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MTS Speed-Building Challenge - posted on 17th Oct 2018 at 7:25 PM
Replies: 109 (Who?), Viewed: 19036 times.
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Test Subject
#101 Old 15th Aug 2018 at 11:37 AM
As mush as I don't really like Leona, i can't say I m comfortable with all this bullying to her. Edric, grow up and treat her better! :P
Link Ninja
Original Poster
#102 Old 19th Aug 2018 at 7:22 AM
Default Interruptions
Chapter 48: Interruptions

Illyana was done with her Tuesday class and was digging through her backpack, looking for her notebook. It was the one she wrote all her lyric ideas on when she was feeling inspired, and she’d had it since she was in junior high. Bent, faded, and worn to all Hell–it contained her joy, her sorrow, and her fears all in a form of poetry and phrases spurred on by each emotion. She had brought it along with her to Pandora just in case inspiration should strike but hadn’t gotten a chance to write in it. This day, she was feeling cheerful, an emotion she hadn’t experienced in full for more than a few minutes for the past few weeks. She felt a steady optimism spreading through her; as if maybe it wasn’t all bad and there was a sliver of light in what seemed to have been an endless tunnel of darkness.

Now only if she could find that damned notebook and write some of this stuff down!

A loud ’thump’ came from above and made her stop searching, tilt her head back and stare at the ceiling in a scrutinizing manner. The floor above was where the guys at the community college kept residence. What the heck was going on up there?

She shrugged it off and continued to look through the outer pockets on her backpack but was again, startled by another loud ’thump.’

She took in a frustrated breath before propelling herself off the bed and going to check out what and who was making such a ruckus above her. She grabbed the stair rail and swung herself 180 degrees around, taking two stairs at a time to the next floor. She saw some boxes in the hallway, right outside of the room above hers.

Moving boxes.

Suddenly Franz Schoulsburg stepped out of the room with another of the same in his arms.

“What are you doing?!” she asked with wide eyes.

He looked at her with a blank expression before unceremoniously dropping the box next to the others, which caused the loudest ’thump’ yet, “Moving out.”

Of course, he didn’t explain why. He never seemed to be the type to elaborate in any way—only concerned with answering as simply and succinctly as possible before moving on from the conversation. He disappeared back into his room and Illyana peered in after him. His room was bare bones, if he ever had anything on the walls, they were stripped off. The only things left were the furniture the room had come with, smaller boxes and some piles of books. She noticed a double bass leaning against the mirrored closet. She had forgotten he had even played it, only seeing it in action once upon a time at the Battle of the Bands.

He put a pile of books in a box, ripped a line of packing tape from a roll and closed it up. She had to wonder why he was moving out, but didn’t know if they had enough of a rapport that she could ask that and get a straight answer.

He stopped in the doorway, seeing her curiously looking into the room. “You have a vehicle, don’t you?”

Her gaze abruptly went from studying the room to him, “Yeah, a Jeep, why?”

He seemed to clench his jaw before mumbling, “Could I ask a favor?”

Illyana raised her brows at the fact he was asking for a favor, but she knew immediately what it pertained to considering the prerequisite. Many people in Kashmire didn’t bother buying their own vehicle because the public transit systems were well maintained and affordable. However, no one would use a taxi or bus to move their belongings from one place to another. Illyana didn’t have anything expensive or fancy but the old Jeep got the job done and that’s why her driving services had been requested many, many times in the past from people who knew her. She would have been annoyed any other time but she owed Franz this—it was the least she could do after he let her rant out her frustrations at him. He absorbed it and yet deflected it in such a perfect way that she felt better and he didn’t feel worse. Plus, if she spent some more time with him, maybe he would explain why he was moving out of the dorms. Probable explanations flashed through her head—he’d failed his module, he’d given up on school, he’d run out of money…

She ended up nodding as he sheepishly asked if she could drive him and his belongings to his Mother’s home.

“You need help carrying things?” She entered the room, looking around at what was left.

“I’d appreciate it,” he admitted.

She took a seat on his bed and peered into a box, “You have a lot of books.”

“I like to read.”

“What’s this?” She reached into the box she had been looking into to find a mask of some sort. It had a bad-ass pattern on it. She pulled the straps out and placed them over her ears then turned to look at herself in the mirror on the outside of the closet.

“It’s something I don’t need anymore,” Franz replied evenly, “keep it if you like it.”

She slipped the mask down to her chin to speak clearly, “It looks cool, thanks!”

He shrugged and picked up a box, nodding toward one at his feet as one she could carry.

Oof, more books?” she asked lifting it up, and it was heavier than it had appeared. He made a half-smile, but didn’t verbally confirm it.

“So…” She said, looking down at her feet to make sure she didn’t miss any of the stairs as they descended to the first floor, “Why are you leaving?”

Franz slowed his pace, seeming to think of how to word his response. The dude was so guarded, but he’d always been like that from what Illyana could remember. Quiet and unnoticeable, that was, until he went and bashed Nick’s head into a wall when they were nine years old. She avoided him pretty much after that but it wasn’t hard to avoid someone who also wanted to be avoided.

“I’m moving back home to take care of my mother. She’s sick,” he said by the time they were at the bottom of the staircase. She certainly didn’t expect that in her probable reasons for his departure. She felt bad though, that his loved one was ill and the burden fell on him.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why? It’s not your problem.”

She stopped walking and twisted her mouth up in annoyance before blurting, “It just sucks! Can’t I sympathize with how much it sucks?”

Franz raised a brow and thought about it before nodding. Then he asked, “Can we stop off at a pawn shop afterward?”

She did a double take, “Why? What are you pawning?”

“My bass. I don’t play it anymore—might as well see if someone else wants to and get some money for it.”

Illyana would never be able to part from her instrument, even if she was desperate for money.

Illyana set down the box she was carrying, as an idea struck her, “Wait, I have something I can pawn as well.“ She ran to her room, deposited her new mask on the top of her night stand, and pulled open a drawer below it to retrieve the item in question.

"My jerk of an ex gave this to me. I think I could maybe get something out of it. What do you think?” Illyana fastened a necklace around her neck and picked up the box again as she emerged from her room. Franz had seen that piece of jewelry somewhere before, yet couldn’t remember when.

“Doesn’t hurt to try but I’ve seen a replica of that necklace. Things always lose value if they aren’t unique.”

“Really? Weird. He said it was an heirloom that belonged to his grandmother,” Illyana frowned but then it crashed into melancholy, “Though it was probably a lie. He never asked for it back and you’d think it’d be important if it was an heirloom. Maybe I won’t get much after all.”

Franz stopped abruptly, her words pricking a sense of déja vu in him and he realized why. He took a better look at the jewelry around her neck and blinked a few times before asking, “What was your ex’s name again?”

She’d probably said his name at least ten times to Franz in her periodic rants she was allowed to throw at him but to be fair, it probably wasn’t all that interesting for him to take note of specifics, especially if she spoke so fast that her angry words slurred together and often transitioned into Espanian–the language originating and prevalently spoken in the regions south of Kashmire.

“Adam Hamilton,” she said as she set down her box in order to take the necklace off, now less sure she would get anything for it—she stuffed it in her back pocket and resumed carrying his box of books but not without another grunt of effort because of the weight of it.

He’d been so preoccupied with his mother and the bakery that he missed connecting the facts: Illyana’s ex-boyfriend, the one that had cheated on her, was the one and the same man that was now Fauna’s boy toy. It was his sister’s choice to be with an asshole, and it was par for the course but Franz didn’t believe she was the type to continue to date someone if she knew they already had a girlfriend at the time.

“What’s wrong?” Illyana slowed her pace because Franz had stopped walking entirely. He didn’t usually lie, he didn’t see a point in it—but logically, Illyana had always been very emotional and angry when talking about Adam and if he told Illyana that his own sister was most likely the girl Adam had cheated on Illyana with, he could assume from previous experiences that Illyana would become angry again and possibly revoke her favor to move his boxes—which he needed right now.

“Nothing,” he said, feeling tired after coming to the conclusion and a bit bad for lying to keep Illyana in a good mood so that she would cooperate.

Illyana gave him a questionable look. She didn’t know him very well, so took him at his word.

“Illyana. Sanchez.”

She heard her name said purposefully, pointedly, and turned to see who had spoken it. Her cheeks suddenly felt warm and trepidation crept up her legs, rooting her in place. Her eyes widened in shock; she’d been dreading this moment, wondering if it would ever happen. Just her rotten luck that it did.

Franz could see she was in distress, and it was quite a drastic reaction from someone just saying her name. In this case, the someone looked to be a man—not old, not even his middle years yet–but a number of years older than them at least, and he wore a tailored suit and jacket.

Words didn’t find their way to her as she stared back at Tony, the man from the casino, who stood assuredly in front of his expensive sports car. He didn’t look as angry as she thought he would considering what had gone down the last time they saw each other. His lip had healed though, so the damage she had dealt was minimal.

“Excuse me, but who are you?” Franz cut through the silence.

“I’m Tony. I’m a business risk assessor,” he replied and Illyana dropped the heavy box in a quick movement, her frown plunging into a glower and her hands thrown in the air with frustration.

The movement caught both men’s attention and Illyana pointed at Tony with a growing rage, “You are not a business risk assessor! You are some sleazy casino manager who can’t keep his hands to himself!”

Tony looked a bit taken aback and then let out an abrupt, amused, laugh and took a step forward. Franz set down his box, ready to fight if need be but Illyana was the one who put up her fists, “Come any closer and I’ll punch your lights out again.”

He did stop advancing. Her threat had merit.

“You really don’t know who I am, do you?”

“Does it matter?” she growled.

“Our families go way back,” he said and cautiously handed her a business card from the pocket of his jacket. His statement startled her and she swiped the card out of his hand after a moment of consideration–to see that his business title really was what he claimed it to be. What he had said made her wonder if their meeting at the casino was happenstance, for what were the chances of her running into someone who knew her family? Well what family that she had left in any case…

She re-read the name on the card and didn’t recognize it one bit. Her facial expression told as much.

“Surely your mother must have told you…”

“Told me what?” she snapped and then clamped down on her burning curiosity, reminded of his unsavoriness, before he could answer–“Look guy, all I know is that you are bad news, I don’t like you, and don’t trust you as far as I could throw you. Just leave me alone.”

Tony looked over her and then nodded. “If you wish it, I will. It’s just a shame you don’t want an opportunity to take back what was yours, you have the same fire in your heart as he did.”

That burning curiosity only grew into a wildfire with the simple pronoun. He turned away from them, honoring her request with a nod of farewell. It tore at her so badly. A part of her was thankful he was leaving but the more risky, rash, and short-sighted portion of her mind all but made her blurt in question, “as who!?”

Tony stopped and glanced over his shoulder, flashing that same handsome, yet infuriating grin that lead her to believe that he knew much more than she did, “Your father, of course.”

Franz was the only voice of reason that prevented Illyana from running after Tony to demand more of an explanation. Franz reminded her that she had agreed to help him and she wasn’t the kind of person to flake out on a friend. Not like Leona at least, and she had to stop and muse, because she didn’t know she considered Franz a friend until just now. But she supposed that is what he was to some degree…for knowing hardly anything about him.

Tony drove away without so much as look back at them but he did keep that smile, as if he knew she would seek him out for answers soon.

Franz loaded his boxes into the back of her Jeep as Illyana leaned against the driver-side door, wondering about Tony and his words. She didn’t know how long she had been standing there, but what seemed a lifetime later she felt the body of her vehicle lurch as Franz fell against the Jeep next to her.

“So…” He said, seeming to struggle with a thought before finishing with, “What’s the deal with your father?”

Illyana blinked a few times, seeming to come out of a daze, from trying to reach into the absolute depths of her memory for anything about the man but came up empty, “He died when I was a baby, but it feels like a part of me has always been missing. I never knew him.”

Franz nodded and it occurred to Illyana that Franz just might feel the same way. She knew what they said about him, about his mother—but never had given it much thought. She turned her head and asked, “You know how it feels, don’t you?”

Franz put his hands into his pockets, his shoulders slumped slightly, and nodded.

Illyana knew her father’s name, how he died, but other than that, all she had were the memories of others in her family to piece together what type of man he was. From what she knew, it was very little. He was tall, strong, loved them fiercely and put a lot of effort into making sure the family was provided for, but her mother couldn’t seem to talk about him without getting emotional. So Illyana had learned to stop asking.

“I’m sorry,” she said and noticed Franz frown slightly, again, at the fact she was apologizing for something out of her control. He didn’t say anything but only nodded in agreement, because he knew why she was apologizing and it did suck.

She flipped the business card over and over in her hand, going from the stark black to the stark white; the logo of a business, to the letters spelling out a name—Antony Biacotti—who was man that for some reason unknown to her, had a vested interest in her and her family. That ominous shiver she had felt the last time she had seen him in Pandora felt more than warranted now.

Uh oh! My social bar is low - that's why I posted today.

Lab Assistant
#103 Old 20th Aug 2018 at 3:07 AM
Your ability to churn out content is admirable, and it's always pleasant to see a new addition to Nest of Vipers.

Leona's chapter is a bit telling of the internal struggle she's having. It seems her ego and ambition is at odds a bit with having to play second fiddle to someone who's star shines just a little brighter. Her headstrong personality is one that's admirable in general, but could very quickly prove to be problematic for her goals. I thought Luke's chastisement and reinforcement that her job is to get along with Edric and perform felt very honest, but also demoralizing for her, who's trying to figure out where she stands in this crazy industry. The little aside she has in the bathroom while she chats with Antoine and reminisces about the Crown of Ravens more fully outlines the struggle she's having between past, present and future. She's beginning to tread into the "how far will I go for fame?" territory, and this is just the start. I'm sure there's a lot of conflict and drama ahead for her.

Franz and Illyana are a unique pair with pretty clashing personality types, but both of them are in a state of transition, so it seems fitting to frame them together in this most recent chapter. A bunch of plot threads are tied together in this section, as well as laying the groundwork for potentially big story elements, so I look forward to see where they go.

Always a pleasure to read, and please keep up the good work!

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Test Subject
#104 Old 20th Aug 2018 at 10:19 PM
Bbostic8's comment covers all of my thoughts about the last chapters. I like how your characters are not static at all, in fact the character arcs in the last two chapters were very touching and felt real. We got to see Leona, a self centered aspiring singer - questioning the path she chose over her loved ones, Franz had this epiphany that being honest to the point of being cruel, is not always the best way to interact with others and Ily (one of my favorites) questions her strength to deal with a very painful part of her past. Those two chapters were very deep but not boring at all Your small details when you describe feelings or situations are really impressive!
Link Ninja
Original Poster
#105 Old 2nd Sep 2018 at 9:18 PM Last edited by Charmful : 3rd Sep 2018 at 2:02 AM.
Default Hart to Hart
Chapter 49: Hart to Hart

Nick was musing. He mused about the phrase ‘Nick of time’—the first reason being that his name was in it. The second reason was because he had accrued enough real simoleons to cover the tuition he owed if he were to stay a student at Sim State, on the last day he had left to pay it. ‘Nick of time’ indeed.

Fight nights kept growing, both in crowd and fighter roster size and now was collectively referred to as the Nest of Vipers on account of all the fighters taking on snake aliases. He’d even met high rolling gamblers interested in betting on winners and bringing in more money. They had yet to implement a process but it looked, for lack of a better adjective—hella promising. It all was going in the direction Cain had predicted, ever since the first night. Nick still had a worry though, that if it grew too big and too fast that the law would get involved and shut it down. More than that, shut him down. Then where would he be? Jail, most likely.


He stopped musing and noticed his mother was crossing his path. How random?


She looked puzzled to see him but he was even more puzzled—what was she doing on campus? Why was she heading toward where he just came from?

“It’s good to see you, sweetheart,” she smiled and stepped forward to hug him but he evaded it and put on a frown. He was on guard—suddenly suspicious, because she usually took his father’s side in arguments and that meant that she had agreed to let Elm take away the means for Nick’s higher education.

Her resulting expression of hurt at him avoiding her embrace stung him more than he would have thought but he pushed past it, “What are you doing here?”

She sighed and pulled out a piece of paper from her purse; a check. “It’s payment for your tuition. I was going over some of our financial records the other night and saw—well it doesn’t matter what I saw—I’m fixing this.”

She moved forward, presumedly to go pay the university but Nick held out his arm to halt her and said quietly, “Don’t worry about it.”


He took the check out of her hand and looked at it. Plumbobs, college was expensive. He found it ironic that one of his father’s campaign promises was to make college education more affordable when he tried using money to influence Nick’s choice about college—to either become a lawyer or don’t go at all.

Now, Nick could do what he wanted.

His mother gasped as he abruptly tore the check into shreds, leaving him with a fist full of paper bits.


He threw them into a nearby trash bin along the walking path, “I appreciate what you tried to do Mom, but I can take care of myself.”

She seemed absolutely shocked and bewildered by her son’s behavior. He had torn up a check for no insignificant amount of money. She could only stare at him as though he were crazy and to both their surprise, tears began to leak into her eyes.

Of course, he wasn’t a complete monster—and made a move to comfort her immediately. Unlike him, she accepted a hug without question. He surmised she was sad because she believed he was throwing away his future and he didn’t know how he could tell her that he wasn’t, without the fact of how he had managed to come up with the money.

“It’s okay,” he heard himself say and hugged her tighter as she cried into his shoulder, her purse dropping from her hand as it dangled hopelessly, “It will be all right, Mom.”

He didn’t expect her to get so worked up over this. Harmony Calhoun, the Steel-faced woman—that’s what the media called her as they took pictures of her standing by Elm’s side—not with a fake smile of a politician’s wife but a sullen, strict look that cooled everyone around her. She had been a public educator for many years, eventually securing a spot as the school’s principal, so had to develop that tough exterior. She was firm but she wasn’t unfeeling.

She shook her head, unconvinced of his words. It was unspoken but then he knew, he just knew his father had done something to wear down her resolve. How she could stand being married to such an asshole for so many years was something he often wondered about.

“Let’s get something to eat?” Nick suggested, pulling away and looking her over. When did threads of silver start appearing in her hair? When did that crinkle around her golden eyes become so deep and prominent?

He hadn’t visited home in a long while, he didn’t like going back there and always found an excuse to stay away. It’d be different if his grandparents were still alive—but they had passed in recent years, and he didn’t like going back, knowing they weren’t there to greet him with smiles and hugs.

But then it struck him, that while his father didn’t care about Nick’s absence, other members of his family might miss him just as much as he missed Kimmy and Matthew Hart.

His mother nodded in agreement about getting food and wiped away any loose tears remaining, then reached down to collect her purse.

Nick lead the way down the sidewalk, keeping his silence measured for he didn’t want to say anything more to upset her. In fact, he wouldn’t know what to say anymore–he probably stopped confiding in her about the time he was in high school, when he kept getting grounded for stupid things by his father and she didn’t stand up for Nick—just went along with it to avoid more confrontation.

They entered Joe’s Diner. It was one of those university establishments that had been around for a generation at least. The door jingled when a customer entered, greeted by a soda counter and a row of double seated booths against a bright red wall with silver paneling. Very retro with sense of nostalgia though many now had never experienced it before coming to college. Since it was open past midnight, many students could be found there studying in the early dark hours, cramming for an exam while cramming a burger down their mouth.

Nick and his mother were seated, and Nick ordered two burgers. Hamburgers were Joe’s s specialty. His mother didn’t object. He didn’t like the silence, not with her—had he been away so long they had forgotten how to talk to each other?

“Mom, I gotta say, I’m digging your hairstyle today. Buns are where it’s at.“

She looked mildly perplexed at his statement, as if no one had complimented her on her hair in years or rather, she had worn it that way for years and wondered why it earned her a compliment now. Despite her puzzlement she smiled and said, "Thank you, sweetheart.”

But then with a quick flip of his head, as if to present himself—it was made evident it was a compliment more to Nick himself as his long hair was bundled up in its usual hair tie.

He knew she didn’t prefer the look, but she smiled at his quip nonetheless and repeated a sentiment she had been saying since he was in high school, "Your hair is out of control, Nicholas.”

“It is not,” he disagreed and smoothed his hand over the top of his head to check, it was all pulled back tight, no strands popping out haphazardly. He had noticed though, as he grew it out, that he used more and more shampoo every time he showered. He bet that the next words out of her mouth were for him to go get a haircut. He could almost see the thought form in her head as her brow crinkled.

“You could do with a haircut,” she suggested and he mentally patted himself on the back for correctly guessing, but thankful he didn’t owe himself money for both simultaneously losing and winning the bet he made with himself.

He smirked with defiance, “Why? Women really like my long hair.”

“Oh really?” she arched a brow and he immediately regretted bringing up that subject because she followed up with, “And when are you going to bring any of these so called ‘women who like your long hair’ over so I can meet any of them?

He let out a nervous laugh, waving away her question, “They aren’t the type one takes home to meet one’s parents but I promise they exist!”

His mother pressed her lips in disapproval, which he knew she would do. She was at the age where she would like to see her sons to be on the path toward steady relationships. With Kit being only fifteen years old—he wasn’t ready for commitment. Shane was about as emotionally intelligent as the robots he built, so there was hardly a chance for him to catch anyone’s fancy. That left Nick being the only son to land a significant other and while he had plenty of fish in the sea to choose from, he wasn’t all thrilled at the idea of getting into a serious relationship; college was the time for fun and he had the rest of his life to live—to find that ‘special someone’ if they even existed.

He jolted forward suddenly reminded of something he was supposed to ask his mother about, “Hey, Mom—do you think you could ask Dad about something for me?”

She seemed surprised at the urgency of his request and asked, “Is everything all right?”

“I’m fine but I wanted to show some of my art at the Harvest Gala. Dad could probably make that happen…”

Their burgers arrived then and he had to put a hold on that thought while they ate. The burger was damn good—juicy and had a charbroil taste, smothered in ketchup, mustard, and topped with tomato. It was an early dinner for him but he had a light lunch and was feeling hungry anyway. He hoped food would make his mom feel better, it always made him feel better.

He glanced up and saw her eating eagerly as he was and nearly laughed. He’d never seen her eat like that before. She was usually careful about what she ate—he’d seen her with granola, salads, and other healthy foods that she chewed precisely after every bite. He realized, he probably hardly knew her real character, locked away behind that steel-faced persona she had maintained, even at home.

Why did she hide?

“You, uh…really like that burger, huh?” he swallowed a bite and said with amusement.

“Are you kidding? I love Joe’s burgers,” she said and took another happy, sloppy, bite.

“Since when do you eat here?”

“I too, went to Sim State, once upon a time—” she swiveled her head from side to side, looking at the walls with her hamburger in hand, "and I’m amazed that this diner looks the same—it’s like stepping back in time.”


“Yes, your father and I came here often. We’d get dinner, drink a few beers and talk about everything from philosophy to politics—and I hung on every word,” she smiled wistfully but it faded a moment later, “He was very charming back then.”

Nick restrained his eyes from rolling, but ended up frowning slightly, “So, he’s not anymore?”

“I didn’t say that,” she snapped, matching his frown until it wavered and dissolved into melancholy.

His expression lifted and turned to concern, “Something happened, didn’t it? Something with Dad?”

She didn’t answer right away, seeming to weigh her words as she focused somewhere else than Nick. Finally, she answered, “We had a fight—and he thought it was best if I didn’t accompany him to a fundraising function tonight.”

Nick had never seen his parents fight before, never even heard of it—thought it was pretty much impossible from the way they stood united all those years. To hear his mother admit that such a fight happened was as rare as seeing a unicorn. He honestly didn’t know what to say after such a truth.

“Sounds like…you could use a drink,” Nick waved over the waitress and promptly ordered two beers despite the shocked look on his mother’s face at that suggestion. He knew she drank, he’d seen the empty wine bottles as a kid—and the full ones stashed up in the cabinets out of his reach.

The beers were uncapped and set before them; Nick picked his up and held it out to her as if he were toasting. She hesitantly picked it up and did the same.

“To Joe’s,” he grinned and clinked his bottle against hers, which caused her to laugh, “May it exist another 30 years.”

“To Joe’s,” she repeated with a smile and took a swig at the same time he did. If he had somehow managed to time travel and told his eighteen-year-old self that one day he would be drinking beer with his mother, his teenage self would have called him crazy and a liar. But there he was, twenty-two years old and drinking beer with his mother.

“Oh wow, I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve had a beer,” she said immediately after tasting it and looked at the back of the label.

“Probably since you went here,” Nick joked, recalling her words from earlier.

She rolled her eyes and took another drink.

As she drank, she became more and more forthcoming—talking about her college days, her job and all the snotty pre-teens she had to deal with, her annoyance at how the media portrayed her now that her husband was running for public office—and it amazed Nick to see his mother so candid about life for once.

They had been there so long, chatting and ordering beers that it was now evening.

“What did you and dad fight about?” Nick finally let his curiosity get the best of him and asked. He was done with his third drink, and had set the beer bottle on the table top. Funnily enough, he was barely feeling it, college had done wonders for his tolerance.

“Your tuition.”

It was a good thing Nick was done with his beer for if he would have had any in his mouth he would have spit it out in utter surprise. His mind was blown.

While it was rare to see a unicorn, it was rarer yet to know of a fight between his parents that pertained to their eldest son. He thought they had always been on the same page concerning him—his hair was too long, his eyebrow piercing looked unprofessional, art was not a valid career path, he would make a better lawyer with his smartass mouth, and he deserved to be grounded for tricking his uncle into reading Marilyn Manson lyrics at his Grams’ funeral. Okay, but assessing that situation now, that he agreed he definitely deserved to be grounded for it. His eighteen-year-old self would have called him a traitor, that is, if he managed to go back in time somehow. He really liked musing on that hypothetical.

Now he felt a little bad for assuming his mother had allowed his father take away that money for tuition without a fight—but to be fair she’d never give him reason to believe anything else.

“Speaking of…“ her voice turned a bit harder, “how did you manage to get the money to pay it?”

Nick cringed inwardly, because he was dreading that question. He had thought of an answer though, “I sold all my art.”

Now it was her turned to look like her mind was blown, and honestly if someone really had bought his art for that amount, it would have blown his mind too.

“If you sold all your art…then what are you showing at the Harvest Gala?” she asked slowly while her amazement turned into a puzzled frown. Damn, nothing got past her even when she was buzzed.

“I…” he started but picked up his bottle and shook it to hear nothing but drops left, trying to stall as he thought of how to reply, “I’m working on new paintings that I’ll have done by the time the Gala rolls around. I figured it would be good exposure. That’s why I need you to ask dad.”

He’d finally gotten around to bringing that up again.

She put her finger to her lips thoughtfully, “How about you come home this weekend and ask him yourself?”

“Mom,” Nick groaned and placed his head into his hand, trying his best to give her pleading eyes, “You have to talk him into it, you know he won’t go for it otherwise. He likes to undermine me.”

“I’d say like father, like son in that respect,” she mumbled before taking another drink and it made Nick furious. He did not appreciate being likened to his father. He’d done so much to try and distance himself, and distinguish himself as the opposite of Elm Calhoun—even going so far as using her maiden name to hide the relation from anyone he introduced himself to.

She noticed his expression and explained, “You push his buttons every chance you get. You quit the Greek Society—and while taking away your tuition was a bit extreme—he pulled a bunch of strings to get you at the top of the waiting list for his legacy fraternity. You don’t show him any respect—”

Nick didn’t want to listen to this. The night was suddenly soured with this talk of his father. His father ruined everything, and now she was taking his side again. He jumped up and quickly paid the dining bill at the front, leaving his mother behind—too angry to offer to walk her back to her car.

He heard the quick clicking of her heels behind him, and then a shrill shout of “Nicholas Alexander Calhoun, stop walking away from me this instant!

If anyone was out and about, they heard it. He’d bet everyone inside Joe’s could hear it as well. He did stop but he didn’t face her.

“I didn’t quit the frat to annoy him,” Nick sighed, trying to control his growing rage just remembering that last phone conversation with the man. He knew his mother was just behind him as there were no more clicking sounds. “I bet he didn’t tell you the reason.”

“Enlighten me,” he heard her demand in that same hard tone.

He turned around to face her with a scowl, “The frat’s president was drugging the drinks at parties, women’s drinks, and when I called him out on it, he gave no indication he was going to stop. He still does it, I’ve seen him do it out at the bars—”

Nick had to swallow another bout of rage, remembering how Illyana was affected and how scared he had been for her. It wasn’t right at all, “So I could not, in good conscious, stay in the Geek Society, especially after I explained this to Dad and he told me to accept it and get over it.”

Nick had to grit his teeth as he quoted his father, forcing that skeevy phrase out between his lips. He noticed his mother was matching his scowl, coming to the same realization.

Now could she understand why Nick couldn’t respect his father? How could he when his father thought something like that was acceptable behavior? His mother didn’t say anything in response, but she looked angry…and now very tired as well as she mulled over his words.

“I’ll have a word with him. I’ll tell him about your art and the Harvest Gala but in return for that favor, I want you to come home—we’re having an election party this weekend. It would be nice if we could all be together again.”


“Kit misses you, I miss you. So, don’t come for him—do it for us. Please, sweetheart?”

A tight ball of some kind of anxiety formed in his chest as he pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to think. It wasn’t often his mother begged anything of him and he did owe her if she was to put in a word for him to show his art at the Gala. It was fair, but he didn’t look forward to it at all.

“Fine,” he sighed with an air of defeat, “I’ll come home this weekend.”

Uh oh! My social bar is low - that's why I posted today.

Lab Assistant
#106 Old 22nd Sep 2018 at 5:35 PM
I realized I never commented on this chapter in all this time!

I love the change of pace this chapter offers. Usually it's Fritz who has contemplative asides with his mother, but it's very revealing about one's character, I think, to remove them from their typical social environment and lay them bare and alone before their parents. I walked away from this chapter really intrigued by Nick's mom. She seems like a rich and vibrant person under all that restraint and invented personality. I'd love to see more of her, and of the other characters' families.

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#107 Old 8th Oct 2018 at 3:19 AM Last edited by Charmful : 8th Oct 2018 at 3:59 AM.
Default Apologies of Men
Chapter 50: Apologies of Men


The way he said her name was delightfully lascivious. It rolled off his tongue, originating from his voice which was as deep as a chasm. Instead of the indifferent, impersonal, tone that usually marked his words—there was a myriad of emotion caught in it. Adoration. Longing. Sincerity. He didn’t need to say anything more. Franz approached her, swept her off her feet as easily as if she was a piece of paper, and allowed her to taste that voice of his. He was strong, warm, and in that moment, she knew he loved her.

“Three pints of blood.”

Alanna blinked.

She was no longer wrapped up in the scene her imagination had conjured. Instead, she found herself at her Wednesday afternoon class in the lecture hall. The professor had brought in a fake cadaver to demonstrate whatever he was teaching that day.

“This is how much a body loses and then goes into level 4 hemorrhage shock. A transfusion must happen or else the patient will die,” her professor reached into the cadaver and yanked out a plastic heart that was apparently made of some kind of squishy material as he squeezed it. Of course, no blood or other bodily fluids seeped out but it got the point across, “the heart can’t pump fast enough to replenish lost plasma at that point.”

Alanna had been finding herself drifting more and more into daydreams as of late. She was usually alert—taking notes, and asking questions. She was ashamed to admit it, but she didn’t even know entirely what the professor was talking about now because had started out the lecture on blood pathogens. She looked down at her notebook, and saw all she had been doing was etching hearts in the margins and had incomplete notes but for one clear line reading ‘blood should stay in the body

She sighed and glanced at the clock on the back wall and saw it was already time to go! Lectures sure did fly by when her mind was racing about other things.

“Be sure to read the section on blood types, transfusions, and diseases before the next session,” the professor reminded the class as they began to pack up their books and bags.

Alanna stayed seated for a few more moments, still musing that it was no surprise the predominant ‘thing’ on her mind was her best friend. Dreaming up scenarios of confessions of love, either by both or one of them. If not that, it was imagining their first kiss. Alanna had kissed boys before…well rather a boy. However, that was when she was 15 and it wasn’t serious. What she felt for Franz now, was unlike any other feeling in her body she had ever experienced.

She was in love with him.

After talking to her brother more about it, without naming names, she had come to the conclusion it had to be love. Nothing had driven her heart to beat so fast or feel so tight in her chest just from thinking about someone. She could usually navigate her thoughts with clarity but now they were just a disorganized jumble injected with a heavy dose of feelings as soon as she thought about Franz.

“Oh, Miss Thackery!” the Professor called as she slipped her backpack straps over her shoulders. She turned her head over her shoulder and saw him gesturing for her to join him at the floor where he stood. She nodded and joined him next to the cadaver model, while her classmates shuffled out of the hall and onto their next classes or naps.

“What do you need, Professor?” she asked curiously, hoping her lack of focus was not noticeable or causing an issue. Maybe it was a good thing she had never been so in love before, because she didn’t see how she could have completed high school if she had been struck with such a distracting affliction.

Her professor didn’t seem at all offended she hadn’t asked a single question during the lecture, he instead began speaking with great animation, “The medical studies program will be taking applications here in the next few weeks for students interested in doing their next semester abroad. Only a handful are selected and I think you would make an excellent candidate and would be willing to endorse you.”

Alanna beamed, feeling very flattered that her professor would not only single her out to tell her about the program but endorse her as well.

“I’m honored! What does it consist of? Where would I go if chosen?”

"It varies from year to year—the committee is still finalizing the location, however it’s a great opportunity few get to have, and I’d ask you to consider it. Not only would you be able to continue your studies but receive hands-on experience in helping patients in another area of the world!”

“That sounds amazing! Yes! I will definitely apply for it when I see the announcement. Thank you for letting me know about it,” Alanna’s smile grew even wider as she left the lecture hall and emerged into the building lobby. She took a moment to sit down and giddily think about travelling out of the region, being immersed in another culture while helping those who needed it. She pulled out her phone, immediately checking her text messages to see if Franz had sent anything and to her delight there was one unread message from an hour before but she hadn’t seen it since she had been in class. She hadn’t heard from him since she had visited him at his dorm and eagerly pressed the view button.

Franzster: Hey, thanks for the flowers. Mom really loved them.

She flashed a grin at her phone screen, even more delighted to hear that her flowers were appreciated. She had decided to send them over after hearing about Ms. Schoulsburg being in the hospital. She still was very devastated that his mother was ill and that their family bakery was going to be sold.

She typed back:

I’m so glad! How is she doing? How are you?

She tapped her foot, hoping he was around his phone to answer. She hadn’t realized until the last couple of days but she really hadn’t talked to him all that much since school started compared with previous years—so made a mental note to reach out more often and not get as lost in studying as she had been. Her phone made a noise, indicating that it received a text and she crossed her leg over the other, smiling as she opened the reply from Franz.

Franzster: She’s still there. Hopefully they will let me take her out this weekend. Sorry, but I have to go. I am pulling all the shifts at the bakery this week in her absence.

She quickly typed:

Hopefully! I’ll chat with you later. Have a great day!

She put her phone back into her pocket as she stood up, feeling slightly disheartened they couldn’t continue their chat. She could always retreat into her thoughts-turned-daydreams and imagine what else they could talk about but it wasn’t the same. She needed to try and concentrate anyway. She decided to head over to the campus library, she had a few books she’d been meaning to check out for her studies and she had a whole section to read before next class, as the professor had assigned.

Alanna thought that maybe, she had enough books as she straightened her shoulders and climbed the stairs to the upper floor of library, the weight of her backpack nearly pulled her backward. She needed to remember to empty her bag before her next class, otherwise there’d be no more room left!

She came upon the bookshelf that supposedly contained the title she had been wanting to check out when she noticed a familiar red head sitting at the study table directly across from it.

“How’s your robot holding up?” She approached the table and crossed her arms; she tried not to let any enmity seep into her words.

Shane seemed to jump at being addressed publicly, coming out of a particular intense stare of boredom or so it seemed. He had a blank piece of loose-leaf paper in front of him. If he was doing a writing assignment, he was failing miserably.

The redhead turned his bored stare to Alanna and quirked a brow as if to ask her why she bothered addressing him, “It’s just fine.”

“Good,” she said a bit indignantly, because if anything went wrong with it, she had no doubt Shane would have blamed her for it. She was still miffed that he hadn’t thanked her for staying to help the other night. She figured he was a bit like his father in that respect.

She’d been exposed to the Calhouns because they had lived on the same street as her family growing up. Alanna didn’t like to throw around mean words but Mr. Calhoun was a bit of a…well…a butt head. She had seen him out in his yard when she was younger, watering his garden but then spraying water at any stray animals that happened to walk by. They were the same animals that she would leave out food for in case they were hungry. She felt bad, like it was her fault they got sprayed because they wouldn’t have been there in the first place if they didn’t expect food. What really made her burn with anger was that Mr. Calhoun had the nerve to chuckle when the poor cats or dogs went skittering off in the opposite direction, shaking cold water from their fur. She stopped feeding strays after two whole summers of that behavior.

It reminded her that Mr. Calhoun was running for mayor and he certainly didn’t have her vote. People who treated other living things with such disdain didn’t deserve to be in any kind of position of power.

She began to search the bookshelf for the book she wanted but heard Shane clear is throat from behind her.

She whipped around with a slight frown but found he had kicked out the chair next to him and nodded toward it as if she should sit. She did so, but with suspicion—'welcoming' was not an adjective she would use to describe the red head. He wasn’t outright mean, but his demeanor was that of an intellectual snob—people, it seemed, were all just too stupid to waste his time interacting with.

She pulled the straps of her backpack off her shoulders so she wasn’t sitting so awkwardly, letting it to ground with a slight ‘thump’. She met Shane's gaze to see what he wanted.

“So, I forgot to thank you the other night,” he leaned forward and rested his arms on his knees, his eyes were intensely serious though; they seemed to want to dart to anywhere else than hers but held firm nonetheless. Alanna’s brows hiked upward in surprise that he was acknowledging it. “I’m sorry, I just don’t usually get help for that sort of thing and forgot. So, thanks for helping me figure what was wrong—maybe now I’ll beat out Orbinson to get into the tournament.”

Alanna shook her head back and forth, suddenly confused, “What do you mean ‘beat out?’ I thought all the robots get a chance to participate?”

“Well no, not at the regional level. Each college picks one robot to send to compete. You can tell the other members at SSU don’t take it seriously enough since they left for break instead of working on their builds. Only Orbinson and I really have the chance for competing, but that’s just my opinion,” Shane explained, and his serious stare was interrupted by a few crinkles at their edges as he grinned.

Alanna had never actually been in an official robotics program before and her brother never mentioned that he always beat out his classmates to complete at the regional competitions. She bit her lip in worry, now wondering if she had unfairly given Shane the advantage as he wouldn’t have figured out what was wrong with his robot without her. Then again, she’d given advice to Reggie as well that bettered his build. Perhaps she should have just kept her mouth shut. Her brow creased, remembering how Reggie had seemed annoyed with her advice, probably wishing would have kept it shut in the first place.

“What’s wrong?” Shane asked, seeing the unusual expression, well it was unusual for Alanna—the human personification of sunshine.

She took in a breath and released her frown, settling her expression back to a Franz-like neutral.

“Nothing. You’re welcome. Glad I could help,” though her tone wasn’t indicative of gladness. She picked her back pack up and slung one strap on her shoulder, trying to keep herself balanced from tipping the other direction because of all the books in it. Curs-ed Newton’s laws! “Good luck with the competition, Shane.”

“Hey wait,” he said and paused while she turned around, regarding him with slight annoyance. She had things to do, and didn’t feel like chit-chatting with her old high school rival.


“Are you sure you can’t join the robotics program? I mean, it’d nice to feel challenged again,” he asked and then added the last part in that arrogant tone he always seemed to have.

Alanna grinned sarcastically and narrowed her eyes, shaking her head, “Reggie doesn’t challenge you enough?”

“Orbinson does all right but he lacks imagination. You always had it.”

At that rare compliment, her grin transformed into something genuine and a bit regretful, “Sorry, I have too much going on with my coursework to dedicate time to building tech anymore.” Especially if she needed to do the work required to get into that program that the Professor told her about.

“Well, maybe you should stop by more often to see what is being worked on, since you’ve managed that much,” Shane suggested.

“Why? Are you running out of ideas?” she teased.

He made a doubtful scoff at the back of his throat in response and rolled his eyes; this was the kind of banter they’d always had in high school when the science fair came around every year.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” she chuckled, “Anyway, I have to get a book and get back to studying.”

“Same,” Shane gestured to his unwritten paper and promptly turned around but looked back over his shoulder with the same slight grin, “See you around.”

She nodded and quickly scanned the row of book spines, grabbing the one she was looking for in the first place. She saw some others near it that piqued her interest but feeling that literal weight on her shoulders reminded her she didn’t have room for all of them. She frowned in thought, trying to solve her dilemma and came to the conclusion she would get the books she wanted and she would just carry the rest in her arms if need be.

She emerged from the library triumphant. She had her books, and now she was…

“Heeeeey Alanna,” she nearly jumped as her train of thought went reeling off the track. She balled her fist and looked up to see Reggie of all people, smiling at her.

She blinked a few times and relaxed her posture before replying, “Hello Reggie.”

What a coincidence she should run into him right after thinking about him. He had his messenger-style bag slung over his chest and adjusted the strap as he said, “You going off to study?”

“Yeah actually, just had to pick up some books first,” she bobbed her head to indicate the stack she was carrying.

“You need help?” he offered.

“Thanks, but I can manage,” she started walking down the sidewalk toward the campus coffee shop. She liked to study there during the weekday afternoons. The library was too stiff, her dorm room was too crowded—but the sofas and the table in the corner of the coffee shop were quiet and cozy.

“H-Hey, I…I wanted to say that I was sorry for snapping at you the other night,” she heard him say from behind her. She hadn’t realized he was following her, and looked over her shoulder to see his sheepish expression. He was nervously running his hands through his dark hair, mussing it one way, then the other while he looked at the ground, “I actually took your suggestion and installed audio component lower on the bot.”

She stopped walking, and felt the light autumn breeze bluster past them. She’d had two guys apologize to her the same day about what happened in the same night—three if she counted Franz's apology text but for an unrelated thing. Timing was an odd thing. She turned around fully but not with her usual smile, “Thanks, I accept your apology, but I have to know—why were you so short with me? If you went ahead and took my advice, it surely wasn’t because my ideas were bad?”

Reggie shook his head, “No, I just got overwhelmed—it’s not everyday someone shows that much of an interest or knowledge in one of my hobbies.”

“So, your first reaction is to push them away?”

Reggie only knotted his brows in thought as a reply and Alanna continued on her way. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time Reggie had pushed her away. Reggie was the only boy she had ever kissed, and she had felt strongly for him at the time and thought he felt the same. He never called after, and it didn’t help that she had told him she only pretended to like him in exchange for Evelyn Jane to spill the secrets of her scheming in the Battle of the Bands. She had told Franz the same thing, however Franz saw through her lie and reached out—he questioned her—Reggie wasn’t brave enough or didn’t care enough to try. Poor Reggie was collateral damage, and that to some degree, was why Alanna felt she owed it to him to try being friends again.

But he made it difficult sometimes.

She was walking up to the coffee shop entrance when Reggie bolted past her and leaned on the door as she was about to open it. She frowned and pressed her lips together, silently questioning why he was blocking her way.

“Listen, I really am sorry and I’ll make it up to you,” he grinned with a hint of hope.

“Oh? How?” she arched a brow.

“There’s a meteor shower on Friday night. I can bring my telescope and we could watch it together at the Old Sim State Tower. I’ll bring snacks, some chairs, and we can stargaze the night away. How does that sound?”

She did like stargazing. Had she told him that before? She probably had back in high school when they were chemistry partners; they used to have very long, productive conversations when they had been friends, and she did miss that. Franz, though they talked together often, wasn’t one to hold such lengthy, personal, conversations.

She mulled the idea over in her head, “That sounds lovely, I’d accept that as an apology too.”

Her answer sent Reggie’s smile to its broadest yet and he removed himself from the door, opening it and gesturing she should go inside, away from that chilly autumn breeze.

Uh oh! My social bar is low - that's why I posted today.

Lab Assistant
#108 Old 8th Oct 2018 at 7:05 AM
Another chapter, another set of difficult choices and uncertain futures for the kids of Kashmire.

I thought Alanna's daydreams and her lofty hopes and aspirations for Franz were sweet, but a little ambitious for the difficult emotional and mental place he's at. Romance is probably the last thing on his mind, these days. Just means she'll probably have to be the one to initiate. I'm not entirely unconvinced he wouldn't warm to her advances.

Alanna's going to find herself at a crossroads here really soon, with Franz on one hand and her opportunities to learn and help others on the other. I'm sure that if her relationship with Franz grows, that choice will be made infinitely more difficult.

The opening and closing of this chapter leaves the reader with a sense of uncertainty. Interjecting Alanna's fantasy with talk of bloodshed and closing with Alanna accepting Reggie's offer to watch stars together in a secluded place feels...off. I hope everything turns out all right, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I also thought the photos were arranged really well. I especially liked the posing of background characters walking and talking and checking out books in the background of key scenes.

All in all, a charming read. I look forward to more, as always.

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Test Subject
#109 Old 8th Oct 2018 at 9:03 AM
I can relate with my girl Alanna, I spent most of my high school years daydreaming I loved this chapter as always, especially the top half, and that first pic got me high on hopes...
Lab Assistant
#110 Old Today at 6:19 PM
I read from start to finish (well to present) this morning and am really impressed and hooked. At first I wasn't sure I could manage the hops from one character and situation to another but you present it so well and intertwine them so convincingly that it works beautifully. The tension and the occasional pop of humor are great! Extremely well written.

The shots are wonderful. Composition, creativeness, great expressions (my downfall), and you mix them up so you really feel like you're right there in the world. No annoying distractions (trees popping out of heads, strange artwork looming in the background etc.) - wonderfully clean and obviously carefully thought out. I look forward to more!
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