The shock of watching Maria vanish has lasted for weeks, and has led Ben to a very dark and somber place.
Normally, talking to Dr. Kennedy about these thoughts would help him through it. But as it turns out, she is gone too. This leaves him with only one outlet capable of comforting his fears about “the end”. He spends the vast majority of his time focused on music. Whether it be writing, playing instruments, singing, or simply listening; for Ben, it feels as though music is all he has left.
Though his parents insist that there never had been any hospital, he is glad to be away from it. Since he never had any friends at school, there is not much effort involved in sinking into social obscurity. But his choice to distance himself from family does not go unnoticed. It is not difficult given the numbness he feels inside, but it is not something he necessarily wants to do. It seems to be more a reflex than a conscious effort. A sort of defense to protect himself from feeling another shock, should any of them vanish. Yet, there is one sim he cannot distance himself from, no matter how hard he tries.
Sarah doesn’t remember there being any fight, or the tantrum which landed him at a mental institution afterwards. But she doesn’t deny it happened. Her unwavering trust helps more than she can know. Ben cannot imagine why she would choose to spend time with her screwed-up brother, when she could have her choice of boys to hang out with. Most of the time, Sarah can’t figure it out either. Nevertheless, she and Ben continue to build on their friendship that began when they were small children. And as a result, Sarah has become an adept musician herself. She is not a natural talent, like her brother. But she absorbs what Ben shows to her about proper technique and form. Before long, they create amazing sounds together; some of which she insists they record.
Ben knows she wants to shop the recordings around, and he doesn’t mind. Sarah may not have the music bug, but she is a formidable businesswoman in the making. For all he cares, she can give the things away. It’s not like the Barimen family needs any more money. Still, he’s happy to provide a way for her to sharpen her claws. She’ll need them if she intends to seriously pursue a business career.
When the time comes for Ben to celebrate his birthday, he can think only of how relieved he is to be rid of school and all of the agony that came with it. He hardly speaks during the small party consisting of extended family. He gets congratulations from many of them who care to attempt breeching the shield he has erected.
Later, during the performance he gives to his guests that night, each member of his family makes a startling discovery. The feelings he finds impossible to express with words, come out freely and effortlessly through his music. He has become a master at weaving his thoughts into lyrics that can be easily disguised as less pertinent subject matter. This touches each sim present in a different manner, invoking a wide range of emotion in all who listen. It is the first time he has ever played for any “audience”. It is also the first time any audience watches in awe of his raw talent.
He is a sensation of charisma and spirit; deftly moving between different instruments to weave a spell of musical fantasy. But as soon as it is over, he transforms back into the nervous, edgy, and unapproachable sim who comes across as silent, creepy, and odd.
The afternoon Faith and Jimmy choose to talk with Sarah about the estate, is characterized by a wicked wind and an unusual overcast sky. The youngest Barimen can sense that it is a subject they would rather not approach. She remembers when her parents used to be happy and light-hearted. Her dad was always laughing and joking around, and her mother would never turn down the chance to play a quick game. But the constant worry over Ben and his problem has changed them over time. Now they just look tired, and weary.
Sarah has expected that “the talk” would happen any time now. With her driving ambition, great looks, and well-rounded set of skills; she can take the Barimen Estate to new heights. She has the potential to transform the family millions into billions, and give the name international renown. Sarah smiles as her parents effectively abandon the legacy passed down through the generations. In Sarah’s mind, they really had been given no other choice.
She feels her ambition licking its chops in anticipation of being sated with more power and authority than she can imagine. It is a feeling she is not accustomed to. The ambition seduces her with thoughts of limitless excess, and insists that she will adjust very quickly. She allows her thoughts to wander, imagining the wealth and indulgence she is only moments shy from inheriting.
Soon, her thoughts are consumed by the limitless possibilities that lay ahead. Her ambition has pushed aside all other traits. Forget Ben, forget temperance, and forget abstinence; she will be able to satiate every desire which crosses her imagination. Sarah can feel herself salivating from the lustful thoughts filling her mind. And it scares her.
Then, the immaculate sound of Ben’s furious piano concerto echoes through the Estate’s corridors and speaks to her as though it were alive. She is lifted by the music and transported to a time in the past.
There was a spirit. She refused to ever speak about the meeting, even to Ben, who was right there with her. She remembers every word the spirit had said to her, though she buried the disturbing memory among her fantasies and dreams. She remembers standing frozen, entranced by the aura of goodness, wisdom, and kindness. Whether she realizes it or not, it was this meeting with Jiang Xi that helped shape her virtue as a child and teen. Even now, the memory helps to overpower her bloated ambition in the breadth of a single heartbeat.
This is the decision Jiang Xi spoke of. He warned her it would not be easy. But she made the promise, regardless. She knew it was important then, and she senses that her decision is, in some way, essential at this moment in time. Without realizing she is doing so, Sarah speaks the words, exactly as Jiang Xi had spoken them to her that night.