San Myshuno’s favorite necrophiliac is here to step in before things get too real.
A week before Jasper found his nemesis in a multi-thousand-year-old snow demon, Xiyuan and his husband forego preparing for Winterfest in favor of a monomaniacal adherence to routine that rivals Groundhog Day—but here with the opposite message of Groundhog Day, since learning to love another person creates a loop, not breaks one.
The holidays promise to be low-key. There are no begging children showing up at the penthouse for Bernard to jump-scare. Not even the most contrived situation could get Xiyuan and his not-hostile-but-not-too-enthused coparent in the same room. Everyone’s in-laws are overseas or rotting. Shu’s going to visit at some point, but the family-oriented spirit of the holiday is going to preclude any real discussion about what the hell he thinks he’s doing.
Xiyuan moves 5 feet from his perch and pushes the dual combination branch-fountain, a real double-threat, flush with the wall, creating just enough space to assemble the artificial tree. The needles are done up in an ombre increasing in saturation from their white tips to whichever plastic imitation branch they belong to, the deepest hue being an equal combination of forest and avocado greens. Like 60’s bathroom or diner green. The color seen draped over RVs with fake wood panels and in polished jukebox enamel and soulmated with burnt orange. Perhaps as a nod to the color’s history, or as an aesthetic challenge, or a symbol of rebirthing things that should have been dead for a long time, the pair have decided to revive the tradition by draping the tree in more than a pop of orange.
In fall or summer the hubbub in the Arts Quarter courtyard would be partly audible from the gallery’s fourth floor. Today, the pro- and anti-capitalist sentiments being hawked by the street vendors and protesters, respectively, are caught in the porous blanket of snow before they can reach Xiyuan’s ears, and the layer of frost on the windowpane distorts the figures below into collections of refracted dots. He keeps his head still to distinguish the living, moving dots from the streetlight and plant dots. He visits daily to brush snow off the koi mural and sip his coffee on the south side of Casbah Gallery’s top floor. If he stands one foot away from the floor-to-ceiling glass panes, the chill of the air on his face and the vents warming his backside cancel out to the perfect temperature for enjoying a hot beverage.
The other mural is a testament to semiotic overload: whether the vandal is making a nihilistic statement about the future of the planet, rejecting the idea of diversity, or communicating the magnitude of their own toughness by superimposing a self-portrait on the blue dot itself, he can’t tell. He wanders downstairs to try and make sense of the stylized Simlish message repeated across the mural’s lower border.
He wanders deep enough in the courtyard to make out the protesters’ signs, which strike him as ambiguous in almost exactly the same way. The choice to pair the Earth with a reaper’s scythe—what does it mean? A warning for inevitable doomsday, a rant in favor of population culling? The woman with a megaphone yells out statements that no one in their right mind would disagree with, barring any prejudice against those who actually care about politics, or against the concept of protesting itself, passionate and just vague enough to deter opposition. It reminds him of a horoscope. The reader gets a prompt, the reader fills in the blanks; the less information provided, the more accurate the prediction will be.
Xiyuan comes out in favor of rainbow people to the surprise of no one.
Two minutes after Xiyuan leaves, another Sim grabs the megaphone to deliver a monologue about the rent being too damn high. Passerby stop and nod in agreement.
He stops to pull the ends of his gloves further under his coat sleeves, which tenses the fabric against the webbing of his fingers. It’s unpleasant, freezing actually, but wandering the courtyard is Xiyuan’s preferred way of biding time. He examines the compressed snow on and between the cracks of his boots. White, he thought of the snow, a blank page or canvas, echoing the musical bookends that got stuck in his head every time, no matter how many white pages or canvases he saw, or any vast expanse of white, for that matter. In a day, the courtyard’s page or canvas would hardly be blank, mixing with dirt and heat from boots to create a sort of brown sludge with garnishes of dog piss near the edges of plant beds. But currently, it symbolized cleansing, healing. Rebirth.
He’d almost forgotten the dread he felt at having to meet his son that night. It was the first time he’d felt it. He needed to believe this was transient, too.
If Shu had any similar feelings about the disastrous failure in familial cohabitation, he was refusing to play his hand. He was steering the conversation clear of anything heavy, offering and soliciting only empty-calorie informational nuggets like what anyone did today or was hoping to receive from Father Winter. Things Xiyuan barely had to think about to answer. The quarter of a day, along with the weeks between his son moving out and him remembering that family-oriented holidays exist, at any rate, the quarter of a day he’d spent choosing which points to make or gloss over seemed like a waste. The sketches he’d spent hours erasing and revising looked like shit next to the strokes that flowed out as natural as the one-word expected response to how his day was. Such a conversation was best left to the pros. Losing his train of thought in the effortless, ceaseless flow of anecdotes, he’d forgotten that was an option.
Windenburg’s former ghost Lord/San Myshuno’s current face of #relationshipgoals understands something is bugging his husband, but can’t get any information beyond the occasional sigh, the half-start of a sentence promising to express what exactly is wrong this time, the unsolicited remark on what activities his progeny used to enjoy. Part of Xiyuan can’t reconcile current Shu with the kid who once licked a block of resin to see what it would taste like, but to Bernard, Shu is Lord Byron but less of a dick. He’s like having a child without the unpleasant experience of being around a child. Their feet are both too big and too small, don’t you know? It’s creepy.
No gift exchange occurs during the meeting. Shu insisted on it. That was one of the things Xiyuan tried to analyze in his downtime in the weeks and quarter-day leading up to the meeting—was he planning a surprise, a welcome one this time, a gesture Xiyuan would have to refuse to be blindsided by and match with his own? His solution was to keep an envelope in his jacket pocket, just in case, and if not now he’d give it to his son on New Year’s. Another small relief; it was a genuine, no-nonsense request for lack of gifts. The young man prepared nothing beyond some pun on the word presents/presence.
Maybe he’d underestimated Shu’s ability to be genuine. It wasn’t like he tried to hide anything before.
The exchange, instead, occurred next morning and involved only two participants. It wasn’t an event foreshadowed by any fanfare, or any mention that it was happening. The couple had long eradicated the need for conversational filler. One displayed emotion with the precision of a character actor and transparency of an anime character and the other retained the aristocratic tendency to narrate what he was doing at any given time. It wasn’t like he didn’t expect his husband to swivel his head without moving any other part of his body, last of all the brush from the canvas, to check what he was doing. It was a reassurance. I’m here, everything’s okay. The gift he received was a reflection of that sentiment. I’m here, nothing’s changed, nothing’s going to change, I’ll always be here, and everything’s okay.
An easel. It was an easel.
Then they left (with a mild nod and a “Shall we?”) to try something they’d been meaning to all winter.
If there is a soul reading this, a single soul, who thinks Bernard is a heartless bastard, was responsible for his own and Mimsy’s death, was put in the game as an irredeemable antagonist to scare children, cackled as his livelihood was reduced to ash, look at this. Please.
A ride into the freaking sunset, is what these two are.
So we’re almost up to the present day, but have one more story to knock out before that can happen. Consider it a season finale. It’s heavy enough for this author to provide preemptive eyebleach. You’ve been warned.
Before we hit the wall/fall off a cliff/other vertical metaphor signifying the point of no return, here are links to download CC-less versions of these guys in their current state and give them some hope of a stable life in at least one timeline. Enjoy.
If your trash cans are full, your spirit is empty, and you need an ascetic to take care of both: Ana Asteya
If your female Sims are bored or need someone to enthuse to about rom-coms: Chantel Lucas, Xishu “Shu” Liu, Genevieve Haskins
If your Pagan club needs another member: Kendra Jeong-Espinosa and her dog Yuggoth
If you want Charlie to avoid talking to your Sims too, and apparently Jo’s Maxis-curated, oh well, she’s stuck in this mess now: Charlie, Josephine and Jasper Jeong-Espinosa
If you want to give Aileen a happy ending: Aileen Jensen (Grey Wedding actually happens slightly later)
If you need a couple heavy-hitters, including the lush legend herself, and also Hector: Mike Jeong, Claudia Espinosa; Hector, Mona and Perry Jeong-Espinosa
And, finally, Xiyuan and Bernard Shallot-Liu are a requirement. Highly recommended for anyone who’s ever had a bad day.