Interlude: The Date

Alice sat down across from Ali, glancing nervously around the bar. This was the first place they’d met. At the time, he’d only been the bartender, and she’d been chatting with Zoe the whole time, but it was meeting number one. Number two had been the chance meeting outside her tent where he’d been fishing. Number three had been their first date. At that point it was starting to feel like destiny.

Maybe that was her problem. She’d always believed too much in fate and fantasy. It’d led her to a large empty plot of land with nothing but a tent, and it’d made her a happy family, a tidy house, and a husband she loved.

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“It’s been a long time since we’ve sat down like this,” she said.

He smiled. “Better than a phone call.”

Alice’s smile turned into a grimace for a moment. Quentin thought she refused to talk to Ali, that she was being purposefully withholding, but they chatted weekly, sometimes more. Her work was taking up more of her time as she climbed the ladder, and raising three kids, even kids who were practically done being raised, stress had become a regular part of her life. A call to Ali calmed her.

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“It’ll be great once the new job goes through,” he said.

She nodded. “I’m really proud of you.”

“Lacey’s going crazy, I think. Jarred’s about to graduate, and it’ll just be her and Kayla in that big house.”

“Quentin’s about to graduate too.” She let out a sigh. “I’m worried about him.”

“He’s just reacting,” Ali said. “I try to talk to him about it.”

“He’ll get there.”

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“It means a lot,” Alice said, “all the work you’ve put in.”

“It’s a bad habit of mine, falling back on old vices.” He put his head in his hands. “Lacey helped me whip back into shape the last time, but last time I didn’t also have kids waiting on me.”

“You’ve done more than enough to prove yourself.” She reached a hand across the table.

He squeezed her hand back. “It’ll be the last step.”

They smiled at each other, and Alice felt like she was twenty-three again, gazing up at a handsome man who took her dreams and promised to make them real.

“Do you want to take a walk?” she asked.

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There was a lakebed across the way from the bar, and they stood by the fishing spot. Alice looked over the clear waters and breathed in. She hadn’t gone properly fishing in years.

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“Alice,” Ali said, “I know I’ve said this a hundred times, but I am sorry. I screwed everything up.”

She looked at him, the man she’d married on impulse, who’d raised her children, who’d built her house, who’d cared for her for nearly twenty years.

“You didn’t,” she said. “You couldn’t. We have three perfect kids in a beautiful house we built together. There’s nothing you could’ve done to make that any less than it is.”

“But us…”

“I don’t know how understanding I’ve been.” She sighed. “Sometimes I wish I’d reacted differently. Sometimes I wish I’d let you stay.”

“You were right,” he said. “I was putting our family in danger.”

“But this wasn’t the only solution.”

“But it’s worked.”

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She moved closer to him, taking his hands. “You’ve done everything you can. I want you back home. I miss you. Quentin misses you, so do Mira and Lance. I want my husband back.”

He breathed out. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear that. I love you.”

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She embraced him. “I love you too.”

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A/N: I was originally going to give myself a break once I reached the end of the YA years, but summer started, I did a little bit of traveling, and I’m focusing on a few other projects at the moment, so I’m actually going to take a break here. Summer’s the wildest time for me, and I’m already dead tired at the time of writing this. I may continue updating with small stories in between, and if you want to check out my other writing, my 1950s monster mash will start updating again at my writing blog as of June 14, and I have a few small concept stuff I want to post there as well. If you haven’t read my other Sim blog, The Accidental Vampire, I’ve just gone on hiatus for that as well, though there are currently sixteen chapters to read through. I’ve taken a break from a large number of projects, including my old west horror serial, and my R.L. Stine’s Fear Street recap blog (though this one I should be posting again soon), but all of them have lots of archives to read through if you really love my writing. I don’t have an exact date I’d like to start posting again, but it’s fair to say end of July or beginning of August is probably the earliest I would get back to it. Thank you to everyone who reads this, comments, or likes. It means a lot to me, and I’ve been finding so many amazing stories through you guys. I’ll try not to disappear completely in the next few months, so keep an eye out!

2.14 Like a Family Again

It’s weirdly normal to have dad back in the house.

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He’s been helping Lance with school. He’s been talking to Mira about fighting with the other kids. We watch TV together.

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Aunt Lacey’s been visiting again, not just Jarred. You’d think there’d be an adjustment period, especially for the brats. Mira and Lacey barely reacted to dad showing up, and just like that he slid back into their lives. You’d think he never really left.

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Everything’s starting to feel normal again.

2.13 The Spice Festival (Revisited)

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To celebrate our family being back together, mom and dad took us to the Spice Festival in San Myshuno. Mira and Lance haven’t been here since they were way younger, and it’s probably a treat for them. I’ll admit, I’m still a little torn on this whole legacy business, and San Myshuno makes it way harder to choose.

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Mom of course ran into Aunt Zoe while there, and they chatted for hours. They’re both still trying to get me to babysit for them, like I don’t have other stuff going on.

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I saw dad scarfing down some curry, and Mira too. I was sort of excited to try some more recipes, but really I wanted to show off.

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The curry challenge is supposed to be majorly hot, but I couldn’t resist. Besides, mom and dad have dragged me here since I was a baby. I thought I could handle it.

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I took a selfie so Brianna would know how cool I was.

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And I was totally right! I got an awesome shirt out of it, and I went around showing it off to everyone. Aunt Zoe thought it was the funniest thing.

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I saw mom and dad getting flirty by the sample table. It’s so gross. They act like they’re dating for the first time again.

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But I guess they earned it or whatever.

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All Mira and Lance wanted to do was play basketball, so while the festival was winding down I went to hang out with them. They seem to be doing okay with having dad around again. These little brats bounce back from anything. I shot some hoops with them until it was time to go home. It felt good. Like the old days.

2.12 Reunion

It’s really hard to put into words exactly what happened today. I mean, I can say it, but I don’t know how to express it.

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Me and Mira and Lance get home from school expecting it to be a normal day, normal homework, normal everything, but it’s not. Guess who’s standing in the living room.

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I see dad like every day, but it’s so much different seeing him here, in the house, like he belongs in it. Mom’s next to him all smiling, and they announce together that dad’s coming home. For good. He’s staying. Moving out of Aunt Lacey’s and moving back in with us.

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I’m such a big baby. I run straight for him, but not before mom and shared this look. Maybe we’re both sorry for all the stuff we said to each other, and how we reacted to everything. It’s not mom’s fault, not really. But I missed my dad. I missed him so much.

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It feels really good to have him back.

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Mira and Lance were a little more nervous about the whole thing. They see dad on the weekends and after school, and I think it was easier for them not to think about him. But dad reached down and hugged Lance, and mom got them excited about having dad around again. Mira immediately started asking a hundred questions, and I had some too. Why now? What happened? What did they work out? After all these years, why’d she change her mind?

I guess it doesn’t matter much now.

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I can just be satisfied with having a family again.

2.11 The Talk (Part Two)

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I hadn’t seen dad in a while, so we went to some coffee shop in Windenburg. I should’ve known, driving that far out, that he had an agenda.

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He got this kind of dreamy look while we were waiting on our coffee, and he told me this was the first place he took mom on a date. Figures. I guess it’s my fault. I’m always the one to push the mom stuff.

I expected the usual. Stop getting into so much trouble, stop getting into arguments with mom, keep up my grades, good work on the whole girlfriend business. What I wasn’t expecting was his bringing up the legacy stuff. I sort of figured it wasn’t his bag anymore. He didn’t have to worry about it.

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“Your mom said you weren’t excited about it,” he said.

I shrugged. “I don’t have to be, do I?”

“No, you don’t.” He chewed on his lip. “Mira and Lance are too young to start talking to them about it.”

“It’s not that I want to leave,” I said. “I just don’t know why it’s all gotta fall on me.”

“It doesn’t,” he said. “Your mom and I will be around for as long as we are, and you always have your siblings. Wright knows how much I rely on Lacey.”

I smiled at that. Aunt Lacey was probably the coolest aunt a person could have. “But she still treats it like I’m inheriting something.”

“Well, you are.” He sighed. “Your mom started with nothing at all, you know? She literally built the house from the ground up. She owns the land. She wants to know that it’ll go to good hands.”

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“Yeah, I know.” I did know. It wasn’t like a secret how much work mom’s put into the house. How much she’s always wanted a family. How she literally started with a tent and a grill and kept building until she had what she wanted. Like, I get it. I get it 100%. She wants her eldest kid to pick up everything she worked on and keep building. And the real thing was, I didn’t want to leave the house. I liked the idea of building on it. But it’d have to fit into her design and her plan and all the things she wanted. How fair is that?

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“Look,” dad said, “it’s a lot to think about and a lot to take in. But just start thinking about what you want. What changes you want to make. If you’re so worried about your mom controlling your life, just ignore what you think she wants. Focus on you.”

“Yeah.” I sucked in a breath. “Maybe.”

We drank our coffee and ate some scones. I filled him in on my life and what was going on with Mira and Lance. It felt good talking to dad about all this stuff. Like maybe he understood.

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He dropped me off at home, and that good feeling started to disappear immediately. I went straight to my room, exhausted again.

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I’ve got a lot to think about.

2.10 Picked On

I have no idea what’s going on with the littles. Mira got called into the principal’s office the other day for fighting some kid, which is way worse than anything I ever did. Mom grounded her and then went to have one of her little chats while she was in her room, but i started to figure out what the real problem was.

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Lance seems pretty normal 90% of the time, but I get the impression he isn’t doing so hot in school. It’s not homework, either. The kid’s pretty smart, and super talented on the violin. He pretty much puts the rest of us to shame. But some days he comes home, and he tries to hide it, but it’s pretty clear that he can’t.

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The sad, droopy face, the sagging shoulders. Lance is my little bro, and the thought that some jerks at school are picking on him would probably get me into a fight as well. He doesn’t say a word–Mira doesn’t either–so I don’t know what in particular sets them off. I wish he’d talk to me.

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When I tried to say something, he told me he was fine. The kid at least needs to learn to lie. Since he won’t tell me what’s going on, I’m doing the only thing I can do.

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Being a big brother.

2.9 The Romance Festival

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It took a little bit of doing, but we’re here. After a few weeks of saving money, begging my mom, and taking extra shifts so I can get the time off, Brianna and I went to San Myshuno.

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Brianna couldn’t have been more excited. She’s been dying to go to San Myshuno for as long as she’s known about it, and I’m not an expert, but my parents have been taking me since I was a kid. I thought I could impress her a little bit. The Romance Festival happened at night, but I brought her to the Spice Market first to show her some of the cooler parts of the city.

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We got some food from some of the stands that were out there. I always pick the spicy stuff, and Brianna was making fun of me for torturing my tastebuds.

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Maybe I tried a little too hard to impress her.

There was a karaoke place open down the street, and she dragged me inside. Apparently Brianna’s all about singing badly in a public place, and she picked the worst song in the world, but I had so much fun watching her up there.

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She picked one of those annoying top 40 songs and then grabbed one of my hands. I really wanted to tell her no, but she smiled at me and belted out the first verse. I couldn’t back down.

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I think she chose a radio song because she knew I’d know it, and I’ll admit, I knew the words.

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I was nervous at first, but looking at Brianna, I decided to go for it.

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At least we’re both equally bad.

We left from there when I got the notification that the Romance Festival was starting. I like the Spice Market best in San Myshuno, but the Fashion District is cool too. Mom took us to the Geek Con one year, which was probably fantastic for Mira. I’d never actually been to the Romance Festival myself, but when we got there, we headed straight to the sakura tea.

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Brianna looked a little nervous to drink it.

“It seems kind of… glowy,” she said.

I downed mine immediately. “I’ve had way worse.”

She shrugged and drank hers. More food stalls lined up the square, but we mostly walked around, looking at the street artists and watching people. There was a love guru or whatever, and I snuck over to him to ask what was up.

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He said I’d have to wait a long time for love, but it doesn’t bother me. I don’t know where me and Brianna are at. She’s super funny and way too cool, but I still get nervous holding her hand. I can wait a while for true love.

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We walked by the wedding arch, and I told her about my parents and how they got married here. She laughed about that.

“Your mom didn’t want a big fancy wedding?” she asked.

I shrugged. “I think she just wanted to be married.”

“What’s the point of being married if you don’t fill up a fancy space with all your friends?” She grinned in that way that made my heart beat faster. “Though this place is pretty magical.”

I moved closer to her. Like I said, still nervous to hold her hand. “I’m really glad we could do this.”

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“You have no idea.” She gave me this look. “You’re a really sweet guy, Quentin.”

“I try.”

“No, really. I told you I wanted to visit here, and you took me. Most guys would bring me a snowglobe.”

“Well, I really like you,” I said. “More than a snowglobe.”

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A line like that shouldn’t work on a girl this pretty, but she laughed and led me to a bench.

“We should come back sometime,” she said, resting her head on my shoulder.

“They do more festivals,” I said.

She shook her head, and I could smell her shampoo. “Maybe when there aren’t so many tourists. It’d be fun to just see the city.”

She turned to me, and I smiled at her, and she was the one who leaned in.

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We stayed until the festival was over, but we didn’t do much more walking around. Finally, when they packed up the decorations and closed down the stalls, we walked back to the train. I dropped Brianna off at her house and headed back home.

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It was a really good night.

 

A/N: This section made it so much harder to disguise the fact that Brianna and Quentin are wearing the same damn pants. That is 100% coincidental and it bothers me SO MUCH. Anyway here’s a cute selfie of the kids.

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2.8 Another Argument

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You’d think I could get through breakfast without another argument breaking out. It’s tense between me and mom, no doubt. Every time she tries to talk to me, I blow up, which I know is a me problem, but I get so annoyed. Why does she get to make the decisions for all of us? How come I have to be stuck in this house with this family for the rest of my life? Brianna always talks about how she dreams about living in San Myshuno, and I kind of agree. Who wouldn’t rather live in an apartment in the Spice District or the Arts Quarter over this boring suburb. Just because she bought a plot of land twenty years ago doesn’t mean I have to till it.

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And maybe it was the Brianna stuff that set me off. I don’t completely shut her out. I told her I had a girlfriend now, and she seemed excited at first, asking all the worst mom questions like when we could invite her for dinner or about her parents and that boring stuff. I think I mentioned off-handedly the Romance Festival and how Brianna’s dream was to live there, and she made some comment about how it wasn’t for everyone, and I just could not stop.

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I asked her what she’d do if I moved to the city, and she didn’t say anything at first, which made me keep going. Would she disown me just for wanting to do my own thing? Because I got born first and so she dumps everything on me? If Mira or Lance wanted to move out and do their own thing, she wouldn’t say anything at all.

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I mentioned dad again, and that set her off. Mom’s never yelled at any of us, but her finger started wagging, and she barked at me that I have no idea what I’m talking about, and I’m only being difficult to be difficult, and she’s been nothing but supportive to me, which is definitely debatable.

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I couldn’t stand her talking down to me like that, like I don’t deserve to make my own choices just because she raised me. I snapped at her that I didn’t have to wait, that I could go live with dad and Aunt Lacey right now if I really wanted.

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Then I stormed out of there before she could say anything. Probably if I did go to dad’s, he’d just send me right back here, but she doesn’t know.

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Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have snapped, and maybe I shouldn’t have said all that, and I felt a little bad about it after I slammed my door. I need to get out of this house.

2.7 Girlfriend

Thank Wright that Jarred called me to get me out of the house. Mom made me bring the brats along, but I thought I’d die in there.

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Mom’s been on my case every day now. Luckily I get the excuse that I’m too tired from work, but there’s only so many ways I can avoid her.

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And since we’re not hanging out in the house, I can tell him everything about how annoyed I am. He never says much to it. His moms gave him like ultimate freedom, since they both work so much, and they never rag on him about his future. I wish my mom was so hands off. Even dad keeps telling me to talk to her, like it’s going to change anything. Even when separated, parents still work together to make your life hard.

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At least my friends being around got Lance out of his shell. The kid’s pretty good on a violin.

I asked Brianna if she’d walk around the park with me. We haven’t talked a lot since the night on the Bluffs, and I don’t know if we’re dating or if that was a one time thing. But she walked with me. I didn’t know if I should hold her hand or not. But we stopped next to the creek.

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I didn’t really know what to say to her. I started with some dumb stuff, asking about the math class we shared and joking about the big food fight in the cafeteria last week.

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Thank Wright I know how to make people laugh. I’d be a total social pariah without that little gift.

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I know she really wants to move to the city one day, so I told her about San Myshuno, and the festivals our parents always took us to. I may have mentioned that the Romance Festival was coming up, and she asked if we could go. I knew I had to take my chance.

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I just don’t know what to say to a girl that pretty. Jarred would call me a dork for acting like this. Luckily he was somewhere far off. She smiled at me, clearly waiting for more. I sucked in a breath and took her hands.

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I told her how cool it was hanging out with her, and how happy I was after the party at the Bluffs. I asked her if she wanted to do these things more often. Exclusively. Just the two of us.

She laughed a little and said, “Weren’t we already?”

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Brianna is way too cool for me, but now she’s my girlfriend.