There was some kind of fish in it, but I’m not sure what.  It had a very unusual flavor profile.”

“After the order mix-up, you probably could’ve gotten someone to part with the recipe.”

Susan chuckled.  “The poor waiter already thought I was going to read him the riot act.  He about fell over himself apologizing when I told him.”

“Eh, given the price of things here, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are customers that get unreasonably bent out of shape over honest mistakes.”

“I suppose, but I say if you can afford to eat here, you ought to have some class,” Susan said on a haughty note.

It wasn’t long after their birthday that they got the sad news that another of their old friends had passed.  Although Jack Bunch had seemed hale and hearty when they last saw him, one morning before heading into work at her new job at the lab, Penny noticed her father hadn’t gotten up.  When she went to check on him, she discovered he had gone peacefully in his sleep.  Jack was laid to rest beside Judy in Pleasant Rest graveyard.  Although they attended his funeral, they also went to his and Judy’s graves to pay their respects.

“The last of our friends our age,” Susan mused.  “It’s weird to feel like this, the last ones standing.”

“Yeah.”  Boyd’s gaze drifted up the hill to the old Goth manor that stood overlooking town like it had for so many years.  It was the oldest home in Sunset Valley, now looking darker and grayer than it ever had.  He thought of Gunther and Cornelia, buried there beside their parents in the family cemetery on the grounds, and Mortimer, living there alone with his dog, Sky.  He had yet to marry or start a family, but seemed content spending his days painting making a living as an independent artist.  Boyd remembered visiting that house as a child with his parents, who had been friends with Victor and Gretle Goth.  It seemed impossibly long ago now.  “We’re anomalies,” he said after a moment of reflection.  “Without Emit’s treatment, we wouldn’t still be here.  At least I wouldn’t.  He said as much.”

“He never said when that me died, but I probably wouldn’t be, either.  Or I would’ve been a breath away if I was.”  A bittersweet smile crossed her face.  “And yet, there’s still so much I’d like to do.  I wonder if any of us are ever really ready when the time comes.”

“I don’t know.  We’ve had the benefit of our compound in us for years, so for a long time we didn’t get to feel our age like they all did.  Now those aches and pains I had before we had the treatment, I feel them all again and then some.  My back loves reminding me how old I am.”

“Yes, well, doing things like trying to move the heavy food synthesizer prototype by yourself certainly doesn’t help.  You should’ve asked me or Patrick or even Orion to help you.”  Boyd had thrown his back out attempting to move it to get at some wiring behind it and wound up spending the rest of the day in pain and miserable.

“I was on a roll.  My phone was charging, and I didn’t feel like going all the way out to the greenhouse to get you or up two flights of stairs to get Patrick.  And Orion wasn’t even home.  Speaking of which,” Boyd brightened as he changed the subject to one less depressing, “he said he won’t be home for dinner.  He’s going out with Tara.”

Susan smiled.  “Oh?  An official date now?”

“I don’t know how official it is.  All he said was ‘I’m going out to dinner at the diner tonight with Tara.’  But he seemed happy about it.”

“Good for him.  I hope he has fun.”

“Me too.”

A heavy fall rain gusted into town by the time Orion’s diner date rolled around.  Although he’d have loved to pick her up in the Galaxa, obviously, she could not know he had that, so he borrowed his father’s car.  Not that it mattered, as she ended up getting dropped off by her mom, who was running errands in town.

“Hope you didn’t mind me getting a ride over,” Tara said after the server dropped off their sodas.  “I just thought it’d save you the time of driving across town.”

“It’s fine, but I wouldn’t have minded.  I like hanging out with you, in case you didn’t notice,” he said with a grin.

“Oh, and here I thought I was helping.”  Tara sighed.  “I always seem to make the wrong calls.”

“It’s not a wrong call.  Really,” he reassured her.  “So, you still thinking lobster roll?  I think I’ll have the cheesesteak.  They make a great one here.”

Tara was surprised.  “You remembered what I wanted to get?”

“Yeah.  Good memory, I guess.”  The truth was that he’d been looking forward going out with her so it was hard not to think of all the details.  He hoped it didn’t make him seem weird or creepy.

“That’s sweet.  I’m not used to guys being that thoughtful.”

“Wow.  I’m sorry to hear that.”

Their conversation was interrupted when the server took their order.  It turned out they were out of lobster, so Tara had to pick something else.  She went with a cheeseburger instead.  “Lobster to cheeseburger.  Kind of a downgrade,” she muttered after the server left.

“At least the burgers here are pretty good?”

“They’re not bad.”

They chatted for a while, talking about school and the classes they shared, and then moved on to martial arts after their food arrived.  “I’m up to two foam boards now.  Soon I’m going to get as good as you.”

“That’s cool.  You’ll have to show me.”

“I’d say we could go back to my house, but my breaker’s out on the patio right now and…”  She looked out the window.  “Yeah, not happening.  We’d get soaked.”

“Too wet to bring it in?”

“Dad would probably throw a fit.  He gets weird about things like mold spores coming in on stuff from outside or tracking water on the floor.  Freaks out over weird stuff.  Which makes me freak out over what’s going to freak him out.”  She sighed.  “Too much stress.”

“We could always spar if you want.  Last time we had a pretty good match.”

Tara laughed.  “Oh, my Watcher.  That would probably send Dad into a full-on meltdown.  ‘You’ll break something!  Don’t you know you could get hurt doing that in here?  What if you miss and trip and crack your head open on the coffee table?’  On and on like that.  Just not worth it.  Trust me.”

“Mine would probably say stuff like that, too, if we didn’t have my board breaker in the open area of the rec room.  And he knows I’d just do it when he was sleeping anyway.”

“Ha!  You rebel.  What about your sleep?  Don’t tell me you stay up all night doing martial arts?  You’ve got to sleep sometime.”

Orion paused mid-bite.  He didn’t like lying to Tara, but he couldn’t really say the truth, either.  “I don’t stay up all night doing martial arts.”  That was true since he was awake doing other stuff, too, technically.

“Anyway, much as I’d enjoy sparring a round, I’m more enjoying not having my parents on my case about anything.  Dad’s mostly been onto Wilbur lately instead of me, which is a nice change of pace!”

“What’d he do?”

“He got Penny pregnant.”  Tara snickered.  “Called it.”

Orion was surprised.  “No!  Really?”

“Yeah.  Turns out they did get engaged, and the baby’s not an accident, or so they say, anyway,” Tara explained.  “They just figured since they were getting married, they’d make it a family deal right off the bat.  Maybe it’s because she has such a huge family with like fifty brothers and sisters and they all have kids now?  I don’t know.  Anyway, Dad and Mom weren’t impressed.  Don’t get me wrong, they like Penny—and so do, I she’s nice and all—but they’re not even married yet.  Dad was like ‘I’d love grandchildren but you’re too young to be rushing things!’  He gave Wilbur a big lecture about responsibility and thinking things through and how marriage alone is such a big step and blah blah blah.  Mom pretty much took his side on it, said they were rushing and might’ve benefited from some time as just them, but whatever.  It’s done now.  Hasn’t stopped Dad from ranting about how ‘ill thought out’ it was, though.”  She set her burger down.  “But like I said, at least they’re not nagging me about all my screw-ups.”

“You don’t screw up that much.”

Tara let out a self-deprecating laugh.  “You’re nice to say that.  But I do.”

“You don’t, like, go out and get in trouble or get bad grades… right?”

“Oh, wow, if I ever snuck out or got brought home by cops, Mom and Dad would never let me see the light of day.  Like, one time Wilbur came home tipsy from a party the cops busted and they called home, and I’ve never seen Mom so furious.  It was one of the only times Saint Wilbur ever did get in trouble.”

Orion snickered.  “I know what party you’re talking about.  My brother was there and my parents came down like thunder on him, too.”

“Well, mine already get on my case about enough stuff, so I guess I’ll just be boring and play it safe like the huge dork I am.”  She wiped her hands on her napkin and set it on her now empty plate while the server dropped off the check.

Orion picked it up and stood, meeting Tara’s eyes as she rose to join him.  “You’re not boring, or a dork.”

“Really?  You don’t think so?”

“I wouldn’t hang out with you if I thought you were boring.”  He leaned closer.  “I think you’re pretty cool.”

“But what if you’re just a boring dork like me, and that’s why you don’t think I’m boring?”

Orion wasn’t sure how to take that, but he was more amused than insulted.  “I’ve been called worse.”

Tara looked down as she realized she’d put her foot in her mouth again.  “I didn’t mean… plum!  I’m sorry.  I wasn’t trying to insult you.  I—I mean, I’m sure jerks probably have said mean stuff about you because…”

“Because I’m green and have weird eyes and pointy ears and my voice is funny?  Yeah.”  Orion wasn’t offended and only speaking matter of fact, but Tara was too upset to realize that, and became more flustered.

“But I swear that isn’t what I was saying at all!  I don’t care about any of that!  I—”

“I know,” Orion cut her off.  “It’s one of the reasons I like you.  That and you’re not boring.  So, don’t worry about it, okay?”

“I worry about a lot of things,” she admitted.

“I noticed.  It’s okay.”

She gingerly took his hand.  “I’m—I’m glad you think so.”

“I do.  Really.”  Orion tried to put her at ease.  He had never realized until getting to know her better just how nervous Tara could be.  Back in ballet, she had always been confident about her dancing and even when they did martial arts, she had a seeming natural strength and confidence at it.  He wondered if she was just better at expressing herself physically than with words.  But that was not a big deal.  Nobody was perfect, and she’d been a good friend, or maybe more, so far.  At least, he hoped it was more.

“Thanks.”  She leaned in closer, and they might have had a more meaningful moment if her phone hadn’t beeped loudly with a notification that sounded like an obnoxious klaxon alarm.  “Oh, freaking really?  That’s my parents.”  She pulled it out to check it.

Orion was frustrated by the interruption, and while he waited for Tara to check her message, he saw something he didn’t expect.  Earlier, Guillermo and Mario had come into the diner and he and Tara had both waved hello to them.  However, he never thought he’d see them so obviously flirting with one another.

Tara heard Orion’s gasp and looked over after putting her phone away.  “Wow.  So not cool.  Unless Mario and Rachelle have broken up since, like, school let out.  I saw them kissing before they got on the bus!”

Orion shook his head.  “I knew Guillermo liked him, but… poor Rachelle.”

“Nice to know that Tom’s got some company in the llama barn, I guess.”  Tara frowned.

“Yeah.”  Orion felt for Rachelle.  He could only imagine how that would hurt, and while Guillermo was a friend of his, he was disappointed to see him involved in it.

“Anyway… that was Mom.  She wanted to know if she should come get me, or if you’d be bringing me home.  Dad doesn’t want me out after we’re done eating because the storm’s supposed to get worse soon and he doesn’t think we ‘inexperienced teenage drivers’ should be on the roads if it’s thundering.”  She rolled her eyes.

“So, I guess that means you’ll have to see the dragonfish at my house another time, huh?”  Orion tried not to show how disappointed he was.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.  Can I drive you home at least?  I promise to get you there before the big, bad storm comes.”

“Only if you promise not to speed or let my parents think you were speeding,” she teased.

“I think I know better than to speed to a cop’s house,” Orion joked back.

“Then absolutely.  And I promise, I’ll see those dragonfish at your Spooky Day party.”

“Sounds good.”  He got out his wallet with one hand and took hers with the other.  “Ready?”

“Oh, how much do I owe you for that?”

“Nothing.  It’s on me.”  Orion smiled.

“Really?  Wow.  Thanks!”  She leaned closer to him.  “I had a really nice time with you.  And not just because you paid.”

Orion chuckled.  “I didn’t think that was what you meant.  But thanks.  I had a nice time with you, too.  We should do it again.”

She mirrored his smile.  “Definitely.”

While Orion had his casual dinner date with Tara, Patrick had a more formal occasion to attend—Maria’s birthday.  She had two celebrations for it.  The first was a big party thrown at Mick’s Master Karaoke by her mother, where all of her friends were also invited.  After that, her father was taking her and Tad out to a fancy dinner at Sunset Valley’s exclusive lounge.  Patrick was also invited to that since Maria wanted him there with her.

Patrick was surprised Maria’s father didn’t attend the party, but she said he had a late can’t-miss important board meeting or something, and besides, being the star of two events wasn’t really something to complain about.  Patrick knew that on some level, Maria’s father prioritizing and scheduling her around a board meeting hurt her, but there was nothing he could do to change that, other than be there for her.

Despite Thornton’s absence, there was no lack of love for Maria at her party.  After she blew out her candles to the cheers and party horns of her friends, Morgana gave her a big hug.  “I’m so proud of you.  My little girl is now a beautiful, talented young lady.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“You go enjoy your cake, and don’t even think about just taking some tiny diet slice, even if you are going out with your father after.”  She looked her over and smiled.  “Not an ounce of fat on you anyway.”

She laughed.  “I don’t know, Mom.  I sure don’t want to hit the gym to work it off.  But maybe I will, since it is my birthday, after all.” She took a slice with a thick layer of frosting.

After cake, Maria and Patrick did a karaoke duet.  Patrick was still more used to playing music than singing it, but he had fun anyway.  Maria reveled in being in the spotlight and poured her heart into the song.

He loved being on stage with her.  He remembered her saying at prom how she imagined that one day they’d be performing together, but now that she was going to focus on her writing at Sims University and as a potential career, it might never happen.  It was a little sad to think she might be right, but even if she was, it didn’t mean they couldn’t cut loose like this once in a while.  Besides, if her writing and painting—things she was even more passionate about than performing—were so successful that she didn’t have time to pursue anything in musical performance, would that be a bad thing?  He didn’t think so.

“At least my sister and Patrick picked a song with a good beat to ham it up on stage to,” Tad remarked to Chris as they danced together.

“Hey, come on.  They’re not bad.  I think they sound pretty good.”

“I know, but you can’t tell her that, or it’ll inflate her ego to critical mass,” Tad joked back.  “I’d never tell her she’s bad or anything, because she’s not, but you know how she is.”

“Yeah, I get you.  Think you’ll miss her princess moments when she goes away to university?”

“Nope.  Well, maybe a little.  She’s all right when she’s not in full-on drama queen mode.  Still, it’ll be nice when Caleb doesn’t have competition for who throws the biggest tantrums when they don’t get their way.”

“Where is he, anyway?  With Stiles?”  Chris had noticed their baby brother wasn’t there, and neither was his father.

Tad nodded.  “He hadn’t seen him much this week, so he took him to his place while Mom took care of the party.”

“It kind of surprised me neither he or your dad was here.”

“Dad had a board meeting, and the Watcher knows you can’t risk that bottom line.”  His voice was heavy with sarcasm.  “But at least he’s taking us out to a fancy dinner later.”

“Are you sure you still don’t want me to tag along with you on that?  Awkward family dinners aren’t exactly a blast, but I’d do it for you.”

“I appreciate it, but no, I’m not going to subject you to that.”  Tad had told Chris about the dinner when the plans were made.  Since Maria was bringing Patrick, Thornton said it was fine if Tad wanted to bring Chris with him as well, but Tad declined with a lie that Chris had to go home after the party at Mick’s.  It wasn’t that he didn’t want Chris with him, rather, it was because Tad had an iffy relationship with his father and it was a gamble as to whether he’d spend dinner in a foul mood anyway.

“Sure, you just want all the lobster thermidor and fine nectar for yourself.  I see how it is,” Chris teased.

“I’m not sure even ancient nectar would be worth it, not that he’d let me order it.  He still likes to remind me about that party when he’s bringing up my flaws and failings.”  Tad sighed.  “Honestly, he’ll probably grill Maria about her plans for university and her career, and then he’ll start on me if he’s satisfied she’ll be successful enough with whatever she tells him.  Because he’s let me know on no uncertain terms that I should be thinking about the future and a real career that isn’t ‘sponging off your mother for babysitting money,’ because apparently I should’ve had some ‘character building’ job in a mail room or ringing up groceries or something.”  He let out a rueful laugh.  “He’d approve the plum out of you once he found out you work part time at the spa and are thinking of going into vet science.  He’d probably turn around and tell me I should be more like you.  Not that that’s why I don’t want you to go.  It’s just not going to be any fun anyway.  I don’t want Dad dragging you into anything and making it worse.  I’m already expecting him to side-eye Patrick as a fine arts major since he thinks the arts are such a frivolous waste.  He’d probably be against Maria being so serious with him if your grandparents weren’t already loaded.”

“I get it,” Chris sympathized.  “Hopefully it’ll turn out better than you expect.”

“I’ve learned not to be optimistic about these things, but thanks for the thought.”  He patted him on the shoulder.

Toward the end of the party, Patrick and Maria danced to a slower song other guests sang on the karaoke.  When it was over, she sighed happily.  “I’m so happy!  This has been an almost perfect birthday.”

“Almost perfect?  What do we have to do to elevate it to the next level?”

“That’ll depend on how dinner goes, but other than that… I’m still looking forward to those songs you promised later.”

“I’ve got them ready for you.  Practiced all afternoon.  But you said you wanted that on a birthday party of two, so… figured we could do that when I take you home tonight.”

“I’d say you should stay the night with me, but my mom and Tad will be home, so even though I’m an adult and she can’t say much… we’d have to be really quiet.”

Patrick smirked knowingly.  “We could take it as a challenge but, yeah, some performances are better without an audience.”

She giggled.  “But we do make such beautiful harmony.”

“Ooh, I love it when you talk music to me,” he replied flirtatiously.

A little while later, Thornton arrived.  Several of the guests had already left, but a few lingered enjoying the atmosphere of Mick’s, since it was opening to the general public now that the party was over.  “Ah, Maria.”  Thornton spotted his daughter and approached with a smile.  “Happy birthday.”  He gave her a hug.  “You look very nice.  I hope you had a good time at your party?”

“I did.  Thanks.”

“Glad to hear it.  Sorry I wasn’t able to make it.  It looks like your mother put together quite an event for you.”  He nodded politely to Morgana, who nodded back in acknowledgment, and then turned to Patrick.  “Good to see you again.”

“You too, Mr. Wolff,” he replied politely.

“Maria always has nothing but nice things to say about you.  I’m glad you could be here with her.”  He glanced over at Tad, who had seen him come in and came over with Chris behind him.  “Hello, Tad.”

“Hi, Dad.”

“It’s nice to see you again, too, Chris.  I’m sorry you won’t be able to join us tonight.  We’d have loved to have you along.”

“Thanks, but yeah.  Family stuff.”  Chris gave a polite smile.

“Yeah, well, family’s important.”  There was a bitter sting in Tad’s tone, but Chris knew it was directed at his father and not him, especially as he hugged him goodbye.  “I’ll call you tonight, okay?”

Chris nodded and met his eyes.  “Okay.  Have fun.”

Morgana came over and gave Maria another big birthday hug.  “Happy birthday.  I’m very proud of you.  Have fun at the lounge tonight.”

“Thanks, Mom.  I will.”

At first, dinner with their father wasn’t as bad as Tad feared.  They shared some pleasant small talk over drinks and perusing the menu.  Tad learned that he and Patrick had the same favorite food—chile con carne—and both tried it when they saw it as a special on the menu that night.  Maria had a super-food salad with assorted exotic greens, while Thornton ordered their fancy potato truffle torte.  The food was excellent and they all enjoyed it.

Thornton was fine for the first part of the outing, until the conversation came around to their future plans.  He lauded Maria’s decision to pursue a communications degree at Sims University.  “I know how you love painting, but it’s better to leave that for a hobby than depend on it for income.  There are always promising openings at Doo Peas for those with communications degrees, and it’s a great way to network and meet connections to help get you published, if you still think you’d prefer writing more independently at some point.”  It was clear that he did not approve of the less corporate decision quite as much, but he certainly preferred it to her being an artist for a living.

“I’d love to be a novelist.”  She swirled the nectar in her glass.  “I have so many ideas.”

“They’re good, too,” Patrick encouraged her.  “You’ve always been really creative.”

“She has,” Thornton conceded with a half-smile.  “Gets it from her mother.”  He turned to Patrick.  “What about you?  Maria says you’re also going to Sims University?  Signed up to live in the same dorm?”

Patrick nodded.  “We already got confirmation on that.  We’re both assigned to De Anda hall.”

“That’s nice.  What are you majoring in?”

“Fine arts.  Focus on music.”


Both Maria and Tad caught the undertone in their father’s voice.  He was polite enough not to say anything rude, but they knew all too well how frivolous he considered things like art and music.  Hobbies at best, and expensive ones at that.  Nice if you were one of the very rare talented individuals who managed to make something of themselves with it, but so few could beat those odds that it was foolish to imagine oneself to be one of them and not have a practical backup plan.  “Patrick’s very good on the guitar,” Maria emphasized.  “He won an award from Andres von Butterfingerz in music club.  He’s a world-famous guitarist.”

“I’m sure he is.”  Thornton remained diplomatic, although Patrick had also caught the hint of disapproval, and it set him on edge.  “What sort of career are you thinking about?” Thornton asked him.

“I’m keeping my options open until I decide for sure, but I’d love anything that lets me play on stage.”

“I see.  I’d have imagined coming from a family of scientists, you’d be more inclined to that.”

“Well, not everyone wants to be like their parents,” Patrick replied.  “Got to do your own thing.  My parents did that, too.  My dad’s dad was a musician.  Orchestra lead and composer,” he pointed out.  “And my other grandfather was a surgeon.  My grandmothers were a teacher and a stay at home mom, from what I was told.  Heck, my sister’s a cop.  Guess we all follow our own path.”

“My father was doctor, also.  It’s a demanding career.  Rewarding, if you’re cut out for it.  It was quite stressful, though.”

“Yeah.  It is.  Mom works hard at it,” Tad pointed out.

“I know.  Your mother’s always had an admirable work ethic.”  He gave him a look that added silently, You’d do well to follow her example.

Maria cleared her throat and pushed aside her empty dinner plate.  “Dinner was really nice, Dad.  Thanks.  But since we’re here at the lounge and the pianist is taking a break… why don’t you listen to Patrick play?  I know they like it when talented people jam here.”

Patrick’s eyes went wide.  “You want me to get up there and play?”

“Sure.  I want Dad to see that not all music and art is a waste of time,” she emphasized with a sharp look at her father.  Although she’d done her best to bite her tongue, she could no longer stand the vibe of disapproval, not on her birthday.

Thornton sighed.  “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

Patrick was all too happy to help her make her point, and he stood and offered his hand.  “Come play piano backup up there with me.”

Maria was surprised but flattered.  “Really?  Oh, I’m not good enough.  I’m not that good… I just took some lessons.  But I don’t play it like you do guitar.”

“I’ve heard you play.  You’re good enough.  I won’t do anything that won’t harmonize.  I promise.  Come on.”


The two of them got on stage.  Maria sat at the piano while Patrick picked up his guitar and started a tune that went with one he knew Maria knew well on piano.  It was clear she was a beginner, but the lessons she’d taken had her good enough to keep up with few mistakes.  Patrick played his best and strummed out a melody that really showed off his skill.  Thornton was impressed and enjoyed the impromptu show, while Patrick enjoyed proving him wrong, Maria enjoyed being right, and Tad enjoyed watching his father eat a bit of crow.  Most of the time, he rolled his eyes at Maria’s dramatics, but this time he cheered her on.  It was a bit of payback for all of his father’s rude comments about his mother’s and Maria’s art over the years, and he had it coming.  Tad doubted he’d ever change his mind about it being a real career, but at least he’d have to admit that it wasn’t a waste of time for those who were truly passionate about it.

That bit of satisfaction quickly soured, however, when Stiles came into the lounge.  He joined the crowd, and after recognizing Maria on stage and seeing Tad in the audience, he struck up a conversation.  “Your sister’s not bad on the piano.”

Tad was surprised and not in a good way.  “Yeah, but… I thought you had Caleb tonight?”

“I took him home to your mother.  He was pretty fussy and clearly wanted to just be in his own bed.  Where he’s used to.  So I brought him back after she got back from Mick’s.”

Tad frowned.  “Maybe he’d be more used to you if he saw you more.”

Stiles sighed but didn’t engage.  He was used to Tad’s grouchiness and decided it was best not to argue with him when he was in a mood.  Anything else just resulted in him and Morgana arguing, and they were still trying to work things out, even though they still lived under separate roofs.  “I’m sure he will in time.”

“Yeah.”  Tad looked up at the stage, and Stiles followed his gaze.

“Is that her boyfriend up there with her?”

Tad nodded.

“Blair’s little brother, right?  He’s gotten even better since he and some of the other kids in his class demoed at the theater,” he remarked with a note of admiration.

After their number was over, Thornton complimented them both for music well played.  Patrick accepted it graciously, while Maria took satisfaction from it and headed to the bar to order her first legal drink.  Tad couldn’t blame her and part of him wished he could grab one himself, especially as his father moved on to chat up another familiar face—his girlfriend or whatever, the married Kaylynn Bunch.  He hoped that was just a coincidence, and he hadn’t invited her to show up for his nightcap after the family dinner was over.

Meanwhile, Stiles approached Patrick.  “That was some fine guitar playing.  You’ve got real talent.”

“Wow.  Thank you.  That means a lot coming from you,” Patrick said sincerely.

“Next time I see Blair, I’ll have to let her know I saw you play here.  And am I correct that you graduated this year, like Maria?”


“We can always use skilled musicians at the theater, if you’re looking for a job.”

Eat that, Mr. Wolff.  An offer from a local rock star.  In your face, he thought.

“That’s an amazing offer, but actually, I’m going to Sims University this coming semester.  I’m doing fine arts there.  Music major.”

“Oh, even better!  Keep playing and drop by the theater after you’ve got that degree, and I can probably offer you something even better.”

“I will.  Thank you.”

“Anytime.”  Stiles gave him a friendly smile and headed off to the bar.

They stayed at the lounge a while longer, and then said good night.  Thornton gave Maria a surprisingly warm and heartfelt hug.  “I want you to know that I am proud of you,” he said with a meaningful look.  “I know it might not seem like it sometimes, but I am.  You’re a bright girl and you are talented, and I just want you to have the life you deserve.  I love you, and I’m sure you’ll do very well at Sims University.”

Maria hugged him back, genuinely touched.  “Thanks, Dad.  That really means a lot.”

“You’re welcome.  Maybe someday I’ll get to read one of those books you want to write.”

“I’ll make sure you get a copy when I do.”

“I look forward to it.”  He smiled.  “Do you want me to take you home, or are you going with Patrick?”

“He and I were thinking we’d stick around for a little more dancing and maybe another drink.  Me, I mean.  Not him, since he’s driving.”

“All right, then.  Have fun.  Happy birthday.”

“Thanks.  Good night.”

After Thornton left and took Tad home, Patrick and Maria stayed at the lounge.  They listened to music, danced, and talked about their upcoming plans and dreams for university and life until the lounge closed at two in the morning.  Then, Patrick drove her home and gave her the promised birthday concert in her living room.  He kept it low and acoustic, since Tad, Caleb, and her mother were sleeping, but Maria loved it nonetheless.

“That was great,” she complimented him.  “Thanks for playing for me for my birthday.”

“Thanks for getting me the sheet music for mine so I could.”

“You know, you really were good enough that you impressed my dad.  He didn’t say it, but I could tell.”

“Thanks.  I’m glad, because I’ve got to admit… it was hard not to say what I was thinking.  But I didn’t want a scene on your birthday with your dad.”

“He can bring out the best in all of us sometimes,” she said with a dramatic sigh.  “But I’m glad he came around a little.”

“So am I.”  Patrick drew Maria into his arms and brushed her cheek.  “He should appreciate what a great daughter he has.”

“You’re sweet.  Thanks for being there with me tonight, for all of it.”

“Nowhere else I’d have rather been.”

“I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Maria.  Happy birthday,” he said, and gave her a passionate kiss good night.