It’s going to take some time getting used to this new look of mine, but maybe that’s what it’ll take to be a new me to go along with it.A brand new Lee who is strong enough to do her job and do it well. Find a man and keep him. Stand on stage and play for a crowd! All things to aspire for I suppose, but even the thought of going on a date or tuning a guitar before a gig gets my heart all poundy and my head all dizzy. It’s going to take some time.
“Good morning Lee!”
“Hunh? Smells good… Nah.”
“And how was your show tonight?
“Dead again. No one’s coming out, more ticket sales than people there.”
“Probably because someone else disappeared the night before last. An old lady… Mrs… Uh… I can’t remember her name but the police literally don’t have a clue.”
“Ha ha. I hope they find her, but I’m going to bed. I’m just wiped.”
“Good night Lee!”
It’s not unusual for me to be getting in after Troy has already gotten up, that happens just about every day. It is unusual for me to be joining my brother and parents for breakfast, in fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw french toast that hadn’t been microwaved up to heat. Seriously better than I remember it. Conrad’s missing, well, not missing missing, but he’s working hard and Laurie’s planning a huge wedding so we really never see him. Today’s a special day though, today I get to try out the new me with new people.
I’ve been given the chance to teach a music class at my old school. I used to love our music program, so I’m pretty excited to be one of the alumni instructors. I’m just really nervous along with the excited. It’s pretty hard to drive a car in a lane when your hands are shaking as much as mine are but I’ll get there safe and I’ll be the best teacher those kids have ever had! So long as I arrive there in one piece.
You did it, safe and sound, car’s all parked, class starts in 10 minutes. Time to head in. One more second, I just need to calm down, shake it out. Everything’s fine. Everything’s OK. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. 8 minutes, pick up the guitar. One more second, I can’t focus. I can focus I will focus. Focus on getting in that door. Just a bit woozy, I can’t play like this, not with the way I’m feeling… I’ll mess up. Bell rings in 5 minutes, gotta pull it together, gotta go inside.
Well. That’s the bell. I almost made it to the door, one hesitant step after the other, urging myself on every inch of the way. Psyching myself out just as badly. I should have known when I got the offer that I couldn’t do it, I just thought… I thought I had me under control, but there’s no handling the way my knees are weak or my sweaty palms. I can’t go in there, I just… I just can’t.
“I know how you’re feeling statue lady… Like you don’t know if you’re a bee or a checkerboard… Or a grown woman or a kid… Crazy and mixed up.” My sigh fills the room, so far as I can tell, I’m all alone here. As well I should be in the middle of the afternoon. Everyone else has jobs or school and I’m supposed to be at both, in one way or another. There’s so much beauty in this place, it’s so quiet and calm. Maybe they’ll just let me stay here forever.
I’m contemplating pleading my case to the curator when my thoughts are disrupted by soft footfalls and the ever so appealing waft of deep fried. I can’t put my finger on deep fried what but it’s absolutely deep fried. Pass on by… Pass on by… I’m praying silently, hoping that if I stare down at my hands the other person in the room won’t try to start a conversation. “May I?”
Another sigh and I look up at the line cook, without really seeing him. “Sure, whatever.” There’s an empty seat, maybe he’ll be satisfied with just staying qui-
“Good to see you again, Lee. How’ve you been?”
His voice snaps me out of my contemplations and I actually hear him. I actually look at him. Underneath that gross hat, weird smell and more than a little attractive scruffiness is… “Berjes?”
“One and only. Really. I looked it up last month, not another Berjes anywhere near Sunset Valley.”
I’m at a loss for words, unless I can convince him to let me move into the art gallery. It’s been years since I’ve seen him, even longer since we last spoke, and now here he is, sitting next to me. It makes my heart skip a beat and I feel a tug at my stomach. I’ve never gotten over him, I’ve hardly even tried… I’ve always assumed someone else would come along and sweep me off my feet.
“I’ve been good, really uh…”
“… No, it’s been a hell of a day. Really bad day. How are you?”
I never intended to do more than chit chat, but Berjes was my best friend, and then my boyfriend, and yeah, then my ex-boyfriend but I still feel comfortable with him. By the time they’re locking up for the night I’ve spilled my whole story to him. All about my bad days, my work and panic attacks and he’s wonderful about it! Comforting and supportive and everything he always was. He talks too, don’t get me wrong… How Adam helped him get his job, failed relationships, a trip to Bridgeport City!
By the time we’ve been unceremoniously shoved out the front doors, I feel like we never lost touch. I feel like a fifteen year old me with a crush. I feel giddy and bold and before I even think the words “Would you like to go out sometime?” are rolling off of my tongue. He does stop to think. For a worryingly long time.
“Lee…I’m not… I’m not really… I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression but I’m…”.
Without waiting for him to finish I turn and run. I can’t bare to let him see my embarrassment and my shame. I can’t let him see the tears that are welling up in my eyes. I feel like such a fool, such an idiot. This really has just been a terrible day. I should have stayed in bed, forget the french toast, forget the kids and the music and mostly… Mostly forget Berjes. Once and for all.
My ringing phone woke me this morning, caller ID flashing “Jess Clarke.” I was hoping that she was calling as my sister-in-law, but no such luck, it was my boss on the other end of the line. “Lee, we don’t need you at the theatre today for your shift, you know how quiet it’s been and after what happened at the school the other day… Well, our accountants could use a hand down at Doo Peas Tower, I need you to head there for around three-o-clock to give them a hand. And Lee? See if maybe it’s a fit for you?”
Doo Peas Tower is big and imposing and even in the mid-afternoon sun it looks cold and dark. I am not excited for this day but maybe Jess is right… If I can’t keep my nerves together long enough to walk into a school, maybe I should be at a desk job, toiling away on paperwork and enjoying my music in the evenings…
Or maybe not! Calculators and red ink, burnt Caramel Soy Cappuccinos and papercuts… What a miserable afternoon. The work was basic, easy, boring. Full of numbers and rows and columns. Office work is dull, cubicles are tight, the people are uninteresting and I was so bored. So so bored. Nothing like the flashing lights and blaring music that I’m used to working with. There’s no life in this office building and if I were working here, I think it would just drain me. I will overcome my stage fright. I have to.
If I have to work twice as hard at my job ’cause I’m related to the boss, I’m going to have to work four times as hard to keep this job. I’m going to be the best damn roadie they’ve ever seen – even if I’m never the girl joining in the jam. I’ll haul amps, fetch sandwiches and sodas, pick up laundry, find lucky bandanas. The band is relying on me for these very “important” tasks—it’s best not to let them down. I won’t let them down, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it either.
Instead of feeling like I’m deluding myself, thinking I can make it in the music industry with stage fright, I’m working on pushing past it. But I’ve blown weeks worth of pay cheques at the bookstore and hours searching through the libraries and months at home reading every self-help book in Sunset Valley and I just wish… I wish I felt more confident. Between all the “be the sim you want to be” and “when life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take back the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons! What the hell are these?! Demand to see life’s manager!“ I can’t find me. I’ve read so much, and worked so hard at the theatre and practiced so hard at home it would be nice to get a bit of a reward. A raise maybe? A free drink from the cute bartender? A wink from the bartender? A ‘good job’ at the end of the night? A little positive reinforcement would be great. Really. Super. Great. I case you haven’t noticed, readers, I’m losing it a bit. I must be, ’cause there’s no way the studio is empty, right? Like, totally empty of people and things… And that wall isn’t glass now and the foundation hasn’t like… Expanded. The inside room is cold and bare, for the first time I notice that it’s really just a big brick and concrete box and it looks like it’s getting bigger. Someone must have told me about this. This construction project shouldn’t come as a surprise… Should it? Of course, everyone’s already in bed so I guess this will just have to wait for the morning.
“It’s for you, Lee. I’ve seen what you’ve been putting yourself through lately and I’m not going to pretend to know what’s going on ’cause you never talk to me about anything but you’ve been putting a lot of effort into your work and I’m not seeing any result for it. I don’t know why that stupid Jess isn’t recognizing it but I am. I’m building a music room for you back there so that one day, when you want to renovate, you don’t have to. I know that’s what you’d want and I want you to make the house that’s perfect for you.”
I love my mom. And Jess is stupid.
Laurie, is not stupid. She planned the most gorgeous wedding in the park for her and Conrad. It’s got her touch all over it, I don’t think anyone else helped! She looked beautiful and Conrad? Handsome as ever. The clusters of candles that look like they’re floating blur into a halo as my eyes fill with tears – happy tears. It looks like a halo surrounding them as they exchange their vows. Witty and endearing, these two are going to be together forever.
Snow flakes (!) fill the air as they kiss, man and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Clarke. Can I get an ‘awwwww’? The ceremony was short, but the length of time they spend under the arch after they’ve said their “I do”s boarders on indecent. Our cheers and whistles turn into whoops and cat calls until the two of them break apart, tears shining in their eyes and cheeks bright red as if we’ve caught them in the act! We all rush through dinner and jump straight into speeches and cake, people are eager to get home, but not so eager that they don’t want any dessert. Making doe-eyes at each other the whole while, Conrad and Laurie thank us for joining them, pledge their everlasting love and devotion and then, after what feels like hours of lovey dovey sugary stuff, we get to the real sugary stuff. I know, it seems like I’m making a big deal out of a stack of vanilla cake and fondant but I’m very excited that there is finally a pastry chef in town to make wedding cakes. All my life I’ve dreamed of having one for my wedding and figured I’d have to settle for a repurposed birthday cake or key lime pie but now… Now I’ll get one! I just need to find a groom and I’m all set to go.
Bride and Groom take their first spin around the dance floor and then most of the guests say their goodbyes, offer their best wishes and head back home. The park is nearly deserted except for us stragglers. Something has been bumping in the night here in Sugar Valley and if there hadn’t been a huge deposit placed on the park as a venue, I’m sure we’d be indoors right now. But it’s a wedding, and the Clarke family has missed out on some big celebrations with Adam’s shotgun wedding and Kaitlin not telling anyone until it was already done. We’re going to brave the night and we’re going to enjoy ourselves… At least mom and dad and Troy and DC will. I haven’t got anyone to dance with me, all I’ve got is a lonely dining area and some leftover cake! I’m not complaining, mind you. I could never bring myself to complain with this decadent, divine dessert in front of me! Yum! OK, I am complaining. I would love it if there were someone here to enjoy this with me. I feel silly oohing and ahhing over it alone in the dark. Truth be told, it’s been a really long time since I haven’t felt lonely. Not so much as a wink from a cute bartender will do that to a girl. I’m spending so much time on me, there’s no time for anyone else. No time for me to think about finding someone for me unless it’s all abstract and mopey and “oooooh how I wish I had someone to luuuurve.” I think I need a drink!
Over the whirr of the blender, the grinding of the ice and the blaring music coming from the other side of the park, I’m not paying the attention that I should to the shadows. I’m humming and watching liquid swirl in circles so it’s really quite a surprise when I suddenly become aware of a figure, right in the corner of my vision. I nearly jump out of my skin and I even let out a little yelp as I turn to face the surprise wedding guest. “Berjes! You scared me!”
“Yeaaah…. I saw that. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to. You guys have this place so lit up I figured you’d see me from a mile away.” He has the good graces to look sheepish, which is a good look for him.
With a sigh that sounds a little too… besotted, I realize that I’ll think any look is a good look for him. “What are you doing here? It’s pretty late…” Pretty late and the streets are empty. “Shouldn’t you be locked up at home like everyone else?”
He chuckles and shakes his head “I’m not afraid of the big bad wolf! Besides, Jess mentioned Conrad and Laurie were getting married, and I figured I’d stop by and say congratulations and…” he pauses with that sheepish look on his face “I wanted to see you. You look beautiful tonight.”
It’s not ten minutes before we’re chatting comfortably again, just like we had when we were kids, just like that encounter at the art gallery, just like we were somehow meant to talk with one another. And not only chatting, we’re joking around and flirting. He even winks at me and while he’s not a cute bartender, I’m pretty sure he’ll do. There’s only one problem…
My shoes are killing me. Practically the second I mention that, we’re settling down onto the lawn to stare up at the stars and continue the conversation. The flirting! He moves closer and I can feel the warmth coming off of his body and all I want to do is cuddle into him. I manage to resist since I don’t think now is the time for it but I’m starting to have hope that there will be. At some point the rest of my family and the guests leave (I vaguely recall looking up at them as I said my goodbyes) and Berjes and I have the park to ourselves. We trace patterns in the stars, queens, umbrellas and bears, pointing out every constellation we know and I show him the planets and stars that my family has found over the years. We’ve got them all written down in a log book and they’ve got some of the silliest names. There are no secrets between us tonight, or maybe it’s all secret? We’re honest with one another and vulnerable and this is definitely not how I thought the evening would go! Even our first break-up, my high-school addictions and his fear of water. No word is left unsaid.
Until there are no more words left to say, then we fall silent and listen to the park around us. We sit in the grass all night, ignoring the damp creeping through our clothing. When the sky begins to brighten and starts to chase away the stars, he drives me home, getting me there just as dawn breaks. He surprises me when he gets out of the car as well, after our “good nights” and then he surprises me even more:
Much thanks to the writers of Portal 2 for being hilariouser than I am.