4.2

There was nothing more satisfying than the sound of sizzling meat in my pan. The kitchen smelled of fish and herbs, and I was pretty pleased at my first attempt at this dish. Maybe I should have gone for something I knew I could do well, given the occasion, but I didn’t want to make the same old boring food I always made tonight.

“Five more minutes,” I said when Mum stuck her head into the kitchen.

“Are you sure I can’t help?”

Yes! Now sit down or dance with grandma, or whatever it is you want to do. It’s your party, Mum.”

She smiled, and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “Thank you.”

Grandpa Milan and Grandma Morrigan were over to celebrate Mum’s promotion. She’d just made Chief of Police, and I had offered to cater. We weren’t short on money exactly, but this was huge and I wanted to help. Mum had achieved her dream; the least I could do was cook some haddock in white wine sauce with garlic new potatoes and green beans.

Okay, so I did use her party to show off some new recipes I’d been dying to try. Mum usually let me cook whatever I wanted and bought the ingredients I needed, but this was the latest winner from SimChef (followed by chocolate souflee, which I’d tried three times now and failed miserably, so I wasn’t doing that tonight). A special dish for a special night.

“Dinner was wonderful, Gary,” said grandma Morrigan once the plates were tidied away and the dishwasher was humming in the corner. “Are you sure your Mum hasn’t enrolled you on an evening course?”

I shuffled my feet. As much as I loved it when people liked my cooking, I wasn’t very good at taking compliments.

“Thanks, grandma.”

“Have you thought about what to do after high school?”

I had, extensively, but there were still some details I hadn’t told Mum about.

“Gary wants to go to university to study cooking,” Mum said. “There’s one not far from here, he can get there by train.”

I nodded. I was lucky that my first choice was also nearby; at least I wouldn’t have to move. Which was kind of what I needed to talk to Mum about.

“How about SimChef?” grandma said and winked. “Milan and I think you’d do well on it.”

My heart stopped. SimChef? Me? She couldn’t be serious. Right?

“Oh no, I couldn’t.” It was televised, and the people who won went on to have huge careers, but… It was something other people did. And besides, the guys who went on that show were all pretty good cooks already. I was good, but I wasn’t that good. The only people who had ever tried my food were my family, so they were probably biased.

I was grateful when grandma dropped it after that.

Two days later, I decided today was the day. Mum and I were watching an early evening cooking show, and the recipes were nothing I hadn’t made before. I’d done my research. I was ready.

My heart beat so fast it threatened to choke me when I cleared my throat. I had a feeling Mum would say yes, but what if I was wrong?

“So, Mum, I’ve been thinking.”

She turned down the volume on the TV, and sat to face me.

“What’s that?”

I took a deep breath in. This was it.

“I was wondering if, maybe, I could stay home a little while longer. I know it’s my birthday next week and you probably expected me to move out, but tuition fees are really expensive and I’m not sure if I can pay all that while also paying rent or bills.”

Truth was, I already had a place in mind, but I needed to save up for it. And tuition fees were insanely high, so everything I’d said was true. I just didn’t mention the small bungalow I’d seen.

“Oh sweetheart, you know I offered to pay for your tuition. You don’t have to worry about that.”

Mum had saved up quite a lot of money over the years. I wasn’t sure how much exactly, but easily enough to pay for three years of uni. I didn’t want to cut into her savings, but I had a feeling I had no real say in the matter.

“Thank you, but–”

“No buts. I’m paying your uni fees, sweetheart, but I expect you to pay your other bills yourself.”

“Of course, my job should cover that.”

I wanted to work while going to university to build up my savings, but I knew it wouldn’t be much. When I had interviewed at the grill’s kitchen, they were impressed by my cooking skills but it wasn’t enough to land me a job as chef right away. Still, I didn’t have to start at the very bottom of the ladder, either, and I was determined to prove they’d made the right decision.

“And you know I love having you home. I won’t complain if you want to stay with your old mother for a little while longer!”

“Really? I can stay?”

“Please, Gary, you know you’re my everything.”

She pulled me into a hug, and I didn’t resist.

Family was important to Mum. I was her only child, and she wasn’t married, so I was doing this for her sake really. Some kids at my school got kicked out as soon as the last term ended, and I was grateful my Mum wasn’t like that. I didn’t plan to stay for the entirety of my degree. She had earned a break, and maybe she’d start dating again once I moved out. Mum hadn’t shown any interest in it while I was growing up, but raising me by herself couldn’t have been easy, and her job demanded the rest of her time. I didn’t want her to be lonely once I left, but I remembered what she and grandma Morrigan had told me: our family couldn’t get too involved with anyone, because we’re not supposed to be alive in the first place and the universe would right itself if we tried.

I wasn’t sure how much of that I really believed, but Mum was convinced it’s what got Dad killed on the job, and had drilled it into me ever since I was a child. Grandma and grandpa were convinced, too, but I just wasn’t sure. It all seemed a little too much. Why would the universe care if there are a few extra people in the world? I didn’t know enough about the universe, but I figured if it was sentient it probably had other things to do, like preventing meteors from crashing into important planets.

Mum was Chief of Police, and that affected a lot of people. The universe seemed okay with it.

Still, there had always been this thought at the back of my mind that it’d be better not to date. Mum had never forbidden me from making friends exactly, but it had always felt like an unspoken rule that I shouldn’t interfere with anyone’s life too much. Friendship was a pretty big deal, so I’d mostly stayed away from that, too. I did have a couple of friends here and there, but they’d all moved away, and a small part of me had blamed the universe righting itself.

Anyway, after my chat with Mum I was too busy being nervous about officially becoming a young adult and starting my first job in a professional kitchen to worry about friends and my love life.

The only thing that kept distracting me was SimChef. Why did grandma have to bring it up? There was no way I was good enough to be on that show. Millions of people watched it every year, and the winners–sometimes the runner-ups, too–went on to have pretty amazing careers. They owned their own restaurants, wrote their own cook books, and things like that. Winning it would be awesome, but could I win it?

I’d be lying if I said I’d never dreamed of being a contestant. It was my favourite show, and daydreaming about winning it had got me through the more boring lessons at school, but I’d never seriously considered it.

Could I win SimChef? Would they even deem me good enough to let me try? I supposed if they decided I wasn’t good enough to be on TV, they wouldn’t give me a chance and I’d have nothing to worry about. But if they did… The current series had only just started, they wouldn’t open the application process for another six months yet, probably.

That was plenty of sleepless nights for me to stress over it.

***

Update:

As you can see Sophia is now at the top of her career ❤ Gary has now aged up and jumped straight to level 3 of the cooking career :3 He’s still a teenager in this chapter, but as of 4.3 he’ll be a YA 🙂 His skills are cooking lvl 6 (I think), gourmet cooking lvl 1, fishing lvl 3, and gardening lvl 3. I don’t think I remembered to check when I took these pictures, so I’ll have a more accurate update next time 🙂

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