7.10: Interlude – Worry

Oh no! The door’s locked. We’re trapped!” The brave knight cried in despair. “Oh fair princess, can you help us escape?”

The princess lifted the bright pink staff she held at her side, smiling. “Of course! Stand back, and I will save us!” She cried out dramatically as the wand began to sparkle and glow.

“Great!” Phoenix smiled happily at his little sister. “Now, roll me a D20 and we’ll see what happens.”

“A D-what?” The little girl asked in confusion.

Tam smiled gently, pointing down at the largest die in front of her.

“Oh! Duh!” Lila’s cheeks turned slightly pink. “Thanks, Tam.” The die clattered loudly against the table. “17!”

“Hmm…” Phoenix was thoughtful for a moment, consulting the chart in front of him. “Too bad, twerp… You wave the wand above your head, and a bunch of big slimy frogs start raining down from the ceiling!”

“Ewwwwwww!”

Phoenix laughed heartily at his sister’s shriek. Lila had been bugging him for so long to let her join one of his games, and he’d finally decided to cave and let her give it a try. And it was so much more fun than he thought it’d be… especially getting to be the one calling the shots for once.

“Okay, you should totally DM our next campaign, Phee.” Tam smiled at his friend. “You’re a natural!”

“Can I try again?” Lila begged. “I don’t want anymore frogs!”

Her brother smiled. “Sure, twerp. Go for it!”

The clattering of Lila’s dice filled the air once more… and so did the sound of footsteps over Phoenix’s shoulder.

“Felix?” Amna called sweetly as she approached. “Sorry… am I interrupting something?”

Oh shit. Phoenix looked down in horror at the dice and DM screen in front of him. 

It was pointless to even try hiding them. What would she think? What would she say?

“Huh? ‘Felix’?” Lila’s little voice called him back to the present. “I don’t get it. Who’s — “

“Who’s that?” Tam interrupted loudly, finishing her question for her. Phoenix was certain they both knew that was not the way she’d planned on finishing that sentence. He hoped Amna did not notice the nervous edge to Tam’s voice. “That’s his new friend, remember?”

Amna gave the little girl a small wave of greeting. Thankfully, she didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. “Hello again, Lila.” She said sweetly.

“Oh, and uh, Amna, this is Tam.” Phoenix gestured toward his friend, who gave the dark-haired girl a nod of greeting.

This time, Amna hesitated a bit before waving. “Oh… hi!”

Lila rolled her eyes. “I know who she is! But why did she call you –”

“Alright, twerp.” It was Phoenix’s turn to interrupt his little sister. “Why don’t you go hangout in your room or something? We can play more later.”

“Aww, but we just started!” She pouted.

“Phee’s right, we can try again another time.” Tam smiled gently at her. “The knight was just about to head out anyway…” He flicked his eyes toward Phoenix. “Jasper invited me over for dinner tonight.” He explained.

Phoenix raised an eyebrow at him. He knew his brother and best friend got along well, but this was the first he’d heard of them hanging out when he wasn’t around. “Okay… Uh, well, tell him I say hi, I guess. Papa and Rubi too.”

“Will do!” Tam smiled, gesturing for Lila to follow him as he rose from his seat. “Let’s go, Princess.” He turned toward his friend. “Later, Felix.” Tam winked.

With one last smile toward Amna, Tam headed back through the kitchen, a very confused Lila at his side.

“Sorry about that.” Phoenix muttered when his friend and sister were out of earshot. He rose to his feet to join her. “Lila decided to drag me and Tam into one of her weird games.” He laughed softly, hoping she would believe him.

“That’s fine… I think it’s really sweet!” Amna grinned at him. “Most big brothers wouldn’t be so willing to put up with… that.” She gestured toward the pile of dice on the table.

Phoenix tried his best to ignore the slight sting he felt at Amna’s comment. “Yeah, probably not…”

“Anyway, I really didn’t mean to interrupt or anything.” She continued apologetically. “I can’t stay for very long anyway… I just had to come show you what I found today.” With a smile, Amna reached into her pocket and retrieved a folded piece of paper.

She handed it to Phoenix, whose stomach dropped the moment he read the flyer she had given him.

“A co-ed football team?” He muttered softly.

Amna nodded, her eyes alight with excitement. “We should totally sign up! Then we could play together!”

Phoenix felt like he was going to be sick. “I, uh… I dunno.” He managed to speak at last. “It sounds really fun, but like… I’m really busy with school and training and stuff. I’m not sure I can fit it in my schedule…”

“They only practice one day a week!” Amna pointed back down at the flyer for a moment. “It’s super casual… Just for fun.” She paused for a moment, batting her long eyelashes at him. “I’d really love it if we could play together, Felix. Will you at least give it a try?” She asked hopefully “For me?”

For a moment, Phoenix found himself lost in her deep brown eyes. His heart practically skipped a beat at the sight of them. How could he possibly say no?

“Okay.” He replied at last. “Let’s try it.”

Fuck.

“Yay!” Amna skipped forward to give Phoenix a soft kiss on his cheek. “I can’t wait!”

“Y-yeah… Me neither…”

“I’ve gotta head back home for dinner… But we’re still on for the gym tomorrow, right?”

Phoenix nodded, trying to smile. He was already getting so sick of that place. “Of course. Wouldn’t miss it.” He hoped his voice sounded casual.

“Great! We can start training for tryouts!”

Tryouts? Oh God… “Yeah. Awesome.” He muttered. “Can’t wait.”

The sight of Amna’s bright smile was almost enough to quell the awful twisting sensation in his stomach. “See you tomorrow, Felix.”

He pulled her into his arm for a moment, pressing his lips against hers. “See you tomorrow.”

As Amna headed back toward the front door to take her leave, a second, taller figure crossed over the threshold into the kitchen, smiling slightly.

Amna nodded kindly at Phoenix’s mother. “See you later, Mrs. Parris.” She said softly. “Bye, Felix!”

Phoenix watched as Harper approached, still smiling. Over her shoulder, he could see Amna disappearing into the entryway and heading for the front door.

“So… ‘Felix’, huh?” Harper asked softly.

He sighed. “Mama…”

“The first few times I heard her say it, I kept telling myself it was just my shitty hearing… But it’s not, is it?”

Phoenix tried his best to smile as they took a seat together at the table. “It’s just… It’s um, a weird nickname.” He shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Uh-huh…” Harper paused for a moment before continuing, her brow furrowing slightly in concern. “Honey… Is everything okay?”

“Of course it is.” Phoenix answered much too quickly. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Harper did not immediately reply. “I’m just worried about you. And I know your Papa is too.”

Ugh. “You talked to him?” He asked softly. “What did he say?”

His mother shrugged. “Not a lot. Just that he thought you were maybe getting in a little over your head?” Harper’s eyes flicked down toward the flyer on the table. “And I can’t help but think he might have a point…”

Phoenix bit his lip. In truth, he had to agree with his parents. He was already getting so tired of pretending all the time. But he wasn’t about to admit that.

“It’s fine, Mama.” He said at last, trying his best to sound confident. “Seriously.”

She raised an eyebrow skeptically at him for a moment. “I get how hard it is, honey. Trust me. Back when I was your age… Well, I felt really lost. Out of place, y’know? So believe me, I get it.” Harper smiled softly at him. “But when I decided to try and find my place…” Her smile slowly began to fade. “Well, let’s just say I got in over my head too. It was awful. I made a lot of stupid mistakes, and hurt a lot of people…”

Phoenix’s brow furrowed slightly. He had no idea what she was talking about, but whatever it was, it sounded awful. What kind of trouble had his mother gotten into in her youth, he wondered? He shook his head. “This isn’t like that, Mama. I’m just trying something new. I’m not ‘hurting’ anybody, or whatever.”

“I know.” She assured him. “I know it’s different. And I know you’re way too smart to make the same mistakes I did… I just worry a little, that’s all. You never realize how quickly things can spiral out of control before it’s too late…” She paused for a moment before speaking again. “I guess my point is, be careful, Phoenix. And it’s great to try new things, but you shouldn’t stop being you. You should never try and change who you are. Not for your friends, or for a girl… Not for anybody, okay?”

Easy for you to say, Phoenix wanted to reply. You don’t know what it’s like. If he ever wanted to belong anywhere, he had to change, didn’t he? Otherwise he’d be stuck forever. Lost and alone… Drifting in a big, boring, empty sea.

How could she ever understand what that felt like?

“Thanks, Mama.” He forced a small smile as he rose to his feet. “I get what you’re saying… And I promise I’ll be careful, okay? You and Papa don’t have to worry about me.”

Harper just laughed. “But I’m your Mama. It’s my job to worry.”

Phoenix rolled his eyes as his mother stood beside him and pulled him into a tight embrace. She was being ridiculous, of course. He had things under control. There really wasn’t anything to worry about…

Well, except how the hell he was gonna fake his way into a football team.

——————————

Note: In addition to a Book Club Reminder (You are welcome to start posting general thoughts about the first half of Gen 6 over in the thread, and/or submit discussion questions to SimsLover163 on the forums! The official discussion begins on Monday :D), because I’m feeling super nostalgic, I just wanted to share a pointless little story lol

The beginning of this chapter was actually 100% inspired by me and my brother 🙂 He’s 12 years older than me, and was always very much into Dungeons and Dragons. As a little kid, I was always bugging him to let me join him and his friends’ games. Well, when I was around Lila’s age, my brother finally let me “play” my first ever game with him… And it was exactly what Phoenix had Lila do.

I played a princess and he had me find the Wand of Wonders, which is a wand where you roll a D100 (I changed it to a D20 because the cc dice set I have doesn’t have a D100! LOL) and the wand does a random effect based on what you roll. It was the simplest, silliest thing, but I had so much fun with it. I’ll never forget how much I loved that first experience with D&D, so I decided to pay tribute to it in today’s chapter 😀 Okay, done sharing random nostalgic memories from my childhood 😛 Thanks for reading, guys! ❤

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7.9: Felix

This whole thing is so much easier than I thought it’d be.

Like, almost TOO easy.

All it took was a few trips to the gym and a little name-dropping… Oh, and a couple last-minute football lessons with Bryce.

I guess part of me feels kinda bad… ish. Like, I keep remembering what Jasper and Meg said. About lying to try and get a girlfriend. Or not being myself…

But like, I didn’t really lie, did I? I was still myself… in a way.

Like, I told Amna I work out all the time… And lately, that’s been totally true! I’ve been going to the gym like, every day. And when I told her I love it, well… I think I can learn to? I’m still sore as hell after my workouts, but it’s kinda fun too, now that I’m getting the hang of it

And I am related to Tobias Rosebrook. That part wasn’t a lie either! And thanks to Bryce, I do play a little football now. Like, very very little. But it’s something, right?

And once I brought Amna over to Mama’s house for the first time, things got way easier. It felt a lot less like pretending after that.

The first time she came over, basically all she wanted to do was look at those old trophies in the library. It was like she was hypnotized or something. But the way she was looking at them was pretty cute.

She even asked if she could touch them… but I had a feeling my Opi would probably kill me if I let her. Luckily Amna didn’t push it too much. She was fine with just looking. And uh, I had a nice time doing some looking of my own too…

Then we went outside and played a little football. I volunteered to be goalie, and she didn’t seem to notice how much I sucked… I’m pretty sure she thought I was trying to be nice or something by letting her get all those shots in? I dunno. Either way, it was awesome!

Then the next time she came over, I got out the basketball (since it’s like, way more my thing). I was kinda nervous I was gonna choke again like I did in front of Tam though… But I didn’t.

And all I had to do was make a couple baskets and she was so amazed! “You never told me you played basketball too.” She got all goo-goo eyed over it… Score! It was so crazy how easy it was. I never thought I could ever impress a girl like Amna…

I know we just met like two weeks ago, but damn. She’s just so awesome. She’s funny and beautiful and really nice too. And like, so passionate. About football, mostly… And okay, I’ll admit it’s definitely not my favorite. But I love hearing her talk about it, even if I don’t totally get what she’s saying all the time.

And when she came to Papa’s house this afternoon, she showed me she can be passionate about other things too…

Ahhhh it was so freaking awesome. Thank God Rubi and Papa weren’t home. I mean, we barely did anything except kiss. But damn… She was so good. Maybe even more into it than Hallie used to be.

And I just can’t wait til she lets me kiss her again… And maybe do some other stuff too?

But it’s not like it’s JUST about that kinda thing. It’s not.

Honestly, it’s just nice to finally feel like I’m hanging out with a girl who’s actually interested in what I have to say.

I mean yeah, I can’t talk to her about most of the stuff I want to. Most of the time it’s sports stuff… But like, I actually know enough that we can really have a conversation about it (Playing is a whole different story… but I’ve been pretty good at dodging that bullet so far!).

But that’s not the only thing we talk about either. I mean okay, maybe like… 80% of the time? But sometimes we talk about movies and stuff. Or we play with Mayonnaise and Fiona too. Amna loves animals. And she’s so good with them!

So yeah, I guess that’s pretty much it.

So far so good, right?

Not that things are perfect or anything... But hey, nothing ever is, right?

Like, I wish I was brave enough to remind her my name’s Phoenix. But it just feels too awkward to bring it up… I’m kinda kicking myself for letting it go on so long. What the hell was I thinking? But it’s too late to do anything about it. So I guess I’m ‘Felix’ now.

But it’s not like she’s the first person to mess that up anyway. As all those jerks at school love reminding me, Phoenix is a weird freaking name. I’m used to getting called “Felix” on like, a daily basis. It’s just usually a lot easier to correct people.

But Amna’s just so cute when she says it. And honestly? She can call me anything she wants. I wouldn’t care.

Other people might care though. Like, Mama and Dev looked at her like she had three heads when they heard her call me that… But they didn’t say anything about it. And luckily she hasn’t said it in front of Papa or Rubi yet.

I did tell my friends about it though. Bryce thinks it’s hysterical, of course. And Tam and Jasper say it’s ‘fitting’. “New character, new name!” They told me.

And I guess they have a point. If you were re-rolling your D&D character, you’d never give them the same name as your old one. So if you think about it, it kinda makes sense, almost? Well, as much as anything about this can make sense. Like, I know it’s super weird or whatever…

But hey, at least it’s working!

And the best part is, Amna doesn’t go to my school. So when I’m there with my friends, I can still be myself. I can talk about video games and D&D and be the same boring old Phoenix I’ve always been.

But whenever she comes over, well…

I guess just call me Felix.

———————————————

Those of you who follow my thread on the Sims Forums might have already seen this announcement, but just in case… Both this week and next, Ashes to Ashes will be featured in the Book Club thread on the Sims Forums. ^_^

The focus of the discussion will be the first half of Harper’s generation (from her birth til when she ended up in jail). The first week (this week) is for general/open discussion, as well as time to submit some questions to the “Coffee Hour” host, SimsLover163 🙂 (I think he might explain this process in more detail in the thread!)

Then next week (starting on the 18th) there will be Q&A/discussion questions for both myself and you guys 🙂

I’d love it if some of you with accounts on the forums stopped by to check things out. Thanks, guys! ❤

7.8: Interlude – Legend

Phoenix’s fork made a soft clink as he set it on the table beside his plate. He took a long drink from his glass, finishing off the last of his milk before setting it back down as well. He did his best to suppress a wince of pain as he did so. His entire body still ached so much from his workouts with Bryce.

“Thanks, Rubi.” He smiled kindly at his stepmother as the dull ache continued. “That was great.”

On the other side of the table, he saw his father’s brow furrow almost instantly. “Are you feeling okay?” Erik asked his eldest son. “You barely touched your food.”

Phoenix shrugged. “Just not that hungry, I guess… But they really were great, Rubi. Promise.” He assured her.

There were very few things Phoenix would ever consider anywhere near the level of his Opa’s cooking. But Rubi’s blueberry pancakes were one of them. And, truth be told, he could have easily devoured the whole plate right then and there.

But you weren’t supposed to eat very much when you were trying to work out, right? Wouldn’t that like, defeat the whole purpose?

“Don’t worry about Phoenix, Mama.” Jasper addressed his mother before she’d even had a chance to reply. “He’s just on some kind of diet or whatever.”

Phoenix gave his brother’s leg a sharp kick under the table. “Shut up.” He hissed through clenched teeth. He’d already told Jasper he didn’t want to make a big deal about it in front of their parents.

As he’d feared, both adults exchanged a look. “Diet?” Rubi asked uncertainly.

Erik shook his head, looking almost amused. “You can’t be serious, buddy. I mean…” He gestured vaguely in Phoenix’s direction.

“It’s not a diet.” He insisted, still irritated at his brother. “I’m just trying to like, eat a little healthier, I guess? Like, I’ve been going to the gym with Bryce and stuff.” He shrugged. “I was actually gonna ask if you could give me a ride over there after breakfast…” Ugh. It felt so awkward asking now. Thanks, Jasper.

He watched his parents exchange yet another glance. Why did they have to keep doing that?

“Sure.” Erik spoke at last. “We don’t mind… But, uh… The gym, huh?”

Phoenix’s reply was much more defensive than he’d intended. “Yeah, the gym. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing at all. It’s just a little unexpected.” His father explained gently. “It’s great you wanna be healthier. I just never really thought that was something you were into…” Erik glanced toward his wife for a moment.

Rubi bit her lip uncertainly. “Phoenix, honey… This doesn’t have to do with Hallie, does it?”

In an instant, his cheeks were on fire. Beside him, he watched Jasper’s lips curl into a smirk. Phoenix gave him yet another kick in the shin before he could say anything.

“No.” He replied firmly, ignoring his brother’s wince of pain. “It doesn’t, okay?” Phoenix pushed his chair back from the table as he spoke. He tried his best to keep his voice calm. “So you’ll take me then?”

Rubi and Erik both nodded, their expressions impossible to read. “Just let us know when you wanna head over, okay?” His father asked at last.

Phoenix nodded, his irritation finally dying away. “Thanks, Papa.”

———————————————–

The large metal machine seemed to loom before him. Had it always looked so damn intimidating? It had all seemed so easy when he had Bryce there with him… Well, easy in theory. It was a little trickier once you added actual weights into the picture.

Alright… Phoenix told himself firmly. You can do this.

He’d gone to the gym with Bryce four times that week. He was practically a pro already! He’d be fine!

His eyes scanned the room as he finally took a seat at the huge weight machine. Even though it was a Saturday, he was surprised to find a few familiar faces he recognized from his trips earlier in the week.

As usual, none of them seemed very interested in looking back. But that was okay. One of these days, they would.

Phoenix reached up above his head, placing his arms against the padded panels. A slow, deep breath passed his lips as he closed his eyes, and tried to bring his arms together.

He winced sharply in pain as a burning ache ripped through his muscles. “Ah!” He lowered his arms quickly, eager to dispel the sharp pain. Shit… It never hurt this much before!

He’d been so sore all week. Maybe he’d been pushing himself too hard? Was five days in a row too much? But Bryce always seemed to manage it just fine… So why couldn’t he?

Maybe I should just try the treadmill… That would probably be easier, right? As long as he didn’t trip like he did the first time, anyway…

As Phoenix made his way to the nearest treadmill, he was pleasantly surprised to discover not one, but two girls jogging along at his side.

One was a girl he recognized from his science class. The other he’d only ever seen at the gym. They both had long dark hair and beautiful brown eyes. He felt his heart rate beginning to rise already, and it had nothing to do with exercise.

Phoenix mentally shook himself. Come on, dude. Just suck it up and say hi!

It was nearly five minutes before he worked up the courage to do so. He decided to take a chance on the girl to his right… It was too risky to try talking to someone from school. What if he made a total ass of himself? Then, there’d be no escape…

“Uh… Hi.” He gave the girl a smile, trying his best to not break his stride. Thankfully, the dull ache in his legs was much easier to deal with than the pain from before.

She returned the gesture somewhat uncomfortably. “Hey.” He could feel her eyes on him, sizing him up. Did she like what she saw?

“Great workout, huh?” Phoenix nodded down toward their feet. “I mean, the treadmills here are like… really nice.”

The girl just shrugged, her smile beginning to fade. “Sure, I guess?”

Shit, I suck at this. But at least she was talking to him? That was better than ignoring him, right?

“I think I’ve seen you around before… “ He continued. “You, um… You come here a lot, right?”

This time, she didn’t even look over at him. “Yup.”

“Cool. Uh, me too.” Phoenix smiled nervously. “I’m like, so into working out, y’know? It’s like, the best.” Oh my God what the fuck am I saying?

“Uh-huh…” She muttered. “Well, it was, um… nice talking to you.”

Phoenix’s heart sank as she watched her turn off the treadmill. He reached forward quickly to turn off his as well. The conveyor belt stopped suddenly, almost sending him flying. But Phoenix kept his footing.

“You too.” He said, stepping off his treadmill to stand beside her. “Maybe I’ll see you around again sometime?”

“Yeah, maybe.” The girl gave him an awkward nod, then began walking toward the locker rooms.

“My name’s Phoenix, by the way.” He added quickly, calling after her. “Phoenix Rosebrook.”

It was as though he’d flipped some sort of switch in her mind. She turned around to face him, and her eyes lit up instantly. For the first time since they’d begun talking, she seemed genuinely interested in something he’d said.

“Rosebrook?” She repeated almost breathlessly as she walked back toward him.

Phoenix smiled. His mother still published books under her maiden name… This girl was probably a fan. “Yeah.” He replied. “My Mama –”

“Like… Tobias Rosebrook?!”

His eyes widened. That definitely hadn’t been what he was expecting. “Oh! Um, yeah. He was like my great-great grandfather or something?” Why the heck was she so interested in someone who’d been dead for so long?

“Oh my God!” She squealed. “He was one of the greatest football players of all time! He’s such an inspiration…” The girl practically swooned.

Phoenix shrugged. “Yeah, I guess he was pretty good!”

“‘Pretty good’? Seriously?” She asked with a bright, musical laugh.

You idiot! This is your chance! “I – I mean, he was amazing! He inspires me too. Every day.” Phoenix tried his best to sound casual. “I’m so grateful to be related to him, y’know? Like, wow. What a legend.” Oh God, please believe me. Please believe me…

“Why didn’t you say anything before?” For the first time, the girl’s smile seemed genuine. “I mean, ‘I’m related to one of the greatest football players ever’ is probably what I’d lead with if I were you.” She teased. “That’s so awesome!”

“I just didn’t wanna like, brag or anything.” He replied with a small, forced laugh. “It’s a lot of pressure, I guess. Lots to live up to. But I’m trying my best.”

“Oh, so you play too?!”

“Y-yeah, a little.” Phoenix had never touched a football in his entire life.

“Awesome!”

He hesitated a moment before replying. This is it. A small voice in the back of his mind seemed to whisper. Go in for the kill! “Um, y’know, we still have a bunch of his old trophies and stuff at my house. If you ever wanted to come over and check them out or something?”

She bounced excitedly up and down for a moment. “Oh my God, really?!”

“Of course!”

In an instant, the girl had her cellphone in her hands. “What’s your number?” She asked excitedly. “I’ll add it to my phone.”

Phoenix was so stunned, it took him a moment to remember any of the digits. A girl was asking HIM for his number?! Holy shit… At last, he managed to remember his phone number. He repeated it twice for good measure.

“Perfect! I’ll text you so you have mine too.” She smiled sweetly at him. “I’m Amna, by the way. Amna Bhatt.”

Phoenix nearly lost himself in her beautiful brown eyes. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Amna.” He replied softly.

She giggled. “Nice to meet you too, Felix.” With one last smile, Amna headed off toward the locker rooms at last.

“It’s… It’s Phoenix.” He muttered softly, knowing she could not hear.

But he wasn’t about to let some kind of silly mix-up bother him… It had worked! It actually worked!

Phoenix pulled his phone from his pocket, his fingers practically shaking.

7.7: Piece of Cake

Okay, so I’m not sure how I’m even able to pick up my pencil right now… And I’m already pretty sure I’ll never be able to walk right ever again.

But it’s all totally gonna be worth it… Right?

Or at least, that’s what Tam keeps telling me. This whole thing was all his idea, believe it or not. (Okay, yeah, you can probably believe it).

Once I figured out how I was gonna handle this whole “boring” thing, I realized I needed a plan. Like, it’s not like I can just snap my fingers and magically change or anything. I’ve really gotta work for it. And I needed to figure out where to start.

So at first, I was thinking of just trying to go full-geek like Tam. It probably would’ve been the easiest… I’m basically halfway there already. But then I realized like, how many geeks does a party really need? Tam totally fills our quota for that. And then some.

But it’s just like building a party in D&D. There are some classes you can never really have enough of, right?

Tam came over after school yesterday, and we talked about it for a while. He says I should try dumping most of my points into Strength right now because, and I quote, “Who can resist a sexy Barbarian?”

Ha! Yeah… Not sure about the ‘sexy’ part. But I think he might be right… ‘Cause like, nobody can resist someone who’s all athletic and muscly and in good shape, right? It’s pretty much like, scientifically proven, basically.

Like, if you wanna be all weird and look at it in terms of like, evolution or whatever, it’s all about survival of the fittest… Literally.

Back when everyone was living in caves and eating berries and smashing each other on the head with sticks and shit, only the fastest and strongest survived, right? And if you were looking for someone to mate with, like… I’m pretty sure you’re gonna pick the ripped dude with the six pack who wrestles sabertooth tigers, right? Not the scrawny nerd who likes rolling rocks around and drawing pictures in the sand.

Anyway, fast forward to now and like, it’s basically the same, isn’t it? If you’re in good shape, people are gonna be all over you.  I mean, just look at Bryce! Total freaking chick magnet. And he makes it look so easy!

So Tam’s probably right… It’s the best place to start! And I’m already partway there, I think… Like, I’m pretty into watching sports, and I like playing basketball with Papa. That’s gotta count for something, right?

I mean, assuming I don’t keep choking when it counts. Ugh.

After we talked it out, Tam said it was “time for an Athletics check”. So I got out the basketball and, um…

Well, let’s just say if this was actually a game of D&D, I totally botched my roll.

It was so humiliating! I’m usually pretty decent at basketball… But there was just so much pressure. And I hate that.

I get so freaking nervous and it makes me fuck up. And if it’s bad enough to happen in front of Tam, imagine how horribly I might screw up in front of a girl…

But at least no one else saw this time. Well, nobody but the little twerp. She was being all weird and spying on us like she always does when Tam comes over (ugh). But at least she didn’t give me shit for it. Just started giggling and ran back inside.

And Tam was… Well, Tam. He just shrugged like it was no big deal, and told me at least I’m “gaining XP”.

So… yeah, that didn’t go so great. But at least I tried?

Anyway, I figured maybe I needed to start with something else. Like, playing basketball takes focus and talent and practice and stuff. And who the heck has time for that?!

Then I started thinking of Bryce. I mean, the dude’s freaking huge. I swear to God, every minute he’s not at football practice, he’s working out at the gym.

And that’s when it hit me — Sitting around and lifting a few weights? Now that I can handle. It’ll be a total piece of cake.

I probably shouldn’t have tried telling Bryce that though. He looked at me like I had three heads when I asked him to take me to the gym with him today.

Then he laughed.

For like, two minutes straight.

But he decided to take me anyway.

And it was, um… Yeah.

There were so many girls there. A couple of them I’ve run into at school before, but most of them I’d never even seen before. And holy shit…

They were so strong.

And flexible.

And… bouncy.

As much as I wanted to, I tried really hard not to be a total creeper and stare or anything. Which… wasn’t easy. But I tried really hard to just focus on working out and stuff instead.

And I guess it was a little easier to focus, since none of them were staring back either…

Okay, maybe at Bryce, a little. But he didn’t seem to notice? And like, I know Meg would be super happy he didn’t, but come on! All that, and he barely even glanced over at any of them. Not even the ones who were staring.

And I would’ve given like, anything to have them look at me. Even once.

Well…

Actually, it’s probably good they didn’t look this time.

But you know what I mean.

I’ll admit it — maybe it wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it was gonna be… But I’m totally gonna get the hang of it eventually. It’s not too late to turn things around.

I’ll try to play more basketball. I’m gonna keep going to the gym with Bryce. And soon, it’s all gonna start paying off. I’m finally gonna get in shape.

And then one day, I’ll walk into that gym again, and those girls won’t be able to take their eyes off me…

Oh, and like, hopefully they’ll wanna talk to me too and stuff.

But one thing at a time, right?

7.6: Interlude – Re-Roll

“Uh oh…  I know that look.” Jasper laughed as his brother took a seat at the table. “What are you up to this time?”

Bryce rolled his eyes as he and Meg joined their table as well. “He’s been weird all morning. But he said we had to wait til lunch before he’d tell us anything.”

Phoenix just shrugged. Neither his brother nor Tamsin were in the same grade as him and Bryce. He’d had to wait until lunchtime for the chance to talk to everyone together.

“I’ve just been… thinking.” He explained slowly, now that all his friends were present. “Ever since Hallie and I broke up. Like, figuring some stuff out, I guess? And I wanted to talk to you guys about it.”

“Aha! I knew it…” Tamsin leaned across the table toward his friend as he spoke. “It’s okay, Phee… You’re totally not alone, trust me.” He gave a small wink before continuing. “And none of us are gonna judge you for it. Promise. We love you no matter what. And you can always be yourself with us, right guys?”

Phoenix’s eyes widened. “What?! No! No!” He shook his head. “That’s not what I’m saying!”

Tamsin’s face appeared to fall slightly. “Oh.”

“So what is it then?” Jasper interjected quickly, his cheeks flushed. “What’s going on?”

He took a deep breath before replying. “I think I finally figured out what my problem is. Like… why girls don’t think i’m ‘interesting’ or whatever.”

“Well… I think we all knew the answer to that question already, didn’t we?” Bryce smirked playfully at his friend. “I mean, duh.”

Meg swatted his arm, smiling apologetically at Phoenix as she did so. “So… What do you think it is?”

Phoenix turned to address his best friend. “Tam, do you remember back when you were like… twelve? And you tried running your first D&D campaign?”

“Eleven.” Tamsin corrected him gently. “You were twelve. And of course I remember! You never forget your first time… Isn’t that what they always say?” He sighed almost wistfully.

Phoenix shook his head in amusement, letting out a soft chuckle. “Um, pretty sure they aren’t talking about D&D campaigns though…”

Tamsin ignored him. “Oh man, I still remember how pumped I was to try running my own game! But I had to beg like crazy for you to let Jasper play with us.His smile widened. “I was so excited when you finally caved and said he could!”

Phoenix couldn’t help but laugh softly. Leave it to Tam to remember all those details.

Jasper laughed too, his eyes lighting up at the memory. “I’ll never forget that… I was so freaking excited when you asked me too.”

Tam smiled warmly at him. “I remember.”

“Yeah… those were the days, huh?” Phoenix continued, trying to get their conversation back on-track. “Anyway, remember how much we sucked at it? And how me and Jasper totally fucked up character creation?”

Tamsin nodded, finally returning his gaze back to Phoenix. “Unfortunately… I’ve been trying really hard to purge that part from my memory, you know.” He teased. “Man… it was so bad. We didn’t even know how to roll right!” He shook his head almost sadly.

“Yeah, and none of us had any idea how classes worked or anything.” His friend replied. “I made that lame human character, and I tried so hard to make him good at everything…” Phoenix paused for a moment. “But I spread all my attribute points way too thin. And instead of being good at everything…”

“You were good at nothing.” Jasper finished for him, laughing. “Yeah, it was a super boring character. But, uh… what does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, that’s still my problem, I think. I’m a boring character.” Phoenix chewed his lip for a moment, trying to think of how to explain it. “Okay, so like… If school was some kind of big RPG, instead of classes like paladins or bards or wizards, you’d have like, jocks, geeks, partiers, nerds…” He rattled the names off quickly. “That kinda thing. Right? Like, you get what I mean?”

Tamsin and Jasper nodded.

“And they all kinda ‘specialize’ in something, or whatever. Like, they have something they’re really good at and makes them stand out and stuff… But I don’t. I’m like… mediocre at a bunch of random shit, instead of actually good at anything.”

Tamsin’s eyes lit up in understanding. “Oh my God… It’s like you never picked a class!”

“Exactly!”

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” Bryce muttered, earning a disapproving look from Meg. “Alright, I must’ve missed a lesson or two in geek-ese…” He continued, smiling in amusement. “‘Cause I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”

Before Phoenix could reply, Tamsin turned toward Bryce, smiling. “Phee wants to re-roll his character.”

“Um…?”

“I think what he’s trying to say is that Phoenix wants to find a new hobby or something?” Meg suggested. “Something to make him stand out a little more?”

He nodded happily. “That’s gotta make me more interesting, right? I’ll find a way to get really good at something, and then I’ll finally be like ‘special’, or whatever. And everyone will see I’m not the boring loser Hallie thinks I am.”

None of his friends spoke for a few moments. And, judging by the looks on their faces, they each had very different thoughts crossing their minds.

“I dunno…” Jasper was the first to break the silence. “Isn’t that kinda like lying or something?”

Meg nodded. “Yeah, Jasper’s right… If you want a girlfriend, she should like you for… you. Right? The real you.”

“Well, I’m still gonna be the ‘real’ me.” Phoenix insisted. “Just… a new me? Do you know what I mean?”

She chuckled softly to herself. “Sure. Whatever you say…”

“So anyway, um… What do you guys think? I still haven’t figured out what I’m gonna try first… But do you think it’ll work? Should I try it?”

“Hell yeah!” Tamsin cried. “You know how much I love character creation… This is gonna be fun!”

Bryce shook his head for a moment. “Honestly? I think this is the absolute dumbest fucking idea I have ever heard in my life… and you should totally do it.” He grinned.

Phoenix turned toward his brother hopefully.

Jasper just shrugged. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to try?”

Phoenix smiled softly, a feeling of relief washing over him at his friends’ approval. He knew it was a crazy idea, but like Jasper had said, it couldn’t hurt to try, could it?

“Exactly.” Phoenix’s smile widened. “I’ve gotta at least give it a shot. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?”

7.5: Don’t Fit

It was the little twerp’s birthday yesterday. We had a big dinner with one of Opi’s epic cakes to celebrate (thankfully the big sleepover isn’t til this weekend when I’m at Papa’s. Not sad to be missing that one…)

Anyway, I can’t believe she’s eight years old already… How the hell did that even happen?!

It was so freaking long ago, but I still remember how excited I was before she was born… And how disappointed I felt after too.

Don’t get me wrong — I love that little brat. A lot. And I’ve gotten over all that stupid little-kid whining I put Mama and Dev through back then.

But there are still ‘moments’, I guess. Like, flashes almost? I feel them with Jasper sometimes too.

And I definitely felt it at Lila’s party.

I know it’s dumb. But seeing her getting to celebrate her birthday with both her parents…

Stuff like that always gets to me the most.

For like, literally my whole life, I’ve always gotten two of everything. Two birthday parties. Two Christmases. Two Easters. And that probably sounds awesome, right?

I mean, I still remember when I was turning twelve, and Jasper actually threw a little tantrum about how unfair it was that I get ‘two birthdays’. I still roll my eyes just thinking about it.

Having parents who aren’t together already sucks enough. And it’s like a hundred times worse when your parents have their own families too. Families you’ll never completely be a part of.

I love Rubi and Dev a lot. They’re basically like a second Mama and Papa to me. And obviously I love Jasper and Lila too. And my Mama and Papa. Duh.

But sometimes it still feels like I’m this weird, extra person who doesn’t really belong. I don’t even have the same last name as any of them. And that just kinda shoves in my face that like… I don’t really “fit” into either family, I guess? Not completely anyway.

And now that I think about it, that’s kinda how everything is for me… I just don’t fit anywhere.

It kinda makes me think about what Hallie said… About how ‘boring’ I am, or whatever.

Most people have a ‘thing’, right? Like, something they’re really good at, or really into. Something that makes them interesting. Like Mama’s writing. Or Papa’s computer stuff. Or Dev’s art. Or Rubi’s gardening.

My friends all have stuff like that too. Like Bryce. He’s a total jock. Any sport you can think of, he’s a freaking beast at. Everyone knows it… And they all love it too. I don’t know how Tam and I lucked out having him as our friend. He could hang out with like, anybody he wants to. And all the girls at school practically fall all over themselves whenever he walks by.

Thankfully Meg’s a pro at putting up with it. She’s always been great about handling stuff like that. She’s been head of the school theater company for years, so she’s got a pretty killer poker face. Everyone at school knows she’s the best actress around… Bryce likes to tease her sometimes and call her the school ‘Drama Queen’ (thankfully it’s just the onstage kind, at least).

And we all know what Tam’s ‘thing’ is, obviously. He’s totally into comic books and D&D and all that sorta stuff… way more than even I am. And like, he’s definitely not nearly as popular as Meg or Bryce are… But I swear, there are moments where it’s almost like people kinda respect the fact that he’s such a geek, if that makes any sense. Like, he’s just so into it. It’s like they admire his… I dunno, passion or something? I know Jasper definitely does. And I’m sure he’s not alone.

And then there’s me.

It’s like Hallie said… I’m boring. There’s nothing like, interesting about me. I don’t fit into a ‘group’ or whatever like the rest of them do.

Like, not to brag or anything, but my grades are pretty freaking awesome. I don’t even have to try that hard. It just kinda comes naturally, I guess? But I don’t feel like that’s ‘who I am’, or anything. It’s not like I’m on the math team or in the science club. I’m just good at school.

And I love watching sports, especially basketball. Papa and I even play some one-on-one every once in a while for fun (or two-on-one when we drag Jasper into it). But I’m not on a team or anything. I’m not some popular jock like Bryce is. I just like sports.

Or like, Rylie started teaching me how to play guitar a few years ago. I’m decent at a few songs, and I have fun messing around with it every once in a while… But it’s just some weird little hobby. It’s not my ‘thing’.

And honestly, neither is being a geek, really? It’s probably the thing I come closest to fitting into, I guess. But like, I don’t DM my own game group, or go to cosplay conventions, or work down at the comic book store after school. Not like Tam.

It’s like I’m floating in this weird, boring gray area in the middle of it all. I’m stuck in-between.

I’m not a Shimada, but I’m not a Parris either. I’m a Rosebrook.

And I’m not a nerd, or a jock, or a musician… Barely even a geek, really.

So… what am I?

I dunno. Maybe Hallie’s right. Maybe I really am just some boring loser.

But you know what?

Maybe I don’t have to be one anymore.

———————————————–

Wanted to let everyone know I finally updated the Family Tree page (for the first time sine Harper was a toddler! Haha Better late than never though, right? 😉 )

7.4: Interlude – Boring

Hallie had messaged him just after third period with her mysterious invitation to the park after school. Phoenix had texted his mother almost immediately to let her know he’d be walking home that afternoon.

There was supposed to be a basketball game on TV that Phoenix had really been looking forward to… But for Hallie, it could wait. Hell, anything could wait. Especially if she wanted to pick up where they left off behind the bowling alley the other night…

Phoenix did his best to silence a tiny voice of doubt and uncertainty in the back of his mind. He’d been trying so hard not to think about any of that crap that was getting him down the other day. Nobody’s relationship was perfect, right? He was making way too big a deal out of things. They’d only been together for like a month and a half anyway. They were still getting used to each other. Everything was gonna be fine.

“Hey, Phoenix.” Hallie’s voice broke through the jumbled thoughts that clouded his mind.

His smile widened as he turned around to face her. “Hey.” Phoenix closed the distance between them quickly, leaning forward to give her a kiss.

To his surprise, she turned her face away from him. His lips made clumsy contact with her cheek instead.

“Oh.” Phoenix muttered uncertainly as he pulled away. “Um…”

Hallie bit her lip. “Let’s sit down.”

Fuck. He felt like he was going to be sick as he took a seat beside her on the bench. This can’t be good.

“Look, Phoenix… I’m just gonna cut to the chase. I’m not really sure how else to say this, but…” She paused for a moment to take a slow, deep breath. “This isn’t working anymore. I’m sorry.”

It felt like someone had punched him in his already-twisting stomach. Phoenix was almost surprised he didn’t puke right then and there. “What?!” It was all he could manage to say.

“I just can’t keep doing this. It’s not working out.”

For a moment, Phoenix wasn’t quite sure which emotion would win out. A small part of him almost felt… relief. But the feeling was fleeting.

She was rejecting him! Saying they should just end things without even trying to fix it! He felt so sad and hurt… But so angry too.

“Where the hell is this coming from?” He snapped at last. “What about the other night?”

“It was fun, okay?” Hallie replied with a shrug. “And I guess I was kinda hoping it would help make things better… But I’m just not feeling it anymore. No ‘spark’, or whatever they call it.”

“Pfft!” Phoenix couldn’t help but scoff at the lame cliche. “‘Not working out’, ‘No spark’… What’s next? The ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech?”

She shook her head, biting her lip once more. “No… ‘Cause, uh… to be totally honest… I think most of it IS you.”

“What the hell?! Are you serious?!”

“Well… yeah.” Hallie looked almost guilty. “This is gonna sound so bitchy, but I feel like somebody’s gotta say it…”

Another wave of nausea overcame him. “Oh God. What now?!”

“It’s just… You’re kinda… boring, Phoenix.”

He said nothing. His mind was still trying to wrap itself around what she’d just said. Boring?!

“Like, I mean you’re nice and you’re cute. And you’re actually a decent kisser and stuff? But…” Hallie shrugged.

“But I’m boring.” Phoenix finished for her, his voice soft. The anger he’d felt before seemed to have melted instantly at her words. Instead he just felt… defeated. Empty.

Hallie’s face fell. “I’m sorry… Maybe that was a little too harsh. I’m mean, you’re a sweet guy, Phoenix. You really are.” She paused. “But let’s be real — We’re just too different.” For a moment, she seemed to have a hard time meeting his gaze. “I think… I think I maybe need a boyfriend who’s a little more exciting. Or who likes to have a little more fun, I guess?”

“Yeah. I get it.” Phoenix rose to his feet slowly. “But for the record, it’s also pretty fucking boring watching you sit around staring at your phone all the time too. Or sitting through your stupid Netflix shows. Which suck, by the way.” He snapped.

“Phoenix…”

“Bye, Hallie.”

————————————-

Boring…

The word seemed to echo in Phoenix’s mind the entire way home.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that she felt that way, should it? He’d already figured it out himself the other night.

And shouldn’t he be relieved that it was all over now? That they didn’t have to keep pretending anymore?

Maybe. But it still hurt. So freaking much.

Hallie was never one to mince her words. She was always honest… Maybe even too honest. But did she really have to say that? Did she have to call him boring?

And what if it was true, he wondered?

Was that why Skylar had dumped him too? She was the closest thing to a girlfriend Phoenix had ever had, before Hallie. They made it through three dates before she let him down.

“Couples are supposed to like, have fun together, y’know?” He tried his best to remember exactly what she’d said. “But I think we maybe have like, different ideas of what ‘fun’ is…? Sorry, Phoenix.”

His eyes widened. Oh my God. She’d basically said the same thing, hadn’t she? It was true.

I’m boring. Phoenix realized. I’m lame and I’m boring and no one’s ever gonna wanna date me again.

He felt like he was in a daze as he finally made his way up the front walkway. He almost didn’t notice his little sister’s giggles coming from the backyard, at first. But before he made it to the front door, her sweet little voice finally reached his ears.

Phoenix glanced up, his eyes falling on Lila as she climbed around the jungle gym in the backyard. The sight actually brought a smile to his face. Sure, she annoyed the shit out of him most of the time. But she was so damn cute too… Not that he’d ever tell her that, of course.

Even though he knew how much his Mama and Dev hated it, Phoenix cut through the flowers and the hedge to join Lila in the backyard. She’d be a welcome distraction… He just didn’t feel ready to face his parents or grandparents quite yet.

“Hey, twerp.” He called up to her as he approached. “What are you up to?”

The little girl giggled. “I’m exploring the seven seas!” She proclaimed dramatically. “Oh, and I’m a princess too. Duh.”

Phoenix chuckled heartily. “Well obviously.” Lila didn’t even have to be playing a game for that to be true. “Looks pretty fun… Think the pirate princess could use a first mate? Or an evil villain to walk the plank?”

“Hmm…” Lila was thoughtful for a few moments. “What about a big mean sea monster to attack the ship?”

Phoenix’s reply was a deafening roar.

The sun was just starting to set when Harper finally headed out in the backyard to fetch her children. “Alright, guys… Your Opa says it’s time for dinner!”

Phoenix looked over at his mother, surprised. It wasn’t until that moment that he realized he’d been expecting a text asking where he was. But he’d never gotten one. “You knew I was home?” He replied.

Harper laughed brightly. “Honey, I’m pretty sure half the neighborhood could hear that sea monster attack.” She teased. “Sorry to break up the party, but it’s time to abandon ship, guys.”

“Do we have to? What about just five more minutes, Mama?” Lila begged.

Her mother shook her head. “You know how Papa is… he’ll eat all of it himself if we don’t get in there soon!” With one last smile, Harper finally turned and began heading back inside.

“Alright twerp, you heard the boss… Let’s go.” Phoenix reached up to help his little sister off the jungle gym. “We can play again some other time.”

To his surprise, as he bent to lower her back onto the ground, Lila pulled him into a tight squeeze. For someone to tiny, she nearly knocked him off his feet. “You were the best sea monster ever, Phoenix!” She proclaimed. “That was so fun!”

“You sure about that?” He asked softly, finally pulling away from her. “You don’t think I’m boring?”

Lila shook her head. “No way! You’re like… the funnest person I know.”

Phoenix reached down and ruffled her mop of bright red hair. “Thanks, twerp.” He smiled softly. “Glad someone thinks so.”