Ok, here’s where the light-hearted alternative comes in. Don’t read the following post unless you’re up for an emotional challenge. Instead, have a shiny new character page.
It’s got evidence that I’m trying my hand at digital art and am also very, very new to digital art and drawing in general. So I’m hoping you can expect more of that in the future. GET HYPED
And don’t say I didn’t warn you.
This would be the last of the noontime calls Aileen made, she told herself. It had to be dire if she was calling instead of texting. And yet Claudia had been clear on where she stood with her friends showing up unannounced, the key word being ‘don’t.’ Aileen’s cell phone fell silent after the fourth ring. Claudia’s voice was on the other end, but it was the pre-recorded voice apologizing for not being able to get to the phone right now and that you’d have to say whatever you were going to starting with the beep. Beep. She ended the call.
Though she hated to admit it, Aileen knew that the pre-recorded voice spoke the truth: the cost was never clear. There’s no other reason Claudia wouldn’t have contacted her by now.
As the author of Double Negative: How to Make Bad Emotions Work For You, Emotional Support for the Non-Highly-Sensitive, and, fittingly, After He Cheats, Aileen knew the best option was to ditch the formulas and do whatever she wanted. Aileen’s books weren’t extra-long checklists, like the eight-minute YouTube tutorials for two paragraphs worth of information, but rather told people what not to do, what didn’t work, and how to train their awareness and intentions so they’d be prepared for the situation in the title. What she’d wanted earlier was to let Claudia call the shots. Doesn’t matter how many damn books she’s written. Claudia’s the general and Aileen’s the private making sure the upstairs bedroom is nice and yellow, just in case.
Now her intuition told her she couldn’t operate like this, on assumed information, on orders given before some unexpected event took away Claudia’s ability to change them, the orders. Besides, staring at a dead text chain was starting to erode her calm façade. She was done waiting. Staying dormant was starting to become painful, like a fetal chick straining against its shell, and going against Claudia’s wishes was the only way to move forward.
She wasn’t sure if she wanted to re-install a bar; access to juice or not, Claudia’s mixology obsession was going to interfere with her healing process, Aileen hypothesized.
There was a loophole Aileen found while rationalizing her decision to cross the street—Aileen was fully aware she was rationalizing and pushed the guilt aside—which was that she doesn’t need to reveal her presence, just sneak up to a window and creep on the J.-E. household. The lights were on, so at least some of the Jeong-Espinosa goings-on were visible from the street, but Aileen still shielded her eyes against the overwhelming outdoor brightness.
Aileen’s shoulders fell as she saw Claudia, upright and in her natural cheery state, and the pit of her stomach dropped as she realized why Claudia was in high spirits. Didn’t he have work? So Aileen had her suspicions confirmed. Miss Sunshine was being watched. Diligently, if all she could text was “Ok.” It struck Aileen that if he were taking the day off for unrelated reasons, he still would’ve left his wife alone for at least a couple minutes in the past hour, even just for a bathroom break or to dick around on the internet.
And whether jealousy or logic was the source, she felt her gut pick up on something in Claudia’s joy. Aileen wrenched her eyes away from the seated jackass and observed her friend, trying to pinpoint what her intuition felt was so important it had to rearrange her insides. It was genuine giddiness. She wasn’t playing along in a juice-fueled haze. Being juiced up would have been a better option than being caught in his charm. That could have been it; Claudia’s playfulness meant another day of wasting away in her cage, if not another week, and her failure to contact Aileen was a sign she didn’t want to hear that escape talk anymore. But that would have caused a dull dread, an empathetic response to ennui, not the snapping full-body dread that reminded Aileen of those screeching-cat Halloween posters. She exhaled the tension in her chest as she thought, letting her eyes glaze over as some unheard joke sent Claudia’s body folding in on itself, convulsing as she choked with laughter.
She was clutching her stomach. Wheezing. Hysterical. No.
How was she—how was he allowing this to happen? Watching Claudia stumble to the kitchen with her empty juice glass caused Aileen, already fully hypersensitive, to jump with each involuntary shake. Whether or not she’d abandoned the plan was moot. This was an emergency. Aileen darted around to the side of the house to catch Claudia’s attention from the kitchen windows, now that she’d put some distance between herself and her tormentor. They were too high up. Screw the deck!
Aileen scampered back to her post by the front door, focusing her vision enough to see the jackass’s smug look as he casually displayed his showmanship, leaning back in the chair with his pecs and triceps on display before reversing the direction of motion, resting his chin on both hands, forearms on the bar, like a child waiting for a story. Whatever he said caused Claudia to almost drop her juice glass in the dishwasher.
He prided himself on being perceptive. He was always going on about how the greatest comedians knew their audience. He’d been watching Claudia closely enough to figure something was off, apparently. And yet he could ignore her loss of motor control? Aileen could feel Claudia’s breathless pain from behind the glass, and that pain was building up into rage. Forget the plan. Forget strategy. Forget politeness. She formed a fist and banged sideways on the door, blind with urgency.
Aileen watched him lean back in the barstool to get a better view of the sim at the front door. She thought she saw his eyes widen; perhaps in recognition, or maybe Aileen’s face was more animalistic than she could control. Claudia didn’t react to the knock; in her jittery state, throwing liquids into a shaker took all her attention.
Her husband held up his pointer finger to Aileen and mouthed one second.
She may not have one second, dipshit! Aileen roared into the air, glowing a demonic red, and again pounded the door with her fist. That got Claudia’s attention, and as Aileen locked eyes with her, the look of confusion she gave was like cool water in the veins, relief that her friend could stop smiling long enough for another breath.
Claudia moved to the door before her husband caught her forearm and said something unintelligible. And then the confusion vanished; Aileen surmised that he followed up the physical knocking with “Who’s there?”, just the kind of goofiness Claudia was all over. And damn it all, it was working. Aileen was shut out. Not for good, though. Even if she couldn’t get in, she could figure out how to restore Claudia’s mood—fast—before it worsened. So she had some options. Social interactions, especially mean ones, negative ones, would be efficient, but possibly not enough. If she could keep her breakfast down, flirting with the jackass would dredge up old memories and wreck the mood for good. But lord, that was a last resort.
That’s when Aileen remembered a detail of her own infidelity-related arguments. When she thought arguing with Xiyuan would temper the blow from their inevitable divorce, she’d done her yelling in the study. It’s where they kept that damn painting. She couldn’t explain it herself, but looking at that painting made her want to slap people and throw shit. She had to get it.
Mood-altering objects; those were another option. Aileen’s mind immediately wandered to mood potions. It was a controversy she couldn’t figure out herself: chemically inducing emotions had its benefits, here for example, but most sims saw getting high—i.e., getting their feelings into the triple-digits; i.e., high numbers—as immoral or at the very least unnatural, casting scorn on anyone who got their happiness from a cup. And returning to normal from mood-altering substances felt like a crash, which some sims believed lead to dependence. Aileen didn’t know. This wasn’t her wheelhouse.
But it wasn’t a debate to have now, and for once Aileen felt thankful that she’d have no trouble convincing Claudia to drink something. She considered her options. Happy Potions (what a euphemism!) were seriously out of the picture. Confident and Flirty Potions as well; it’s not clear what direction the confidence would swing in, stay or go, and Aileen couldn’t drag a flirty Claudia away from that hunk. Likewise, give Claudia an Inspired Potion and she’d be tethered to the bar. Focused Potions had no foreseeable problems. But what says run-and-get-the-hell-out like an Energizing Potion? Right? Aileen purchased one and tucked it away in her inventory for later.
There was that stupid painting. Plasma-vomiting sun indeed; that’s what Aileen needed right now, to wreck her friend’s perpetually sunny mood with a reminder that the star’s only bright because it’s made up of fusion reactions. So this horrid thing had a use after all. Environmental modifiers could work faster than substances, especially if she could make Claudia look at them. Negative emotions tampered giddiness better than positive ones. She swiped the cursed artwork into her inventory.
Tearing out of the study, Aileen looked around her living room at her collectibles. Date rose, awful idea for aforementioned reasons. Those MySims figurines she keeps needing to throw out, even worse. The crystals she puts on the floor near the home gym—she didn’t know, something about crystals made her want to do push-ups—sure, fine. But nothing else in the house made her feel sad or angry, especially since the purge of all things light pink.
Discomfort! How could she forget! Aileen slapped herself in the forehead for remembering the fastest way to ruin a room, and then again for realizing her house was spotless. If only she’d kept dirty dishes or spoiled food around, she’d walk around with a rancid inventory even if it bugged her to the core. But there wasn’t time to make trash: she had the sun painting, the mood potion, the crystal if that was going to do anything, and socially, she could be downright nasty if it meant saving Claudia’s life.
If—no, she might already be too late. The thought pulled Aileen out of the house, full speed towards the Jeong-Espinosa residence without checking the road for bikes.
She charged up the steps and smashed her face to the window. Claudia’s cackling still shook the walls. Thank the stars she wasn’t too late. But mixed with the relief, Aileen felt each gasp in her own throat, the sound echoing down her own spine, as she stood on the wrong side of the door. She’d knock once more. Maybe try to make it more polite this time, like to put on a show that this is a fun neighbor thing until she can shove faces into the blasted sun painting. She used her knuckles this time.
They didn’t react. Aileen squinted through the window and saw the couple in the kitchen, the tiles bouncing with giggles. This wasn’t the time! Damn this!
She thought she’d pull out her phone one more time, maybe try to get Claudia’s attention from the porch. Bernard’s last two texts popped up.
Bernard Shallot-Liu (Summer 7 8:53:17 AM): Do not hesitate to request this.
Bernard Shallot-Liu (Summer 7 8:54:13 AM): The same goes for you, Aileen, although I foresee no difficulties if the matter is in your capable hands.
There was no use for pride here. No reason to refuse help. She tore her eyes from the door to type her response.
Aileen Jensen (Summer 7 2:33:05 PM): The plan didn’t work. Mike’s still here and she’s hysterical.
Aileen Jensen (Summer 7 2:33:40 PM): They’re not letting me in, so I’m waiting for Hector to come home from school.
Aileen Jensen (Summer 7 2:34:23 PM): We need to stabilize her mood. Grab any negative-mood-inducing objects in your house and head over here AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
And Aileen found herself waiting again. Glaring through the door as her anger radiated into the suffocating summer air. Adopting a calming pranayama, counting out each breath, while telling herself Claudia’s breaths weren’t numbered. She had weapons. Reinforcements. White-hot will.
This wouldn’t be Claudia’s last laugh.