No one is quite sure how to deal with the newfound quiet and emptiness in the house. Throughout their entire lives, Persis has been around, at least in the background. She was always gardening, painting, or resting quietly somewhere in the house. Now that she's gone, Paolo spends very little time at home. Guy and Tula have been mostly self-sufficient since entering high school, already used to Paolo's relative lack of involvement in their lives. Without a second parent, and now without Marko and Persis, the teens have the house to themselves most of the time.
Guy doesn't like it. Tula acts so differently alone, it's confusing. Talking to her makes him feel like he's going crazy; which version of Tula is the right one? Is he just imagining it?
"What's wrong? Sit down and eat cake with me," Tula says in a teasing voice. When he doesn't move, she pins him with a stare. "I said sit."
Guy flinches; half the time he doesn't know if she's really mad at him or just messing around.
He misses Persis and Marko. He misses Krista.
He misses Paolo.
Why aren't they here?
But no matter how hard he wishes, they don't appear. So he sits down and quietly pokes at his food, suddenly not feeling hungry.
"What do you think happens when people die?" Tula asks suddenly.
Guy glances up at her, unable to tell what kind of response she wants. He used to believe in ghosts as a kid, and that maybe he was one, but now he's not so sure.
"I don't know," he replies honestly.
Tula considers his answer. After her last sighting of the Grim Reaper, she's been contemplating this deeply. The dead must go somewhere, or else the Grim Reaper wouldn't need to collect them. It's a fascinating idea; a place no living being can go.
The school bus honks impatiently outside, cutting her pondering short. The pair quickly cleans up, then rush outside.
They pass by Paolo, and almost do a double take. He's normally at the library or the beach on his days off. They didn't realise he was even home.
They quickly climb onto the bus, and Paolo doesn't seem to notice them leave.
Truth be told, he's engrossed in his gardening. He's let his mother's garden begin to wilt and is now desperately trying to reverse the damage. She wouldn't want to see her cultivated and carefully cared for plants to wither and die.
Though he spends hours toiling away, some of them are a lost cause.
The kids come home from school and sit down at the dining table. They're doing their homework quickly; tonight is prom and they won't have time to do this assignment later.
Tula gives her homework a long stare. She got in trouble with her Simlish teacher for not doing her last few (disgustingly easy) assignments and was consequently assigned "makeup" work. Tula is not angry, but instead dumbfounded. If the work is so obviously below her capacity, why does she need to bother with it? It doesn't make sense.
"This sucks," Guy says, erasing a misspelling. Simlish is a weird subject; why does he need to analyse fictional people? How is this going to help him to do anything in real life?
"It really does," Tula agrees.
They (more or less) make it through their homework, and pile into the limo. The nights are getting colder and colder, meaning no long, impractical dresses for Tula. Guy follows suit and wears warm, comfortable sweat pants.
As the limo pulls away, Tula glances out the window. Her father doesn't pause to even wave at them.
Hours later, when his fingers are almost too numb to move, Paolo's phone rings shrilly. He clumsily pulls out his mobile and presses answer.
"I...uh...yeah, it has been a while....you want to go to...now? Uh sure. See you there in twenty minutes."
Twenty minutes later, he's at Varg's Tavern as agreed.
"Hi Sun," he says, avoiding eye contact. Since he kissed her in her living room, Paolo hasn't seen or talked to her. Her hair, once barely touching the base of her neck, now flows over her back. It's been a long time since then. He only realises this now, and can't help but feel guilty. He must seem like such a jerk.
He thinks of all the texts from her and Greta that he's ignored over the months, the times he looked at his phone and just...didn't answer. He looks down guiltily.
"I was going through a lot... I'm sure Greta told you about my mom."
Sun's face softens, "She did. And I'm so sorry Paolo. I just wanted to tell you that to your face. That's really all I wanted to meet you for."
Paolo sighs. He and Sun may not have been in a relationship, but ignoring her was a horrible thing to do. He should have at least told her what was happening and not waste her time.
"Want to go inside at least?"
Once in the bar and in front of a foozeball table, Sun's mood lifts dramatically. She likes games.
Paolo looks at her lab coat. It's different from the one she wore when he first met her.
"Did you get promoted?" he asks.
Sun grins, "Yeah, actually! Though I still can't work among the robot-fish crossbreeders." At the last few words, she pouts, "I'll probably work in there for years and not get to be around the fun stuff."
They talk about her job, then about the mechanics and biological logistics of crossbreeding a robot and a fish, until Sun breaks their tie and wins the game. She smiles deviously and laughs heartily, happy to be the victor.
"Good game. I'll buy you a drink," Paolo says, smiling at her. Sun nods, and gestures to the bar, wanting Paolo to lead the way.
There isn't a bar tender, so Paolo tries his best to mix a cocktail. He looks at the man sitting unassumingly at the bar, and his face hardens.
Rocky pretends not to see his former brother-in-law staring him down. Like the other Parrott siblings, he did not come to Krista's funeral. With Pablo, Keith, and a whole smattering of their relatives and accomplices in neighboring towns in jail, Rocky has kept a low profile. The evidence linking him to their crimes as a get-away driver was only circumstantial, and hasn't been able to put him behind bars. Since he's lived in Appaloosa Plains his whole life, and has a wife, children, a house here, he hasn't felt the need to move.
But he has to admit that this is uncomfortable.
"Quit staring at me," he snaps.
"Gladly," Paolo grumbles. He's avoided the hell out of the Parrott family in town. He wants to keep it that way.
Instead, he focuses on his cocktail. He hopes it turned out alright...
Sun glances at Rocky as he gets up to use the bathroom. She knows who he is.
And Paolo knows that. "Forget about him. Try the drinks instead. They probably won't kill you."
Sun smiles, and reaches for a drink. After a small sip, she tilts her head back and drains half the glass. "Pretty good," she agrees.
After a few glasses, they're tipsy enough to try publicly slow dancing in a seedy bar.
"I'm pretty sure you aren't supposed to be leading," Paolo says, his eyebrow arched.
"Shhh," Sun shushes him, "Trust me, I'm a scientist."
Giggling and stumbling slightly, they attempt some daring underarm turns. Paolo only gets halfway through a spin before collapsing against Sun.
"I have a really low alcohol tolerance, the room's spinning a bit," Paolo admits, using Sun for support as much for the embrace.
"I won't complain about this," Sun says, squeezing his hands.
The bar eventually closes, forcing Sun and Paolo outside.
"I'm sorry for ignoring you for so long. But I will definitely call you later. If I don't, ring me up sometime. Even if it's just to tell me to fuck off," he says a bit drunkenly.
Sun giggles, "Will do." She looks down shyly, playing with her hair uncertainly. It's girlish, and almost sickeningly cute, but he knows what she's trying to hint at.
He kisses her, more deeply than all those months ago at her house. His inhibitions lowered by the alcohol, he doesn't really care that they're technically in public and pulls her to him as close as possible.
Definitely have to call her later, he thinks to himself as he runs his hands over her back.
Before they can become entangled at the quantum level, Sun pulls away, her cheeks flushed.
"You better call me," she says almost breathlessly.
"No doubt about it."
They kiss one last time, then go their separate ways, waving goodbye with smiles on their faces. As far as dates go, Paolo thinks that one went pretty well.
I had a weird glitch with Sun. She wouldn't age up to adult normally, and kept getting replaced with genetically re-rolled versions of herself. It's fixed now that I've noticed it, but in the next chapter her face is still...weird. It returns to normal before long.