(Yes—the partner count is so high, this had to be split into two parts. In fact, it comes with its own practice problems. The midterm is in two weeks. Good luck!)
There are moments that change who we think we are. There are moments we lose countless hours of sleep reliving, and when our body finally passes out, we awake screaming, red-eyed, in a cold sweat, unable to escape as our subconscious melds our physical and mental experience together into a surreal fabrication, a simulacrum derived from our rawest emotions, a dream that seems as real as the day it happened. There are moments where tragedy hits on a scale for which most people have no frame of reference, no understanding of what it was like to be in the epicenter. And as each I’m-sorry-that-happened-to-you or have-you-tried-valerian oft-repeated silver bullet fails to temporarily lessen the pain, those at the heart of such tragedy start to doubt their ability to connect with anyone blind to this unspeakable suffering.
Aileen had dragged herself out of her comfort zone that day, settling at the local café to browse books/dudes and bemoan the nonexistence of laptops.
Owing to the lack of college courses, sketchbooks, caffeine addiction, or blind dates, few Sims choose to spend their free time at the café. (Contrast this with the gym.) A prominent counterexample is the barista, who, upon Aileen’s entry, immediately leaves his post for a cheesecake break. His coworker arrives half an hour later to cover the bar. This is the fourth time she’d been called on short notice this week for this exact reason. As word spreads that it’s now possible for one to actually order espresso and pastries from the café, passersby trickle in from the plaza, giving Aileen her desperately needed people-watching time. Shu gets her text and drops in to do his homework.
Aileen’s body is a temple and it requires a sacrifice of pastries. Not wanting to seem blasphemous, she heads to the display case to identify the most virtuous offering. If there had been a different set of people in the café, if Aileen had responded to her hunger an hour earlier, if something had interrupted her blithe stroll towards the counter to make this simple request to a justifiably surly barista, things may not have turned out the way they did.
But there wasn’t, and she didn’t, and it didn’t, so here we are, witnessing Aileen’s second life-defining calamity from above. There was, in that café that day, something so abhorrent that Aileen felt every pixel in her body tense up and fall apart at once.
Someone left a book on the floor.
Aileen is trapped within a couple feet of the book and waits for death to take her. Shu approaches to help, but starts grimacing as soon as he is within some unseen radius of the book, pleading to the heavens in a gesture that asks why, why would a benevolent god allow this to happen. Both are trapped in a space where each passing second amplifies their discomfort into an uncontrollable inferno destined to immolate their very souls.
At the last moment, they regain enough clarity to walk away from the book, and everything is fine again! Outwardly.
Exercise: Come up with a way to prevent this. Too many have suffered already.
Exercise: Compute how many hours of basketball Aileen and Shu will have to play to end the night terrors in which they are consumed by bound paper as tessellated planks of wood silently watch their demise.
Shu bravely refuses to let his status as Floor Book Survivor distract him from his life’s work. So, in the spirit of healing, he invites Chantel on their second real date. It’s going to be uneventful compared to their first real date. Chantel can’t propose on this one.
So that’s where his hoodie went! In retrospect, the fact that it went missing is unsurprising. So is this:
Shu enjoys several benefits from experimenting with polyamory as a teenager. Not in the sense of objectifying his partners, more in that most other teens don’t frequent nightclubs or parties as often as he does, so his chance of being caught by one of his n-1 other partners at these venues is negligible. But Shu is still a kid, and sometimes kids have very bad days at school.
Magnolia Promenade is the diametric opposite: to invite a date there would be foolish, but it’s the optimal place to stand around with a guitar and look cute.
Marielle Bloom eventually takes the bait. (She’s still figuring out her fashion sense. No shade.) Shu politely introduces himself, and—
—gets three words in before being interrupted by his second girlfriend. He greets her only once he knows the coast is clear.
However, when your ride-or-die has the documented ability to teleport, the eyeball test can only do so much. This doesn’t stop Shu from excusing himself from Shannon mid-makeout to give Elsa a smooch.
Shu’s common sense kicks in at the last minute—rather than dodging three girlfriends at once, couldn’t he move someplace else while they’re contained? He sneaks off under the cover of darkness, seizing the opportunity to take Genevieve on a date to the library while his mom works on her book.
If Shu’s idea of a good date involves having someone take off running right after he kisses them, it’s going very well already!
As Gen vanishes into the distance for her compulsive nighttime jog, she is replaced by Billie Jang. Shu pulls his hand sanitizer out of his pocket in preparation for a date-within-a-date. Billie doesn’t know who he is, but isn’t every stranger just a FWB you haven’t met?
Exercise: Determine how many ways this could go wrong. Using your understanding of Shu, determine how many actually happened.
Two interlopers appear post-introduction. Billie’s friends’ name is Yasmin, and her standard M.O. may very well be to clam-jam Billie. Not without reason—she’s heard the rumors about this one, and is only trying to protect her friend from becoming the fifth casualty of this fuckboy. Shu makes a mental note never to date her.
Shu, having performed several maneuvers equivalent to drifting four lanes over a major road and stopping intact in the last available street parking spot, smiles wistfully to himself for a job well done. He waits until all three romantic interests leave before finishing his homework at an open desk.
Exercise: Do Shu’s actions represent male or female sexual fantasy? Discuss. Yes, this is an inclusive ‘or.’
After waking up at 4 AM on Saturday, making breakfast, and cleaning the kitchen, Shu hides his disappointment at the lack of school by inviting Billie over.
While Shu is in desperate need of parental supervision re. dating, Aileen continues to strategize. His hypersexual behavior started after the divorce, so the first parent to ask him to tone it down will forever be known as the bad parent, while turning a blind eye to his strictly monotonic body count is something the cool parent would do—in this Mexican standoff, Aileen’s safest move is to shadow him. Whatever. At least he’s doing it in the house.
During the date, Billie strikes a nerve with her teasing and is too embarrassed to recover. She jogs out of the house in shame. Shu improvises, directing his affection at a passing stranger.
Before noon, Shu invites Marielle to be his +1 at PB&J’s nightclub party.
Marielle refuses to be distracted by the flashing lights, loud music, and presence of the prestigious local music group. Shu’s reputation precedes him, such that weeks of internalizing gossip have primed Marielle for this moment. She’s here to send a message: if Shu wants to date her, he needs to step it up. No scrubs, etc. Marielle earns a spot in the high school pantheon as the first person to turn Shu down.
He reacts to rejection by respecting Marielle’s boundaries, choosing instead to use his world’s second-smallest violin to riff off the pulsing club electronica. They end up having a pleasant conversation sharing stories in which PB&J members played music on top of other music in socially inappropriate scenarios. So pleasant, in fact, that Shu invites her to the Romance Festival later that night. No pressure.
Suspicious Aileen follows him, only to take a sip of special drink and look left to realize her coparent had the same concern.
This brief moment of awkward eye contact revives all the memories Aileen thought she had repressed after Floor Book—the brief moment of connection had left her feeling more alone than ever, despite all the effort she went through to be satisfied with her own company. She couldn’t be feeling insecurity, she reasoned, because she wasn’t the type of person to be jealous. Jealousy isn’t the yoga way of doing things. She must have been reacting to something else: something undefined, unlabelled, and, therefore, unaddressed.
Whatever happened, Aileen’s motivation for flirting with Josh Schofield (Kleptomaniac, Hates Kids, Third Trait), her yoga instructor, had more to do with her own enjoyment of life than her futile desire to keep her head above water.
And yet, who cares? This is the Romance Festival! Do whomever you want.
Shu, meanwhile, has been challenged by Alexander Goth to kiss someone at the romance festival. It takes him two hours to cycle through boy band tropes until he finds one that jibes with Marina.
In increasing order of apathy, the bystander reactions included inappropriate arousal, a celebratory fist pump (thx Mike), wondering why one spot on the pavement is a different color than the other spots, and putting on blinders so he can live in a dream world where his son only has two girlfriends. Alex was banking on Shu understanding the subtext behind “I’ll go to the Romance Festival with you, I dare you to kiss someone,” and is in denial about whether Shu is just that dense or chose to ignore it. It’s the latter, of course. Get in line.
Josh wanders off before the festival ends, so Shu wins the Sleepover Standoff by default.
Only one parent of a high school child remains unaware of Shu’s whirlwind sexual deviancy, and it’s exactly who you’d expect.
Sunday can be used for quiet personal time—or for making your fourth girlfriend French toast and politely waiting for her to leave before inviting a different girl over, then greeting Girl 2 with a normal amount of subtlety.
Exercise: Will Billie make it through the door?
While Billie excuses herself to go home, secretly delighted at her lack of faux pas, Shu has already invited Shannon over.
Aileen’s writing has started to slip backwards in the linear, universal, totally-true stages of grief from acceptance to depression. Every time she meets a new person, the divorce inevitably comes up, and every time it does, she receives some variation of “don’t worry, you’ll find someone.” But she has, and none of those someones feel right. If there’s one thing she’s learned from the sum total of well-meaning but self-conflicting advice defining her life as a single woman, it’s that any common problem has a clear resolution that seems obvious to those on the outside, and if she has trouble implementing any of the requisite steps, the fault lies with her, not the advisee for failing to accurately consider the reality of her situation. Seeing these thoughts written out helps her blame herself less—but while she’s tied to her computer writing her next bestseller, Shu sets a personal record by sleeping with three Sims in less than 24 hours.
Should Aileen give up her one source of self-actualization to put her son on a damn leash? She doesn’t know. It would be easy for someone else to say so, and even easier for that someone else to roll their eyes when Aileen breaks down and pose the trivial solution of devoting her time to self-care and finding a creative outlet, spiraling into an infinite loop of everyone else knowing exactly what to do. She hasn’t yet figured out whether her friends overestimate the naivety of whatever unreliable facsimile of Aileen exists in their heads, composed of surface-level facts and emotional projections, or whether she is truly that incompetent and unaware. And yet, to accuse someone else of being wrong would be mean. Arrogant, even.
While Aileen tries to resolve her understanding of factors with no well-defined measure, Shu adds to the confusion by making French toast for the girl his mom didn’t know slept over, then doing extra credit work of his own volition.
Aileen attempts to get out of her own head by getting out of her house, choosing again to patronize the café in hope that some stunning bookish stranger will leave his art-cave in search of legal stimulants. Anything to distract her from spiraling into loneliness. Anything positive—she couldn’t handle someone leaving a book on a flat surface in a public place, not in this mental state.
Aileen is so consumed by rage, she allows herself to complain to Shu about the unspeakable horror she has now had to witness twice, in a space she thought was safe. He agrees! They spend a few minutes cleaning together, avoiding glares from bystanders wondering what they’re even on about this time. He reduces their shared trauma into an elaborate pun; she laughs. For the first time in eight years, Aileen begins to recognize a part of herself in her son.
Said son burns off the residual shock of witnessing another misplaced tome by throwing himself at the first teenage girl to wander towards guitar sounds.
He can learn from past mistakes. Olivia Spencer-Kim-Lewis (Goofball, Geek) receives only a brief introduction before he stealthily vanishes. On the same road she is using, in the same direction. Always check your 6.
Alpha girlfriend Chantel invites herself over the next day, demonstrating a baffling phenomenon.
When Shu initiates a kiss, he moves his hand towards Chantel’s butt, a move which she denies by grabbing his forearm and yanking it upwards. When Chantel initiates the kiss, same deal; this time Shu is the one who doesn’t want his glutes squeezed. This happens every time. So to recap, one of the participants went ham on eternal commitment after the first date, and the other is Shu. It makes no sense. Just touch the butt.
Exercise: How much baggage can Chantel and Shu fit into one relationship?
Exercise: What is the most efficient way for Aileen to wind down after a long day at work?
Josh sneaks out of the house for a mid-date run as his competitors deal with a mild case of bedroom confusion.
It’s Wednesday. Another school day, another girl seduced at the club, blah blah blah.
Shu’s ineffective guardian angel allows him to sneak out of sight as she ponders, hey, that dude with the microbraids and a suit-vest-loafer combo no one else would dare wear, what’s his deal? (Exercise: What is his deal?) No amount of casual chit-chat could explain such a character, but this mysterious gentleman does seem used to middle-aged women coming up to pet his head.
With each new girlfriend Shu accumulates, it becomes exponentially harder to stall the gossip train at the station: the conductor has noticed some jagoff standing in the automatic doors, and the other passengers are starting to revolt. One small push, and Shu would be faced with the consequences of committing the high-school-drama cardinal sin.
Don’t fuck with Elsa.
Unfortunately, Shu’s reign of lust gets its Robespierre exactly at the halfway point of this long tale. Here’s a teaser for part II: