Anastacia continued to work hard, ever seeking promotions which would lead to financial security for herself and Lawrence...
Hailey nagged Harrison incessantly about his grades at school...
And Chloe discovered a love for star gazing on her new telescope, continuing to improve her logic skill daily.
Although the snow was still deep, the weather forecasts predicted that winter would soon be at an end, and Chloe took advantage of those last few weeks by baiting Harrison into snowball fights...
...which, as much as he protested...
...he always joined in with, seeing how happy it made Chloe to be spending time with him out in the freezing cold elements.
One day, Anastacia returned home from work and, upon hearing the treadmill whirring upstairs, came up to talk to her dad about his day. But when she entered the bedroom, she was surprised to see Harrison using the machine instead.
She remembered the promise she'd made her dad all those months ago, and - figuring she owed him for getting Lawrence to Appaloosa Plains over Christmas - quickly ran to get changed into her gym stuff before coming back upstairs.
There was no doubting that Harrison was a beginner, but their father had been right - he did have the same natural ability for running that Anastacia had at his age, and after some motivational words from her...
...Harrison heaved himself back up to a standing position and continued to keep his pace up. Once he'd reached fatigue-level, Anastacia slowed the machine down for him so he could walk off the sweating.
"You're not bad at this, you know. We could do it on a more regular basis if you like."
Harrison nodded sheepishly. "Will it... will it help me lose weight, Ana?"
Ana nodded. "Sure it will. With a sensible diet, of course. But I can help you with that as well if you like?"
Her little brother nodded again. "Yeah, I'd like that a lot."
She smiled. "Excellent. Now go and take a shower because you're all sweaty and gross."
Keeping active seemed to have a positive effect on Harrison's moods generally, and he now found it a lot easier to concentrate and focus in school. He knew that exercise was linked to better mental health, and he found that he genuinely enjoyed his sessions with Anastacia over the course of the week. Anastacia also gave him a lot of pointers on the type of food he should be eating, and Harrison realised that he was interested in this as well. He began to read cook books for the fun of it, and started cooking meals for the family more often. Gradually, ideas for what his future career might look like became more realistic and believable.
Increasingly, he was able to run further and further on the treadmill, and he noticed changes in his body; his clothes, always uncomfortably too tight, were becoming looser, and he even noticed girls at school talking differently to him - instead of derision and scorn, some of them even went out of their way to talk to him like a normal human being.
Hailey noticed the change in him as well. One day, as he was completing his homework on the tablet he'd been bought for Christmas, she told him, quite simply, "I'm very proud of you, Harrison. I want you to know that."
Harrison felt his cheeks burning as his mum stood up to wash her dirty plate before coming over to sit in the chair next to him. Nobody had ever told him before that they were proud of him - he supposed they'd had no reason to in the past - and he finished his homework with a flushed face before looking up.
"Have you thought about what you'd like to do when you finish school?" Hailey asked him. "I know it's still a long way off, but you do need to think about the future."
Harrison nodded shyly. "Kind of. I'm really interested in running and my teacher says I might be good enough for an athletics team. But I also really like cooking. It sounds stupid, but I think I'd really enjoy working in a restaurant, getting experience as a chef."
Hailey beamed at him. "Neither of those sound stupid to me. They sound like sensible decisions made by a sensible young man who deserves to go very far in this world."
She leant across and kissed him on the cheek. "Never let what happened to you as a child dictate the rest of your life. I should have told you every day how special you are, and how much we all love you."
She stood up abruptly, wiping away tears, and Harrison didn't know what to say. So he sat in silence as he watched her walk stiffly upstairs. He'd heard the conversation between Hailey and Chloe, on Christmas Eve, and wondered whether her emotional words had anything to do with that, but he shoved the idea to the back of his mind. Their mum would be fine. She had to be. Harrison needed to make her proud, and he couldn't do that if she wasn't here to see him make a success of herself.
Unfortunately, though, the warning signs that Hailey was slowing down became far more apparent over the next few days.
Yumi was the first to notice. Normally, Hailey was steadfast about keeping the house tidy and recycling yesterday's papers, but the papers began to pile up, and even when Yumi tried to alert Hailey to this, the old lady simply wandered away, her mind elsewhere.
Anastacia noticed one evening that her mother, always so meticulous in the clothes she wore, had started to wear odd combinations of mismatched laundry that belied the cold weather outside.
And Miles? Miles noticed that Hailey was sleeping in later and later, and increasingly, was getting out of bed after Miles had woken up; something she had never done in her entire life.
Still, despite those warning signs, it happened one freezing winter day when nobody was really expecting it. Nobody, that is, except Yumi, who had been at the Dog Day Plaza scouting out potential hunting finds.
Under the snow was a tiny dead animal, blue from the cold. Yumi had begun to whine, high and insistent, and ran home. Not good something rumbled deep inside her. Hailey not good.
Yumi's instinct was correct. One minute, Hailey had been watching TV with Miles, talking about a recipe she might try that evening...
...the next, she suddenly stood bolt upright, her eyes inadvertently crossing. "I feel..." she whispered, but what she felt, nobody would ever know. Chloe and Harrison were just returning home from school, and, sensing something was wrong, hurried inside.
Their mum had been standing up, looking faint but fairly normal; now her body just disappeared in front of their eyes, leaving a pale, translucent spirit in her place. Chloe and Miles immediately began to sob, realising what was happening, whilst Harrison could do nothing but stare, his eyes seeing but his mind refusing to process what was happening.
Nobody noticed a shadowy dark figure emerging from the girls' bedroom. Nobody, that is, apart from Harrison, who felt a cold chill wash over him as it passed by.
He sensed a presence, and saw the gleam of the scythe, the hooded cape... but he shook his head, forcing his eyes shut so he wouldn't have to look.
Yumi began to howl at that moment, not stopping until nothing remained of Hailey but her ashes. Then she laid down next to the urn and growled protectively at anyone who tried to come close. Tonight, it was her responsibility to ensure Hailey passed over peacefully to the other side, and she took that responsibility as seriously as any faithful pet would.
Hailey's death hit all of the family hard, but all of them dealt with it in different ways. Anastacia predictably buried herself in work...
...but when she came home in the evening, wanting to tell Hailey about her latest promotion, or something that had happened to her that day, she took a minute to stop, to remember: Hailey wasn't here, and so couldn't listen to her.
Chloe also buried herself in her studies, particularly her studies of the universe. She remembered Hailey telling her a story as a child: the story of the night she'd told Miles that she was pregnant with Chloe. She and Miles had watched the stars for hours, picking out the brightest one in the sky. That star, she'd said, had been Chloe.
But Chloe thought that was false, because she was here, on this planet, and it was Hailey who was up in the universe, burning brighter than she'd ever done on Earth. The first time Chloe discovered a star, she named it Hailey, and when she felt lonely she would go and find her mother up in the sky.
But the pain sometimes was so complete that it burned her eyes to look for too long, and she would pull away, trying to stop the tears from falling. She never managed it.
Miles took comfort in Yumi, who instinctively seemed to know what to do to comfort her master.
The two of them mourned together. Miles knew that the aging pet missed Hailey just as much as he did; to think otherwise would be selfish. They were both going through the grieving process, and Miles was thankful to have someone there who offered unconditional love without asking for anything in return.
On the surface, Miles tried to keep it together. He took over the household duties such as cooking dinner...
...which, actually, he was pretty good at...
...and ensuring that his children ate, slept, kept healthy, and kept their studies up. Sometimes he got the impression that Harrison wanted to talk, but he didn't know what words he could say to comfort his son, so he suppressed his instincts, and continued to go through the motions.
It was always at night that his loneliness would hit him the hardest.
He would climb into the empty, unmade bed, and pull the covers over him, and after hours of tossing and turning, would fall into a reluctant sleep.
Surprisingly, Harrison seemed to be affected the least. For his part, he felt totally numb. He would go through the motions of school, homework, exercise... rinse, repeat. Sometimes he tried to talk, to ask someone if that was normal, but he saw the others were consumed with their grief and he thought that it was selfish to ask...
...so he would just go back to what he was doing, trying not to make a nuisance of himself.
Once or twice he walked round to Jennifer's, remembering what she'd said about always being there to talk to if he needed.
But as he approached the door, he would hear her crying on the other side, and he shook his head, walking away and hating himself for not being mature enough to stop the people he loved from hurting, and for thinking they would be interested in his own pain, or lack thereof.
One day after school he was absently making a snowman, not really sure why, except it was an effective enough method of distraction.
Yumi came up behind him, and simply stood there, watching him. She watched him until it grew dark, and then she went to fetch her leash.
"Beat it, mutt. I'm not taking you for a walk."
But she kept staring at him, the leash in her mouth, and eventually Harrison sighed. "Ugh, fine. Come on."
She led him out of the garden quickly, her feet silent in the snow as his crunched underfoot.
As they were crossing the road from their house over to the Plaza, he looked to his right and gasped.
A beautiful deer was grazing in the snow. Yumi stopped walking, and sat in the snow, allowing Harrison to stand and watch. Eventually, the deer looked round, blinked at Harrison, and maintained eye contact for what seemed like an eternity. Then it ran off, its graceful legs carrying it swiftly away.
Harrison felt like the moment was symbolic, but wasn't sure why, or how. He thought about his mother's dark doe eyes, and he thought about her gracefulness, but mostly he thought about how she had always loved this park. He looked down at Yumi who was staring up at him calmly.
"You wanted me to see that, huh, girl?"
And with that, Yumi snorted, and tugged at her leash. Time to face up to things, her eyes seemed to say, and Harrison allowed himself to cry for the first time since Hailey had passed away.
Gradually, Spring began to set in. The snow started to clear from the mountains that surrounded Appaloosa Plains, and the sun began to beat a little bit more warmly on the Plains.
Miles noticed it one morning. Winter was over, and life needed to continue. Hailey wouldn't want them to mourn like this over her, missing vital opportunities in their own life.
Anastacia also held this belief. The warmer weather brought good news; Lawrence was finally returning to Appaloosa Plains for good. She had preparations to make.
When he came round to her house, still in his hospital scrubs, she smiled shyly and he ran over, spinning her around in his arms before kissing her slowly and softly.
"How are you?" he asked. He'd heard the news, of course, and had longed to hold Anastacia in his arms so that she could share her grief with him, should she need to. But Anastacia was done with grieving, and she knew what she needed to do now in order to seal her mother's approval from wherever it was she was watching over them.
Lawrence accepted immediately, his excitement - and surprise - palpable, and there was just enough time for an intimate celebration between them...
...before Anastacia insisted they go down to her dad's work place and tell him the good news. Lawrence nodded and they left the house hand in hand, smiling with ecstasy at one another.
Minutes later, Harrison emerged to check the mailbox outside the house. The usual was in there - bills, certificates - but something else caught his eye. He frowned when he saw his name scrawled onto a dog-eared envelope.
When he read the contents of the letter inside, his heart began to beat faster and his legs felt weak underneath him. The letter fluttered out of his hand and was taken away by the breeze, but it didn't matter. He only needed to read it once; he would never forget what it said.
Notes: Sad chapter to write. :( I'll really miss Hailey. She maybe wasn't the most interesting of legacy spouses, but her presence will most definitely be felt.
So to remember the good times, one of my favourite pictures of her that didn't quite make the story - Hailey eating Firecracker Shrimp:
I love how Ana and Harrison aren't at all bothered that their mum is breathing fire. Standard behaviour for sims, obviously.