The Christmas holidays were drawing near, but one member of the Cantrell family not looking forward to them (apart from Harrison, of course, who rarely looked forward to anything these days) was Anastacia.
Last week she had received a phone call from Lawrence telling her that, due to the heavy snow fall in Twinbrook, where his medical school was located, he couldn't see how he was going to make it home for the holidays.
To say Anastacia was pissed off was an understatement. She'd envisioned her first proper family Christmas; in her head it was perfect, and Lawrence was an integral part of that. He'd promised her he would try and do whatever it took to get back to Appaloosa Plains, but Anastacia's foul mood had already set in.
She first of all took it out on Chloe, berating her for not doing enough round the house, eventually making the younger girl cry.
She couldn't find it in herself to feel guilty, though, and the next day she trudged to work in the snow to take her temper out on the fire alarm.
"Aren't you cold in that?" Miles asked, coming up behind her and seeing her in nothing but her short-sleeved uniform.
He'd just finished work and had driven past to see his oldest daughter standing outside the fire station. Usually she was happy to have a chat, but today she was aggressively bashing her screwdriver against the alarm, probably doing more damage than good.
Anastacia threw the screwdriver down. "Leave it, dad."
"I just fancied a chat, that's all. No time for your old man?"
Anastacia groaned. She didn't have time for her dad to lay this sort of guilt trip on her, not when she was supposed to be working. What part of the Ambitious trait did he not understand?!
But her dad carried on talking, oblivious. "I'm still a bit worried about Harrison, you know. I've taught him how to drive but he won't let me buy him a car, and he still seems pretty down in the dumps. You'd think the holidays would cheer him up but I don't think he's looking forward to them at all."
That's about right, Anastacia thought. He notices Harrison is feeling down but not me. Typical.
"Have you had the chance to do some training with him yet? I told you, I really think that will help him."
That was the precise moment Anastacia exploded. "No, I haven't found the time! In case you haven't noticed, I am literally working every spare moment I have here because I'm the only damn firefighter in town! And even if I wasn't, I'd want to be here, because working takes my mind off of the fact that my boyfriend is hundreds of miles away and can't come home for the holidays because he's stuck in this stupid, stupid snow.."
And then she burst into tears. She felt incredibly silly, but her dad merely nodded before patting her on the shoulder.
"You should have said something. Don't worry, princess. Everything will be fine."
He started to walk to his car, and Anastacia called after him: "What makes you think that?"
He looked back over his shoulder and smiled. "It's Christmas. If miracles don't happen this time of year, they never will, right?"
That evening, Miles took Anastacia over to the Dog Day Plaza and spent some time with her building a snowman.
Even though it didn't stop her missing Lawrence, being outside on this beautiful, cold evening did make her feel a little bit better about the world, and her dad didn't try to force her to talk about her feelings, just listened and responded when she chose to speak.
When they got home, Anastacia approached Chloe who was, as usual, playing with Yumi.
"Look, I just wanted to say... I'm sorry about earlier. I shouldn't have shouted at you like that. I've been missing Lawrence, that's all."
Chloe nodded. "I don't like seeing you sad."
"I'll try and make an effort to be better, I promise."
And she did. The week before Christmas went on as usual, but Anastacia made a concerted effort to not let her family see how upset she was about Lawrence.
She even got involved in some of the winter activities on offer, including ice skating on a frozen-over pond.
(As did Harrison, though he did it on a day he was bunking off of school, so nobody could see him and laugh at him.)
For Chloe, this was her absolute favourite time of year, and though she wasn't quite brave enough to try ice-skating, she did love making snow angels in the back garden.
During that week, Anastacia noticed that her father was looking particularly smug about something. She decided not to question it, putting it down to old age and excitement about Christmas.
But it made her slightly suspicious, nonetheless.
On Christmas Eve, Miles suggested that the three siblings go down to the winter festival to enjoy themselves.
At first, Anastacia started to protest - all she really wanted to do was curl up in front of the TV and watch soppy movies, but Miles was insistent. "Go on, go and enjoy yourself. You're only young once."
Chloe was the only one who seemed remotely excited about going, but Harrison and Anastacia decided to humour their father by agreeing to it.
|Meanwhile, on the other side of Appaloosa Plains...|
So they travelled down in the snow, and as they approached the festival grounds, it took a while for Anastacia's eyes to adjust to the bright white snow-covered park, but when she did...
Needless to say, her excitement was immediate, and she flung herself into his arms, resting her head against his chest, and generally reassuring herself that this wasn't some kind of amazing but unrealistic dream.
"How... how did you get here?"
"Your father is a pretty powerful man, Anastacia Cantrell."
She giggled. Of course. Her father really was amazing, and she definitely owed him a massive thank you for managing to do this for her. It had been all she wanted this Christmas - to spend some time with her boyfriend - and now he was here, holding her close, and she knew everything was going to be okay.
They had a wonderful day at the festival. Chloe decided she was going to try ice skating - not on the frozen lake, which was way too risky (scientifically speaking) but on the ice skating rink.
She wasn't very good at it, though, so instead treated herself to a warm hot chocolate...
...which was a much more enjoyable experience.
Harrison decided to try snowboarding. At first, he thought the snowboarding ramp looked intimidating, and could only stare at with uncertainty, but as the day passed he figured he didn't have anything to lose.
He climbed up the side and uncertainly straightened up when he got to the top.
It was a lot higher than he'd realised up here. Don't look down, he told himself. Just do it.
His first attempt ended with him landing straight on his bum, and he got off sulking. But he had to try again, he told himself, until he got it right. He was going to spend his whole life afraid if he didn't try a bit harder at things.
Once he got into the swing of it, he found himself really enjoying the experience. It ignited the Athletic trait in him, reawakening his enjoyment of physical activities, and he felt breathless in a good way as his confidence on the snowboard ramp grew.
Meanwhile, the happiest people at the festival were almost certainly Anastacia and Lawrence. It had taken Anastacia a little while to persuade her boyfriend to join her on the frozen lake, but gradually he skated on, reaching out for her hands as they moved over to the middle of the lake.
Once there, they began to spin round in a small circle.
"This is amazing," Lawrence said. "I'm so thankful to your dad for getting me here."
"You're spending Christmas Day with us, right?"
"Yeah. I'll go over to my family in the morning to give them their presents, but you've definitely got me after that."
"Do you remember that we did this when we first met? On the roller skating rink?"
"Of course. I remember thinking you were the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen."
"And I remember thinking you were the palest boy I'd ever seen."
They both laughed, thinking about how long ago that now felt. Anastacia felt like she'd changed so much since then; she had a job she was good at, and a belief in herself that she never had as a teenager. Best of all, she had a boyfriend who got her, and who she saw herself spending the rest of her life with. Things really couldn't be any better.
One sad thing happened at the festival later that evening. One of the elderly ticket booth workers was going about her business when a pale light started to emit from within her body. Chloe and Anastacia, who were nearby, noticed immediately that something was wrong.
They saw her looking into the distance, but what she was looking at they couldn't be sure.
The next moment, her translucent, icy spirit departed from the world, and Anastacia and Chloe were left with a sad, empty feeling deep within their souls. For both of them, it was their first experience of death, and while Anastacia was old enough to deal with it and move on, the moment had a profound effect on Chloe who realised for the first time that her parents - and her mother in particular - were both growing older, and would not be with her forever.
When they got home that evening, Hailey was preparing food for the Christmas meal tomorrow.
Whilst Harrison devoured a plate of cookies...
....Chloe really looked at her mother for the first time. Was she old? Would she die soon, like the old lady at the festival had?
"Chloe, what's got into you?!" Hailey asked when Chloe launched this question at her. Chloe bit her lip.
"That lady at the festival... she didn't look much older than you. And she couldn't stop what happened to her. She just accepted it. Is that what will happen to you soon?"
Hailey sighed. She didn't think she'd ever have to deal with this conversation with her children, and she truthfully had no idea what to say. "Chloe, you have to remember that when I had Anastacia, I wasn't a very young woman. For Jennifer, I was even older. I'm not saying I had any of you irresponsibly late, but the truth is that when I married your father, I was already a fully-grown adult. I wasn't fresh out of school, and that's something I'll always regret, marrying at the age I did. But I don't regret marrying him, and in that respect I'm glad I waited."
"So you're going to die before dad? Like, a lot before him?"
"Yes. But I feel like I've got a little longer left, and I want us to enjoy this Christmas together, because if it is my last one, at least I'll be spending it with all my family around me. The Reaper waits for no sim; this is something you learn when you get older. When it's my time, it will be my time, and I pray to The Watcher it will be when you and Harrison are both young adults and are able to accept the way that life is."
Chloe nodded, not happily, but with understanding. She knew there was no way to stop the inevitable conclusion of life, but the thought of her own mother leaving her left her feeling sick with sadness.
Neither Hailey or Chloe noticed Harrison listening to this conversation, nor did they notice him quietly slipping into his bedroom and throwing himself onto his bed, crying silently into his pillow.
The next morning was Christmas morning, and Chloe was the first up. The ice cream machine in the kitchen had been replaced with a hot drinks machine for the winter, so Chloe started the day with a warm hot chocolate...
...before taking Yumi out into the garden for a bit of attention and fun.
The snow was very deep today, but Yumi didn't seem to mind. In fact, she seemed to enjoy rolling around in it a bit too much!
Hailey was next out of bed.
Her conversation with Chloe had shaken her up a bit yesterday, and she was determined to make this day special, so she instantly got started on making the house beautiful for the gift-giving ceremony later.
Also up early were Lawrence and Anastacia; Lawrence because he needed to head over to his family to give them their presents and spend a bit of time with them, and Anastacia because she insisted on saying goodbye to him properly (even though he'd only be gone a couple of hours.)
"Did you sleep okay in the bunk bed last night?"
"Well, I wanted to crawl into yours, but it didn't feel right with Chloe in the one opposite..."
"She'd probably have slept through it," Anastacia laughed. "But yeah, they're pretty creaky. I wish we had enough space for my own room. I know Harrison's got his own, but his only just fits a single bed. We really need a bigger house."
"I love your house," Lawrence shrugged. "Bunk beds and all. It feels... homely."
"And I love you," Anastacia said, before she had time to think about it. It was the first time she'd said it, and at first Lawrence looked slightly taken aback...
...but eventually he smiled, and kissed Anastacia sweetly on the lips. "Love you too."
Once the family were all up, they went about clearing space in the living room and putting up the tree. Hailey thought it was a shame they couldn't have the tree up for more than a day, but with limited space, this was the best they could do.
Gradually the family brought out their presents one by one and laid them under the tree on the rug nearby. Jennifer also made it over just before lunch, and promptly changed into an old swimsuit whilst her clothes dried off from the heavy snowdrifts on the other side of town.
Once Lawrence arrived back, it was time to make a start.
"Come on you two," Hailey urged them. "And Ana, put some warmer clothes on, you'll catch a cold!"
There was so little room for the gift-giving ceremony that they had to take it in turns to open their presents. Although money still wasn't in abundance, everyone was happy with the presents they received - particularly Chloe who got a new telescope, and Anastacia who got a much more advanced treadmill to work out on.
After Christmas dinner, Lawrence pulled Anastacia onto the large balcony at the top of the house which backed onto the master bedroom upstairs.
"I wanted to tell you about my proper Christmas present to you," he said. Anastacia blushed.
"The necklace was beautiful, Lawrence, and more than enough."
"No, I think you'll like this even more. I've made a decision about my future. I don't think I want to be stuck in Twinbrook for the next five years, training to be a doctor. It's not something I feel particularly passionate about, and I miss you too much."
"So what are you saying?"
"The thing I was always most interested in school was anything media based, particularly to do with filming. Apparently there's a disused backlot studio set down by the river on the other side of town, and I was thinking... I could do that. I would be living here, with you, doing something I absolutely loved. The money might not be as good initially, but I think I've got a real gift for directing, and I want to give it a try."
Anastacia could scarcely believe her ears. Lawrence would be moving back to Appaloosa Plains permanently? He continued: "I'm going to finish up my first year in Twinbrook, so I'll be back in the spring. That means that if I ever want to return to medicine, if the directing thing doesn't work out, I'll just claim it as a deferred entry.
He was shy when he spoke again. "You... you don't think it's silly, do you? Trading in something responsible like medicine for something as unpredictable as directing?"
"I think it sounds amazing. I want you to be happy, and I know you're talented enough to put your hand to anything and make a success out of it." She smiled. "Besides, I haven't given you your Christmas present yet, and once you see that I think you'll agree that money isn't going to be too much of an issue."
"So... why have you brought me here?"
They stood outside Appaloosa Plain's only coffee house, freezing in the cold night air. Anastacia smiled at Lawrence's confused question.
"I've been thinking about how best to invest for the future, and dad said that if I was sensible, I would tie some money up in property."
"So... I bought this place for us for Christmas with my savings from fire fighting."
Lawrence stared at her. "Seriously?"
"Seriously. I figured that whatever happens, we'll always have a bit of money coming in from this business, and it requires minimal effort on our part; they've got a really good manager here so we pretty much just need to come and pick up the takings once in a while."
Lawrence pulled her close. "You. Are. Amazing."
He kissed her deeply, and Anastacia got the good kind of tingles all over. She was very excited about her future; it felt like it was finally taking shape, and she couldn't wait for the next chapter.
Notes: The generational goal for Gen. 2 is Property Mogul, so this is the first of 2 properties that Anastacia will be buying. It's a bit of a headache of a goal because the family desperately need a new house, but they're going to be stuck in that smaller one for the entirety of Gen. 2 by the looks of things. Oh well, at least as Lawrence says, it's homely!
The gift-giving ceremony picture is incredibly lame. Jennifer randomly decided to change into her swimsuit as soon as she came over, and then not all of them sat down for it, and the fact that they sit on the floor (I think that they can sit in chairs but there wasn't enough space for any!) made it all look a bit weird. So, yeah, that picture kind of sucks. :-/
Not many chapters to go until I'm caught up! Probably 4 more, yay. :)