Septemus 43

FiLetter101

Dear son,

If I had known this letter would cause so much grief between us, I would have left it unopened, marked it “Return to Sender,” and placed it right back in the mailbox.

First, it was odd that Geoffrey would write, rather than drop by for a conversation.

Poppy always said if a friend writes you, it’s either to deliver bad news or break a deal, or both.

“Salutations, Mr. Sevens.” 

He addressed me by last name.

Really, that’s all I needed to know. I should have returned the letter right then.

Instead, I showed it to you.

Septeen1008

“It does seem a little odd,” you said. We read it together.

Salutations, Mr. Sevens.

I have an urgent matter I need your help with. Or more correctly, your son’s help.

Let’s get straight to the point: Foundling number 42, a little girl of two, is missing. And it’s completely my fault. I can’t tell you all of the details, but as the result of a fatal computer error I delivered her to a wrong address and an entirely wrong country. Because of the isolated city-state’s strict border control I can’t apply for a new visa before three months have expired without risking the exposure of the project. Their officials are difficult to work with.

I asked you where you thought she might be. You didn’t say much. I continued reading it aloud.

Septeen911

The only bit of luck I have is that the right participant never got to the point where he found out about the child. I’ve canceled his meeting.

I left the girl at the hands of a polite young man who didn’t look shocked at all to see a Sixan at his doorstep. He signed all the papers without batting an eye, but back at the office it turned out there is no Hades Rcane in any country’s registers.

The phone number is fake, I lost the address and it’s likely that he doesn’t even live in the same place anymore. I have no idea what kind of a criminal I’ve gifted 42… I can’t bear to think of what could have happened to her.

This is where Septemus comes in. I want him to attempt contacting 42. Just the confirmation that she still lives would be enough for now.

“Would you be able to do this?” I asked.

You’d pulled out your journal and had begun writing.

Septeen908

“Keep reading,” you said. “I’m listening.”

I read on:

As the matter is highly confidential and could, if released to the public, endanger the entire program, I’ve tried to keep this information from spreading even within the Agency.  Please treat this seriously.

I am deeply sorry to burden you and Septemus with this, but there is no one else I coud turn to right now. Should you manage to find her, no words could express my gratitude.

Geoffrey Landgraab 
Head of the Family and Children Services, Program H9110

“It doesn’t sound good,” I said when I’d finished.

Septeen909

You wrote a few more lines, then closed your journal.

“First off,” you replied, “Don’t worry. But second, we’ve got to figure out what to tell Geoffrey.”

“I don’t even know if I want you involved, son,” I said. Here’s where the first conflict enters in. You say you’re already involved, and that if one of your pagotogo is in trouble, you’re obliged to help.

My obligation is to keep you safe. That’s first for me.

If this child is with a criminal, if she’s in the city-state I think she’s in, then I don’t want you involved. Period.

FiLetter104

You said you were already involved. But that didn’t matter: what mattered was what we told Geoffrey.

You reminded me of my obligation to Geoffrey. Frankly, I don’t have an obligation to him, or at least, not to him as the head of Family and Children Services. My obligations to him are the obligations of a friend, but if he writes to me in official capacity, as the head of a program, I have no obligation. I’m a participant in H9110, but that doesn’t oblige me to help out the head of the program. Besides, Geoffrey never disclosed to me in our conversations that he was in charge of the day-to-day operations of H9110. He said he was influential with policy, but that’s a lot different than getting involved with the placement of children. As far as I can tell, the whole thing is shrouded in secrecy and that makes me not trust it.

You reminded me of my obligation, as a father of a bizoopagoto, to help all other bizoopagotogo.

“Is she bizoo?” I asked.

“I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to say,” you replied. You closed your eyes and listened.

FiLetter103

You know things. I asked you, right then, point blank, if you were in touch with her. I can tell that you are and that you were singing to her and listening to her right then. I’ve come to recognize that look.

“Here’s the thing,” you said at last. “What’s most important? Love is most important. For all of us, with what we’ve been through, if we love and are loved back, that will be enough. With that, we can get through anything. Danger. Hardship. You name it. But if you take that away, we won’t make it. We’d crumble.”

“Is she loved then?” I asked.

“I haven’t decided what I’m telling yet,” you said.

I took a break and made a batch of cookies.

You started singing:

“I like pancakes, too.
E inna-inna O.
O inna-inna E.

“Now you’ve got two
I’ve got one who cares for me.

“Apples in the tree
O inna-inna E.
E inna-inna O.”

FiLetter102

We left the topic and went about our evening.

We both needed time to think.

The next day, when we were working on the rocket, seemed to me like a good time to bring it up again. Why didn’t you want to talk about it then? I know you said you wanted us to concentrate on what we were doing, and I know that’s a good idea. But I thought that, with the rocket between us, it might have been easier to talk about difficult things.

septteen511

The problem with this muddle is that it doesn’t seem to be getting better as time passes.

“Let’s just talk,” I said. “Let’s just be straight between the two of us, and then we can take it from there. We can decide together.”

“It’s not easy,” you said. “What if I tell you something, and then you feel you’ve got to report it back, and then it all gets messed up from there? It would be my fault.”

septteen401

It took me a long time to figure out what was bothering you. It seemed so muddled to me. What it came down to was that you were worried I would feel compelled to report back to Geoffrey what I found out–if, hypothetically, it turned out the that child was in danger.

I tried to assure you that I would respect your wishes. That I would trust you.

But I realized that you’re right. You know me too well. While it’s true that I don’t have an obligation to Geoffrey, I do feel obliged to do what’s right. And if the child’s well-being is jeopardized, I would feel obliged to let Geoffrey know so he could do something.

You are right. That’s what I’d do.

septteen402

You told me you’d reached your decision, too.

I know you feel that emotional bonds–that healthy attachment–is the foremost thing of value. “Love is the most important,” you’ve been telling me.

Love is important, son. Of course it is. But so is safety of life and limb. So is having enough to eat and a warm roof over one’s head. Being secure is also important to a little one.

You tell me there’s no security like being loved. That’s what keeps the spirit strong.

“For a bizoo, especially,” you said, “strength in spirit is everything.”

septteen403

So you’ve made your decision not to tell me what you know. You won’t even admit that you’re in contact with her. You won’t let me know if she’s safe or in danger.

All you say is that you’re protecting what is most important.

You’re asking me to trust that you’re doing what you feel is right.

septteen404

I guess that’s a brave thing to do, son, and a sign that you’re growing up. Knowing that what I feel is right and what you feel is right might not align, you are sticking to your right. That’s the best thing a good man can do. And by keeping what you know to yourself, you feel you’re protecting me from having to choose between my ethics and my trust in you.

But son, that’s a heavy burden for you to carry. I wish you could trust in what I think is right and be satisfied with leaning on your father.

But you’re getting too old to let anyone else make your decisions now, aren’t you?

Know this, son: Even when we don’t see eye-to-eye, I know you always do what is true for you.

With respect,

Your pops

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Author’s Notes: Geoffrey’s letter was written by @For_Eorzea/Summonerd. Foundling number 42 is Fi, and her story can be found at SMNerd Writes.

Also: just made a minor edit on Sept. 24 to account for a consistency lapse regarding Sebastion’s knowledge of the extent of Geoffrey’s involvement with the agency. Thanks much for pointing this out, @For_Eorzea!

I really appreciate and value editorial help from readers: Please don’t hesitate to point out typos, mistakes with Vingihoplo, missing possessive apostrophes (What? No!), or errors in consistency! I value every opportunity to correct the text! 🙂

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

twentytwo18

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.”

twentytwo17

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.”

twentytwo16

“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.”

twentytwo14

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.

twentytwo15

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.

twentytwo13

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.

twentytwo12

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.”

twentytwo08

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?”

twentytwo06

“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.

twentytwo05

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.

twentytwo07

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.”

twentytwo04

“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.”

twentytwo03

“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.”

twentytwo02

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.

twentytwo01

“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?”

twentytwo11

“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

twentytwo10

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!”

twentytwo09

Three Rivers 14.1

Fourteenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

14. What you see is what you get.

fourteen03

No matter how many different ways Janet Fuchs tried categorizing the financial contributions to the Green Party campaign and general election funds , Geoffrey Landgraab’s always stood out.

fourteen02

“It’s going to raise suspicions,” she confided to Arianna. “I just can’t find a way to camouflage it. Not that I’d want to.”

“Can’t you leave it anonymous?” Arianna asked.

fourteen05

“Not in this amount,” Janet said.

Reports were due in a few months, and Janet couldn’t find a way to keep Geoffrey’s financial donations a secret.

“It’s going to have to come out,” she said.

fourteen04

“Can’t we list is as coming from a corporation?”

“Only if we want an even bigger scandal,” said Janet. “They’d track it. It’s better this way. Everything out in the open.”

fourteen01

“His wife won’t like it,” Arianna said.

“I know,” said Janet. “But it might be best in the long run, don’t you think?”

Arianna knew about Geoffrey and his feelings for Janet: Janet had shared everything, even her own attraction for him, as well as her fondness.

“The funny thing is,” Janet had told Arianna, “I could actually see it working out between me and Geoffrey, in a different universe. There’s something that fits between us.” Confiding to Arianna had brought them closer: knowing that Janet chose Arianna and their family, knowing there weren’t any secrets between them, knowing that if any secrets did arise, they’d share them with each other, all of this connected them with an even stronger bond.

“Maybe he’ll finally start sharing some of his secrets with Nancy,” Janet said, hopeful.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” said Arianna.

“I’ve got a secret!” said their son Orion. “Who wants to know my secret?”

fourteen06

“I do!” said Arianna, sitting beside him.

“My history teacher was a complete jerk today,” said Orion. “Can I say that?”

“You can tell us what happened,” said Arianna.

“He said that there were no formal schools in Medieval times. But everyone knows that Charlemagne began the first schools in the early 800’s.”

fourteen07

“Maybe he just meant that there were no widespread educational opportunities for most boys and girls,” Arianna replied.

fourteen08

“But if that’s what he meant,” said Orion, “why not just say so?”

fourteen09

Janet had to smile. Her own straightforward, literal approach worked well with their son. She’d discovered when he was a little boy that statements that weren’t factual, even if made in jest, caused him to become distraught. Her own mind was practical and honest; she enjoyed having her proclivities reinforced by the family communication style.

One of her tasks as the Green Party finance manager brought her regularly to the parks and open spaces of Three Rivers. There, she’d meet with other nature lovers, the birdwatchers, fishermen and women, and park-goers, to share the party’s platform and initiatives. Often, they’d offer small contributions or ask about upcoming rallies and other events to raise awareness.

fourteen19

She was occasionally surprised by the skepticism and cynicism she encountered.

“Who’s behind you?” asked one woman. “Don’t get me wrong. I like your cause. It’s just that I can’t see you going up against the big corporations. They’ve got this whole marina slated for development. You think they’re going to back down because a few voters are upset?”

fourteen20

Later that morning, she ran into Savannah, a fellow Green, at the park.

“You should have told her that Geoffrey Landgraab and all of Landgraab Industries were behind us!” Savannah said.

fourteen23

“God, no!” said Janet. “I mean not yet. We’re going to have to come out with it, eventually, but until then…”

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” said Savannah. “So his wife does find out? Geoffrey just needs to grow a pair, get up on his platform and call out, ‘Power to the People, you money-hunger land grabber!'”

fourteen21

Savannah laughed at her own joke. “That’d be rich!” she said. “Maybe he’ll change his name: Geoffrey Green!”

Janet chuckled in spite of herself. Savannah always made her smile.

fourteen22

On the way home, Janet met Geoffrey, out for his morning jog. His smile at seeing her faded the moment she said, “I’m so glad to run into you. We’ve got to talk.”

fourteen18

She explained about the finance contribution reports coming due in a few months and how she had to declare the sources of all the funds.

“All the funds?” Geoffrey asked. She nodded. “But my wife doesn’t know!”

fourteen17

“You have a few months to tell her, then,” Janet said.

“But how? And what? Everything?” Geoffrey asked.

“I’m only responsible for reporting the sources of the contributions, Geoffrey,” Janet said. “That’s all that will be made public.”

“But that’s everything,” he said. “You don’t realize. Money. The Greens. The Conservatives. I’m not supposed to be funding the opposition!”

“We present a good cause,” Janet said. “Tell her about eco-tourism!”

“I can’t. I…” Geoffrey began to hyperventilate. “I’ve got to go.” And he jogged off.

fourteen16

When she got home, she was met by Arianna, who came from the container garden, where she’d been pinching the petunias.

“Did you round up lots of voters?” Arianna asked. “All the butterfly lovers?”

“One butterfly lover got away,” laughed Janet. “I just hope he’s not flying into a big net!”

fourteen15

Three Rivers 12.1

Twelfth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

12. This poem was never written

twelve30

A shot of cortisol seeped through Geoffrey’s veins when he saw Nancy on his computer.

He closed the bedroom door behind him as he retreated to the empty stairwell.

“Arianna?” he said as his phone call was answered. “I’ve got a big problem.”

twelve23

He nodded his head at the receiver while he listened to the voice at the other end.

“You sure?” he said at last. “She won’t be able to trace anything?”

For four months, Geoffrey had been shuttling funds from his private offshore account to the Green party. There was nothing illegal or even suspicious about it: it was his money, lawfully gotten, tax-declared and everything, and he could do with it what he wanted. He just didn’t want Nancy to know.

She’d been funding the Conservatives for the past decade.

Arianna, head of the hacking consultant group that Landgraab Industries hired for their security work, assured Geoffrey that there was no way Nancy could access his financial records on his computer. She’d checked last time she worked on his computer: his data was safely partitioned in a virtual drive that no other users could access without getting past a long series of security checks, including a retina scan.

“Your data’s safe,” she assured him.

He took a few deep breaths. Janet had been telling him how bad stress was for him. “You look tense,” she had said at yoga class a few nights before. “Breathe.”

She showed him how to put his hands on his abdomen and do belly breaths. The gesture was so intimate, and he felt so vulnerable, standing and breathing with another woman. Maybe that had been when it had happened.

“I’ll be back late,” Nance was saying. “Or maybe not at all.”

twelve26

She had a meeting for the Conservatives. He knew she was seeing J Huntington III, the Conservative’s candidate. He always smelled J’s cologne on her after party meetings. Plus, he could tell from the way that J treated him, and from the way that Nancy looked at J, and from the ways that the light around their bodies inclined towards each other whenever they were in the same room. They were lovers.

It made him feel less badly about his growing affection for Janet.

“You’ll be out all night?” Geoffrey said. “But I miss you when you’re gone.”

twelve27

“I don’t think you do,” she said. “Or at least, if you do, you’ll get over it. Watch a movie with Malcolm or something. Read a book.”

twelve28

She laughed. She looked amazing. His pulse still sped up when he saw her, though he recognized now that it was adrenaline that made his pulse race. Fight or flight. And then once she was out of sight, the cortisol would be released again and he’d feel that sinking feeling.

Cortisol was messing with his blood sugar. It wasn’t easy being married to Nancy.

twelve29

After he heard the Porsche drive off , he got on his computer. The plastic seat still held Nancy’s body heat.

twelve22

The files looked OK, and he felt better. He should trust Arianna. She wasn’t the lead hacker and security expert for nothing.

twelve21

His footsteps sounded loudly on the concrete stairs. Malcolm was out. He’d asked him to bring Cassandra back home after school. “Hang out here,” he said. “We can watch a movie.” Malcolm had laughed in his face.

twelve25

He wondered what Janet was doing right then. Maybe she was making supper for Arianna and Orion. Maybe they were having salad, and she was slicing tomatoes at that exact moment. One thing, she was breathing right then. Geoffrey remembered how she’d showed him to breathe, and he felt his pulse steady.

This house was so lonely.

twelve24

He ate his supper standing in the kitchen, looking out over the canyon. He pretended he could see the lights from Willow Creek in the distance.

After supper, he couldn’t find a movie that held his attention. He flipped through an old Le Carre novel he’d read dozens of times, Honourable Schoolboy. He stopped at one of his favorite lines: “It is also the pardonable vanity of lonely people everywhere to assume that they have no counterparts.”

He fell asleep wondering if, perhaps, Janet, with her eyes that filled at times with a softness that looked like loneliness, might be his true counterpart, and if so, then maybe an end to his loneliness were in sight.

He woke up inside of a dream. He was swimming in a warm pool.

twelve19

Petunias and pansies perfumed the air. Waterfalls rained down. He felt a surge of vitality propel him up and out of the water. He was alive and strong!  Through him he felt one emotion coursing: love! Geoffrey Landgraab was in love.

twelve18

Nancy’s side of the bed was still empty when Geoffrey woke shortly before dawn.

He had to get out of the house. Arianna had told him that Janet sometimes took walks through the park in the early morning. This was a good morning for a picnic breakfast, Geoffrey decided.

Bjorn was playing chess when Geoffrey arrived at the park, and Max, who must have decided to skip school, was strolling through.

Geoffrey put the skewers of fruit he’d brought with him on the grill. You never knew when somebody might want to join you for breakfast, he thought. It was good to be prepared.

twelve17

He waited before he sat down with his meal.

Mockingbird songs sound louder when the park is empty.

twelve16

He thought back to the first time he met Janet. He’d seen her around before: it was hard not to notice that Scandinavian face, that Valkyrie body. And when she spoke–even butter wasn’t softer.

Arianna introduced them. She found out that Geoffrey wanted to support the Greens.

“It’s the butterflies,” Geoffrey had said. “They need the open spaces. I know what J wants to do with the fields and woodlands. It’s not pretty.”

“My wife is in charge of the finances for the Greens,” Arianna had said. “She can let you know how you can best help.”

twelve15

He and Janet had talked for hours during their first meeting.

He became aware something unusual was happening to him when he kept giggling. He wasn’t normally one to giggle. And Janet wasn’t all that funny. But something inside him felt funny, like he was being tickled from the inside out.

He realized he was flirting with her when he asked what yoga studio she went to. Yoga! What did he know about yoga?

But he started going to yoga every other day. Sometimes, she was in the class with him. And sometimes, like that one evening, she would show him how to breathe or hold a pose or repeat a mantra.

“You’d be surprised,” she said, “how mantras can really make something happen. It’s because of the shift within you.”

Someone approached the table where he sat. Ah! Just the gardener.

twelve14

He tried to think of a mantra. “What you most desire will appear.”

He said it over and over. Magical thinking. Is this what he’d been reduced to?

But then he saw her! She was talking to Bjorn’s wife, there at the edge of the park.

twelve13

“Janet!” he called, and he ran towards her.

twelve12

She waited for him, looking over her shoulder.

twelve11

Do you feel adrenaline when you’re in love? His heart pounded. Then that sinking feeling as the cortisol spread through him. Fight or flight? Or lust. He stayed.

“Janet,” he said.

twelve10

She smiled. Did she feel it, too? Her face was so open. She didn’t wear any make-up, did she? Nancy wore make-up to bed–he hadn’t kissed a woman without make-up since junior high. He smelled patchouli.

“Wait!” she said, as he leaned in for an embrace.

twelve09

“Geoffrey! You’re married! I’m married! Nancy and Arianna, remember? We’ve got kids!”

She was right.

“You’re right,” he said. “Right. Right.” He tried to laugh it off, but his blood sugar was dropping fast.

twelve07

“I like you, Geoffrey,” Janet said. “You are a great guy. Maybe, you know, different world, different life, different sexual orientation–things could be different!”

twelve08

He was saved when some of the members of the Greens approached them.

“We need to talk,” said Dominic Fyres. “I just got the polls in, and the numbers aren’t good.”

“Breathe,” whispered Janet, as she and Dominic went over the figures he’d brought her.

twelve06

The news wasn’t good, and they left to meet Alec at Emeliano’s café. Geoffrey stood alone on the path.

He pulled out his i-Pad. “Conservative candidate J Huntington III scoffs at concern raised over predictions of the extinction of the monarch butterfly,” read the headlines. Geoffrey scrolled to the comments.

“It is no small thing to lose a small thing.” This was posted by Orion Fuchs, Janet’s son. There are good people in the world, Geoffrey thought, even if they aren’t members of your own family.

twelve05

I should be sad, he thought. But he was very happy. It’s brain chemicals. Serotonin.

twelve02

The colors looked brighter. What had she said? In a different world. This world looked different. It was no longer the same sorry place, not with these bright colors on every tree.

twelve04

It is a beautiful world, isn’t it? A monarch floated over milkweed flower. If it takes a million dollars, thought Geoffrey, and a million and one milkweed seeds.

twelve03

It was a beautiful morning still. Geoffrey sat at the bench and pulled up The Honourable Schoolboy on his tablet.

twelve01

He stopped at his other favorite line: “Home’s where you go when you run out of homes.”

He didn’t know if he’d run out of homes, for he’d barely begun to look for them. He only knew that the one true home he’d found lay deep inside a tucked-in corner where no one thought to look. But he looked there: he looked and he found brown eyes gazing back, eyes that maybe he’d never actually seen, but ones that understood him, nonetheless.