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.”

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Three Rivers 5.1

Fifth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

5. A fast bow across the cello strings

Serena Cobalt’s grandmother had left her a small cottage. It wasn’t much, but it was in Windenburg. Gran bequeathed her all her old things: the dusty plants and moth-eaten curtains, the bookshelves full of classics and the tiny garden full of hollyhocks, and Serena loved it all. It smelled like home.

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Before she arrived, Serena secured employment as the personal secretary to the family her grandmother had worked for as a housekeeper for over thirty years. Serena’s work days for the Villareals were quiet, peaceful, and interesting, and when work was done, she had long evenings and weekends to herself.

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The Villareals trusted her because of their long association with her grandmother, but it was the type of trust that employers have for valued employees, not the trust that exists between friends,  peers, or colleagues, which was the trust that Serena longed for. That was what she missed most after pulling up her roots in her old city where she’d worked alongside her band of comrades as a community activist since college.

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She’d heard, even back in her History of Civil Disobedience course in freshman year, that Windenburg boasted an old history of activism. All the Marxists she’d known back home talked about the Windenburg marches. “These were Dignity Marches,” her friend Paul had said. “After all, where’s the dignity in starving?” She’d heard rumors that one of the organizers, Claude Deveralle, was still alive and living in Old Town.

If there were still revolutionaries or even those who worked for social justice living in Windenburg or the surrounding areas, Serena had yet to meet them. But then, aside from the Villareals, she hadn’t met many locals yet.

Serena did love the peaceful quiet of her new life, but it was not a replacement for belonging to a cause greater than her. It wasn’t even a replacement for having someone to talk to, someone who knew her, liked her, and didn’t hand her a paycheck on Friday at five p.m.

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She’d never connect with new friends or like-minded souls if she spent every free moment at home, so one free Saturday morning, before cleaning house or watering the garden, she jogged down her country road to the small pub she passed each day on her way to work. Maybe she could meet a few neighbors.

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A city girl from childhood, she was entranced by the landscape. The air smelled green, if air could carry a color, and it buzzed with bird song and cricket chirp.  Maybe if she’d grown up someplace where bees outnumbered taxis, she’d find it easier to settle in fully, to accept companionship from trees. But as it was, the trees and empty meadows made her heart a little tighter, longing for the voices of people and the warmth of human faces.

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The pub was empty when she arrived, but before her first cup of coffee was poured, a man walked in. He was a few years younger than her, perhaps, but with a hunger in his eyes that Serena had seen in the gaze of every politician she’d ever crossed swords or walked picket lines with.

It didn’t matter what side a politician was on, Serena had learned early in her career: they were all hungry.

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He came onto her at first. “Do you have a map? I’m lost in your eyes.”

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But it was nothing she couldn’t handle.

“No map,” she replied, “but I can see the route out the door just fine.”

Alec laughed. “Touché. I should know better than to try an old line like that on a fresh girl like you. So tell me seriously, no joking allowed, what is a beautiful woman like you doing in a small pub like this?”

She maneuvered her way through that line, too, steering the conversation onto him. Politicians, she’d discovered, loved nothing more than talking about themselves. And soon, she learned of his philosophy undergrad degree, his law graduate degree, his two Schnauzers, and the Mercedes Benz he hoped one day to buy–after he had finished his career of “doing good for those who have no one to do good for them.”

“So what office are you running for?” she finally asked him.

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He laughed again. “Who told you I was running for office? I know! You saw my Twitter account!”

He was running for representative for the Green Party.

“I didn’t peg you as a Green,” she said, “not with your Schnauzers and your Mercedes.”

“The Mercedes exists as a theoretical only,” he said, “as a dream. And my little Mitzi and Matilde are eco-friendly chiennes.”

She asked him about his platform–how could she miss the chance? And he launched into a long speech about education reform. He was passionate about “eradicating forever the achievement gap and bridging the socio-economic divide.” She questioned him, and his replies were well-informed, well-considered, and impassioned.

“I get so riled up!” he said, jumping up from the barstool. “I must move when the ideas fill me! Play with me! I challenge you!”

She laughed to herself as she followed him to the foosball table. Oh, it had been a while since she’d heard a man talk himself into a frenzy over social policy, and she had missed this!

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He continued to talk while they played. They must use authentic assessments! Portfolios! Project-based learning! No more high-stakes testing! And of course, the health care and the free meals! Students must be healthy to learn!

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“I like your ideas,” she said to him, when he stopped to breathe. “And I like your passion. You remind me of my colleagues back home, when I worked for Community Now!”

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“You were the politician?” he asked. “I should have known it! An intelligent woman like you!”

“No,” she said. “Not a politician. Even better, a community activist. But I worked with plenty of politicians. When we put our efforts behind a candidate, our candidate won.”

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“Oh,” Alec said, “I could use a group behind me! I have the Greens, but to have a real grass-roots, community group! That would be my dream.”

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He walked her out after they finished lunch.

“This will sound crazy,” he said. “OK. It is crazy. No. It is not crazy. It is crazy because I have only known you for not even over an hour. It is not crazy because I know intelligence when I encounter it. I know talent, experience, passion. Look. I want you to run my campaign.”

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She laughed. “Your campaign? Like, the whole thing?”

“Yes,” he said. “It’s insane, no?”

“It’s insane, yes!” She replied. “I’ll do it!”

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“Get out your phone,” Alec said, “Quick!  Quick! Here. Surf to here.” And he grabbed her phone and typed in the URL of his campaign website.

“See?” he said. “There where it says, TBA–that will be your name!”

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That evening, when she went for her jog, Serena laughed to herself. Here she was, not even a month in her new town, and already she was managing somebody’s campaign! This was where she belonged, and they were going to make a difference, and they were going to do it fast!

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