Until It Breaks – Chapter 17

Do Yourself A Favor

The party was already in full swing, when Valerie came back from the supermarket that evening. People were dancing, laughing, having fun and in the midst of it were Liam Fitzgerald and Josh Larimore, the two who had organised the dorm’s “Semester kick-off”.

Valerie dropped by the grill to unload the hotdogs she had bought and made her way over to the guys. Liam waved as he spotted her. Valerie had met him in one of her classes and he had handed her a flyer for his party. He seemed nice, maybe a little quiet, but Valerie was glad for the opportunity to make some more friends.
“Hey, Valerie! Glad you could make it!”, he beamed at her.
“Hi, Liam. Yeah, I brought some hotdogs for the grill, just dropped them off. Nice party you set up here!”

“Awesome, we were running out already. Oh, that reminds me I need to send Josh to get more beer.”
He turned around and tipped the shoulder of a tall guy with black hair who was currently cracking jokes with a girl who looked like she didn’t exactly appreciate his effort. Josh turned, looking rather annoyed at Liam’s interruption.
“What is it?”
“Dude, were almost out of beer.”

Like he just had cold water splashed in his face, Josh straightened up. His lady friend used the time to quietly escape.
“We can’t have that!”, he announced and ran off, presumably to re-initiate the beer supply. Valerie giggled. His jokes might be lame but Josh always seemed involuntarily funny. Liam just rolled his eyes.
“He has to make a show out of everything”, he grumbled.
“What’s that, grumpy face?”, Valerie playfully nudged him. “Come on, let’s have some fun.”
Liam smiled again as she pulled him towards the stereo and they started dancing, though he did so rather clumsily.

Valerie felt incredibly relaxed today. The more weeks went by the less afraid she was of being discovered. If no one had noticed so far, why would they now? She had taken to enjoying her time at Havencrest as thoroughly as possible. And while clubs weren’t her thing, hanging out with friends and having a good time at a dorm party definitely suited her.
They danced for a while, without saying anything only stealing occasional glances at each other. Liam seemed to loosen up and his flailing was looking more like actual dancing now. Suddenly, Valerie spotted Eva at a table, who waved for her to come over.
“Hey, I’m gonna be back, just saying hi to a friend”, she told Liam who nodded and continued his thing which he called dancing. Valerie felt his gaze on her back as she made her way over to Eva.
“Seems like you’re enjoying yourself”, Eva mumbled and sipped from her drink. Her disgruntled tone made Valerie startle.

“I am. You don’t seem to be?”, she asked confused as to what was going on. Eva’s expression darkened.
“I just saw someone I’d rather not like to meet again.”
Valerie turned to follow Eva’s gaze and spotted Liam staring at her with a face just as dark. Now what the hell…

“You’re gonna tell me what that means?”
“Not today”, Eva answered and downed her drink. “But do yourself a favor and stay away from that guy.”

Next: Chapter 18

Until It Breaks – Chapter 16

Nice to Meet You

The first few days of college had passed in a blur. Valerie had gotten her schedule straightened out by now but it had been a bumpy ride. If she hadn’t already been a nervous wreck when she had arrived at Havencrest… The fear of being exposed was never receding. And the constant anticipation for her latest vision to come true wasn’t helping the stress either. But so far, it had not.

At least she didn’t run into this Mr. Dalton. She had checked his picture on the university website to make sure to avoid him. He didn’t know what she looked like but Valerie liked to be cautious.

Then again, the dean hadn’t recognized her from the student’s interviews – and how could he since she hadn’t been there. Valerie had been sure to be exposed then and there. But the dean had Valerie on his list of new students, so he had convinced himself that he had simply forgotten. Crisis averted.

Today was actually her first class of psychology: behavior principles. She was beyond excited. This was what she came here for, to become a psychologist. And maybe uncover the mystery of her weird dream visions in the process. She knew about one class which dealt with the subconscious but it wasn’t until next semester.

Valerie was running late but she could already see the classroom at the end of the hall. She scurried into the small class room and quickly sat down on the next free spot – just in time for the professor to walk in and start talking.
“Welcome to Psychology 105, behavior principles. My name is Professor Richards, some of you might know…”

Valerie’s focus on the lecture was interrupted by the girl next to her who was still rustling head under the table to find something in her back. Rather annoyed, Valerie turned back to face the professor but just the girl emerged from her search, victoriously holding a notebook in hand which she put on the table. Valerie stiffened as she realized who she was sitting next to.

The red-haired girl smiled at her briefly then turned back to listen to the lecture. Valerie had no idea if the girl knew who she was. She should know, Ethan could have told her all about the deal with Valerie. But then again she had shown no signs of recognizing her, so maybe she didn’t know. Fear suddenly grabbed hold of her. If this girl did know about the deal, she could most certainly expose her.

The girl curiously turned towards Valerie while the professor was writing something on the board. Valerie grabbed a pen to jot it down just as the girl leaned towards her.
“I’m Eva, by the way”, she whispered and smiled. Valerie still wasn’t sure if she knew who she was.
“Valerie…”, she answered cautiously.

“Nice to meet you”, Eva said and she sounded sincere, “I feel so lost in this place, I know no one. It’s nice to get to know people. Do you know anyone here?”
Okay, now I’m sure she has no idea who I am. Valerie was about to reply but suddenly the professor turned and looked at her.
“If you want to chat, you can do it outside. This is a lecture”, he said grimly.

Valerie’s face flushed red. She had only said one word! Eva had done all the talking. Reprimanded on the first day of class. Valerie felt like she wanted to die. But then, Eva spoke up.
“I’m sorry, Sir. It was my fault, I started talking”, she admitted and hung her head. Valerie felt a wave of gratefulness wash over her as the professor’s attention turned towards Eva.

“Well, don’t do it again! I’ll take a note of this”, he snapped and continued his lecture. Valerie quickly scribbled a thank you on a piece of paper and shoved it across the desk. Eva grinned. No problem, really. That professor is a douche. she scribbled back and started doing an impression of the professor featuring his grumpy face. Valerie put her hand on her mouth to stifle her laughter. The rest of the lecture went down quietly and the two girls headed outside.
“Wanna grab a snack? They say the campus has a secret hot dog stand and I want to find it”, Eva suggested as they walked out of the class room.

Valerie still couldn’t believe that the first person she met in class would be her. But on the other hand, she had seemed nice enough so far. Maybe Ethan was just using her like he was Jenny.
“A snack sounds good”, she replied and followed Eva on her quest.

Next: Chapter 17

The Sims Panel and my Experience at Gamescom 2016

I was invited to the sims panel at Gamescom 2016 by SimGuruDrake! It took place on Thursday 18th in Cologne and I want to summarize everything I’ve learned for you guys and share my experience. First up, I’d like to thank her and EA for the lovely goodie bag I received (I’ll include a picture below) and for the nice dinner. It was a really fun day! But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning. (If you don’t care about my experience and just want to read about the panel, scroll down to the heading that says “The Panel”)

Trade visitor entrance at Gamescom

Chaotic organization – but in the end, it all worked out

About two weeks ago I was asked by SimGuruDrake on Twitter whether I wanted to attend the closed sims panel at Gamescom. EA didn’t have a sims booth in the public area this year but the team felt the need to do something, so they invited a bunch of fans and creators from all over the world to attend this panel and Q&A.

I was super excited that I had been selected! Given the fact that neither my Twitter nor my Youtube channel are particularly big. SimGuruDrake asked for my full name and E-Mail address which I gave to her. Now here it starts. I have a middle name which is also printed on my ID so I wasn’t sure if I had to give her that, too. I did and explicitly put my middle name as part of my first name. Two days later I received an invitation E-Mail by EA. I was asked to register to confirm my attendance – only that my middle name was put as my last name and I could not change it. I told SimGuruDrake about the matter and she said she’d have them work on it – which never happened. In all follow-up E-Mails I was addressed as Mrs. <Middle Name>. In the invitation for my ticket I received later even my first name was slightly changed.

Now, I don’t particularly care what they think my name is but I wasn’t sure whether I would get inside Gamescom with a false name printed on my ticket. Since I didn’t hear back from anyone at EA I had no choice. Glad for me, no one cared for my ID and I got in fine – so it all worked out in the end. Good to know if I ever go to Gamescom as a trade visitor again. (But let me tell you, being a trade visitor is not as exciting as I thought it would be. You got in faster but all the booths in the business area required an appointment. I wish I had one for 2k games, they had a real pub in their booth.)

Do you see the pub?

At least I didn’t have to endure the insanity that is visiting gamescom as a normal visitor (not trade visitor). I did it before and the trade visitors entrance was so much smoother and less crowded.

Public entertainment area

I arrived at the venue at 11 am. The panel was scheduled for 1pm but I wanted to check out the place so I would know where to go later. This was because in none of the E-Mails about tickets, schedules or other things the location of the panel was ever mentioned. Literally no one knew, where it was taking place. I went to the EA business area and asked one of the ladies at the desk about it. First off, she had no idea what the sims panel was. Then she led me through the business lounge for 10 minutes trying to find someone who knew what was going on. Gladly, we found SimGuruDrake there and I thought, yay, confusion is gonna clear up soon. Drake said she knew about the problem and told me to follow her. I explained that I only wanted her to tell me where exactly the sims panel was going to be. Instead, she disappeared into a closed booth and said she’d be right back. So I waited… and waited. She didn’t come back for 15 minutes and I decided to ask the girls sitting at the booth desk what was going on.

They confirmed to me that the sims panel was taking place in that booth – finally! I took off then and spread the information through Twitter. After that ordeal, I needed some of the free drinks in the business lounge to cool down.

EA business lounge

Meeting other Simmers – the best part of the day

This was probably the most fun part of my whole day. Meeting like-minded and fun people whom I normally only know off the internet. I met some really great – and famous – simmers, like SourpatchSimmer, EnglishSimmer, LittleMissSimmer, Deligracy, H_Lebanna, Sims_Online, HatsyYT and JamesTurnerYT. Oh, and not to forget Cinderellimouse who was there as a cardboard popup and got to take pictures with all the people. (PS: these names I mentioned are all Twitter handles)

Guess who I am

Talking to these guys inspired me to get back into youtube more and to continue to engage in the community on Twitter. None of my friends play the sims and I doubt they would get what I do – so it was refreshing to discuss it with people who understood and liked the same things. Simmers really are the best people!

After the panel, we went to an Italian restaurant in cologne and had a great dinner with many funny conversations (“Sock monster stuff confirmed.” (this was a joke, there’s no sock monster stuff coming)). The Gurus engaged into conversation with all of us and we had an amazing time. Rachel Franklin even offered to send me a Sims 4 launch T-Shirt when I mentioned I didn’t get one at Gamescom 2014. Food was great, too! All in all, this was an amazing experience and again I’d like to thank EA for making this possible – and SimGuruDrake for the invitation. Despite the chaotic organization, I had a great time in the end!

For those of you, who’ve always wondered – SimGuruDrake is in the bottom right, with the purple hair

The Panel – About disclosure and development

Now, this is probably the section you are reading this blogpost for: The Sims Panel. After we got settled in the small cinema room – I would say there were about 25 of us – one of the EA community managers started his presentation (yes, I admit, I forgot his name. But apparently, he was important). EDIT: I just learned, his name is Chris Mancil.

His talk started out promising – he talked about how EA wanted to work closer with content creators and fans, like us. The community vision is about letting fans and influencers have more say by providing more ways to give feedback, like surveys, creator camps and more. He said that EA wants to encourage Content Creation and collaboration with fans and influencers.

“Honesty is the best policy.”

At this point, he bridged over to another topic: Disclosure. In my eyes, this part of his talk can be summarized in one sentence: Whenever you receive something from EA you have to disclose it to your fans/viewers/readers at the beginning of your content. I can’t believe he stretched that out to a talk of 15 minutes.  (You’ll probably recognize the first few sentences of this blog post now).

There was one more notable thing. He talked about EA’s program called Ronku, which handles sponsoring – and also works with celebrities to endorse products. He said that this wasn’t for The Sims yet, but he said it might be a thing in the future. Just so you know.

“We love constructive feedback.”

Next up was SimGuruDrake herself. Her talk was focused on the community side of The Sims. Heads up, this wasn’t about how or when the sims team shares information about new packs (that comes later) but about features on official sims channels and community events.

I didn’t note down a lot from this presentation – a lot of the usual “We embrace your creativity” stuff. A funny tidbit she shared: The Sims team has an E-Mail called “Sims 4 spam” which they use to share awesome builds and posts from the community.

The more interesting part was the question session afterward. I summarized a few interesting questions and SimGuruDrake’s answers for you guys:

  • Many features on official sims channels are about YouTubers – what about sims story blogs? That’s definitely on Drake’s plan for the future. She has a long list of blogs she would like to feature. Some they can’t feature for various reasons, e.g. when the blog shares content not suitable for younger readers or when it’s more of a personal life story blog. But it’s on her radar!
  • Would it be possible to let us chat with SimGurus on our own lifestreams? Yes, that’s actually in planning. You can always reach out to the team to request interviews or chats even with smaller Gurus. They would love to give developers more exposure even those who aren’t normally in the front row.
  • What about promoting custom content on official sims channels? (After this question, Drake had to think for a little while and didn’t quite know what to say). She then explained that CC is a bit of a legal gray area and that they can’t feature it on official channels because it would give people the wrong ideas. For example, they might think that it’s EA’s fault if CC breaks their game or that they will fix it if it doesn’t work. However, she said that she loves looking at CC and finds it very creative. When I pointed out to her that I have seen sims being featured on the German sims facebook page that obviously included lots of custom content,  she and important guy shared this weird “What’s she talking about”-look. I have a feeling someone is getting in trouble for this.
  • Could you make some sort of office tour video at Maxis? Drake said this would be a really neat idea. She wasn’t sure if they would make a youtube video out of it though. She pointed out that many SimGurus already shared office pictures on Snapchat and Instagram and that they might expand that.

 

How We Make the Game – Insights by Rachel Franklin and Lyndsay Pearson feat. Gnomes

Next up was the really interesting part of the panel: Insights into the process of the game’s development and their communication strategy. Now, this was where I learned the most, especially about how difficult it is to decide what packs to make and what information to share. The community often criticizes the way information about new packs is released and I admit – I was one of them. But the panel has given me a lot of insights that enable me to have a more objective opinion of things. I thank Rachel and Lyndsay for doing this and I think if the whole community had been there, there would be a lot less hate towards the team in the future. The presentation was fun – especially because of the crazy gnome pictures included everywhere. I didn’t snap a picture but there was a very interesting variation of “The Creation of Adam” featuring Bob Pancakes and lots (lots!) of Gnomes (I’m gonna leave that to your mind to visualise). Now that I think of it, maybe it wouldn’t have been wise to include a picture of that in this post anyway. But we all had a good laugh about it.

The presentation started off with the vision the team has for the game. Now this was nothing concrete like pack names (did you really expect that?) but interesting nonetheless. So the team’s vision is based on four pillars:

  • Life inspires us – keeping things relatable (not necessarily realistic) by creating features which are inspired by real life, though often simified (I mean honestly, how else could you justify cowplants).
  • Creativity Tools – Enabling simmers to make the game their own and using their creativity to make amazing things. As far as I understood, this includes not making content and tools too specific to not limit people’s creativity.
  • Entertainment and Fun – While inspired by real life, Sims is supposed to be entertaining and have fun features which sometimes are refreshingly offbeat.
  • Friendly and Inclusive – The community is a big part of The Sims’s success and the team wants to make sure everyone feels like they can be part of The Sims and make it their own (think of the gender customization update).

 

“Game packs are deep, while expansion packs are broad.”

Rachel and Lyndsay shared an explanation on how they view stuff packs, game packs and expansion packs.

  • Stuff packs –  Very specific sets and gameplay objects, are created with a specific situation in mind
  • Game packs – Think of it as a storyline, it’s still specific but there’s more than objects and it’s all about telling a story in your own playstyle. Game packs can get pretty deep too.
  • Expansion packs – These are more like multiple storylines, spread broadly but not necessarily deep. Again all playstyles should be covered.

I found that a very interesting insight. Before this panel, I used to think “Expansion packs should just have even more stuff.”  if you realize that expansion packs are not necessarily more detailed than game packs, they just include more possibilites, you think about it differently.

What happens next?

This is a question simmers aks themselves every day: Which pack gets out next? Rachel and Lyndsay explained a bit on that process – and why they just don’t announce everything they have at once.

First off, the showed a few factors that are used to determine which pack should be developed:

  • Sims History – What was there in previous games
  • Games & Player needs – Player feedback and developer feedback
  • In-game technology – What mechanics can we build on?
  • New ideas – Take risks, make something innovative
  • Seasonality – Does this feel like a summer or winter pack?

They also showed that they are often working at 5 or 6 packs at the time while 2 or 3 more are in planning.  And while most of their developers work on expansion packs, the small stuff pack team seems to be the most productive. There’s also a team called “Updates & Fixes” which is new for the Sims 4 and deals only with free content updates and patches.

Why not announce everything?

Of course we as simmers want all the information at once – when will we finally get toddlers, seasons and pets, huh? But after this panel, I’ve realised it’s not that easy. Especially with the team wanting to keep things interesting with new ideas rather than just warm up the usual expansions. But in terms of announcing here are a few key points that show why they don’t announce a pack as soon as it goes into planning.

  • Things might not work out. If the team realises they have to change important things in the pack due to technical reasons or add other stuff to replace it, many fans might be disappointed. Retracting statements is never good. So they decide to show a pack when it’s clear that no considerable changes have to be made and that things work out the way they are supposed to.
  • Be able to show stuff. If a pack would be announced just when the sims team starts planning it, there would be nothing to show – no animations, no items, no art. As long as that is the case, it’s just words. So the team decides to announce packs when they have something real to show us. At this point, they also said they don’t want to make fans wait too long between the announcement and the release.
  • Keeping track. If the team would communicate every step of development to the fans, fans’ heads would be spinning. Since there are so many projects at once it might be hard to keep track. So the policy is quality over quantity.
  • The perfect timing. This means that e.g. a tropical island pack would rather be announced and released in the summer rather than winter (though Rachel said it almost never happens that finished packs are held off because of this). It’s also about the feature space on origin – EA has other games too and they have to make sure to find a good time to talk about the sims. So announcing a new expansion when they just launched a new battlefield game might not be a good idea.

So, I guess your heads might be spinning already from all of this information. There’s one last interesting thing I’d like to share which was a graphic about balance. Making new packs for the sims is about balancing a lot of aspects and it’s difficult to hit the sweet spot:

  • Believable and fantastical
  • Sandbox and structured
  • Stable and fast to launch
  • Humorous and respectful
  • Bountiful and affordable
  • Innovative and expected

And this made me understand a lot of the struggles the sims team goes through while developing our favorite game. But they all put their heart into it and try to do their very best!

After the panel, we all received a bag of goodies and I swear this Sims 4 hoodie made my day! So comfy!

No, that’s not my name.

That was it about the panel and my experience at Gamescom 2016. I hope those of you who sadly couldn’t be there are filled in now and that you enjoyed these insights!

Until It Breaks – Chapter 15

Helpless

An eerie silence filled the unfamiliar corridor. She had no idea where she was or how shegotten here. She felt helpless and mad at herself but didn’t know why. There were several doors leading away from the corridor. She realized they were marked with signs like bathrooms at restaurants.

A familiar urge to open one of the doors came over her. But she wasn’t afraid this time. She was about to discover something sad, she knew it. Something that didn’t quite fit in with the view she had on things. This time she knew she wanted to go in there. She grabbed the handle and entered the room that was supposed to be the women’s bathroom. As she went inside she heard a sound from one of the stalls.

After the complete silence of the corridor it practically bellowed through the room. The sound made her heart ache. Something was deeply wrong. If only she could help.

Valerie woke up in an unfamiliar bedroom. Her first reaction was panic until she remembered that she had moved into the student’s dorm a few days ago. She still wasn’t used to it. The walls were still bare and it didn’t feel like home just yet.

And then the dream… Valerie knew immediately that is was the same type of dream she had before Jenny’s party. She felt scared and curious at the same time. What had she heard in that bathroom? And why? But if this was going to turn out like last time she didn’t want to know. What if this would only pull her into another messy situation? Was there a way of avoiding the vision to come true? Don’t go into any bathrooms. 

Valerie shook her head. She had no idea where the corridor she had seen was located. She couldn’t stay in her room forever just to avoid it. She remembered the feeling of helplessness and anger that had washed over her in the dream. It wasn’t as bad as the shock she had felt last time but still not a feeling she treasured. Would she be able to make it through?

She looked at the clock above her nightstand. 4 am. Time to get some more sleep before her first day of college. Starting at Havencrest still felt surreal. It was her dream yet she felt increasingly less excited about actually attending the school. There were so many things that could go wrong. And with these recurring visions, she felt more confused than ever. At least some of these classes might help her understand what was happening to her. Valerie had a feeling it was nothing good.

Next: Chapter 16

Until It Breaks – Chapter 14

None of Your Business

Valerie was actually impressed how Ethan had managed to set up a full blown birthday party within less than a week. The venue was decorated with Jenny’s favourite flowers, there even was a pianist playing in the background and how Ethan had found a caterer this last minute was completely beyond her.
Jenny had done a good job at acting all surprised when Ethan had brought her here. Of course, no one would miss a Crawford party these days so there were plenty of people there, even more than at Jenny’s house party. Where it all began…

Ethan had given Jenny a beautiful silver bracelet as a gift which looked like it had cost a lot of money. It was not very personal in Valerie’s eyes, but Jenny was beyond thrilled. And who knew, maybe it was personal to her. Maybe there was a story, maybe she had always wanted a bracelet like this. Once again, Valerie felt like she didn’t know the new Jennifer Crawford at all. The old Jenny she had been friends with all these years ago had been different.

Valerie had tried to mingle with the guests for a while but she didn’t know these people. She always had trouble making new friends so she decided to stay on the sidelines for now.

She watched Jenny bounce through the crowd and happily chat with everyone she did or didn’t know. She had always been the more social one.

Someone emerged from the crowd of guests and steered towards Valerie. Surprisingly enough, it was Ethan.

He sat down next to her on the bench. They both didn’t say anything for a while and simply watched the guests as if they were both tired of partying.

“How did you do this?”, Valerie suddenly asked and turned to look at him curiously. He didn’t look back at here but instead just smirked.
“People tend to owe me favors.”
Now, what the hell does that mean?  Valerie almost wanted to ask him about it but instead just shrugged it off. It’s none of my business. But it intrigued her nonetheless.
“Aren’t you going to party with the rest?”, Ethan wanted to know. Valerie shook her head but Ethan wasn’t looking at her.
“I don’t know anyone here”, she said instead and Ethan chuckled.
“You know me”, he said. Doesn’t make it better… “And Jenny. Oh, and her. Kind of.”
He pointed at a girl in the crowd who had escaped Valerie’s attention until now. Maybe she had just arrived. But Valerie recognized the flaming red hair instantly.

Anger flared up inside of her, remembering the scene she had witnessed at Jenny’s last party. If it hadn’t been for them, she would be in a different place right now.
The red-haired girl turned to look at them and winked at Ethan. Ethan smiled back ever so slightly just so that the girl would see it as a sign of recognition but not enough to make anyone notice. Valerie was dumbfounded. For some reason, she had assumed that this girl had been just a fling, a one-night stand for Ethan. Or that he had broken it off after they were discovered. He had never mentioned her once after the incident, yet here she was. And there clearly was something between them still.

“You’re serious about her”, she stated. It wasn’t a question and Ethan didn’t feel the need to answer.
“Did you ever feel that way about Jenny?”, Valerie didn’t even know why she was asking him this. He was just a jerk. But part of her was wondering about his sincerity. Bullcrap. How could someone like Ethan Alexander ever be sincere?
Ethan suddenly looked at her as if he had heard her thoughts.

He opened his mouth as if he was about to answer the question then closed it again.
“It’s none of your business”, he grumbled. The red-haired looked over again then turned and made her way to the garden door.

Valerie couldn’t help but admire her for a second. She had this aura of confidence, yet mystery at the same time. She could see why Ethan was attracted to her. It’s no excuse… she thought solemnly.

Ethan made an attempt to get up.
“Where do you think you’re going?”, Valerie suddenly burst out angrily. She couldn’t believe Ethan would do this at Jenny’s birthday party.
“None of your business”, he grinned and simply walked away.

Next: Chapter 15

Until It Breaks – Chapter 13

Missed Calls

Where is this damn thing?, Valerie thought while rummaging through her room. Her phone had to be here somewhere she usually didn’t leave it lying around for long. But today she couldn’t find it.

She had looked everywhere: her purse from last night, her dresser, her desk, her… Valerie sighed as she began to accept what she had refused to believe. She had lost her phone at the party with Jenny. Dammit.

In one last desperate attempt she got down on her knees and peeked under the bed – hard thing to do without a phone to use as a light source. The longer you keep looking the more unlikely it gets that you ever find the thing. Suddenly there was a knock on the door and without waiting for Valerie’s answer Jenny stepped in. Valerie got up from her uncomfortable position half under the bed.

She was surprised to see Jenny here. Maybe she found my phone, she thought excitedly.
“Your mom let me in”, Jenny simply said without even greeting her. Valerie was confused but tried to brush it off.
“Nice to see you. Have you by chance seen -”
“This?”, Jenny asked holding Valerie’s phone up.

Valerie nodded, grateful that she didn’t lose the phone at the party after all. She smiled.
“Yes, thanks so much, I was looking for it everywhere!”
She attempted to grab the phone but Jenny pulled it back. Valerie’s smile faltered as she noticed Jenny’s expression – she had one eyebrow raised and did not look happy.

“I found it at the party last night. I wanted to give it to you straight away but I thought you’d lose it again. You had a few drinks”, Jenny said. Valerie didn’t understand. Was Jenny mad about her getting drunk? Jenny hadn’t exactly been abstinent either.
“What’s your point?”, Valerie asked slowly. Jenny’s face hardened.
“You have missed calls.”

Missed calls? By whom? Her mom? Why would Jenny be mad about her mom calling? Who else would be calling – oh no. Valerie’s face must have shown some sign of realization because Jenny looked as if she was about to explode. And Valerie knew that face.
“You said there was nothing going on.”

“There isn’t Jenny, I swear -”
“THEN WHY DOES HE CALL YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. WHY THE HELL DOES HE EVEN HAVE YOUR NUMBER? WHY ARE YOU IN HIS CALL HISTORY ON DAYS HE REFUSED TO SEE ME?”, Jenny burst out.

Valerie almost started crying as the whole weight of the situation came crashing down on her. Almost.
“It’s not what you think, Jenny, just let me explain”, she whispered in an attempt to calm Jenny’s rage.
“You’d better. I’m really curious about what you’ll come up with”, Jenny grumbled. Valerie had no idea what to tell her. Then she realized that this was probably the best chance she would get to tell the truth. The truth about Ethan and his slimy ways. And the truth about her keeping this secret to illegally get into her dream college. About him threatening to expose her if she told Jenny about him.
“I really didn’t want to be the one to tell you this”, she started.
“Tell me what?”, Jenny asked impatiently.
“Ethan and I have been meeting, because…”

“Yes?”
“Please don’t make me tell you this, Jenny. It was supposed to be a surprise”, Valerie pleaded in an attempt to avoid what she was about to do – again.
“A surprise? Very funny. Just tell me already”, Jenny angrily insisted.
“We’ve been planning a surprise party for your birthday.”
The lie crossed her lips easily. She had almost done it. She had almost told the truth. But something had stopped her. Jenny’s eyes widened.
“Are you kidding me?”
“We’ve been busy with the preparations… I didn’t know you would misunderstand like this.”
Jenny hung her head.
“I’m so sorry, Val. If I had known…”
“It’s fine”, Valerie couldn’t believe that she was the one forgiving Jenny. “Just pretend to be surprised, okay?”
Jenny’s expression perked up and she actually smiled at Valerie.
“I sure will. A surprise party! He really is the best boyfriend ever. I’m sorry I ever doubted you”, she giggled excitedly.

Valerie’s stomach twisted. I’m the biggest piece of shit ever.
“I’m gonna leave for the gym now. And don’t worry, I know nothing”, Jenny winked. “Oh and here’s your phone.”
She tossed Valerie the phone and walked out. Valerie stood there slowly realizing what she had just done. She quickly dialed Ethan’s number.
“Yes?”, his brash voice greeted her at the other end.

“I really hope you have a nice birthday present for Jenny.”