Divided We Fall ("War: What is it Good For?" challenge)
So, I've recently been sliiiiightly obsessed with the "War: What is it Good For?" challenge. I'm playing a slightly-modified variant of the original challenge, where two families (one patriot, one subversive) compete to see who can end the war first, and thought it would be fun to share their stories. This is the first time I've done something like this with sims, so critique is greatly appreciated
College was a pretty good time for me. It’s where I learned to cook, and play bass guitar, but most importantly, it’s where I met the three people I care about most in this world.
First and foremost, there’s Hazel. I met her pretty much instantly – the taxi dropped me off and there she was, offering to show me around and wanting to know my life story.
Hazel’s like that. It’s one of the things I love about her – that warmth and enthusiasm, the way she’s always interested in other sims, willing to make friends with anyone she meets.
Well, almost anyone. Sometimes I think she makes an exception for her brother Mark. I guess it’s sibling rivalry (twin rivalry?), and a lot of it’s just petty squabbles, but I don’t think they’ll ever be close.
It’s a shame, because Mark’s another one of those three people I mentioned earlier. While Hazel was the first friend I made at LGU, Mark was the second. We were study partners throughout most of freshman year, and he was pretty much the perfect sim for that role: smart as hell, dedicated, and determined to get us both onto the Dean’s list. Kind of a perfectionist, too, but sometimes that’s what you want in a sim.
For a while, I wondered if Mark was what I wanted in a sim. I’ve always dreamed of a big family, and I figured I needed someone to start that family with – a motivated, dependable guy like Mark would seem to be a good choice, right?
So we tried it, for a little while. But I never really felt that spark.
Turned out I had much better chemistry with his sister.
Mark and I stayed friends, though. He honestly didn’t seem to mind when I broke off our distinctly-lukewarm romance. I think by that point he’d already noticed Charlotte.
Charlotte, by the way, happens to be person number three on my list. Although it took me a bit longer to get to know her – she was quiet as a mouse for most of freshman year. Mark’s the one who finally coaxed her out of her shell, and once he did, she turned out to be sweet as pie.
I feel pretty protective of Charlotte, if I’m honest. Like she’s the baby sister I never had. She seems happy with Mark, so I’m happy as well, but he’d better be good to her, that’s all I’m saying.
And as for me?
My name’s Maria. I work for the ambassador to RedCity, but I hope you won’t hold that against me. Yes, every sim knows the history of conflict between them and SimNation, and I’m no exception – hell, I wrote my senior thesis on it. But despite what you might read in certain tabloid newspapers, they are trying to be good neighbours right now. That’s what keeps me motivated to do my job: the thought that I’m helping to create a peace that lasts.
Outside of work? Well, I enjoy crime novels, make a mean Baked Alaska, and love any music I can dance to. And yes, I’m still dreaming of that big family.
It’ll take a while for us to save up, get some place with enough space for little ones, but I know I want to adopt kids with Hazel some day. She’s the first piece in that dream family of mine. And today’s the day it becomes more than just a dream.
It’s hardly a fancy venue – just the ground floor of our apartment with some extra decorations – but that’s not important. It’s not about the location, it’s about starting a life together.
Okay, so it wasn’t exactly the wedding I fantasised about as a little girl.
There was the obvious lack of a groom, for one. Or my decision not to wear white. I didn’t arrive on a pony, as I was once adamant I was going to do, nor did I get married in some fairytale castle. And all of that was fine: I was more than happy with the choices I’d made.
So that part wasn’t the problem.
Mark, as it turns out, is an asshole when he’s been drinking. I only caught the gist of the argument: something to do with Hazel being financially irresponsible, how we should be buying a house rather than “wasting money on parties”.
Like it’s any of his damn business.
But thank goodness for Charlotte. The sweet, shy girl I met in college is all grown up and standing up to people.
She was very polite about it, very calm, but she clearly wasn’t going to let Mark get away with what he’d done. She made it clear that he’d been unacceptably rude, told him that he’d had too much nectar, and sent him on home with orders to sleep it off.
Hazel was a bit more subdued after that. But we were both fairly determined that my new brother-in-law wasn’t going to spoil our special day. We managed to get back into the swing of things after a while, and ultimately it was a pretty great party.
So Mark’s behaviour, while inconsiderate, wasn’t really the problem either. It was a blip, sure, but what’s an hour or two of discomfort compared to the rest of our lives?
No, the problem is that “getting married” thing I mentioned earlier. You see, we didn’t.
Oh sure, we both thought of it as a wedding. But the laws of SimNation? Not so much. Officially, we “formed a joined union” – same commitment, fewer rights. That’s all we’re allowed, and it grates.
And I know what you’re thinking. Shouldn’t we be grateful for what we’ve got? After all, the generation before us didn’t even have this option: moving in together was the strongest commitment sims like us could make. And for the generation before them, even that was forbidden; their relationships a criminal offence. But it’s hard to feel gratitude when I can see how much more the sims in RedCity get. I met the team they sent over to discuss trade deals. Mikail, one of the negotiators, told me a bit about his husband. They’ve been married, really married, for nearly forty years. So why hasn’t SimNation caught up yet?
“But Maria,” I can hear you saying, “Progress is progress, right? Things have improved for gay sims, and that’s what counts.” And I might agree with you, if things were still improving. But… they’re really not.
It wasn’t always this way. When we were kids, I used to worship the ground she walked on. She was the one who came up with the best games, made friends easily, didn’t cry when she fell over on the playground. All the things I found difficult. So I happily became her shadow, and looked to her to solve all my problems.
“Lisa said boys are icky.”
“Well, boys are icky.”
“I’m a boy! I don’t want to be icky.”
“You’re alright. Because you’re my twin, see, and I’m a girl, so you’re… almost as good as a girl.”
“But Lisa won’t let me play with her. She says it’s no boys allowed.”
“Then we’ll play our own game. Pretend we’re pirates, and I’m captain, and…”
But eventually, giving her the final say in everything wasn’t enough for me anymore.
“Pretend we’re aliens, okay? And I’m captain of the spaceship, and-”
“Why are you always the captain? It’s my turn to be captain.”
“Is not! I’m older than you. Older gets to be captain.”
“You’re only five minutes older!”
“That’s still older! Anyway, it’s my game.”
“Well maybe I don’t wanna play your game, then!”
Perhaps it was a necessary part of growing up, that refusal to be the perpetual sidekick. Certainly it was around then that I began to figure out what I wanted for my life.
But once I’d broken free of Hazel’s orbit, I started noticing all sorts of annoyances that I’d previously been willing to overlook.
Like her tendency to ignore our teachers, then expect me to fill her in when it came to homework time.
Or the fact that she never picked up after herself.
Or the way that I worked my ass off all through high school trying to earn money, while she spent her time partying, then breezed her way into college using mum and dad’s funds.
And it’s been like that ever since. I work so hard trying to do the responsible thing, to succeed, while Hazel just… coasts, and somehow the universe seems to hand her everything she wants on a platter.
She doesn’t even have a job. Just stays at home all day and dabs paint onto a canvas, while Maria pays her rent.
Meanwhile I’m working two jobs, trying to move my way up the property ladder.
Or, well, I was working two jobs.
I kind of lost one.
I… didn’t take it too well. But I’d rather not talk about that part.
And I especially didn’t want to talk about it to Hazel.
“Nice tux, bro. I think you look more formal than I do.”
“Thanks? I mean, you could’ve worn a big white dress if you wanted…”
“So not my thing.” Hazel gestured towards Charlotte. “It suits her, though.”
“She’s beautiful,” I dutifully confirmed.
“So… should I be reading something into her dress choice? Are the two of you-”
“-Did you miss her hands?” I hastily cut in. “No ring.”
“Maybe she’s hinting for one, then,” Hazel suggested with a too-smug smirk.
“And maybe it’s none of your business.”
“Hey, don’t be like that. I just want to see my baby bro happy and settling down.”
“I’m five minutes younger, Hazel! And Charlotte and I are just fine as we are!” I lowered my voice, aware that I was making a scene. “For your information, I might be saving up for a ring, but I don’t want to discuss it here and now with Charlotte in the same room!”
“Oh come on, “saving up?” Really?”
“I know how hard you work, Mark. If I could afford a ring for Maria, I’m pretty sure you can afford one for Charlotte.”
“You could afford a ring by not needing to afford anything else! Some of us have grown-up financial responsibilities, some of us are trying to get mortgages, we can’t all afford to blow our money on jewelry and giant parties for something that’s not even a wedding!”
I wasn’t welcome at the party after that, obviously.
Charlotte thinks I had too much to drink. I haven’t corrected her: I’d rather let her think I can’t hold my nectar than have to explain how Hazel pushed my buttons.
I really hope Hazel hasn’t repeated any of the conversation to her.
I lied. I haven’t been saving up for a ring. Haven’t made any plans to propose. I know I should. I love Charlotte, and it’s the responsible thing to do. It’s what’s meant to happen.
And when it happens, I’m meant to promise that I’ll be faithful to Charlotte, and only Charlotte, for the rest of my life. That I won’t even look at another woman, or imagine myself with anyone else, because that’s almost as bad as cheating.
And I've got no idea how I'm going to keep that promise.
Another long day at the embassy. Here’s a little career tip: “facilitating trade negotiations” is a lot less glamorous than it sounds, and mostly seems to consist of wrangling catering arrangements for two dozen different sims, with half a dozen different diets between them. I was just about ready to collapse on the couch when I got home, but Hazel was there ahead of me.
“Listen to this,” she said, waving me over. She lifted the newspaper in her lap and read from it.
“Arthur Beaumont, Minister of State for Children and Families, today unveiled his proposed Adoption Reform Bill. “This bill has been a long time in the making”, Mr Beaumont said, “and I’d like to thank everyone that worked with me on bringing it to fruition.” Noting the bill’s positive reception at today’s initial reading, Mr Beaumont added, “We’ve seen some strong levels of support from both sides of the political spectrum, which is really heartening. It reminds you of what politics is all about, and that’s building a better future for everyone within our society.”
The bill would introduce a number of changes to the law surrounding foster care and adoption, including tightening background checks on prospective carers, providing free parenting classes for first-time adopters, and establishing new incentives to encourage married couples to adopt.
“We’re all united in wanting what’s best for our children,” Mr Beaumont said. “And studies show time and again that the orphanage system is failing to deliver on that front. In order to thrive, children need a stable and nurturing family environment, under the care of a loving mother and father. But the tragic reality is that today, there are tens of thousands of children in the care system for whom this ideal seems impossible. This bill aims to change that, and ensure that every child has an equal chance at being part of a true family.”
The second reading of the bill is due to take place October 3rd.”
“So?” I shrugged, too tired to take in most of what she’d just said. “Free parenting classes sound like a good offer.”
“Incentives to encourage married couples,” Hazel quoted, stressing the word. “‘Children need a mother and father’. Reading between the lines…”
“You think he doesn’t want couples like us adopting?”
Hazel nodded. “Beaumont’s got history. Lobbied against the introduction of joined unions, back in the day, and he hasn’t improved since. Very big on the “traditional family” vibe. So “tighter background checks”… it could mean something that excludes us.”
Hazel took my hand. “It’s not the law yet,” she reminded me. “It’s just that if we do want to adopt… we might want to do it soon.”
“Do you think we’re ready?”
She nodded. “I think so. Let’s do this.”
Five minutes into our first meeting at the adoption agency, and I was already feeling singularly uncomfortable. Sitting awkwardly on a too-hard chair, wearing the cheap suit I’d chosen because I hoped it made me look Responsible, I listened as our assigned caseworker tried to find a polite way to crush our dreams.
“Now, your file says you’re hoping to adopt an infant?” She glanced at me just long enough to take in my nod, then continued. “That puts you in the same boat as the vast majority of our hopeful adopters, and I’m afraid that puts you in a rather difficult position.”
Under the table, I clasped Hazel’s hand. “What position?” I asked.
“A long time on the waiting list, for one,” she replied. “Years, most likely, and that’s assuming that you manage to pass the screening process to begin with. There’s often some reluctance to place infants with… unconventional couples.”
Hazel tightened her grip on my fingers as she spoke up. “So you think that, because we both sit to pee, we’re not qualified to take care of a child?”
“A rather crude way of putting it, Ms. Pachis, but no. What I think is that there are a number of people trying to play politics with my job, and it’s my duty to warn you of the consequences. I won’t make you promises I’m not in a position to keep, and I cannot promise you a child.”
“Is there anything we can do to… to show that we’ll be good parents?” I asked. “Hazel works from home, so she’d always be around to look after the baby, and I’ve been studying books on parenting…”
“Those will help your application, but even once you’re through screening, you’re facing a long wait. Unless-”
“Would you consider adopting an older child?”
I glanced at Hazel. We’d talked about this before coming here, planned everything out. How we were going to save up, over the next few years, until we could afford to buy a place with two bedrooms. How, until then, we had room for a crib and a changing table, the little space a baby would need. But not for an older child, not yet.
“We don’t know if we could…”
“Think about it. As I said, most people who come to us want infants. But most of the children in care are not infants, and it’s my job to look out for them. We have too many older children in need of good homes, and too few couples willing to take them in. All the politics in the world won’t change that fact. And that is the sort of argument I can take to my superiors to convince them that we should place a child with you, no matter what the “standard protocol” might be.
“We’ll think about it,” Hazel agreed.
“I know it’s not what you wanted,” she acknowledged as we left the office. “But it’s still a family.”
I nodded. “But we’ll miss so much. Teaching them to walk, to talk, watching them grow…”
“They’ll still have plenty of growing left to do,” she reminded me, “and plenty we can teach them. And you always talked about wanting to give a home to a child that needs one.”
“If we can afford it.”
“There is that.”
“And whatever we decide, we need to do it fast.” I sighed. “I wish we had more time.”
Hazel and I couldn’t afford to buy a house, but we could afford to rent a bigger apartment, so that’s what we did. Plenty of space for a family of three. Our landlord even let us decorate. I painted a blue sky full of fluffy white clouds; Hazel added castles and dragons. We wanted our child to feel like a prince or a princess.
Getting the bedroom ready was the fun part, of course. Preparing a space for a new arrival is one of those thing every expectant parent has to do, one of the things I’d anticipated. Paperwork, not so much.
And Watcher above, there was a lot of paperwork.
But this moment, right here?
This was the moment that made it all worthwhile.
It almost never snows here in Mesa Valley, but it snowed that day, the day we officially adopted Serdar. Like the weather, he felt a little bit like a miracle. Our long-awaited child, full of warmth and curiosity and kindness.
And so life was good for a while.
What else is there to say about that time?
Of course, I'm not claiming that life was perfect. Beaumont’s adoption bill passed that winter, and as Hazel had predicted, it destroyed any chances of us adopting a sibling for Serdar. And work was increasingly frustrating, with the trade talks bogged down in escalating disagreements and RedCity threatening to pull out entirely. But those things didn't seem so important back then. I knew I could always come home to the people I loved, and that was what mattered.
I miss them so much.
Like I said, it’s astounding how quickly life can change.
---------- AN: Sorry it's been a while - I've been busy and distracted from writing. But this is where the actual challenge part gets going, finally! The next chapter - complete with an explanation of how Maria ended up in the situation you see in that last photo - will hopefully be coming soon.
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