Today’s non-supersad alternative is a redone summary of Book I. Now it’s Kendra and Shu gossiping about the past twenty years while utterly failing to sit in chairs. And yes, it’s a summary, but also a heaping amount of new content! (Fair warning: if you’re early on this, I haven’t quite gotten the screenshots done yet. It’s Saturday night and I’m still making and testing poses. So unless you’re down with a wall of text, you might want to wait a day.)
“Mira, Héctor. Mira el camello.“
Hector wasn’t entirely sure what differentiated el camello from la llama. They were both beige, slightly sweet, bloblike, and crunchy. But he didn’t have the means to tell Mamá that animal crackers weren’t the pedagogical tool she thought they were—you had to have prior knowledge of the animal’s shape to guess what features the blobs were trying to approximate—and so his strategy was to figure out what she was pointing to and put it in his mouth.
“¡Bueno! ¡Un camello!“
Hector was coating the amputated back legs of el camello in toddler spit. The remaining cracker, he bashed into particles against the high chair. This was all exploratory. Through multiple trials, he could conclude that objects of this type shared important properties: they tasted like a dimly sweet cardboard box with a flavor that lingered in the back of your mouth, they made these satisfying crumbs when smashed to smithereens against a hard surface, and Mamá wouldn’t take them away if he put them in his mouth. The crumbs weren’t bad to eat either. There were more crackers in his bowl than he could count—more than six—and if Mamá was going to name those too, he was doubting his ability to keep up. With the dexterity of an arcade claw game, he picked up a fresh one.
Claudia tilted her head to figure out what the hell animal this one was supposed to be. “Esto es un elefante.” Probably. Like, it had a trunk. She couldn’t name any other non-extinct proboscideans. Closing her mouth, she tried to make a trumpeting sound through her nose.
Adults making odd noises was the true apex of comedy Hector felt it to be, and in virtually any other context he’d erupt in the kind of giggles people get their cameras out for—but for such behavior to follow his mother’s go at making mealtime an educational experience lessened its magic, or would have felt pandering if he had four more inches on the height chart and mastery of the See-‘n-Say under his belt, and so his frown remained right-side up. Building on the theme of his exaggerated downward expression, he let his mouth fall open and twitched with those gasps in the back of the throat that precede full-blown sobs.
“<What’s wrong, Hector?>”
Everything, dammit, not the least of which was his inability to understand it. This never happened when Dad was around. Dad’s noises were funnier, for one, and he didn’t do whatever this el camello trash was. Basura. Let crackers be crackers.
She guessed he might be done with the high chair. “<Do you want to get out of the chair?>“
Hector lifted his arms up. Not a frantic gesture, or an excited one, but one that clearly communicated, without ambiguity, his desire to be lifted. So that’s what Claudia felt she should do.
It wasn’t until Hector’s feet hit solid ground that he realized what had happened. Indeed, while he did want to get out of the chair, he also wanted to finish the rest of his animal crackers. And not on the floor, either; he had to be seated in the chair where he could make a mess on his own personal tray. He wanted her to let him out of the chair but also stay in the chair. What was Mamá not getting about that? The result was, no sooner had Claudia loosened her grip on Hector than he flopped into a heap and commenced his meltdown.
“<Why—what do you want? I don’t know what you want. Do you want the crackers?>”
She moved the bowl of crackers from Hector’s chair to his howling face with a fluidity Hector could only envy. But he wanted them in the chair! He screamed louder.
“<Here, Hector. Here are your crackers.>”
Claudia was at a loss at how to make the flailing ball of toddler limbs stop being that. It looked like she was totally blanking out when she stopped pushing crackers in his face and began to strategize, using logic being her first mistake, and was about to put Hector back in the chair when a sharp squeal from the other side of the room interrupted her.
“Give it back! It’s mine!”
The conflict caught her attention because the utteree’s verbal communication skills, you know, existed. She leaned in close to the sim whose frantic motions served to highlight his early-childhood rubberiness. “<I’ll be right back, precious.>” And for reasons she couldn’t articulate, possibly because there were none, she made a statement to Hector she’d only reflect upon later that night when sleep escaped her, which was “Hold that thought.”
Past the bookshelf, she saw Charlie reading a book without a care in the world with Kendra stewing next to him. The front cover proudly displayed a skinless figure stood in profile. Claudia’s face fell. Not the textbook thing again. She had no clue why getting both kids their own medical textbooks was apparently a problem they were dealing with as a family now. Glancing sideways at Hector, who was still sobbing prone on the floor, she caught herself melting with relief at the prospect of having a child whose problems she could relate to.
“Mom! Charlie won’t give my copy of Gray’s Anatomy back!” Kendra’s displeasure caused her to involuntarily rise from her seat, then sit back down again, only instead of resuming her conversation from her original post she moved one seat to the left, taking the edge of the couch. This prompted Charlie to scooch over to the middle, though Claudia wasn’t sure why since you’d expect he would want to put some space between himself and his sister, like a trench. She took the last remaining seat.
“Kendra, keep it down. You’re being loud.”
“And you’re not going to say anything about that?” Kendra jabbed her arm toward Hector, who was sticking to the tantrum plan. To emphasize her statement, or perhaps because she was the one who wanted space, she got up from her spot on the couch and moved to the chair on the far end of the living room. No one followed her this time. “He keeps stealing my book! Every day! It’s my book!”
Charlie put the book down to glare at his sister. “You’re just looking at the pictures!”
“You’re just reading the words!”
“Charlie, it’s your sister’s textbook.”
“But this book is so interesting! There’s so much stuff about the lymphatic system they don’t teach in school!”
“But I’m using it as a reference! I need to know where the eye sockets are so I can draw the eyes in the right place! And it’s my book!”
“Why don’t you just draw the skull and eyes ten feet apart like in your other drawings?” At this, he leaned back so that the most direct line to view his sister from was down his nose. “Hmm?”
Before Kendra could assert that the book was indeed her own seventh birthday present, Claudia interjected, a feat for how diplomatic and gentle she tried to make her tone. “Kendra, your brother wants to be a doctor. Doesn’t it make sense to let him borrow it for a little while?”
“Mom, what are you talking about? It’s my book!”
“Don’t talk back.” While she was well aware of the logical issues with appeals to authority, rhetorical strategy kicked the bucket sometime between the third kid becoming a tantrum puddle and the second kid making an argument centered around repeating the same three words, and repeating them loudly at that. She had to go for more of an authoritarian tone, to show she was above getting caught in a bogus debate the kids would never let her win, be a wall for them to thrash against for a bit before accepting their fate. “Be nice, you should learn to share.”
Charlie was about to go for some quip along the lines of “sharing is caring,” but thought better of himself. The fallacy still bugged him somewhat. There had to be a way to get what he wanted without introducing fuzzy stuff like authority and emotional blackmailing into the mix, and lighting a fire under his sister, while fun to watch, wasn’t great for him image-wise. So because he’d caught himself in a tiny doubt whirlpool due to almost proving Kendra right, that he was being a jerk, he instead said nothing. And then that in turn made it look like he needed Mommy to fight his battles for him, causing the doubt whirlpool to expand and further jumble his thoughts. Then Kendra’s outburst brought him back.
“What do you mean I should share? It’s. My. Book.”
“But Kendra, in this house we share our things.” From Claudia, whose gentle tone had developed a pleading edge. Charlie successfully kept down the sharing-is-caring jabs again.
The book’s true owner was clenching her teeth in a way that gave her mother anxiety about an orthodonture-filled future. If she could move to yet a fourth seat even further left, here’s where she would have done so. “Oh, come on! Mom! You’re only doing this because Charlie is Dad’s favorite and that’s what he’d tell me to do if he was here!”
“Kendra, your dad doesn’t favor Charlie. He loves you both equally.”
“Then why are you letting him use my things? How come I’m not the one asking for his things? If I wanted to play with his telescope you’d say no!”
Claudia could’ve said the telescope was full of little bits you could break if you’re in la-la land pretending you’re a space alien and so she had a perfectly genuine reason for restricting its use to taller family members, but she couldn’t let herself get defensive. She closed her eyes. It wasn’t so much that Kendra had precocious insight into her parents’ marriage as that she’d been on the butt end of this textbook argument god-knows-how-many times. In cases where Dad was home he delighted in conjuring increasingly elaborate reasons for Charlie to borrow the book, and Kendra would never hear the end of it if she dared to question them. There was no calling out Dad on anything, as far as Kendra was concerned. And Charlie had no reason to. Where Claudia herself fit in to this issue, she wasn’t sure, but she couldn’t accept Kendra’s behavior. She could question Mom but not Dad, the little hypocrite. They’d reached an impasse.
That was quite the accusation from Charlie’s perspective. It wasn’t something he wanted to endorse: he was feeling the shakiness one does when they’re at the top of the pecking order and won’t admit they like it there. His mother and sister seemed to be waiting for the other to say something lighter, possibly more defensible, giving him time to think. “Ok ok, how about this.” Charlie mimicked the cocky gesture people make when they’re putting an idea on the table, giving the metaphor life by spreading both hands over an actual table, only this one was in mid-air because the coffee table was too far away and low. “I only need the book because I don’t know all the terms yet. I’m using it so I know what to look up.”
“And I can’t look up anything online from my drawing table.”
“Right. So maybe we could move to the study, you have the book on your drawing table—“
“—Because it’s my book—“
“Yeah. So you have the book on your drawing table, you have it open to wherever you want, and I’ll just bookmark this page and figure out which word I should look up next. How does that sound?”
Claudia’s eyes popped open not unlike a jack-in-the-box in a horror movie. Nothing brought a parent back to life like hearing their kids come up with a compromise—freaking yes, no extra effort required, plus you get a dopamine hit from having raised a reasonable sim. “Kendra! That sounds great! What do you think?”
Kendra thought any chance of getting in the zone she had was ruined, or would be ruined every fifteen seconds when her brother had to open his bookmarked page a crack to check spelling on some word no one had any business coming up with. And yet compromises were generally a happy-ending thing, as far as children’s books were concerned, and she’d gotten two older-and-wiser-nyah-nyah types to at least budge on something. So whatever. “Fine.”
Charlie didn’t question his luck, so as not to jinx it—if such a thing as a jinx existed, but it doesn’t, at least he thought—and gestured with his thumb toward the study. “Right, Shall we?”
“Ok.” Kendra wasn’t usually this terse. Maybe she’d tired herself out from all the yelling.
“I’m so proud of you two for figuring it out!” She leaned forward to address the single shoe and eight animal crackers she could see. “<One moment, and then Mommy will be back.>”
Kendra stopped, putting enough distance between herself and Charlie to allow the study door to close. “How come you never speak Simlés with us?”
It was one of the innumerable mistakes she’d made with the older kids. But she wasn’t going to say that. “I didn’t know if you would want to grow up with two languages. Do you want to learn?”
“Yeah, it’s cool. Shu switches between Simlish and 模擬市民語* like every other sentence when he talks to his dad on the phone. I wanna do that, too.”
“That’s fantastic! But we’ll talk about it later. I have to take care of something with Hector first.”
Nearing the study door, Kendra muttered to herself. “‘Course you do.”
Claudia had been vaguely aware that the noise in the dining area had stopped. Hector sat with his back to her, marching un leon across the floor in honor of its fallen brethren. The bowl was wrong-side up and its contents were all which way across the floor, as Claudia expected.
He turned around at her voice, a grin spread wide across his tiny face. Claudia remembered the lat time someone smiled at her like that. Down to the day. Down to the second. It was her mother’s smile.
“<Ah, little Hector.>” He continued beaming at her, and for a moment his joy burst through the walls and outshone the sun itself. Her eyes watered as they adjusted to the light. Bitterness and teasing and fights, those were her normal. Those were what she could handle.
But this feeling of kindness, strange and new, is what finally brought her to tears. “<You’re going to run the world with a smile like that.>”
His eyes, so full of potential. Unstoppable.
“<Shh. That’s better. Mommy’s here. You’re like me, right? You won’t drift away.>”
She brought his tiny head to her shoulder, lowering her voice to barely a whisper.
“<You’ll be the one who loves me.>”