Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: Just Like A Vacation

This story was written for the September 2017 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month.

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“Pack your things!” Deidre called.

“Where’re we going?” Edgar asked.

“Didn’t you hear, doofus?” Tiana said. “It’s a mandatory evacuation.”

“I don’ want to go,” Edgar said.

“Just think of it as a vacation,” said Tiana.

“But it’s not even stormy.”

The sky had turned an eerie gold, and the bay, though calm on the surface, roiled in its depths. Hurricane Kali was expected to make landfall in 38 hours. The forecast track targeted a direct hit on the city.

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Shelters had been set up in schools, gyms, and the convention center.

Deidre surveyed the rows of cots.

“No way in Hell we’re staying here,” she swore. “How am I supposed to keep my babies safe sleeping next to strangers?”

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They had enough gas to make it across the bridge. Maybe they could refuel in Newcrest or, if their pumps were dry, in Magnolia Promenade.

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One look at the lines at the gas stations along Newcrest strip, and Deidre kept driving.

“Mama! I gotta pee!” Edgar said as they reached the turnoff for Magnolia Promenade.

Tiana took her little brother to the restroom while Deidre filled the tank.

Store windows were boarded up.

The family took a stroll along the river path to stretch their legs before getting back in the car.

“All of this will be flooded,” Tiana said. “Think so?”

“Likely,” replied Deidre. Magnolia Promenade sat below sea level.

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“And what about these trees?” Tiana asked. “Think they’ll all be blown down?”

“Most likely so,” said Deidre.

“Awesome,” said Tiana. “Like the apocalypse.”

“What’s an Apoca?” asked Edgar.

“The end of the world,” said Tiana.

“Don’t scare your brother,” warned Deidre.

 

Tiana had to pee when they reached Willow Creek. People had set up tents in the park and were grilling burgers as if it were a Fourth of July Barbecue.

“Can we stay here, Ma?” Tiana asked. “They got free Wi-Fi.”

Deidre glanced over her shoulder towards the creek. When the levee breaks, this will all be underwater, she thought.

“No. We’re moving on.”

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“Where we going?” Edgar asked in the car.

“I thought we’d go to the mountains,” Deidre said.

“Great,” replied Tiana. “Where all the forest fires are.”

“Will you look up the air quality?” Deidre asked.

Tiana pulled out her phone.

“Oh. It’s OK. They had a cold front and rain. The air’s good now.”

The wheels hummed over the pavement, clicking now and then as they passed over the cracks in the blacktop. The rhythm carried a sense of calm, in spite of the circumstances.

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“Wish I had a Tea Cake,” said Tiana.

“What’s that?” asked Deidre.

“I want tea! I want cake!” yelled Edgar from the back seat.

“Like Janie,” said Tiana. “To ride out the storm with.”

Her sophomore English class was reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. Deidre chuckled.

She had her own Tea Cake back when the last big storm crashed into the city, sixteen years ago. Matter of fact, that’s likely when Tiana had been conceived.

“Just as well you don’t,” said Deidre. “There’s plenty of time for all that.”

“It’s gonna be a cat ten,” said Tiana, checking the #HurricaneKali tweets on her phone.

“No such thing,” said Deidre. “Doesn’t go past five.”

“Still. If it did. There’s this boy in my class who’s this major league climate-change-denier. His parents are mega rich. They live right on the bay. All their windows face the water! I hope their house gets smashed.”

“Tiana! That’s a terrible thing to say, and an even worse thing to think!”

“It would serve him right.”

“Don’t ever.”

“OK. But still. You gotta admit that’d be some beautiful irony.”

They drove on in silence.

They reached the mountains after nightfall. Edgar slept in the back seat while Deidre and Tiana pitched the tent in the dark. They were too tired to fix a meal, so they snacked on granola bars, bottled water, and Starbursts for supper.

Deidre woke before dawn the next morning to grill a proper breakfast.

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They charged their phones at the Visitors’ Center. When they weren’t hiking, fishing, and pretending to be on vacation, Deidre and Tiana followed the tweets about the storm.

Edgar chased butterflies, looked for salamanders under rotting logs, made bows and arrows out of twigs and branches, and hunted for arrowheads in old midden mounds.

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Hurricane Kali, aptly named, was the first category five to make landfall in the city. For decades, the city council failed to enact a storm water plan, ignoring the recommendations of experts. Instead, codes were lax and construction boomed. The storm brought widespread flooding, collapsed the sewage system, tore bricks and decks and tiles off of buildings. The entire power grid went down, and it would likely be weeks before it could be restored.

“How bad is it?” Deidre asked her daughter.

“Pretty bad,” Tiana replied.

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Deidre called a neighbor who was staying with parents in Oasis Springs.

“That bad, huh?” she said, after she got the report.

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“How bad?” asked Tiana.

“Our apartment building was condemned,” said Deidre.

“What are we gonna do?” asked Tiana.

Deidre had next month’s rent already saved up, but there’d be no way they’d get back their deposit. She was sure that skinflint landlord would file for bankruptcy.

“Guess we’ll have to start over,” she said. “How do you feel about the desert?”

For now, they stayed at camp, trying to relax and beat the stress.

“It really is like being on vacation!” said Edgar.

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And it was. Except when it was over, they wouldn’t be going home. They’d be starting new.

Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: A Bookworm’s Vadish

This story was written as a “Just for Fun” submission for the October 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. This is the last month to be coordinated by Carewren123, who created the contest and has been cheerfully and encouragingly managing it since the first monthly contest was held in July 2015.


“We both were so happy that our nightmare was finally over. Until mum came in and whispered in to my ear: “Nancy, the nanny who took care of you, will move in tomorrow.”

From The Spookiest Day of My Life So Far, by Hemera123

Dr. Jasmine turned off her tablet.

“These writers are just so creative these days!” she said to herself. “I do wonder where they get their ideas!”

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Dr. Jasmine reflected on the happy hours she’d enjoyed reading these past 15 months.

“I have a letter I must write,” she realized.

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Dear Carewren:

I would like to tell you about some of the stories that have moved and inspired me. I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, and each story has given me something unique and valued. I want to share my appreciation with you!

One story showed the ways that reading shapes and informs us. Summer Reading, by AdamsEve1231, presents a story of courtship. But how does the young man get to know the young woman he desires? Through reading the novels that shaped her childhood!

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In MastressAlita’s Bibliotaph, a library herself is personified in a young girl! What joy I felt at the story’s ending when the knowledge contained within the library is set free to roam through the world!

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One story, The Girl in the Tablet by lovesstorms, shows how our stories can possess us, while RaeRei’s Frozen Memories, illustrates how our memories, which are, after all, the stories we tell ourselves, can possess us.

Some stories, like The Revenge of the Lonely Witch by SummerFalls and Sofia and the Mystery of the Misplaced Melacoo by Spottydog714, helped me appreciate the ways that characters aren’t always what they seem! Every character, like every person, has hidden bits of humor and surprise, and all we need is the right writer–or the astute observer–to notice it.

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Some writers presented new insights on characters that I already loved deeply: Half Brotherhood by rednenemon and Eyeliner by InfraGreen offered fresh views of fictional characters that have become my friends in imagination.

Do you ever find that fictional characters can become as important to you as those you actually know and interact with on a daily basis? Oh, this happens to me! Especially when these characters help me get to know and understand better those people I with whom I  share my life.

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At my age, and with my profession, wouldn’t you think I’d already learned all there is to know about love, tenderness, vulnerability, and strength?

Far from it! I have learned so much from Pegasus143’s Hidden Sadness and Words Never Heard, Aiden’s Freedom by Supernatural103, and Journey to Happiness by Remi_Narrow.

To think! When we read, we gain compassion, cultivate empathy, and grow in understanding! What gifts writers give to readers!

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One story, Life on Paper by Marty, showed me that readers bring a gift to writers, too. We share our attention, our understanding, our appreciation. We say to writers, “I hear you! I have been there, too!”

Oh, Carewren! Through stories, written and read, we find our common life. We are not so different, after all, all of us living here, trying our best to find meaning, joy, love, and understanding.

These stories, and so many more, have been such a gift to bookworm me!

Do you know, Carewren, there is one more feature that all these stories have in common. And that is that none of them would have been written without you! You are there central to the creation of each, for each of these stories was written for the contest you created and have held each month for the past 15 months.

Thank you so much, Carewren, for all you’ve done for readers and writers! No wonder we can learn so much about the richness of being human through these stories, for they were all written for prompts created by you!

Sincerely,

Dr. Jasmine Gooding

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Dr. Jasmine saved the file.

“Now! If only I can find a printer!” she thought.


Dear Carewren,

As a reader, as a writer, thanks so much for all you’ve done coordinating the short story contest. Thirteen of my own stories wouldn’t have been written without you! And think of all those other stories we’ve read that owe their completion to the contest.

I am so grateful!

Much love,

Cathy Tea

Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: A Year of Stories

July2016

This story was written in celebration of a year of  Monthly Short Story Writing Challenges held by our writing community at the EA Forums and coordinated by @Carewren123. This is my July 2016 entry. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!

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I shut down the computer.

I had a tedium of errands to run before meeting Dr. Jasmine for lunch.

All the while, as I rushed to tend to the minutiae of the mundane, my stories raced through my mind, offering another, more interesting life on a parallel track to this everyday one.

At the gym, I noticed a nose that would be perfect for Madeline Historica, the heroine of the short story I was currently drafting. I studied the profile in every detail.

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The bridge was rather low–that’s what contributed to the face’s childlike, impish quality. And of course the tip was just snub enough to be cute, especially paired with those green eyes.

I memorized the angles and curves: I thought I could probably capture that with fair accuracy the next time I was in CAS.

Next stop: the library. I needed to return a few books, but when I glanced at the clock, I saw that I had forty minutes until my appointment at the diner. I grabbed Maldoon’s Mystery of the Forgotten Snow, which I’d been meaning to read for the past year.

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Then, without warning, she left, more abruptly than she had arrived. Her sweater, tied around her waist, dangled one tattered corner along the damp forest floor. The fir needles and bracken it lifted would provide the only trace, hours hence, that she had passed this way.

Damn! Why can’t I write like that? How many more stories must I pound out on the keyboard before I learn to point out the significant and tease with the meaningless?

But I reminded myself of my resolve to banish envious comparisons, which only sap my energy for writing and lead to aborted manuscripts.

“Use the talent of others as inspiration!” I reminded myself, quoting the main snippet that stuck of Dr. Jasmine’s copious words of advice.

So I lost myself in the novel, and when I looked up, I was nearly late for lunch!

Dr. Jasmine sat waiting at our favorite table on the deck.

“One year of writing! Twelve stories! Congratulations,” she said.

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It had been her idea, twelve months ago, that I commit to writing for a full year, agreeing to a minimum of a story a month, to be entered into a monthly competition. “At the end of the year, I’ll take you out for lunch to celebrate,” she’d promised.

I suppose she thought the project would offer some direction, an outlet for my creative energy, that up until then had mostly found its release in video gaming. The story contest provided a perfect medium, for I could tell the stories using my current gaming obsession: The Sims 3.

“So what did you learn?” Dr. Jasmine asked, in typical Dr. J. fashion.

“I learned I could do it,” I said. A year ago, writing a story each month seemed a daunting task.

I contemplated my stories. What had I learned?

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I thought about “Zombie What? Dance, Sucker,” the story I’d written for October. “If you ever think you’ll have a run in with a horde of flaming zombies,” I said, “be sure to bring your boom box. That’s one thing I learned.”

Dr. Jasmine laughed. “Oh, I loved that story!”

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“You were the only one,” I said. “That story didn’t even place. I learned that winning doesn’t matter.”

I’d had more fun writing the zombie story than any of other stories, even the winning entries. When it came down to it, the satisfaction earned by pressing the “Publish” button was the same, whether the story won or barely received a nod.

“I learned there are plenty of talented writers out there. Every participant’s story deserved to be written and read. Each one revealed a little secret glimpse into the writer. More than once, I’d wished I could vote for them all.”

“Do you think you got to understand people better?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

“Not hardly!” I replied. “I’m as clueless as ever. But you know what? I came to appreciate them better, and that’s almost as good, isn’t it?”

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In January, I had written the story that, strangely, felt the most autobiographical to me, about an alien who landed on Earth, not to conquer, but to understand. He, perhaps, eventually became more socially adept than I ever will be, but writing through his alien eyes helped me feel a touch of compassion for my own awkwardness.

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Ironically, I’d learned the most from the story that had given me the most grief, the December story. It was a murder mystery, with a tragic underpinning, about an old butler with dementia. The challenge was in capturing his voice and motivation.

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During the month I was drafting it, on one of my regular trips to the library, I introduced myself to an older man. I listened to him talk, to try to grasp both his cadence and vocabulary. The stories he told! If I hadn’t already taken all the screenshots for “When Even the Butler Forgets,” I would have scrapped that story and written a new one, inspired by this man’s tales.

“I learned that everyone has a story,” I told Dr. J.

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“Do you feel less lonely?” Dr. Jasmine asked as we looked at the desert menu.

“Ah, no,” I replied. “Not if I’m to be honest. But my loneliness doesn’t bother me so much anymore. It’s the writer’s lot, isn’t it? It offers that observer’s space we require.”

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“So you learned you could do it, you learned to appreciate others, you learned that the satisfaction comes more from the act of creating than winning, and you learned that everyone has a story. That sounds like an amazing year!”

“I learned something else, too” I added with a snicker.

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“And what is that?”

“I learned that I have a wicked, wild, rebellious side,” I said. “I’m not the meek, mild-mannered man you see before you. Oh, no! In every story, no matter how tame it seems on the outside, there is an inner rebel striving to be free!”

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It was getting late. I hoped to squeeze in a few hours of game-play and a little writing before retiring for bed, and I needed to get up early for work tomorrow.

Walking home, I reviewed my mental schemata for Madeline Historica’s nose. Oh, there was a true rebel! All proper on the outside, “Yes, Mrs. Murona. No, Mrs. Murona.” But just wait! When the family heirloom turns up missing, does anyone think to examine the closet of the fair Madeline? And when she herself turns up missing, is it any wonder to discover that she’s roaming the shops of the antiquities dealers in Al Simhara?

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I worked a bit on the draft, then I headed into CAS. The nose proved to be more challenging than I had expected, but then noses were like that.

With all the screenshots captured and waiting to be uploaded, I decided to give the draft another review before posting. It would wait. Tomorrow was only the 30th of the month, and if I needed, I could take a sick day on the 31st.

Tomorrow was another day, another draft. For a writer, who spins his time with words, there’s always a spare hour or two to crank out one more revision. Dreams, and my bed, awaited.

I shut down the computer.

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AN: To all the writers who’ve contributed stories to the short story challenge this past year, congratulations! To @Carewren123, thank you so much for your dedication and care in coordinating this contest. It’s been so rewarding to participate in, and oh, the stories we’ve read! 

Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: Tracks

This story was written for the June 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!


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This was the summer Jade Cahill would hear from herself.

During a life on the road, she had, every nine years, paused to write herself a letter, enclose it in an envelope with a photo, and drop it off at the nearest solicitor’s office. In her vagabond life, this gave her a way to look back on her tracks.

“Send it to me at the beginning of the summer of 2016,” she instructed the attorneys. “I’ll be turning 70 that July. I have no idea where I’ll be. But my agent will know.” She left them the address and phone number of Country Roads, Talent Agency, Ltd.

Any day now, the first letter would arrive, and as chance would have it, the first letter was the toughest. She glanced at the date: 2002. She was 56.

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Newcrest, 2002

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Jackson’s gone.

It was a “heart attack”–the euphemism for an OD. Thirty years with me harping on him to slow down, sober up. Did it do any good? Now the world’s down one singer, and that black hole has opened up inside of me.

Well, you know this. Remember? I sang at his funeral, danced at his wake, and got the inheritance check, along with the copyright to his recordings of my songs. It doesn’t make up for nothing.

I’m stuck in Newcrest for the summer, performing at Stardust Lounge. What a bust. If I could, I’d hitch up to Granite Falls, just me, a backpack, and Jackson’s guitar.

I haven’t heard from Davis in six months. Guess he’s pretty beat up about it, too.

Hang in there. Does life get better? You can let me know.

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She had a few days before the next letter arrived, and she needed the time. She kept seeing Jackson’s dark eyes–shining with youth, shining with booze, shining with drugs, and then that dull and empty gaze he’d get, after the roadies had loaded up the vans and it was time to hit the road. That was when she’d turn and head the other way.

What if she had stayed, tagged along, been his number one groupie?

She wouldn’t have written as much, that’s for sure. But maybe those black eyes would shine on.

The next letter came. It was the first one she’d written. 1975–she was a child, 29, and she thought she knew so much.

Granite Falls, 1975

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Dear Me,

Where are you now? Are you still alive? Do you still feel like me? Do you still love Jackson?

He asked me to go with him to San Francisco after we finished playing the festival in Humboldt. I couldn’t. I didn’t have a gig there, and I won’t be a groupie.

“Not a groupie–my songwriter,” he says. But when I’m standing on the side of the stage, receiving his slanted glances, and all the hippie chicks in the front rows are dancing arms-up, hang-loose swinging, I’m just another groupie. Not me.

I came to Granite Falls instead. I’ve got a new song swirling through my mind–I can’t count on “Summer Man” to stay on the charts forever. This song–maybe it’ll be a hit, if Jackson covers it. But even if I gotta sing it myself, there’s something about “Granite and Pine” that’s gonna last. It’ll be a classic.

God… this was all about me. How are you?

Catch ya in 41 years!

–Jade (you know, Me)

That song became her anthem:

Granite and pine
Solitary time.

Head down that road,
Pass through the gate.

I’m heading higher
‘Neath the mountain tower.

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She’d traveled fifty countries, played dozens of cities in each, and she couldn’t remember all the towns she’d sent letters from.

The next to arrive came from right across the bay. She could’ve taken the ferry to pick it up from the solicitor’s office. 1993–she’d been 47.

Windenburg, 1993

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Dear Me,

Coming to Windenburg felt like coming home. Must be an ancestral memory–or a past life! Dad always said his people came from here, way back. Dad. It’s been nearly 30 years without him, going on 50 when you get this letter. I still got that pain in my heart sometimes–do you? It’s not a constant, but it’s there.

They say the hardest thing for a girl, at any age, is losing her dad. I’ve never faced harder.

Enough melodrama. Davis and I took the ferry out to the island, and I found a plot of land for sale. Davis says I should buy it. I’m seriously considering it. Maybe when I retire, I can build a home there. What do you say? Is this our someday home?

Until then, I’ve got a few more weeks I can kick it around Old Town, then Davis heads back to L.A., and I’m going to Oasis Springs for the Desert Monsoon Madness. Rumor has it Jackson will be getting out of rehab in time to be there. At any rate, I’ll see Stevie and the boys from the band.

Chill, me

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Buying this plot of land was probably the best decision she’d made. She used royalty money to build the house–it was small but modern, and it suited her well. At any time, she could close it up, hook up the storm shutters, and take to the road again, knowing that home was safely waiting for her, nestled in the island fog.

The last two letters arrived the next day. 1984, when she was 38.

Willow Creek, 1984

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Dear Me,

Song Fest was bangin’. Do you still remember that high we felt when Jackson sang “Granite and Pine,” and everybody danced and sang along? Then the silence that surrounded his guitar solo. He would have Davis pull me out from the sidelines, where I was listening, tears in my eyes. And the crowd roared. That, I can do without. But to hear Jackson sing my songs–I can live on that for a long time. I keep telling him, “If only you’d sing sober, you’d make the angels weep from beauty.” But he laughs and pulls me in for a sloppy kiss, slaps my butt, and takes another hit.

I watched him, Davis, Stevie and the boys head to Monterrey on their own. I stayed. I want to see Willow Creek. I met some nice folks here that say I can crash at their place. I like drinking this humid air and smelling the magnolia blossoms.

Davis says I should settle down with him, seeing as Jackson and I keep doing the same circling dance together and apart. I can only smile. A life with Davis? Picket fence, anyone?

You know how it all turns out. Was it worth it? Did I make the right choice?

Love me.

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Back then, choices didn’t seem to matter. They were all immortal, every single one of them, and with infinity ahead, there was time for fame, time for travel, time to put off everything but the next song, the next gig, the next party, the next stop on the road.

By the time she wrote the last letter, she understood more about living on a track that ran straight to its end. 2011, and she was 65.

Oasis Springs, 2011

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Dear Me,

In five years, you’ll get all these letters. Your whole life in words. Did we write out your soul, all these past versions of us? I don’t remember anything I wrote. Nonsense, most likely.

I’m back home for the 18th Annual Desert Monsoon Madness. They’re doing a retrospective of my work. Davis is flying in to perform his covers of “Granite and Falls” and “Summer Man.” I asked him not to play Jackson’s guitar solo. He’s gonna do a harmonica riff instead.

I haven’t seen Davis since before Jackson checked out, though I keep bumping into Stevie and the boys, each one of whom is now an old coot.

It’s been a long haul. No one much notices an old singer unless she’s the one on stage. But I find it a blessing to roam this earth without being seen, cloaked in a crone’s invisibility. I’ve been able to pick up on a lot.

The world hasn’t changed, darling. Just me.

Catch ya in five…

Jade folded the letter and slid it back into the envelope. Davis would return from his evening walk soon, with a basket full of wild chanterelles and chives for their supper.  Time to decant the wine and light the grill.

A life of wanderlust, and what wisdom had she learned? Not much, but enough. Everywhere you go, you’ll find strangers who will befriend you and friends who will forget you. Beauty is beauty, whether the light glances off a desert cliff or filters through the mountain pines. Love is love. It doesn’t matter, in the end, who you love, just so long as you love.

She didn’t need to learn all the answers in this life of roaming. This handful was enough.

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Author’s notes: This story owes a debt of gratitude to Makplays/Pegasus143 (“Mackie”), whose Sim, a young Jade Cahill, was featured in one of the sets screenshots for the April story challenge. This story is a follow-up to “Summer Man,” the story I wrote for Mackie’s screenshots. Mackie kindly let me use Jade for this story, and I aged her up to the beautiful elder featured here. In addition, in a recent Book Club Coffee Hour, when we were talking about Mackie’s “Letters to My Younger Self,” Mackie asked us if we would consider writing to our older selves. A few days after that conversation, I found myself thinking about writing this story. Thanks, Mackie, for the Sim and the inspiration!

The beautiful house that Jade lives in, The Red Home, was built by TheKalinotr0n. It’s eminently playable!

If you’d like to write to your future self, you can use FutureMe.org to compose a message that will be emailed to you at a future date of your choosing. Might be an interesting way to follow your tracks!

Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: Rowenna’s Gardens

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This story was written for the May 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!

Dr. Jasmine walked a street she seldom traveled. At the corner stood a garden full of deep red hollyhocks, blue irises, purple pansies, magenta roses, and, in the middle, a willow tree whose green boughs touched the ground.

“What a magnificent garden,” she said to an old woman who bent amongst the plants.

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“Thank you, dear,” replied Rowenna. They talked about the roses. Were aphids a problem? Not really–a strong blast of water washes them right off. And how did she get such deep hues from the hollyhocks? Oh! They were heirlooms from the gardener’s grandmother, so many, many years ago.

“That was the first garden I knew,” Rowenna said.

“Really?” said Dr. Jasmine. “Tell me about it!”

“Oh, that will require a pot of tea!”

As the afternoon sun settled behind the willow, Dr. Jasmine sat at the table surrounded by blossoms with Rowenna, two cups of Makaibari tea, and a plate of oatmeal cookies spiced with Ceylon cinnamon.

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i. Shoots

Never had I seen such flowers!

The city where I lived as a little girl was asphalt and cement, smoke and fog–maybe a patch of daisies or peonies, but nary a bloom except for stragglers. When I was eight, all that changed.

My mother and aunts decided I needed fresh sea air and open spaces. I was a sickly little thing, so they shipped me off to my gran’s in a last-ditch effort to bring roses to my cheeks. With so many flowers around me, I was bound to bloom, too!

I spent hours among the snapdragons and pansies. These were my friends! I loved to pinch the snapdragon blossoms to make them talk, like purple puppets, and each pansy, with its blue lion’s face, seemed to chatter in reply!

Gran knew to let me be for long hours every summer day. Oh, the adventures I had! Rescuing princesses, fighting pirates, living with tigers! In Gran’s garden, I found worlds full of friends and foes!

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I didn’t know then the concept of labor: everything, even tidying the garden, home to so many fairies and wood elves, was play! Gran loved to say, with a twinkle in her eye:

“Fairy gold, and fairy wine,
Catch and hold this child of mine!
Stay today and always play
Keep woe and worry far away!”

Sometimes, I think that Gran was half fairy herself! And for me, as a little thing who’d been lost in the harsh city, the freedom of the wilds combined with my gran’s own magic to help me grow strong and well.


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“What a magical childhood!” Dr. Jasmine said. “And I think that your grandma must have passed her fairy heritage on to you!”

“Oh,” laughed Rowenna, “Mortal and mundane, I belong in the every day! But at least, with my garden, I can still play with the fairies, can’t I?”

ii. Catkins

Daydreams replaced adventure.

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Early summer afternoons, I lay on the grass beneath the willow tree and looked up at the catkins dangling their full pollen sacks towards the hungry bees. At the bee’s weight, a cloud of pollen burst into the air, and the sun dazzled each tiny golden orb. Those long summer days opened inside of me, too, with a heart that ached for something undefined, and eyelids that felt golden and heavy, as if I were covered in the shower of pollen.

That was the summer I met Len, who’d come to the island to work for the fisherman.

I felt his shadow, first, before I met him. I opened my eyes, and he stood in a halo of sunlight. “Are you real?” I asked, full of drowsiness.

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“I was going to ask you the same thing!” he said.

In the afternoons, after Len delivered the catch and stowed the nets, he came like a hungry bee to the garden, to find me lying on grass, full and heavy with the weight of the sun. We spent long hours lying together, not saying much, not touching, just drinking in the midsummer warmth of the garden and spinning together our dreams.


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“You were lucky to fall in love in a garden,” Dr. Jasmine said.

Rowenna laughed. “It would have been impossible not to–the sun, the grass, the heady scent of flowers. And Len. If you could have seen that boy! He was made for falling in love with.”

iii. Pussy Willow

After Len and I moved to the mainland, I missed Gran’s garden so much.

Oh, we were happy and very much in love, but I still had a deep homesickness lodged within me all through our long first winter.

One summer day, Len took me back to the island, and Gran loaded us up with starts, cuttings, and brown envelopes full of seeds. Len helped me dig out the garden, and we planted it by moonlight.

Len and I couldn’t have any children of our own, but we ended up raising the half the family’s children: nieces and nephews and second-cousins and shirt-tail cousins–all the wild or sickly kids who were too much or too frail for their parents. When that wasn’t enough, we took in foster kids.

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They grew well. The wild ones gained discipline, and the sickly ones gained strength.

“They’re all our children,” Len used to say. And he was right. He was right.


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“You must have been very happy,” said Dr. Jasmine.

“I can’t think where those years got to,” said Rowenna. “One day we were planting our garden under the full moon. The next, the children had grown and moved out, and Len stood with his back to the house, watching the sun as it set, and my! How his shoulders did stoop. Where had my fine young boy gone?”

iv. Weeping Willow

After Len passed, all I could do for well over a year was dig.

Couldn’t clean house, couldn’t cook, couldn’t wash dishes. I’d neglected the garden during his long illness. A few stubborn irises still grew. A few snapdragons self-seeded. But mostly, the garden lay choked in weeds. I couldn’t do much, but I could dig. And then, after a day of digging, I could sleep at night, if I was lucky. When I woke, that pain would shoot itself through my heart, but digging helped it soften. This went on for well over a year. One day, I looked out over the yard and everywhere were beds of rich dark loam, waiting for seeds.

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That’s when I took the ferry to the island, and I found my grandma’s old cottage. Nobody lives there anymore, but the flowers have self-seeded, all over the island! Hollyhocks, daisies, irises, and pansies, and more! I gathered baskets full of rhizomes and seeds, and brought them back here, where I planted them one by one.

I must have watered my garden with tears, but they were the cleansing tears, that leave you feeling healed inside.


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“Can I have a cookie, Auntie Ro?” a tiny girl with long dark braids asked.

“And who is this?” asked Dr. Jasmine.

“Oh, this is Rebekah,” replied Rowenna, “my cousin’s granddaughter. She lives with me now, don’t you, Becky?”

“Yes, Ro,” said the tiny girl.

Dr. Jasmine smiled. “What a good life you’ve lived, Rowenna,” she said.

“It’s a gardener’s life!” laughed Rowenna.

“It’s a good life,” said Dr. Jasmine. They sipped their tea, and the sun set. A full moon rose to spread her silver light over the willow tree, and Dr. Jasmine looked into her new friend’s face, with its furrows and paths and hazel eyes that reflected moonlight and the wisdom of fairies.

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Credits: Rowenna’s Newcrest home and garden were created by Pronterus. Rowenna’s grandmother’s island home and garden were created by TheKalinotr0n. Both homes are available on the gallery.

 

Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: Fake It

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This story was written for the March 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!

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“I knew I had to find it before,” Jimmie Myrick said.

“And so did that make it easier to find it this time?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

“No,” he replied. “In fact, I haven’t found it. It’s shifted. Before, I found it for Claire and the boys. But now they’re grown, and Claire is busy with her new career.”

“Not to mention her new husband.”

“Exactly. So, if I can’t find it for them…” His voice trailed off.

Dr. Jasmine handed him a card. On one side, she’d scribbled her phone number. On the other, was the number of a crisis hotline.

“Just in case it gets really bad,” she said. “Enter both those numbers in your phone. Just to be ready. Help is a call away.”

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“I’m not at that point yet,” he said, and Dr. Jasmine nodded.

“I know,” she replied. “This is for preventive purposes only, just to be sure. To help keep you from ever reaching that point.”

She walked him to the door.

“There’s this saying that one of my friends who’s in AA shared with me,” she told him. “Fake it until you make it.

Jimmie thought about that. “It doesn’t sound very real.”

“No,” said Dr. Jasmine. “It’s not. But it is something. The point is to put something in place until you find it.”

He tried it for a week, every day.

Once, doing the dishes, he caught himself smiling. It wasn’t fake, but the moment he felt it, the smile disappeared. So the next smile he faked. He hummed a little tune to wash dishes by, not a real tune, but enough of a semblance of one for an actor in a dishwashing detergent ad.

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He made coffee each day, a whole pot, though he was the only one there to drink it.

He pretended to enjoy the ritual, the sound of the ground beans sifting into the filter, the aroma, the steam from the brewing pot.

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Every morning, he pretended to savor the bitter brew. Fake it. At least it kept him from crawling back into bed and sleeping the morning away.

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He wondered if it would make a difference.

He tried not to wonder if it would make a difference.

The next day, he wondered again: would it make a difference?

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Fake it.

He hadn’t needed a reason when he was a boy. Every morning had broken with hope, and he’d jumped out of bed and hopped on his bike to do a million things before school.

That hadn’t been him, had it? That was another person whose memories happened to be implanted  in him.

He was an old man who stood on the landing and tried to find a reason not to crawl back into bed.

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Fake it.

He’d lost it for a while when the boys were nearly teens. Life had become futile. His career had stalled, and it seemed he’d never make tenure. That was when he first started losing Claire.

“Why aren’t I enough?” she asked him.

He couldn’t answer. “It’s different for a man,” he said, but he couldn’t bring himself to say that love wasn’t enough, that he needed something more.

He supposed he had faked it back then, pretending to be happy for Claire, for the boys. Maybe he hadn’t found it. Maybe all those years, he had faked it, even then. Maybe that’s why Claire left once the boys were grown. Maybe faking it wasn’t enough.

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The house was so empty.

It wasn’t so empty when you stayed in your room, in your pajamas. When you ate breakfast in bed and let the dirty dishes pile up on the night stand, the rest of the house floated away. How could it be empty if it wasn’t there? When you curled up in bed and closed your eyes, it was better: everything disappeared then–maybe even you, if you kept your eyes closed long enough.

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It didn’t matter, did it, if he stayed in his pajamas all day?

What was the reason to get up? No one noticed.

Fake it.

He liked the taste of coffee.

Fake it.

He had something to do.

Fake it.

Nothing mattered anyway.

Fake it.

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He faked his way into his art studio one morning. He pretended not to notice the dust on the easel.

The oils were dry. The acrylics had hardened. But he found some caseins that were fresh enough.

He had forgotten their scent. He liked it: the sharp bitter of the cadmium; the creaminess of permasol blue; the sweetness of raw umber.

He didn’t like the painting he created, but he pretended to.

He returned to the studio the next morning. He forgot to fake it and found himself engrossed in the sensations of applying paint to the canvas. Yellow ochre spread so smoothly. He smiled a real smile: it didn’t extend far, but it curled his lips.

He felt something inside–not for long, but for a moment. It felt real.

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It was gone the next morning, but the next day, the week was up, and he dropped by Dr. Jasmine’s in the evening again.

“So,” Dr. Jasmine asked, “did you find it?”

“Does it matter?” Jimmie answered. “Does it even exist? Maybe there is no reason to be happy. Maybe there’s no reason to get out of bed each morning. Maybe the reason isn’t the thing. Maybe it doesn’t matter if you feel like it or not. Maybe you just do it because it’s the morning, and that’s what you do in the morning, you get out of bed. And then you make coffee. Do the dishes. Force yourself to hum a song. And then, at ten o’clock in the morning, you wander into the art studio and paint. You fake it. And before you know it, you’ve got a painting on the canvas, and maybe you’ve got a smile on your face, and maybe not. But at the very least, you made it out of bed. You did something. The day wasn’t wasted. String together enough days like that, and maybe a reason to be happy doesn’t matter any more because maybe you wake up one morning and you discover that you simply are happy.”

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“So,” said Dr. Jasmine, “are you saying the question isn’t the thing?”

“Not exactly,” said Jimmie. “I’m saying the search is not the thing.”

 

Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: Ten Reasons to Leave

This story was written for the January 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!

Miranda Saunders kept lists. That’s how her messy life managed to stay in some semblance of order. She had lists for shopping, chores, birthdays, and errands. Her most important list started out as “Ten Reasons to Stay,” and through the years it had become “Ten Reasons to Leave.”

She brought the list with her when she went to see Dr. Jasmine Gooding. This was back in the days when Dr. Jasmine was a practicing psychologist, and Miranda was one of her last clients before retirement.

“So, I don’t know why I don’t just pick up and go,” she told Dr. Jasmine. “I mean, I’ve got it all written out right here. Irrefutable proof.”

Dr. Jasmine wasn’t interested in the list. “Tell me about you,” she said.

“I really work with life,” Miranda said. “It’s like this: when I close my eyes, I can see these images of the way things should be. Then, when I open them, I try to bring everything so that it fits what I see.”

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“And does that work?” asked Dr. Jasmine.

“Oh, yes!” said Miranda, who went on to describe her kitchen renovation project. “And now we have the perfect kitchen!”

“And how does this visualization technique fit with your feelings towards your husband?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

Miranda fidgeted and began to talk about her garden.

“I have a homework assignment for you,” Dr. Jasmine said as they reached the end of Miranda’s hour. “This week, try keeping one less list. And the lists that you do have? Try not looking at them.”

“Oh, I could never do that!” Miranda replied.

As she was walking home, though, she realized that she didn’t have to look at them. When she closed her eyes, she could see them all. Surely it didn’t count if she only saw them with her eyes closed.

She sat on a bench and thought through her most important list.

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10. He’s getting older.

9. I don’t feel the same when I look at him anymore.

8. He never holds me in the mornings since he started getting up early to exercise.

7. All the little things: not doing dishes, needing to be reminded to take the garbage out, and worst of all, putting the recycling in with the garbage.

It’s not petty, is it?

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She thought maybe it was. Never mind. The other items were more significant.

6. Forgetting things that I said to him, years ago.

5. I want more romance.

4. We never go out.

3. We keep having the same conversations.

2. I want to feel loved.

Number one, she always left as a blank. She knew that if she wrote it–if she admitted those words to herself–she would begin the process of truly leaving.

When she got home, he was sitting at the computer, like usual.

“How was your appointment?” he asked. “Did you solve the problems of the world?”

ten04

She laughed. “Not even!”

He poured her a cup of tea. “Your own problems, then?”

“It’s not like that,” she replied. “I talked. She asked questions. She gave me homework.”

He chuckled. “What homework did she give you?”

“Do fewer lists.”

“Ah!” he said. “A not-doing homework!”

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And he turned back to his computer game.

By the time the next week arrived, Miranda had focused so much of her attention on not looking at her most important list that it seemed that each item–even the invisible unspoken one–was burned into the synapses of her mind.

“So it didn’t go so well?” Dr. Jasmine asked when Miranda arrived looking tense.

“It’s getting worse,” Miranda said. “Not keeping lists, and not looking at the ones I do have, made me focus on them all the more. I really need you to look at this one with me.”

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And she showed Dr. Jasmine her most important list.

“Are you thinking of leaving, then?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

“I don’t know,” Miranda said. “Some days I don’t want to. I like our house. It’s nearly perfect. But I want the rest of our lives to be that perfect, too.”

“How would you know if it was time to leave?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

Miranda waved the list. “When I get to number one, that’s when I leave.”

“Number one is blank.”

“That’s because I’m not there yet.”

Miranda took the list back and crossed out number seven. In its place she wrote:

7. He still harps on about arguments he had with friends years ago.

“I’d like to show you something,” Dr. Jasmine said. They walked out onto the balcony. Dr. Jasmine gestured towards the view of the mountains behind the bay.

“Mount McAlister. Mount Finley. Mount Fryda.” Miranda rattled off the names of the peaks.

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“Look with no names,” said Dr. Jasmine.

For just a moment, Miranda saw this backbone of her planet, exposed to the sun, and she looked with no names–for just an instant, with no thoughts. She simply looked, and she saw.

When they came inside, Dr. Jasmine showed her a painting of the same view.

“Which is more beautiful?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

“Oh, they both have beauty!” said Miranda. “The painting is more ideal, isn’t it?”

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She looked out the open door. “But that. That really exists.”

When the hour was up, Miranda asked what her homework was.

“Can you look with no names?” Dr. Jasmine said. “At least once, each day. When you look at your husband, can you put aside your list and look with no names?”

Miranda didn’t think she could do it. But at breakfast one morning, as her husband dished up the eggs, she saw his back and she didn’t see that now it stooped more than it had when they were young; she didn’t see that he had put on an old shirt, rather than the new one she bought him; she didn’t see that he was still wearing his muddy walking shoes. She simply saw. He stood before her, not as her husband, but as a man. A person. A fellow being.

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The moment didn’t last. But it was there. She had felt it, and in that moment, he stood before her as if he were new, not the same old one she’d been with for two-thirds of her life.

She still had her list when she went back to Dr. Jasmine the following week. It was as if she had forgotten all about that moment at breakfast.

“How did it go?” Dr. Jasmine asked. “Were you successful in looking?”

For fifteen minutes, Miranda rattled off her litany of annoyances, while Dr. Jasmine sat with a quiet smile.

And then Dr. Jasmine stood and asked, “What is more real? Our descriptions or that which is being described?”

“That which is described, of course!” replied Miranda.

“Then what have you been sharing with me?” Dr. Jasmine asked. She gestured again towards the mountains.

“Tell me what it was like when you were successful at looking. Who did you see?”

“I saw a man,” replied Miranda.

“What did you feel?”

“That I had never seen him before,” Miranda said, softly.

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“How does your list fit into this?”

“The last item on my list,” Miranda said. “Can I tell you what it is?”

Dr. Jasmine nodded. “If you are ready to.”

“The list is how I count down to see if I’m ready to leave. Nothing matters on it. I can see that now. It’s all petty. It’s all interchangeable. Except for the last item on the list, which I have never even written or even spoken.”

“Do you want to speak it now?”

Miranda did. “The last item is: I don’t love him any more.”

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“And do you find that is true?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

“I don’t know,” said Miranda. “I can truly say that I don’t love him at this moment. But I don’t know that I ever did. So it isn’t true that I don’t love him anymore. In that moment when I saw him, I loved him. Like I love those mountains, when I simply see them. But what if I have never seen him before? What if before I only saw the picture in my mind, and how he fit, or didn’t fit? What if I was just naming mountains?”

“And what do you find, now that you’ve gotten to the bottom of your list? Have you counted down to the reason that you need to leave him?”

“I don’t truly know,” said Miranda.

Miranda moved through the next week as if time were suspended. She had no lists. She stopped counting reasons. She stopped naming. Whenever she remembered, she looked. She felt different inside: softer, perhaps. More tentative.

One morning, when Jack brought her a cup of tea, his own eyes twinkled. She patted the couch beside her, and they sat together. As he told her a story he had told many times before, she heard his voice as if for the first time, noticing that it carried warmth, even as it recounted old words she’d heard a hundred times.

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