Sixth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers
6. This piano has never been tuned.
Is it home if you live outside? Sebastian Rhine didn’t think so, even if he’d lived in this corner of the woods, out of sight of the road and neighboring estates, for going on five years. He thought of himself as homeless, and he liked it that way. Being homeless meant you had all sorts of rules, like never let them see you take anything, never let them see where you go, never bring them home–well, because you don’t have a home. But it was worth it. When you’re homeless, you can’t run away from home. When you live alone, in a not-a-home, nobody can walk out on you.
Sebastian liked people. That wasn’t the problem. He just didn’t like people leaving. No one leaves if you don’t meet anybody.
A week of solitude stretched into two, and Sebastian felt the space between his ears grow hollow. His own voice echoed in that empty canyon.
A spot of color caught his attention: magenta against the green of forest and meadow. A hat. And under the hat was a smile, warm and wide enough to fill that space with sunshine.
“It’s nice to meet you, too,” said Serena, for that was her name, and Sebastian smiled that both their names began with a capital S and a lowercase e.
“Se-Se!” he said.
She laughed with a thrush’s song. “Se-se to you, too! Is that some kind of local greeting?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Sebastian said. “I’m not from around here!”
“Neither am I!” said Serena. “So we have that in common. Where are you from?”
“Somewhere that direction,” said Sebastian, raising a finger. Never let them know where your home was, he remembered, just in time.
“From the north country?” Serena asked.
“Just so!” said Sebastian. “Wisconsin.”
They chatted, and Sebastian followed nearly everything she said, which was mostly about taking walks, which led to the topic of keeping your feet dry, which lead to a story about the time she organized a shoe drive for people with no shoes in the city she came from, and just as Sebastian was going to ask, “How did it feel to help people get something they really needed?”, she said, “Well, I’d better be going. Nice talking with you! See ya!”
“Se-se,” Sebastian said, and she walked on by.
But now Sebastian was feeling the golden light of words between his ears and he wanted more! He waited until she turned at the fork in the road, and then he strolled up the hill to the pub.
Act normal. That was another rule. He smiled. A person in a uniform walked behind him. Act normal and they’ll think you have a home, he remembered. Smile like there’s nothing wrong.
More sunlight shone inside–melted butter.
Esmeralda, for that was her name, greeted him with a warm hello and asked how he was.
“I am well,” he replied. And then he remembered rules, “How are you?”
Esmeralda had a handful of advice for a stranger: one point for each finger. Never buy the mascarpone at Schaefer and Von Der Fries. Remember to check the expiration date on the eggs. Cotton sweaters don’t itch; never wear wool. Organic is better. Sebastian learned a lot.
And when she was done she rewarded him with a story about her granddaughter, and the punchline of the story was a song, which she sang, and in the sunny spot inside, a daisy bloomed.
“I like you,” Sebastian said.
Her smile was sideways, and then it scrunched up.
Was it OK that he said that?
“Is it OK that I said that?” he asked. “Could I come home with you?” he asked.
But she had to leave. It was “time to go.”
Sebastian looked at the daisy inside. It still bloomed.
It kept blooming while the door opened and Esmeralda walked out. He remembered what she said. “I’ll see you again, honey.”
The eggnog tasted sweet.
“That’s my drink,” said a voice.
“Ah, no,” said Sebastian. “It was put on the bar in front of me. That means it’s for me.”
The man laughed. “No prob, bud!” he said. “I’ll order another.”
The eggnog tasted a little bit spicy, and very sweet.
Sometimes, when a voice came from just a head, it was less frightening.
“Some game, huh?”
Sebastian didn’t know what game he was talking about. Did it have something to do with the drink that the man said was his? No matter. He liked games.
He liked this funny man, who spoke in a low voice and whose glasses made his eyes look big.
He liked people. He liked the way that space inside filled up when they talked. This was a nice place.
Maybe he’d come here tomorrow.
But if he came here tomorrow, different people would be here. Esmeralda would not be here. And maybe the man with the big-eye glasses would be mean.
He wouldn’t press his luck.
Red is a nice color. It looks nice over a smile and green eyes.
“Have another drink.”
He had another drink. How many was that? They were all sweet and spicy, like the laughter of the woman next to him.
“Don’t settle for cheap substitutes,” said the candidate.
“What’s your stance on public services?” asked the woman with sweet and spicy laughter.
“Free health care for all!” said the candidate. “Good, reliable, public housing. Quality education. And free Internet!”
“What good is free Internet if you don’t have a house?” Sebastian asked.
“But you get a house!” said Alec, for that was the name of the candidate. “And mobile devices for all. Free.”
“Is it too good to be true?” said honey-voice.
Sebastian didn’t know and he didn’t care. He’d never live in a house or have a mobile device, and if he could, he’d spend forever listening to that sweet spiced laughter that made him light up like gold inside.
But then it was “later than I thought,” and she was gone, out the door.
They always leave.
How many drinks did he have? He lost count. Each was sweeter than the one before, and soon he was talking with a man whose glasses made his eyes look smaller and who kept jokes flowing and everyone laughed until Sebastian realized, with sudden darkness, that soon it would be time for these people to leave, too, and he would watch them walk out that door.
Unless. Unless he beat them to it. What was it they always said?
“Ah! Look at the time! Gotta go!”
Leave first. A new rule. Leave first and they can’t leave you.
He walked out the door, into the bright sunshine, and he ran all the way to the corner of the woods, hidden from roads and neighbors, where he lived alone in a not-a-home which no one could ever leave, for no one ever came.