Chapter 8.11 – Progress

When looking out from the top-floor breezeway, the sea stretches all the way out into the horizon.
 
There is nothing but water, as far as the eye can see. As huge as this mansion is, the sea could easy swallow it whole, and it would never be found. And it (the sea) is only just a small spot on the planet when viewed from space. Even the universe is just one paper-thin layer inside an infinitely complex system. And Kacey is out there, somewhere. The entity has reached out to her every night since the visit with Desiree McAllister. It sings to her and soothes her troubled spirit.
 
But it is Luke’s troubled spirit that goes unsoothed. His relationship with Sandi ebbs and flows much like the tide from the sea. Some days the waves crash with excitement and energy, and he thinks she is the one he will spend his life with. Other days, it is motionless and still. On days like these, it would be easier to coax the sea to produce a wave from its glassy surface, than it would to coax a smile from Sandi.
 
Being a year ahead of him, she had graduated school and started working in politics. Even though they are barely a year apart in age, Luke can understand her need to keep a clean image. The last thing a budding politician needs is to be caught smooching some high school kid. Even so, Luke suspects that her father still applies a great deal of leverage onto his daughter. And her early dealings in the town council seem to support his theory.
 
Luckily, there’s been no lack of stuff to do, to keep Luke busy. He has been studying for his final exams and meeting with military recruiters from Fort Gnome. There is also the going-away party for Chase. Chase and Alex have been his friends longer than anybody else, with Sandi being the only exception. Alex’s dad is close to retiring, so he’ll probably finish out his career in Sunset Valley. But Chase is a different story. His parents are still young, and his father has been deployed to another city. The farewell celebration is fun, but ends on a gloomy note. Chase is Alex’s best friend, and the news is not sitting well with him, or with Chase’s girlfriend. Luke is used to these kinds of goodbyes, however. He smiles while shaking Chase’s hand and wishes him luck.
 
Luke wonders if this is how his life will be; traveling from city to city, or out of country dragging his family behind him. Or worse, leaving them behind. But he knows that this is what he was made for. His life experience will round out the skills of the entity before it enters into this world. And Luke may just provide the most important skills it learns. Luke senses that this entity will be extraordinary, even among its kind. It will be a general among generals, and will one day help lead a great army to victory in the final battle against evil. But that day is still a very long time away.
 
 —
 
 —
 
Luke finds himself at another party a few day later, at a gathering inside the estate to celebrate his birthday. Luke had asked his parents permission to refurnish the empty reception hall for the party. After hiring the town’s best interior designer, and giving her a nearly unlimited budget, the results are amazing. Luke normally does not enjoy large crowds. But he wanted to add one fond memory of his own, to the pool of shared memories the entity has of the good times enjoyed in this room.

Luke Barimen (Ambitious, Loner, Lucky, Unflirty, Workaholic)

 —
 
 —
 
Luke knew Sandi wouldn’t miss his birthday for anything. And, indeed, she is there to give him a birthday kiss. He had noticed Sandi trying to quietly leave a couple of times, shortly afterwards, but she stopped after finding Luke’s confused gaze. Each time, all she could offer was a weak smile in response.
 
 —
 
He can sense that she is not in a good place. Nevertheless, he is careful to pay special attention to her while also keeping up with friends and family. If there is one thing he can count on Aunt Tina and his cousins to do flawlessly, it is throwing a party. So while the guests enjoy elegant five-star catering and drinks at the estate (and the antics provided by his cousins), Luke manages to sneak away with Sandi.
 
He silently leads her through the estate and onto the top-floor breezeway overlooking the sea. He holds her, and tells her that he comes up here to think all of the time. The amazing view clears his head and helps him to relax. She stands comfortably nested in front of him, his arms wrapped protectively around her. He can feel her stress melt away. Then he simply asks her to talk to him. Sandi breaths a heavy, shuddering sign and relents.
 
It’s her job. And her father. They’re both making her crazy. He continuously pushes her to peddle his ideas to the town council. She does her best to stand up for herself. But he has a way of getting into her head, and making her feel like a silly little girl. She’s not even good at the job. In fact, she hates it. But her father always reminds her how he has spent half of his life getting her ready for this kind of work. He demands that she stop being selfish, and start thinking about how much progress they can make. But sometimes, she worries that what he’s asking her to do isn’t really progress at all.
 
If it were possible, Luke would hold her even closer. He tries nonetheless, and she smiles in response. Why not do something she wants to do instead? What would it be? Sandi laughs out loud and shakes her head, telling him that it is really stupid. Luke smirks and tells her that he’s already signed up to be in the military and he starts his first deployment at Fort Gnome in a few days. It is something he has always dreamt of doing. And now it’s becoming reality. Dreams are only stupid to those not dreaming them.
 
Sandi turns to face him and kisses him soundly on the lips, then asks him if he knows how long she has wanted to hear those words. Luke smiles and asks her again what it is she would love to do. She blushes and laughs again, then says, half-embarrassed, that she wants to publish her sketches and her poetry. Luke steps back explains that his dad is a publisher, and can probably help her make it happen. Sandi searches his eyes, then after a moment asks if he is serious. But then, Luke can see the excitement disappear. Sandi shrugs her shoulders, then falls into another embrace with Luke. She shakes her head, and reveals that she couldn’t stand living with her father if she were to quit her job.
 
Luke minds works, as he tries to find the words to express his feelings. Sandi has become far closer to him than he has allowed any other sim. In his mind, living together would bring them even closer. And it would remove her from a controlling, conniving father who seems to be using her to forward his own agenda. Luke has often explored his feelings for her, but has never voiced them out loud. The words, I love you, slip out past his lips almost on their own accord.
 
 —
 
Sandi’s curious reaction does not allow the opportunity to for him to finish the thought, which had been asking her to move in with him. She struggles out of their embrace and moves away from him, frantically shaking her head. Half crying, half shouting, Sandi warns him not to use those words ever again. She runs away, before he can speak, disappearing into the estate, and leaving Luke confused, upset, and wondering what he did wrong.
 
He had hoped Sandi would return to the party so they could talk about her outburst. But it didn’t happen. By the end of the night, he is pretty stressed out from being around so many people, and is relieved that they’ve started to go home. Twice now, Sandi has completely flipped out about things that make no sense. The first time was at the church, and she later explained her odd behavior after apologizing. Hopefully, she’ll come around and explain what happened tonight.
 
Luke returns to his spot on the breezeway after the last guests leave. If he had the ability to sleep, he could at least stop thinking about Sandi for a little while. What troubles him more than tonight’s display, is the eerie feeling he gets that her father is somehow at the center of this issue too. Is he still attempting to drive them apart? He contemplates this, praying that he has not damaged their relationship irrevocably. And while he prays, he can hear the deep and masculine voices of the entity, once again reaching out into the cosmos, singing its comforting song for Kacey. Luke presses his lips together and frowns.
 
If he could, he would do the same for Sandi.
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