Wonder 57

It’s true what they say about healing and time. I made it through the day. Tanner came home from school. Then I made it through the next day, and the one after that, and the one after that, and pretty soon, when Tanner headed into school, I headed into the clinic. We rode the ferry together each morning.

Slowly, a steady routine, my cheerful, quirky son, and the persistent beauty of the sunlight on the bay every morning, every evening, bore through the grief.

My heart still aches. That pit called loss still opens up before me now and again, usually when I least expect it. But I’m no longer stone inside, and I can smile.

Tanner brought home a school project. It’s for extra credit. He’s such a smart kid, but he’s having a tough time at school. He can’t get his grade up over a C.


I don’t understand it. His teacher referred him to the counselor, who referred him to a psychologist, who gave him an IQ test. “His scores are off the charts,” the psychologist reported back. They enrolled him in the gifted program. He still kept bringing home Cs.

I’m not worried. I know life is more than a letter grade, and not all forms of intelligence fit into a classroom with desks arranged in little rows. I’ve been thinking of transferring him to the Open School in Windenburg, but he says he wants to stay in his school with his friends.

“Teacher says if I do good on this project I’ll get a good grade,” he said. “Will you help?”

Of course! Working on a project with my boy? What could be better!

We set it up in the meadow at the side of the house.

“It’s supposed to be a castle,” Tanner said.

“So,” I replied. “We are making a castle out of air!”


“No,” he said. “We’ve got stuff.”

I looked at the little jars of paint, the dowels, the stacks of styromfoam, the glue gun, and an adorable little vice. “All of this was in that box?”

He nodded.

“No wonder it was so heavy!”

“You know? I think I’ve got a circuit board. What if we made an electric draw-bridge that went up and down when you pushed a button?”

“Could we?” he asked. “That’d be so great!”


I brought out the stuff we needed.

“So, it should be the kind of thing that I can push the button even if I’m across the room. Can we do that?” he asked.


I thought we could.

“You’re the best dad!” he said.


I don’t know if it was the concentrating on getting the circuitry to work or seeing how happy and excited Tanner was, or just doing a project together in the sunny meadow. but I suddenly realized that I was happy. Genuinely, positively happy.


We had a blast. The first circuit board I rigged up exploded! We had clouds of instant paper mache dust.

“This is great!” Tanner said. “Can we do it again?”


I said that big explosions weren’t really historically accurate, and then Tanner started talking about big giant dragon farts, and, even though it was so stupid, I couldn’t stop laughing.


Eventually, as the sun was getting lower, we got down to the business of constructing the thing.

“OK,” Tanner said. “We gotta do good. Like really pay attention to every detail. No extra glue drips, OK? Like Super-Tastic-Builders!”


So that’s what we were, The Super-Tastic Construction Crew.

I’ve got to admit: the castle looked great when we finished, and the drawbridge really worked–no explosions!

Tanner said we should celebrate with a song. So we made one up on the spot, complete with a dance.


Super-Tastic One!

Super-Tastic Two!


Super-Tastic Me!

Super-Tastic You!


I’ll check the wind, and

you check the rain, and


And when we’re done, 

We’ll do it over again!

“And watch out for dragon farts!” Tanner said.


Oh, man. It feels great to laugh again, in a wide meadow, with the sun setting, and the mockingbird singing, and my boy joking.

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Author’s note: Oh, look! Wonder is back! For new readers who’ve come to this blog in the past year, this story follows Charlie Rocca Cups, a wonder child, now grown up. He’s recently adopted a son, Tanner. He’s also recently moved through a tough season of grief, as good friends, his aunt, his mom, and his father have passed on in a short span of time. And for readers who’ve been around longer, I hope you remember Charlie! It feels great for me–and for Charlie–to be rediscovering how bright life can be when grief’s shadows begin to recede.

Aimless: AAW – Charlie

It’s Asexual Awareness Week! In celebration of this, I’m featuring four asexual Sims from stories on this blog. Today, we’ll talk with Charlie Rocca Cups, who is an aromantic asexual from the story Wonder.

If you’d like to learn more about asexuality, please visit the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, AVEN.


CT: Charlie, thanks for talking with us during Asexual Awareness Week.

Charlie: You’re welcome! I’m happy to chat. As a doctor of holistic medicine, I’m excited to talk about how asexuality fits into our understanding of well-being. In my perspective as a naturopath, it’s living authentically, in harmony with who one is, that brings health, happiness, and well-being.

CT: Has it always been easy for you to live authentically?

Charlie: I wouldn’t say it’s been easy. I mean, living authentically is a process, isn’t it? The world doesn’t automatically adjust to accommodate oneself–there’s always some tension. But then, living within that tension, finding one’s peace and one’s way within it, that’s where authenticity lies–for all of us, in the ways in which our uniqueness rubs up against the heels of societal norms.

CT: How did you come to identify yourself as asexual?

Charlie: I think minha mãe–I mean, my mother–recognized my orientation before I did. I grew up with an asexual aunt, the sister to minha mãe, and so my mother was familiar with and accepting of asexuality.

My mother and aunt raised me to be very much myself–to be the individual that I wanted to be. And so, of course, sexual orientation was part of that. I was never expected to be anything other than completely who I was. There was a time when I was a teen, though, when I’d catch Mãe looking at my friend Miranda and me with a certain gaze of expectation, as if she were imagining grandchildren! But she seemed to get over that.

Now with meu pai–my father–it was very different! Pai had two hobbies: working out and recreational sex! In fact, he was in two clubs all his life, one for each hobby! That’s how I came to be, actually. When minha mãe first moved to Windenburg, she joined the club of Pai, and after a club game in the closet, I was conceived! Pai asked me to join the club when I became a teen, but once I realized that the main activity wasn’t dancing, I gave up my club membership.

I think that Pai was puzzled by me at first, but Mãe must have helped him to understand, for by the end of his life, Pai was very accepting and supportive.

I adopted my son, Tanner, and I think that’s all that Pai really wanted–for me to have a son so that he could be the grandfather.

I don’t really think I answered your question.

CT: That’s OK. And please feel free to skip any questions that feel intrusive.

Charlie: Oh, that’s fine! I am happy to share who I am with the world!

CT: What has been the most liberating aspect for you in recognizing your asexuality?

Charlie: I grew up in a very free home environment. So, I don’t think I have ever felt a need to be liberated. I feel grateful for that. It seems that men, especially, have so much pressure put on them to be “studs.” Really, even the use of that word to describe a man shows how our culture expects and values sexuality in a man. So having been raised by two nonconformist women who encouraged me to nonconform in any way that felt right, that allowed me to notice and question some of the unspoken expectations that society places on men and to think twice before trying to change myself to fit into them.

CT: How do your friends and colleagues respond to your asexuality?

Charlie: Oh, you know, I haven’t really come out back at home. I mean, minha mãe and Pai knew, of course, but I haven’t told my friends. Maybe I should. It’s just never come up.

CT: Do you think your friends would care?

Charlie: Oh, no! Or rather. Maybe? One or two. Gosh, I’m not really sure. Most of my closest friends are women. You know, my best friend from childhood, Miranda, is a lesbian. I think one of the reasons we’ve stayed so close is that there’s no sexual tension between us. In fact, that’s probably the reason that I’m able to have so many close women friends.

CT: Have you experienced miscommunication with your women friends, such as missing their flirts, or not noticing if they were coming on to you?

Charlie: Oh, no! We go out all the time, or they drop by. We just hang out, talk, laugh a lot. None of them ever makes advances. I would know, wouldn’t I? Or–do you think not? I guess I have no way of knowing. I could ask them. Think I should?

CT: Oh! I have no idea! That might be awkward. Maybe just. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, does it? Let’s just pretend I didn’t ask.

Onto more solid ground: What message would you like to share with asexuals during Asexual Awareness Week?

Charlie: It’s the same message I share with everyone: Exactly how you are, that’s how you’re meant to be. Live in accordance with that, and you’re well on your way to a healthy and happy life.


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Wonder 56

When it hits, it hits. Tia Berry, Mãe, and then Pai all passed on within a week of each other. I’ve seen that happen with patients before: all the elders in a generation pass within the same time period.

What’s left for the kids who are left behind?

For that’s how I feel, though I’m an adult and father myself: I feel like an abandoned kid.

If it weren’t for Tanner, I’d be alone in the world, no matter how many friends I have.


I’ve been trying to save my grieving for after Tanner’s gone to school.

When he’s home, I’m focused on him.


He’s been so sweet.

He told me the other day that we had something in common, only backwards.

“I started out an orphan, and now I got a family. You started out with a family, and now you’re an orphan. Same but different.”


“But not entirely the same,” I told him, “for I’ve still got a family. Same one you’ve got.”

“Yeah,” he said, and he smiled.


“It feels like peanut butter and jelly when you got a family, right, Dad?” He’d always called me Chaz before. I had to step into the kitchen for a moment to hold onto the counter, breathe, and let go of a few tears.


I came back to the living room with a cup of coffee, and I sat on the floor next to the drawing table. I leaned against the wall, hitched my knees up, and watched him work.

We could hear his crayon scratching on the paper, and he was humming a little tune.


“For sure this is a picture of a monster,” he said. “Think it’s scary? It’s scary. But it’s not scary like something that will eat you. It’s scary like something that you think you better not look at, or else, you know. Stone. You’re turned to stone.”


“Did you hear about Medusa and Perseus in school, Tanner?”

“Naw,” he replied. “Oh, I know all about Medusa. But this ain’t her. This is her sister Megaluna. She only comes to orphans. When it’s all dark, and then you think you better not look, then she comes. And orphan hearts go stony. But there’s a trick. You look anyway. Then she’s not scary, you’re heart stays soft, and when she goes away, there’s no monster anymore.”


After Tanner left for school, I found myself staring down my own Megaluna. It was too late. My heart was solid stone. I couldn’t even cry, and all I felt was a block inside where all my feelings should be rushing through me. I had a long day ahead while my boy was at school to try to find some way to slew this monster grief.


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Wonder 55


“What did you think of the party?” I asked Tanner while we were cleaning up after the guests left.

“It’s all right,” he said. “But this is better.”

“What, cleaning up is better than eating cake and dancing and playing games?”

“Yeah,” he said. “‘Cause now I don’t have to be around all those dopey people who take up all the room. It’s just you and me.”


I thought for a moment. This is home now, me and this kid, my boy, Tanner.

When I was a little kid, I was happiest at home, with Mãe and Tia Berry. It didn’t matter what we did. As long as we were at home together, I was happy.


“What do you want to do tomorrow?” I asked him. “It’s Sunday. No school.”

“Play video games!” he said. “I’m gonna earn high score.”


We got up early the next morning. I’d set up a spare computer in the study, so while I was doing some writing, he was playing around online.

He kept me laughing with his running commentary.


“So this one guitar met another guitar and it said, ‘How far can a guitar git?’ and the other guitar said, ‘I dunno. How far can a guitar git?’ ‘It can’t get far cuz it’s got tar!’ Get it?”

I didn’t, but it had me laughing all the same.


We took a break from computers, and Tanner put on a puppet show.

“So how far can a guitar git?” the girl puppet asked. I guess he really liked that joke.

“Not far! It’s raining tar!”


Since I’m writing mostly kids books these days, I figure it’s good experience for me to be exposed to what children think is funny.

I’ve been too sophisticated with my humor, I realized! That’s why my books aren’t selling yet–too much scientific information stuck inside an adventurer’s hat. Next kids’ story I write, we’re filling it with humor, and everything gets Tanner-tested first!


In the afternoon, a friend dropped by.

“I hear you’re a dad now,” she said. “That was sudden.”

I know it’s sudden. Everything’s sudden.

“It might’ve been sudden, but it wasn’t rash,” I said. I don’t think she bought it.


After she left, Tanner and I ate supper, and then I read Treasure Island to him. I hadn’t read this novel since I was kid myself. Reading it to Tanner brought a triple pleasure: I got to enjoy my own memories of the story as a child, plus enjoy it now with my adult comprehension, and enjoy it through Tanner’s eyes.We were both hanging on every word.


After Tanner went to bed, Sonia called. She said she’d been thinking of me. It had been so long since she and I went out that one time, that I’d even pretty much forgotten about our one date. Besides my life had changed.

But she kept insisting we meet up at the diner.

“Tanner’s asleep,” she said. “He doesn’t need you when he’s asleep. Plus you need to have your own life, too. Studies show that it’s healthiest for children when their parents have their own social lives, so that they don’t try to live through their children. You’ll be back before he knows you’re gone!  Just get Elsa to look in on him. Please? I’d really like to see you.”

I told her I’d let her know. I called Elsa, and she said she’d be happy to stay with him while I went out. She agreed that with Sonia that it’s best for children when their parents don’t try to fill all their social needs through them.

“Did Sonia put you up to this?” I asked.

“I’ll be right over,” she said, and she hung up.

So I hopped on the ferry and took the tram to the diner. I was glad when I got there, for Bria and her date were there.

Bria looked well. Since we’d identified her hypoglycemia, she’s been on a careful regime of diet, exercise, and rest, and it seems to be working.


“I’m so glad you asked me to come here!” I told Sonia. “Thank you! I always feel cheered when I see patients out and about, doing well and enjoying life!”

“Uh-huh,” said Sonia, suddenly interested in her menu.


In a lucky stroke, Bria and her date were seated at the table right next to ours.

“Is this kismet, or what?” I said.

Bria laughed. I don’t recall what Sonia said.


“This is nice,” I told Sonia. “The veggie burger is done perfectly. And how’s your quiche?”

“My quiche is pretty darn tasty,” she replied.


I got a funny feeling at that moment. I remembered how I felt at the moment when I learned that Tia Berry had passed. For some reason I can’t explain, just at that moment I heard a swooshing sound and felt something untie inside of me and release. It wasn’t necessarily an unpleasant sensation. But it wasn’t a happy one, either.


Being a new father, I thought maybe my sudden unease had something to do with Tanner. When I called home, Elsa said he was sleeping soundly.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t stay.

“I’ve got to go home,” I told Sonia. “If I leave now, I’ll be able to catch the next ferry.”

She started to ask questions, but I told her I’d fill her in later, once I understood what had happened.

“Bye, Bria!” I told my friend and patient at the next table. “Always so great to see you, and especially great to see you in the bloom of health!”


It wasn’t until the next morning when a neighbor called that I found the source of my unease. Mãe had passed on in her sleep.

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Wonder 52


What a great start to the day, I thought during lunch as I savored a chocolate pastry. Sometimes, the microwave does a lousy job of heating the pastry, leaving a frozen core in the center, but this time, that center core was melted and delicious.

I’d met the greatest kid that morning, a boy named Tanner.

“Are you the doctor?” he asked.

“I’m a nurse!” I said. “What’s up? Let’s see if we can make you feel better.”


He laughed as he hopped onto the examining table.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I was really scared coming here,” he replied. “The other kids teased me about getting shots, and they say that you come out feeling worse, and they say that all the growned ups here are meanies. But you’re not mean.”


“Of course not!” I said. “Most of us are pretty nice. Sometimes, one of the doctors here likes to yell, but he usually just yells at me, not at the patients. You know how that goes.”

“Back at the home, the big kids yell sometimes,” he said.

“What home is that?”

“The home for kids like me. The ones without homes.”

I glanced at Tanner’s file. He lived at Willow Creek Center for Children and Youth.


He had a slight fever–just a cold. So, I administered a child’s dose of the remedy and sat with him while the herbs and mushroom compounds took effect.

We talked about video games.

“You like blick-block?” he asked. “I know a trick with it!”

He showed me a pattern that worked on level four, and if you completed it correctly, you earned unlimited extra lives.

“Well, that’s cool!” I said.

“Isn’t it awesome?”


Soon enough, he was feeling well. “Mrs. Adams said that if I felt good to go to school, and then just ride the bus home, and if I didn’t feel good to ask the reception lady to call, but I feel good.”

“Have a great day at school, Tanner.”

“I will, Nurse Charlie,” he said. “See ya!”


That was the morning. It was after lunch that everything shifted. I’ve noticed that sometimes: a day that starts out great can end up awful, or a day that starts awful can end up great.

This day took a turn downhill.

I heard a commotion as I was heading back to the examining rooms, only to find Bria collapsed on the floor in the lobby.


We loaded her onto a gurney and wheeled her into the operating room.

We ran a few tests. It turns out it was hypoglycemia. She’s been coming into the clinic often, with a wide range of symptoms. I guess it must have been blood sugar issues all along.

We gave her intravenous fluids, and I stayed with her until she felt better.


Normally, after a day like that, where I was able to help two people feel better, I’d be heading home with a gratified smile.

But this wasn’t a normal day. This was one of those days where everything that happens earlier gets cordoned off, not as if it happened in an earlier part of the day, but as if it happened in a different layer of the universe.

I got a phone call from Pai who never calls me at work.

“I am calling, Carlos, with news. Yes. This is news that is… this is news. I am here with sua mãe. It is no good, Carlinhos,” Pai said.


Eventually, he was able to tell me what had happened. It was Tia Berry. She came in from working in the yard, complaining of feeling tired.


She lay down for a nap, and when she didn’t come out for tea a few hours later, Mãe went in to discover that she had stopped breathing.

“She left while she slept,” Pai said. “There was no pain. At least that is a blessing.”


I said I’d be right over. Pai told me to wait, come over the next day. He was going to spend the night, and Mãe had finally gone to sleep. He wanted her to rest up while she could.

“It’s been a shock,” Pai said. “She needs her rest. And I will stay for now.”

On the ferry ride back home, I kept replaying the last visit I had with minha tia, when she and Mãe had come over here, and they had told me about Jake. She hadn’t seemed right then. Her usual sparkle was dulled. I should have insisted then that she drop by the clinic. I figured that she was affected by Jake’s passing. But the signs were there, if only I’d been able to see.


I remembered Mãe‘s words to me, when I ran into her down by the Rattlesnake.

“I want to get to have a chance to meet my grandkid before it’s too late,” she’d said.

It was already too late for Tia Berry.

I logged onto the adoption services website. I’d filled out my screening form and application already, and I’d had a few phone interviews with the social worker.

There was a message in my account.


Dear Mr. Rocca-Cups,

We have an immediate placement which seems to be a good match for you and your situation. Please call as soon as possible.

I called right then. They had a child, a boy, who they felt would do well with me. And if I could make it there before nine, I could pick him up tonight.

Of course I was rushing things. Tia Berry has just left, and this grief hasn’t even settled in yet. But my heart was open, and if there were a child waiting for a home, and I had a home to give that boy, and if bringing him home now meant that minha mãe might get to know her grandson before it were too late for her, then it wasn’t too soon. It wasn’t rushing. It was responding with an open heart when the universe provided a miracle on a night when it felt like there was no such thing as the miraculous.


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Wonder 51


Since I’ve been working at the clinic, I’ve noticed that we get a bunch of regulars. Jeanette is one of them.

I’m not sure if she’s actually sick each time she comes, but I can’t figure out why else she would stop by. Surely, she has other things to do on a beautiful morning.

“Your heartbeat is regular,” I told her. “Your lungs sound clear. Your eyes are bright. Your complexion is good. I can’t find anything wrong with you.”

“Maybe I should stop in tomorrow on my lunch break,” she said. “Just in case any new symptoms develop. Are you working tomorrow?”

In the break room at lunch, I told my supervisor about her frequent visits.

“Benefit of the job,” he said, with a chuckle.

I have no idea what he was talking about.


Our research is going well. I logged in a few test results after lunch.

My boss was giving Brantley, the research project manager, a hard time.

“The grant deadline is in two weeks!” he shouted. “Have you even started the application?”

“I thought we agreed at our last staff meeting that you’d be handling the application,” Brantley said.


I felt relieved when my lab duties were over and I could return to the examining rooms where we talk in quiet voices.

A boy I’d treated a few weeks back was there.

“How’re you feeling, spud?” I asked him.


He had a sore throat and a slight fever.

“You’ve just got a virus,” I said. “We’ve got a good cure for that.”


“Will it hurt?” he asked.

“Not at all!” I replied. “You’ll feel great within a few hours, and you’ll be running around and driving your mom nuts.”

“I haven’t got a mom,” he replied.


“You don’t?” I asked.

“Naw,” he said. “I’m a morphin.”

“An orphan?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Who do you live with?” I asked.

“The other morphins at the Morphin Ridge.”

I gave him a child’s dose of remedy.


While he rested, I went out front to talk with the social worker who’d brought him in. I’d wanted to let her know that the boy would be just fine and to tell her that she could bring in any of the kids at the first sign of cold or flu. We ended up talking for nearly half an hour about Windenburg Kids’ Home and the children who lived there. Many were adopted fairly quickly, she explained. In fact, the boy I’d treated was scheduled to be moving in with a family just as soon as the final paperwork cleared. But there were some who never found homes.

Riding the ferry back, I started thinking about my house on the island. I had an extra room downstairs. I’d enjoyed living alone, but was that really what I wanted for all of my life? If there was someone out there who needed a home, and if I had extra room to spare…

I spent the rest of the ferry ride daydreaming.

I got a call that evening from my friend the waitress at the diner. She asked if I wanted to meet her at the bar.

“Bear-suits?” I asked.

She laughed. “No, it’s an extra-terrestrial conference,” she replied. “Interested?”

I wasn’t really, but I thought it would be fun to spend an evening with her, so I agreed to meet her there.

“Charlie,” she said when she saw me.

“Are you feeling OK?” I asked. “Your voice sounds kind of husky. You’re not coming down with something, are you?”

She laughed. “Never better,” she said.


We enjoyed a few drinks and a long conversation. I told her I’d just begun to think about adopting.

“Adopting?” she asked. “You mean, you’d be a single parent?”

I told her how I’d been raised by a single mom and my aunt and how my experience of family stemmed from the discovery minha mãe had made that it was love that made a family, not necessarily a mom and a dad bound by marriage.

My friend said something about an early shift and left abruptly. I decided to walk around to enjoy the warm night. I wanted to turn over my idea of adopting a child so I could look at it from all sides.

I ran into minha mãe.

“Man, this is perfect timing!” I told her. “You’re exactly the person I want to talk about this with!”


I explained my idea.

“There are so many kids that need homes,” I said. “I know that I can’t take them all, but even if I just take one, I’d make a difference, right?”

“Charlie,” she said, “I’ve always known you would be an amazing father. And I’ve also always had a hunch that you wouldn’t become one in the traditional way.”


“Really, Mãe?” I asked. “But what do you mean?”

“Charlie,” she said, “think about it. Have you ever been interested in a girl, I mean in any way other than as a friend?”

“Well, no,” I admitted. “But I’m not really interested in guys that way, either.”

“I know,” said Mãe. “And that’s fine. You’ve always been you. You love everyone, and everyone loves you, just maybe not in the flowers-and-candlelight kind of way. Or even in the quickie-in-the-closet type of way. I think it’s a beautiful thing, Charlie, your love of people. You will make a good father, and I think adoption is the perfect way for you to become one.”


“Thanks, Mãe,” I said. “It’s pretty sudden, but it’s the right decision, isn’t it? ”

She wrapped me in a big hug. “It is so much the right decision.”


“Now just get busy filling out the paperwork,” she said. “I hear the process can take a really long time, and I want to get to have a chance to meet my grandkid before it’s too late.”

I looked at her hard.

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” I asked.

“No, spud,” she replied. “Just being realistic.”


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Wonder 50


I’ve started writing a new book. I’m not sure if it’s a children’s book or a novel for adults. Maybe it’ll be one that crosses generations.

It’s about a friendship between a boy and a man.


The boy lives with his mom and his aunt. His dad’s in his life, but not a regular presence.

Through the friendship, the boy and the man each gain something.

On my morning jog, I thought about a bit of dialogue between them that I want to write.


“How come you look so serious?” the boy asks the man.

“Serious?” replies the man. “Do I look serious?”

“You’re not smiling,” says the boy.

“Ah,” says the man. “I am a smile-saver.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s one who reserves smiles for those times when life is ripe, and when we feel, way deep in our center, a feeling like sparkling lights that travels up, and when it reaches our face, we smile. That’s a real smile.”

“And then,” says the boy, “the sparkles travel out through your eyes, right?”

“That’s right,” says the man, smiling a genuine smile with eyes shining.


I’m not sure. When I play that dialogue through my mind, it leaves such a wistful feeling.

Jake and I really did talk about genuine smiles. Will it be too sad to write that in this novel? Will it even make sense?

I wonder what forms a friendship. What was there between me and Jake, and how did we manage to stay good friends to the end?


I realize that this is a rite of passage. Mãe, Pai, and Tia Berry are all about the same age as Jake. I’m moving into a time of my life when I’ll be faced with a string of good-byes.

What’s the next step? What’s the more in my life that I want?

In the evening, Lucas called to invite me to join him at a bar in the desert.

“They’ve got this weird thing going on,” he said. “Not exactly a cult, but something strange. You’ve heard of the bear-suit people? They dress up in bear-suits and scare everybody. It’s supposed to be a riot.”


When we arrived, I saw my friend and patient Bria Louis, who’s a police officer, and down the street from her, someone in a bear-suit walked towards the bar.


“These bear-suit guys make me nuts!” Bria said when she reached us. “They’re not exactly breaking any rules, but wherever they show up, stuff happens! Like, illegal stuff! And I would be the one to pull the bear-suit duty. Just my luck!”

“Don’t worry!” I said. “Lucas and I are here. Anybody tries to pull anything, and we’ll straighten it all out. We’ve got this covered.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Lucas. “I just remembered I’ve got something I need to do at home.”


After Lucas left, a blonde in a yellow evening gown approached us.

“I can’t find my date,” she said. “Have you seen a tall guy in a bear-suit?”

“I’m sure he’ll be along,” I said. “And that’s a gorgeous shade of yellow, by the way. Like a daffodil!”


Her date showed up a bit later. We sat together at the bar.

“We’re getting married soon,” the bear said, “me and my gal.”

“That’s great!” I replied. “Fill the den with a bunch of cubs, huh?”

“That’s the idea,” he said.


And I felt that hollow feeling again, only a little more pronounced. There was something I wanted in my life. What was it?

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Wonder 49


I was grateful for work the next day. Something to get my mind off of grief. Well, for a little while, at least. Yuki was my first patient, and she always helps me feel better.

“I heard about Jake,” she said. “You OK?”

“I have no idea” I replied. “Is it OK to feel sort of frozen inside?”

“However you feel is OK,” Yuki said. “Everybody feels it differently.”

After I prescribed the herbal remedy for Yuki, Luna suggested I take a house call that had just come in. I felt there was some sort of conspiracy between my friends, for the house call was to my friend Jeanette Hairston’s home.


I saw her roommate first. It was a simple diagnosis–just a cold which our herbal remedy would fix right up.


Jeanette, however, seemed a little loopy.

“I been trying a little home remedy myself,” she said. I suggested she try, instead, a cup of strong green tea and a nap.

“Give a call if you still feel badly when you get up,” I said on my way out the door.


I passed the rest of my shift logging research results. I couldn’t focus enough to run tests, but entering the data let my mind clear while my heart slowly thawed.

Yuki called as I was leaving the clinic.

“Come meet me at the Blue Velvet!” she said. “Let’s hang out together.”

I took the train there. The prospect of an evening surrounded by people, conversation, and music was way more appealing than a long night at home, just me and my feelings.

“Yuki!” I said when I saw her, “you get Best Friend of the Decade award!”

She laughed. “You think I’m going to let you alone at a time like this? I know you, Charlie. I know what you need.”


Miranda was there, too. Now I knew there was a conspiracy! We shared a quick hug.

“You heard about Jake?” she asked. I hugged her again. I’d met Miranda the same day I met Jake, back when Miranda and I were little kids.

“You holding up OK?” I asked her.

“I’ll be all right,” she said.

We sat at the bar, sharing stories. I told about a time when Jake had tried to teach me to weed the garden, and I’d pulled out all the clover, instead.

“Very thorough,” Jake had said. “Next time, pay attention to the shape of the leaf of the plants, so you don’t pull out the very ones you want to keep.”

Jake had launched into a short lecture about beneficial plant communities and rhizomes and such. And I realized, for the first time, that that had been my introduction into this field of science and herbal medicine that is becoming my life passion.


Miranda and the others left. I wasn’t sure where Yuki was. For a moment, the bar was silent, and I felt a deep pain inside.

“It hits you in the gut, doesn’t it?” said Cassandra, who took the bar stool next to me.


“Grief’s a funny thing,” she said. “After Father died, I couldn’t eat for a week. Then the next week, I had a headache. Then finally, I thought I was having a heart attack. It was grief. All of it.”

“Are you OK now?” I asked “You look pretty chipper.”

“Oh, no,” she said. “You just get used to it, that’s all. I still feel like there’s a dagger lodged in my upper left chest, right below the clavicle.”

“That’s the subclavian artery,” I said. “You should have that checked out.”

“No,” she replied. “I’m fine. I hardly even notice it anymore, only when I really tune in. You get used to it. You’ll see.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get used to phantom pain lodged in my body. I wanted to move through grief, in its own time, and come out the other side. I tried to explain this to Cassandra.

“Not me,” she said. “I like feeling that tightness there. Every time I do, I remember Father. This way, I’ll never forget him.”


“You know,” I joked, “there are other ways we can remember our friends and family. Like hearing a favorite song, for example. Or telling one of their favorite stories!”


“We could,” Cassandra said. “Or we could feel pain and smile anyway.”

I left before sunset. Yuki had left a while before. For some reason, I wanted to catch the sunset from the ferry. I wanted to stand on the deck, facing the ocean, and remember all the sunsets that Jake and I watched together. I wanted to discover what I might feel–what was there, besides pain, that was left of him that I could still feel while I watched the sun go down?


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Wonder 47


“I’ve got a dinner date tonight,” said my patient Bria Louis, “and I really want to go. Will I be well enough?”

“I think so,” I replied. “It’s just the early stage of a virus, and our herbal remedy seems to kick it out in an hour or two. See how you feel, and if you feel great, that means that the reishi and shiitake did their job, so you’d be good-to-go! If you feel a little tired or still have a sore throat, which is unlikely, then I’d suggest you rest up and postpone your date for another day.”

“I really hope the stuff works,” Bria said. “It’s not like it’s a romantic date–it’s just with a friend. But still. She’s an important friend, and you never know when a friend turns into something more.”


I thought about what she said while I was on break. I don’t really get what more there is than friendship. To me, it seems like everything.


The day went well, but I still felt a little stressed and tired when I got home. I turned on some music and danced before I even showered.


Then, I heard some static from the living room and I noticed that the stereo was broken.


After fixing it, I showered and headed out back to the pool. There’s nothing more relaxing than a quick dip at sunset.


When I got out of the pool, my phone rang. It was Sonia Burgos, whom I’d met at the café the day before.

“I can’t stop thinking about you,” she said. “Want to go out to eat?”

I was hungry, and Sonia seemed like a nice, friendly person, so I said sure. I kept wondering what she meant that she couldn’t stop thinking about me. I finally figured that she was probably interested in my research.

I wore my “remember-not-to-take-myself-too-seriously” outfit. I didn’t want to bore her by going into more details about applanoxidic acid A than she really wanted to hear. When I’ve got my blue glasses on, I remember to toss in a joke now and then, rather than just rattle on as fast as my brain will take me.


In the restaurant, I saw Bria. So she’d made it to her dinner date, after all, and her date was Yuki. They seemed to be having a good time. I didn’t even know they knew each other!


“Look, there’s mushrooms on the menu!” Sonia said.

I laughed. “Nothing like bringing the office to dinner!”


“Mushrooms are fascinating,” Sonia said. “And I mean not just mushrooms, but all types of fungi, especially the mycelium.”


“Are you ready to order?” said the waitress. “The special tonight is smoked chanterelles on a bed of braised kale with pureed fig compote.”

“We’re skipping the mushrooms,” said Sonia.”I got a feeling that’s all we’re gonna be talking about tonight, and I don’t want us to be eating our words.”


We did talk about mushrooms all night. Sonia explained that the mycelium form a network of underground threads connecting all the plants in a forest community, and along those pathways travel chemicals which allow the plants to share information with each other. In other words, mushrooms facilitate plant communication.

Talking with Sonia reminded me of talking with Tia Berry. We could talk for hours and hours, exploring a subject from all different sides and angles.

I think I could be great friends with Sonia–and, after all, what is better than friendship?


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Wonder 46


The clinic gave me a research day. I’d heard that some of the old volumes in the library discussed folk cures using mushrooms, and we were interested in seeing if what they found could offer any new directions for our work.

Jeanette Hairston, one of my friends from high school, was there, reading a romance novel.


“How’ve you been, Jeanette?” I asked.

“All right,” she replied. “I just got a job.”

“You did? That’s fantastic!”


“You don’t even know what kind of job it is,” she replied. “How do you know it’s fantastic?”


“What if I hated my job? What if I worked for some creep who bullied me or asked me to do things that were demeaning? What if I had to do stuff for my job that went against my principles? What if it were a job that made me feel like an objectified commodity? How can you know ‘it’s fantastic’ when you don’t even know what it is?”

“Uh, sorry,” I said.”Is it any of those things?”


“No,” she replied. “It’s actually a pretty decent job. It’s in business.”

“Oh,” I said. “Ok. That’s… that’s something?”


Jeanette’s lunch hour was over, and I took a few deep breaths after she headed back to her office. The next few hours raced by–I was discovering some really fascinating history of the uses of fungal compounds with porcine livestock.

The more I read about pork, the hungrier I got. As evening came, I decided to call it a day. Leaving the library, I ran into one of my patients from yesterday.

“You’re looking great!” I told the red-haired waitress. “How’re you feeling?”

She said she felt really relaxed and healthy.

“Usually, I feel a little wound up,” she said, “but ever since yesterday, I’ve just felt so calm.”

“That’s to be expected, actually,” I replied. “Reishi, which is one of the mushrooms in the compound, is known to calm anxiety.”


I headed across the courtyard to the café to grab a snack before catching the ferry.

Eva was there.

“Not now, Charlie,” she said, as I started to detail what I’d learned from my research. “I’m trying to forget the office!”

She introduced me to a few of her acquaintances, Cassandra Goth, whom I recognized as our hostess from the restaurant that Yuki took me to, and Sonia Burgos.


“I don’t mind hearing about your research,” Cassandra said. “I’m an amateur historian.”


While Cassandra and I were sharing trivia about ancient recipes for pork, Yuki walked in.

“Hey, Yuk,” I said.

“Save it,” she said back, looking really tense. I wished I’d had some reishi compound to give her right then.

Our research project manager came in, too.

“We aren’t talking about the project, are we, Cups?” he said.

“No! Certainly not!” I answered, though, truthfully, it was pretty much all I ever thought about or talked about these days.


It was a good reminder, though—there are millions of topics! There are as many topics of conversation as there are thoughts in people’s heads.

Luna arrived, and Malcolm Landgraab entertained us with stories about cars that got stuck in weird places: culverts, cul-de-sacs, blind alleys, wharfs, swamps. Some of the stories were so bizarre that even Yuki forgot her tension and began to chuckle, though Luna was not amused, and I was skeptical.


I nearly missed the last ferry. Thankfully, the research project manager found me dozing at a corner table and roused me in time to make the quick sprint down to the dock before the final whistle blew as the ferry pulled out into the bay.


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