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, 9.1

Ninth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

9. Big Blue “Like” Button

The world is full of clowns, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a happy place. On the weekend that the clown convention was in town, Malcolm Mignon was facing his own sadness. It was the anniversary of the night his wife left him, five years ago, with two babies under the age of three.

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“Too soft,” she said. “It’s like living with a marshmallow. I need an edge.”

And she was gone.

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His mom, Esmeralda, took them in, and a few years later, his newly divorced sister Mariana joined them with her two kids. Now they all lived together in the big red corner house, four kids, three adults, plus Malcolm’s younger sister, Gloriana, wild and ornery at sixteen.

Malcolm liked his kid sister, even if she was snarling most of the time. He could cut her some slack–it wasn’t easy finding the privacy a teen girl needed with siblings and nieces and nephews in every corner of the house.

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Still, there was a lot to like about the arrangement, for Malcolm, at least. Mariana, for one thing, had always been his main champion, as he’d been hers, and being able to keep her smiling every day gave him a reason not to sink too low when the blues paid a visit.

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It was hard not to like living in a house full of kids, even if that meant he had to wait until they were all at school or in bed at night to get the bathroom to himself.

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Sometimes, even Gloriana would manage to shelve her attitude, and then watching her show her nieces what it meant to be an intelligent young woman made it all worthwhile.

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On that anniversary weekend, Malcolm needed to get away for a while. He left the kids with his mom, and headed out to the Blue Velvet.

It couldn’t be a good omen to find one of the convention clowns shuffling his sorry feet out of the bar as he arrived.

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Another off-duty clown frowned behind the bartender.

“Thought you dudes were supposed to bring happiness,” Malcolm muttered.

“Happiness is over-rated,” said the clown. “We’re trading in the pathos commodities.”

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The afternoon slid into the evening, and, with the departure of the clown, the night began to look up.

Alec Dolan, taking a break from the campaign trail, was there with his buddy and chief political rival Huntington.

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“I like this,” Malcolm said, “Guys’ night out. We don’t need the women for a good time, eh?”

Alec looked at him and muttered something noncommittal in French.

“I’m just saying,” Malcolm said.

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The next morning, the kids were already up when Malcolm came downstairs.

This was the hardest time for him, when Beau and Sasha were cuter than potatoes and it looked on the outside like a happy family. It stabbed him to think that she was missing out on this, that she chose to miss out on this. Who would leave these two kiddos of their own accord?

He hated thinking it, but sometimes, he thought it would be easier if he was a widower. At least then, it would’ve been something that couldn’t have been prevented. Now, on mornings like this, he buttered his toast with “What ifs.”

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In the other room, his mom was telling Gloriana and his niece Sarah some story with a moral. He could always tell when it was one of his mom’s Lesson Stories–they all began with “When a person wants…” and ended with “so that’s why.”

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He liked her stories, though, even the ones he knew by heart. And he shouldn’t complain about having a storyteller for a mother, not since she’d been the inspiration for his own career as an assistant editor.

And Sasha! She came by all her gifts as a storyteller naturally. Now her stories never carried a hidden moral or a lesson. He liked that.

“Young pirate Bobson climbed up into the crow’s nest,” she continued, “and what should he see? Not one but five whales, each one bigger than the last! But that wasn’t all, the whole Spanish Armada was surfing in their wake!”

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She kept him chuckling for a good long time, that daughter of his did.

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Esmeralda always told him, “Son, not to worry. Do you know what makes a child grow happy and strong? It’s love. It’s not having both parents there. It’s being surrounded by love.”

When he stepped outside that Sunday morning, with the trees shining down their pink petals, and the air smelling like fresh rain on the pavement, Malcolm thought maybe his mom was right.

And if he could find someone else to make a little love with, then there’d be that much more love around his children’s home.

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It took a clown to bring his hopes crashing back down headfirst into the sidewalk.

He liked her first joke just fine: “Sartre was sitting in a cafe when a waitress approached. ‘Can I get you something to drink, Monsieur Sartre?’ He replied, ‘Yes, I’d like a cup of coffee with sugar, but no cream.’ With a nod the waitress walked off to fill the order. A few minutes later, however, the waitress returned and said, ‘I’m sorry, Monsieur Sartre, we are all out of cream–how about with no milk?'”

When he chuckled, she dug in, and what followed was a barrage of the saddest stories he’d ever heard, and the one the broke him down was a report she’d read in the news that morning predicting the extinction of the monarch butterfly.

“They all leave,” she said. “One way or another, every thing of beauty will leave.”

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He felt foolish, being moved by a clown’s sad stories. He’d read this was the convention’s challenge–see how many folks they could break down. It was sort of the opposite of a laugh-in. “The real challenge,” read the convention brochure, “for the sons and daughters of Pulcinello is to stir all of the emotions.”

He ran into Alec, who was scheduled to give a speech at the park later that morning.

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Malcolm tried out the joke about Sartre.

“Ah! Out of cream! Yes! I get it. Wait. This is funny? And what other jokes did you hear?”

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When Malcolm explained about the monarchs,  Alec grew serious.

“This, I know,” he said. “I have spoken with the researchers. Yes! You did not know I was with the Greens, did you? I am the candidate!” Alec explained their plan to protect the green spaces throughout the Three Rivers region. “It is the milkweed. That is what these monarchs rely on. My friend Huntington, he does not care about the milkweed! But you trust us! Vote Green and you will see! We will put extinction on the extinction list! That, mon ami, is a prediction!”

Malcolm smiled. He liked Alec and Alec’s passion for the environment.

“Look there,” Alec said, pointing at a happy blue clown walking down the sidewalk. “Not all clowns are sad! That particular clown! I know her! That is Arianna Fuchs, the wife of my campaign finance manager, Janet Fuchs! Oh, yes! We Greens are very progressive!”

Malcolm had to laugh. He liked this blue clown, the wife of the progressive campaign manager!

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He liked, also, a beautiful woman in a baseball hat and purple go-go boots who was eating al fresco in the park picnic area.

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He tried to think of a joke she might like. Retelling the Sartre joke seemed a little sorry. A funny pick-up line seemed a little too hasty. Fortunately, he was saved from having to come up with anything when she approached him, asking if he could explain what all these mopey clowns were doing around town.

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They walked for a bit and talked a lot, until they found Mariana.

“Your brother’s been telling me all about the joys of single-parenting together,” the woman in the baseball hat and purple go-go boots said. “It takes all sorts of shapes to make a family,” she continued. “That’s what I always said.”

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Mariana asked if she’d like to join them for supper, but the woman in the baseball cap and purple go-go boots had other things to do. “A date to get ready for,” she said, coyly.

As they watched her walk off, Malcolm sighed. “I kinda liked her,” he said.

“Did you really?” said his sister. “She looked like she kinda liked you back.”

“Just kinda,” said Malcolm. The sun was nearly setting. “Hey. I nearly got through the weekend. Another year.”

“You’re a good man, big brother,” Mariana said. “Be here for me when my weekend comes around, will you?”

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And they walked together, across the street and into the big red corner house, where Esmeralda was dishing up big plates of spaghetti for each member of the family.

Three Rivers 4.1

Fourth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

4. The honeybee visits the clover flower

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Sasha Mignon’s grandmother Esmeralda met her on the path when she came home from school.

“This is a big day!” said Esmeralda. “I just got a call from your daddy, and he got a big promotion at work. We’re going to celebrate!”

“Yay for Daddy!” said Sasha. “Will you make his favorite cake?”

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“I would,” said Esmeralda, “but I’m completely out of currants. I thought I’d make brownies, instead.”

“But it won’t be a proper party without Dad’s favorite cake!” Sasha said, imaging the round sweet loaf that her grandma made, fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg, and tiny Zante currants. “I’ll fetch some from the store for you!”

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Esmeralda handed Sasha a few bills, and off Sasha ran, down the street and to the Mercantile.

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Sasha felt the full import of the task. What an auspicious day! Her daddy had been working very hard, and every morning when he’d left, he’d say, “Maybe today will be the day!” and now, today was the day, and her daddy was now assistant editor! What an important daddy.

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Sasha practiced what she would say to the lady at the cash register. “Half a pound of Zante currants, please.” And if she tried to sell her raisins instead, she would say, “No thank you. The recipe requires currants. Zante, please. Thank you.”

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But when she said that, the lady said, “We’re all out of currants today, Sasha. We’re expecting them in the delivery tomorrow. Will raisins do?”

“No,” Sasha replied.

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“Well, can we think of any place else that might have them?” the lady asked.

Sasha thought.

“Yes!” she said, remembering where else she’d had currants. “That’s perfect! There is someplace else!”

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And off she ran.

“Thank you!” she said as she left the store.

Just as she reached the corner, she hopped onto the streetcar. She had a token left over from the weekend when her family had ridden the streetcar to the park. She had to ride all the way to the end of the line, and when she hopped out, there it was! Johnny’s Café!

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Every time she came here, Moira, that’s the barrista, gave her a special Zante currant muffin. It was perfect, every time, with the tiny sweet currants distributed through the whole muffin so each bite had bursts of sweetness.

“Only Zante currants will do!” Moira said, every time, so Sasha knew that Moira understood about currants and raisins.

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“What brings you here by yourself so late at night?” Moira said.

“Currants,” said Sasha, and she explained all about how it was her dad’s special day because of the long-awaited promotion and about how the Mercantile was out of Zante currants and how she took the streetcar all the way to the end of the line and so now, here she was!

“But we don’t have them for selling,” Moira said. “Only for baking.”

“Well, we’re baking,” said Sasha.

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At last they struck a deal. Moira’s shift had long been over and she was eager to leave, but Marcus, who was to take over the next shift, was still at the gym. If Sasha would fetch Marcus and bring him back, so Moira could leave for the evening, she would sneak her a cupful of currants from the supply room.

That would work!

So Sasha headed across the street and down the corner to the big square building with glass windows on the edge of the water to find Marcus.

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He sauntered in as if he had all the time in the world.

“You’re supposed to be at work!” said Sasha.

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“Are you my mama?” Marcus said.

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And Sasha explained all about the Mercantile being sold out of Zante currants and not expecting them until tomorrow and raisins not doing it, and her daddy’s big promotion and no celebration for her daddy is a party without Zante currant cake and the deal she worked out with Moira whereby if Marcus goes to work, like he’s supposed to, then she’ll get the cupful of currants for Gram’s famous Zante currant cake.

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It was a deal, and Marcus and Sasha walked back together.

“I got him!” Sasha said.

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Moira strolled back to the supply room to fetch the Zante currants.

Mission accomplished! Sasha thought about how happy Gram would be to pour the currants into the batter, stirring them so that each bite would have five currants or more! She thought about her daddy’s big smile as he sat down to a plate of Zante currant cake. That would help him know just how proud they all were of him!

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“How are you getting home?” Moira asked Sasha as she handed her the white paper bag full of Zante currants.

“The streetcar,” said Sasha.

“But the last streetcar left half an hour ago! I’ll drive you. Come on!”

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When they pulled up to her street, Sasha saw with worry that all the streetlights were on. Gram and her daddy had a rule that she and all the kids had to be inside or in the yard, at the very least, when the street lights came on. And here she was, just getting home now!

Maybe they hadn’t noticed. She was sure that they would be so busy with Daddy’s party that they wouldn’t even notice that she was gone. That was a sure thing, for there’d be balloons to blow up and paper decorations to cut and hang, and special party dance music records to select, and tables to set, and then fancy clothes to put on. For sure, no one will have noticed that she wasn’t back yet.

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“Where have you been, child?” her aunt Gloriana yelled when she walked up to the house. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you! We’ve been worried sick!”

And even her brother Beau scowled.

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“You’re here! You’re home safe!” said her aunt Mariana, pulling her into a big hug. “Oh, baby! Don’t worry us like that again!”

“Told you she’d be OK,” said her cousin Steward.

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Sasha explained all about her errand and how she had found the Zante currants, after all, so now they could have the party, just like they planned.

“That’s great, honeybee,” said Aunt Mariana. “But you need to know that you’re way more important than any cake or any currants! If you ever are in a situation where you think you need to take off on your own like that, you stop and think again. What’s most important is you being safe and making smart decisions, OK?”

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“There’s my little Sasha bee!” said Esmeralda, as she came around the corner and wrapped her granddaughter into a big hug.

“Did I do something wrong, Gram?” asked Sasha.

“Well,” said Esmeralda, “Let’s just say you had a learning experience and you put us through a world of worry while you did so. We’ll talk about it more in the morning, ok? For now, let’s get those cakes made!”

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Three Rivers 3.1

Third Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

3. Beef Stew

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“Suppertime!” Esmeralda Mignon called to her family. “Stop what you’re doing and come and get it!”

“I set the table, Grammy!” said Sarah.

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“Good job! How many places did you set?”

Sarah muttered to herself for a moment, MamaUncleStewardSashaGlorianaMeGramBeauTrishCelieForrestTravisCaroline…

“Thirteen!” she said, when she’d finished counting.

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“Thirteen? That can’t be!” said Esmeralda.

“Why not?”

“Because of Gran’s triskaidekaphobia,” explained Mariana, Sarah’s mom and Esmeralda’s eldest daughter.

“Trikadecker what?” asked Sarah.

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“It’s a fear of thirteen. It’s unlucky,” Mariana explained.

“But why, Gram?”

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“It’s not so much that it’s unlucky,” explained Esmeralda, “as it is sad. Why, do you know who was the thirteenth one to sit at our Good Lord’s table at that final meal?”

“No,” said Sarah.

“Why, it’s just about the saddest man there can be,” Esmeralda told her granddaughter, “and I can’t bear that number thirteen for that reason, the thirteenth apostle. And especially not for a place at a meal. Why, who would sit in that thirteenth chair? It would bring nothing but sorrow and sadness.”

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“Aw, Gram, I’m sorry,” said Sarah. “I’ll sit there. That way nobody else has to feel the sad but me. Or if you like, I could skip supper altogether, and then you’ll have twelve, OK?”

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“Nonsense,” said Esmeralda. “Everybody’s going to eat. I’ve found a way around this before, and I’ll find a way around it again.”

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Esmeralda put the stew back on the stove to simmer. “Go back to what you were doing!” she called to everybody. “Supper will be a little while yet!”

Esmeralda ran outside, as she had done a time or two before and likely would do again, and stopped the first passerby she saw.

“Excuse me,” she said, “We’re just getting ready to sit down for supper. Would you like to join us?”

But the stranger was none too keen on the idea.

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She saw their mail carrier on the river path.

“Why, normally I’d love to join you,” the mail lady said, “but I’m still finishing up my route. Maybe next time?”

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In the courtyard, she stopped a young woman whom she’d seen walking through the neighborhood before.

“Why, yes!” the woman replied. “I’d love to join you and your family for a meal! I know your son, and I’ve met your granddaughters in the playground before.”

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When they got inside, the family and guests were gathering in the living room.

“Ready to eat, Ma?” Gloriana, her youngest daughter, asked.

“Yes, indeed! Set another place!”

“Oh, there’s no need,” said Gloriana. “Travis had to leave so Indra can take his place.”

“But that makes…” Esmeralda began.

“Thirteen!” Mariana said, and her children laughed.

“I’ll go round somebody up,” said Malcolm, her son.

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“Oh, don’t bother,” said Esmeralda. “I’ve got another plan.”

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She packed the plates and silverware and napkins into a basket, which she gave to Mariana. She handed the salad bowl to Gloriana. She took the stew off the stove, dished it up in a big warming pan, which she handed to Malcolm.

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“If the flock won’t come to us,” she said, “we’ll go to the flock.”

They carried their feast out to the park.

“Come and get it!” she called, and friends, neighbors, and passersby gathered round to join the meal.

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“Every problem has a solution, praise the Lord!” Esmeralda said, while friends and family enjoyed the meal. “There’s plenty for all and we’re all well fed!”

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