Three Rivers 28.1

Twenty-eighth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Nash Downing and his daughters, Nathalie and Ruby, are another beautiful game-generated family. They live in a gorgeous home by Pronterus in Willow Creek.

28. No one suspects his hidden power

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Nash Downing knew from childhood that the thread of his life would be snipped abruptly while he was young. He nearly died in college, when he contracted a staph infection after scraping his shin on a moldy board. He survived, though the infection reached his liver and turned his eyes yellow.

A year later, returning from a party late one night, he rode his bike alongside a tall embankment. He saw two headlights bearing down on him, with no room for him to swerve, and then it went black.

It was over. He had no idea how long he was in the blackness. He felt a gentle hand on each shoulder, spreading warmth like the sun.

He was on his bike again, with the car nowhere in sight. It was still night, still dark, and he was on his bike, riding home. He couldn’t piece together what had happened; he didn’t know to feel gratitude. The severance was that complete. When he pulled his bike into the garage, he remembered he was returning from a party. But who he’d met or what he’d done was lost.

He looked in the mirror: his sclera were white again.

After that point, memories of his early youth felt distant, like events that had happened to a character in a novel. His existing relationships, even with family members, lost their relevance. Friendships faded. Nothing old seemed real.

When he met Claire, he felt the first semblance of connection since that night. Her hands felt warm when she touched him.

His life fell into place when they married. They had a daughter and adopted her niece, who’d been orphaned as an infant.

When the girls were ten, Claire died of cancer.

“You’ll still be able to talk to me,” Claire told him on her deathbed. “And I’ll answer. I’ll be with you always, and watching over the girls. I’ll help you with your angel work.”

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He didn’t know what she meant. She must be delirious, right? But now it was six years later, and she was with him always. They spoke often. Though it was hard to admit to himself, he was beginning to understand his truth.

His work was simple and rewarding, as long as he didn’t expect anything reciprocal or personal. He was a friend to others, and few were friends to him. He helped others, and few stepped up to help him, except for his wife, who, good to her word, was with him always. Through her, angels spoke, and so, he was never alone. Even in his loneliest hours, he was surrounded by love.

His work, which he called “angeling,” was often as simple as grilling a meal at the park so the hungry could eat.

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Sometimes, no words were needed. Companionship was often enough and brought peace to the lonely or confused.

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He had learned, through time, to listen before marking a job complete. Sometimes, the instructions said to do more.

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On an afternoon when he shared a meal with Sebastian Rhine, who’d been camping out at Oasis Springs National Park, he was told to reach out.

“Talk to him,” he heard. “He is not right, at the moment, but talk to him, and he will be.”

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“Living like a lily, are you?” He asked Sebastian.

“Like a lily of the field?” Sebastian asked.

“Exactly.”

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“But a lily of the field has her needs met,” said Sebastian. “And me. I’ve been forgotten. By God and everybody.”

“Not so,” said Nash. “What did you want today, huh, brother?”

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“Food,” Sebastian said. “I was so hungry. I just had an old burger yesterday. That was all. And a coke. I drank water from the faucet, but I was hungry.”

“And now?”

“I’m full! And can I take the other potatoes with me?”

“You can!” Nash said.

“I wanted someone to talk to, too,” said Sebastian.

“A friend?” asked Nash.

“Yeah! A friend.”

“You have one now,” said Nash. He gave his card to Sebastian. “You can call or drop by anytime. You need a friend? You’ve got one, brother.”

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Sebastian pointed at Alec Dolan, who was approaching the picnic area.

“There’s my other friend,” said Sebastian. “He’s the guy who’s getting me free Wi-Fi.”

“What do you need with free Wi-Fi?” Nash asked.

“Don’t know,” said Sebastian. “Do you got a device? I don’t got a device. Do I need Wi-Fi? I need a shower.”

“There’s a free shower in that brick building over there,” Nash said.

“Sebastian!” said Alec. “Have you registered to vote yet? How is the day, Nash, mon ami?”

“Sun’s shining,” Nash said. “People are being fed. Can’t get much better than that.”

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Alec couldn’t linger. “Alors! Get out the vote,” he said, as he walked towards the park center, where he was scheduled to speak at a rally.

Nash had a few more stops that day. He often didn’t know what he’d be asked to do, but he could feel when his work for the day was complete, and when there was more. Today, he felt there was a little bit more.

He walked through a neighborhood in Oasis Springs and ran into Rachael Stanley.

“I took your advice!” she said. “I bought the expensive paints! I even bought caseins! Oh, they smell like milk. And they spread like butter!”

“And the paintings?” he asked.

“They–they feel like me!” she said. “Thank you, Nash.”

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He felt a little high when she left. Thanks were few and far between. Often, when he did his work right, he’d lose connection with the person, once the job was done. And sometimes, he’d receive curses, rather than thanks, even when he’d done what had needed to be done. But this was something rare: a thank you, and every indication that the connection would remain.

“You look happy!” said a young woman who was walking past.

“It’s a beautiful day,” he said.

And she smiled, too, a genuine smile.

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When he had the sidewalk to himself, he felt his wings unfurl. He only let them out when he was alone and when his happiness was so great that he needed to feel his power stretch and breathe.

It was getting dark when he arrived home. His daughter Ruby had grilled a plate of fruit, and Nathalie, having just finished her homework, was coming out to join them for the evening meal.

These were the true angels, he thought.

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He never spoke to them about his truth, his work, his conversations with Claire and the other angels. These are not things one talks about.

He wondered, sometimes, if Claire spoke with them. He knew the angels did, for his daughters, they were goodness through and through.

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They didn’t seem to share his task of helping those strangers who crossed paths. The girls had the task of helping each other and helping him.

The universe is taut with invisible lines. If you listen, you can hear angel voices speeding through them. If you look, you might catch a flicker of light. It’s thought. It’s feeling. It’s a whisper of love that travels the line, lighting it up like gossamer in sunlight. It’s here. It’s gone. But the message remains. Listen. Look. We are never alone.

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Three Rivers 25.1

Twenty-fifth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Shawn Kaur, game-generated Townie, now lives in one of Pronterus’s beautiful starter homes.

25.  Checkmate!

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Shawn Kaur could read all the logic books he wanted; he was still a pawn in this checkered world.

That didn’t mean that he wasn’t looking for a chance to advance a square or two.

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It wasn’t coincidence, then, that led Shawn Kaur to introduce himself to Alec Dolan during one of Alec’s campaign treks through this working-class Oasis Springs neighborhood. Shawn had scoured the Green Party’s website, then made a few discrete phone calls to learn a reliable estimate for the time when the candidate for representative would be walking down Kaur’s street.

“I’ve been following your speeches,” Shawn said, after the initial pleasantries.

“Oh, yes? They are effective, no?” Alec asked.

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“No,” replied Shawn. “Frankly, no. They pigeon-hole you. I mean, how many people care about butterflies?”

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“But everyone, yes? They are a symbol! For putting an end to the extinction that is caused by destruction of habitat due to unregulated development and the climate change.”

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“Yeah, but the demographics?” Shawn said. “I’ve checked the polls. If you ask people if they care, sure, you get 70-90 percent saying, yes, we care. But ask in a meaningful way: would you support regulating development of open spaces in order to protect endangered insect species? You get 46.5 percent saying yes in Windenburg, 25.2 percent in Newcrest, 15.6 percent in Willow Creek, and five percent in Oasis Springs. This is a harsh world, man, with people driven more by profit than protectionism.”

“Yes, but! It is our platform! What do you suggest? We abandon the foundation?”

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Shawn didn’t propose abandoning the environmental principles on which the party was founded. Instead, he’d outlined a plan for demonstrating, through precedent and theory, the economic soundness of the platform as a means of appealing to the self-interest of the voters. And then, once he had Alec’s full attention, he whispered a few other more clandestine tactics the party might try.

“I have a place for you,” Alec said, after he’d heard Shawn out. “It is not, what shall we say, the official position. It is the position known only to you and only to me. The campaign strategist, yes? It will be very much worth your while, success or no. Are you interested?”

Shawn was very much interested.

A few weeks later, he arranged to meet Alec in Newcrest. Shawn was there ostensibly for a chess tournament, and Alec was campaigning.

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As Shawn sat across the diner, he observed Alec chatting with one of the striking clowns.

The strike had been Shawn’s idea, and it had been easy to convince the clowns he knew, chess-players, mostly, to strike for better wages, conditions, and benefits. They were talking of forming their own union, too.

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If the Green Party could be instrumental in resolving the strike, it would be a big coup, showing voters that Greens had both workers’ interests at heart and the political experience to be able to resolve labor disputes.

Shawn wasn’t worried. A word or two from him, a bit of cash funneled from Geoffrey Landgraab’s elicit contributions, and the clowns would return to work, while Alec and the Greens received all the credit.

Shawn turned his attention to the table next to him, where two of the other competitors in the chess tournament, Dominic Fyres and Jim Bee, were discussing the Ruy Lopez.

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Shawn was paired against Jim Bee in the next round.

“I never play it as white,” Jim said.

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Shawn strained to listen to the rest of their analysis.

“What do you say, Shawn?” Jim called across the table. “Ruy Lopez for white, or not?”

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More clowns on strike meandered in, and Shawn diverted his attention back to their corner.

“I should have been a dentist,” bemoaned Ashton Poe.

Shawn had to snicker. He and Ashton had gone to school together, and Ashton had neither the intelligence nor the dexterity to succeed as a dentist. One way or another, he’d always be a clown, so it was best that he was one without pretense. They’d quit their moaning once the strike ended and they received their pay-off.

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When his meal ended, Shawn joined Alec at a chess board.

“I am not so sure about this plan of the strike,” Alec grumbled. “My friends, they are not happy.”

Shawn laughed. “Don’t worry! It’s working brilliantly! My man is running a new poll next week. I’ve got a feeling once we receive the results we can end it all soon. Then! On to the next stratagem!”

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When Alec left for his next speaking engagement, Jim sat down across from Shawn.

“Shall we analyze a few positions?” he asked.

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Shawn leapt at the opportunity, though he maintained a calm exterior.  He’d been dying to get a chance to see inside his next opponent’s mind.

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“You’d really make that exchange?” Jim asked.

“Of course!” Shawn replied. “Mate in three!”

“I think you’ve overlooked something,” Jim said. It was mate in two, for white.

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A few days later, the polls showed that community concern over the clown strike was nearing the peak that Shawn had predicted for it. If they waited much longer, they ran the risk of apathy.

Shawn advised Alec to call a press conference, then he transferred the Landgraab funds to the pay-off account. Soon, the clowns would be back at work, and Alec could take credit for the successful negotiations. This would gain them twenty points in the polls, easy.

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The Oasis Springs annual Chess Extravaganza rolled around, and, with two wins, a draw, and a loss, Shawn had a decent showing. He’d gain a few ratings points, at least.

He was matched against a sassy teen in a baseball cap who’d already earned a Master’s rating.

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She had an unbearable habit of leaning forward to broadcast through her expressions her estimation of the position. It wasn’t so bad when his position looked good, but when she had mate-in-four, it took every ounce of restraint for Shawn to avoid knocking down his own king in resignation.

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With the tournament over, Shawn headed over to where Alec was explaining to the park gardener and a local fisherman the Green Party’s plan for expanding public gardens and fishing holes.

“It’s the sustainability project!” Alec said. “Our own gardener, Haley Salinas, developed it. We have, in the Greens, more gardeners and fishermen–or fisherpeople, no?–than any party can boast of! The people, yes? The workers! Laborers! Rah!”

Shawn chuckled. As far has he knew, Alec had never done a day of labor in his life.

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When they had the spot to themselves, Shawn shared his latest scheme: a sure-fire way to cast aspersions on his political rival, J Huntington III, without uttering a single word.

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Mais, non,” Alec replied. “The Huntington, he is mon ami. We are partners, you see, in friendship and politics. We have two openings, yes? One for me, one for the Huntington. Then, we work in tandem. What I want, what he wants. It is the beautiful friendship.”

Shawn felt a little disappointed. He’d been looking forward to bringing down J, and using Geoffrey’s money to do so. Both Alec and Shawn agreed that the other candidates were not serious concerns. And so Shawn was left to find a new target for his political mind.

He still hadn’t developed his next covert campaign strategy when he took a brief trip to Windenburg to play in the W. Open.

Alec met him at the chess park the evening after the first day of competition.

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“We are doing well, my friend,” Alec said.

Shawn had to agree. The polls showed Alec and Huntington well in the lead.

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“I suppose you want me to resign, then,” said Shawn. “Job’s done.”

“The job is never done!” said Alec. “Suppose the dream becomes the reality? Should I be sitting at the dais, will I not need the one who can do what needs to be done? We will keep our association. You are willing?”

Shawn was willing, not for the pay, which seemed mostly to be nonexistent–or would be, if Shawn didn’t have his own means of accessing the Landgraab fund–but for the challenge and the opportunity to think.

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In August, at the Willow Creek Invitational, Shawn faced his toughest opponent yet across the board, a ten-year-old Chess Master, well on his way to becoming an International Master.

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He lost to him, of course. It would be mildly humiliating, except that the child won the tournament undefeated.

There is more to life than chess, Shawn told himself in consolation. There is politics. And it could be that this was where his real talent lay, behind the scenes, moving the pieces, until they were all in place, and he could whisper to no one: check mate!

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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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Three Rivers, 8.1

Eighth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

Author’s Note: Alec Dolan is the first Sim featured in Three Rivers who is game-generated. This Townie, who’s already appeared in a few chapters, moved into an island house, thanks to MC Command Center. As I began to consider a Sim for the eighth prompt, Alec seemed to express this quality better than any Sim I could dream up in CAS.

8. He wanted to buy the other car

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The Greens needed a candidate, and Alec Dolan needed a party. That’s how he came to be running for the Three Rivers Council as the Greens’ choice for representative.

Given his family affiliation and culture, he felt the Conservatives would fit better, but his friend Huntington, with a dream of filling his father’s shoes, was their candidate.

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Alec didn’t mind pretending. He was used to saying things he didn’t mean.

He’d been using pick-up lines as his beard for so long now that repartee had become second nature. Lead with “jerk” and they’ll lose interest real fast, and no one will be any the wiser.

Sometimes, a woman would surprise him, though, and see through the facade to find a whisper of friendship beneath. Serena, his new campaign manager, had become one such truth-whispering friend.

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She inspired him to dig deep to find a cause he actually believed in–or at least one he could talk about with enthusiasm. He loved trees, oaks, especially. Preserving the ancient oaks lining the meadows was a noble cause.

“They’re grand trees, aren’t they?” he said to Serena. “You’d probably never guess, ma chère, but I spent half my childhood up the limbs of a giant oak. We’ll rescue them for the boys–and girls–of the future!”

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Without anyone’s promptings, he stumbled onto Free Internet Access and Bridging the Digital Divide as another cause he believed in, or almost believed in. He could talk about it with passion, at least.

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“But I haven’t got a house,” protested one of the constituents.

Ce n’est pas grave,” Alec replied. “The hand-held device, non?”

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“Health care is more relevant,” said the blonde woman who’d been listening attentively, “and more strategic for effecting real social change.”

The next day, on his morning walk, he ran into that same blonde, who introduced herself as Janet Fuchs. She’d been talking with a few other residents of Three Rivers.

“What a coincidence!” she said. “I was just telling Esmeralda and Dominic about those good ideas you were putting forth yesterday. They like your idea for free region-wide Wi-Fi.”

“And also free, region-wide health care,” said Esmeralda.

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“Health care was her idea,” Alec began to say, but Esmeralda and Dominic had already turned to leave.

Alec realized that he could use someone like Janet on his campaign. Quel passion!

“You have a way with you, madame,” he said. “And the people, they follow. You are a Green, non?”

She was a Green, yes, and also a CPA, and so, that very morning, she also became Alec’s campaign finance manager.

“When you ask,” Alec said, “the money, it will flow in! You have the golden tongue!”

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Alec felt charmed whenever he met someone who genuinely believed in the causes he espoused. Innocence is irresistible, and true innocence, disarming.

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The owner of the new café where all of Alec’s friends visited built his business on the party ideals: sustainability, profit-sharing, eco-friendly. All the buzz was not buzz but substance to Emiliano Zorelo. Alec found sincerity to be très sexy.

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Inspired by the others’ enthusiasm and passion, Alec held his first campaign meeting at his house.

“Converse avec tous les autres on the ferry,” he told Serena on the phone, “that way, you can discover the agenda, and when we meet, we have more time for visiting.”

“Or planning,” Serena replied.

The group arrived together.

“You’ve brought them here like a true leader,” Alec told Serena. Compliments, he believed, served as the best motivator.

eight06

“Where are your pup-dogs?” Serena asked. She half expected to be overrun by the two Schnauzers that Alec had told her about when he first met her.

“Mitzi and Matilde are upstairs, happily watching the TV.”

“The cat show?”

“Ah, no! The Great British Baking Show. BAKE! They adore the co-host. And the patisserie!”

In addition to Janet, Serena, and Emiliano, two more party members attended, Savannah and Sierra Trejo. Alec never did quite catch how exactly they were related, but he gathered that they lived together. Mother, daughter? Sisters? They looked nothing alike: but they shared a passion for the issues.

eight14

Serena’s grass-roots organizing experience put them at ease.

eight07

While the women researched historic green space and common land laws, Alec contemplated his new position in this party he hardly knew a thing about.

eight11

J’aime les arbres, he thought. Could he build his political career on his affection for oaks? Wild lands were worth saving. Wild blackberries, les mûres sauvages, those were indeed a resource to protect.

And when he felt the earnestness of the women around him, he thought he could fabricate interest in any cause that he would need to espouse.

eight12

“Listen to this!” said Sierra, looking up from her book. “It’s about Eugene Henard, who created the greenbelt in Paris. ‘The city, as any living organism, needed oxygen, and parklands provided the necessary breathing room.'”

C’est profound. Who wrote that?”

“Albert Vaiciulenas.”

“Never heard of him.”

eight13

He followed Sierra into the kitchen. She was talking about the wide spaces of meadow and forest surrounding the city.

“And it’s not enough for us to keep the greenbelts we have,” she said. “We need to go further! Foxes, for example, need at least a few dozen hectares for their home ranges, and 20 to 30 kilometers is even better!”

eight09

Alec laughed. It was fun to see her become excited about an issue.

“Could we make a difference, do you really think?” he asked Sierra.

“I do! Why not? Look at those history books. Policies were made by people just like us. We’re no different. We can make a change, for sure!”

When he and Sierra brought coffee into the front room, they found Janet looking thoughtful.

“What about LGBTQIA issues?” she asked.

eight05

“QIA?” asked Alec. “What a mouthful. Can we not simply say ‘human’?”

“It’s critical,” said Savannah. “We can’t call ourselves progressive without addressing these rights. Besides, it’s not even progressive anymore. It’s just the way it is.”

eight04

“True,” said Serena. “It’s part of the platform of any forward-looking campaign. And it’s not only good policy, it’s good politics. There’s a wide base of support.”

“How about you?” Alec asked Emiliano. “Where do you stand on LBGT-Q-I-A rights?”

“Right smack en el medio!” laughed Emiliano, with a wink. “Well,” he counted on his fingers, “third from the left.”

eight03

Alec laughed. He liked Emiliano’s style.

They heard the ferry horn sound as it entered the bay.

“Oh, I must get home!” said Janet. “It’s a day tomorrow!”

The others hurried to wash up dishes and put away books.

“No problem,” said Emiliano. “You ladies head to the ferry. I will stay to help our candidate with the dirty work of the cleaning up! Go! Go!”

eight10

After the front door closed behind them, Alec and Emiliano sat at the dining table and felt the quickening silence that descends when guests have left.

“You don’t mind, I hope,” Emiliano asked, “that I stayed behind?”

eight16

Alec didn’t mind one bit. In fact, it was what he’d been hoping for since the moment he found out that Emiliano would be coming to the meeting.

“I am glad you’re a Green,” said Emiliano, when Alec wrapped him in his arms.

eight15

“Green is good,” said Alec, laughing. And he thought that maybe he even meant it.

The next morning, while Emiliano lay snuggled in Alec’s bed with Mitzi and Matilde curled up around his feet, Alec rose to clean the dishes they’d left the night before. He kept one mask off that morning, and he wasn’t sure he’d be putting it back on. Oh, he’d wear other masks, perhaps, just not that particular one ever again.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all, he thought, being a candidate for the Greens. If it allowed him to discover and then to be his true self, maybe it wasn’t so bad, after all.

eight02

Three Rivers, 7.1

Seventh Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

7. Organic shade-grown Mexican fair-trade coffee in a red mug

seven02

Most days, Emiliano Zorelo felt far from home. Never mind that El Colectivo de Barrio owned the small house and café that he, as representative, ran with a proprietor’s rights: he still felt like el extranjero. On a lucky morning, he’d catch a neighbor’s 1987 VAM coupe drive past, and while he listened for the backfire, he felt, just for that instant, like he was a kid on the streets of the pueblo once again.

seven01

He’d come to Newcrest carrying the collective’s dreams. They were confident that theirs was the best coffee in the world–at least, as every cupping revealed, there was no better. Earthy, caramel, chocolate, with a hint of malt–that’s what Cesar’s coffee from the north slope was like. Oscar’s south slope beans offered notes of citrus and cinnamon, with robust woody overtones.

As Emiliano was the only member of the collective without a farm, he was the natural choice to run the café and store. He was the one with the MBA from Universidad Regiomontana, after all, and his was the vision behind co-operative principles which they’d adopted.

seven03

There were days, though, when he had to wonder if his vision was completely misplaced. He felt like Tio Taco among the gabachos.

seven04

Somehow, he hadn’t pictured that the café’s regulars would consist of the power elite.

He and his comrades knew that shade-grown fair-trade coffee was trendy, but they’d thought that it was popular for what it stood for, the environmental and political ideals, not merely because the materialistic foodies loved it for its status and flavor.

He’d expected to see liberals, environmentalists, and lefties at the café, like the crowd he’d hung with in college, those who were getting their MBAs in order to redefine business to empower the laborers who’d been denied for too long.

seven05

And here he was, supplying the coffee grown by the dreams of his compadres and the warmth of the sun of home to the very group that, historically, had been doing the denying all along.

It was hard to get into what they were saying, when their conversation consisted of corporate ventures, venture capital, firewalls, network security, and leather footwear.

seven06

It was hard not to feel a little hemmed in when they they filled the café with their bright voices.

seven09

All that talk about real estate, stocks, investment portfolios, new cars, new houses, new clothes, electronics, technology, i-Pads, minis, maxis, motor week, and he felt that Cesar and Oscar’s beans were nothing more than another commodity.

seven10

And that’s exactly what they were. Even if the profits were shared among the farmers and the laborers, coffee was a commodity, and he was here, doing what his ancestors had done for generations, supporting the habits and pleasures of the colonists.

seven07

He was a very long way from home, and his patrons carried their moneyed selves right on back to his living quarters. “Mi casa es su casa, right hombre?” Sure thing, taco man.

seven20

Even his dreams filled with stock quotes, corporate gossip, and golf scores.

seven22

He and his brothers, cousins, and neighbors had formed the collective to serve each of them and their families, and here he was, with his shiny MBA and his co-operative ideals, serving the rich, como en los viejos tiempos. Life sucked.

seven21

One morning, his regular barista didn’t show. The service company he contracted with sent an old guy who barely seemed to know his way around the espresso machine.

seven13

“I see you’ve got the boss working for you,” said Sandra, one of the regulars that he actually liked.

“You know him?” Emiliano asked.

“Sure,” she replied. “Everybody knows Mr. Landgraab. Must be a training day.”

seven15

Sandra explained that once a week, Mr. Landgraab, corporate head of Landgraab Service Contracting Specialists, covered for one of his employees, so that the employee could attend a training day in order to be qualified for a better position within the company.

“It’s his way of paying it forward,” Sandra said. “He wants to make sure that everybody gets a chance to move up.”

Emiliano had heard about this management strategy at the university–in fact, they’d even implemented it in the collective, so that the field hands would have the opportunity to learn accounting or other office skills.

It was a good idea–and it might have been even better if the boss actually had the technical mastery of the workers he subbed for.

seven14

Emiliano’s attitude picked up a bit after that. A few conversations with Geoffrey Landgraab, along with a few training sessions for him on the Nuova Simonelli, and Emiliano began to feel that he had maybe found a comrade.

“Ah,” said Geoffrey towards the end of his shift, “there’s our man.”

He waved towards Alec Dolan, the Green’s candidate, who danced in the corner of the store to the mariachi music from home that Emiliano played over the speakers.

seven08

“You are a Green?” Emiliano asked Geoffrey.

Geoffrey laughed. “Much to my wife’s chagrin.”

Emiliano knew about Alec’s platform–¡Qué mierda! The collective even contributed to his campaign! His environmental stance matched theirs. Of course, he was pro-labor, too, but it was his stance on education reform and “organic, integrated learning processes” that really motivated them to support him.

Now here was the type of person that Emiliano had hoped to serve when he had first dreamed of opening the collective’s café in Three Rivers.

seven12

Alec was a good dancer, too. Most of the gabachos looked awkward moving to the rhythms of home, but Alec’s steps were suave.

seven18

In fact, he was un tipo muy bueno.

“You like the music?” Emiliano asked.

Ah, sí! La música es dulce.” He spoke Spanish, too– with a French accent, but it was Spanish all the same.

seven17

“What do you say, Huntington?” Alec called to his friend. “We shall play this at our next rally, non?”

“Huntington is a Green?” Emiliano asked.

seven16

“Not really,” said Alec. “He is the spy for the Conservatives! But we welcome him nonetheless. Isn’t that true, mon ami? We hope to convert him, or, as he would say, corrupt his capitalistic mind.”

Emiliano found Alec’s style refreshing. He was friendly to all, regardless of their politics.

seven11

One Saturday, Alec showed up in the barista’s apron.

“You work here today?” Emiliano asked.

Alec laughed. “Oui! The candidates of the political races must eat, too. This is my day job, the slave for the Landgraab Service Empire.”

seven19

Lo que es un mundo extraño when the laborers were the political candidates, when they danced with the opposition, and when their bosses supported their causes! Emiliano realized that he might need to rethink everything that held up his world. He was still a long ways from home.

seven23