2.4. What If?
How can three minutes be so long? That’s hardly any time--it’s more than enough time to microwave a burrito, for example, or be disappointed in bed. But in this instance it’s inching by at a snail’s pace.
Lark holds a pregnancy test in her hand, her eyes fixed on the window of the test. Slowly, the results begin to form: two lines. Positive. She sighs and staggers out of the bathroom, dropping the pregnancy test in the trash as she goes.
Nikolas is pacing outside the door. “So?” He asks, his brow knit in concern.
“I guess your weird friend was right,” Lark says, “three different tests, and they all say the same thing. I’m pregnant.”
There’s a moment of stunned silence, what a hackneyed writer might call a pregnant pause. Then Nikolas breaks out into a wide smile and puts his hand on her belly. His touch is gentle, cautious, as if he’s afraid of hurting her.
“Uh, what are you doing?”
“Bonding! Um, sorry--I’m excited. We’re going to have a baby! I mean, I guess you’re having it. But I’m involved in the process, right? Point is, we’re going to be parents!”
“Yeah, and that doesn’t terrify you?”
“Oh, definitely,” he rubs his hand on her stomach, his smile growing, “but it’s a little exciting, right?”
“I mean, imagine: my looks, your moxie--our kid could rule the world.”
Lark laughs, but it’s half-hearted.
“You’re not happy,” Nikolas frowns.
“No--I’m just,” Lark pauses, “surprised, I guess. I never really thought about having kids. I mean, what if it’s not the right time?”
“Is there ever a right time for something like this?”
“I don’t know. Maybe in like a decade when I have a real job and you’re not--” Lark stops mid sentence.
“I don’t steal ‘shit,’ Lark. My acquisitions are always quality goods, okay?”
“You know what I mean,” Lark rolls her eyes, “when you have a real job. Not something so…”
“The danger is half the fun,” he grins as he grabs her by the hand, spinning her around.
“Please stop,” she laughs, “you’re making me nauseous.”
He acquiesces, instead opting to dip her theatrically. “I promise I’ll stay safe,” he grins, “you don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll always be by your side.”
But life has a way of throwing curveballs. One night soon after that, while on his way to work, Nikolas is pulled over by a police officer and arrested.
C’est la vie.
Lark recently started painting, an idle hobby to fill idle time. She doesn’t know why she picked it up. Maybe it’s because it reminds her of her mother, who would spend hours painting scenes from her upcoming novels. Lark remembers unblinkingly watching in wonder as her mother transformed a blank canvas into a masterpiece. There’s nothing like nostalgia to give a simple time-killer some meaning.
It’s also an especially good hobby for nights like this, when Nikolas is late. She can get lost in the colors--so lost, it takes her several minutes to notice that somebody is ringing the doorbell. She carefully descends the stairs, gripping the railing as she slowly takes each step. Ever since she found out she’s pregnant, she’s terrified of falling down the stairs. In fact, so much more scares her. She tries not to think about the what ifs--”what if I fall on my stomach,” “what if my baby isn’t healthy, “what if Nikolas is arrested”--but they creep in anyway.
Lark throws open the front door to find Karl on the front step, his face serious.
“Oh, hey Karl. Nikolas isn’t home yet.”
“You’re showing,” Karl gestures to her belly. Perhaps it’s because she’s thin, or maybe it’s a testament to the size of her unborn baby, but Lark’s stomach has decidedly “popped.” She’s taken to wearing loose, stretchy clothes to accommodate her growing stomach.
“Yeah, I guess you were right after all. How’d you know?”
“My girlfriend has had a couple, so I know the signs.”
“Um, okay,” Lark suddenly realizes she doesn’t care to learn anything else about Karl, “Anyway, like I said, Nikolas isn’t here. You can wait for him if you want I guess, but I don’t know when he’ll be home.”
“Nikolas has been arrested.”
“What?!” Lark gasps, “For the thing at the museum? Oh maker, I need to go down there--”
“No, not the museum. He had a warrant for unpaid traffic citations.”
“Wait, they arrest people for that?”
“Not usually,” Karl shrugs, “it’s probably a bad sign.”
“I need to go--”
“No,” Karl puts his arm out, blocking the door, “our boss is taking care of it. Nikolas will be out in a few hours. Until then you have to stay here.”
“So I’ll wait for him there.”
“No,” Karl stays resolute, “I mean, you shouldn’t waste your time. He’ll be home soon.”
“You’re here to make sure I don’t talk to the police,” Lark says slowly, “you don’t want me messing something up.”
Karl nods, “You know about our business. And you’re not like us. You might do something stupid.”
“Between the two of us, I’m not the stupid one,” Lark snaps, “but thanks for coming by, Karl.”
But Karl doesn’t budge.
“You can go now,” she snarls.
“Sometimes it’s hard when someone you care about is locked up,” Karl says, his voice uncharacteristically soft, “I can stay here until he gets home. So you’re not lonely.”
Lark glares at him, then sighs. “Fine. I was thinking about watching a movie. I guess you can come in and watch it with me.” Karl grins as he bounds inside, a noticeable jaunt in his step.
Lark sorts through a few movies on her watchlist before narrowing it down to three options: a movie about werewolves, a movie about sexy minotaurs, and a documentary about Simstagram. She finally settles on the one about werewolves, which seems to delight Karl. He guffaws through the entire movie, laughing at Lark in particular every time she falls for one of the jump scares.
“Wow, you act tough but you’re a real wimp when it comes to stuff like this, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m perfectly--” Lark shrieks just as the on-screen antagonist leaps through a window and sinks his teeth into the young hero’s neck, “fuck. Shit, fuck, fart, I hate stuff like that.”
Karl roars with laughter, “Yeah, like that.”
“Shut up,” she mumbles.
Ninety minutes and one stupid film later, and Nikolas still isn’t home. Lark sighs as she checks the time.
“You wanna watch another movie?” Karl asks, “that one about minotaurs looked dumb. I’d like to watch it. Especially if it scares you as much as this one.”
“No,” Lark frowns, “Nikolas should be home by now, right?”
“I don’t know,” Karl shrugs, “depends on a few things.”
“Like what? I mean, you said your boss is taking care of it. How?”
“You probably shouldn’t ask so many questions...”
“So does your boss have a lawyer who can help Nikolas? Because he needs a lawyer.”
“Um, yes. A really good lawyer, I promise. So you wanna watch another movie?”
And a good lawyer is what Nikolas needs. He’s been in a holding cell all night, and it’s starting to get to him.
There are two dozen bars on Nikolas’ cell. There are thirty-six bars on his half of the jail. There are seventy-two bars total, at least from where he can count. There is a bench in his cell. There are twenty links on the chains holding the bench in place. There are three other benches in the holding area, meaning a presumed eighty chain links in all. There are four cameras he can see, each camera with three visible buttons for a total of twelve buttons.
He’s about to start counting the bricks on the wall when he’s escorted to an interrogation room. One table. Four chairs. Two cameras. One door. And then it opens.
“Seriously, man?!” Nikolas groans, “of course it’d have to be you.”
“Nick,” Luke’s voice is what can only be described as gleeful, “so good to see you again, man. Shitty circumstances, though, am I right?”
“I want a lawyer.”
“Relax, Nick. I just have a few questions. Nothing serious.”
“I’ll pay my ticket as soon as I get legal counsel. Because that’s what this about, right? An unpaid ticket,” Nikolas rolls his eyes for emphasis.
“Yeah, you have an unpaid ticket. But I’m working on a case, and I’d like your help.”
Nikolas doesn’t respond, so Luke continues.
“There was a break-in at the art museum awhile back. Nothing big was stolen, just some wands--cultural artifacts, you know? I was wondering if you knew anything.”
“So you’ve never been to the museum?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“So you have been to the museum. That’s interesting. I didn’t take you for an appreciator of the arts.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me. I contain multitudes.”
“I don’t think there’s that much to learn about you, Nick. “
“Okay,” he shrugs
“So why did you go to the museum?”
“Lark wanted to go.”
“I thought you said you were the one interested in the museum?”
“I didn’t say that. All I said was that you don’t know everything about me.”
“Okay, but you implied--”
The door swings open, mercifully interrupting the clumsy interrogation. “Excuse me,” a woman stands in the doorway, “Officer Bee?”
“That’s me,” Luke stands up, his tone hesitant, “And you are…?”
“Bianca Esposito,” she smiles, her bright red lips a striking contrast from her unnaturally white teeth, “I’m Mr. Oskarsson’s legal counsel. And I’m going to have to put an end to this interrogation.”
“Interrogation? Don’t be dramatic. I’m just asking him a few questions about a recent robbery. I thought he might know something that would help my investigation.”
“So to be clear, he isn’t being held for that robbery?”
“Of course not.”
“That’s what I though. Mr. Oskarsson, let’s go,” Bianca turns to the door, and Nikolas hesitantly stands up.
“Um, he’s still being held for--”
“A traffic ticket, I know. I already paid that. So if he’s not being held for the robbery, we’re leaving.”
“Goodbye Officer,” Bianca calls over her shoulder.
“See you later, Luke,” Nikolas grins as he follows her, “I’ll give Lark your best.”
Nikolas follows Bianca down out into the hallway, practically jogging to keep up with her. Despite her size, she’s quite fast.
“I guess I should thank--”
“Are you fucking retarded?” she spins around and glares at him, “An unpaid traffic citation, really?”
“I forgot about it,” Nikolas shrugs, “I’ll be more careful next time.”
“Don’t act so goddamn nonchalant, you knucklehead. That’s a rookie mistake, and you could have endangered Mr. Gallus.”
“So Gallus sent you.”
“Oh, wow, figured that one out real quick, didn’t you? Fuck, you are slow.”
Nikolas furrows his brow, “This is real nice and all, and thank you for your help, but I need to get home. My girlfriend must--”
“Be worried sick? Yeah, I took care of that. Karl should be keeping her busy. Don’t want her coming down here and fucking things up, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Karl called me when he heard about your arrest on his police scanner, and I asked him what you could have possibly done to piss off some asshole cop. So he told me about your girlfriend. And then--and I can’t believe this part--he told me that she accompanied you when you cased the museum.”
“That girl doesn’t actually know anything, though, does she? Please tell me you didn’t tell her anything about your business with Mr. Gallus. He’s a private man, Nikolas.”
“She doesn’t know a thing.”
“I’m sure,” Bianca rolls her eyes, “you better not slip up again, okay? No more tickets for dumbass stuff, no telling your girlfriend about your work, nothing of the sort. Got it?”
“Yeah, sure. Got it,” Nikolas’ voice is steely, “anything else?”
Bianca steps closer to him, the corners of her mouth turning up, twisting her face into an eerie smile. “It’s been a pleasure Nikolas. But let’s hope--for your sake--we never meet again.” And with that she brushes past him and saunters towards the exit, the click of her heels echoing in the barren hallway.
Nikolas doesn’t frighten easily, nor does he often find himself intimidated. But at this moment, he’d trade just about anything to never have to meet Bianca again.
As he leaves the police station, Nikolas notices a few path lights by the entrance--they’re small, and probably wouldn’t be missed. It isn’t hard to loosen one from its stand and walk away with it. He considers it payment of sorts for his false imprisonment.
And it makes a fine addition to his carport.
Back in the Oskarsson-Bee house, a bad movie plays on the television as Karl and Lark recline on the couch. It’s obvious neither sim is paying attention to it, but it remains on. Perhaps it’s a way to fill the inevitable awkward silence between two people who share hardly any interests, a buffer so they don’t have to talk to each other.
“Oh Wolverine,” Karl turns the page of a comic book, “you can heal everything except that broken heart.”
“Nerd,” Lark mutters under her breath.
Karl sticks out his tongue at her, but Lark is too busy looking at her phone. She’s holding out hope Nikolas will text her soon and let her know that she’s okay. Her heart soars when her phone vibrates, but it’s just a message from her mom: “Dom is in town! He wants to talk to you, so I gave him your number. Let me know how it goes!” Lark sighs, then her phone buzzes again. Another message, from an unknown number: “Hey, it’s Dom--don’t know if you remember me, but you helped me and my father out a few years ago. I was wondering if we could meet up soon and catch up?” But Lark is interrupted before she can respond.
Karl’s back straightens and he sniffs at the air. “Someone’s here,” he growls. A second later, the door opens and Nikolas stumbles in, his shoulders slumped and his face weary.
“Nikolas!” Lark jumps up and runs to him, “you’re safe!” She throws her arms around him.
“Of course I am. It was just some typical cop bullshit. Probably part of the mayor’s new ‘tough-on-crime’ platform. Because speeding is a real crime, you know.”
“So it wasn’t about--”
“The museum? No. Don’t worry about it.”
“So I don’t need to tell the boss anything?” Karl interrupts the couple’s happy reunion.
“As if you’re a snitch,” Nikolas laughs, “thanks for keeping Lark company, man.”
“Loyalty’s important,” Karl says, causing Lark to raise her eyebrow. What a strange thing to say, but then again Karl is a strange person. He is cognizant enough, however, to tell that his welcome is overstayed. He leaves with a brief goodbye, leaving Nikolas and Lark to discuss the night’s events.
“I’m beat,” Nikolas yawns as he pulls on his pajamas and trudges towards the bed, “you won’t believe how exhausting sitting in a cell can be.”
“Can we talk first?”
Nikolas rolls his eyes, “what’s there to talk about?”
“Um, everything? You were arrested tonight.”
“This is the kind of thing I was worried about! How can we give our kid stability if you can be arrested at any moment?”
“I told you, it was nothing. Just forget about it.”
“What the fuck, Nikolas?!” Lark’s voice grows louder, “how can you be so calm?!”
“It. Was. Nothing. It was just a power play by your brother,” he shrugs, “he had nothing on me. My lawyer got me off. End of story.”
“Wait, Luke arrested you? I thought he had a desk job now.”
“No, some dingus patrol cop did. But Luke interrogated me, so he was probably the one who secured a warrant for something as trivial as an unpaid traffic ticket.”
“I can’t believe he’d do that.”
“Why not? He’s always hated me. I told you before that he’d do anything to break us up.”
“Well maybe he has a good reason to hate you, you asshole. How could you be so reckless?”
“I’d like to reiterate: your nosy brother is the reason I was arrested.”
“No, you were! You--you’re a fucking thief. You’re a criminal. This is on you, not him.”
Nikolas tilts his head, the corners of his mouth turned down into a frown, “and as I recall, you knew about my business and seemed perfectly okay with it. Shit, you were a willing participant. An accomplice, as your brother would say.”
“Yeah, well that was before this,” tears start to well up in Lark’s eyes, “before...this.” She ends the sentence flatly.
Nikolas sighs, and his face softens. “I get it, “he pulls her in for a hug, “you were scared. And you’re pregnant--so the hormones must be wreaking havoc on you right now.”
“As if you know anything about what I’m feeling,” Lark sniffles angrily.
“And you had to deal with Karl! That’s just unfair. Cruel, even.”
Lark laughs despite her anger, “he’s not so bad. I mean, he’s weird but I think his heart is in the right place.”
“And everything’s going to be okay, all right? I’ll stop speeding and I’ll be more careful in my jobs. Hell, if Luke brought me in for a speeding ticket that means he has nothing else on me. He’s desperate.”
“I’m good at my job, Lark. And I’ll stay safe. Promise.”
With her anger quelled, the couple falls into bed. And the day must have been tiring, because Nikolas falls asleep almost immediately, his arms wrapped tightly around Lark. She snuggles up against him, listening to his faint heartbeat and deep breathing. The two sounds combined make for a relaxing rhythm.
Despite everything tonight, her life is on the right track. She’s pregnant with a mostly-wanted child, she loves her boyfriend--despite (or possibly because of) his dangerous streak--and she might reconnect with an old friend soon. She’s excited to see Dom again, though she’s unsure why. After all, she hardly knows him. But meeting him again means a possible resolution to questions she had since she was a teenager, since she first sent that letter to him. She begins to drift off to sleep, her mind gently reminiscing about her quasi-adventure with Dom, Bastian, and Mark.
And suddenly she shoots up in bed, startled by a nagging memory. That letter she sent to him--she had addressed it Dominic Trémaux. Trémaux. Just like the name on the plaque for the exhibit at the art museum.
I has to be a coincidence--but how many mage families could there be with the surname Trémaux? And why else would he come back in town after years of radio silence?
There’s only one way to settle this. She grabs her phone from its charger on a nearby shelf and reads over his message again. Then she types a cautious response: “Of course I remember you! How about Wednesday at Bartleby’s, 7ish?” She sighs as she re-reads the brief conversation. What if he’s here because those wands belong to his family? What if he knows she’s involved? What if he’s disappointed in her?
She shakes her head, trying to dislodge all the what-ifs. “He left behind all those books, remember? That’s what he’s here for,” she tells herself, “nothing else. Those wands were just a coincidence.”
And with that lie in place, she’s able to fall back asleep.
Author's Note: I made a promise to myself at the beginning of this generation that I would try to keep my chapters under 3000 words, since anything above that is excessive for a story about pixel people. Well, four chapters in and I've failed! Sorry. I tend to get carried away.
Three in-game things prompted this chapter (other than Lark's pregnancy, of course, which is thanks to Risky Woohoo):
- Nikolas really was arrested, and he really did steal a light from the police station. I just thought that was so funny, and a lot of this chapter sprung out of those two things.
- Karl really, really, really seems to want to get to know Lark, because he has asked her out on a date AND he's sent her four love letters. That boy is thirsty.
- Nikolas has the hothead trait, though I'm trying to play it different than it is in the game--he can lose his temper, but for the most part he tries to stay calm and he channels his anger into his kleptomania (another trait he has). But as a result of that trait, he's started arguments with Lark a few times. ;_;