3.27 Quiet

It’s so weird with half our family moved out of the house. Everything’s so quiet.

It’s even weirder with their rooms left as they were. It’s like a monument to the people who used to be here. Sidney’s room I never spent a lot of time in, but there are pieces of him in boxes and on the wall. He even has his old high school backpack there, with some tests still stuffed inside. It’s almost nostalgic.

Aaron’s room is the worst. It’s like he left all this stuff for me to trash, all the little things he stole over the years. Mom and Dad’ll go on a rampage soon cleaning everything. I’ve never felt this way before.

For the first time in my life, I miss my brother.

His apartment in San Myshuno is super nice. (I know he didn’t save all that money! Probably did get a loan from Mom and Dad!) We’ve only been once so far, but he’s really happy out there, and especially about working at a small kitchen in the Spice District. I don’t know if he’ll fall back on his bad behaviors if he gets stressed, but for now it’s looking bright.

Sidney’s gone full mountain man out in Windenburg. Aunt Mira visited him just last week, but she stayed with Uncle Lance, telling us Sidney’s place was way too small. He seems really content with it. He took a bunch of cuttings from the garden before he left, and he told us he’s already got full trees growing. It’s so strange thinking the plants my grandparents grew got transported all the way to Windenburg. I’ve been worrying what’ll happen to the ones we have here once Mom’s too old to spend her day in the garden, but she swears we’ll hire a gardener or something. I know Sidney’ll take care of his. It’s like a legacy all their own.

Aunt Mira is the biggest change. She and Shingo have a tiny place in Newcrest that I’ve only been to once. I think they’re enjoying the honeymoon phase of their relationship. I know they haven’t talked about anything else big. I sort of figured Aunt Mira would only take this step if she was 100% sure, but she also told me she was a little old to worry about weddings and things. I think she deserves to have fun.

All my life I’ve been fighting for attention in this family, and now I’m the oldest sibling in the house. Now I don’t have to beg Mom and Dad to help me with my homework. If Emery comes over, May announces it loudly to everyone. On some level it’s kind of nice, but it’s also different.

I think Dad can tell. He spends some time trying to cheer me up, and it reminds me of when I was really little and I’d wear the godawful bear costume for attention. He always asked me what was wrong and talked to me. I guess he has time for that again.

He told me how proud he was of all his family. He started talking to me about this thing grandma would tell him about, this idea of a legacy, caring for the land she bought. He said there’d always be a room for me no matter what I decided. But I think he really is happy that I’m staying at the house. May and June are still in their teenage years a little while longer, but I think my parents were worried about things getting too quiet.

And maybe, after the remodel, things won’t feel so big and empty anymore. One can only hope.

 

A/N: That’s it for the teen years! It feels like they flew by. April’s been a fun heir, and I love writing her voice. I’m very excited for her YA years, and what I have planned for her future. Until then, here’s a picture of the remodel.

I feel like I’m slowly but surely getting better at the whole build aspect of the Sims, and I secretly hated that monstrosity that was their old house.

I am currently dealing with some stuff and getting my life together, so there may be a pause in updates for a minute. One of the major things I want to do is work on some of my bigger writing projects, including the Accidental Vampire, which I haven’t been able to dedicate any time to. Things will be quiet here for a little while so I can organize, but if you’re looking for something to read while you wait, I run a few other Sims blogs, along with a writing journal. See you soon!

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3.26 Goodbye

There’s a weird energy in the house today. It’s been frantic all morning, but we’re all nervous to get the party started. I know why.

Aaron’s cooking for everyone tonight. Pretty soon he’ll start his new job (in San Myshuno!) cooking more exotic flavors than this, but he looks so happy to slice up the chicken for tonight, and he promised to make tofu for Dad and May. He moves into his new apartment tomorrow, and it feels weird thinking we won’t see him again until the next festival.

The party started, and people flooded in. There’s so many people we haven’t seen in what feels like years. Even Sidney, who moved into his small place in Windenburg only a month ago. It’s weird not seeing him at the lake fishing in the morning, or having him water the plants with Mom. Aunt Mira misses him more than anything, but he’s happy in his little cottage. Probably happier than he ever was in the house.

Uncle Jarred and Aunt Seema are here too, talking about the old house they still live in, the one they inherited from my great-aunt. Aunt Seema’s jealous that Aaron’s moving to San Myshuno, where she grew up, and I think they’re considering moving once Evan’s grown enough.

Mom and Dad are letting June bartend even though she’s technically not allowed. But she’s been practicing lots, and they even allowed us to drink a little tonight, so long as we’re good. I always think about that weekend in Windenburg, when I scandalized at the thought of my cousins and my brother drinking. It feels so silly now.

A bunch of Mom and Dad’s friends showed up to the party, and so did Sidney’s dad, and Uncle Lance and Uncle Ellis, and Aunt Trillian, and all these people I never see but are like so utterly important to me, but the most talked about guest is a complete stranger.

Aunt Mira has never ever brought any of her boyfriends home, even though we all know when she’s dating. It’s why Shingo’s such a big deal. I mean, she waited until Sidney was moved out and on his own, but still. She doesn’t even talk about her boyfriends with us. Meeting him in the flesh was like meeting a ghost. Which is even crazier, because this party’s really for her. Sidney’s moved out, Aaron’s got his lease worked out, but Aunt Mira, for the first time ever, is moving out of the house. She and Shingo are buying this small house in Newcrest. Not too far away, but somewhere cozy, she said. Somewhere they can really be a couple.

It’s been crazy all day. Mom and Dad are running around, making sure everything’s in place, and Aaron’s been nervous for ages, and May and June are talking to everyone, and normally I’m right there with them, but today I’m ready to relax. I took a seat at the table beside Aunt Mira as mom started clearing dishes.

“I can’t believe this is really it,” I said as I looked at my aunt. I try to imagine my life without her in it, without her being just down the hall, or with her door open for when I had a problem.

Uncle Lance walked around the table to join us, and I waved at him. I saw him less and less these days, but I always remember that talk he gave me when I was over at their house. Would I be where I was without that too?

“I can’t believe you’re finally moving out of this place,” Lance said. “I thought you wanted free rent for life.”

“Not all of us are ready to be island hermits,” Mira snipped back at him.

“Sidney is,” I said. “Do you even see him in Windenburg?”

Uncle Lance shook his head. “I swear I invite him over for dinner almost every night.”

“That’s my boy.” Aunt Mira gave a sigh. “As long as he’s happy.”

“I’m really excited for you too,” I said. “I can’t believe you won’t be here anymore.”

“Give it time,” Lance said. “After being crammed in a house with these guys, I was so excited to live somewhere where three different people weren’t banging on the bathroom door.”

Mira laughed. “It’ll be nice to be just the two of us. And I figure if things aren’t ideal, I’ll always have a place to go.”

“Dad keeps threatening to remodel the house,” I warned her. “You better remind him of that.”

She grinned. “You know what, I’ll let those dice roll.”

I smiled at my aunt and uncle as they kept talking, catching up on all the things in their life they missed. I wasn’t far behind Aaron or Sidney in the world of adulthood, and I didn’t have my life half as together as they did, but seeing these two made me realize it didn’t matter too much. My family was here, and they’d looked out for me all these years. There was no reason for them not to anymore. Tomorrow the house would be a little emptier, but they would still be there, only a phone call away.

Interlude: Talking To

Mira pushed open the door to her nephew’s room and glanced around. April hadn’t been wrong. CDs and perfume bottles were stacked haphazardly around his room, and books with random titles and authors were left stacked. Aaron was on his way to bed, and he stopped when she came in. This is your nephew, she reminded herself for the third time since she’d headed upstairs to talk to him. Quentin won’t forgive you if you murder him.

“Hey–” he started to say, but Mira pushed the door closed behind her, silencing his thought.

“Sit down and shut up,” she snapped, and he fell down onto his bed. Mira worked night and day to keep her anger under control, spending hours at her punching bag on her bad days just so she didn’t snap anyone’s neck, and the kids had never seen her at her worst. She was prepared to give Aaron a taste of it.

“You have your family worried sick,” she continued, not giving him a beat to interject. “You think your mom and dad can’t see how stressed out you are? And you’re not talking to Sidney? Or April?”

“I knew she couldn’t keep her mouth shut,” he groaned. “I can’t believe she snitched on me.”

“It’s a damn good thing she did,” Mira continued, snapping her finger at him in case he had any other interjections. “Because if I’d found out you were dragging my son off to drunken parties from anyone else, this would be it. So what the hell is it? You’re stealing now? Sneaking off to drink? What the hell is going on?”

“You wouldn’t understand,” he muttered.

Mira softened. “Aaron, I may be the most qualified person to understand. Please. Tell me what’s going on.”

He let out a breath, and she sat beside him. All at once, it seemed to pour out of him, and even Mira wasn’t prepared for the onslaught.

“It was fine,” he said, “Mostly. And then I got fired because I’m too big of an idiot to not steal directly from where I work. After that, I don’t know.”

She reached a sympathetic hand to him. “Getting fired’s not the worst thing to go through.”

“It’s flipping burgers!” he said. “It should’ve been so easy, but that on top of all my homework and graduation and everything else–I flaked. And shoplifting’s, like, compulsive or something. Whenever I get stressed, it’s just easy.”

She nodded. There were times, when they were only kids, where Aaron’s sticky fingers got him in trouble. It was easy to play it off as childlike misunderstanding. Now, not so much.

“Sidney said you got caught,” she said.

A panicked look slapped his face. “You’re not going to tell Mom and Dad, are you?”

“No,” she said, and added, “Not yet.”

She looked at him. She’d always thought she’d looked so much like her mom, while Quentin and Lance had managed to absorb most of the Rais genes. They’d carried down to their children in small ways, from April’s eyes, to Sidney’s smile, to the dark hair they all shared. For Quentin’s kids, it seemed like they took after their mom a little more, but she’d never thought about their personalities. She’d resigned herself to the last Rais on this side of the family, taking on her dad’s anger and his penchant for getting into trouble, but it seemed like it never really went away.

“It’s times like this,” she breathed, “I really wish your grandad was here. You were barely a month old when he passed.”

Aaron shrugged. She shook her head.

“He was in all kinds of trouble at your age,” she said. Dad had never really shared the details of his past life, and Aunt Lacey had been faithfully mum, but they’d gleaned enough through his stories. “He stole a lot of things too, and big things. Things he could sell. He never really moved past that part of his life.”

“He was the one who was a criminal, right?” Aaron said.

Mira bristled at the suggestion, but no, he wasn’t wrong. “He ran with some bad people, even after he had kids. But he was the only one who knew how to get through to us. He bought me my first punching bag. Back when I had all this pent up rage, he helped me control it. And that’s more a testament to him than his past. Despite everything, he had a family that loved him, and a wife who cared for him, even after he screwed up.”

“So that’s my lesson?” Aaron gave her a glum look. “Even though I’m a criminal, I can still be a family man.”

She bit the inside of her lip to keep from yelling at him. At this point, he was being petulant.

“Your lesson,” she said, “is that people care a whole lot about you, and your little path down self-destructive avenue isn’t cute or fun. April’s been freaking out about you, and you’re Sidney’s best friend, so he hasn’t been feeling great either. And this is is going to make me sound super lame, but underage drinking? Shoplifting? I get the de-stress part, but do you know what kind of trouble that can land you in? Balance, Aaron. That’s what you need. Figure out what’s actually important and stop killing yourself over what’s not.”

She leaned close to him. “And if you involve Sidney in any of it, I’ll get your ass thrown into juvie so fast you won’t have time for a single snarky comment. You’re my nephew, and I love you, but that’s my son. Do not think for a second I won’t rain down holy hell and involve your parents. Understand?”

He gave a short, curt nod.

“Good,” she said and smiled. “And you’re going to apologize to your sister.”

“What?” He raised his hands. “Why do I have to do that?”

“Because it’s the nice thing to do.” She gave him a pointed look. “You’re siblings. You should get along. You’re going to get along.”

He let out a breath. “Fine.”

Mira stood. The mom part of her still wanted to tell Quentin about all this, especially knowing he was worried about his son, but the little sister in her knew what was up. Give the kid a chance, she told herself. Keep him from self-destructing. That’s what her dad had done for her.

“If you need anything,” she said, pausing at the door, “you can ask me. I know I’m an uncool adult to you, but there was a time when I was a rowdy teenager too.”

His shoulder slumped, and he gave her a look somewhere between embarrassment and anger. He only said, “Thanks, Aunt Mira.”

She let out a breath as she closed the door. Some days in this family, you just had to believe things were going to be okay.

3.25 Apologize

I think aliens came and abducted my brother.

Aunt Mira hasn’t said anything to me. Mom and Dad haven’t said anything at all. I thought for sure after Aunt Mira talked to Aaron, that he’d come kicking in my door and calling me a snitch or worse. But he looked nervous when he found me in the kitchen. I sat down at the table, and he sat with me, and he said something I never expected to hear from my brother.

“April,” he said, “I’m sorry.”

Wow. WOW. I looked for signs that Aunt Mira kicked his butt or something. Sidney’s always been a jerk to me from day one, from calling me a booger when we were five years old to screaming at me to leave him alone a week ago. Never once has he apologized. Never once have I made him.

“I’ve been a jerk,” he said.

“That’s putting it nicely.” I wasn’t going to let him off the hook so easy. “Aaron, I have no idea what’s going on with you, because you refuse to tell me anything, which is normally fine. But I was really worried about you.”

“I know.” He gave me a nervous look. “Aunt Mira set me straight. And she told me to apologize to you.”

“What’s even been going on?” I asked. “Sidney told me you’re stressed, like that’s an excuse.”

“I’m sorry! I get crazy.” He gave an exasperated sigh. “I took a bunch of AP courses this year, and they’re so hard! And when I got that job I thought–I was saving money. But keeping up with it all, I couldn’t handle it. So maybe I was, I don’t know, lashing out or something.”

“Saving money?” I asked. “For what?”

Now he looked really nervous. My brother hasn’t shared much of his ambitions with me besides wanting to be a chef someday. He cooks, I eat, I don’t ask.

“Once we’re graduated,” he said, “Sidney’s talking about moving to Windenburg. I think he likes the idea of the quiet. But I was thinking of going to San Myshuno. If I can get an apartment, I can start learning all the different recipes they have there. I was looking into a job at a food stand.”

He cringed, like he was waiting for me to make fun of him.

“Aaron!” I said. “That’s a great idea!”

He looked relieved. “It won’t pay super well, but if I can get the basics down, I can move into a restaurant. Mom and Dad are like obsessed with that place, and I always thought it’d be kind of fun designing a menu that mixes all their favorites.”

I smiled at my brother. He’s thought a thousand percent more about his future than I ever have.

“And on paper,” he continued, “it seems really straightforward, but I keep getting tripped up on simple things. I got a B on my Chemistry exam and I didn’t know what to do about it. It’s when I started shoplifting again. And then I got caught doing that at my job, and I got fired, and I wanted to be somewhere where I didn’t have to think about that, and it seemed like I had this totally sweet plan all worked out, and I’d somehow screwed it all up.”

He sucked in a breath. Aunt Mira must’ve really kicked his butt. I can’t remember the last time we had a conversation this long, or this honest.

“Aaron,” I said, “take it from a professional slacker. You’ve screwed up nothing, except maybe adding a reference on your resume. You make our dinner practically every night. Your cooking is amazing. And you know Mom and Dad would loan you any money you needed to get started.”

“Yeah,” he said. “But it felt really important that I did it.”

“You are doing it. You must’ve saved some money.”

He shrugged. “Enough, I guess.”

“You’re way ahead of the game anyway.” I shrugged. “I haven’t even thought that far ahead.”

He got that look on his face he always did when he thought I was an idiot, but he refrained from saying so. He only shook his head and said, “I think you’ve got it more figured out than you realize.”

A real conversation with my brother. A week ago I would’ve told you that was impossible. Heck, when I was ten years old, it wouldn’t have gone this well. Maybe there’s hope for us yet.

3.24 First Time

I took Aunt Mira’s advice and decided to chill out for a minute. I invited Emery over, thinking he might meet my family, but everyone’s always so busy.

Sidney and Aaron are graduating soon, and they’re so ready to be done. May and June just started high school and while May’s the smartest kid around, they’re both dealing with their increased workload. They’re usually around the table with someone guiding them through their homework. Dad’s always upstairs, perfecting his next routine, and he’s touring in San Myshuno soon, which’ll make him and mom happy. She’s still writing her children’s books, even though she makes enough on her royalties to live off of. And Aunt Mira’s work is constant, even when she’s off the clock, and when she’s not running people’s social media, she’s streaming on her gaming channel.

So Emery came over, but everyone’s too wrapped up in their own lives to notice. Normally this would bug me. Imagine May bringing home her boyfriend and Mom and Dad don’t fawn over him. Imagine Sidney going on a date without Aunt Mira demanding to meet the lucky girl. As usual, no one is really paying attention to me, but today it was working to my advantage.

I told Emery I wanted to go swimming, but we just ended up in the hot tub. The spring wind still made everything nice and cool, and we could see the garden my grandma planted (and the windows of the house, in case anyone was prying). I swear I didn’t have any ulterior motives for this. I wanted a nice afternoon where we hung out and had fun. It was a lucky bonus that he was in his swimsuit.

And it was a nice afternoon where we talked for a long time. I told him about my dad’s vegan grilling, and he laughed, saying he never had vegan food before. I promised to invite him over for dinner next time Dad cooked. He was so jealous of our nice big house, even though I know Dad’s annoyed they never finished it properly. He lives in a little place with his dad, and I keep begging him to let me come over, but he says so long as I have a hot tub, we’ll be hanging out here.

And, after a while, we stopped talking.

Mom and Dad gave us the Talk ages ago, and Aunt Mira sat me down once and reminded me she was a stunning example of poor decisions as a teenager, but it seemed silly at the time. Sex wasn’t ever something I needed. It didn’t mean I never had naughty thoughts, but it wasn’t important to me. I was happy to wait. I wanted to be in love.

I am in love.

I told Emery that, right there. “I love you.” It felt so simple and true, and it was. He looked at me, and he said, “I love you too.”

I didn’t care who could be watching. Emery loves me. He listens to me. When I’m with him, I’m the only one who matters.

I wanted to make him feel the same way.

3.23 Someone to Confide In

I can’t believe it’s come to this.

Aaron’s shut himself off completely. I know he’s been sneaking out of the house at all hours, and now I don’t even see him at all. I don’t know how to help him! I thought at least Sidney would know. They’re best friends. They’re inseparable.

I thought.

“Sidney,” I said when I found him fishing in the lake beside our house. I had to stand in front of him to make sure he was paying attention. “What the hell is going on?”

He looked at me with that slightly annoyed squint he saves when he’s not prepared for human interaction. “Okay, start over, with context.”

“Aaron!” I said. “He’s gone off the deep end! I don’t even think he came home last night!”

“Oh, yeah.” He gave me this nervous look. “He’s just stressed, April. And he’s still mad about losing his job.”

“Like flipping burgers was going to serve him so well in the culinary field,” I murmured. “Even Mom and Dad are starting to worry. Where does he go?”

“You know that lot in Newcrest? Lots of kids party there.”

More parties. Joy. “And he just drinks or whatever?”

“Mostly, since he got busted a couple weeks ago–”

I stared at my cousin. “What happened?”

He cringed, realizing he’d shared something Aaron had asked him to keep quiet. “We went to the Promenade, and they caught him shoplifting. He convinced them not to call your parents, but he–I don’t think he knows how to deal with it all, you know?”

“All what?” I insisted. “Because I can’t tell why he’s even acting like this.”

He gave me a skeptical look. “April, you barely keep up a D average, but you know how Aaron is. He wants top marks in all his classes and does every extra credit assignment, and he was happy he had a job, even if it wasn’t what he wanted, and he didn’t feel like he could do it. He flipped out. I tried to tell him he was just flipping burgers, but it doesn’t matter to him. If he does it, it should be done right.”

I quieted. My brother and I lived very different lives. He was hyperfocused on school and I did my homework when I felt like it. I liked going out with friends and hanging around the park, and Aaron had chosen work. He went to parties and stuff, but I guess he only did it to de-stress. Maybe that’s why he shoplifted too.

“It’s gone way too far,” I said to Sidney. “What if the next time he steals something, he can’t talk his way out of it? What if he gets in trouble? What if he gets caught drinking?”

Sidney shrugged, and I wanted to shake him. “We graduate in like three months. School’s not going to be a problem. It’ll be fine.”

I shook my head at him. Sidney was desperate for the the day he turned 18 and could move out on his own, but the rest of us… I thought Aaron had figured out his whole life, but I think that might be the problem.

I stalked back to the house, unsure of what to do with this new information. I saw the door to Aunt Mira’s room open slightly, and without thinking, I stepped inside.

“Hold on a sec, babe,”she said I walked in. Her gaming rig was probably overpowered for the write up she was doing for Simbook at the moment, but I could tell by the number of emails open I’d interrupted her during work hours.

I glanced around her room. Dad had remodeled the house when we were all babies because there were just too many of us, and Aunt Mira had been there taking care of her own room. The floral goth wallpaper was so very her, and the modern furniture was mostly kept to this specific room. I glanced at the wall on the far side, where picture frames were gently hung.

I don’t remember my grandparents, not really. Dad and Aunt Mira and Uncle Lance visit their graves every year, but I’ve only been once or twice. Grandma took pictures of everyone in her life, and I could spot Aunt Mira and Uncle Lance as children, my dad back when he had long hair, Aaron and Sidney when we were only kids, and even Alicia and Anastasia. It was calming, in their presence. Like despite everything, we’d be remembered at our happiest, these smiling faces from the best parts of our lives.

“Alright, kiddo,” I heard my aunt say and turned around. She sat on her bed, patting the space beside her. “What’s going on?”

I didn’t really know where to start. I sat beside Aunt Mira, sucked in a breath, and let it all out.

“Aaron’s gone totally off the rails and Sidney thinks it’s because he’s super stressed but he makes himself super stressed out and he goes out every night I think to drink in this abandoned lot we use for parties and apparently he got busted for shoplifting like two weeks ago which is why he lost his job and he’s been so out of it lately and I don’t know how to make it better.”

Aunt Mira stared at me. “Okay. What?”

My shoulders sagged as I tried to parse my own thoughts. “Something’s really wrong with Aaron.”

“He’s been stressed for sure,” Aunt Mira said. “Your dad thought it might get better since he quit his job, but he didn’t?”

I shook my head. “He shoplifts like crazy, I think. His room is full of useless stuff. And Sidney says he got picked up the other day for it.”

I saw her face harden. “Sidney did?”

“He was there, I think.”

Aunt Mira went quiet for a minute, and I could tell she was counting down in her head. She was the sweetest, kindest person I knew, but if anyone messed with her son, she’d rip their head off.

“Well,” she said. “That’s news. And he goes drinking?”

“I guess! He doesn’t tell me anything. I’ve been spying, a little. Sidney doesn’t think it’s any big deal, and he says they’ll graduate soon, so it should solve all his problems, but what if he gets overwhelmed at his next job? He wants to be a chef, and I was reading that it’s super stressful and there’s a big history of drug abuse and–”

She raised a hand. “This has been really bothering you, hasn’t it?”

I nodded. “And he won’t talk to me at all. I mean, we were never close, but now he snaps my head off all the time. And I don’t think he’s talking to Sidney much either.”

“Okay,” she said. “Anything else?”

I shrugged. “I’m worried about him.”

“I know.” She let out a breath. “It’s been a while since I’ve had to do any real parenting. Sidney’s a saint, you know?”

“He only cares about fish,” I muttered.

She smiled and put her hand on my arm.

“It isn’t your job to worry,” she said. “When me and Lance were kids, I thought involving parents was the worst idea in the world, which is why I got into more fights and detentions than there are school days. I’m glad you came to me.”

Relief took over me. “What are you going to do?”

She looked uncertain for only a second. “I’ll talk to him. See if I can’t get through his thick skull. I don’t want you to worry anymore. Go out with your boy. Let the grown ups handle this.”

“Thanks, Aunt Mira,” I said. Nothing would make me happier. I trust Aunt Mira more than anyone. For the first time in weeks, I wasn’t worried. If she can’t get through to him, no one will.

3.22 Worry

It’s so unfair that Aaron gets me this stressed out without even talking to me! If he was at least being mean to me, it’d be normal, but now he just hangs out in his room. And the most annoying thing! He still gets straight As and has all his projects turned in on time! What’s the point of his downward spiral if he still looks like the better sibling?

Emery took me to Magnolia Promenade to cheer me up, which is so so sweet. It reminds me of when Aunt Mira took us as kids. The toy shop across the streets still had a voidcritter display, and he laughed when I told him about the super rare card I still have on my desk. He challenged me to a battle some day.

We walked into the clothes shop instead, and I thought I’d do a little enticing. Some silly workout outfit was on display, and I tried it on for him.

It look more silly than sexy, but he was laughing as I paraded around in front of him. Luckily the shop was pretty empty, or I might’ve been mortified, but, then, well.

Candace was there. She said hi to me like we were friends or something. I know she’s kind of Alicia’s friend, but I haven’t really talked to her at all since that night. It’s not her fault, Austen was the jerk, but I still felt–I don’t know. Like embarrassed or something. Like she was still laughing at me. I felt stupid for putting on this outfit, stupid that I thought Emery would like it, stupid for thinking anyone was really interested in me.

We left pretty quick and just hung around on the benches as the stores closed. I felt worse sitting there in silence. My bad attitude had ruined what was a fine date. Emery seemed annoyed, or maybe I seemed sensitive, or maybe I was just stressed out about everything, or maybe–

Emery looked at me. I couldn’t quite meet his eye.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

I blinked in surprise. “What? No. I’m the one being all moody.”

“I wanted to cheer you up,” he said, so simple. “I’m sorry we ran into Candace. I know you still feel bleh about that whole thing.”

I looked at him. For the hundredth time I wondered what I did to deserve him.

“Come here,” I said.

I smiled as he held me close. I love Emery. It’s so stupid to write, and I can hear Anastasia making fun of me from all the way over in Windenburg, but I really, really do. Somehow he gets me. No one’s ever got me before.

“I’m the one being moody,” I said as I snugged against his chest. “I’m sorry. You’re doing a really good job as my boyfriend.”

“That’s good to hear,” he said. “There’s no performance review for these things.”

I laughed and drew my face closer to his. “And we’ve still got time. Night’s not over yet.”

And maybe, with him, I don’t have to worry for a few more hours.

3.21 Big Brother

Okay, I can’t hold it in anymore. Aaron and I have been ignoring each other for almost two months now, and it’s been fine for the most part. Emery’s been a really good distraction, and I don’t even stay in the house that long anymore. I go out with Alicia and Emery and whoever I could make an excuse with. It means I don’t know for sure what Aaron’s been up to, but lately he’s just seemed…

Off.

And then I overheard him and Dad talking about his job.

He told Dad he quit. (And Dad was actually happy about it! Something about focusing on his homework, and Dad’s all, way to take responsibility, son. Bleh.) Sidney kind of implied he was fired, but he wouldn’t say anything else, but I can guess why. All that stuff in his bedroom has been piling up.

It probably feels worse because May has her first job, and she’s already promoted to assistant manager. Dad made a special dinner for her when she told us. She’s like the only one of us to keep vegetarian, and now Aaron does a lot of the cooking, so I bet she felt really good about that.

But Aaron feels like garbage, I can tell. He’s been so sullen and doesn’t even snipe at me like he used to. How bad is it that I’m worried because he’s not being a jerk? For once we were both upstairs at the same time, and I couldn’t help myself. I asked him if he was okay.

“Sidney told me you didn’t quit,” I said. “Did they catch you?”

And, okay, yeah, I maybe shouldn’t have phrased it that way. Not the most supportive sister moment. But he doesn’t have to lash out at me like that!

“So what if they did?” he shouted at me. “I bet you’re real happy they smacked me down! Why don’t you mind your own life?”

“I’m worried about you,” I said.

“Well don’t!” He stormed off to his room. “You have no idea what’s going on!”

“That’s why I’m worried!” I shouted at him, but he was already slamming his door.

Why can’t he talk to me like a normal person? Why can’t he just say ‘no thanks I’m fine’ like I do? Why does he have to shout about it? I feel like things are getting worse, but I don’t know who to talk to about it. Aaron shuts me down. Sidney keeps telling me he’s just stressed. Anastasia rolls her eyes anytime I bring it up. Alicia tells me it’s not my problem. May and June are so wrapped up in their own lives, I don’t even think they notice. If I tell Mom and Dad, I’m a snitch. And everyone acts like it’s just hormones, or he’ll grow out of it, or something’ll change.

But I can’t help but worry.

3.20 A Real Date (Redux)

Can you believe where Emery took me on our first date? We’d been texting each other, and he really wanted me to have a good time. I think because of how we met, he was really nervous, and maybe I was nervous too. Emery’s so sweet, and I trust him, but I can’t help but think I’ve been wrong before.

Anyway, I told him how much I love the art walks in San Myshuno that Mom and Dad always drag us to, and he asked if I wanted to go to the museum.

Boy knows how to get straight to a girl’s heart. The Willow Creek museum is pretty small, and I’ve seen all it’s paintings a hundred times, but it’s also really nice. We went after school, and it was dark when the museum closed, and there’s this garden right beside it. We’d mostly been quiet inside, not wanting to disturb the art or whatever. Anastasia was the one who helped me put my look together, all the way from Windenburg, and I was nervous. Was it too much? What if he thought I was a skank? Was it not enough? Not casual enough? Not cute enough?

All those bad thoughts I always have went away when Emery took my hand and looked at me.

“You’re really pretty tonight,” he said, which is such a line, but it still made my face warm. “Especially with your hair down.”

I touched a strand self-consciously. I’d agonized over that for hours before deciding just to brush it out. “Thanks. You look–”

“The same as always?” He grinned at me. “I wish I’d put some effort into my look tonight.”

“No, it’s good!” I said. “Very ‘too cool for school’.”

He snorted. “Is that a thing people say still?”

I laughed too. “I don’t now! I’m pretty sure you’ve worn that exact hoodie every time I’ve talked to you, so clearly something is working.”

He looked at me as he laughed, and I just–I’m not used to being look at like that. It kind of reminds me of that girl from the club, how even on a crowded dance floor it felt like she was staring straight at me. Like there’s no space between us at all.

Emery knows just how to look at me. He knows exactly what to say to chase away the gloomy thoughts that seem to follow me everywhere. Everything about him is warm, and it makes me feel safe. When he talks to me, it feels like we’re the only ones in the room.

He got a lot more serious, looking at me. I thought he was going to kiss me, but instead he smiled.

“I really like you, April,” he said.

I smiled back at him. “I really like you too.”

“I know it’s only been one date, and I hope it’s going well–”

“It is,” I assured him.

“–because I want you to be my girlfriend.”

My whole body lit up. Yes! I could’ve screamed. Of course! Don’t be a dummy! What this gentle boy even saw in me was incomprehensible but I didn’t care!

“I’d really like that,” I said at a normal volume.

And then we kissed. It was so so perfect. I don’t feel scared with Emery, or nervous, or anything. I’m just happy.

3.14 Getting Noticed

Today was pretty incredible. I wasn’t wrong about word getting out about my date with Elsa, and it’s not like anyone treats me bad, but it’s definitely different. Before I was Aaron’s little sister or Alicia’s cousin, and now I’m the newest coming out story.

But today! Alicia and I were talking about nothing at all. She’s did this pen pal thing and now she’s chatting with some girl from Barnacle Bay all of the time. She’s like so so in love even though she doesn’t even have a picture of her. I’m a supportive second cousin (first cousin? how does that even work?). I let her go on about it, but from the corner of my eye, I couldn’t help but noticeĀ him.

Austen Hollis. A grade above me, with Sidney and Aaron. super handsome, with this grin that makes your heart beat a little faster. I see him in the hallways and it’s just, like, fireworks.

And today! Of all days! Alicia and I are walking by on our way to class, and he says hi! Just like that!

Can I not be an extreme dork for five minutes? Austen says hey and I’m like what’s up my dude. But he didn’t even seem to notice. He smiled at me.

“You’re April, right?” he asked, and I’m like dying because he totally knows my name. “Aaron’s sister.”

Why oh why am I the middle child? Will May and June also suffer from Little Sister Syndrome?

“That’s me,” I said. “They’ll put that on my tombstone.”

I cringed at my own bad words, but Austen just laughed.

“I heard you went out with Elsa,” he said. “But your bro says you’re not like that.”

“I like boys,” I jumped in, and my whole face went red. “I mean, I like girls, but I also like boys.”

He grinned. “That’s good to know. What are you doing Friday night?”

“Oh, um, nothing.” I totally tripped over myself. He was asking me out!

“There’s some party going on,” he said. “It’s supposed to be super chill. Maybe we should go. Together.”

Thank Wright I didn’t squeal right in front of him. I totally looked cool when I said, “For sure.”

He totally gave me his number and gave me this funny look. Austen’s totally gorgeous, a year older, and he totally asked me out! I ran to catch up with Alicia and shared every detail of our interaction. Alicia rolled her eyes because she’s so so lame, but I have a date! Friday night! Today was so good!