Slowly, Ashley begins breathing life back into the silent family, and starts to heal the wound that her father’s death had left.
Everyday, the house is filled with her giggling and laughter. Fern had bought a toy box a while back and Ashley absolutely loves rummaging in it, happily playing with the various toys for hours. Her favourite game is pushing a plastic car across the ground and crawling after it, chortling and batting the car. Fern always watches her granddaughter fondly and is always there when Anastasia is not. There is no denying that Ashley is a loveable and adorable child, and the best thing that could have happened after Ash had gone.
However, there is also no denying that Ashley is a total drama queen. Most of the time, she is sweet and friendly, but sometimes she throws tremendous tantrums. If her mother is not there when she wants her to (Anastasia recently got a job in politics) Ashley screams her head off and stamps her tiny feet, refusing even Fern’s requests to quiet down. It grates on everybody’s nerves and the only good thing to be said is that once she gets what she wants, Ashley calms down immediately. One moment she would be crying loudly and smacking her hands on her food tray…
… and the next moment she would be smiling and babbling happily to herself, all traces of anger gone. It tires everyone out, but their love for the child always blossoms over that.
Luckily for Briar, she misses 99% of her little niece’s tantrums. Work at the police station is harder than ever, taking long hours and energy out of her. Usually by the time she returns home, Ashley is tucked in the crib, sound asleep. Cries of hunger in the morning is mostly unheard since Briar has the time to sleep in. The demands of a law enforcement career are exhausting, but it’s worth it. Briar has been promoted to the elite Vice Squad lately and she loves it.
After an especially tiring Friday at work, Briar finds herself collapsing into bed at 5 AM and waking at 5 PM. Feeling refreshed, she heads downstairs to find that the house is empty except for Christopher and Ashley. “Evening, Briar.” He says, watching over his eating granddaughter. “Could you please make dinner tonight? Fern and Anastasia are at work and your sister went off to Jeannie’s an hour ago.” Just then, Ashley spills her food all over her pink onesie and she begins crying. “Sure.” Briar laughs as her stepfather tries to wipe an unhappy Ashley up- he certainly has his hands full!
Briar turns to the kitchen and blinks. She has no idea what to make. The only food Briar can cook without burning is hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches, and those hardly qualify as dinner in her parent’s standards. Out of all the tasks Briar could struggle with, out of chasing burglars and busting criminals… it’s cooking dinner.
Well… she can always resort to her favourite recipe.
“Thanks, Tom.” Briar takes the pizza box off the delivery man, pressing thirty dollars into his hand. “No problem, Briar.” The pizza delivery guy nods and strides off. She is a frequent customer so is on a first name basis with everyone at Pierre’s Pizza Parlour downtown. There are a lot of days when she is craving the greasy goodness of the stuff, because Christopher cooking is usually healthy with lots of fresh veggies from Fern’s flourishing garden.
She takes the still-hot box into the kitchen and flips it open, inhaling the delicious smell. Ah… food heaven. Today is a gourmet pizza topped with olives and plenty of Camembert cheese to please Christopher. She could eat this all herself.
Happily, she grabs a big slice and tucks into it, relishing the melting cheese. Hearing Briar’s call to dinner, her step-father arrives after putting a sleepy Ashley into her crib. “Um…” Christopher raises his eyebrows as he stares at the pizza. It’s obvious what he is thinking. However, he decides not to say anything and takes a slice, shaking his head laughingly.
Briar grins as she munches on her slice. Pizza… always so yummy and so easy to make.
After dinner, Briar changes into her police uniform and heads out to complete a little task her boss had set. She runs along the road in twilight, to the grand Landgraab Estate next door. It is hidden from prying eyes with a tall brick wall, which shelters their rubbish bin. Briar skids to a stop by it and furtively glances around. Despite her high position in the police force, it would not be good to be caught rifling through someone’s trash.
It’s disgusting, but a few minutes later Briar has found the information she needs. Dusting off her hands, she gingerly tucks the papers in her pocket and runs back to her house. Rummaging through trash is not her favourite aspect of work, but it is required if Sims refuse to speak. That done… now all she needs a good long shower.
Feeling refreshed, she sits down at her desk after the shower and boots up her laptop. A few messages from her co-workers pop up and Briar quickly sends her replies off, before opening up a blank document. She begins writing up a report about Maya Shnauzer, a new business tycoon in Sunset Valley who seems to have a shady background. The woman, who had moved into a large Tudor mansion, will probably not get arrested because of her money, but it never hurts to keep tabs.
The next morning, Briar awakes to find double the baby trouble. Kelsey is over with her daughter Rosanna, chatting with Anastasia while the two toddlers play nearby. Sunlight streams into the floor where the babies -both dressed in pink- babble to each other. Rosanna, who is two years older than Ashley, is making her favourite rabbit toy exchange greetings with her playmate’s teddy bear.
Isla had given her precious teddy bear, Momo, to her niece a few days ago and Ashley had absolutely fallen in love with it. Momo is just about the same size as Ashley, and is rather ragtag from all these years, but Ashley insists on dragging the teddy bear everywhere. It’s pretty cute, really, to see her hugging the toy and having conversations with it.
The mothers are discussing the children’s behaviours nearby. “Ashley is such a darling most of the time, but when she doesn’t get what she wants, she throws a huge tantrum and it’s just so stressful.” Anastasia sighs, pressing a finger into her temple. Kelsey nods in sympathy. “I suppose chiding doesn’t work.” “No. She just cries louder and eventually we have to give her the toy or food she wants. I’m afraid it’s going carry on and get even worse.”
They talk about their daughters for a while and Briar can’t help noticing how their eyes light up, and the love in their voices. Rosanna and Ashley seem so precious to them, despite the troubles the babies bring. Kelsey chatters on about her expecting another child and how she hopes it will be a boy. Listening to them, Briar wonders if she will ever feel that way.
Briar finds herself settling into a chair to watch the toddlers. As the morning grows brighter, Kelsey and Anastasia sit down with their kids, to teach them to talk together. Rosanna catches on quickly, repeating the words cheerfully after her mother and earning joyful clapping from Kelsey.
Ashley, however, is reluctant to learn. “No.” She pouts as Anastasia repeats the word ‘please’. “Come on, darling, all you need to say is please.” “No.” Ashley shakes her curls vigorously. “Please.” “No.” The look she pins her mother with is so stubborn that Briar has to choke down a laugh.
“I will give you a sweet if you say please.” Anastasia sighs, exasperated. Her daughter looks up at her, her cinnamon eyes alight with the prospect of sugar. “Please.” “Good girl!” She says in relief, handing her child a wrapped lolly. Ashley unwraps it happily and pops it in her mouth, chuckling at herself. She gives her mother a smile so bright, it’s hard to believe she had been so stubborn before.
Briar shakes her head, amused, as she rises from her chair. To her surprise, she realises that it is lunch time and she had been watching the kids for the whole morning. Strange. What a waste of time. However, Briar finds herself feeling lighthearted as she grabs a bowl of the hot & sour soup Christopher had made for lunch. She never knew kids could be so entertaining.
It’s a warm, clear day, so she decides to join her mother outside. “It’s lovely having Ashley here, isn’t it.” Fern says happily. Briar dips a spoon into her soup and raises it to her lips. “Yeah.” She chokes out after the chilli explodes unexpectedly in her mouth. It’s good. “It’s sad that they are leaving soon.” Her mother sighs. “Are they?” Briar raises her eyebrows, swallowing more of the deliciously spicy soup. “Yes, Anastasia told me that she inherited Lone Wolff Manor, so she and Ashley will go live there after Ashley turns two.” It’s a bit of a shock to Briar that she feels a pang at this. Anastasia and her daughter have really grown on her.
“Max!” Briar bounds into her friend’s arms, who gives her a happy squeeze. “Hey. How are you?” Max smiles at her, his electric blue eyes gleaming. “I’m doing okay.”
They had agreed to meet at Plumpuddle Park this afternoon for a little catch-up, because they haven’t seen each other in a while due to work. The little park is as pretty as ever, the dark pond glittering in the sunlight and the plum trees rustling gently. It’s hardly changed, which feels strange, because Briar knows that her life has changed more than she could have ever dreamed.
“How about a game of tag for the old times?” Max suggests playfully. “Sure. You’re it!” Briar runs off into the park, laughing. The wind blows through her hair as she darts through the aspens, dodging her pursuing friend. Both are very fast runners since both have demanding fitness requiring jobs, but it’s not long before Max catches up. “Ha, got you. You’re it!” Briar takes a breather before running after him, a big grin on her face. It’s like they are carefree teenagers again.
After a bit, both friends are laughing too hard to run and have to stop. Instead, they take a stroll around the pond, discussing everything they had missed. Briar talks about all the shenanigans that happen in her job and Max brings her up to date on all the games at the stadium. They talk about Ashley, whom Max had visited once and adores. They talk with the ease only years and years of strong friendship can bring.
The sky is melting into a beautiful orange-pink when they stop under a glowing ornate lamppost and Max takes Briar’s hands into his own.
Briar lets him swing her hands gently and all the old feelings come welling up. How safe and content she feels around Max. How kind he is. How handsome he is. The emotions boil up again and automatically, Briar tries to repress them. It’s hard to make herself believe it… but she and Max are safe now. She is healing from the terrible and empty void Ash’s death had left in her. She is moving on. Which means…
When Max tentatively kisses her, she doesn’t resist.
Instead, Briar finally accepts that she is completely and irreversibly in love with Max Oliver, and now nothing can happen to break that.