Three Rivers 28.1

Twenty-eighth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

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

28. No one suspects his hidden power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the girls were ten, Claire died of cancer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Exactly.”

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

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

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

“And now?”

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

“You can!” Nash said.

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

“A friend?” asked Nash.

“Yeah! A friend.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the paintings?” he asked.

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

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

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

“It’s a beautiful day,” he said.

And she smiled, too, a genuine smile.

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

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

These were the true angels, he thought.

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

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

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

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

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Three Rivers 19.1

Nineteenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

19. All day long we found tadpoles

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Serena’s niece Sylvia wasn’t sure how she felt about spending the summer way out in the country with her aunt.

“I was supposed to do piano lessons,” Sylvia said.

“I’ve got a piano,” said Serena. “And I’ll be happy to teach you.”

“It won’t be the same,” said Sylvia.

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“Of course not,” said Serena.

Sylvia’s mother had been assigned an extra teaching load at the university this summer, and, as she was also wrapping up her Ph.D. thesis, she wasn’t sure what to do with Sylvia. She was too little to be left alone in the city all day, and too big to tag along at the university.

“Let her spend the summer with me,” Serena volunteered. “There’s plenty of room for her to run outside, and she can come with me to the island on the days I work at the Villareals’.”

So Sylvia arrived at Serena’s cottage out in the countryside with her suitcase full of frilly dresses.

“Oh, these won’t do,” said Serena.

“What do you mean?” asked Sylvia.

“How can you climb trees and chase frogs in a dress?”

Serena asked her friend and neighbor Mila Munch, the mother of three boys, if she had any hand-me-downs that they might borrow until they had time to go to town to buy more appropriate play clothes.

“More than enough!” said Mila, and she insisted, bringing over a box full of hats, jeans, overalls, and t-shirts that her boys had outgrown, that Serena and Sylvia keep them.

The next morning, Saturday, while Serena read with a cup of coffee, Sylvia asked if she might explore.

“Of course,” said Serena. “Come home when you’re hungry!”

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Sylvia ran down the hill to the fork in the road at the bottom, and there she found a wide meadow.

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Stalks of blue flowers grew taller than her, and grasshoppers jumped out of her path.

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She played a game of jump-hop with the grasshoppers. They won, of course, and Sylvia thought she had never played a more fun game.

A thrush sang from the branches of an old oak. Sylvia thought that she had never heard better music.

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On Sunday afternoon, too, Sylvia roamed.

“Come back by sunset,” said Serena, who sat happily playing the piano.

Sylvia crossed a stone bridge, and there, at the edge of the meadow, flowed a small waterfall.

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She had never seen a waterfall before, unless one counted the fountains at her mother’s university as a waterfall. But this was different.

This roared.

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She felt the spray on her face, and the cascading water shouted her name: Sylvia! Sylvia!

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Serena had told her that there was a tall waterfall at the old mill, and Sylvia, now that she’d seen the little falls, wanted to find the tall one.

A lady with binoculars and a funny hat made of straw pointed the way to her. She had to run through a very large meadow to get there. Her whole neighborhood in the city would fit in this meadow, she thought, but she was so glad that it was full only with birches, grasshoppers, sparrows, and wrens.

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All the songs of the meadow fell away as the tall waterfall roared. It must have said every name that ever was and ever will be, all at once, not just “Sylvia!” but an entire cacophony of a roll-call!

Maybe this was the river of life!

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The sun began to set, and Sylvia remembered that she had to be home. She had such a long way to go! She hoped she remembered which way to turn when she came to the road.

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As it grew dark, she found herself by a house she didn’t recognize.

“What’s a little one like you doing on the road?” asked a man who talked in a low, funny voice.

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“My cottage disappeared,” she said.

He laughed. “Cottages tend to do that.”

They talked of waterfalls and meadows. Sylvia learned that he lived in the woods near an old orchard, not in a house at all. When at last he discovered that she was Serena’s niece he pointed her in the right direction.

“You’ll be home before the moon!” he said.

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Before breakfast the next day, Serena packed a basket of books, paper, and paints for Sylvia.

“This should keep you busy!” she said.

“But I don’t want to be busy,” said Sylvia. “I want to be in the meadows!”

“But I won’t be here,” said Serena. “I have to go to my work at the Villareals’. You’ll like it. You can play in the woods near their house, and we’ll bring plenty of projects for you to do, while I work.”

“I want to stay here. If I can’t stay alone, let me stay with the funny man.”

“What man is that?” asked Serena.

“He lives in the woods, by the orchard. I don’t know his name, but he knows you. He calls you Se-Se!”

“You must mean Sebastian,” Serena said. “No, you can’t stay alone with Sebastian all day while I am at the Villareals’.”

So that day, Sylvia went with Serena to the island. She played on the beach and drew pictures and read books. It was fun, but it was nothing like the meadows. She missed the grasshoppers, the thrush, the sparrows and wrens, and most of all, she missed the brook and the waterfalls.

“Can’t I please stay home tomorrow?” she asked Serena, on the ferry ride back at the end of the day.

“Don’t you like the ferry?” asked Serena.

“I do. But I would like to stay home tomorrow, please?”

When they got back to the cottage, Serena called her friend and neighbor.

“Of course, she can spend the day with us!” said Mila. “Lucas will love to have a little friend to explore with!”

So all the next day, Lucas and Sylvia roved.

“I know where tadpoles are,” said Lucas.

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Sylvia had never seen tadpoles before.

“Not even pollywogs?” Lucas asked.

Not even pollywogs.

They ran through an old garden at a forgotten estate. There in a broken fountain filled with green water swam brown tadpoles, bigger than her fist!

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“They’ll be bullfrogs when they get their legs,” said Lucas.

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They found a maze made of hedges.

“Race you!” cried Sylvia, and she ran down the narrow path that twisted and turned, and not once did she get lost!

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“Which way?” called Lucas.

“Follow your nose!” said Sylvia.

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Sylvia came out in an opening, thick with mist from a nearby waterfall.

She saw something move from out of the corner of her eye, and she turned just in time to see a huge bullfrog leap from the rock into the pond below.

“It was this big!” she told Lucas, measuring a span with her hands.

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They couldn’t scale the rocks to get to the pond below, so they lay on their bellies and looked down into the clear water, where large brown tadpoles swam with small black pollywogs and tiny little fish.

Next it was back to the meadows where the tall flowers grew and another game of jump-hop with the grasshoppers. It was more fun with two.

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As the sun reached low and the long shadows stretched, Sylvia and Lucas found themselves beside a quiet still pond where ducks foraged.

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“This is a good tadpole hole,” said Lucas. They waded in the water and waited quietly while the tadpoles swam over their toes, then, they darted their hands in quickly and each caught one!

“It tickles!” said Sylvia.

“Happy summer,” whispered Lucas to the tadpole in his hand, and then he gently let it go.

They watched their tadpoles swim away and settle into the thick dark mud.

“When we come back tomorrow, they might start to be having legs,” said Lucas.

“I think we should come back every day,” said Sylvia. “Forever and always.”

nineteen02

Three Rivers, 11.1

Eleventh Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Orion Fuchs and his two mothers are a game-generated family. Their home was built by TheKalinotr0n.

11. This poem was never read.

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Orion watched the globes of light: blue, violet, green, tan. One shimmered like a rainbow. The little globes shone brightest and bounced down the sidewalk. Did everyone see balls of light surrounding people? Orion would never know, for he hadn’t the words to translate what he saw. He could only see, smile, and wonder. And wasn’t that life, to watch in wonder as it spun itself around you?

“Ori! Come in off the street!” Love called. “It’s supper!”

Orion stood in the street and the songs of mockingbirds spun waves of blue and purple around him.

“Orion! Come eat!” called Love-Love. Orion felt a hand on his shoulder. It was his mother, who led him in to the kitchen.

Love, his other mother, sat with a bowl of beans that he had cooked himself that afternoon. He felt her watch him, and he giggled.

“Popcorn,” he said.

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“What’s that?” she asked.

“Pops,” he said.

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“Popcorn pops. P-p-pop!”

“Are you writing about popcorn?” Love asked.

“Peasants and laborers,” he said.

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“Peasants and laborers?” she asked. “Oh! That’s right! Your History of Feudalism class! How is it going? Do you like the teacher? Is it interesting?”

Orion had enrolled in the community college. Classes there suited him. The academic load provided structure and focus, and being relieved of the social pressures of high school had helped to heal the ulcer that had begun to form last year.

“What’s your paper about?” she asked.

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He looked at Love, wondering where to start–with his thesis, which was that baroque music replicated contemporary social structures through the form of counterpoint, thus reinforcing the belief in the providence of feudalism, or with his conclusion, which refuted his thesis by hinting at Bach’s secret, and largely undiscovered, subversion of social norms? His thoughts were slowly tracing their pathways to his tongue, when Love began to speak.

“You know,” she said, “I wrote my dissertation on feudalism in Northern Europe!”

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After supper, they sat together in the living room, and Orion closed his eyes to better see the yellow swirls, green diamonds, and blue orbs spun by laughter and conversations.

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Love-Love’s laugh spread gold light. She never poked with questions. She sat and listened, and when he couldn’t find the right word, she smiled without hurry.

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At the piano, he told the story of his day: the colored lights that spun around each person, the flow of energy through a tree, the cadence of his history teacher’s voice, the click in place as his words found their way through his pen and onto the paper.

And what did they hear when they listened? Love-Love saw happy pictures of streams, jumping trout and swallows that dipped to the surface.

Love felt the emotions that her son’s music carried: happiness, curiosity, bliss. When Orion played, she found, for a moment, understanding: when he played with beauty, she set aside all worry.

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Orion woke in the early morning, well before dawn. He had dreamed of the Bach partita. The blue line of the soprano voice danced with the green swirls of the alto. It was right–with Bach, it was all right.

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The man, the one from earlier, was in the kitchen.

“Popcorn,” said Orion.

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The man said nothing. Orion had made these beans himself. He cooked them on the grill.

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“Did you eat a bowl of beans?” he asked the man.

“Yeah,” replied the man. “They were pretty good.”

“I cooked them!” said Orion. It was a conversation.

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“Your mom will be home soon,” said the man. “I’d better get going. I got a long ways to go.”

“Popcorn!” said Orion. The kitchen filled with indigo.

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Green swirled below the blue, and the patterns danced together.

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The empty bowl was filled with light–with energy! Nothing was empty. Everything filled with space, and everything had its place.

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In the dream, the voices combined: they formed a single voice, yet each was unique. Blue, indigo, violet, and green dance together, and the pattern is complete. Everywhere he looked, Orion saw the completion of patterns. The pieces fit. Nothing was out of place.

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Three Rivers, 10.1

Tenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Arianna, Janet, and Orion Fuchs are a game-generated family. They live in a beautiful home built by TheKalinotr0n.

10. The Number 10

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Arianna Fuchs had journeyed through enough beginnings and endings to realize that from every completion rose a commencement.

On the afternoon of her and Janet’s tenth wedding anniversary, she returned home from the Convention of the Clowns of Existential Angst to feel the earth stop for just a moment. Ah! She said to herself. Here we are again, in the pause before we begin.

She found her wife Janet in the courtyard with their son Orion.

“Happy anniversary, Cracker Jacks!” Arianna said.

“How did the happy suit go?” Janet asked. “Did you hack the convention?”

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“Yes and no!” said Arianna. “I sort of followed them around through the Promenade and chased their depressing jokes with my cheerful ones. I left them laughing, at least!”

She hadn’t been invited to the convention; she crashed it, on principle, to ensure that the glass was also seen to be half full. Arianna was a hacker by trade and nature. She headed up the hackers’ collective TB4U, whose mission was expressed by their full name: Take it Back for You.

That was her attitude towards life, too–take it back, for you. Make it work. If it doesn’t fit, hack at it until it does.

The only hacking that she and Janet had needed to do as a couple had been societal and legal. Sometimes, it required a bit of activism, assertion, and finesse to get the legal system and the people in their community to accept the way they fit together, which was like roses and baby’s breath.

They stole a moment in the kitchen while their son finished cooking supper on the grill.

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After their kiss, Janet broke away with a laugh.

“You’re it!” she said, in one of the wild moods that Arianna always prompted, and she ran out of the house, across the street, and towards the river walk.

“You punk!” screamed Arianna, flapping after her in her over-sized clown shoes.

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“Kowabunga!” Arianna caught her and wrapped her in a hug.

They’d planned a quiet, romantic anniversary celebration. No party. Instead, they’d wait until Orion went to bed, and then, in the long hours before Arianna’s graveyard shift at TB4U, they’d find sanctuary in their large bedroom and rediscover the women they’d become during these ten years together.

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“Janet!” Their hug was interrupted by Sierra Trejo, who worked with Janet in the Greens.

“Ten years, huh?” said Sierra, when Janet told her of the special occasion. “Congratulations. Amazing.”

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“It feels like five,” said Arianna.

“Ten years,” Sierra continued. “Isn’t that like a record? Or a milestone? Don’t most marriages fall apart in the first seven? What’s your secret?”

“Remember to laugh,” said Janet. “No matter how serious, no matter how complicated, if you can find the humor, you’ll make it!”

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“Is that why you’re celebrating your anniversary in a clown costume?” Sierra asked.

Arianna didn’t answer right away. She was reflecting on Janet’s advice, remembering hard and confusing times when they’d needed to laugh. Orion was four when Arianna and Janet married. Janet had adopted him the year before. He’d had trouble bonding, the social worker said, and he wasn’t talking, either. He laughed first–at silly things: an apple that sang cereal jingles, funny faces she and Janet made at each other, squeaky voices saying everyday things. From the laughter, it became possible to move on to hugs, genuine smiles, and eventually, words.

“Love,” he called Janet, and “Love-Love” was Arianna.

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Arianna’s thoughts were interrupted when a man joined them.

“Honey-voice!” he said to Janet. “Is that your clown?”

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Janet introduced Sebastian Rhine to her friends.

“You know, Sierra,” she said, “It was Sebastian who inspired Alec to come up with free regional wi-fi.”

“I was there,” Sebastian said, “with the man in the big-eye glasses. That man? Then the little man with the mustache? I was there. I don’t have a mobile device.”

“Just as well!” laughed Arianna. “You can be one of the last of the no-data people! Power to the data-free!”

The sun had set and the street lights came on.

“Race you home!” said Janet, and she sprinted back across the street.

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When they got to the corner, they found that Sebastian had run with them.

“Would you like to join us for supper?” Janet asked. “Orion made enough for a whole village!”

“I don’t eat that much,” Sebastian said. “Could I? Could I come home with you?”

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Arianna laughed as they sat together in the living room. “What’s that they say about generosity, Cracker Jacks?” she asked.

“Good karma?” replied Janet.

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“I know about karma,” said Sebastian. “It’s what brings the blessings. Honey-voice, she has already enough kindness for a whole path of Sunday afternoons. That’s karma.”

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While Janet took Sebastian into the kitchen for supper, Orion pulled out his homework and joined Arianna.

“A king would proclaim it a holiday,” he said, “for peasants and laborers alike.”

“What are you talking about, Or?” Arianna asked.

“Anniversary,” he said. “Should be a holiday. For peasants and laborers alike.”

“And students!” Arianna said.

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“Not students,” replied Orion. “Peasants and laborers alike. Students work all days, even holidays.”

“Sometimes, I let you take holidays,” she reminded Orion. “Remember when we let you stay home all day because you wanted to memorize the Bach partita?”

“Work,” replied Orion.

“Well, sort of. But fun, too, right?”

He smiled and nodded. When she could get him to agree with something that was just a bit broader than what he originally proposed, she always felt the conversation had been a success.

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While Orion finished his homework, Arianna headed upstairs to the computer in their bedroom. She wanted to check on the status of the project they were scheduled to do that night. She found a coded message from SamStar226 indicating that it was a go. That night, they were planning to put in a reverse proxy which was reputed to be untraceable and which would allow them to escape detection while re-encrypting data that some of the more malicious hacking software had un-encrypted.

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They’d been working on this project for Landgraab Industries for nearly six months, and tonight was the night to put it to the test.

“Ari?” Janet said softly, “I’m turning in early. Ori’s still up, and Sebastian is downstairs playing computer games, and you’ve got to go to work soon. Think we can wait? You can wake me when you get home and we can celebrate then.”

Janet’s voice always stirred happiness inside Arianna. She was surprised to discover that she didn’t mind waiting. Her attention had already turned to the night’s project.

“You really do have a honey voice,” she said.

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When she headed downstairs to grab a snack before work, Sebastian quickly shut off the computer and jumped up.

“I was just playing games,” he said.

“That’s fine!” replied Arianna. “I’m a gamer, too! Which games do you like?”

“The race car ones?” he replied.

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“Racing games!” she agreed. “They’re the best.”

“I know! We could play two-person sometime!” Sebastian said. “Do they have that? So we could race each other?”

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“They do!” said Arianna. “And I’d love to play multi-player with you. Not now, though. I’m just heading off to work in a few.”

Sebastian’s face fell. “Then I guess I need to leave, too.”

Arianna thought about the cold night. Janet had explained that Sebastian didn’t have a home, that he lived in the woods in Windenburg.

“You can stay here!” she said. “Play more games. Watch TV. Nap on the couch. When you’re hungry, help yourself to leftovers from the fridge.”

“That would be,” he said with a sigh, “amazing karma.”

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He was still downstairs when Arianna came down after her shower.

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“Goodbye, then,” she said. “Make yourself at home. Orion and Janet will be up before I get back.”

He mumbled something. Arianna’s mind turned to the project that lay before her and her team that night.

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She went through the steps of remote installation and activation. They’d practiced this so many times, and RavenDarkx2Z was sure they’d overlooked nothing. It wasn’t how she’d dreamed of spending her tenth wedding anniversary, but D-day couldn’t be rescheduled. Janet and their queen-sized bed would be there when she got home.

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While she was gone, Sebastian did indeed make himself at home.

He watched cooking shows, though he didn’t own a kitchen.

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He helped himself to leftovers, though he was still full from supper.

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And he imagined what it must be to live in a house like this, with a honey-voiced woman who would be there when he came home.

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If he had a life like this, he would never leave.

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But since this wasn’t his life, he was gone before Arianna returned with the morning sun.

Her back ached and her eyes were so tired, and their project had been a success. The sun kissed her cheeks, and she remembered that she’d had such different ideas about how she wanted to spend their tenth anniversary.

It was the beginning of something new, and they’d seen out the old with their son and a new friend, with rest and work, with kindness and daring.

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Arianna smiled inside to think that the bed that waited for her upstairs would still be warm from the body heat of her wife, and her smile grew wider when she thought that maybe, seven hours from now, while their son was still at school and the house was empty, Janet might join her in that big wide bed and kiss open her eyes, and to the song of the mockingbird, they would discover together this new beginning.

Three Rivers 6.1

Sixth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

6. This piano has never been tuned.

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Is it home if you live outside? Sebastian Rhine didn’t think so, even if he’d lived in this corner of the woods, out of sight of the road and neighboring estates, for going on five years. He thought of himself as homeless, and he liked it that way.  Being homeless meant you had all sorts of rules, like never let them see you take anything, never let them see where you go, never bring them home–well, because you don’t have a home. But it was worth it. When you’re homeless, you can’t run away from home. When you live alone, in a not-a-home, nobody can walk out on you.

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Sebastian liked people. That wasn’t the problem. He just didn’t like people leaving. No one leaves if you don’t meet anybody.

A week of solitude stretched into two, and Sebastian felt the space between his ears grow hollow. His own voice echoed in that empty canyon.

A spot of color caught his attention: magenta against the green of forest and meadow. A hat. And under the hat was a smile, warm and wide enough to fill that space with sunshine.

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“It’s nice to meet you, too,” said Serena, for that was her name, and Sebastian smiled that both their names began with a capital S and a lowercase e.

“Se-Se!” he said.

She laughed with a thrush’s song. “Se-se to you, too! Is that some kind of local greeting?”

six32

“I wouldn’t know,” Sebastian said. “I’m not from around here!”

“Neither am I!” said Serena. “So we have that in common. Where are you from?”

six30

“Somewhere that direction,” said Sebastian, raising a finger. Never let them know where your home was, he remembered, just in time.

six33

“From the north country?” Serena asked.

“Just so!” said Sebastian. “Wisconsin.”

six31

They chatted, and Sebastian followed nearly everything she said, which was mostly about taking walks, which led to the topic of keeping your feet dry, which lead to a story about the time she organized a shoe drive for people with no shoes in the city she came from, and just as Sebastian was going to ask, “How did it feel to help people get something they really needed?”,  she said, “Well, I’d better be going. Nice talking with you! See ya!”

“Se-se,” Sebastian said, and she walked on by.

six29

But now Sebastian was feeling the golden light of words between his ears and he wanted more! He waited until she turned at the fork in the road, and then he strolled up the hill to the pub.

Act normal. That was another rule. He smiled. A person in a uniform walked behind him. Act normal and they’ll think you have a home, he remembered. Smile like there’s nothing wrong.

six28

More sunlight shone inside–melted butter.

Esmeralda, for that was her name, greeted him with a warm hello and asked how he was.

“I am well,” he replied. And then he remembered rules, “How are you?”

six27

Esmeralda had a handful of advice for a stranger: one point for each finger. Never buy the mascarpone at Schaefer and Von Der Fries. Remember to check the expiration date on the eggs. Cotton sweaters don’t itch; never wear wool. Organic is better. Sebastian learned a lot.

six26

And when she was done she rewarded him with a story about her granddaughter, and the punchline of the story was a song, which she sang, and in the sunny spot inside, a daisy bloomed.

six25

“I like you,” Sebastian said.

six24

Her smile was sideways, and then it scrunched up.

Was it OK that he said that?

“Is it OK that I said that?” he asked. “Could I come home with you?” he asked.

six23

But she had to leave. It was “time to go.”

Sebastian looked at the daisy inside. It still bloomed.

six21

It kept blooming while the door opened and Esmeralda walked out. He remembered what she said. “I’ll see you again, honey.”

The eggnog tasted sweet.

six20

“That’s my drink,” said a voice.

“Ah, no,” said Sebastian. “It was put on the bar in front of me. That means it’s for me.”

six19

The man laughed. “No prob, bud!” he said. “I’ll order another.”

The eggnog tasted a little bit spicy, and very sweet.

six18

Sometimes, when a voice came from just a head, it was less frightening.

“Some game, huh?”

six15

Sebastian didn’t know what game he was talking about. Did it have something to do with the drink that the man said was his?  No matter. He liked games.

six17

He liked this funny man, who spoke in a low voice and whose glasses made his eyes look big.

six14

He liked people. He liked the way that space inside filled up when they talked. This was a nice place.

six12

Maybe he’d come here tomorrow.

six11

But if he came here tomorrow, different people would be here. Esmeralda would not be here. And maybe the man with the big-eye glasses would be mean.

six13

He wouldn’t press his luck.

Red is a nice color. It looks nice over a smile and green eyes.

six10

“Have another drink.”

He had another drink. How many was that? They were all sweet and spicy, like the laughter of the woman next to him.

six09

“Don’t settle for cheap substitutes,” said the candidate.

“What’s your stance on public services?” asked the woman with sweet and spicy laughter.

“Free health care for all!” said the candidate. “Good, reliable, public housing. Quality education. And free Internet!”

six08

“What good is free Internet if you don’t have a house?” Sebastian asked.

“But you get a house!” said Alec, for that was the name of the candidate. “And mobile devices for all. Free.”

six07

“Is it too good to be true?” said honey-voice.

Sebastian didn’t know and he didn’t care. He’d never live in a house or have a mobile device, and if he could, he’d spend forever listening to that sweet spiced laughter that made him light up like gold inside.

six06

But then it was “later than I thought,” and she was gone, out the door.

They always leave.

How many drinks did he have? He lost count. Each was sweeter than the one before, and soon he was talking with a man whose glasses made his eyes look smaller and who kept jokes flowing and everyone laughed until Sebastian realized, with sudden darkness, that soon it would be time for these people to leave, too, and he would watch them walk out that door.

six02

Unless. Unless he beat them to it. What was it they always said?

“Ah! Look at the time! Gotta go!”

Leave first. A new rule. Leave first and they can’t leave you.

He walked out the door, into the bright sunshine, and he ran all the way to the corner of the woods, hidden from roads and neighbors, where he lived alone in a not-a-home which no one could ever leave, for no one ever came.

six01

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