Three Rivers 23.1

Twenty-third Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Alysia Vela and her boyfriend, Herbert Frederick, are game-generated Townies. Alysia’s beautiful home was built and decorated by the amazing TheKalinotr0n.

23.  Forgiveness

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One morning, Alysia Vela realized that she was ready to let it go. She had so much: a beautiful home, a cheerful boyfriend, a job she loved. She didn’t need to harbor that grief any longer. She could move on.

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It would be like washing dishes, she thought. She would let it all flow away. What would it be like to be shiny and white inside again, pure!

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She headed off to work resolved–she’d find a way, finally, to get past that old hurt. She had to. It was costing her too much.

In the breakroom, she remembered the scene with Herbert last night.

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He’d stayed the night, as he often did when he dropped by after work. She yelled at him over nothing. What was going on with her?

All she knew was that she felt this ickiness inside and when it got too thick the pressure was too intense and yelling released it.

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He forgave her, like always. But how much longer would he go on doing that?

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“No harm, no foul,” Herbert said.

And she felt nearly crushed with relief and gratitude. And guilt.

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She thought of what Hank, her friend and one of the nurses here at the clinic, said to her. “What’s the big deal about forgiveness? It levels the field. It means that you’re not the supreme being–you’re the human being, just like all the other human beings, each one capable of hurting the next, intentionally or not.”

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If there was anyone she knew who knew about forgiveness, it was Hank.

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“If you knew half of what I’d done,” he said, “you’d wonder if I’d ever get to make it through step 8. I got a lifetime of amends to make.”

“You don’t have any amends to make to me!” Alysia said.

“Just wait, darling,” Hank joked back.

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She’d seen him lose it.

There were times at the clinic when something triggered him, and he’d let loose with the worst profanity she’d ever heard.

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And then, two beats later, he’d be apologizing and asking for forgiveness.

“This isn’t really the way it’s supposed to work,” he said once. “I’m actually supposed to make real and lasting change–that’s what amends are all about. But, heck. I’ve learned I’m a work in progress.”

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When she got home from the clinic, Herbert was there.

“Hey, babe,” she said. “Staying for supper?”

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“Sure,” he said. “And longer?”

“Why do you even want to be around me?” she asked. “I mean, after yesterday. I was awful.”

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“You were just feeling tense,” Herbert said. “It’s no big deal. No harm done.”

“But how do you know I won’t blow up again?” she said, and she heard her voice go shrill.

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“It’s no big deal,” he said. “I’m not porcelain. If you blow it, I won’t break. You’ll just apologize. I’ll just forgive you.”

“It can’t be that easy,” she said.

“I don’t see why not,” said Herbert.

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He turned back to his game.

A person don’t just forgive like that, Alysia thought. If that were even possible, I wouldn’t feel like this inside.

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She headed out for a walk before making supper.

If a person could just forgive like that, just by willing it, then she would have forgiven Jason a long time ago.

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She pulled out her phone to look again through the messages he’d sent her.

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She found the first one she’d sent him. “I’ve always wanted to thank you,” she’d written.

Jason had been her first boyfriend. After they split up at the end of high school, so she could go to college and he could join the marines, she often thought of him with gratitude. He’d been so sweet, never pushing her to go too far–or rather, pushing her right up to, but not past, her final limits. And he’d taught her everything–how to kiss, and so much more. It had all been sweet, and she’d carried that sweetness with her into all the relationships that followed. So when years later she found his facebook page, she felt grateful that she would finally have a chance to thank him.

She hadn’t anticipated his response.

“Alysia, to hear from you again, even after all these years, it’s opening up something in me I thought was shut forever. I’ve had to do some bad things when I was in service. And I thought a part of me was gone forever, but hearing from you, it reminds me of who I was. I’m still that good person inside.”

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She should really delete these messages.

She found the one that always got her.

“You know how it feels when you walk under redwoods, babe? And you look up through those towering branches and see that sky up through them? And your heart opens and sighs and you feel like there might just be a God after all? You are all that to me and more. What I feel when I think of you, my heart gets so soft. It’s more than God, more than nature, it’s everything.”

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How could he have written that?

He was married. She wasn’t the type of woman who would do that to another woman. That’s what she always believed. Never would she take another woman’s husband.

But this was Jason, and they went back to high school, and she’d been his first love, and he was hers, and it was all so stupid and sordid.

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She didn’t leave it at thank you and keep going. He’d responded with love, and she found her own love for him was like a lotus flower, open and undeniable.

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They kept seeing each other. She told herself that love was what was important, more important than Jason’s marriage.

She was so addicted to him. Her body hurt when he wasn’t around, and when he was, she couldn’t get enough. She would hold his legs or his arms as he tried to get out of bed. She remembered weeping while he dressed.

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And still, they loved each other.

“You’re kicking me to the curb,” she told him after he said he couldn’t see her anymore.

“No way,” he replied. “It’s more like I’m tucking you so deep inside of me that you’ll always be there. You’re more a part of me than I am. And you’ve taught me love, what it is and how to use it. I want to take this love, and I want to share it with my wife, I want to share it with my daughter, with people in the community who need help. I want to do everything good in the world, and it’s because of you. It’s because you showed me again what love is, so now that I know, I got to use love to do the good things.”

And that was the last she heard from him.

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When she got back home, she went straight to Herbert.

“What if you found out I’d done something really, really bad?” she asked him.

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“It couldn’t change anything,” he said. “Nothing can touch the way I feel about you.”

“Even if I were an axe murderer?” she joked.

“Well, then,” he said, “I think we might want to get rid of the wood-burning stove so there’d be no need to chop wood.”

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“You look tired, sweetie,” he said. “How about you take a nap while I fix supper?”

While she slept, she felt all the years drip off of her. She was a little girl again, sleeping on her Nina’s sofa, and she was the child that the old ones called “angel.” She was filled with goodness.

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Before bed, she and Herbert sat by the pool.

“I have to tell you something,” she said. “I did something bad. It’s inside of me like a hairball, and if I don’t cough it up, I’m gonna keep having these fits and attacking you, and it’s just not fair to you or to us.”

“You can tell me anything,” he said.

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“So you know how I sometimes talk about my ex?” she said. “Well, it wasn’t really a good thing. I mean, he’s a good man, but the thing wasn’t good. It was an affair. I had an affair with a married man.”

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He looked shocked.

“That’s who I am!” she said. “I’m a woman who’ll mess around with a married man!”

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“Nothing’s that simple,” he said. “There’s got to be more to it.”

So she told him the story, about the first loves, and the marines, and the reuniting, and the rediscovering of who they were back when they were innocents.

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“It sounds sweet,” he said. “He went back to his wife, right?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Then no harm done!”

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She couldn’t believe him. He wasn’t angry at her. He didn’t think she was a slut. He found something redeeming in the whole story. Maybe it hadn’t been sordid, after all. Maybe, just like she thought at the time, it had been love, and because it was love, and because love is good, goodness came out of it in the end.

What kind of sweet world did Herbert live in, and was there room in that world for her?

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She felt happy the next morning. She felt light.

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While Herbert slept in, she fixed fancy grilled cheese for breakfast.

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Suppose there was such goodness in the world. Suppose that all you had to do was forgive.

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That evening, after Herbert went back to his own place, she wrote a letter she would never send.

She let it all out, all her deep-seated anger that Jason chose his wife, over her. All her shame that she was even with him, at all. All her fury at getting addicted to him. All her pain when he left.

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When she finished the letter, she hit “Delete.”

Then, she opened her email, opened the folder called Jason<3, selected every message, and hit delete. She went into her sent mail, selected every message she had ever sent, and hit delete.

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She went to the deleted messages folder, selected all 1,313 messages. She hit delete. It was done.

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She walked outside in the evening air.

It was pure out here, with cool fresh air.

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Could it be that simple? And if the complications rose again, could she somehow find a way to also make it simple, once again?

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New World Symphony: Delivery

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Cathy played through the night. Brahms’ intermezzos on piano in the parlor gave way to Bach’s partitas on violin in the garden.

She thought over Sugar’s fury while she played. What had made her so angry? She knew Sugar disliked Brennan–he had a habit of lashing out at people and he genuinely seemed to enjoy the misery of others.

But we’re none of us perfect, Cathy thought. We all have our complicated patterns and our foibles and follies, and to love someone even knowing their limitations, that was something, wasn’t it?

But Cathy suspected there was more to it than that. She herself suspected Brennan’s true origins–she was never taken in by his backstory, though he still believed it without hesitation.

“I’m from New Orleans,” he was fond of saying, and every time he said it, Cathy smelled rose-water and sulfur.

When onezero woke, Cathy sought her out.

“Do you think there’s reason to worry?” she asked her friend. “Was Sugar right in her first response, and did I do something wrong and irresponsible in getting pregnant?”

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onezero wrapped her in a big hug.

“When we combine two to make one,” said onezero, “the result is something entirely extraordinary! It’s not the mother, it’s not the father. You are bringing in something new, and that’s always something to celebrate.”

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They sat in the garden while the sun rose.

Cathy had to admit that, if she tuned in to how she felt, everything felt so very right. Sometimes, life steps up and asks you to follow, that’s how she felt–and here she was, following as best she could.

“After all,” she said to onezero, “this just happened! It wasn’t something I planned. It’s not something that could be expected.”

“Exactly,” said onezero from the easel at the edge of the porch. “Like when my dad was taken by the thousand. Who would expect that? That’s not anything that could be planned or expected.”

“And look how that turned out!” said Cathy, with a smile. “You’re the best surprise there ever was!”

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onezero left after she finished her painting, a portrait of a Madonna which they hung upstairs. “Call me when it’s time,” onezero said. “I’ll come in a jiffy!”

Cathy spent the late morning painting a childlike drawing of a tiny being–half fairy, half bird. The innocence of the painting charmed her.

This might be my last time alone for a while, she thought, savoring the solitude and the quiet. We make our peace, she thought, hoping to remember this during the busy days that would be sure to follow the baby’s delivery.

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In the afternoon, while she was relaxing with a computer game, the contractions came.

I can do this, she thought, remembering to breathe.

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But the second contraction came with such fierceness, as if she were tearing inside, and she wasn’t sure she could do it. She couldn’t get ahold of Jaclyn. She called onezero.

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onezero arrived with sadness. Cathy couldn’t ask what was the matter–every ounce of concentration was spent breathing through the pain.

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“I knew it wouldn’t be an easy birth,” onezero said. “I could feel it. Are you all aright?”

Cathy couldn’t answer.

“I wish Jaclyn were here,” onezero said.

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They made their way back to the nursery.

“Oh! It’s going to be all right!” onezero said. “I just felt a shift. There’s nothing to worry about! You can push now!”

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And onezero was right.

In fact, she was doubly right. Two babies were born, a son and a daughter, and both were healthy, each one with ten fingers and ten toes, and two eyes, and one nose.

“They’re lovely. What will you call them?” onezero asked.

“You name them,” said Cathy. “You’re their godmother.”

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“Me and Jaclyn,” said onezero. She closed her eyes for a moment. “Jaclyn says that the little boy should be called something… something that you had in your sandwich. Fireflies? Something sparkly.”

“Sparkroot?” Cathy asked.

“Exactly!” said onezero. “Sparkroot and Florinda.”

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onezero took out her cellphone. “We need to remember today,” she said, snapping a photo of the two of them. “I mean, of course we’ll always remember, but this will help us commemorate, too.”

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When onezero left, Cathy spent time with each baby, feeling that warm weight rest in the crook of her arm, as if her body had been built for this.

Sparkroot had eyes the shape of his daddy’s, but they twinkled with a spark all his own.

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After she’d nursed the twins and tucked them into bed she called Brennan.

“We had two,” she said. “Do you want to come meet them?”

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“It’s really something,” he said. “Are they exactly alike?”

“Well, one’s a girl and one’s a boy, and one has lighter skin and one darker, and their eyes and smiles are shaped differently, but they’re exactly alike in that they’re both ours.”

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Brennan felt proud and surprised. They weren’t much to look at–they both looked the same to him, sort of like little peanuts, and there wasn’t much of them, and they couldn’t really talk yet, could they, but they’d grow into something. They’d grow into actual people, his children, and that was something.

“I’m a dad,” he said.

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He wrapped his wife in a hug. “We really did it!” he said.

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“I’m a dad!”

She held him, and to her, with his beating heart and hot skin, he felt in her arms like a little boy who’d come home from school with a first prize in the science fair, bursting with excitement and pride.

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She went into the kitchen to prepare a late-night snack for them, and when she finished, she found him at the computer, posting onto the Forums, “I am the proud papa of twins. Who says a poor boy from New Orleans can’t hit a home run, twice?”

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New World Symphony: Baggage

On her way home from Jaclyn’s, Cathy met Sempervirens.

“Out for an evening walk?” Cathy asked.

“Looking for fireflies,” Sempervirens said. “Do you know sometimes the lights disappear? Where do the fireflies go?”

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“Maybe they’re not fireflies!”

“What else would they be?” Sempervirens asked.

“Dancing lights over the meadows–what do you think they could be?”

“When I was a baby, I thought they were fairies, but Pierce at school says fairies are make-believe. Do you think Pierce is right?”

“Pierce probably is right about a lot of things, but like everybody, he’s also going to be wrong about some things. I’ve got a hunch that you might know best in this area.”

Sempervirens looked out over the meadow, where at that moment five yellow lights were dancing above the buttercups.

“Hey, Squid,” Cathy said. “I’ve got some news to share with you. What would you think about a new friend to play with?”

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“I love new friends!” said Sempervirens. “Me and Jennifer are thinking of starting a club.”

“Good,” said Cathy, “because I’m going to have a baby. Think the baby could join the club when it becomes a kid?”

“Yahoo! Jumping tadpole tales!” said Sempervirens. “That’s the best news! A new kid in the neighborhood!”

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It was late when Cathy got home. She wanted to tell Sugar next. Sugar was the natural leader of this community, always making the rounds, keeping track of every new development, always there when something was happening. It just made sense that she’d be one of the first to know. Besides, she and Cathy were great friends.

She invited her over in the morning.

Cathy expected her to be overjoyed at the news–her wide-eyed shock surprised her.

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But not nearly as much as the anger that followed.

“You simply can’t. How could you? I can’t believe it. This is so irresponsible. So regrettable! What were you thinking?” Sugar could barely get her words out.

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“I’ve never seen you so angry,” Cathy said. “I thought you’d be happy.”

“I would be happy if it were with anyone else. But Brennan? Do you even know what he is? Where is he from, anyway? What is he made of? I sense things about him, about where he came from and why he smells like sulfur. I just can’t believe how irresponsible first that you even brought him here, and now, that you’d have a kid with him? It’s dangerous to all of us and everything. Bringing people into this world bears a responsibility.”

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“I’m sorry,” Cathy said. “The wish was a whim. I realize that. But I love him. I can’t believe that anything connected with such love can be bad.”

“Love doesn’t excuse foolishness,” Sugar said. “It might cause it, but it’s no excuse.”

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Cathy shared with her the conversation she’d had with Jaclyn the day before.

“I can’t help but feel that there’s something greater at work here,” she said. “I don’t feel that any of this has been my choosing. It’s been something that needed to be done, and it’s being done through me, but none of it, not even that rose-water wish that brought Brennan here, is something that I woke up deciding I would do.”

“What was Jaclyn’s reaction when you told her you were expecting?” Sugar asked.

“She was excited. She actually whooped and did a fist-pump!” Cathy leaned in and whispered to Sugar. “She fed me sparkroot and flower petal sandwiches,” she confided. “For transformation, she said.”

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Sugar breathed a deep sigh of relief and laughed.

“So you went to the midwife and she put it all right?” Sugar asked.

Cathy nodded.

“All right. My anger was premature,” Sugar said. “Still, you gotta be careful in this. You can’t just go blundering into things you don’t understand.”

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Sugar stayed close to Cathy the rest of the day, watching her carefully while she went about her morning activities, gardening, baking, painting, and watching the clouds trace patterns in the sky.

“All right,” said Sugar towards evening, “I’ll be heading off, then. Call that husband of yours and share the news with him. Can’t do to surprise him with something like this after the fact. You just be sure you check in with Jaclyn with any questions or worries, and do everything she tells you, to the letter.”

It was easy to agree with such sound advice.

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Brennan came over at nightfall. He had an inexplicable touch of melancholy which the damp scents of the garden only deepened.

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“You look a little ripened, my butterfly,” he said when Cathy greeted him at the door.

She giggled. “That’s one way to put it.”

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She kissed his cheek. “We’re expecting,” she said. “Turns out I’m not too old after all!”

“Holy Jehosaphat!” Brennan shouted. “Who’s the man? Who’s the boss? You’re looking at him!”

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Cathy went in to prepare a supper of pasta with spinach and pumpkin seeds while Brennan stood at the stone threshold, sighing and smiling.

Before Cathy called him in for supper, onezero arrived. She and Brennan stood before the door without exchanging a word.

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Brennan waited while Cathy came out to share their news with onezero. He would never tire of hearing her say this.

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onezero feigned surprise, and then she shrugged and said, “I know already. Why else would I come tonight? I heard from Sugar, I heard from Jaclyn, but before that, I heard from the one thousand. It’s meant to be, plain and simple.”

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After supper, Cathy and onezero sat together on the couch while Brennan played video games.

“Would you like to spend the night?” Cathy asked. Somehow, she didn’t really want to be alone that night.

“Won’t Brennan be staying?” onezero asked.

“No,” said Cathy. “He never stays. Spiders, you know.”

The two friends talked well into the night, after Brennan left and the moon rose and the dancing yellow lights came out over the meadows.

“What was it like to have one parent that was a normal person and the other parents from another realm?” Cathy asked.

“Oh,” said onezero, “Chandler Adam was hardly normal! He had a kind and cheerful heart, my father did, and so, I always knew that I had been born in the right place. Your child will feel the same because of you.”

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While onezero slept in the upstairs room, Cathy played the piano. Even with the pregnancy, she could hardly sleep–there was just so much energy swirling around and within! It was something that music could express better than thoughts or words. She turned to Brahms and let the complexities of his intermezzo convey the feelings within her that she had yet to discover.

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New World Symphony: Room

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Cathy Tea wanted more room. Not for Brennan: they were happy living in separate houses. Not for a double-bed: the thickets suited their wild times just fine.

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But she’d run out of room for hanging paintings. She’d always wanted a rooftop garden. And she thought it might be nice to have a launchpad for the rocket ship on the roof, too.

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But mostly, she needed room for this.

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She had thought she was too old to conceive, but with so much magick filtering into this new world, the old laws seemed to give way.

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The first one she wanted to tell was her neighbor Jaclyn. When she thought about it, she realized that Jaclyn had been along on every step of her engagement and marriage to Brennan.

What kind of enchantment was that? She, who’d never wanted to marry, now found herself with a husband, a wishing well man opposite her in nearly every regard.

Jaclyn had been there at each turn.

When she had arrived at Jaclyn’s cottage, a voice had called out, “Come in, Cathy!”

But Cathy entered to find no one at home. The kitchen was empty. There was no one upstairs.

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No one was out by the pool.

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No one was on the patio. Who had called her?

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She was about to leave when she heard Jaclyn’s voice. “I was expecting you,” Jaclyn said as she came in through the front door. “Do you have news?”

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“I do have news!” Cathy said. “But I’m guessing you already know.”

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Jaclyn laughed. “There is the knowing that we know. And then there is the knowing that we learn. I want to learn what I already know, and I want you to tell me! Something happens when the words are spoken.”

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“Besides,” continued Jaclyn, “Won’t it feel good to tell someone?”

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They sat together at the table.

“I’m sure you can tell by looking at me,” Cathy said. “It’s not a flu that turns my stomach.”

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“Go on!” said Jaclyn. “Say the words!”

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“Brennan and I are expecting,” confided Cathy.

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“Carrots, turnips, and rutabagas!” Jaclyn shouted. “Pots in the oven and simmer on the stove!”

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Jaclyn laughed. “This is wonderful news. This is what it’s all about.”

“But I’ve never really wanted to be a mom,” Cathy confided.

“Sure,” said Jaclyn, “but what does what we really want have to do with our destiny? Not much, when it comes right down to it.”

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“That seems a little backwards,” replied Cathy. “Aren’t we the masters of our own destiny?”

“Maybe fools are!” said Jaclyn. “But once you step into rune, something else happens entirely. Did I ever tell you how I came about?”

“Something about a tree and a wedding ceremony?”

“No, no!” laughed Jaclyn. “I was the result of a long debate.”

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“For generations–eons, really–elves and hobbits lived peacefully apart. They hadn’t much to do with each other, and they hadn’t much need to change. As a result, elves became more ethereal, and hobbits became more earthy.”

“I can see how that could happen,” Cathy said, “what with elves dining on pollen and nectar, and hobbits squeezing in elevenses after second breakfast and full suppers after dinner!”

“It was all fine when in woods and meadows we were free to roam, with rune in every mushroom and  every piece of honeycomb, but when the trees were felled and the fields were plowed, and the world began to shrink, we had no place to go! Elves were too light for nomdish eyes. Hobbits could scramble under branch and briar, but through the years, they’d lost their touch. They were little more than squat nomdish theirselves! So my grandparents and my great uncles and aunts and all the old ones began to plan. They realized it was time for something new! A kind of kin who could carry rune in a form strong enough for this world here! So that’s how I came about!”

“You mean, like a breeding project or genetic engineering?” Cathy asked. “But how unromantic is that!”

“Oh, there was plenty of romance!” said Jaclyn. “You should have seen my ada and ama! They were so in love. When there’s a need, and something rises to fill that need, it is often love that steps into the space.”

Cathy thought about the wishing well and her inexplicable, undeniable love for Brennan.

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“Now you stay here for a little while,” Jaclyn said, “while that story sinks in. When you’re tired, sleep in the garden. When you’re hungry, you’ll find food on the table.”

Cathy let Jaclyn’s words settle into her. She grew sleepy and wandered into the garden for a nap among the primroses and holyhocks. When she woke she came into the kitchen, where a warm sandwich waited for her on the table. It smelled like ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, goat’s cheese, and bee pollen.

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“There must be magic in this!” Cathy said. It tasted divine.

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But after she’d eaten half of it, something started twisting inside of her. Was it just morning sickness again? Or maybe the sandwich wasn’t right.

“Jaclyn!” she called. “I don’t feel so great.”

“It’s fine, Cathy,” Jaclyn called down. “I added sparkroot and flower petals to the sandwich. It makes you feel a little funny for a bit, but not to worry! It’s an old recipe. For transformation!”

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Oh, bother and chrysanthemums! It would all turn out all right, wouldn’t it?

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New World Symphony: Cloud and Pine

“Wait!” Cypress yelled. “I’m coming! Hold off on the rings!”

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While Jeffrey Pine’s sister raced towards the wedding arch, he and Floyd Cloud stretched time the way they liked to.

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Across the block, Rae Rei and Redbud, just finished with closing up the store, also ran to catch the ceremony.

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While they waited for the guests, J. P. looked up at the stars.

“That’ll always be our constellation,” he said. “Orion.”

“Oooh,” joked Floyd. “How romantic! A sword and a belt!”

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Since Floyd had moved in a few months back, life had grown sweet for both of them. They often stayed up all night, talking, playing chess, making love, and then slept the next day through. They had so much time.

Rae Rei managed the store while Redbud and Sugar kept the gallery fully stocked, which meant that J. P. could take the day off any time he wanted.

And with Floyd around, he often wanted to take the day off.

They’d stayed up all night the night before. Floyd was in the process of telling  J. P. about his childhood and youth, starting with his earliest memories and working forward. That night, Floyd told stories about his tenth summer. He’d discovered Emerson that summer. His mom had started him on Thoreau, but all those nature scenes were a bit raw for Floyd. He didn’t like thinking about lizards and mud. But Emerson’s nature poems had a dryness that pleased Floyd.

“Can we remember a whole summer by remembering a poem?” Floyd asked J. P. as they sat on the upper deck, gazing out over the city lights across the park. “‘I see my empty house, I see my trees repair their boughs’–those lines, even now, call up that whole summer to me. That was the summer I learned what loss meant.”

As J. P. leaned into Floyd, listening to him tell of that long ago time, he caught the tail of the dream that Floyd had let go of during that ten-year-old summer. That was the year Floyd realized that he and his mom would never be returning to their old home, but would live on the road, vagabonding from seminar to seminar. “It’s good not to have attachments,” his mom had said when she became aware of Floyd’s grief.

“You don’t have to give up what you wish as a child,” J. P. whispered that night. They looked up at Orion. “I like to feel I belong. It’s a good wish to have. And when you’re grown, you can make your wishes true for yourself.”

They lingered in bed after they woke late that afternoon. When they finally rose to stretch, Floyd said, “I dreamed of my childhood house, and the door was wide open.”

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“Was I there?” J. P. asked.

“You were the one who opened the door!” Floyd replied.

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“I’d love if I could get your old home back for you,” J. P. said.

“If I have a home now,” Floyd continued, “it’s because of you.”

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J. P. thought back to how lonely he’d felt during his first few months here, before Floyd moved in–though he had hardly let himself admit his loneliness back then. Now, he had someone to cook for, someone to share meals with.

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They’d held many conversations about their wedding. Some days, they wanted to elope: it had become something of a family tradition. Sometimes, they wanted a civil service at the courthouse, “because we can” and so that they could stand as part of history.

But sometimes, they wanted the whole thing: the wedding arch, the bartender, the caterer, the entertainer, and as many friends and family as could fit. They even bought an old arch and twelve chairs that they found at a consignment shop and stored them down in the basement, just to be ready.

“I think we should get married today.” Floyd said as they ate. “This evening. Right now.”

“I doubt anyone can come at this late notice.” J. P. replied.

“OK,” said Floyd, “then it’ll just be us, the arch, and that great vast sky.”

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J. P. couldn’t deny Floyd. He called everyone: Davion to tend bar, Meggles to cater, Kitten Nell to entertain, and for guests, all the members of ZenPines, all the family, and as many friends as would fit.

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The men changed. “Our tuxes match,” said Floyd.

“Here, let’s switch ties,” said J. P., and they quickly untied their own ties and retied them onto each other.

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“Is this the day you become my uncle for real?” Sempervirens asked Floyd when she met him out at the side yard.

“It is, Squid!” Floyd answered. “Now we’re officially family!”

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Nathanael felt proud of his grandson. One of the gifts of staying ever-young, Nathanael realized, was seeing the family grow. He and his grandson had always shared a special friendship, and he couldn’t help but take some pride in the man that J. P. had become.

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Nathanael chuckled when he noticed that he’d carried two drinks out with him to the seats near the arch. One of them was for Tamarind, he realized. How funny that even now he still expected his wife to be by his side at every family event!

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“Is this seat taken?” Sabreene asked.

“No, of course not!” replied Nathanael, standing out of respect. “Only by my memories!”

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The family and friends gathered.

J. P. complimented Floyd on his tie, his handkerchief, his cuff links, even the little pearl buttons marking a straight line down his shirt.

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“Did you guys get married like this?” Vi asked her dad.

“Nope,” replied Knox. “We got married in a garden. Just us and a lemon tree!”

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Sugar remembered her own elopement with Ren, also in a garden with a lemon tree.

Sugar felt grateful for this family. Each person a miracle–like every person, really–but these ones were part of her.

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J. P. spoke so softly that only Floyd could hear, whispered promises that made Floyd glow.

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Redbud remembered that overwhelming feeling of young love. She still felt that way, whenever Tomas’s spirit was near.

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“Look how good they are together,” Wade said to Miss Penguin.

“They’re adorable,” replied Miss P. “Simply adorable.”

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As J. P.’s oldest friend and best man, Wade stood beside him to witness the exchange of rings.

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Sempervirens had never seen such an exciting celebration–even confetti. She wanted to sing or cheer, but all the grown ups stood around with mouths smiling and eyes crying.

“Are you sad?” she whispered to her mom.

“No, happy,” said her mom. “Well, sad, too, maybe. Happy-sad.”

“Full hearts,” whispered her dad, and Sempervirens nodded. She was simply happy, through and through.

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Sabreene was the first to congratulate J. P. while the other guests raced upstairs to lay out the snacks for the reception.

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“This is such a happy day!” Sabreene said.

“That it is!” agreed J. P.

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New World Symphony: A Simself Interlude

Last week, for Miss Penguin’s birthday, I threw a big party at my cottage. There were so many people, that we could hardly find room to dance! But we danced anyway. We were just all so happy because it’s Miss Penguin’s birthday, and we love her. She’s a regular part of the family.

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All the Boughs were there. Jaclyn came, and so did the members of Cypress’s garden club. Sharon Pope came–you’ll get a chance to know her better later on down the road. She shows up everywhere, all the time. She’s great friends with the Boughs, and her kids are beautiful. They’re in Jaclyn’s merry band. Here’s a picture of one of her daughters:

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Sabreene came, and so did Eddie and Shannon SimsFan and her husband, John. JRose catered. Of course, Miss Penguin was the guest of honor. With all the Boughs, we couldn’t fit any one else in! We’ll have other parties for other friends.

Even Mesquite came to play the piano.

“Are you gonna make a wish and spin?” Cypress asked Miss Penguin. We all waited for her answer.

“No,” she giggled. “I like this age just fine! This is more an honorary birthday than an aging-up birthday!”

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The day before had been Sabreene’s birthday, and I invited her over for tea.

“Banana slugs!” she said, when she arrived, referring not to the slug making its way through my flower beds at that moment, but to the mascot of our beloved alma mater.

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“You really both graduated from the same college?” Cypress asked Sabreene over the roar of laughter and music.

“We did!” shouted Sabreene. “It’s such a wonderful school.”

I think the Boughs would love UC Santa Cruz, especially Cypress and J. P. Well, all of them really! The university has eight colleges within it, each with their own style, and so there’s one that would be sure to fit each of the Boughs.

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This was the first time the whole family had been together since Sugar and Ren’s reception. Soon, they’ll gather again for J. P. and Floyd’s wedding or reception.

“Where is your other brother?” Nathanael asked J. P.

“You mean the man soon to be my husband?” J. P. responded. “More lover than brother,” he added, under his breath. “He stayed home. He’s looking through baking books, trying to find a good recipe for marzipan for the cake.”

Ren had decided to stay home, too. Sugar realized that she didn’t often come to these big parties. She enjoyed each of the family members in small gatherings, but Sugar realized that when they whole gang was together, it could be a bit much.

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onezero and Sugar took advantage of the party to catch up with each other. Since onez had joined ZenPines, J. P.’s wellness club, they’d been seeing each other more often, but onez was realizing that she missed seeing Sugar every day.

“I always go around looking for you,” onezero said.

“And do you find me?” asked Sugar.

“Yeah, I do,” said onez, and I think she’s right. Whomever I’m playing, if I take them to a community lot, first we see Sugar, and then, in the opposite direction, we see onez. They don’t often find themselves in an actual conversation, but these two have other means of communicating.

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At the party, they kept each other laughing, while Miss Penguin and Shannon SimsFan danced in the crowded kitchen.

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“I might need to get a bigger house if I keep throwing parties like this!” I said to Miss P.

“I don’t think you need to,” she replied. “Just look! We’re having a great time!”

“If there’s room to dance, there’s plenty of room!” said Shannon SimsFan.

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Cypress stayed behind after the party ended and everyone else went home. Since she and I share two traits–goofball and loves outdoors–we have become fast friends.

“I just want to thank you,” she said. “You made my dream come true.”

She spent the golden hour out at the easel.

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“You recognize this, don’t you?” she asked, as she completed the painting.

It was one of Cedar Bough’s favorite subject matters: The magical owl.

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New World Symphony: About those last three chapters…

I wrote the last three chapters because I wanted to explore the lives of some of the children that are in Jaclyn’s magical merry band.

Starting with Jennifer Harmonson was a natural choice, since she’s Squid’s best friend. When I went to play her family, I was so surprised to see that Jennifer was at Cradle Rock, and even more surprised to find her standing at the fridge with a big plate of breakfast scramble. She then, quite happily, marched to the back bedroom, where Redbud was sitting, and sat beside her. It was then when I noticed how much alike they look.

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So that’s where her story came from. I remembered as a child sometimes when I’d find myself with a woman–maybe a friend’s mom, maybe a neighbor–with whom I felt a sense of the kindred: maybe we looked similar; maybe we both loved the outdoors; maybe we both just understood each other and fell into a natural sense of sympatico. When I saw how happy these two gluttons were with each other, I thought that maybe Jennifer would wonder if this was her true home and her true family. That would explain to her why she and Sempervirens became best friends so quickly, and it would explain to me why she was hanging out at Cradle Rock on her own.

Of course, she isn’t really related to the Boughs–that’s just her imagination. She is the daughter of Jayden Harmonson and Solomon Portillo; she is indeed the twin sister of Bridget. I was happy to see that Solomon was her dad. He was one of the Park Boys of Cypress’s childhood, and I’ve always had a soft spot for him. He and Jayden are soulmates, with completely full pink and green relationship bars. While I was playing the family, though, I received notification that Solomon married Christian Parker. There’s an MC Command Center complication for you!

No matter, I figured. He can still be a good dad to Jennifer and Bridget! Bridget has the insane trait, so maintaining close relationships is a challenge for her. Like many insane Sims, she will periodically yell at those she loves the most. Jennifer is very loving and patient with her: she takes her supportive role as a sister seriously. Jennifer and Bridget really do look alike: just give them similar hair, and they will look like twins.

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I was curious to learn more about Christian Parker, the new wife of Jennifer and Bridget’s dad. I knew her as the mixologist with the two-toned braid, and I was surprised to see that she’s Mikaela’s mom. Mikaela is one of my favorites of Jaclyn’s merry band.

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I adore the way she looks, and she is every bit as sweet. Like most slobs, she’s got a rambunctious enthusiasm for life.

I had assumed that Solomon was her dad, but when I played the Parker household, I discovered that Craig Cho (who is married to Alysia Carey) was her dad, and Solomon was her stepdad. That put Mikaela at the center of a very complicated family configuration. On top of all that, one of Alysia’s traits is jealous. When I first went to play this household, Solomon was visiting the Harmonsons, and Alysia was very tense about his absence.

I discovered, too, that Solomon hates children. His other traits aren’t bad: Loves the outdoors and loner. But because he hates children, he’s often tense when kids are around. Mikaela picks up on his tension, and then she feels tense, too.

It was interesting to see the sudden change that Mikaela went through as soon as she left the house and ran outside–she just felt free and happy, with all the complicated dynamics left behind! I found it a curious coincidence that Jayden Harmonson happened to be fishing near their house.

The bit at the park with Jaclyn happened when Mikaela wanted to send a happy text; I had her send one to Jaclyn, who then called her up to share an outing at the park. At the park, I was only playing Mikaela, so all the others who showed up were there on their own accord.

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Poor Pierce! His and Mikaela’s dad, Craig Cho, is mean. Even when I tried to cancel actions from his queue, he still persisted in mean interactions with Pierce. There seemed to be no reason for the meanness: one moment he’d be hugging Pierce, and the next, yelling at him, while whimming to help Pierce with his homework. No wonder the little boy doesn’t believe in magic and does believe in dragons!

Pierce’s mom, Alysia Carey, is lovely: she’s an art lover, materialistic, and something else that I don’t remember, but which isn’t malevolent. And Craig Cho is crazy about her.

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Christian Parker, Mikaela’s mom, is in a precarious position for a jealous Sim: her husband has children with another woman (whom he still loves) and the father of her daughter (whom Christian still loves) is married to and has a son with another woman. Not a comfortable spot for a jealous wife and lover!

The kids, as kids do, seem to pick up on the tension. No wonder Jennifer feels that she belongs to the Bough family, which, though it has plenty of its own complications, is simple in comparison.

If you look at the Table of Contents for New World Symphony, you’ll see that I’m dividing this work into movements: these three chapters belong to the Rondo Capriccioso movement. A rondo is like a round, and capricciosos can be capricious: structurally, these three chapters follow a round, and in mood, they’re very capricious.

By the way, all this complication was created through the settings I’m using in MC Command Center. Blame it on the mod!

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New World Symphony: Pierce

Pierce Carey didn’t care about magic. He had to pay attention to what was real. Dragons were real, mud dragons especially. They came when you least expected them–when everything was feeling really happy and peaceful…

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Boom! That’s when the mud dragons liked to strike.

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Their roar was enough to defeat even the strongest, bravest knight–unless that knight had protection.

Pierce was looking for protection.

Maybe, protection came from the water goddess.

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Sometimes, at the end of the day, the water goddess came to offer blessings of peacefulness and beauty.

But water goddesses don’t stick around. They go downstairs to make scrambled eggs for supper, and then before you know it, Mom calls, “Dinner time! Put away your games, wash your hands, and come down to the table!”

Usually, you don’t see mud dragons at the dining table. Mud dragons don’t eat eggs. They only eat boys.

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Mud dragons hardly every showed up at homework time. Maybe, homework was one of the talismans.

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But schoolwork was definitely not a talisman. School was full of mud dragons. Fire dragons, too, and also stinky-marking-pen dragons.

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It helped when a young knight had a virtuous and valiant sister–even if she lived in a different house with the sunset goddess and the popcorn dragon.

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“I’ve got plenty of use for magic,” said the valiant sister. “What else makes life feel sparkly-filled?”

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Pierce was not so sure.

“It’s not magic that defeats the dragons!” Pierce insisted. “Magic is not real! You gotta do real stuff to keep the dragons away. Homework. Clean your room. And even then, the dragons come.”

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“I haven’t yet seen a dragon,” said Mikaela. “Now I believe they’re real, because you say so. I’m just saying that I never seen one.”

“Not once?” asked Pierce.

“Not once,” Mikaela replied.

“Not even when your stepdad disappears?” asked Pierce.

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Mikaela was thoughtful for a while.

“I’ve seen witches,” she said at last. “But usually the witches just look at me sideways. I haven’t yet had a run-in with one.”

“And what would you do if you did have a run-in?” Pierce asked.

Mikaela thought.

“I would be really brave and strong,” she said. “I’d remember how brave you are when the dragons come, and then I would be like that. Or I might just leave the house and go outside for a while. That’s what I usually do.”

Pierce took out his homework. He liked the way it felt here, at his sister’s house. At that exact moment, he could tell from the feelings that there weren’t any witches or any dragons around, just his sister, his sister’s mom, and the cozy feeling of being in a nice home.

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Later, the sunset goddess floated down and sat beside him on the couch.

“Hey!” said Pierce. “This must be Shangri La!”

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“No,” said Mikaela’s mom. “This is Willow Creek.”

While they were talking, Mikaela’s stepdad joined them.

“Is that Solomon?” Pierce whispered to his sister’s mom. “He looks a little dragonish.”

Mikaela’s mom laughed.

“Are you feeling tense, Sol?” she asked. “I think it’s about time for Pierce to head home for supper.”

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It was getting dark by the time Pierce arrived home, and his mom and dad were nowhere to be seen. But Mom had left a bowl of cereal on the table for him with a note that said:

We’ve just gone out for an evening walk on the bluffs. We’ll be back soon, Sweet Pea! Enjoy your snack, and I’ll make a full supper when we get back.

We love you, Little P!

–Mom and Dad

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When they got home, they carried the scent of fog and ocean with them.

“Pierce!” said Pierce’s dad. “You’re home! Did you have a good day?”

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And at that very moment, there were no dragons anywhere to be seen.

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New World Symphony: Mikaela

Mikaela Parker was in the center of a very complicated tangle of family.

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Just because she was in the middle, it didn’t mean that she had lots of company. She very often felt very much alone.

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The inside of this big white house, for a little girl with a jealous mother and a stepdad who hated children, could be a very lonely and uncomfortable place.

Outside was a very different matter.

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Once she cleared the front steps, Mikaela forgot all about her real dad, who lived in a different house and was married to different lady, Alysia, who was the mom of her brother, Pierce.

And once she ran down the front sidewalk, she forgot all about her new stepfather, Solomon Portillo, who had two different daughters with a different mom, and who, though he hated kids, loved to play alone with all her favorite games.

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Once she reached the long walkway beside the canal, she forgot all about her mom’s headaches, that got worse and worse every time her new stepdad went to visit those other daughters and their other mom.

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With each step away from her house, the tensions faded, and Mikaela thought she might just be a happy kid, after all.

Early one Sunday morning, on her run towards freedom and happiness, she met a nice red-headed lady fishing along the canal.

“That’s a pretty fish,” said Mikaela. “Are you gonna eat it?”

“No,” said the lady. “I think I’ll put it in an aquarium. How does that sound, Mikaela?”

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“You know my name?” Mikaela asked.

“Oh, I know all about you!” the lady replied. “Your stepdad told me.”

“You know my new dad?” Mikaela asked, and suddenly, she knew. This was the other mom.

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“Yes,” she said. “Me and my girls know your stepdad real well. But don’t worry. We live all the way in Oasis Springs, and we hardly ever come to Willow Creek. I just wanted to do some early morning fishing today. You’re welcome to come visit us any time, as long as it’s OK with your mom.”

Mikaela thanked her, but she wasn’t really sure if she should go to other mom’s house, even if it did mean she could meet her stepsisters. Her mom always said you keep the blue socks with the blue socks and the yellow ones with the yellow, and you don’t mix and match.

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Apparently, though, as Mikaela was to find out that day, fate didn’t mind mixing socks.

That afternoon, Mikaela’s friend Jaclyn called to invite her to the state park at Oasis Springs. Her mom, dreaming of an empty house, said she could go.

“Thanks for inviting me!” said Mikaela. “Mom had one of her heads, so I had to be extra quiet. It’s more fun out here!”

“Sure it is!” said Jaclyn. “Out here you can be as loud as you want!”

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“I actually brought you here for a reason,” she continued. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Over by the monkey bars stood a girl with hair as red as the hair of the fisherman lady.

“Are you Mikaela?” asked the girl.

“This is Bridget Harmonson,” said Jaclyn. “Do you know who she is?”

“Yeah!” said Mikaela. “I do!”

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“This is my sister!” Mikaela told Lil Penguin.

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“I guess Bridget’s got a few sisters then, huh?” said Lil. “That’s OK. We’ve got the Penguin Power here, just in case things get out of hand.”

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When Mikaela turned around, she saw that Jaclyn and Bridget were deep in conversation as they were watching the clouds.

“And back where I come from,” she heard Jaclyn say, “I must have twenty or more sisters! And at least half of them have different moms or different dads. It’s the elvish way…”

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Mikaela caught the scent of steak cooking on the barbecue, and she remembered that all she’d had to eat all day was a bowl of potato chips for breakfast very, very early that morning.

“Think I could have some?” she asked the funny blue lady who stood at the grill.

“Of course!” the woman answered. “I knew you were hungry, so I made them for you!”

The woman’s voice sounded like a thousand flutes playing at once.

“Are you real?” asked Mikaela.

“Of course!” replied onezero, and she told Mikaela her name.

“And is the food real?” asked Mikaela. “And not poison?”

onezero laughed. “It’s steak! Real and delicious!”

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onezero dished up her own plate and sat next to Mikaela.

“How is it?” she asked.

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Jaclyn joined them.

“I see you met my friend onezero!” she said to Mikaela. “She and I are in the same club!”

“I thought she might be make-believe,” Mikaela confessed.

“No, she’s real!” said Jaclyn. “As real as me!”

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onezero began to tell Mikaela about her own family.

“Jaclyn tells me you have a big family,” onezero said, “and you all live in different houses. I come from a big family myself! I grew up with a half-brother, a half-sister, my real dad, my stepmom, my aunt–that’s just here on this planet. Then, elsewhere, I had thousands of half-sisters and half-brothers, and one thousand mommies!”

“One thousand mommies!” said Mikaela. “What happened when they all had headaches?”

“Oh, they don’t get headaches where they come from,” said onezero.

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“Do you think I could talk to my stepsister?” said Bridget, joining them at the table.

onezero excused herself. “I enjoyed talking with you, Mikaela,” she said, as she headed back to Cradle Rock.

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Bridget growled.

“This is impossible!” she grumbled.

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She closed her eyes tight and then she yelled as loudly as she could. “I never wanted a stupid stepsister! Stepsisters are always mean and evil! Just step off!”

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When she opened her eyes, she smiled. “You wanna come over and play sometime?” she asked. “I’ve got some really great toys!”

“That’s OK,” said Mikaela, and she left the table.

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Mikaela headed into the bathroom, someplace where she could be alone and try to sort out what had just happened.

“Are you OK, Mikaela?” Lil Penguin, who’d watched the whole scene, joined her.

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“I don’t like being yelled at,” said Mikaela.

“I know,” said Lil. “I don’t like it either. Sometimes kids yell cuz they don’t know how else to calm down. That’s what Gi-Gi does. Don’t take it personal, OK?”

“Ugh. I’ll try,” said Mikaela.

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Mikaela looked at herself in the mirror. She had to laugh. Her face was kind of red and scrunched up.

“I look like a possom nose!” she said, and Lil Penguin laughed with her.

“You know what I like to do when I feel sad or worried?” said Lil. “I like to look at the sky.”

“That’s a great idea,” said Mikaela. “Let’s go!”

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Here in the desert, the sky seemed bigger than it did at home.

“Is it the same sky?” asked Mikaela.

“It is,” said Lil Penguin. “We’re all underneath the same sky. Sometimes I like to pretend I’m up there with a cloud, looking down, and then, it doesn’t matter who’s your mom and who’s your dad. We’re all everybody’s babies.”

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They watched the sky until it began to grow dark.

“Oh! I’ve got to get home!” said Mikaela. “Mom gets mad when I’m out late. Thanks for everything, Lil. I think maybe you might be my sister, too!”

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“Prob’ly so!” called Lil, as Mikaela ran towards home.

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New World Symphony: Jennifer

Sempervirens’ best friend, Jennifer Harmonson, has adopted Cradle Rock as her second home. After her visit here with Vi, when she discovered how nice her best friend’s grandparents, great grandpa, and great aunt were–and how delicious the food was–she started dropping by often.

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She began to think that maybe this was really her true home. Can somebody else’s home feel like your own?

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Something about Cradle Rock felt right to Jennifer. She felt she shone brighter there than anywhere else.

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Sempervirens’ family was friendly, the food was delicious, the artwork and stuffed animals were fun, but mostly, this feeling of being at home was because of her best friend’s grandmother, Redbud.

Jennifer felt comfortable and relaxed whenever she was around Redbud.

Redbud ate the same way she did–great big huge mouthfuls at a time–and she never told her to eat more slowly and chew.

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“I like to eat, too,” said Jennifer.

“You and me both!” said Redbud. “Isn’t breakfast scramble delicious?”

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When Jennifer was with Redbud, she felt that she was with someone just like her. Maybe, Jennifer thought, there’s a reason we’re so similar. Maybe I’m a foundling, and Redbud is my real ma. 

While Jennifer loved her sister Bridget, she never really felt like they came from the same stock. They didn’t look that much alike. And they didn’t talk alike or think alike, either.

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Bridget, with her red hair, looked a lot like their mother, Jayden.

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But Jennifer? She didn’t look anything like their mom.

She looked like Redbud Bough. And she felt like a Bough, too, in her heart of hearts.

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What could have happened that Jennifer Bough ended up Jennifer Harmonson, a little girl who called Jayden Harmonson mom? And for what purpose?

For a while, this puzzled Jennifer. Then one night, after she and Redbud watched the stars together, a thousand twinkling lights rained down, and Jennifer discovered what might be the answer.

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“Listen!” said Redbud. “Can you hear the lights singing? That’s what Aunt onezero calls the thousand mommies!”

As Redbud looked at them closely, a big shaft of light encircled her and began to draw her up.

“Here I go!” Redbud said. “I guess the thousand mommies want to talk with me! Head on home, Jenni, and I’ll catch you later!”

And with that, Redbud was swooped up into sky!

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When Jennifer got home, her sister was so excited to see her.

“Jen-Jen!” she said. “Look! There are lights over there! They’re singing!”

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There by the side of the house, three lights were indeed dancing and singing–and inside each circle of light, were thousands of tiny lights, all singing their own song!

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“Mom!” called Jennifer. “Something’s going on out here!”

Her mom came out and examined them with a smile of wonder.

“Oh, these!” she exclaimed. “I’ve seen these before! Why, last time I saw these was the day I brought you two back from the hospital!”

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Then, just like with Redbud, the lights began to encircle Jayden.

“Oh! I remember! It feels kind of creepy at first!” she said.

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“Say hi to Redbud when you get up there!” Jennifer called.

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It had to be! This had to be the answer to the mystery of how she, natural born daughter of Redbud Bough, could have been delivered to Jayden Harmonson, to be raised by her, with her own natural born daughter, Bridget, as if they were twins!

The thousand mommies must have known that this was for the best.

Jen suspected the purpose of her being there. One hug from her sister confirmed it: nobody at Cradle Rock needed her. But here, at the Harmonson house, here was a sister who needed a steadfast friend. That was something that Jennifer could be: a sister and friend.

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She was glad to have a purpose! And as long as she could still visit Cradle Rock, then she could have the best of both worlds!

She felt it was prudent to keep the secret for a while. Her real ma would let her know when they could stop pretending. Maybe, she’d bring Sempervirens into the secret sometime, because isn’t that what best friends were for? But nobody else needed to know.

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Of course, lots of things made it fun to live here with Jayden and Bridget in the Harmonson house. For one, they lived next to the park.

Jennifer loved to eat her breakfast there.

“What are you eating?” Mario Behr asked.

“Froot Loops,” Jennifer answered.

“That’s weird,” said Mario. “I never eat my breakfast cereal at the park.”

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“It’s a free world,” said Isabella Pope. “If a girl wants to eat at the park, she can eat at the park.”

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“Plus, I just live right there,” said Jennifer, pointing towards her house. “So this is like my backyard.”

“No, it’s not,” said Mario, who stormed off.

But there was never a shortage of park kids.

Jennifer and Bridget often played there with Lucas Munch, Lil Penguin, and Elsa Bjergsen.

Elsa didn’t really like Bridget.

“I heard what you said to your sister,” she told her one day. “That wasn’t very nice.”

“Oh, that’s ok!” said Jennifer. “I don’t mind. Bridget just gets voices inside sometimes that tell her to say things. I never take it personally.”

“It’s still not nice,” said Elsa. “I believe that everyone should be nice to everyone else all the time.”

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Lil Penguin had a different perspective.

“I think I understand your sister,” she said to Jennifer. “And I think you do, too!”

“Yeah, I do!” said Jennifer.

“So, you and me, we can be the Super Special Understanding Team, right?”

“Right!”

“We need a passcode we can say when we need to call on our super powers.”

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“I know! Llama butts!” Lil Penguin shouted.

“Um. That’s weird, Lil.”

“Penguin Power?”

“OK. Penguin Power is good.”

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Whenever the other kids couldn’t stay and play, Jennifer would invite over her best friend.

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Sempervirens loved the flowers and rocky bluffs that lined the walkways and play area.

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Vi always arrived with her pockets full of jokes.

“So! Why did the llama cross the road?” she asked. “So she could say hi to her mama!”

“Is that even funny?” asked Bridget.

“Beats me!” said Jennifer, “but Vi is laughing, so it must be, right?”

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They usually headed over to the Harmonson house when they got too hot playing in the sun.

“Come on!” said Jennifer. “Let’s play ‘Don’t Wake the Llama!'”

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One evening, when Redbud stopped by to visit, Jennifer figured out that, if her theory were correct, then she was really her best friend’s aunt! No wonder they were best friends! She decided not to mention it to anybody–not directly, that is.

“Do you ever wish you had an aunt?” she asked Bridget. “I’ve always heard that aunts make the best friends!”

Redbud laughed. “I’ve always been good friends with my aunts, that’s for sure! There’s just something very special about aunts.”

“That’s just what I was thinking,” said Jennifer, with a snicker.

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Bridget and Jennifer’s dad, Solomon Portillo, came over.

“Hi, Solomon!” said Redbud.

“Oh!” said Jennifer. “You know my dad?”

“Sure,” said Redbud. “He’s been a family friend forever!”

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Jayden joined them.

“Hey, sweetie,” she said to Solomon. “How you doing?”

Solomon was a little tense. Much as he loved his kids in particular, he hated kids in general, so every time he dropped by, it took him a little bit of time to relax.

“Jen, do you have to take such big bites?” he asked.

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Redbud laughed.

“That’s just a sign of love of life!” she said. “Right, pumpkin?”

And just like that, Jennifer felt at home.

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