The little girl twirled the brush across her cheek, applying just a little more blush. Like the grown-ups do. She examined her face in the mirror with apparent pride. She looked perfect.
“Sadie?” A voice called out her name. “Are you snooping in aunt Sera’s room again? You know, if mom catches you… What the-“ Hope stopped herself, trying hard not to laugh. “What’s up with your face?”
“Hooope!” Sadie’s face lit up at the sight of her sister. “I saw aunt Sera trying out her makeup for tomorrow. She said it’s important that she looks pretty. So I’m doing the same. Do you like it?”
The corners of Hope’s mouth twitched upwards for a split second. “You look great, sis. But you know, the reason aunt Sera needs to look extra special tomorrow is because she’s the bride. It’s her wedding, her special day…”
The little girl nodded eagerly. Hope could tell she was still oblivious.
“So if you make yourself look this pretty, it might distract people from aunt Sera. And that would make her sad. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
Sadie’s face fell. “I guess not.” She pouted. “Will you help me wash it off, Hope?”
“Sure.” Hope smiled, relieved.
Before they could move, their little brother ran into the room, followed by Aslan.
“Woah, why are you wearing war-paint Sadie? Can I get some too?” Graham looked up to Hope.
The girl sighed, shaking her head. “Why don’t you guys go find mom?” She told the twins.
Hope and Aslan exchanged amused looks when the kids ran into the hallway.
Aslan laughed, sitting down next to his cousin. “We SO need to get rid of the family unit this afternoon.”
“I know, right?” Hope nodded. “I was thinking the two of us should explore Windenburg a little this afternoon. We’re only here for a few days, and one of them is wasted on the wedding already…”
Aslan looked shifty all of the sudden. “Yeah, I don’t know… I was thinking we could just chill here today…”
“Aslan!” Hope’s eyes narrowed.
“It’s just… Alexus said she’d call… and she still hasn’t.”
Hope supressed the urge to roll her eyes. “Oh come on, where is your sense of adventure!? First time we get out of Newcrest, and you want to sit in the hotel, waiting for your girlfriend to ring?”
“Whatever,” Hope interrupted him. “The point is our aunt is getting married here, and she’s seen the world! So many exotic countries! And look at us, lame small town kids who’ve only just left home for the first time… now is our chance to live a little, like her.”
Aslan smirked. “When I grow up, I want to be just like aunt Sera.” He said in a high-pitched voice.
“Very funny,” Hope frowned. “I would love to do what she did, as a matter of fact. Travel to all these places without a care in the world and really absorb it all. I wouldn’t mind living like aunt Sera at all. Minus the guy, duh.”
“No fairy tale Windenburg wedding for you?” Aslan teased.
“Pfft.” Hope cringed. “Anyway, I’m sure Alexus will call pretty early, with the time difference and all. So we should have the whole afternoon.”
“Good point.” Aslan agreed. “It’s not like I’m that bothered anyway…”
Hope raised her eyebrows, but decided to play along – it was hard enough to convince Aslan to join her in the first place. “Sure.”
“Can we go play with aunt Sera after lunch?” Sadie asked her parents while she worked through her butternut gnocchi.
“Aunt Sera’s busy with last minute wedding preparations, remember?” Carly reminded her daughter patiently. “You’ll get to see her in the evening sweetie.”
The disappointment in Sadie’s face was evident, but she didn’t argue.
“Remember when we came here for aunt Peyton’s wedding when we were about Graham and Sadie’s age, and Sera proclaimed she’d get married here in Windenburg?” Vito reminisced.
“Of course,” Carly nodded with a smile. “Who would have thought she’d get her way?”
“Well, it is Sera…”
Hope evaluated the situation. Everybody was finishing up their meals, and all the adults looked content. This was about as good as the timing was going to get.
“So, Aslan and I were hoping to explore the city a bit in the afternoon,” she started casually. “Since we’ve never been here, and you guys have always said such good things about Windenburg…”
“Good idea,” Carly nodded enthusiastically. “It’s been ages since I’ve done proper sightseeing in Windenburg. Why don’t we go for a walk around the old town when we’re done here?”
Hope shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “Um…”
Ralph’s eyes twinkled. “I don’t think that’s what she meant, Lottie.” He told his wife gently.
“Aslan and I were kind of hoping…” Hope shot a glance towards her cousin, hoping he would help her out a little, but he was silent. “We kind of wanted to explore on our own.”
“Just the two of you?” Carly gave her daughter a concerned look. “Hope, we’re not in Newcrest… Windenburg is so much bigger than our town! You’ve said it yourself, you’ve never been here, you don’t know the city…”
“That’s exactly the point!” Hope objected. “You and dad always say I should be curious! Learn as much as I can. Broaden my horizons…”
“Well, yes,” Carly cursed herself silently. She needed to shred carefully. “You should definitely learn and explore, but… We’ve been to Windenburg before and know some great places around here. We can show them all to you! Why do you think you’ll learn more about the city if it’s just the two of you than if we all go together?”
“Because we’re old and boring, obviously.” Ralph seemed amused by the conversation. “It’s hardly exploration if you’re simply following mom and dad.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” Vito jumped in in with a gleeful grin.
“You do?” Aslan finally joined the discussion. “So I can go?”
“Sure you can,” Vito confirmed, not paying attention to Carly’s glares. “Oh, you should go to the Bluffs! We had such a good time there when we were your age.”
Hope perked up at her uncle’s words. “Oh really? When you were our age?” On their own, of course, Hope thought. Plumming hypocrites.
“Yes, we did,” Vito said. He turned his attention to his sister. “You need to lighten up, Carly. Don’t you remember when we first visited Windenburg? Mom and dad let us do our own thing the whole time, we barely saw them. Don’t you remember?”
Carly gritted her teeth. Of course she remembered. But while her brother’s memories were clouded by first love nostalgia, all she could think of was that jerk that talked Sera into woohooing in a bush. Naturally she couldn’t bring that up, a day before her sister’s wedding, but just the thought of her precious little girl in a similar scenario made Carly sick.
“Well, you have a say about your son Vito, but you can’t decide if Hope’s allowed.” She said firmly.
Hope couldn’t believe it. This had to be a bad joke. “Mom! That’s totally unfair! How is Aslan allowed to go and I’m not!”
“Aslan is a little older,” Carly wasn’t swayed.
“But a lot dumber,” Hope muttered under her breath.
“Hey!” Aslan jumped up. “What did I do to you?”
Hope could have sworn the boy who was collecting their plates laughed a little under his breath. Great. Even the dishwasher was laughing at her.
“Ok, why don’t we all take a step back,” Ralph’s husky voice made everybody stop in their tracks. “Hope, if you’re trying to get away with something, insulting your partners in crime is not the way to go about it.”
Aslan sneered at Hope victoriously. She’d deal with him later, Hope decided.
“Lottie, Hope isn’t a little girl anymore, as much as we’d like her to be. A few hours of sightseeing with her cousin are completely reasonable.” Ralph winked at his daughter. “But you two better be back for dinner Hope, or your mother will eat me alive.”
Hope melted into her chair with relief. “Thanks dad! You’re the best!”
“Eeep, freedom!” Hope squealed when they walked out of the restaurant. She beamed at her cousin. “So, we’ve got four hours, what should we check out first?”
“I still haven’t decided if you’re off the hook for calling me dumb,” Aslan complained jokingly.
Hope hung her head down. “Sorry about that… I was peeved off you weren’t helping me fight our ground!”
“I didn’t need to,” Aslan shrugged with a smirk. “My dad’s chill.”
“Thankfully, so is mine,” Hope laughed. “So anyway…”
They were interrupted by Aslan’s phone vibrating.
“Hang on a sec,” Aslan looked at the screen. Judging by his excitement when he saw the caller ID, it was bad news, Hope realised immediately.
“It’s Alexus!” He confirmed the obvious. “Ok, I’ve got to take this!”
“Now?” Hope couldn’t believe her luck. “You seriously can’t go without your girlfriend for a couple days!?”
“She’s not my girlfriend!” Aslan hissed in her direction before answering the call. “Hi, Lexi… I’ve missed you too!”
“Yeah, right…” Hope sighed as she watched her cousin disappear around the corner with the phone glued to his ear.
Brilliant, Hope thought. Aslan was probably lost to the world for the next half hour at the very least. So much for making the most of the time they had here. Stupid teenage boys and their hormones.
“Hey.” Hope’s thoughts were interrupted by a deep voice calling out from over her shoulder. She turned around. Speaking of teenage boys… wasn’t that the boy who’d cleared their table just a few minutes before? “Finally managed to escape, huh?”
So he did overhear them talking inside, Hope thought, mortified. “Joys of family trips.” She attempted to laugh it off. He had to think she was never allowed to do anything. “They’re not always this overprotective…”
The boy laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ve been there… Trust me.” He shook his head. “My aunt used to be like that all the time. But I don’t live with her anymore, so I haven’t had to deal with it for a while.”
“Oh really?” Hope was relieved. He was probably just being polite, but she’d take it. His living situation made her curious, but she didn’t want to pry. “You live around here?” She asked instead.
He nodded and gestured somewhat vaguely to his left. “I’ve got an apartment just around the corner.”
“You mean, your own apartment?” Hope struggled to hide her surprise. “I thought you were my age.”
His eyes looked her up and down for a few moments before he replied. “Depends on how old you are… I might be.” He said at last with a smile that was almost teasing. “I guess I kinda moved out earlier than most people do. It’s pretty cool.”
Hope felt her cheeks burning. What was wrong with her? Normally, she’d get annoyed if somebody eyed her up that way. This guy, though… She stopped herself. There was no way she would become like Aslan.
“Aren’t you worldly…” she said sarcastically, hoping she sounded underwhelmed. The truth was it did sound pretty cool. With half of Newcrest being related to her in some way, Hope couldn’t dream of having such independence.
He nodded, giving her a small wink. “Yup, that’s me. Mr. Worldly.” He teased. “Oh, and speaking of worldly… if you’re really looking for a chance to explore a little, just keep in mind that all the best places in Windenburg aren’t anything you’ll find on a map.” His lips curled into a smirk. “I mean, all those tourist traps are nice enough, I guess… If you aren’t up for a little adventure.”
This boring family trip sure took a turn, Hope thought. Maybe Aslan’s clinginess was actually going to be useful. “If I wanted to see the old town square, I would have stuck with the parental tour.” She let out a small laugh.
“Ah, the town square. Thrilling.” He joined in her laughter. “And what was next on the agenda? The Bluffs? The Ruins? The Von Haunt Estate?”
“Got a whole day of family fun at the Von Haunt Estate tomorrow.” Hope rolled her eyes. She did actually find the old manor really intriguing; there was nothing quite like it back at home. But she didn’t want to seem like a stupid tourist to him. “That’s the whole reason we’re here, you see. My aunt’s getting married there.”
“Cool… Congratulations, I guess.” He replied. “Unless the guy’s a total jerk or something. In that case, my condolences.” He chuckled softly as he spoke. “Listen, I’ve gotta run pretty soon… But if you get sick of hanging out with your family tomorrow… Well, I can think of a few places around the city you might wanna see. If you’re up for it?” He offered.
The offer was more tempting than Hope would like to admit. Would she be able to disappear during the reception? Surely everyone’s attention would be on her aunt. Perhaps after everyone’s had a few drinks… Was she seriously considering this? Maybe she was more like her cousin than she’d thought.
Then again, sneaking out with a cute local couldn’t be more different from calling someone from home at the first available opportunity. It was too good of a chance to pass, Hope decided.
“I suppose it’s the only way I can find out if you’re all talk, Mr. Worldly.” She grinned at the boy. She paused for a moment, thinking. “Though I don’t even know your name… Running off with a stranger, my mom would have a heart attack.”
“Ha! Well we can’t have that, can we?” His smile widened. “I guess you can call me Zayne… Though I’m kind of digging ‘Mr. Worldly’ right now.” Zayne laughed. “And you are…?”
“Hope.” She replied, her expression softening briefly. “Obviously I have to work on an equally sweet nickname for myself.”
“I’m sure I can think of one or two.” He assured her with a wink. “So, Hope… What time should I swoop in and rescue you tomorrow?” Zayne asked. “Obviously you’ve gotta be there for the ceremony, but…?”
Hope did her best to try to ignore the fluttery feeling rushing over her. “Let’s make it 8. I’m sure everyone will be distracted enough by the festivities at that point.” She prayed that would be the case, at least.
Zayne smiled. “Perfect. See you at 8 then.”
“See you tomorrow.” She gave him a half wave, beaming.
He gave her a small nod and one last smile, then turned and headed off down the street. Her eyes followed him until he disappeared around the corner.
“Ok, I’m back!” Aslan brought Hope back to reality. “I’ve cut the call short. Happy?”
“Oh… thanks.” She looked at her cousin distractedly. All she could think about was tomorrow.
Aslan immediately noticed something was off. “Hey… who was that guy?”
“I dunno, just… some guy.” Hope shrugged in what she hoped was a casual manner.
Aslan gave her an odd look, tilting his head a little. “Yeah, right.”
Author’s note: This chapter was co-written with the extremely talented CitizenErased14, who wrote all of Zayne’s lines and actions. Zayne is of course from her amazing story Ashes to Ashes.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Ashes to Ashes is a dramatic non-Pinstar legacy story that will take you on a whirlwind ride full of emotions you didn’t know you were capable of. It is also the sequel of Dust to Dust, a drama about friendship, afterlife and moving on.
Dust to Dust happens to be my favourite simlit story of all time, so if this story has avoided you for some bizarre reason (a glitch in the Matrix?), I would highly recommend that you start reading it immediately. (And then read Ashes to Ashes. And eventually meet Zayne. And get to see his take on this encounter, in a few weeks’ time. 🙂 )