To Huxley it looked like the kind of town you'd pass through on your way to somewhere more exciting, but Grace had been gushing about it the entire way, trying much too hard to make it sound like the world's most amazing place to be.
"Look, Hux, isn't it lovely," she chirped. "Will you look at that view? I'll never get enough of those mountains. They're even more gorgeous during sunset, you'll see. Oh, and that's the main street right there, with all those cute little shops. I can't wait to show you around! Oh Hux, it's so quaint, don't you think?"
"This is it! We're here! Oh Huxley, doesn't it look even prettier than in the pictures?"
It took a while for Grace to heave herself out of the car. But as she emerged, belly first, she squealed again and clapped her hands in excitement. "Cows!"
The taxi driver, meanwhile, had yanked their bags out of the trunk, dumped them on the side of the road, jumped back into the car and sped off, forfeiting any chance of getting a tip in his haste to escape. Grace was too preoccupied to notice her daughter gazing wistfully at the cloud of dust left in the taxi's wake.
"It's amazing, isn't it? Look at all this beautiful nature! Huxley, don't you agree? Look, you can see the river through the trees right there! Isn't this pretty, Hux? Hux. Huxley, say something!"
"Yeah, Mom. Appaloser Plains is fucking great."
"Sorry, my bad. Appaloosa Plains is fucking great."
Lucky for Hux, Grace did not scold her for her snarky reply, as her attention was seized by something else. A man approached in what Huxley could only interpret as a cowboy costume. There was no way anyone would ever wear that ridiculous get-up in earnest. Beside him bounded an overly excited dog, slobber dripping from his jowls.
It looked like something straight out of TV, a commercial perhaps, for something decidedly wholesome. Organic butter or farm-fresh chicken eggs maybe. Yeah, something like that.
"Adam," Grace called happily.
"Hey, I didn't hear you arrive. I was at the back, feeding the chickens."
"Come inside and get settled," he said with a cheerful smile after he'd reached them and hugged Grace. "I'll bring your bags in later."
They walked down the stone path leading to the front door, Huxley staying a few steps behind as the cowboy 'gave them the tour'. The cows, the greenhouse, the garden, a crappy old barn behind the house... as if they couldn't see all that stuff without him pointing it out.
"It's beautiful!" Grace exclaimed.
"Yeah, awesome," Huxley muttered under her breath, "But where's the rocking chair and shotgun?"
"They're on the back porch," Adam turned to look at Huxley over his shoulder, grinning and winking playfully. She blushed, embarrassed that he'd heard, but quickly regained her demeanor of sullen defiance again.
The inside of the house was, if possible, even worse. A pitcher of homemade lemonade on the kitchen counter? Seriously? It really was like she'd fallen into a TV commercial, and Huxley desperately wanted to change the channel.
They climbed up the creaking stairs, Grace with some difficulty, and were lead into a room that finally broke the endless theme of woodcarving and horse trinkets.
Too bad it made Huxley want to puke.
"This was going to be your room," the cowboy said, turning to Hux with a much too friendly grin, "But with the little one on the way," He glanced lovingly at Grace's round belly, "It would be best if this was the nursery, since it's right next to the master bedroom. But don't worry, I have something much better planned for you." He smiled. Huxley scowled.
Up another creaky flight of stairs and Huxley found herself in...
"Ohmyplumbob," Grace squealed. "Amazing! There's so much space! It'll be like having your own little apartment up here!"
Huxley's jaw clenched as she stood stock-still, surveying the dusty old attic and the piles of useless junk.
"None of this stuff is mine," Adam explained. "It came with the house when I bought it, I just never got around to going through all of it. So you can keep anything you like and we'll throw the rest out."
Huxley stared at the cowboy hat. They were inside, for fuck's sake, so there was really no point to wearing a hat. She wondered if he ever took the damn thing off. Did he keep it on in the shower? In bed? What about when he and her mom... UGH. Gross. Huxley's scowl momentarily turned into a snarl.
"I know it's a bit of a mess right now," he said apologetically, misinterpreting Huxley's expression, "but if we work together, we can get this cleaned up in no time. Until then, we'll squeeze a guest bed into the nursery for you."
"It's going to be great," Grace chimed in cheerily. "We'll make this room the perfect space for you."
Huxley dug her nails into her palms and said nothing.
Even cell reception sucked here.
Meanwhile, another family was settling into their new shared home.
There had been some back and forth for a while. After all, they had both grown up in Starlight Shores. But ultimately, Freddie and Charity had decided on Appaloosa Plains to be close to one of their daughters, at least.
So Freddie had sold the enormous mansion his parents had left him, released all of his pet snakes, hugged a very tearful Todd goodbye (and cheered him up again by giving him the rest of his stash and the bubble bar) and moved to this small town with nothing but the clothes on his back and an obscene amount of money in his pocket.
He took what he needed of the money and distributed the rest between his children. Gene's current address had been difficult to discern (the postcards that arrived sporadically came from all over the world), but against Grace's rational advice, Freddie had stuffed his son's share into a box and sent the bulging package through the mail.
Freddie had never needed much to be content.
Appaloosa Plains was quiet and charming and beautiful.
Grace loved the cute mom-and-pop stores that posed such a stark contrast to the impersonal department stores and chains she'd been used to from Starlight Shores.
Sometimes she'd stroll down Appaloosa Avenue just to admire the never-changing shop windows, chat with her new neighbors and then maybe catch a movie down at the Darris Teeter Theater.
Her favorite place in town, however, was the Moondance Theater. In a town with a population as small as this, it may seem excessive to have two cinemas. But the Moondance Theater differed from the one on Appaloosa Avenue in one key aspect: rather than showing blockbusters, it focused on supporting only independent films.
In addition to hosting the newly established annual Simdance Film Festival, they even offered some modest studios and equipment for independent filmmakers to use.
The producers of Plumbob Pictures in Starlight Shores had offered to fund Grace's own project as long as she agreed to direct the upcoming parts of the Jimmy Sprocket series. A very generous offer. To their great surprise, however, she had declined.
To Grace that meant having to deal with a very tight budget in exchange for absolute creative freedom. She couldn't be more excited!
For now though, Grace wasn't working at all. Most of her days were spent sitting in the shade of a tree with a good book while Adam saw to the various chores around their farm.
They both couldn't wait to finally meet the little person they'd made together.
Having just gone through a harrowing divorce, the last thing on Grace's mind was marriage. But when Adam went down on one knee and looked at her with that forthright smile of his, there was nothing so say but "Yes!"
The new family member chose precisely that moment to arrive.
That was when Huxley couldn't take it anymore.
She'd missed Starlight Shores more than she could say. The bustling city, the relentless heat and the smell of the ocean - those were the things Huxley had known since her birth. She had never imagined she'd ever be forced to leave them behind.
Even though the home of her childhood was gone, sold to some starlet or other, Huxley still had one anchor left in this city. Someone to return to.
"Cool house," Huxley greeted her dad. "Thanks for saying I could visit."
"Sure." Jamey shuffled his feet and glanced over his shoulder at the door, then back at Huxley. "I just didn't expect you to come... immediately."
"I couldn't wait! Mom said I could, so I took the first train outta there!" Hux beamed, but at her father's lukewarm reaction, her excitement ebbed away. "Is... is it a bad time or something? I'm sorry if..."
Jamey's troubled face softened into a smile. "Of course not, sweetie. Come here!"
He pulled his daughter into a tight hug, ruffled her hair and led her inside.
Huxley quickly figured out the reason behind her father's earlier reluctance.
Of course she had known that her dad had a new woman - after all, her mom had the cowboy - but Hux hadn't expected to find her standing there, a cold glare on her perfectly made-up face, heavily pregnant with a wedding ring on her finger and a toddler on her arm.
"Uhm, darling," Jamey started timidly, "This is my... erm... this is Huxley. Hux, this is Calista."
The woman flashed Huxley the briefest of smiles, an insincere gesture more like baring her teeth, before fixing her eyes back on Jamey. "What a nice surprise," she said in a sugary-sweet voice. "Honey, can I talk to you for a moment?"
Huxley watched, scowling, as they talked in hushed voices. She only caught the occasional word, but it wasn't difficult to guess what they were saying. The woman - Calista, what a stupid fucking name - looked increasingly agitated and kept glancing at Huxley as she spoke, while Jamey's replies were quiet and meek.
"Fine," Calista hissed finally and stalked off haughtily.
"What was that about?" Huxley asked when her dad walked back over to her.
"It'll be fine. Come, let's get the guest room ready for you."
"What's his name?"
"The kid. Your son." An accusation.
Jamey hesitated, looking uncomfortable. Then he simply said, "Wallace."
"Nice. Did you pick it out before or after you divorced Mom?"
"Because, correct me if I'm wrong, but he looks old enough to start school soon."
"Which means that she," Huxley gestured wildly in the direction Calista had disappeared off to, "must've been pregnant while you were still married to Mom."
"Huxley, this has nothing to do with you."
"Really?! Because I think that my father being a fucking cheater damn well does have something to do with me!"
"Huxley! Language! I'm still your father and you will respect me."
"You don't get to play that card anymore," Huxley roared. "You picked a new family a long time ago!"
Jamey didn't stop her as she stormed out.
Back in Appaloosa Plains, she found her mother waiting for her. Huxley's fury, which had simmered down to a sullen resentment on the way back, flared up again as she gave her mother an account of what had happened. Grace's reaction, however, was not at all what Hux had expected.
Grace hesitated, then nodded once.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Grace bit her lip, looking troubled. "I thought that..." She sighed heavily, then began again. "It was a bad situation all around. I didn't know what the right thing to do was. To be honest, I still don't. But you were still so young, too young to understand, I thought." Grace sighed again. "But you deserve to know the truth, and I wish you didn't have to find out like this. I should have told you sooner, but it would have felt like I was trying to make your dad look bad in your eyes. I didn't want to do that."
"Yeah, no need," Huxley scoffed. "He managed that all by himself, the bastard."
"You shouldn't say that. He's still your father."
There was an awkward moment as mother and daughter stood in silence, avoiding eye contact.
Grace had never been one to tolerate silence well, however. "We finished your room while you were gone," she said carefully. "Do you want to see it?"
It wasn't what Huxley would've picked herself, not by a long shot. Boy band posters and pastel colors, really? Her mother had even gone through the trouble of digging up Huxley's old teddy bear. But Huxley couldn't help smiling.
It wasn't her style, but it was definitely... cozy.
Maybe it wasn't going to be so bad.
Surprise, surprise. The legacy family moved to Appaloosa Plains!
Why would a movie director go to work at a cinema? Idk, I just needed to build something to hide the studio rabbithole in and wanted to use stuff from the Cinema Plumbob store set :D
I had a longer thing planned for Huxley in Starlight Shores. Dinner, an overnight stay, seeing some old friends etc. But as soon as I loaded up the save, I was reminded of the reason I had to leave that world in the first place. Everything was suuuper laggy and just when dinner was set up, the game crashed. I hadn't saved, of course, but I didn't want to try to reCASt the same outfits to match the pictures I already had... oh well, it was probably better to keep it shorter. (Seriously, I need to get a move on. In game generation 9 was born last night!)