Chapter 6.26

Liam 26, Zack 21, Lexie/Cory/James 54, August/Beau/Briar 71 (RIP Siobhan and Seth! 😥 )

Zack

“So…it’s yours. Your dad set it all up. All you have to do is sign the papers.” Some suave guy with only a jacket on and no shirt under it met us at the weirdest house in Oasis Springs.

But it fit Liam to a tee.

I sighed.

“Hey, Zack,” Liam said, “don’t be pressured. We can keep looking. I can understand if you don’t want to take a gift from Dad.”

I looked at my brother.

Was he serious?

My mind flew back to the day that changed all our lives. When reality struck me. I was just a stupid kid, not really understanding anything except my baby sister was gone.

I’ll never forget my mother screaming, just wailing at her gravesight. And Liam…her death crushed him like it was his kid who’d died.

It was like I was a person on the sidelines of a bad movie, watching all the drama. I was so helpless. I felt like shit. I loved Brandy. I missed her so badly that it sometimes made my stomach sick. But what made it worse was Mom and Dad always fighting, hollering at each other for the stupidest crap.

I could tell they hated each other.

And as a kid, I worried they were going to split.

Didn’t take long. Mom told me to pack up my stuff, said we’re moving out. I had no say in it. A part of me was relieved because I needed my brother. I was so lonely in that huge mansion with no one to hang out with on top of that hill. It was like a golden prison to a kid.

But a part of me was screaming inside. I didn’t want my parents to divorce. I knew I’d miss my dad. Miss my family being together. I cracked apart in so many ways, I didn’t think I’d ever be happy again.

Thank God for Liam, though. After that, he was always there for me. Whenever I wanted to talk about things, anything, he’d listen.

And he gave me the love I didn’t get from either of my parents.

Over time, I thought of him as my father, not my real dad. Hell, we’d see him only a few times a year. But Liam made sure to spend time with me.

Teaching me how to fish, play basketball, talk to me about girls.

Next thing that happened, Mom got married to Cory. And then got pregnant right away with twins–Kadence and Kaylin.

She whisked us out of the home we grew up in to another house. One for her new family.

Liam and I shared a room. I didn’t care about it. Never felt like my house. I didn’t even have a say in the decorations. I just lived there.

A warm body in the house.

Dad’s movie was a ginormous hit. Everyone knew it would be. He wanted Liam and me to come to his premiere but Liam refused and I couldn’t go without him.

When we went to see a different movie, I saw Dad’s face on billboards. It was so weird.

Liam just stared at the Robotron poster with a sad look on his face.

He hated the movie and refused to see it. I hated watching Liam die a little each day being without Brandy. He never could forgive himself for not moving to Del Sol Valley. If he had, he believed Brandy would still be with us. But that wasn’t true. On that horrible day, Brandy was supposed to be napping. Liam wouldn’t have known. She slipped out of the house to the backyard, we believe looking for her toy stuffed animal–her favorite. It had blown into the pool somehow and we think she wanted to retrieve it, but…

God, I hated thinking about it.

I tried to tell Liam he couldn’t have saved her but he thinks he would have heard the back door. There was no talking him out of it.

After everything that happened, it didn’t help that Mom blossomed as a mother and doted on her new kids and husband.

It was like Liam and I were accidents. And with Brandy gone, she wanted to forget and make a fresh start.

She loved us, but there was a huge difference in her happiness when she was with them. As they say, actions speak louder than words. But I couldn’t blame her or Cory and I certainly couldn’t blame my little brother and sister. Cory was her soulmate. It was so apparent. But for me and Liam, it just sucked.

At least Liam had Ginny during that hard transition. They were inseparable and I was happy for him.

But it was liked his life was cursed or something.

Two years into college, Liam and Ginny were undergrad archaeology students, going to Brindleton Bay University so he could stay with me while I was in high school. He’d told me they’d planned on getting married right after they graduated college and both decided to go to the renown University of Archaeology in Oasis Springs for their graduate work.

They fed off each other, always studying, going on digs with her parents. I was honestly so stoked for him.

And then, Dad was up for an award. It was at the same time Ginny decided to go on an exploration with her parents in Sulani. Liam wanted to come but in the end, he did what he always did–family first.

Then tragedy struck. Ginny and her parents went on a hike near a volcano but were never heard from again.

People surmised they must have gotten lost in the thick jungle–or maybe went on a dive and got caught in the current. Liam always believed she’d come back to him. But after six years passed, he finally said his good byes to her officially.

It crushed me to watch him in pain. But I was going to be there for him just like he was always there for me.

After that day at the volcano, I’d never seen him smile. Not really.

Losing Ginny consumed whatever was left in him after Brandy had died. He was an empty shell of his former self from then on.

It tore me apart to watch him. I wanted to take his pain away. He didn’t deserve this.

He’d do anything for anyone. And he loved his family. Why did this have to happen?

Swallowing down a lump in my throat, I shook my head.

In the end, Dad became one of the hottest blockbuster stars in our nation.

He had so much money, he bought us this house. I knew he did it for Liam. It was an archaeologist’s dream. Liam wanted us to live in a house together until I found someone to share my life with one day.

I was a senior in college, going to Oasis Springs University down the road from the place he got his pHD and worked now– The University of Archaeology.

How could I say no?

I clasped my hands together and said, “Let’s do this.”

The rare grin on his face made me so glad about my decision.

He clapped me on the back and squeezed, saying, “Thanks, man. I owe you.”

I chuckled. “No, Liam. You don’t owe me a thing.”

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Chapter 6.25

Warning: VERY emotional chapter!

Trigger warning: Child death (it is not shown but implied. You’ve been warned!)

For full effect, get headphones, play music, scroll slowly, keeping with the words.

(I know it’s slow…sorry!)

We know full well there’s just time


So is it wrong to toss this line?


If your heart was full of love


Could you give it up?

‘Cause what about, what about angels?


They will come, they will go, make us special

Don’t give me up


Don’t give
Me up

How unfair, it’s just our love


Found something real that’s out of touch


But if you’d searched the whole wide world


Would you dare to let it go?

‘Cause what about, what about angels?


They will come, they will go, make us special

Don’t give me up


Don’t give


Me up

‘Cause what about, what about angels?


They will come, they will go, make us special

It’s not, about not about angels, angels

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Chapter 6.24

Liam

Ginny and I just fell in step like we’d been together for years. She was so easy to hang out with that I found myself wanting to spend every minute with her.

And she was really smart, so she’d help me with math, science, you name it.

And it didn’t matter what time of year it was, she always wanted to spend it outside doing something different. A lot of times, she had to nag me to get out there. Take today…it was Saturday and I wanted to sleep in but she said Nature Park was beautiful at dawn and we had to go, so…I found myself at the jungle gym, goofing off with her as the sun turned the sky a beautiful shade of pink.

“See? I told you this would be fun,” Ginny said with a smirk. “Aren’t you glad you’re not sleeping the day away?”

I arched an eyebrow. “I’d be more happy if you were over here next to me.”

She slid through the bars like a python. “Okay…I’m next to you.”

I laughed. “How can I kiss you like that?”

“Try it!”

We both chuckled during the most awkward kiss we’d ever done. But it was fun.

I mused how last week, the temperatures were the coldest in Brindleton Bay history and Ginny STILL wanted to go outside and ice skate. Not lying, I battled her until I thought we both were going to throw things. I mean, I had my male pride. I didn’t have to do everything she said all the time, did I?

In the end, guess who won? But I’m glad she did.

We might have been the only crazy people outside, but it wasn’t that cold. Not when you’re cuddled together, moving around. I looked at her in amazement, wondering how I got so lucky that she’d like someone like me. I’m totally different than her and she had to push me to get out of my comfort zone. But it was good for me. I knew it was. I was changing.

And I liked who I was becoming.

This afternoon, I was set to meet her parents. (Finally!) Not gonna lie, I was freaking out. I mean, they were like archaeological gods to me. They had a life that movies were made of (and honestly, their stories sounded way more whacked than anyone could ever dream writing about.) Truth was stranger than fiction. Right?

They lived in this old, historic home that they’d refurbished over the years. It was nestled back into the woods, away from civilization.

After I was introduced to Ginny’s mom, she shooed us outside to make a fire–she wasn’t finished cooking dinner. My nerves were jumbled because I hadn’t met her father yet. He was coming home from running errands.

I hoped I could live up to his expectations. I mean, God. I was just some kid who didn’t know what he wanted to do in life with his daughter who had her whole life planned out. I worried he wouldn’t like me.

Ginny nuzzled my cheek, knowing full well I was nervous. “Stop it, okay? He’ll love you.” She kissed me, trying to make me feel better.

I sighed, shaking my head. “I don’t know…I’m worried about what I’ll say to him. I mean…geeze…both of your parents are professors…I’m barely passing math.”

She pulled me with her, walking toward the house. “Liam, this isn’t a contest. Just be yourself. You’re funny, nice, and respectful. You have the heart of a saint. And you treat me like a queen. How could my dad want more for me than that?”

At dinner, my nerves settled down. Her folks were honestly the most down to earth people I’d ever met.

And they didn’t ask me twenty questions like I thought they would. We just talked about school, my family, and how I was doing being away from them. They were really concerned about me.

I felt stupid, thinking how worried I was about meeting them. I mean, they raised someone like Ginny. Of course they’d be genuinely nice people.

After dinner, we went into the family room to chat. Their house was amazing. It was exactly how I thought it’d look, decorated with an eclectic assortment of things they’d acquired from their world travels.

“So, tell me, Mr. Malcolm, Ginny says you’ve seen a real live mermaid.” This story was something I’d really wanted to hear straight from his mouth. Ginny didn’t believe it but I was open.

“Oh…I see Ginny has been telling you of our tales, has she? Yes, I have seen a mermaid. In fact, it was Ginny who met her first.”

Ginny waved her arms. “Okay, so he likes to say that but I don’t remember it at all. I was like three years old and so he could say anything. Just putting that out there.”

Mr. Malcolm chuckled. “We have proof, though, don’t we, Ginny dear. That treasure you’re wearing around your neck was a gift from her.”

“Oh, Daddy…I’m not three years old anymore. I don’t believe in the toothfairy or Santa Claus. You gave it to me.”

I held up my hand, stopping her. “Hey, Ginny, I want to hear the whole story from your father. Then I’ll make up my mind whether to believe it or not.”

“Ho ho! I like this boy already. Okay, I’ll tell you the whole story top to bottom.”

And so the story Ginny’s dad related was honestly, unbelievable.

He said he was out walking on the beach with little three year old Ginny. I guess Ginny was a handful as a toddler, always having to go outside instead of staying inside their large tent while her mom was busy studying samples of bone or rock they’d found. (That wasn’t surprising!)

They’d discovered this unpopulated island on Sulani and had been staying there, working, basically camping out for months. Mr. Malcolm said Ginny had run off while he was inspecting a tide pool, so he frantically searched up and down the beach.

He worried that she might have wandered into the surf. But then off in the distance, he spied a mermaid on a rock with Ginny, smiling and talking to her. He couldn’t believe his eyes but there it was! He said she looked different from what legend said about them. Her tail sparkled, almost glowing a shade of pink on a backdrop of blue scales and her hair wasn’t red but a beautiful golden color.

Then the mermaid gave Ginny an object that glowed. Suddenly, the sky grew darker and he felt an energy pass through him.

Frightened that something bad might happen to his little daughter, he dashed as fast as he could to save her from the unknown.

In the swirling water, Mr. Malcolm caught Ginny who had nothing but smiles on her face, even under water. She wasn’t gasping for air. She wasn’t flailing. She merely floated with that weird grin.

When he got her to shore, he found the necklace laying on the sand. Turning around he saw the mermaid wink then splash back in the water, never to be heard from again.

Mr. Malcolm said it was a true miracle and he credited the mermaid for saving Ginny’s life. He knew what he saw had been real but both Mrs. Malcolm and Ginny thought he’d hit his head on a rock and remembered it all wrong.

I laughed. “Okay, Mr. Malcolm. I believe you. If you say there are mermaids on Sulani, who am I to judge?”

“That, my boy, is a good answer. One that will get you places with me.” He winked. “Now how about some ice cream? I have a hankering for triple caramel fudge.”

I got up to my feet when he did. “Oh, that’s sounds great.”

After ice cream, Ginny wanted to show me her mom’s art easel on the balcony. I shivered in the cold, cuddling up to my girlfriend. “You really think you met a mermaid, Ginny?”

She shrugged. “Sometimes I wonder if it really DID happen, because when I wish for something, it does come true. Maybe this necklace is a good luck charm?”

On my way home, the night’s events kept strolling over in my mind. I loved her parents. They were so cool. And I loved their life. Right then I knew what I wanted to do. I was going to see the world just like they did. Experience ridiculous things that no other person had ever experienced. Explore unknown areas of the world. Discover rare treasures!

And whether I’d do that with Ginny or not was to be figured out later. Much later. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake with her as I’d done with Mala. I was going to take things one day at a time.

But knowing what I had a passion for totally made my night spectacular. Who knew I’d be feeling so balling right now only two months after Mala had dumped me?

I couldn’t wait to tell my grandfathers about the mermaid story. And there they were, hugging each other. Man, those two just couldn’t get enough. And after all these years!

But as I got closer, I noticed…they were sobbing!

A cold knife sliced right into my heart.

I froze.

“Wh-what’s wrong?” My voice echoed.

Granddad raised his head slowly and said, “Liam, I think you’d better sit down.”

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Chapter 6.23

Liam

I didn’t know how it happened, but over the last few weeks, Ginny and I’d become pretty close. She was such a cool person. She wasn’t the type to sit indoors, mess around on social media, and watch WooTube like most of my friends. She liked to explore the world! And she would always ask me to do the most amazing things I would have never thought to do.

Today, she was being a little mysterious, not letting me know where the heck we were off to or what we were even going to do. I just had to trust her. Last week, she’d showed me a tiny hot springs in the middle of the woods that I’m sure no one in Brindleton Bay even knew about. So, I wondered what she would help me discover today.

We hopped on some bikes and I followed her like I always did.

The sun was setting and I thought it was strange we were going to some ruins. I’d seen this place before, too. Old Brindleton Bay when it was just a pirate cove over three hundred years ago. I knew the place would get dark. I hoped the moon was full tonight.

“Wee!” she cried as we coasted downhill.

“I think we should stop here.” She slowed her bike and I hit my brakes.

The ruins had this peaceful, romantic quality to it. Over the past weeks, even though I’d become such great friends with Ginny…I did have growing feelings for her. Ginny was smart, pretty, fun, interesting…so many great qualities, I should have already gone for it, but…I knew she’d want a relationship, and I really didn’t.

Not now.

Ginny flailed her hands as she was relaying one of her many stories about her archeologist parents’ quests. “And so I was like, ‘are you kidding me? Mermaids don’t exist’…” She was so over the top. I chuckled.

I thought it was cute how someone could be so passionate about everything.

Looking at my life, honestly, I hadn’t been passionate about really anything. Well, except Henry Puffer, but that was kids stuff. I didn’t have time. I was watching over my siblings. And now that I had time on my hands, I was really seeing the world through someone’s eyes who loved life and everything in it.

I didn’t like that about myself. Even thinking back to what my plans were with Mala seemed so…worthless. Yeah, raising kids was a noble thing, especially since my parents were so bad at it, but…what was I passionate about? My mom loved to do her animation. Dad had his acting and music. Even my kid brother was passionate about airplanes. He knew every kind since the earliest invention. And little Brandy loved animals. She said she wanted to be a vet when she grew up. Cute little five year olds were funny. But it wouldn’t surprise me if she actually accomplished it.

When we settled down, Ginny produced a surprise picnic basket she’d hidden earlier. I laughed, shaking my head. “What’s this?”

She shrugged. “I thought it might be nice to have dinner before we explore.”

“You really think of everything, don’t you?” I asked, feeling a little awkward. This felt like a date now. Not some friends hanging out.

“Someone has to since you’re obviously not going to do it.”

That kind of cut into me. She was right. I wouldn’t think up all these fun things to do. “Yeah…well, I’m not as creative as you are.”

“Oh God…did I just say that…don’t mind me, Liam….” She winced and turned away. “Shit,” she whispered.

I flung myself on the ground, sighing. “No…it’s okay. You’re right. I…just am not like that. I wish I was though.”

She shook her head. “You shouldn’t wish to be anything other than yourself, Liam. That was awful of me. I’m sorry.”

I pulled myself up on my elbow. “Yeah, but it’s true. I didn’t grow up the way you did. It was just me and my siblings for the most part.

“I had to figure out how to cook by the time I was nine. And I’ve been watching my brother and sister and taking care of things around the house since almost always. But…I love to get out and explore the world like you do, Ginny. It’s fun.”

She brightened, lightening the mood. “Well, good. Then I think you’re going to love what we’re going to see next.”

I tried to needle her into telling me what it was but she kept shaking her head, laughing. “It’s a surprise, silly!”

After we ate sandwiches, I had to go take a leak. Once I got back, I noticed she held an apple. I’d already eaten mine, but I wanted to tease her.

I reached out to take it and she stopped me. “Hey that’s mine! You already had yours.”

“But I’m a growing boy. I just want a bite.” I tried to swipe it again, not really trying though, just wanting to see her eyes light up and get angry. She was pretty predictable.

She raised a finger. “Okay…I’ll give you one bite. But that’s all.”

She lifted the apple to my mouth and I had to suppress a laugh. She was so stinking cute. I wanted to kiss her right there, but I resisted. I wasn’t going down that road with her.

After our picnic dinner, she pulled out a lamp from her bicycle basket and lit it. Wow. She really did think of everything. She led me in the middle of a dark forest. The autumn leaves rustled and swirled around in the cool air. “Where are we?” I asked.

She looked at me coyly. “Just be patient. I’ll show you. Come on!”

We walked for about thirty minutes until I saw some sign of civilization. There were streetlights around at least. “Are we there yet?” I said.

“We are,” she answered. “Take a look in front of us.”

“Whoa,” I gasped.

The most interesting building I’d ever seen glimmered in the darkness.

“What is this place?” I asked.

The building looked like a glowing honeycomb orb. I could hear buzzing coming from inside.

Ginny explained, “My parents donated this to the town. It’s a bee sanctuary park. They’d discovered rare midnight bees while on an excavation dig in Al Simhara. The bees produce a rare honey that have glowing properties. I thought you’d want to see it.”

I actually had heard of the park. It was pretty out of the way, so I’d never gone to it. “That’s so cool,” I said, raising my hand. “Let’s go inside then.”

I was blown away as we entered. The room had this natural, homey quality that put me at ease. “I can’t believe your parents built this.”

“It was a long time ago. Like when I was five, I think?” Ginny said. “My parents are hippies at heart.” She chuckled nervously.

The tension between us made my skin buzz. My hand had brushed up against hers as my heart thudded hard in my chest.

There was something magical that was happening between us like God was saying I shouldn’t resist. I should just go for it like I’d wanted to. Like me and Ginny were meant to be. Like we fit each other. Like it was our destiny.

Quickly, without thinking about it any further, I grasped her hand. It was warm…almost as warm as my face that was probably blushing. I was so glad it was dark in there.

She squeezed my hand back, smiling up at me.

I didn’t regret going forward with her like this. I wanted her to be my girl. And it wasn’t because I was rebounding.

There was something bigger going on. Something I knew would change me for the rest of my life.

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Chapter 6.22



Liam

I had to hand it to Ginny. She really helped me keep my mind off Mala. With the archaeology club, we had all this work to do on the weekends so I couldn’t mope around the house, wishing I was with her and wondering what she was doing with that scumfuck instead.

We’d cleaned up Deadgrass Isle last weekend so this Saturday, it was time for us to explore. Ginny was determined to find some old piece of junk that the museum could display.

When I arrived, to my surprise, one of my friends, Hudson Parris was there, too. “Hey, man. What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Saw a sign up for the archaeology club and thought I’d check it out.”

“Really?” I said, not believing my luck. I thought none of my friends would ever join a nerdy club like this one. I didn’t even mention it to him. “Alright, dude.” We slapped hands.

“Let’s find some seriously valuable old junk that we can pawn and make a lot of cash!” I joked.

“You know it!”

Hudson raised his eyebrow. “So…why are you here? You’re interested in archaeology?”

“No, dude, not really. But, I don’t know…Ginny Malcolm invited me and they do a bunch of cool stuff for the community.” I shrugged. I really never thought about it before. Just needed to take my mind off things, but I didn’t want to go into that with Hudson. The less I talked about Mala the better.

“Hey, guys,” Ginny said, raising her finger. “Want to go up the lighthouse? It’s open.”

“Want to check it out?” I asked Hudson. “I’ve never been.”

“Sure. Let’s do it.”

I followed Ginny, Todd Monteira, and Dusty up the stairs to the balcony. The view was breathtaking. We could see the whole island from up here as well as most of the town. Brindleton Bay was such a cool place to live. I never wanted to leave. I was thankful my folks let me stay. So much better than the smog filled place of Del Sol Valley.

“Hey, check out those trails,” Todd said. “We should explore some of them. I’ve been here a thousand times but never noticed them.”

“That’s a great idea, Todd,” Ginny agreed.

I noticed the sun getting higher in the sky. It was almost lunchtime and I needed to get back for the football game. The San Myshuno Llamas were taking on the Bridgeport Bears. It was an old rivalry and I never missed a game. “Hey, I wonder if we could climb up to the top of this thing.”

But there were no stairs leading up to the light itself.

After we descended the tower, we found the hiking trails Todd was talking about.

And Ginny was constantly digging but finding nothing.

The further we walked, the more dead grass we found. Probably why they called it “Dead Grass Isle”. Not a very inventive name.

“Hey, guys, look at this path,” Ginny said. “It goes down to a weird place. I see headstones.”

She was right. We discovered an old cemetary right there on the isle full of old guys from the pirate days.

It kind of gave me the creeps but Ginny thought we’d found a treasure. It wasn’t even on the map in Deadgrass Discoveries, the museum here.

After Ginny talked the museum director’s ear off about the cemetary, I told everyone I had to go since the football game was about to start. Hudson had to babysit his little sister so he said good bye. Ginny told me she loved the San Myshuno Llamas and so I invited everyone over. Todd brought his girlfriend, Melina, too.

My grandfathers were thrilled. After I introduced everyone, Granddad asked, “Are you kids hungry? We can do a barbeque if you want.”

God, grandparents did live for this stuff. But I loved it. Having them here, wanting to make me and my friends happy was one of the best feelings.

“No, Granddad,” I said. “You don’t have to go to all that trouble. We’ll just make popcorn and get some drinks.”

“How about we whip up nachos then and bring them upstairs for you. Won’t be any trouble. Honest.”

Ginny said from behind me, “That sounds wonderful, Mr. Day. If you don’t mind.”

“Happy to do it. Now you kids run along and us old guys will take care of everything.”

Once we got upstairs, I’d totally forgotten about all my dad’s awards. I mean, they were there like they’d always been and I rarely even thought about who my dad used to be back in the day. Of course, now he was set to be a huge movie star, but that hadn’t really hit yet. And…I don’t know…he’s my dad. So, I’m not used to people freaking out over him.

But Melina squealed. “Oh. My. GOD! Your father is James Sanderson from the Heart FREAKING THROBS? I’ve downloaded all their albums. I’m a sucker for throwback boy bands.” She sighed dreamily.

Ginny patted her head. “It’s going to be okay. Breathe, girl, breathe.”

Melina went on, “And James is the hottest one of them all. Wow. To be in his house with all these Simmy awards. I think I could die right now and be happy.”

Todd didn’t look too thrilled with his girlfriend’s ravings about my father. Couldn’t blame him.

“Yeah, well, the entertainment room is in here.” I tried to push them along. I didn’t want Todd to get upset.

Todd had to literally tear Melina away from the trophies. It was like she was drooling over them.

We made some popcorn and Melina seemed to settle down a little (although it didn’t help that Heartthrob memorabilia was everywhere.

Turned out, the San Myshuno Llamas obliterated the Bridgeport Bears. All four of us had a freaking good time. And what was even better? I didn’t think of Mala even once.

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Chapter 6.21

Ginny

It was great to see Liam having fun. I didn’t think I’d witnessed him smile all week until today. Kissing hot babes every minute did the trick. I knew it would!

He laughed as his latest make out buddy left the scene with pink lips and a broad grin.

Aww and now a cute eleven year old with a dreamy look came up to him.

If I wasn’t so busy, I would have Crapchatted that picture of her giving him a kiss on the cheek. How adorable!

It was like straight out of a Smallmark movie!

Well, I couldn’t blame them for lining up to kiss him. I wished I could get in line, too, but he friendzoned me all week and so I’ve all but given up. At least it looked like he might be getting over the slut from hell. And being friends with my big crush wasn’t that bad. Right? At least we could hang out from time to time.

And then one of MY kissees cleared his throat. “Um…er…like when are my lips gonna touch yours? I paid the two bucks.”

Huh boy. While Liam got babes, I got impatient frogs and guys from my classes (which was totally embarrassing!)

Liam

This kissing booth thing was only getting more fun by the minute. The best part about it was making ladies of all ages feel special. One elderly cute lady came up to me, so I joked, “Here I am. Come and get it!”

With a broad grin, she opened her arms and bolted toward me.

Instead of a peck on the cheek, she engulfed me in a hug and laid on one of the biggest smacks I’d had all day.

She made me totally blush! That grandma’s got it going on!

Next was a shrimpy kid, sizing me up like I was a giant gorilla.

“Dude,” I said, hoping to put him at ease. “I don’t discriminate on gender. Do you want a kiss? I don’t bite.”

He put up his hand and said, “Uh…that’s okay. I’m good.”

I guessed he chickened out at the last second?

And then the next girl in line made my stomach twist.

Mala.

What the fuck was she doing here?

“If you’re wanting to start shit, Mala, I’m not falling for it. So you can just crawl back under the rock you came from.”

Her eyebrows drew in. “I was just coming over to say I’m sorry. I know I didn’t handle things well and…I don’t know…I just didn’t want to hurt you is all. I tried to break things off with Oliver but…”

I put up my hands. “But what? You didn’t have the decency to even answer one of my texts? Did you think by ghosting me, I’d just magically disappear? Well, you got your wish, Mala. I’m totally and completely out of your life!”

She crossed her arms, not getting the hint that I wanted her gone. “Can we talk, Lee Lee? I really think we need to. I can’t have you hating me like this. It’s not fair to either of us.”

Ginny

Oh my God! The green witch just arrived on her broom and was about to throw down with Liam. I couldn’t believe she had the nerve to show herself here. And right when he was having such a good time, too. Unbelievable!

I had to temporarily take a break and hopefully, be there for Liam if and when she left. “Hey, um…sorry, I’ve got to take a ten minute break. These lips need a rest.”

The guy next in line glared. “But I’ve been waiting forever! Can’t you make an exception?”

He was Arthur Mackerel from my math class. Pretty cute and I would have loved to kiss him, but if I did, the same thing would happen with the next guy and I could overhear Liam getting upset. “How about I make it up to you at school? I’ll give you a real good toe tingler. Okay?”

“Nah…just forget it.”

“I’m serious! I’ve got an emergency right now! I’m sorry!”

Liam

In the end, I decided to let her say her peace then walk out of my life for good. “What is it, Mala? Be quick because we’re losing daylight and the booth will close.”

“Like I said before, I’m sorry, Lee Lee. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I must have written a million texts to you, but it just never could say what I wanted to. I can’t explain why I’m so attached to Oliver. But…I just am. And it’s not your fault. Not at all. I just hope you’ll forgive me and maybe we can be friends?”

Friends? Was she fucking kidding me? After two years and talking as if we’d be together forever, she didn’t have the guts to end things like a decent person. Instead, she just went ahead and dated the guy while stringing me along? I couldn’t help it. All the pent up anger over what happened exploded. “Mala, do you realize what I’ve been going through all week? I couldn’t wait to see you after my trip and texted you right away. All you would have had to do was call me, tell me you’ve been cheating. I know because I got a fucking picture of you all over Oliver in a text. You didn’t care about me then and you don’t now. No. I don’t forgive you. And no, we’re not ever going to be friends!”

“But, Lee Lee…I said I was sorry! What else am I supposed to do?”

Ginny grabbed me and said, “Hey…don’t give her your anger, Liam. She’s not worth it. Let’s go.”

Seeing Mala cry did nothing to me. I was still so furious, hurt, and miserable. I was going to leave with Ginny but I had to have the last word. I pointed at her and yelled, “What are you supposed to do? I’ll tell you, Mala. Get the hell away from me and have a nice life with Oliver! You two deserve each other.”

Ginny pushed me and said, “Come on!”

I stalked off and dropped onto a bench. Mala had a way of turning the best day into my worst.

Ginny stepped toward me. “For what it’s worth, at least you got that off your chest. Right?”

I groaned. “Then why do I feel like such a dirtbag? I didn’t want to make her cry.”

“She deserved to feel a little of the pain you’re feeling. It’s only natural to want to strike back.”

I sank into the bench, my face heating up. “Geeze, I didn’t want to do that. I just want everything to go back the way it was. Why am I not good enough for her? That’s what hurts the most, you know?”

Ginny sat next to me and shrugged. “I don’t get it either. I mean…I would never choose Oliver Treadstone over you.”

I sighed. “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“Look, any guy that kisses strangers both young and old with a smile on his face for charity is miles higher in my book than someone like Oliver Treadstone. And if Mala’s too stupid to see what a catch you are, then good riddance.”

I looked down, not sure how to take her compliment. I mean…Ginny was totally hot and I really liked her, but I was in no mood to start anything with anyone at the moment. “Thanks for saying that, Ginny. Makes it not suck as bad.”

“Yeah, break ups stink but all it means is there’s someone better for you out there. Don’t worry. You’ll find her.”

At that moment, I knew she was right but I needed time to get over Mala. If I ever would get over her.

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Chapter 6.20

Liam

I kept strumming the same damn song on my guitar. Fuck. Why couldn’t I stop thinking about Mala?

She didn’t deserve one electron in my brain. So what the hell was I pining away for? She was a bitch. Good riddance. I kept telling myself that over and over again.

And then I’d go back in time to when I’d first sang her the song I’d written especially for her. I thought it was brilliant (yeah, right) but she really seemed touched.

Her eyes were captivated and she looked as if she was spellbound. In fact she was speechless. And her beautiful face told me everything she felt from the melody.

Tears pinched the back of my eyes. I’d never get to see that face again. Those eyes that showed love only for me.

When I’d finished the song, she’d jumped into my arms, so overwhelmed that I’d do something that special for her.

God. I was an idiot. A stupid as fuck, dumbass idiot!

Why couldn’t I stop thinking about it? I wanted everything of hers erased. I’d trashed all her love notes, the shirts she bought for me, the golden game controller she gave me as an anniversary gift, her pictures, unfollowed her from every social media outlet on the planet. But there was one thing I couldn’t wipe.

My memory.

*****

Ginny

Liam didn’t show up yesterday for our archeology club meeting like he said he would. I got stood up. And although he was going through every level of hell right now, he couldn’t get away with that. Not even him.

“Where were you yesterday?” I asked, coming up behind him.

He didn’t even have the decency to turn around and face me. All he did was sigh.

It was hard to see him mope about. He needed a swift kick or he’d sink down a river he wouldn’t want to go. “Listen, Liam. Just because you’re throwing yourself a ginormous pity party doesn’t give you the right to ditch people. Next time, just say you’re not showing or text or call or do something that’s in some way not acting like a total douche.”

He whipped around and said, “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I’ve got a lot on my mind and I forgot. I didn’t mean to not show.”

I threw my hands up. “You know, Liam, excuses are like assholes. Everyone’s got ’em and they all stink. Like why didn’t you answer the 155 texts I’d sent asking where you were?”

He rubbed his head. “I don’t know. I was going to text you but…my phone was downstairs and I was practicing on my guitar and I just…”

My head bobbed hard like it was going to fall off. “Fine so I get it. You just blew me off like I just said you did. Well, if you want to make it up to me you can show up at the Harvest Festival on Saturday. We’re raising money for Deadgrass Isle if you care about that. If not, whatever. You can just have fun drowning in your own misery.”

Liam

I didn’t mean to make Ginny so freaking mad at me. I honestly didn’t. It was like I was in a haze with nothing going on around me but my own miserable thoughts.

And I deserved her anger. I did blow her off. After she gave me a tongue lashing, she stomped off, making me feel two feet tall.

Then I got an eyeful of my misery right in front of me.

God…couldn’t they do that in private? It was like Mala was trying to hurt me, shoving her new relationship in my face.

Ginny was right. I was drowning in my own misery. And Mala was winning. She hurt me every chance she got. Why was I allowing her to do this to me?

So on Saturday, I showed up early. “I’m here, okay? You can stop giving me those angry eyebrows now.”

“Okay, you’re officially forgiven. And I’ve got a surprise for you that I think you’re going to like. Just the thing to take your mind off your troubles.”

“What is it?” I asked. Her face looked like she was a leprechaun hiding a bag of gold.

She pulled me over to the side of the festival and my stomach dropped. “No the fuck way, Ginny.”

“But Liam, it’ll be fun! Think of all the babes you’ll meet.”

In front of us sat two kissing booths. Was she crazy?

I put my hands in my pockets. The autumn wind just got chillier. “I’m not going to kiss a bunch of strangers. Sorry. You’ll have to get someone else.”

“Oh come on. I’m doing it, too. It’s for charity! And besides, you owe me. So pull up your underroos and put on some chapstick. It’s time to do some first class smooching.”

In the end, Ginny was right. It was a lot of fun! I did get to meet a ton of babes. And I got to kiss them, too! By midday, I was really getting into my role. “Step right up, ladies,” I said, arching an eyebrow. “No need to fight over me. As long as you got the money, I’ll dole out the love.”

I winked for added effect. Usually, they’d shyly blush and laugh at my jokes.

This set of girls were over the top pretty, too. They must have gone to a different high school. I didn’t recognize them.

“Go ahead, Emma, he’s cute!”

“Emma? That’s a pretty name,” I said, trying to put her at ease. When she wouldn’t move, I added, “Come here. I promise I’ll be gentle.”

Her face turned a nice shade of pink as her friend pushed her toward me.

Not gonna lie, she was an amazing kisser. Since this was just for grins, I only gave quick ones, but I lingered just a bit with her.

Ginny should have been a fortune teller because she could predict the future.

This was just the thing I needed to take my mind off Mala.

Chapter 6.19

Liam

After I said goodnight to my grandfathers, I took a shower and got dressed for bed. I couldn’t wait to text Mala. She’d told me not to worry about calling or texting her while I was in Del Sol Valley–she just wanted me to enjoy myself. I’d actually hovered my finger over the Spacetime app about a thousand times, and actually did tap it a few times, but she didn’t pick up. That wasn’t strange since I figured she was at the beach with her friends and not on her phone.

I sank into some pillows and texted her.

Since it wasn’t too late, I knew she’d be messing around on her phone. But she didn’t text me back right away. Maybe she was watching a movie?

So, I sent another one just in case.

But she didn’t respond. Well, I figured she must have had a tiring weekend and went to bed early. I’d see her in the morning at school anyway.

I messed around on some websites, played a few games, but really didn’t want to go to sleep yet. So, I texted my best friend, Drew.

What popped onto my phone made me want to puke.

Mala was with Oliver Fucking Treadstone? Again? God, how stupid could I get?

I literally felt my insides turn over.

Drew tried to make me feel better, telling me she was the loser and a whore and all sorts of awful things I would never call her. But none of that did anything but make me feel worse.

I was the loser. She didn’t even have the decency to break up to my face. She just ghosted me, hoping I’d go away like some worthless piece of shit.

I couldn’t stop looking at that picture. Drew told me his girlfriend, Justine, was out with her friends at a coffee shop and found them together. This was a small town. Mala knew I’d find out. But she didn’t care. Oliver Treadstone was a well known manwhore. What the fuck? Why did she want him over me? If she’d taken brass knuckles and punched me in the face, it wouldn’t hurt as much as this.

When I caught her the last time, I should have told her to fuck off. But I didn’t.

Why didn’t I get angry, punch that asshole in the face, and tell her to go die in a hole?

And why didn’t she just leave me alone? Why cry and tell me she wanted to get back together?

Unless she hated me so much that she just had to make the pain of not wanting me hurt even worse.

God, my life sucked.

******

Ginny

Uh oh. Shit just hit the fan. I didn’t think my picture would get back to Liam at light speed.

But Justine did say Drew would tell Liam asap. And I thought I’d revel in the idea of them breaking up. But…

Looking at his sad face was like I’d been kicked in the heart by a pile of abandoned kittens.

I hated Mala even more for it. How could she hurt him like that? And I felt like I had a hand in it, too. I was the worst.

For once, my mouth didn’t ramble on and on when I sat next to him. It was like a cloud had descended over us. I wanted to fix it since I basically pulled the rug out from under him. He could have been happy in his little fantasy world. I’d bet Mala would have strung both him and Oliver on for months. Here I thought I was doing him a favor, but…I should have minded my own business like Destiny warned me.

But what good would that have done? He would have found out sooner or later. It was best he learned about it and moved on. But he didn’t look like he was moving on any time soon.

“Hey, Liam…the archaeology club is meeting tomorrow. After school in the library.”

He just sighed and nodded.

Poor guy! I wanted to trip Mala when she walked past my chair. I turned and glared at her but she didn’t look up from her work.

“It should be fun,” I added. “We’re going to raise money for the revamping of Deadgrass Isle and start an excavation around Deadgrass Discoveries. People claim there was a shipwreck there before they put up the lighthouse. We’re probably going to find some cool artifacts that the museum will display.”

But Liam only nodded again. He was so out of it.

Liam

I’d been in a haze all day. I didn’t want to feel like this. It hurt worse this time than when I’d caught Mala red handed with that fuck.

I mean, it was like she plunged a knife in me, knowing what she was doing this time, and twisted to make sure it hurt.

I didn’t feel like going home after school either. My grandfathers were way too smart and would want to talk about why I was being so quiet. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. Not even Drew. I saw him heading toward my locker. I knew he’d do all sorts of stuff to get my mind off things, but today, I just wanted to wallow. I was owed that, wasn’t I?

As I walked toward the beach near my house, the clouds grew dark and cold rain started pelting me. “Oh, thanks, God. Way to make me feel better.” It was like the whole world was out to get me.

I wanted to get out of this nightmare. Anger, sadness, helplessness roiled inside, making me miserable. And I knew I shouldn’t be feeling like this. She wasn’t worth it. Everyone said so, but…

She’d been my world for over two years. I’d made plans. We’d made plans. Together. I’d pictured our lives with each other. We even talked about how many kids we’d have. She’d buy a boutique in downtown Brindleton Bay and I’d help her manage it while making sure our kids were taken care of, fed, and everything was fine at home. I was good at that.

At that moment, I really missed my family. Brandy’s cute face. Zack’s smartass comments. Mom’s wise words. Dad’s hugs.

As the foghorn blasted and the salty sea air wafted over me, I knew it was over forever. Mala and I would never be together again.

I was all alone.

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Chapter 6.18

Ages of characters: Liam–16, Zack (his brother)–11, Brandy–5, August & Beau, Briar: 61, Lexie, James: 43

Ginny

My friends sidled up to me, Rosalin taking my hand.

“See what the cat brought me, guys?” I asked. “Two rats.”

“Oh good God,” Destiny said. “Does she have no shame?”

Suddenly, the two love birds shouted at each other and both were on their feet.

“Mala, please don’t go. I’m sorry,” the douchebag yelled.

My friends crowded around behind me.

“Guys,” I whispered. “They can’t see us–their backs are facing us.”

I couldn’t hear a word they said. Dammit! But Mala was blasting a finger in Oliver’s chest.

Then he spit something back at her. If only I had a microphone on them. I wanted to hear every juicy detail.

Then Mala pushed him away, like she was breaking it off. NO! This skank was not about to get rid of her adulterous lover. Was she doing this to be with Liam?

But then the heaven’s parted and God literally shone all his glory onto them. (Seriously, the sky grew the most beautiful shade of pink.)

Oliver was about to kiss Mala!

My girlfriends started squealing behind me as Mala and Oliver’s lips met. So, I did the only thing someone could do in this situation.

I got out my phone and snapped.

Destiny hissed, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Ginny?”

I put my fingers over her mouth. “It’s called fate, Des. And if Liam won’t believe what a skanky ho his girlfriend is, I might have to show him.”

“You know he could get mad at you for not minding your own business.”

Des was always a worry wart.

“Oh, God. Poor Liam,” Justine said. “When I let Drew in on this…he’ll definitely tell Liam.”

“I hope he kicks her to the curb,” Rosalin mused behind me.

“Hey, guys, let’s go!” Ally whispered. “I don’t want to get caught.”

But I wasn’t moving a muscle until I got the full blown goods on a thot that needed bringing down.

Liam

I told Mom and Dad about my decision to stay in Brindleton Bay. They were totally cool with it and said Grandpa and Granddad would meet me at home. I had school the following day, so I needed to book it if I wanted to get back at a decent hour.

When the time came for me to leave, I had a hard time saying good bye. Especially to my siblings. We like hadn’t been apart ever in our whole lives. In fact, I was with them way more than either of my parents had been. Little Brandy didn’t really understand what was happening either. I bent down and took her tiny hand. “Hey, baby girl, you be good for Mom and Dad, okay?”

“I will, Lee Lee.” I was going to miss her sweet smiles and dimples.

“Your limosine is here, sir,” Marcus said, waving me to hurry up.

Both Zack and Brandy rushed over, giving me hugs.

I was shocked Zack was taking it this hard. “I’m going to…miss you,” he said into my shoulder.

Then Brandy’s lip quivered. “Don’t go, Lee Lee!”

“Hey…I’ll be back in a few weeks. Don’t worry.” Squeezing them, I whispered, “I love you guys.”

*****

The plane ride was freaking long and I took a Suber home. When I walked in, I was blasted with my grandparents kissing.

I smiled. I guessed even old folks still got it on?

Clearing my throat, I called out, “Hey, Grandpa and Grandad! I’m home.”

They both shot up and ran over to me. “You’ve grown a foot since the last time I saw you, Liam!” Granddad slapped my back. I guessed I had grown a lot. I was almost as tall as he was.

Grandpa enveloped me in a squishy hug. “You’re looking good, kiddo. So happy to see you.”

“Me, too, Grandpa.”

I sat down to chat.

“So…how’s Del Sol Valley?” Granddad asked.

“It’s amazing. No joke, my folks’ place has a pool the size of the whole town of Brindleton Bay.”

Granddad laughed. “Well, your grandpa and I are here for you, Liam. If you need anything from us, don’t hesitate to ask.”

“And let me know your favorite dishes, too, Liam,” Grandpa added. “I’ll have it ready whenever you want to eat supper.”

Did I just die and go to heaven? They didn’t know I was the one who usually cooked around here and it was mostly mac and cheese and nachos. “Thanks, Grandpa. Sounds awesome. And thanks for staying with me like this. I know it must be an inconvenience.”

“Are you kidding?” Granddad said. “Us old guys live for this stuff. What else have we got to do? Next weekend, we’ll show you around some places we used to go when your mom was little.”

“Awesome, Granddad. Sounds fun.” This already turned out to be the best decision I’d ever made. For once, someone was going to take care of me for a change.

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Chapter 6.17

Liam

Not going to lie but the mansion was so extra I could hardly stand it. The pool was bigger than any public pool I’d been to–including the Super Swirly Water Slide park. I held tightly onto Brandy. She’d been learning how to swim back home but it still made me nervous.

“Let’s splash, Lee Lee!” Brandy said in her cute little voice.

Mom and Dad were soaking up the West Coast rays. It was way hotter in the fall here than back home.

“You two better watch out,” Zack said, running toward the diving boards. “Cannonball is about to rock your world.”

I wrapped my arm around Brandy. “He can’t get us, can he, Brandy?”

“Nope!” She giggled.

I splashed into the cool water. “Come to me, baby girl.”

“I can do it by myself, Lee Lee.”

“I know you can, but I want to play helicopter.”

Zack tried to splash us with his cannonball, but the pool was so big, it barely made ripples.

I twirled her around and around with the warm wind floating over us.

“Wee!” she cried, kicking her feet with glee.

After I’d whipped her through the water a dozen times, I started to get dizzy and my arms were wearing out. “Okay…that’s enough.”

“Again, Lee Lee!”

Brandy would love it if I’d never stop playing a game. “But my arms are noodles. Let’s do something else.”

Luckily, Zack came to my rescue. “Hey, guys! I’m going to take a picture! Could you pose?”

I pulled Brandy out of the water. She loved to strike a pose. I told mom I thought she’d be a natural model. But Mom was opposed to doing anything like that. She hated what the limelight did to her back in the day. And child stars, actors, and models wasn’t a way to raise a kid.

“Good one, guys!” Zack beamed. He loved taking pictures of everyone and everything. He had a ton of simstagram followers already. I wondered what was going to happen when people found out he was James Sanderson’s son. Were our lives going to really change?

A part of me didn’t want the fame–just like it freaked Mom out–I understood. And even though I had a blast in this mansion full of everything any of us could want, I really missed Mala, our home back in Brindleton Bay, the beach, the cool breezy coastline…I only had two years left of high school. It wouldn’t be that much time away. And I’d come back to my family as much as possible. Dad could afford flying me out at least once a month on the weekends.

And Zack and Brandy had each other to keep company. Zack was a great kid who loved Brandy and he was good at watching over her. He looked so silly wearing her hat and playing around today. And she adored him.

Yeah. It’d be good for Mom and Dad, too, not to rely on me so much. I decided right there that I had to go back.

*****

While Brandy was taking a nap, I spent some time in Zack’s room. We were messing around with Crapchat filters. “There,” I said. “Is that a good enough picture? You look like a goofy frog.”

Zack sighed. “Hey, cut it out. I want a normal one. To remember you by.”

I put my phone away and we both got on our stomachs. “Hey…I won’t be gone that long. You’ll see me every month. And with school, time will fly.”

He shrugged. “I know, but it’s not fair. I don’t want to move here either. Why can’t I stay with Grandpa and Granddad, too?”

I told him he needed to watch over Brandy. She’d be sad if both of us left. He got it when I put it like that. It did kind of suck. I felt like a huge jerk, abandoning my family. Was I being too selfish? I didn’t know. I had so many mixed emotions, I didn’t know what to do.

*****

Ginny

Today was a super fine time with my gal pals. Destiny had a debutante thingamajiggie to go to and we were honor bound to help her pick out something that was fancy but not TOO fancy. I didn’t get that whole upperclass world. I was toted around the globe like a beat up suitcase (not complaining here–I miss traveling and have ITCHY feet real BAD!) In my family, dumpster diving was a delicacy as well as an art form. But Destiny had been raised with a Brindleton Bay silver doodad in her mouth. And although she had money, she was for reals and didn’t really like all the hoopla her mom made her do.

“I think I found IT!” she cried as we entered Vintage Violet’s Boutique. God, I hoped so. We’d been in no less than ten shops, and I was DYING for a chocolatte with soy whip and a comfy seat, preferably with my shoes OFF.

I had no clue what she was swooning over though. Everything in there looked as if it was from the renaissance period.

“I think I’m in love,” Destiny said in a sultry voice. “Wait on me, kittens. I’m going to try it on.”

I laughed. Destiny was the only person I knew who could get all worked up over finding the right sandals or trying on a pair of swanky sunglasses.

After she came out of the dressing room, she asked, “What do you think? Does it make me look fat, guys?”

“Oh my God. Do you want me to bitch slap you, Des?” I asked. “You look like royalty. Buy it and let’s go.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

Destiny was a notoriously slow shopper. If I didn’t snap my fingers, tap my toes, and huff, she’d make us stay in that place all night.

“Des…you’re kidding me, right?” Maybe my death glare would send a message.

“I think it looks great,” Justine said. “Right guys?” Her approach was a little more subtle.

“Are you sure sure?” Destiny asked again.

Was it illegal if I put a noose around her neck and pulled her out of the store?

Rosalin swooped in like Wonder Woman. “Honestly, Des, it’s the most beautiful, stunning piece of art I’ve ever seen on you. The emerald color brings out your eyes and hair. Seriously. I wouldn’t lie.”

Destiny laughed. “I know, right? That’s what I was saying all along!”

After she paid a criminal price for that outfit, we beelined it to the coffee shop. But then I saw something that made my jaw drop, stomach plunge, and head swoon all at the same time. “I cannot believe my eyes.” I pulled my hair just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

There in broad daylight was that ho-slash-skank making swoony eyes at none other than Oliver Treadstone.

“What is it?” Destiny asked, coming up behind me.

“Just a little karma,” I said. “And it’s got bitch written all over it.”

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