Three Rivers 22.1

Twenty-second Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Toby Gustafson and Toni Gustafson are a game-generated household that MC Command Center moved into a home in Willow Creek.

22.  A letter from a forgotten friend

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So, Missy was dead. Toby wasn’t surprised. At his age, he was surprised when old friends were still alive. News of deaths merely confirmed that the calendar pages were turned, torn off, and tossed away, after all, like the memories of old days.

His grand-niece Toni, who lived with him while finishing her dissertation at university, broke the news at breakfast.

“I got a letter from Granddad,” she said. “You better sit.”

“Nah. I’ll stand. Anything that requires sitting to be heard had better be heard standing up. That way, you can scoop me off the floor when I pass out from shock.”

“You goof, Uncle Toby.”

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She told him gently, nonetheless.

Of course he remembered Missy. They’d grown up in the same neighborhood.

And then there was Scott, Toby’s best friend who’d married Missy after high school.

Toby asked after him.

“Granddad wrote that he was all right–I mean, as all right as could be expected.”

“Geez. It’s been twenty years since I last saw old Scotty-Scooter. It was at your grandma’s fiftieth. You remember that party? You were just a little thing in cornrows and bead baubles.”

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“I do remember!” Toni said.

“You were one cute little girl,” said Uncle Toby. “Not that anybody would ever imagine that now, looking at you.”

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Toni headed off to the university to teach her section of History and Culture.

Maybe I should write old Scotty-Scooter, Toby thought. He began mentally composing the letter while finishing up breakfast.

Hey, hey, Scooter Man!

What’s up in the old neighborhood? Remember staying out till the street lights came on, then sneaking back out once the old folks were in bed? You, me, and Missy. Those were the days!

I hear Missy’s gone.

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He grabbed another half a sandwich. That was no letter to send an old friend who’s lost his wife. He scratched it out in his mind.

Hey, hey, Scooter Man! 

What’s up in the old neighborhood? Remember staying out till the street lights came on, then sneaking back out once the old folks were in bed? You, me, and Missy. Those were the days!

I hear Missy’s gone. 

Try again later.

Towards evening, with his mind still on the letter he wanted to write, Toby put on his walking clothes and headed out. Maybe some fresh air would help him find the words.

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What do you write an old friend who’s lost the only girl he ever loved?

Scooter. I heard the bad news. I’m bummed for you, brother.

Scott hadn’t heard from him for decades. He didn’t want to just start as if they were still lanky kids running down the street after dark.

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On his walk, he met one of his regular guys, Nash Downing. How would he write to Nash, if Nash had lost somebody? He wouldn’t. He’d talk with him.

“Downing, my man! What’s happening?”

“Toby! Boss! What’s up?”

After Nash Downing brought him up to speed on the latest with his two daughters, the current political polls, Alec Dolan’s latest speech, and J Huntington’s rebuttal, Toby asked him for advice about the letter.

“I’m at a loss,” Toby confided. “What do I say?”

“Just write from the heart, man,” said Nash. “Words don’t really matter. It’s the feelings that count.”

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His heart was full of so much. Where to start?

He passed Alec Dolan on the river walk.

“Hey, man. I heard about your latest speech. For the butterflies, huh? Tug at the old heart-strings. Pull on the imagination. Appeal to the dreamer in all of us. Butterflies. Huh! Well, you’re good with words. Think you could help me write a letter to an old friend?”

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“Ah, no,” said Alec.”English, it is the second language of mine, no? So I am not the best candidate for this particular job. Though, as you know, I am the best candidate for the upcoming job we are voting on, no? But when it comes to letters, you should ask my speech writer. That’s the deal!”

Toby chuckled. He should have known a busy politician would have no time for an old man.

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It was Wednesday, and there’d be free burgers at the park, courtesy of Run and Fun. The club members would still be wrapping up their walks and jogs before flocking to the park for the picnic. He’d have a good spell to eat alone and think before the hungry horde descended.

In solitude, he took another shot at the letter.

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Scooter. What can I say? It was you, me, and Missy for all those years growing up. Hey, did you know Missy was the first girl I kissed?

Of course, you knew that. That’s why you gave me that black eye.

Oh, the fights we had! You still have that scar on your left shoulder? I swear–I didn’t know that hoe was there when I pushed you. You forgave me. That was lucky. Too bad your pa carried his grudge to the grave.

This was not the letter to send. Scratch.

Scooter. What can I say? It was you, me, and Missy for all those years growing up. Hey, did you know Missy was the first girl I kissed?

Of course, you knew that. That’s why you gave me that black eye. 

Oh, the fights we had! You still have that scar on your left shoulder? I swear–I didn’t know that hoe was there when I pushed you. You forgave me. That was lucky. Too bad your pa carried his grudge to the grave. 

Before the famished folks filled the park, Toby headed out, back to the walking path.

Janet Fuchs and Geoffrey Landgraab came up to him, asking if he could volunteer with making campaign calls.

“Yeah, no,” he said. “You know I support the cause. But no. I don’t do calls.”

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“I’d do it,” said Geoffrey, “but my hands are pretty much tied. Conflict-of-interest, you know. With Nancy, and all.”

Janet laughed. “I still say it would be great if you came out in the open with your support, you know. Everybody can read your true feelings. You’re not really hiding anything.”

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“But domestic bliss,” Toby said, “maintaining that is a balance act. Am I right, Geoffrey? Sometimes, we got to keep the secrets we gotta keep in order to keep a happy home.”

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He flashed then, all of a sudden on a night in May, when Missy met him up by the old oak.

“This is the last time,” she said.

He pretended to agree. But as he spread the blanket beneath the oak boughs, they knew, even though she was now Scooter’s wife, this wouldn’t be the last time. They kept it up until Toby left town to join the Air Force. He never told her that was why he left. Heck, he couldn’t even admit that to himself.

What do you write your old friend who married the woman you couldn’t get enough of?

How do you keep the old dead secrets while still sharing the warmth you had for a friendship that once was?

When you had that much in your heart, you didn’t dare write from the heart.

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“Evening, Toby,” said Esmeralda.

“Evening, Esmeralda.” Now she was a fine woman. A big generous heart like hers was too full of warmth to hide any secrets. They’d all just melt away.

“You much of a correspondent?” Toby asked her.

“Why, I write the odd letter,” she replied.

He told her about the letter he had to write. “I just don’t know where to start,” he said.

“Do you know,” she asked, “there are actually formal conventions for letters like this? Keep it short. Write simply and sincerely. Acknowledge the loss. Offer condolences. Describe your relationship with the deceased and how you’ll miss them. Share a memory. Offer support. Close with affection. That’s all you need to do.”

It wouldn’t do.

Dear Scott,

I heard about Missy. My condolences, brother. You know how far back we all go. Did you know she was the first girl I kissed? You must have known. Why else would we fight so? But I bet you didn’t know she was all my firsts. 

Is that oak tree still there on the hill top? I miss her every time I see an oak.

But I was happy for you two. I loved you, too. I knew I didn’t want no wife. I knew you did. And Missy loved you, too. Missy loved you. She told me one night, lying under that oak, looking up at the moon between the black branches, that you would always be the one she’d choose. I was just for this–for the nights under the oak. That was when I knew I had to leave.

My life’s been good. I’ve loved all the women, not the one wife. I’ve loved them all. And I’ve thought of you and your life with Missy, finding happiness like old married farts do. You ever think of me? You remember me, brother?

Scotty-Scooter. You were my first friend, man.

Toni was still up when he got home.

“I don’t know what to write to Scott,” he confessed. “You think he even remembers me?”

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“Of course he does, Uncle,” Toni said. “You don’t forget your first friend. You two were like brothers.”

“Do I have to write?” Toby asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m afraid you do.”

“What do I say?”

“Try this,” said Toni, and she began to speak:

Dear Scott,

We heard through Stefan the news about Missy. We’re both sad and touched by this. Toni remembers dancing with Missy at Shelly’s fiftieth birthday party. And you know that I harbor a lifetime of love and honor for you and Missy and the life the two of you made together.

We’ll be visiting Stefan around Christmastime, and we’d like to see you then, too, to laugh about the old times and enjoy being two old codgers who used to be young bucks. If Toni and I can do anything for you before we make it back home, just let us know.

With old love from your forgotten friend,

Toby

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When she finished reciting, Toby pumped his fist.

“Yes! Now that’s a letter,” he said. “I don’t know how you do this, precious, but you got the knack of speaking truth while walking through the valley of shadows and silence. You think you can remember that when I get the paper and pen?”

“Oh, yes!” she said. “Or if not, what we come out with the next time will be even better!”

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