When I was a child, my mum used to tell me that I could do anything I put my mind to.
She’s the youngest mayor Starlight Shores has ever had. Easy for her to say, right? If I had been ambitious like her, I might have doubted it more. That is, if I hadn’t been the sort of person who never doubted anyone.
My ideals were firmly planted in the innocent-until-proven-guilty, glass-is-half-full camp. Some would have called me naive, which I supposed was not far from the truth, but in the end I’d rather have been naive than a cynic, even if it meant knowingly opening myself to the possibility of hurt and betrayal. Some people would take advantage of that, and some wouldn’t, but I liked to give them the benefit of the doubt as a general rule. If they then turned out to be jerks, well, at least my consequential anger was justified.
Whenever I formed attachments to other people, I ran the risk of heartbreak. In other words, it was a necessary and unavoidable part of a life lived in the company of others. But sometimes, I just needed a space where being hurt wasn’t a possibility. Which was why, sad as it may sound, my best friend wasn’t another person, but a cat.
Ash had been around as long as I could remember, and most of the family never paid her much attention anymore, but I loved her. Sometimes, I wondered if it was right to love an animal as much as I did that cat, but I felt safe allowing myself to care for her, knowing she wasn’t capable of taking advantage of me. All humans had that capability, even if they never acted on it, but animals were different. I could trust them with my heart.
I had always dreamed of owning more animals than just the one, and had begged my parents for it countless times as a child, but Dad was the only other member of the family with any interest in pets. So I contented myself with other people’s pets and the occasional stray, and showered Ash with as much love as I had to give. After all, she was all I had, and the last of her nine lives would soon be coming to a close.
There came an evening, however, when Ash was no longer the only animal who could claim my undivided time and attention.
I was strolling along the beach on my way home from school, the way I did almost every day. Today, though, I had finished several hours later than usual, owing to the fact that I had just attended my first after-school music class. I had little interest in extracurricular activities, but Mum, who was a passionate advocate for the value of a good education, had insisted that I and my brothers each choose one activity to sign up for, or she would choose for us.
I had been resentful about it all week, but my resentment melted away the moment I laid eyes on the dreamlike scene before me. Four large horses, unbridled and unsaddled, their glossy coats shining in the setting sun, were ambling peacefully about the shore right in front of me. The breeze caught and tangled their long manes and tails, twisting the strands around lean, powerful bodies, and their stamping hooves created unmistakeable prints in the sand where they walked.
I could do little more than stand there with my mouth hanging open as I stared. I would have suffered through a hundred- no, a thousand music classes if I’d known that this would be my reward.
The horses didn’t seem to notice me at first. I had never been to the beach so close to dark, and with the late Autumn weather as chilly as it was, I was the only person in sight. Perhaps that was why they felt comfortable being so out in the open. It had never occurred to me that there might be wild horses in Starlight Shores, and I briefly wondered if they had escaped from somewhere nearby. Somehow, I couldn’t reconcile the noisy, bustling urban environment of my hometown with the tranquil beauty of the creatures in front of me.
The first evening, I just stood at a distance and watched them. Once they spotted me, it became clear that my presence made them uneasy, and I didn’t want to scare them away. I knew that it could take a long time to gain an animal’s trust, so I was patient and waited, hoping that my caution would eventually pay off.
In the days and weeks that followed, the horses gradually became accustomed to me, and allowed me to close the distance just a little with each visit. Music class had suddenly become a blessing, a convenient excuse which allowed me to pursue the things I truly loved.
Within a month or two, some of the bolder animals had allowed me close enough to pat them gently or feed them treats. I had never ridden a horse, and I didn’t dare test the limits of the tentative bond that had grown between us. Perhaps someday I could learn, but not with a wild animal like this. That took care and experience that I knew I didn’t posess – at least not yet – but I made a mental note to look up riding lessons when I got home.
When the sun had dropped below the horizon and I felt myself starting to shiver in the cold sea breeze, I knew it was time to leave. But there was one more stop I needed to make before heading home.
Up the hill from the beach was a high-class bistro which sold appalingly expensive food. Behind the bistro was a narrow alley where they kept the dumpsters and any junk they didn’t want cluttering up the fancy interior of the place. None of the staff went back there if they could help it, and most people didn’t even know it existed, but I visited that alley every day. Because underneath the dumpster lived a family of stray cats, fleabitten and half-starved, who would have been dead long ago had I not stumbled across them by sheer luck when I was twelve years old. Every evening since, I had come back here after school to feed them with what scraps I could save from the previous night’s dinner.
“Did you miss me?” I asked the large calico as I bent down to scratch her behind the ears. “I know I’m later than usual. Were you worried I wouldn’t come back?”
She meowed impatiently and nudged my hand aside with her nose, sniffing hopefully at my schoolbag. I laughed, taking the hint, and extracted the carefully wrapped plate of food I had been carrying with me all day.
“Autumn salad on the menu tonight, folks,” I announced as I unwrapped the plate of vegetables and placed it on the ground by the dumpster. The four cats scrambled to get their meal. Most felines would have turned up their noses at raw vegetables, but I supposed these ones were in no position to be picky. Compared to the literal garbage they ate the rest of the time, this was practically gourmet.
I waited until the plate was clean, which didn’t take long at all, before retrieving it from the ground and stowing it back inside my bag. Mum would not be happy if one of her dinner plates went missing… especially since this wasn’t the first time I’d accidentally left a piece of crockery under the dumpster. I never told her where they went, but I’m sure she guessed it was my fault. If my twin Hugo was the athletic sibling, and our brother Gabriel was the smart one, then I was the resident scatterbrain.
I gave each of the cats an affectionate pat before bidding them goodbye for the evening and promising to return the following day. It was midwinter by now, and I worried about them being warm enough where they slept underneath the dumpster. At least the alley, flanked by tall buildings, was mostly sheltered from the heavy snow that surrounded our house up in the hills.
My parents and Gabriel were nowhere to be seen when I arrived home half an hour later. I walked into the rec room in search of Ash, but found Hugo instead, pumping his way through a set of chin-ups with such intensity that his arms were shaking from the effort. I sighed, wondering how long he’d been at it. He only ever pushed himself this hard when he was upset and looking for a distraction.
“Are you okay?” I asked, concerned.
Hugo finished his set and let go of the bar, breathing heavily and trembling from overexertion. “When did you get home?” he asked, ignoring my question. Or perhaps he hadn’t noticed me until now. He did get pretty focused when he worked out.
“Just now. Are you okay?” I repeated.
He hesitated for a fraction of a second too long. “Yeah. Fine.” He didn’t meet my gaze as he brushed past me and left the room. I heard his footsteps on the stairs, and a few moments later, a door slammed. I sighed.
People were complicated.
As you may have noticed, Hope’s story is going to be heavy on the pets. I’ve never really made good use of my Pets expansion, especially the horses, so I’m interested to see what it’s like from a gameplay perspective. Whoever becomes the heir, I’ve decided I’m going to try something I’ve never tried before ingame for a career/life path, so I’m pretty excited for that!
This chapter is the first in a series of three opening chapters for Generation 4, told from the perspectives of each of the three heirs. Hugo’s chapter will be posted tomorrow, and then Gabriel’s the day after. I wanted to have them all finished before I posted any, which is why this one wasn’t up days ago. The main reason for this is that they all take place over the same day, so while I wrote each chapter I wanted to be able to edit the others to prevent continuity errors and such. The heir vote will go up the day after Gabriel’s chapter is released, to give you a chance to read all three.