Getting to Know Donovan

I got tagged in this “get to know me” meme by blossomsims over at the Clemonte Legacy! I’m gonna get back into simming with our boy Donovan!

Get to Know.png

Getting to Know: Donovan

  • What’s your name? Donovan Dabney
  • Are you single? Currently! Hopefully that’ll change soon.
  • Are you happy? I think so. I mean, there’s still lots of things I want to accomplish. I don’t think I’m unhappy, at least.
  • Are you angry? There are definitely things that make me angry. One, very specific thing that I happen to be related to.
  • Are your parents still married? My mom and my dad split before I was born, but my mama and mom are happily married, as are my dad and his wife Stacy.


Nine Facts

  • Birth Place: I was born and raised in Willow Creek.
  • Hair Color: Red, like my dad’s.
  • Eye Color: Blue, also like my dad’s.
  • Birthday: June 10, 20XX
  • Mood: I stay hopeful (and romantic).
  • Gender: Male
  • Summer or winter: I appreciate the beauty of winter a lot, and I look better in winter clothes.
  • Morning or afternoon: Afternoon. The house is usually quiet, and I get my best work done then.


Eight Things About Your Love Life

  • Are you in love? Not yet. I just met someone I really think I connect with, but so far cupid’s arrows have been stray shots.
  • Do you believe in love at first sight? Absolutely! It’s important for me to connect with someone, but there’s no reason I can’t have both.
  • Who ended your last relationship? I did. I think I’ve ended all of them.
  • Have you ever broken someone’s heart? I don’t think so. I’d be horrified if I did. I hope I never do.
  • Are you afraid of commitment? Absolutely not. A love that lasts the rest of my life is something I dream about.
  • Have you hugged someone within the last week? My family is very touchy, especially my mama. We hug all the time.
  • Have you ever had a secret admirer? No one’s ever stuffed a note into my locker or left a rose on my doorstep, if that’s what you mean.
  • Have you ever broken your own heart? No.


Six Choices

  • Love or Lust? Love! Love is the most important thing.
  • Lemonade or Iced Tea? Lemonade.
  • Cats or Dogs? We’ve had both cats and dogs, and honestly I think I prefer cats.
  • A few best friends or many regular friends? A few close friends are better! I have two best friends that I’ve known since we were kids and they’re more important to me than anyone.
  • Wild night out or romantic night in? Romantic night in. A home cooked meal, a few glasses of wine, a quiet opportunity to connect.
  • Day or Night? Night. I do enjoy going out as well.


Five Have You Evers

  • Ever snuck out? No. I’ve never had to. Leila encourages it, honestly.
  • Fallen down/up stairs? Never!
  • Wanted something/someone so badly it hurt? I think about my art career this way. I want to see my paintings on museum walls.
  • Wanted to disappear? Never.
  • Regretted something? There are things I’ve done or said that I wouldn’t mind an opportunity to fix.


Four Preferences

  • Smile or Eyes? I love staring into someone’s eyes.
  • Shorter or Taller? I’ve never really considered it, but I guess shorter.
  • Intelligence or Attraction? When it comes down to it, I want to be attracted to that person.
  • Hook-Up or Relationship? Relationship.



  • Do you and your family get along? Just about everyone in my family is close, except for me and my half-brother. I have no idea what went wrong there.
  • Would you say you have a messed up life? Not at all! I have two sets of loving parents and friends who care about me.
  • Have you ever ran away from home? No. I still live there.
  • Have you ever gotten kicked out? I don’t know what I’d have to do for my parents to kick me out.



  • Have you ever secretly hated one of your friends? No! The best friends I have are ride or die. I don’t really subject myself to people I don’t like.
  • Do you consider all of your friends good friends? I think so.
  • Who is your best friend? Rachel has been my best friend since we were in third grade!
  • Who knows everything about you? Rachel again. I tell her everything.


I miss writing this boy! We’ll be back to regularly scheduled updates as soon as I get my life together. Anyone I would nominate to do this already has, but I love finding new sims stories, so if you have a legacy or a story or whatever that you want to do this for, drop a link for me! I’d love to see what characters are out there!


Update Note

Soooo I originally intended to have a bunch of posts go up during the holidays but first the new editor decided it didn’t want to upload my pictures (which I still need to mess with) and then A LOT OF STUFF happened. I’ve spent a lot of the last month focusing on my friends and family, but I’m feeling much more like a person these days. It feels kind of silly because the next two posts going up will be holiday themed of two holidays that already passed, but I’ll just have to deal with it.

Sorry for the radio silence! I plan on posting again here regularly, but I’ll probably try to queue up a bunch of chapters first. Thank you guys for your patience!

(As a bonus note, apparently today is my blog’s anniversary! So…. happy birthday to the Dabneys!)

4.12 Windenburg

Aunt Anastasia is actually my mom’s cousin, which I think makes her my first cousin or my first cousin once removed, but the important thing is when I asked to stay at her place when my actual hero Brant Hecking was presenting his newest piece in Windenburg. She insisted, actually. I think with the kiddos running amok, she’s happy to have a real adult to talk to again.

“You sure you don’t mind me running around by myself?” I asked.

She waved a hand. “That’s what Windenburg is for. And I don’t know if three hyperactive children at an artist talk is the best.”

I smiled. Thanks to the distance, I never really saw Terrance, Tatum, and Miley. (Second cousins? Who knows how this stuff works.) Mama always says she has no idea how Aunt Anastasia handles triplets, but being around her for five minutes was all it took to see her in mom mode.

“There’s supposed to be a big storm coming in tonight,” she said as I gathered my things for the talk. “If it turns into a full on blizzard, just stay inside. I don’t want you getting lost. You know what time the ferries run?”

I waved my phone at her. “I got it.”

“Okay.” She relaxed. “If you go to any bars make sure it’s not that new one in the square. Totally overpriced. What else do you need?”

I laughed. “I think I got everything. I’ll try not to wake you up when I get in.”

She gave a sigh. “It makes me so sad to hear that, you know? Staying up until dawn used to be my whole thing. I expect to live vicariously through you tonight.”

Leila and Mama shared plenty of Windenburg stories, and I don’t know if I could ever match that kind of party dedication. But I promised I’d have plenty of fun for her and headed out to the museum. Windenburg was a walking town, and the streets looked the same as always, even with the new, more modern coffee shops and clubs being built. I wondered what it was like to live in a place this old and new at the same time.

The gallery was all set up with the new modernist piece entitled “Spectrum”. The Willow Creek museum had gotten its upgrades and held a fair share of modern art, but I wished desperately for a kind of exhibit like this to visit there. Only a few people joined the artist talk, and we huddled together as Hecking explained his work.

His discussion of color theory and how the human eye perceives light was fascinating, but I was distracted. This man had spent so much time photographing and painting and evaluating something as simple as a color wheel and he was presenting the final project to us as an expert. He was living as an artist. Making money with his dream. I was still washing out paintbrushes at the Newcrest Art Center. And this place! Open until four am with events constantly, hoping to challenge and defy expectations. Willow Creek didn’t even come close.

I felt inspired from this and drumming with desire to up my painting game. I wanted to achieve what so few had. And as the talk finished, he shook hands with each of us, and I thanked him for letting us talk with him. I wasn’t ready to leave yet, and I wandered around the museum, my eyes drawn to another piece.

A woman approached as well. She’d been standing behind me for most of the talk, and I’d seen her from the corner of my eye making notes in her phone. She smiled at me as we came to the same piece.

“Let me guess,” she said as she gave me an appraising look. “Aspiring artist?”

“I’m that obvious, huh,” I said.

She touched the sleeve of my jacket. “It’s the San Myshuno style. The bright colors are really attractive.” She dropped her hand and gave an embarrassed laugh. “To artists, I mean. I see it a lot.”

“Are you?” I asked.

“I write about them,” she said. “I think I’m a little too boring to actually make anything.”

“You can’t be that boring.” I smiled at her. “You braved winter in Windenburg for this.”

She tugged on her own sleeve, a little unsure what to do with the compliment. “Did you like the talk?”

“It was fantastic,” I said, maybe a little too enthusiastically. “He understands color theory way better than I ever will. When he started talking about reactions to color and how he built different moods.”

She nodded. “I always found his work accessible, and he’s really very nice. A lot of people I talk to only want to talk down.”

“Do you talk to a lot of artists?” I asked.

“This is probably the biggest name I’ve covered so far. My job’s been letting me travel lately, which has been nice. I’ve never been to Windenburg before.”

“I have family here,” I said. “We visit a lot. My aunt gave me lots of advice on where to go for a good time.”

“Really?” She grinned at me. “Where would she suggest we go after this?”

I’d been flirting, but she’d gone right for the jugular with that one.

“There’s a bar I wanted to try,” I said. “It’s a little out of the way. Are you interested?”

She smiled. “I could be adventurous tonight. I’m Madeline, by the way. Madeline Montgomery.”

“Donovan Dabney,” I said, and I held out a hand to her. She stifled a laugh and took it.

We stepped out of the warmth of the museum into the freezing cold outside. The storm Aunt Anastasia had warned me about was whipping up. Heavy flakes fell from the sky, and the wind was intense. I wished I’d brought my jacket. Willow Creek winters were cold, but this was something else.

“Still feeling adventurous?” I called over my shoulder as we walked to the cab.

Madeline grinned as she shielded her face to the wind. “You’re the one who’s going to freeze to death. I hope this bar is worth it.”

I hoped so too. It was on the other side of town, away from trendier spots, but Aunt Anastasia swore it was an institution. Hopefully enough to impress a pretty girl.

Once in the cab and safe from the wind, we sat only inches apart from each other, still not touching, but there was a vibe between us, an energy I couldn’t let go of. She talked more about her articles and asked me the sort of art I did. I showed her some of my pieces, and I couldn’t tell if she was pretending to be impressed or actually interested. I didn’t mind either way.

Once inside the Shrieking Llama, I went to the fireplace. Several other people were huddled inside from the cold. I wished again I’d brought my warm jacket. Winters in Willow Creek weren’t this cold. The windows had frosted over, but at least it was warm inside.

“Do you want some food?” I asked as we enjoyed the glow of the fire.

“A drink, maybe.” She looked to the bar. “I think we might be stuck here a while.”

“Sorry about that,” I said. “I didn’t think the storm would be so bad.”

She smiled. “I can’t blame you for the weather. At least we’re in good company.”

Food and drink were purchased. Something warm in my belly definitely helped with the cold. I couldn’t stop looking over at her. Madeline had a quiet to her, a reserved nature that made me want to ask more. Little things, like did she like the cold or what was her favorite food or how often she traveled, and big things, like how did she feel about four kids and a dog.

(That last one was a joke.)

(Kind of.)

One drink turned to two.

Which turned to more.

We hadn’t stopped talking the entire time. She asked about me, mostly, and I told her about my moms and my cousins and my uncle and aunt’s restaurant. When she laughed she put her hand to her mouth, like she was afraid of smiling too big, and as the night went on we were standing closer and closer together.

At some point I had her hands in mine, touching the smooth skin. They were freezing, and she laughed again when I told her that, but she didn’t pull away. I wanted to kiss her so badly. I leaned in.

“Um,” she said, removing her hands from mine. “It looks like the storm is clearing up.”

I let my arms drop, disappointed. I was definitely coming on strong. Maybe it had scared her.

“I have an early flight tomorrow,” she continued.

“Yeah, of course.” I stepped out of her way as she gave an apologetic smile. “I appreciated the company.”

“I did too.” She brushed her hair back and paused as if wanting to say something.

“I’m sorry.” She gave me a nervous look. “I don’t mean to–I don’t do this, usually. And it’s a work trip and I just–I want to do things right, you know? I don’t mean to leave you hanging.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “Really. This was fun. I liked talking to you.”

That seemed to make her more nervous. “You’re really sweet, Donovan. Maybe we could, um…”

I decided to save her. “If you want,” I said, “I can give you my number. We can talk some more later. No pressure.”

She looked relieved. “I’d like that, I think.”

I put it into her phone, and she smiled at me. To my surprise, she leaned over, giving me a kiss on the cheek. Simple, sweet.

“Goodnight, Donovan,” she said.

“Goodnight, Madeline,” I called after her, and she walked into the storm.

4.11 Last Date

A/N: Sorry for the long wait! Things have been a little crazy and I’ve been struggling a lot with writing lately. I’m annoyed I screenshotted these six months ago and I just want to get them out into the world. I’m going to try to keep consistent updates but thanks to the holidays I don’t know how feasible that is. Thanks for your patience and thanks for reading!


Have you ever met a person that seems, on paper, to be perfect for you? Your interests connect, you have a great time together, and you should be, for all intents and purposes, complete compatible, but nothing ever clicks.

Celia Pancakes and I have been dating for a month now, and I keep waiting for it to happen. And it deserves to happen. She’s genuinely sweet and thoughtful while being driven. Uncle Arjun hired her for the restaurant, and she’s so friendly to everyone, so we were chatting after her shift one day. She always says the funniest things about customers and knows way more than I ever will about cooking and running a kitchen.

Connor’s always making fun of me for treating every date like an episode of the Bachelor. “We’re young,” he says, “there’s lots of women out there. Why settle down now?”

And he’s probably right. Not every girl I kiss has to be The One. But if it’s not going anywhere, is it fair to her? Celia’s got an amazing life and she’s reaching for what she wants. Somehow, I don’t think that includes us.

So tonight, after a nice dinner, I walked her home, trying to figure out the nicest way to tell her this was our last date.

She waited on her doorstep, leaning forward with her little smile. Our conversation died, and we spent a tense moment to see if the other would move first. I let out a breath.

“I’ve been thinking,” I said, and I really wish I’d prepared something instead of letting those words tumble out of my mouth. “This last month has been fun.”

She nodded. I realized immediately I should’ve gone with blunt.

“But I don’t think we should keep dating,” I let out all at once. Her smile drooped.

“Oh,” she said. “I thought it was going good.”

“Sorry,” I murmured. “You’re one of the coolest people I know, but I don’t–don’t know if there’s anything real here.”

“Real, right.” She huffed, stepping back towards the door.

“It’s probably too cliche to say I think we should stay friends.”

“It wouldn’t be you if it wasn’t cliche,” she said. “I guess I’ll see you around.”

“Sure,” I said.

Without a goodbye, she closed the door behind her. My shoulders sagged as soon as she was out of sight. This was the least fun part of dating.

I walked back home, letting the late autumn chill cool me down. I could already hear my friends’ voices when I told them another relationship was down the drain. Connor would beg me to have some kind of wild bachelor’s weekend in San Myshuno. Rachel would roll her eyes and ask me why I even bother. I wondered if I should tell Uncle Aaron and Aunt June that I burned a bridge with their best chef.

Mama had the decency to be disappointed about it.

“I thought she’d be so good for you!” she said.

I offered a shrug. “I couldn’t see it going anywhere.”

Mom laughed. “Another one bites the dust. Have you considered giving yourself more than two weeks to fall in love with a girl?”

Mama gave her a slap on the arm. “I spent a lot of time searching for that lightning strike before I finally knew.”

“And maybe looking for it isn’t the best solution,” she said.

Mama gave me a smile. “You can trust your heart.”

“It doesn’t have to be true love,” I said, “but a real connection would be nice. I just figure when it happens, I’ll know.”

“Maybe,” she said. “But don’t forget to let it happen.”

I said goodnight to them as I headed upstairs. It’s been a bummer of a night, and I can’t help but think that maybe everyone’s right. Maybe I should give myself more of a chance. Maybe there are some things you have to work for. All I know is, I’ll definitely be avoiding the restaurant for the next few months.

4.10 Birthday

Mama and Leila asked me what I wanted to do for my eighteenth birthday, and I told them the truth. I wanted a party. One that all my friends were at. A real banger for the end of the year. Leila loved the idea, and Mama went for it pretty easily. I think the suggestion to have it in our backyard put her mind at ease.

It really is how I want to end my teenage years. Max and Connor are the best of bros, and Rachel’s still my best friend. I didn’t even mind Leila and Mama hanging around (especially when Mama’s on the grill). These are the people I care about, ushering me into my next stage of life.

I’m not even nervous about what’s next. I’ll be living at home as long as I can (I’m not guaranteed a lot of money if I stick to this whole artist thing), but Mama and Leila have always been good about giving me my own space. Mama’s even talking about converting one of the rooms into a studio. I signed up for a bunch of art classes and applied for some jobs that may open some doors for me. School’s out for the summer, and everyone will be going their separate ways, but I know I’ll still see them.

I’m not worried one bit about what’s coming.

There was lots of laughing and a lot of dancing at my party, which is always great. Mama handmade ice cream too, which feels a little kiddy, but I can’t stop her from having fun. Everyone told me their plans for the next few years, and there’s some people here I’m seriously going to miss. Rachel at least isn’t going anywhere.

“It’s so ridiculous to spend so much money on rent and food when we’re just starting out,” she was saying as the party died down. “Besides, it’s not like my internship pays.”

She’d picked up a job with a non-profit. Mostly doing legwork, she admitted, but it was a start.

“I’m excited you’re sticking around,” I told her. “It’ll make Willow Creek way less boring.”

She smiled. “You applied at that place they’re building in Newcrest, right? That’s about as exciting as it gets.”

We chatted a while longer, the evening air making everything cooler. Everyone else was gone, and Mama was cleaning up the last of the food, while Leila relaxed in the hot tub a little while longer. I walked Rachel to the door. She lingered a minute on our front lawn. There was something on her mind. I’m so used to her blurting it out, I was surprised she didn’t.

“I hope whatever happens next…” she said and paused a moment before shaking her head. “I hope it’s really awesome for you. And me, but I know that it’s going to be a struggle. I’m gonna be here for you. No matter what.”

I laughed. “I’m taking art classes, not joining the military.”

“You know what I mean. You’re one of the best people I know. I’m excited to see you succeed.”

“Thanks,” I said. “And you know I could talk to Aunt May if charity work is what you’re all about.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Seems kind of backwards to go into social justice on the back of nepotism.”

I shrugged. “I know she’d pay you at least.”

She rolled her eyes and said goodbye. Whatever happens next, I was ready for.


A/N: That’s it for Donovan’s teen years. Short and sweet, I know, but I wanted to push him into adulthood quickly. I am taking a short break before getting back to these. The past few months have been kind of a struggle for me, and writing’s been really difficult, so I’m going to give myself some time before posting any new chapters. I don’t want to wait too long though (we haven’t even introduced Seasons into this legacy yet!) so keep an eye out. If you’re looking to be entertained while I’m gone, I have been keeping up with my Let’s Play channel I’ve been experimenting with. Give it a go.

Thank you all for your page views, your likes, and your patience. You’ll see Donovan again soon, I promise.

4.9 Babysitting

This is why I hate going to Dad’s for the weekend. I was barely in the door when they were already asking me to babysit Brad.

Stacy’s so sweet about it too. Especially since he’s been getting in trouble at school, she told me she really wanted more good influences for him, and apparently he should see me as a mentor or something.

I don’t buy it. I’d rather they say “we need a break from our hell child” but I guess then they’d have to admit they had a problem with Brad. I don’t know how literally two of the nicest people I’ve ever met managed to spawn this devil boy, but I can only pray my kids aren’t cursed the same.

Anyway, I have to drag Brad with me to the museum, which is the only place in Willow Creek with artist workshops. Mama says I should start closer to home before I run out to achieve my San Myshuno dreams. It’s not like I’m racing to live there. Uncle Aaron and Aunt Theresa talk about living there all the time, and they never say too much, but they make me appreciate all that free rent at home.

Brad complained the whole way there and threatened to make a break for it several times. His usual good mood was sure to last.

He jabbed at me when I told him I was heading upstairs to check out the workshop. I’m bigger than him. I should be able to put him in his place. He’s picked on me ever since we were both kids, and I can’t help but flinch in reflex.

“You’re such a dork,” Brad jeered as he shoved me. “You’re gonna be late for your finger painting class.”

I put my hand on his head, pushing him back. “Shut up, Brad. Why don’t you try to learn something today.”

He opened his mouth for a retort and snapped it shut as a familiar face jogged up the block to us. Max called out a hi and gave a wave. Relief. Brad acts up a lot less around my friends.

“Hey man,” Max said. “Why am I unsurprised to see you here on a Saturday?”

“You know me,” I said. “Totally predictable.”

“Rachel said you were checking out the art classes here.” He nodded towards the entrance. “I’ve done a few. They’re mostly boring, but there’s a few good ones.”

“No way.” None of my friends showed much of an interest in art. Knowing Max, he was probably chasing after some girl. “I’m heading up there now.”

“Cool,” he said. “I’ll join you.”

“Whatever,” Brad mumbled. “I’m gonna go look at whatever.”

I waved a hand at him as he stormed off. An itching feeling told me leaving him alone too long was a bad idea, but it probably wouldn’t take that long to get registered, right?

We headed up the stairs to the second floor. The expansion of the museum allowed for classrooms upstairs. Mama said it was a million times more fancy than it was in her day.

“The girls who take art classes are super cute,” Max was saying as we walked around the studio.

I grinned. “That’s not the only reason people take art classes.”

He shrugged. “I’m just saying, keep your options open.”

I gave him a shove. The space actually is pretty awesome. They have benches for wood working and sculpting, a kid’s art studio, and the easels set up around way more interesting objects than just fruit and bowls. I got the paper to register for classes and snagged a calendar.

“This is way better than I was expecting,” I said.

Max laughed. “Better than San Myshuno?”

“No.” I glanced around. Sort of. I’ve never seriously thought about moving away from Willow Creek, even with my birthday creeping closer. The thought of leaving home–leaving somewhere safe, especially when I want to do something like paint–made my chest feel tight.

We chatted a while longer, Max filling me in on his post-high school plans (he’s excited to leave Willow Creek) and his latest dates. I waved goodbye to him as he headed out, turned in my form, and wandered around the museum for a minute, getting a glimpse of anything new. Something nagged at me though.

I had no idea where Brad was.

The little monster couldn’t have gone far. But I couldn’t trust him to stay in the museum. Dad and Stacy were going to kill me for sure if I didn’t find him. They probably couldn’t make another deal with the devil for another one. I walked around the museum, but there was no sign of him.

The neighborhood around the museum had playgrounds and benches and eating areas. He’d probably wandered off, I told myself, to torture some other kids. When I didn’t see him immediately on the street, I started walking faster to the waterfront.

There he was. Hanging out in the dirt like a delinquent. A chilling vision of his teenaged years.

“Hey!” I shouted as I found him. “Why did you run off?”

He laughed at me. “You left me there. Mom and Dad would be so mad if they knew.”

I grit my teeth. Great. Blackmailed by my half-brother. “All you had to do was sit inside while I filled out one form. You’re not a baby.”

His brow furrowed. I know angry Brad when he’s about to pop off, but I can’t stop myself.

“Seriously,” I said. “They’re always going to ask someone to hold your hand if you keep doing stuff like this, and the fighting. You’re such a little kid.”

His expression didn’t change for a second. He stared me down.

“I may be a little kid,” he said, “but you’re the screw up. You lost me. You ditched me to hang out with your friend. Mom and Dad won’t want to hear that.”

I grit my teeth. Absolute monster. “You’re already in trouble with them.”

He rolled his eyes. “They love me. They don’t care. You’re only half their kid.”

Brad is nine years old and I have a hundred pounds on him, but I could seriously deck him sometime. Who says that? It’d be so easy to pick him up and shake him too, but he’s right about one thing. He’s younger, which puts the onus on me.

“We’re going back right now,” I grumbled and waited for him to start walking.

This is the last time I’m babysitting Brad.

4.8 Reunion

My whole family’s favorite time of year is the Spice Festival, and I don’t blame them. For Aunt Theresa and Uncle Aaron, it’s all about the food. They brag about the spice challenge and the years they lived here, and the triplets eat this kind of cooking every night so they don’t care. Mama always talks about Granddad and how much time they spent there together. Aunt May and Aunt June spend the whole time bragging about everything they did in San Myshuno together. Mama’s cousins come too, and all the kiddos.

It’s one of the few times everyone seems to get along. Mama and Aunt Theresa are friends, but I can tell when Aunt May and Aunt June are getting on her nerves, and she practically sets a timer when talking to Uncle Aaron before she has to take a break. But there’s so much happening here that no one has time to get upset.

And I usually have to babysit all the cousins, but we’re all getting older. Andrea, Allen, and Kelsi stick to the basketball court and the festivities. So this year I got to explore a little bit on my own.

Mama didn’t seem worried about me exploring San Myshuno without her. She says it’s basically a rite of passage in this family.

The streets were weirdly empty thanks to the festival going on. Everyone was in the Spice District, so the further I got away from it the quieter it was. Everything was decked out with painted on murals or stickered on posters. I managed to peel a few off and folded them up. Collectors items of my time here.

I found myself in a completely different part of the city. A great steel building was lit up, its windows revealing the easels and instruments inside. Everything in San Myshuno is open 24/7 in stark contrast to the “closes at 9” lifestyle in Willow Creek.

People travel great distances in religious observance, to pay their respects to famous graves, or to stand in places a thousand people have stood before, and for the first time I understood why. The art in San Myshuno is so different than the Regency era artifacts in Willow Creek’s museum. It’s fresh and raw and bold.

The colors and constructs are meant to draw the eye in a busy place. The contrast, the use of abstract shapes, the simplifying of a complex life into a few simple strokes.

It’s like coming home.

The classrooms were still open, and I couldn’t help myself. I wandered into the painting room and found a still life set up waiting for me. It didn’t feel like the empty, window-less classroom at school. Seeing it here breathed life into it.

I couldn’t help myself. The easels and canvas were there, the paints laid out. I felt inspired in a way I hadn’t before. I’ve sketched a ton, and I liked painting whenever we got to in school, but this was the first time a canvas felt filled with purpose. I had to complete it.

The painting was simple shapes, an exploration of light and color. It wouldn’t ever hang in the MOMA, but I was satisfied with it. I wanted to keep going, but I knew Mama would miss me soon. I took the canvas back with me.

We made it back home without any trouble. Mama was still in a good mood, and I could tell Leila was partied out. She kissed Mama goodnight and went to shower. Mama pointed to the canvas I’d carried home with me.

“You went to the Arts District?” she asked.

I nodded. “Can we go back sometime? During the day? It was really cool there.”

“I think they’re building some kind of arts center in Newcrest,” she said. “We could probably get you lessons there.”

“That’d be cool.” It didn’t have the same ring as ‘trained in San Myshuno’, but I’m willing to start small.

Mama smiled at me the way she always does whenever I’m saying something she likes. “When I was your age,” she started, and I could’ve mouthed along with her.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “I still don’t know what I’m doing, but you’re seventeen and you have it figured out.”

I rolled my eyes. “I don’t have it ‘figured out’, Mama. But I like painting. I want to keep doing it.”

The hug was predictable too. Pretty much anything I say about my future makes her teary-eyed.

“You’re gonna be great, baby,” she said. “And we’ll get you anything you need.”

I said goodnight and headed up to my room, still holding the canvas proudly. The posters too I unfolded and gently pressed against the wall, arranging them carefully in my room.

I examined my handiwork and nodded in approval. It wasn’t quite the Casbah, but I could make it work.

4.7 House Party

Mama gave me this big speech before we went to the party tonight. She warned me that drinking too much could lead to bad decision making, and I should make sure there’s someone I trust at the party, and that if anything happened I should call her, no matter what, because the last thing she wants is for someone to get hurt because I was afraid I’d be grounded.

Typical mom stuff, I guess. Leila always says, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” And then she laughs at her own bad joke before Mama tells me not to listen to her.

Mama thinks we’re all in some teen drama, and one of us is going to get pregnant or OD, but Betsy’s house is about two blocks from mine, and it’s all kids I know. And, sorry, my whole family has “the fertility curse”, as Aunt Anastasia puts it. Mama says there’s not a generation of Dabneys without an accidental pregnancy, so I keep my bits to myself, if I can help it.

Connor makes fun of me for that too. He found me grabbing a drink.

“You come here with your totally hot girlfriend,” he said, “who you’re totally ignoring, by the way.”

I rolled my eyes. “She’s playing hostess at the front door.”

Betsy was greeting everyone. If I was the jealous type, I might’ve asked her for a dance, but it’s her party.

“You’re such a square, man,” Connor said. “She’s Betsy Caliente, and you’re letting her play Mary Pleasant.”

“I’ll see her later,” I said, confident. Every time Betsy and I went on a date, she was pretty hands-on. Like I said, I try.

“Hey!” Rachel called as she came in the room. “What are you nerds up to?”

I grinned at her as Connor rolled his eyes.

“We’re at the same party,” he said.

“And you’re hanging out by the punch bowl like you’re afraid girls have cooties.” She gave him a shove. “I saw Molly looking sad by herself. Go ask her to dance.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “You really mean that or are you trying to get some alone time with my boy here?”

“Go,” she insisted and shoved him out the door. “You’ll thank me later.”

“You’re so sure of that,” I said with a laugh.

She waved a hand. “He’ll cuddle up to someone. There is something I wanted to ask you.”

Rachel tugged on my arm and we found a more private corner of the house. People were walking in and out of every room, and she turned her back to the party. A serious look straightened her smile.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Have you seen Betsy since you got here?” she asked. “Like, at all?”

I let out a breath. We’d dropped the whole Betsy thing since our failed movie night. I should’ve known it’d come up tonight.

“Look–” I started but she cut me off.

“Five minutes ago,” she said, “I was dancing in the other room. Octavio was there, and I heard them talking–”

“Rachel,” I tried to interject, but she was rolling down her hate hill.

“She was totally flirting with him,” she said, “and then they disappeared into the hallway. I knew she was using you–”

“Rachel,” I said. “Thanks for looking out, but you don’t have to.”

She let out a huff, her shoulders dropping. Her teeth scraped the bottom of her lip, and finally she said, “You deserve better.”

I put a hand on her shoulder. “Seriously.”

I didn’t say anything else to her as I walked away. In the living room I saw Connor leaning against the wall as he and Molly chatted. Several kids were filling up the empty space as the stereo jammed out hits. The front of the house was packed with people, but not Betsy.

I didn’t want to believe Rachel. She always sniped at girls we talked about, and I’d taken it for her usual annoyance. It didn’t stop paranoia from rising up in my throat, especially as I turned the corner down the back hallway. A giggle elicited from the closet, and my heart dropped into my gut.

The medley of emotions that bubbled up inside me were impossible to decipher in the moment. Hurt and anguish, sure. Anger’s never been an emotion that came easily to me, but I felt that spiteful broil I’m only used to in conversations with Brad. Behind the betrayal and heartbreak, though, was annoyance. Of course Rachel had to be proven right.

Betsy and Octavio didn’t seem to notice me at first. Still dizzy from whatever encounter they’d shared in the hallway closet, they clung to each other. As soon as Betsy saw me frozen there, she pulled away, adopting that easy smile I’d fantasized about more than once.

“Seriously?” was the only word I was able to manage.

Octavio had the decency to look nervous and turn away. Betsy shook her head.

“It’s not like that,” she said. “We broke up weeks ago. I told him I was with you.”

“Inside of the closet?” I pointed to the offending spot.

She placed a hand on my arm. “Let’s talk about in private. Come upstairs and we can–”

“Seriously?!” a shrill voice interrupted, and Betsy gave a startled look to Rachel as she stormed into the hall.

“I can’t believe you think you can sweet talk your way out of this one!” Rachel was in full rage mode, and I knew better than to get in her way. “You’re a real monster, you know? You have one perfectly good boy but that’s not enough for you.”

“Excuse me?” Betsy reeled back in defense, arms out, shoulders up. “Who even invited you to this party?”

“You don’t even have a defense for yourself.” Rachel waved a hand at her. “After we leave you won’t even feel bad.”

“Um, you don’t know a thing about me,” Betsy snapped. “And maybe I feel bad but I’m not going to feel worse by having some rando yell at me. Why don’t you head back home and bleach your roots?”

“Are you kidding me?!” Other kids from the party were peeking in at the sound of Rachel’s shouts. “I’m not the one pretending to be Malibu Barbie!”

“How about,” Betsy said, “instead of bothering me about my dating life, you bother to have one.”

Rachel reeled back, and I grabbed her arm before she did any lasting damage. With only a look to Betsy, I dragged her through the house and out of the party. She was breathing deep and swearing as we stood on the front porch, and I released her, marching away. It was too early to go home without explaining to my moms what happened. The neighborhood fell behind me as I headed towards the park, and Rachel raced to catch up.

She didn’t stop ranting and raving. I let out a breath as we came to the park and I collapsed onto the first bench I found.

“Ugh!” Rachel shouted as she sat down next to me. “I knew she was a total skankarella! She did the same thing last year with Oscar Harris and it’s like everyone forgot. Does she have immunity because she’s tall and skinny? And where does she get off saying I bleach my hair? Like her roots aren’t showing?”

Years of Rachel being my friend has made me used to her rants. Her neighbor’s dog left a mess on their lawn, or her English teacher failed her test, or the girl who sat behind her in Biology did whatever it was that ruined her life every third period. Normally I weathered her tirade with an amused smile and the understanding only a best friend could have, but tonight I couldn’t manage.

“Hey, Rachel,” I said. “Can you shut up for a minute?”

Her eyebrows arched, but her mouth clamped shut. I breathed in the night air. It wasn’t even eleven. Mama might be more worried if I came home early, and Leila would have all kinds of advice I don’t want to listen to.

Next to me, Rachel shifted, dropping her head back. She was fidgeting. Silence was never her strong suit.

“It’s not like she was your soul mate,” she let out in one big breath. “You talked about art. Big deal. I can buy an art book.”

The edges of my lip tugged up. “Last time we went to a museum together you asked if it was still art if you drew bras on all the ladies.”

She sniffed. “You told me that was a fair art criticism.”

“And when we saw the Rothko you raged for fifteen minutes about how all art is meaningless.”

She snorted at that. “I guess Betsy Caliente loved a Rothko.”

The smile dropped. Silence reigned again.

My head scratched with thoughts. It felt stupid now, storming out of that party, except to keep Rachel from straight punching Betsy in the face. Connor probably didn’t even see us leave, and he’d ask a hundred questions as soon as he noticed. Who knows what everyone would say Monday at school? At least Rachel made a big enough scene that I wouldn’t be the topic.

“She’s not worth your time anyway,” Rachel said, shaking me from my thoughts.

I let out a breath. “Yeah. I’m sorry I blew you off.”

“It doesn’t matter now,” she said, offering a smile. “You also act like every girl in our grade isn’t dying to go out with you. You don’t need to be picky.”

“Who’s picky?” I asked. “You told me every boy in our class is a Neanderthal.”

“And I stand by it!” she said. “But you’re alright.”

“Thanks, Rachel,” I said, sitting back. My gaze went to the stars. I wished I had my sketchbook. “You’re alright too.”

We settled into silence, staring up. Despite everything, I felt calm. I’d been annoyed at the time, but now I’m grateful Rachel had my back tonight. She’ll always be there when I need her. Tonight sucked, but at least I had her.

4.6 Family Dinner

I looked over at Leila, who was already downing her second drink.

I could hear Mama in the kitchen, stirring the big pot as the rich scent of the vegan chili filled the whole house. In a little notebook, tucked into one of the drawers, all of Granddad’s recipes were written down. She always pulled it out when putting together one of these dinners, or when we did the big family reunion last month.

It kept me down here, even though I wanted to bolt upstairs and hide. Mom clearly felt the same. I smiled a little as she finished her drink, giving me a look. The only person who hated these family dinners more than me was her.

That’s not true. I love meeting up with my aunts and uncles. We have dinner in Aunt June and Uncle Aaron’s restaurant practically every week, and Aunt May always invites us to the events her non-profit works on. Those family gatherings are fun. Uncle Aaron tells me stories of living in San Myshuno, and Aunt June always lets me have a little bit of wine, telling me facts about where it was made and how it tastes “in case I need to impress anyone”, she always says with a wink. And visiting my mom’s cousins in Brindleton Bay and Windenburg are always great.

But tonight, we’re not hanging out at some old mansion, or sharing the best recipes for homemade curry, and Mama definitely doesn’t let me sneak any alcohol. Which is a real shame. It would probably help.

Leila got up to make herself another as Mama came into the dining room. She took a seat next to me, giving both of us a smile.

“You should go get changed,” she said.

“It’s just Dad and Stacy,” I said. “I could wear my pjs and they wouldn’t care.”

She picked at the sleeve of my sweater. “You haven’t washed this in a week, Donovan. They won’t be able to smell the chili over you.”

Leila gave a snort as she poured the vodka into her glass. Mama raised an eyebrow at her.

“You too, babe,” she said.

“Aw.” Leila picked up a straw to mix with. “But I always look good.”

“And you’d look better in your nice clothes.” Mama patted my back. “Why do you two always get so worked up over dinner with your dad?”

Leila lifted the glass to her lips. “Child of divorce, you know.”

Mama rolled her eyes. Leila uses that all the time, to get out of dinner with Aunt May or to avoid doing the dishes. I only raised my hands and headed upstairs to put on a clean shirt.

I don’t tell Mama that having everyone together stresses me out more than I can say. In all honesty, Mama and Dad are two separate parts of my life. There’s obvious crossover, but when I live with Mama, I’m an only child with lots of cousins, who has time for school and friends. At Dad’s, I’m Brad’s big brother, trapped in that house because Dad works and so does Stacy and someone’s got to watch him, with only Rachel as my lifeline, and even she’s doing extracurriculars this year.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier if, like Leila’s parents, Mama and Dad hated each other. If they’d broke up in some big, messy fight. If they didn’t try so hard to make us feel like one big family. There’s not enough separation here. And I’m desperate for it.

And there’s moments where it’s okay. Leila doesn’t put her foot in her mouth. Mama and Dad are laughing about some grown up thing. Stacy shares a story from the vet clinic that we can all awww over. It’d be okay, except for one thing.

“This isn’t real food!” Brad shouted suddenly from the top of the table. I wince, expecting one of his tantrums to follow. “These are just vegetables!”

I saw Leila’s brow furrow beside me, but Mama never lost her smile. Dad places a hand on Brad.

“You’ve had April’s cooking before,” he said calmly. He never raises his voice to Brad. Both he and Stacy take his outbursts in stride. “She cooks vegetarian, remember?”

He threw his spoon down. “Why can’t they eat like regular people? They’re freaks.”

Leila didn’t give anyone a chance to react. “Big words from you, mono-brow.”

I quickly tried to hide my smile. Mama gave Leila a sharp look, and Dad’s face got that pinched expression he always pulls when we argue. Brad blinked in surprise. No one ever talks back to him.

“Um,” Leila said, realizing she snapped at an eleven-year-old. “Sorry, Ernie. You get called a freak enough in your life, it’s just instinct.”

He still looks miffed, and I guess I would be too if an adult hurled insults at my kid, but he’s Brad. He doesn’t look upset anymore. In fact, I can see the grin on his face.

“We’re trying to reward good behavior more than punish bad,” Stacy said, and she looked completely unfazed by Leila’s insult.

She took the lifeline. “Does that… work?”

I glanced at Brad. He’d have to do something good, which seems like a statistical improbability.

As people clean off their bowls, I picked them up. Mama and Stacy talked about how helpful I always am, and I don’t know how to tell them I’m trying to be as far from this conversation as possible. Everyone’s apologized, but I could tell Dad was going to have a talk with Brad later, and Stacy was still trying to smooth things over. Mama and Leila, too, would probably have one of their quiet conversations behind closed doors that definitely aren’t something I should be concerned about.

I was happy for the reprieve of the kitchen. I could hear their voices far off as they moved to the living room. I wished I could stay there. It’d be so much easier. Maybe if I snuck up to my room, they’d never know.

I don’t know what it is. Apart, we function fine. Even Brad and I mostly leave each other alone at Dad’s, probably because there’s easier kids to pick on at the playground. Stacy dotes on both of us, and Dad’s always friendly and warm, even when Brad does something bad. Mama and Leila live this super relaxed lifestyle, and they’re always encouraging and sweet. And then we all get in a room together, and it’s just tension. Wrong words said. Flubbing over things that should be easy.

One more year, I tell myself. I’ll be eighteen. This whole charade can end when they aren’t doing it for my benefit anymore. That’s what I hope, at least.

4.5 Movie Night

Mama and Leila always have people over on the weekends. Their old people club usually relaxes out in the yard. Leila says they don’t want to cramp my style.

Like I have any style. Most weekends are spent at Connor’s house or in the park with all my friends. Tonight I invited Rachel over to watch some old movie I’ve been meaning to see.

She hated it, I could tell. Twenty minutes in, we were talking about what happened in the lunchroom last Thursday, and the lame pep rally for the basketball team, and our plans for the summer. As usual, our conversation turned to the only interesting thing on our calendar.

“The party’s supposed to be wild,” Rachel said. “Those big fancy houses usually pull out all the stops.”

“It’ll be good,” I said. “I’ve never been to Betsy’s place before.”

“How’d you get an invite to a Caliente party anyway?” she asked.

I smiled. Besides the one class we shared, I don’t see Betsy much at school. I texted Conner pretty much immediately after our first date, but Rachel hates talking dating with us. If I even mention a girl is cute, she gets on me about “locker room talk”, so I didn’t mention anything to her. I don’t want to brag. But I also want to brag.

“We went on a date,” I said.

Her jaw tightened up, her brow furrowed, her voice was flat. “You what?”

“We met up over spring break.” I was getting warm remembering. “At the museum. We started talking. She’s really into modern art.”

I should’ve remembered there’s a reason I don’t talk about other girls with Rachel. She always finds a reason to get mad, but I really like Betsy. I can’t really find another person to chat about modernists with, much less a really hot girl in my grade. So maybe I went on a little long. I probably deserved it when Rachel snapped at me in the middle of my recounting of our pool party date.

“She dragged you to the pool?” Her face was pinched in a frown. “That’s kind of a skank move.”

“Rachel–” I started to interject, but she was already off on her own tangent.

“I can’t believe you don’t see what she’s doing,” she said. “Octavio broke up with her like three weeks ago, and now she’s rebounding with the first guy she meets? You think it’s cool that she’s using you like that?”

“She’s not using me,” I said. “Betsy and I click. I like her.”

“She’s trying to get back at him, obviously. Why else would your first date be at the pool?”

“Why do you assume the worst about her?” I asked.

“Because she’s the worst!” Rachel threw up her arms. “You don’t remember when Rhonda Sinclair stole her eighth grade boyfriend and she hid all her clothes after gym class?”

“No,” I muttered.

“Because you’re such a boy about these things.” She let out a sigh. “Betsy is revenge driven. And she’s only dating you to get back at Octavio.”

“I like Betsy,” I said. “I don’t know what else you want me to do about it.”

“Why don’t you trust me?” she asked.

“Because Betsy hasn’t done anything.”

“To you.” She sat back, her eyes returning to the movie. “Whatever. I hope I’m wrong.”

I tried to think of anything else to say to her, but I knew it’d only make her madder. We both lapsed into silence.

I don’t think either of us were really watching anymore.