On the afternoon of Sugar Maple’s birthday, Aspen found her two daughters dancing at the southern edge of their lot. This corner was one of Salix’s favorite places. Though Salix had rolled “materialistic” for her third trait, Aspen knew that, in her heart of hearts, her older daughter was a true nature lover. Whenever she could, she brought her activities out here, choosing to eat or read at the picnic table and to run on the treadmill that overlooked the canyon. She felt grateful that though her love of nature wasn’t an officially recognized trait, Salix always responded to these promptings of her inner heart which drew her outdoors under the big sun.
It was hard to believe that her two daughters were nearly grown. She might not live to see Sugar Maple make it to adulthood–she realized this. And Niko, whose health wasn’t as robust as hers, likely wouldn’t either. Still, with Salix around, she knew that her younger daughter would receive the guidance and support a teen would need. These girls amazed her. She and Niko had always raised them to to be true to themselves. She hoped that they always would be, in spite of randomly rolled traits.
Aspen’s nephew Irving was a little sad at the party. His twin brother Daryl, who’d landed the evil trait, had a way of making his family members feel miserable, and so when they sought refuge at the happier home across the street, they often carried their sadness until the laughter, good food, and jokes convinced them to set it down for a while. As soon as they graduated high school, Daryl was planning to head out on his own to Willow Creek to experience independence. Life for his good father and his true-hearted brother would lighten up a bit without the daily doses of misery which Daryl dished out.
Aspen wondered what her younger daughter was wishing when she stood at the cake. Knowing the family tradition of wishes, it probably had something to do with traits that are true at heart. It’s perhaps the most challenging aspect of being part of a legacy family, submitting to the random rolls of trait and aspiration. What would we choose for ourselves, if we could? But accepting what the game gives and learning how to live true to yourself within those boundaries develops a certain grace, too.
With Cousin Irving cheering and family and friends looking on, Shug blew until she had no more air inside of her.
Aspen felt the sincerity of her daughter’s wish. “This is gonna be a good one! I just know it,” she cheered.
Sugar Maple rolled a trait in honor of the Cupcake, her grandma Linda: Bro.
It suits her, Aspen thought. She’s always had a bro’s taste in wardrobe, and while she was completing her rambunctious scamp aspiration, she developed a fondness for sports and activity.
And yet, thought Aspen, there’s so much more to us than our recognized traits. All these hidden qualities, too, that contribute to forming who we are in whole. Look at this amazing daughter–what mysteries are inside of her that trait and aspiration can’t define?
She also rolled Mansion Baron for her aspiration. Aspen wasn’t quite so sure what to make of that. Their home had grown organically with the family in response to need and a taste for both the practical and whimsical. Everything here had pieces of memory of those who’d come before. She wasn’t sure how she’d feel if Sugar wanted to raze it all and start over.
Poplar had been napping during most of the party, since she’d gotten up before dawn to look for stars through the telescope, and she’d come home from work tired. But before the party ended, she got up and autonomously baked a second birthday cake.
“Thanks, Pop,” Aspen said to her. “That wasn’t necessary, but it sure was nice.”
“Hey,” Poplar replied, “with our two gluttons, Irving and Shug, you think one cake is gonna do it? We gotta feed the sugar-loving beasts!”
After the party ended and the guests left, Aspen and Sugar had time alone together in the kitchen. Sometimes her younger daughter seemed to contain so much within her. Who was this young woman?
Now that she’d rolled bro, she carried a piece of personality from each of her maternal grandparents: glutton like I-dub and bro like Linda. Yet she seemed nothing like either–she was completely herself.
In appearance, she’s got her dad’s eyes and profile. Aspen recognized her own smile in her, that Bough ear-to-ear grin they say came from Aspen’s grandpa, Palo Verde. Like this house, which carries bits and pieces of family on down the line, her daughters, too, carry little pieces of all who’ve come before.
Aspen watched her daughter race through her homework and dive into the extra credit. She was enjoying this. It’s a different way of expressing the glutton trait: Sugar has an intensity of enthusiasm, zest, and appreciation that she brings to everything, not just meals, but homework, too.
Look at that concentration, Aspen thought. There must be hidden genius in there, too.
Aspen felt she didn’t have much to worry about with Sugar Maple. This girl had a trustworthy internal compass.
Salix, on the other hand, seemed to be going through a more trying time. She wasn’t unhappy–she just seemed a little unsure. Or maybe it was that what she seemed sure of didn’t seem like such a good idea to Aspen.
She’d noticed at the party that Salix had become very embarrassed and a little angry when Minsk had openly expressed his affection for her in the kitchen while everyone was gathered around the table.
“I like him a lot,” Salix told her mother. “He’s nice. I feel warm and happy with him. But he’s older. He’s like a marshmallow. I want to feel something different. I want to light up, like you do when you’re with Dad.”
Aspen understood, though she felt compassion for Minsk and a little disappointment, too. Minsk would have been a great addition to the family.
“There’s plenty of time,” she told her daughter. “And lots of people to meet.”
The next morning, Salix stopped Minsk while he was walking past Cradle Rock on his way to the Science Lab.
“I’m glad to see you,” Salix said. “Are we ok?”
“Sure,” he said. “I mean we’re best friends, right? Let’s not let anything get in the way of that.”
While they were chatting, Titus, one of the guys that Salix met when she was working on her first stage of Friend of the World , walked by. She immediately rolled the whim to flirt with him.
She told her mom later that there was just something about him, some edge. Her feet tingled when she looked at him.
Aspen just shook her head.
“We look good together, Mom. Even our outfits matched!”
“It takes more to make a relationship work than appearances,” Aspen said.
“I know,” replied Salix. “Still. If you knew how I felt when I’m around him.”
“Be careful, Sal,” said Aspen.
Their encounter hadn’t gone well. Salix flirted, and it was so fun–all these whirling feelings like giggles inside.
Titus seemed to really enjoy the attention.
Then, he started to yell at her, before her smile had even faded from her face.
“I don’t get it,” Salix told her mom. “After he yelled at me, I wanted to kiss him! I mean, I was mad, and I felt a little hurt, but at the same time, I was just tingling inside, and I just wanted to lean across and kiss him!”
Aspen took a deep breath and exhaled slowly and completely.
“You know? You grew up with a hot-head, mean aunt. You and she are great friends. Maybe that whole dynamic of someone you love yelling at you, then being sweet to make up for it, maybe that feels normal to you by now. Baby, it’s not normal, and it’s not healthy. We love your aunt, and we try to minimize her bad behavior, but being mean and yelling at the ones you love is not normal or healthy in any way.”
Salix looked a little confused.
“Poplar’s family,” Aspen continued. “She was born here and this will always be her home. These traits she has–she didn’t choose them. So it’s our job to love her and accept her and help her have the best life she can, while also doing our best to not let her actions cause us pain. And they don’t! We know she’s got things going on she can’t control so we accept it without letting it upset us.”
“Choosing the man you want to live with and have children with,” Aspen said, “that’s different. It’s madness to choose someone that shows that they will abuse you–and yelling at you is verbal abuse. It might feel exciting at the time, but don’t get sucked into that. Wait until you find somebody that makes your toes tingle who doesn’t also bring a dose of pain.”
Salix thought about Minsk again. It was nice the warm, happy way he made her feel. And he would never do anything to hurt her, she saw that. If only… if only he also made her toes tingle, just a little bit!