The last we saw of Charlie, he was chipping away at the remnants of the metaphorical umbilical cord, only to discover it was the belay keeping him from freefalling into polite society. Polite society is dreadful. You have to talk to people you’re not related to, and who aren’t Cruz, in polite society. You have to meet certain expectations in polite society. You’re not sure whether they’re more or less restrictive than parental expectations, because you don’t know what exactly they are.
Charlie moved to the neighborhood with the big park, which is Willow Creek or something like that. Some mashup of a tree and a body of water or some other nature thing. It suits him.
Charlie wakes up each morning to the sun on his face through UVB/C-protective-coated glass. Can’t be too careful with melanoma, you see. He then waves goodbye to his fishies, walks into his earthy open-air living room, and has a breakfast of whichever fishy died most recently while staring at a Day of the Dead statue. Charlie can’t get any privacy or throw any stones in this house, but it’s very him.
Each of Charlie’s family members gave him a parting gift before he left. Mike gave him the signed guitar Charlie kept noodling with as a teenager. Hector gave him a picture of fish and a picture of outside, because Charlie likes both of those things. Kendra gave him a nice painting she made. Claudia made him enough seafood meals to last an entire month and—what’s that? Oh yeah, also a hundred thousand dollars from orchid farming. Gracias madre indeed.
The other residents of Aspen Lake are confused, both by Charlie’s arrival and the layout of his house. To welcome him, they walk through his front arch, enter the studio, and knock on the studio door to be let back into the living room.
Charlie’s neighbors include police lady (nice), ponytail man (asshole), lady who skips arm day (self-explanatory), and Summer Holiday (very intrigued).
Unfortunately for her, Summer Holiday is a Bad Name.
Greeting your neighbors is something one is supposed to do in polite society. Mr. J.-E. recalls a time when Kendra couldn’t get a laugh out of him, so she pushed the corners of his mouth upward with her pointer fingers. That’s what he’s trying to emulate here. Do people smile at the same time they talk? He’s watching his guests to figure it out. He remembers from his one successful conversation with Elsa that most people don’t want to talk about organelles or space, and settles instead on one of the most vanilla topics: cupcakes.
During the exhausting social effort, Charlie goes outside to decompress by shooting some hoops or catching some fish.
The heavy users of the fishing spot behind Charlie’s house are Charlie himself and Angela, Chantel’s mom, who drives from San Myshuno to fish behind Charlie’s house at least twice a week. Angela and Charlie don’t interact aside from a slight head nod or non-mutual eye contact.
In case Charlie’s presence wasn’t interesting enough to the single women of Willow Creek (Aileen’s Theorem), he’s now gainfully employed.
Doesn’t this job require a Bachelors? Naaaaah. He’ll be fine! It’s not as if medical staff require special training or nights spent cramming with a bloodstream full of legal stimulants to make the points go higher, just a pinch of gung-ho and a go-getter attitude. Male Elle Woods here skips the experience of being a pre-med sophomore who blames failing grades on his Ochem professor for not personally showing up on his doorstep to tell him exactly what would be on the test, then grabbing his hand and taking the entire exam for him, Ghost-style. Compare with the Science career, a preposterous amalgamation of like eight different fields, plus ALIENS, where the first job level does not require locking oneself in a windowless basement for five years to write a 130-page document no one will read. Maybe your advisor if you’re lucky. You also never have to be the aforementioned unfair Ochem professor. You’re just Jimmy fucking Neutron, and then when you meet a real-life scientist, you have to hide your disappointment as they describe locking themselves in a windowless basement for months writing grant proposals.
Throwing a fresh high school grad into a fast-paced career comes with consequences. For example, dealing with stress caused by wrapping one’s head around open questions in the field of medicine.
Alien and human physiology are similar enough for the two species (?) to interbreed, but Charlie is having trouble keeping track of the literature. Genes have different names in humans, mice, C. elegans, Drosophila, Chinese hamsters, and zebrafish, and now he has to memorize another set for aliens? Did the clinical trials for this medication include alien participants in both the control and experimental groups? Was there a statistically significant difference between alien and human responses? How about side effects? These are questions Charlie shoves behind his perma-etched awkward work smile, lest he be accused of discrimination based on skin tone/planetary origin.
Enabling societal alien-erasure is just one of the areas where Charlie’s bedside manner needs work. He avoids eye contact, he mumbles, his handwriting is legible, he interrupts conversations to do sit-ups, and he has, on more than one occasion, been observed doing a heel-turn in the middle of the hallway to run for the treadmill. But he has a preternatural ability to diagnose patients based on symptoms displayed when he was in another room, so his performance skyrockets.
Plus, no one can focus on what he’s saying anyway with that gun show. Woof!
Charlie spends most of his time diagnosing the same 3 hypochondriacs and 5 people who are close enough to toddlers to get their mouth sneezed into on a daily basis. One such hypochondriac is Aileen’s best girlfriend, Layla Beam, a mixologist who is pretty sure she got some crud at the bar last night. It’s different from last week, ok? It’s a different one. Charlie tries to diagnose her infectious illness by collecting samples, taking X-rays, running her on the treadmill, and asking about the last five things she ate, but not even the joy of symmetrical tiny cacti can distract him from the grim reality of the job: sometimes nothing you do works out, and he’s split between two diagnoses after running all possible tests. More than once he’s had to gamble Layla’s health on a coin toss, and the coin seems to be landing on the wrong side every time.
Later that week, Charlie gets asked whether he plays videogames. He does? Good. The godlike effect videogames have on hand-eye coordination—it says so right here, on this gaming website—makes him ideal for the next career level: surgeon. Here’s your scalpel. Remember your R.E.F.U.G.E. training, but try to apply it in a context where you’re not supposed to kill anyone.
All the stress of habitually misdiagnosing Layla has been forcing Charlie out of the house. Not only has dealing with patients has improved Charlie’s social skills by orders of magnitude, it’s motivated him to interact with other Sims beyond “have you been abducted lately?” or “could you repeat what you did with the pencil one more time?” or “here, let me inoculate you against the disease you already have.” A natural starting point for Dr. Basketball here is his home base. The Sim who finally teaches him to love is somewhere out there, sweating through her sports bra on the treadmill while she tips her REI metal bottle upside down to catch the last few drops of lukewarm gym-fountain water.
Or is she meditating in the woods?
Meanwhile, Summer Holiday is steaming some hams and definitely not focusing on her workout.
In the 15 minutes Summer spends fixing her fishtail braid in the bathroom, she mentally chants her plan: start leaving, look downright surprised to see her neighbor in the same gym, fire off an “oh hello, Charlie, I didn’t see you there,” and casually mention either calcium channels or black holes, the two topics she landed on after a multi-day social media stalking binge. But as Charlie interrupts his conversation with the personal trainer to enthuse about action potentials, Summer realizes her lack of a fifth step. Maybe something like, haha, I didn’t know that about the lipid bilayer, want to discuss it over coffee sometime? She deliberates on what exact word choices would make her segue seem perfectly natural. Charlie has already run off to make Ana smell worse.
Charlie approaches his confusion about adult relationships the same way he’s been taught to approach concepts in school: research. Simpedia returns no answers for the query “is there anyone out there for me,” but it does teach Charlie the concept of a meet-cute, which seems as good an experiment design as any.
According to Simpedia’s “List of Romantic Comedies,” 43% of meet-cutes happen in cafés. Of those 43%, 76% of those are in cafés which serve brunch. The closest brunch-serving café, a train ride to Windenburg away, is deserted on Charlie’s day off—so much so that the barista leaves his post to keep Charlie company.
According to Scrubs, which Charlie keeps hearing is the most realistic depiction of his job, he should be dating gorgeous actress number four by now. Yet the only people who show up to his promotion celebrations are either elderly, married, or Don Lothario, who is impeded by neither of those things.
According to Charlie’s mom, he’ll find someone, darling, don’t woooorrry, don’t rush it. How did she know the exact combination of words to make him even more impatient? With a sigh, he picks up the phone and texts his last resort. Not five minutes pass before his phone vibrates and a message from Shu appears, confidently stating THE CLUB DUMBASS.
Charlie ignores Shu’s twelve-text follow-up manifesto advising him to show his forearms, check to see who watches when he applies lip balm, and keep his expectations low so as not to seem desperate, and pulls the classiest thing he has out of his closet. What follows is a confusing night of not talking to anyone in particular. In the bright lights and loud noises, Charlie can’t even keep track of his own mood: is he confident about discovering aliens, or angry? Is he refreshed from the nap he took downstairs on the sofa, away from the pounding bass, or still exhausted? At least the vegetables he took from his mom’s garden were tasty.
It took a few terrifying days for Charlie to realize that, ultimately, he lives at the gym. There’s only one other person who lives at the gym.
Of course! Crushed by the pressure to overachieve, Charlie had always been fascinated with (and a little jealous of) Ana’s ability to drop everything and run around barefoot in the woods. She was an enthralling conversational partner, perhaps the only person who experienced that sudden loss of breath, that weightless feeling when he stood alone in nature—and he realized that maybe, over time, this fascination had turned into a crush.
(Ana’s totally okay with this. Her high sex drive makes it difficult for her to detach from the physical world.)
There was something calming in the familiarity of her smell—earthy, probably from actual dirt—and Charlie realizes he didn’t have to try to connect with her at all.
Ana helps herself to the comfort of a real bed, UVB/C protection, and Claudia’s cooking before humming a mantra and vanishing into the trees.
But as alluring as Ana is, she’d never give up her principles for him. She prefers passively lurking in tall grass, leaving only to offer spiritual guidance when the opportunity presents itself, to traditional life milestones like marrying a doctor or living in a house.
So Charlie tries to distract himself by slipping into the monotony of treating the same 3 hypochondriacs and 5 people who let toddlers eat sand and cough on their faces.
Over time, Charlie realizes he is beginning to internalize the intersection of his mom’s and Shu’s advice: stop trying to force things and just be. He just needed a nonzero amount of experience with dating to understood what that meant.
This is the context in which he finds himself at the karaoke bar in front of this uncomfortably-close-standing maiden.
She introduces herself as Josephine Liu (no relation. There are other families with the last name Liu, y’know), advice columnist, but her real passion is gardening—she just loves feeling the wind in her hair—and spends most of her down time jogging around various parks. Charlie can’t believe his luck; he arrives home satisfied from going out for once, heart still pounding.
He floats through the next day of treating the same eight people, seizing the next randomly generated party at his uncle’s husband’s former house as an opportunity to invite Josephine out again. Are they too similar? Who cares!
Jo returns Charlie’s interest, asking him out the next day on a date to Myshuno Meadows. The feeling to see each other again as soon as possible was apparently mutual, since both of them are enjoying the date, but complaining about how late it is, and keep going for the coffee. Charlie’s completely lost: he has feelings about Jo that he never had with Ana, and he’s known Jo for less than a week.
Years of hiking alone, fishing alone, crafting alone, social anxiety, doubts about his romantic future, whether a romantic future is truly what he wants: ignored. Overwritten.
Are they moving too fast? Who cares! Jo’s his girlfriend now, and she’s moving in!
Joey is a sweet, easygoing lady with infinite levels of chill. It’s easy to make her laugh, and easy to keep her entertained; though she does have the habit of yelping at odd times, which is off-putting at best. She has two brothers, one of whom is married to a man, and the other is likely possibly also married to a man. Charlie expands the garden for her, but doesn’t change much else: she’s already down with easy-to-clean ceramic tile and falling asleep under the stars. She even stares at the same Day of the Dead statue during meals. Charlie’s overjoyed to finally have someone around, and showers her with affection at every opportunity.
Charlie travels to his temporary lover’s gym-home to break the news about adorable Josephine. Ana’s good at living in the moment, so she should be able to take it lightly.
Meanwhile, Charlie’s phone keeps blowing up with people who sound downright surprised he’s living with an actual Sim woman with whom he shares no relation.
Such a miracle warrants a visit from The Patriarch. Mike walks into his son’s house with no greeting, no advance warning, not even a knock on the inside of the study door. Usually there’s a preamble before these sorts of things happen—but not for Mike, who shows up and has the rest of the world rearrange itself around him.
He vets out his oldest child’s date over a symbolic game of chess. Jo takes this as a casual game and keeps giggling when she loses pieces, while Mike is matching the intensity of a pseudo-intellectual using chess as a metaphor for how strategically ahead he is of every mindless sheep in existence. Everything looks easy when you can only perceive things in your favor. Mike, having based a non-negligible portion of his self-worth on being good at chess, wins handily, and likes her more for it. Success! Aside from the undertones of weirdass droit du seigneur garbage, you did good.
Does this have to go catastrophically wrong in one of at least three different ways? Perhaps not yet. Charlie and Jo can stay in their honeymoon phase for now. Whatever happens when it ends, that’s anyone’s guess.